Title: The Cost of Doing Business
Author: bnomiko
Rating: PG-13
Pairing(s): Yami + Seto, Noa + Mokuba, Jou + Mai, Yugi + Anzu, Malik + Ryou, Rafael + Valon + Amelda
Spoilers: none
Warnings: swearing
Disclaimer: Virus Buster Serge is the creation of Masami Obari. Yu-Gi-Oh! is the creation of Kazuki Takahashi. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.
Summary: Seto improves in more ways than one, leading to improvements in Mokuba and Yami's relationship.
Status: 8 / ?
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

The Cost of Doing Business

Ch. 8: Blend the Strength

* * *

Seto vaguely remembered drifting off to sleep with Yami pressed against his back, then some time later, waking for a minute before falling asleep again, only to be woken up to take his medication before being told to sleep again. It was a tedious, endless cycle, punctuated by coughing fits and chest pain, dizziness and cold sweat, and complete disorientation. At some point – and he wasn’t even sure whether it had been day or night or if he’d even been fully awake when it had occurred to him – he thought that maybe he was getting worse. He needed to go take care of things at his company; there was a lot to do and he couldn’t afford to get worse. But when he tried asking Mokuba about it during one of his more lucid moments, his little brother assured him that his fever was actually going down, so why was he feeling crappier than ever?

He awoke on his own some time in the early morning feeling like he’d been run over by a freight train that had backed up and run over him again for good measure. He was sore all over, and the bed seemed too hard and the sheets too damp for comfort. He wanted to complain about it to whoever was convenient, but Yami was totally zonked out on a chair next to the bed, a plaid throw blanket sliding off his legs and his hair in spiky disarray, and Seto decided he’d rather not wake him. He wondered why his boyfriend wasn’t in bed with him, but at the same time he was a little thankful for it, because he felt way too hot to want to be close to anyone, and Yami was too much like an electric blanket at times.

With a soft sigh, the brunette rolled over, trying to find a spot that was comfortable enough to let him go back to sleep or at the very least, rest comfortably, but it was an exercise in futility. He was just too restless. He threw off the blankets and tossed and turned for several minutes before a something other than the protesting creak of the mattress caught his attention.

"… Mm… Seto?"

Great, he had somehow managed to wake Yami too. He held as still as possible, faking sleep in the hopes that maybe Yami would take the hint and go back to sleep himself, but no such luck. A hand lightly touched his shoulder, then his neck and cheek, and a tired voice sighed and yawned before mumbling, "Your fever hasn’t gotten any worse... but you still seem to be sweating a lot."

"Thanks; I hadn’t noticed," Seto responded sourly, rolling over again as he wondered what it’d take for him to convince Yami to dump him in a cold bath and change the bedsheets.

Yami gave him a slight smile. They were minimally mind linked at the moment, but Seto’s desires were strong enough for Yami to easily pick up on. "I’ll go run a bath if you feel up to it." There was a momentary pause, then he added, "You probably don’t remember it, but you’ve been kinda out of it the last two days."

Two days? He had thought maybe it was Sunday morning, but… "It’s Monday?"

"Tuesday, Baby." Another yawn. "I didn’t count Saturday since you were pretty coherent then."

The taller man swallowed. Considering his track record, he couldn’t help but worry about what might have happened, what he might’ve done, in the interim. "I didn’t… haven’t done anything else, have I?"

Much to Seto’s relief, Yami shook his head. "Nope. And we didn’t have a problem waking you to get you to take your pills or anything either, but you were really unfocused the entire time and would usually go right back to sleep without saying a word."

"… But Mokuba said I wasn’t getting worse! And you just said…"

Using the back of his hand, Yami lightly touched his lover’s cheek again before offering a shrug. "I guess you needed the rest, that’s all."

Seto grunted, then began pushing himself up into a sitting position. He didn’t want to lie there anymore. He wanted a bath. And clean sheets. Yami slid out of his way, though he remained close enough to lend his lover a hand if he needed it.

Grumbling under his breath about the fact that he needed his boyfriend trailing behind him like a shadow, Seto managed to gather enough strength to shuffle over to the large whirlpool tub in the center of the bathroom, though he was pretty much out of steam after that. After setting himself down on one of the molded seats, he watched dazedly as Yami started filling the basin with water.

"Will you be okay sitting here while I go change the sheets?" Yami asked when the water finally reached a decent level.

Seto just shut his eyes and leaned back. He was already feeling a little better, a little more alert. "Don’t worry, I’m not going to drown."

Yami just shook his head. "I’ll check on you intermittently then. Is the water temperature good, or do you want it hotter?"

Hotter? Wasn’t he sweating enough already? "Nah."

So while the ex-spirit went about switching out the sheets, Seto tried to relax in hopes that his muscles would loosen up a bit. Soaking in the warm water was helping. He even felt well enough to lightly shampoo and rinse out his hair, which was a real luxury since he’d been stuck with sponge baths and no rinse shampoo since he’d fallen ill.

But just as soon as he had begun convincing himself that maybe he really was better, he noticed that he was beginning to shiver. The water was still warm – the tub was heated after all, and he could just barely make out the faint hint of steam rising up into the crisp morning air. It just wasn’t enough anymore, and he didn’t trust himself to adjust the temperature since he’d probably end up accidentally scalding himself in his efforts to keep warm.

Figuring it was time to get out of the tub anyway, he started draining the water then carefully lifted himself out, wrapping a towel around his waist and tossing another over his head while he walked over to the nearest counter to support himself. When he turned towards the mirror out of habit, he was shocked by what he saw.

Jesus, I look like death warmed over, Seto grumbled to himself as he leaned forward slightly to more carefully examine himself. No wonder Mokuba and Yami thought he needed round-the-clock care. His skin was waxy and pale, and his eyes looked too big in their sunken sockets. He had lost so much weight between stressing over the opening of the theme park and having pneumonia that he looked like he was on the losing end of a battle with an eating disorder.

Another towel landed across his shoulders, and Seto turned slowly to see Yami looking up at him in concern. "You okay?" the shorter duelist asked as he began briskly rubbing the towel over his lover’s back. Seto was trembling slightly and was beginning to wobble on his feet.

"Kinda… cold," Seto quietly admitted through clenched teeth. He was fighting to keep them from chattering.

Yami nodded, not wasting time with words. With one hand he drew the towel around Seto’s shoulders tight against his body, and with the other quickly dried off Seto’s hair the best he could before hustling him back to bed.

At least the sheets are clean, Seto mused as Yami efficiently got him into some pajamas – fresh ones – and tucked him under the comforter. It should’ve been more than enough considering that earlier, he couldn’t stand having the covers on top of him at all because he felt so damn hot. And it was the middle of summer too. But as ridiculous as it seemed, he was absolutely freezing now, even with his fever, even with Yami arranging extra blankets on top of him.

"I think I left you in the tub too long," Yami murmured as he climbed into bed behind Seto, curling around his lanky form the best he could. The brunette was still quite feverish, which seemed contradictory to the fact that he was shivering like he’d been left in a pool of ice water, but that was just part of being sick. So Yami began rubbing Seto all over with his hands, trying to combine friction with body heat to help his boyfriend warm up enough to counteract the chill that had settled into his bones.

"I needed that bath," Seto responded dully once he was able to stop his teeth from chattering. He rolled over to press his face against Yami’s neck and chest. He didn’t regret it, even if it made him feel like a human ice cube.

Yami half nodded, half nuzzled the damp strands of brown hair under his chin. "Mm. At least it’ll help you sleep a bit better, once I get you warmed back up."

"I don’t want to sleep. I hate this," Seto mumbled. Then he pulled back just enough to give Yami a slightly pleading look. "Can’t you sneak me my laptop for just a few minutes?"

The crimson-eyed man sighed inwardly. They weren’t going to go through all that again! "No. And even if you don’t feel tired, you still need to rest. Last I checked, working was the opposite of resting."

"Wow, really?" Seto snapped with a roll of his eyes.

Yami felt his mouth settling into a smirk. He obviously wasn’t going to win with that argument, which meant he was going to have to think of something to distract Seto and keep him occupied. But at the same time, he liked seeing that spark of indignation in his boyfriend. It meant he was feeling a little more like himself.

"I guess that means sex is out of the question too," Yami pondered aloud, the smirk growing. Obviously it was, but he couldn’t help but dangle the carrot a bit just to see what response he’d get.

Seto snorted and butted his head against Yami’s chest in displeasure, eliciting a soft "Ooof." Yami patted his lover’s head in apology. "Well, if I grab an electric blanket we can go watch some television, or we can play a game of some sort, or we can stay here and I’ll grab you something to read."

"I heard the third quarter financials are a real page turner," Seto said dryly, eliciting a chuckle from Yami. Ooh, sarcastic wit! He really was feeling better, at least for the moment.

"How about a nice backrub instead?" Yami offered, trying to steer Seto away from the topic of work.

Seto growled. "I don’t want to go to sleep, I already told you."

"I’ll make it a bit more vigorous. It’ll be good for you. Or I’ll simply poke you in the side every minute or so – that’ll keep you up."

"Ha ha, real funny." But he rolled over onto his stomach anyway, silently giving Yami the go-ahead.

Seto shivered a little as Yami helped him to unbutton his pajama shirt, then pulled down the sheets, exposing his bare torso. But he didn’t get a chance to complain. Almost immediately, Yami’s weight had settled across his hips, accompanied by the blankets, and warm hands began sliding over his shoulders and back, as gentle and comforting as a summer breeze.

"Damn it," the young CEO rasped, feeling his eyelids droop as Yami began running his hands up the back of his neck, kneading small circles which grew in circumference as they moved back down the length of his spine. Even though his boyfriend had assured him that he wasn’t trying to put him to sleep, Yami’s touch was lulling Seto into that sort of weird daydreamy state that he both loved and reviled.

A bittersweet smile touched Yami’s lips. He knew Seto appreciated his attention, given that he was unconsciously stretching himself out like a big cat and grunting every time he hit a knot or a sore spot. And Yami found it enjoyable as well, savoring the feel of silken skin and hard muscles, reacquainting himself with every inch of flesh.

But, for once, Yami couldn’t help but dwell on the abstract pattern of scars splashed across that milky skin even as his hands automatically continued on with the massage. Most of the marks had been dulled and softened by the passing of the years, like earth eroded by wind and water, but there were several that were still noticeably discolored, puckered and thick and rough around the edges, as if no amount of time could erase them. Gozaburo was dead and had been for years, but in a way, even now, he still existed… a permanent part of Seto’s life. Each scar that remained was a reminder of that. They’d likely stay with Seto for the rest of his life.

Yami leaned down, intent on warming one of the scars with his breath, but ended up kissing it lightly instead, feeling the involuntary tic of the muscles beneath his lips. Seto was so very sensitive, like a thin-skinned Thoroughbred. Normally that touchiness was something that Yami found amusing, but considering the direction his thoughts had been wandering in, it only made him angrier instead.

Seto had once told Yami that he enjoyed having his back rubbed because it reminded him of his mother. It had been one of the few comments he’d ever made about his biological parents. It was clearly something that he found comforting, a small slice of heaven that he indulged in. Yami couldn’t help but wonder if Gozaburo had figured that out, if he had deliberately marred that tender flesh because he had known it would hurt Seto that much more. Or maybe he was giving Gozaburo too much credit… Because he hadn’t won, despite what Seto might have claimed from time to time. If he had, Seto would’ve never risked leaving his back open to the man who had once been his rival, especially during the early days of their relationship.

Laying back down beside his prone lover, the crimson-eyed man fought to swallow down the rage still burning in his veins. He didn’t want to be angry because it was distracting him from what should have been a pleasant task; didn’t want to fixate on it because nothing could be done about it now, and no good would come of miring himself in a past that wasn’t even his own. And Seto would resent it if he looked at him and saw scars instead of a survivor. But Yami had seen beyond the damage before, and didn’t doubt that he’d be able to do so once again, given a bit of time.

He had once challenged Seto to transcend his hatred and rage. He had known it would be a formidable task. After all, he had once been the vengeful shadow that had lashed out to protect Yugi. How ironic that he was now faced with having to overcome his own anger once again…

Inhaling deeply, Yami closed his eyes and wondered about the past, both Seto’s and his own. He thought about the nightmares that Seto hadn’t wanted to reveal, the past that he hadn’t ever wanted to talk about. As much as the ex-spirit’s past remained a fog-shrouded enigma, in some ways Seto’s had been even more vague and mysterious because it had been right there in front of him, and yet utterly inaccessible at the same time.

A heavy sigh slipped out. He needed to stop dwelling on the negative. Perhaps he ought to try a different approach, to remind both himself and his lover why the past did matter, instead of trying to fight against it...

"What’s wrong?" Seto asked, his voice cutting into Yami’s thoughts. He lifted his head slightly and turned to face his lover, studying him. Physically he felt a lot better, thanks to Yami; he was still a bit chilly, but it was becoming tolerable at least. But now Yami was the one looking uncomfortable, distracted to the point where he had even stopped rubbing Seto's back. And Seto figured he owed his boyfriend a bit of conversation since he had remained by his side throughout his illness, and… maybe it’d help him stay awake too.

Yami’s lips pursed as he considered whether or not he ought to voice what was on his mind. If he was going to do it, it was best to do it now while Seto was relaxed and open to conversation... "Haven’t you ever wondered why I stopped chasing after my past?"

Seto rolled one shoulder. "Not really. I just figured you came to your senses."

Yami glared at his lover. Seto rewarded him a slight smirk, the one that said he was just kidding. "I emerged from the Puzzle with no clue who I was, where I came from, or how it was that I came to be in the Puzzle in the first place. I felt disoriented and rootless, not knowing even so much as my own name. Without memories, without a past, I didn’t think I had the luxury of thinking about my future, because how could I build a future upon nothing?"

Although Seto didn’t respond, he didn’t say anything to deter Yami from his choice of topic either, though the past – any of it – was never his favorite topic. What was the point of dwelling upon something that couldn’t be changed? But Yami had piqued his curiosity this time; the former Pharaoh had once been very adamant about recovering his lost memories. That was why he had entered the Battle City tournament in the first place. But after the entire Doom fiasco, instead of continuing on to Egypt to pointlessly chase the ghosts of his past, he had returned to Domino instead. And there he remained, a spirit in the Puzzle, seemingly content with who he was and what he had until Shadi had shown up and somehow split him from Yugi. But Seto had never asked about it, thinking he had no right to pry, and so was unsure of what exactly had changed Yami’s mind.

"You, on the other hand… you used to say that you didn’t care about the past, ancient or modern," Yami continued. "To you, the past was just something to be trampled on, destroyed and discarded. And that was a mistake I didn’t want you to make. We’ve all seen our share of hard times and adversity… those are the chisels that shape who we are, who we’ll become. And we’ve all done things that we’re not proud of. But no amount of effort can undo or erase what has already happened, because the past is the foundation for the road to the future."

Jesus Christ, is he turning this into a lecture? "Wait… I thought we were talking about *your* past?"

"I was talking about *our* past. Aren’t the paths behind us are just as intertwined as the ones stretching forward?"

Seto grunted, again declining to comment. Yami obviously wasn’t looking for a response anyway, so Seto figured it’d be best to let him continue on with his monologue until he had gotten everything he wanted to say off his chest.

"I cared for you back then, even though I didn’t understand it or recognize it for what it was. But you threw my offers of friendship back in my face. You really pissed me off. And yet, those times when I needed it most, you were there." Yami sat up and twisted around to reach for his deck in the nightstand drawer, pulling out a single card. He caressed the smooth surface gently with his thumb. "You entrusted me with this card, the Devil’s Sanctuary. You gave me a part of your soul that day, and it protected me. And then later on… when we confronted Dartz, together… you protected me once again, with your very life. I could not turn my back on that."

"You make it sound like you owed me or something…" Seto began to protest, but Yami silenced him with a fingertip against the bow of his lip.

"No, not quite. But you did make me realize that I had to decide for myself what it was that I wanted. And what I wanted to believe was your vision of the future. I wanted to see if it would be as brilliant as you imagined, as brilliant as the light in your eyes. And I wanted to travel along that same road with Yugi, with my friends, and… with you. I wanted to be a part of your future too."

"I do still wonder about what kind of person I was," Yami continued. "But I guess that doesn’t matter anymore, not really. Because I remembered enough to know that I’ve loved you through two lifetimes. And that’s more than enough for me."

Seto took a moment to absorb what Yami was saying. It sounded nice, and it would’ve been much easier to just lay back and accept it all without question, but the young billionaire was beginning to wonder about the timing of Yami’s revelation. "Why are you telling me this now?" he asked.

"As little as I remember of my own past, your past has been just as much of a mystery to me. I only know bits and pieces. But now that I think about it, you must’ve felt the same way about mine, even though I never intended to keep anything from you."

Seto’s mouth opened slightly, as if he were uncertain whether or not he ought to say anything in response. After a few seconds, he rolled onto his back instead and began staring up at the ceiling, his harsh breathing the only sound in the otherwise silent void.

Yami took a moment to reverently place the Devil’s Sanctuary back on top of his deck, then curled back up against to his boyfriend before resuming his massage, slowly tracing small circles down Seto’s arm and along the curve of his ribcage. He was okay with Seto not wanting to talk; at least he had been able to say his piece. And at least Seto hadn’t started yelling or jumping out of bed in a rage, though he probably wasn’t capable of doing either of those things at the moment anyhow.

Seto was so still that after several minutes, Yami figured he must’ve fallen asleep, so he was understandably surprised when Seto suddenly began speaking, his voice unusually soft. "I don’t really remember my mother. What she looked like, her voice… I had forgotten that she used to stroke my hair and back, but you reminded me that she had done that…"

"That’s a nice memory to have."

"… It is," Seto breathed, glancing at Yami out of the corner of his eye. He was almost surprised at his admission, not that he didn’t trust Yami of course, but he had never been comfortable with the thought of baring his soul to anyone. And he had thought that uncovering that particular memory, pleasant as it was on the surface, would’ve only reminded him of loss… But it didn’t feel bad like he thought it would. Certainly he felt a lot better about it this time...

Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing to take a backward glance once in a while as long as his feet were firmly planted, facing the right way. Maybe it was Yami’s presence that made him consider it, because he was there and wanted to understand, because he deserved to know, having left the door closed to his own past in order to embrace Seto’s future. Because Yami was the one who had helped him take hold of that lofty, ambitious dream and turned it into something real.

Yami felt his lips contort into a gentle smile. He reached out to stroke Seto’s cheek, pleased that the brunette turned his head to follow the movement, then shifted himself slightly so that he was leaning across the pillows at a slight angle before encouraging Seto to rest his head on his chest.

Seto accepted the invitation, pressing himself against Yami’s body, clutching at his lover’s shoulder, finally sighing contentedly when he felt Yami wrap his arms securely around him in turn. He was starting to feel sluggish and sleepy once again, but for once, he was fighting against it because he wanted to stay up to talk. He was tired of trying to keep secrets from Yami – he deserved better than that. And too, there was the strange sense of relief that came with knowing there was someone other than Mokuba who cared enough to ask the difficult questions, even though Seto was certain to put up a fight over it. Someone who was strong and yet patient enough to give Seto the push he needed when he faltered, who had seen him at his absolute worst and yet still believed in him, who wanted to be by his side, always. "Yami…"

"Shh…" The crimson-eyed man kissed his hair lightly. "While I’m extremely grateful that you want to talk, I know you’re getting tired and need to rest. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you wake up."

Seto nodded briefly, the motion causing his cheek to rub against Yami’s chest. "I know," he mumbled before closing his eyes to concentrate on the steady heartbeat just below his ear. It was almost hypnotic… and very reassuring. He only half registered it when Yami resettled the comforter around them a minute later, smoothing it down when it wouldn’t quite behave, and was on the verge of sleeping by the time the former Pharaoh had begun stroking his back again. The last thing he remembered thinking was how lucky he felt, safe and loved, wrapped in Yami’s warm embrace.

* * *

Yami was half nodding off himself when the door to the bedroom opened and Mokuba walked in. Yami waved the teen over as soon as he spotted him, pushing aside the loose papers that lay scattered across the blankets the best he could. For the past two days, while Seto had been out of it, he’d been going over the proposed graphics that Product Development had sent him at his request; it had turned out the pile of papers on Seto’s desk had been the tip of the iceberg. And for the past two days, Mokuba had been diligently working on his own projects while pointedly ignoring both Noa and Yami unless it had to do with Kaiba Corp. business - in this case, the bringing over of the multitude of faxes and email attachments that had been marked "Attention Mr. Mutou" - while taking the opportunity to linger by the bed as if checking up on the quality of care Seto was receiving from Yami. Though of course, he’d never admit to that.

It would’ve probably been easy enough for Mokuba to demand that Yami cede Seto’s care to him. But Mokuba had tried to juggle taking care of Seto while taking care of Seto’s company before, and he knew that definitely wasn’t an ideal setup. And while Noa was taking care of the current big project, game development, and Yami was sorta helping with some of the lesser matters, he wasn’t at all qualified to take care of other things at the company. But he was capable of taking care of Seto at least – it wasn’t like Yami posed a danger to a sleeping man. Lack of challenge and all that.

Mokuba forced down the doubts closest to the surface before thrusting yet another sheaf of papers at Yami. "Here."

Yami reached out to accept them, quickly shuffling through them to see if there was anything that would require his immediate attention. Thankfully, there was not. "You’ll be happy to know, the last time he woke up, he was pretty alert and even managed to carry on a conversation for several minutes," the ex-spirit quietly informed the black-haired teen as he added the new sheets to his existing stack.

Mokuba looked at Seto. His brother was lying with his head pillowed on Yami’s stomach, his fingers buried in the fabric of the black undershirt Yami wore. He was still breathing loudly, but that was most likely because of the position he was in; otherwise his body was relaxed and his expression calm. Certainly he seemed okay, though Mokuba would’ve felt a bit better if Seto were awake to verify that.

"I should have called you in to talk to him, but he wanted to take a bath, and we sorta got distracted after that."

"Distracted?" Mokuba’s gray eyes narrowed slightly. What the hell were they doing, playing sex games?! Didn’t Yami know better than to do something like that while Seto was sick?

"I gave him a backrub. And we talked a bit… about us, about our past."

That caught Mokuba’s attention. He took a half step towards the bed, his expression changing from hostile to somewhat subdued. "… The past?" he whispered, as if they were involved in some sort of conspiracy.

Yami nodded slowly. "I realized that in spite of all we’ve been through, there was still a lot I didn’t know about Seto. Oh, on some level, I knew how hard things must’ve been for him, but there’s a huge difference between thinking, ‘Wow, it must’ve really been bad’ and knowing the actual, painful details."

Mokuba blinked. "I thought you guys… you know, with the mind link thing and all…"

"No. Your brother values his privacy immensely. And I respect that. I’m honored that he has chosen to let me in as far as he has already."

Mokuba was silent for a moment as he digested that bit of information. Honestly, he was a little surprised… he had figured by this point, privacy wasn’t something that existed anymore between the two. It did make sense though, in a way… Mokuba knew how his brother was; of course Seto would want to retain control over what thoughts and memories he allowed Yami to access. But surely Yami, with the powers he had at his disposal – or if nothing else, his gift of persuasion – had to be capable of pushing for more if he was so inclined, and yet… he hadn’t. Why? Was it because Yami didn't think it was worth the hassle and the headache to press Seto for more, because the effort needed outweighed any potential reward? Or... did he see Seto's cautious revelations as the gifts they were, ones that were worth waiting for like the winning card in a duel?

Then he considered the things he and Seto had talked about the last time he’d really been awake. Seto had been confident that Yami had done the right thing; he totally approved of what his lover had done for Noa's sake. And he had been quite frank that his feelings for Yami hadn’t changed at all. If anything, he felt more strongly about him than ever. "After he regained consciousness… He told me he trusted you. And… that he loved you."

Yami felt a smile bloom on his face, but it faded slightly when he realized he didn’t know what Mokuba thought of him anymore. "Thank you for sharing that with me. But... that doesn’t tell me how you feel. Are you still angry with me?"

The youngest Kaiba looked down, ground the ball of his foot into the carpet, then finally shrugged. "… Dunno."

He had figured as much. "Come here; sit with me."

Mokuba seemed a bit uncertain at first, but then he took a deep breath and gingerly sat himself at the edge of the mattress. He looked over at his brother again, watching as his shoulders shifted slightly with each breath. Yami’s arm rested across his brother’s back. He must have been stroking it like he always did, since that was something that Seto really enjoyed, even if he never liked admitting to it. "I guess I should just get over it, huh? After all, it’s not like Seto’s holding a grudge… But… it’s not that simple."

"No, it’s not. And I don’t want you to pretend to like me just because you think that’s what Seto wants." Yami paused, exhaling hard. "What would it take for me to regain your trust? You believed in me once…"

"Promise me that you won’t ever hurt him again," Mokuba quickly responded.

"I can’t do that, no matter how desperate you are to hear it." Seeing the flash of anger in storm-colored eyes, Yami quickly held up his hand to forestall any argument. "Please, let me explain. I will always cherish him and love him as much as humanly possible. And I will never again try to hurt him on purpose. But what I did I did because I had no other choice. It was what Seto would’ve expected of me. It’s what I expected of myself too."

Mokuba shifted a bit uncomfortably, but held his tongue and didn’t interrupt.

"But don’t get me wrong – I feel terrible and guilty about it, even now, even though he seems to be okay. And yet… I know I did the right thing. If I had held back, Seto would’ve been even more hurt by it, emotionally, because he trusted me to protect you guys no matter the threat. And I would’ve failed to live up to that expectation, and for what? Because I thought he needed to be protected and coddled when he was the one attacking Noa?"

"But Noa doesn’t understand! He’s said some really terrible things about Seto…"

"They have a lot of issues they need to work on. They’ll never truly be okay with one another unless they can forgive each other for whatever transgressions they committed in the past. And they have to do that not for your sake or mine, but for their own."

"Like how I should forgive you because I want to, and not because of Seto?"

Yami nodded.

"And what if… what if I can’t?"

"Then I’ll keep trying until you understand. I won’t give up so easily."

Mokuba released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. "… But why?"

"Because you and Noa are just as important to me as Seto is – I love you both as if you were my little brothers too. And it hurts to know that you’re hurting because of something I did."

Mokuba eyed the ex-spirit in surprised disbelief. He had always thought of Yami strictly as Seto’s boyfriend… even after two years, a small part of him had figured that Yami really, truly only bought into the "we’re a family" thing because he and Seto were a package deal, as they had always been. It had been almost too much to expect that Yami would like him as an individual, independent of his big brother, so he had simply avoided thinking about it. After all, who else besides Seto had ever wanted him before? Certainly not the families who had come by the orphanage looking to pick out a kid, but hadn't wanted the burden of a pair of brothers. Certainly not the relatives who’d left them there like an accidental litter of puppies. So why would he have thought that Yami'd be any different?

"I am sorry, Mokuba, I really am. I never meant to upset you. But… I know I made the right decision. And if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing, even with the knowledge that you’d hate me for it."

Mokuba winced. "… I… didn’t mean that, you know. When I said it…"

"You may have said it in anger, but at that moment, you definitely meant it," Yami said, his voice somehow remaining steady despite the deep hurt pooling in his eyes.

"I don’t hate you. I don’t know why I said…" Mokuba stopped himself, then sighed, shaking his head. "No, I do know why. Everyone I’ve known has only been interested in using Seto, thinking they could just discard him once they got what they wanted from him. He’s been treated so badly… No one’s ever wanted to get to know him, or cared about his feelings." Mokuba swallowed, feeling his throat tighten. "I figured… I had hoped… you’d be different. That you’d treasure him and love him and stick up for him, no matter what. But… It just seems to me that this was the true test, and you failed. You didn’t stick up for him…"

"I stood up for what he believes in."

"That’s not what I meant!" Mokuba exclaimed. He frowned at his own outburst, then quietly mumbled, "Why can’t anyone… why can’t you, just like him for who he is?"

"I do love him for who he is. But too, I want to see him reach his true potential. I want to see him rise above the long, hard road behind him… to fly, just like his dragons. But what you’re expecting from me is blind devotion, and I can’t do that. That’s why I couldn’t sit idly by while he lost control and nearly did something he’d never be able to forgive himself for."

Mokuba wanted to protest, even going as far as opening his mouth to do so, but then he thought about how Seto beat himself up over Death-T and knew… Yami was right. Seto was going to have a hard enough time living with the fact that he had attacked Noa in the first place, even though he hadn’t been in control of his actions. But if Yami hadn’t stopped him, and Seto had really done some damage…

"Are you starting to understand?" Yami asked, lightly placing his hand on Mokuba’s shoulder, feeling a bit hopeful when the teen didn’t shrug it off.

"I… think so."

Yami nodded. Mokuba was still sorting through things in his head. But he was a smart kid; Yami had as much faith in him as he had in Seto. "I know things have been rough over the past few days. And you’ve had more than just Seto’s illness, and my actions, to deal with. I don’t expect you to forgive me if you’re not yet ready; I know it might take a while to mend this rift between us. But you’re willing to give it a chance at least, right?"


"For the right reasons?"

"Yeah. Because I don’t like being mad at you. And I don’t want you to be mad at me, or whatever. It sucks."

The corner of Yami’s mouth twitched. He gently patted the teen’s shoulder. "Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you," he reassured him, though he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t still a bit hurt that Mokuba hadn’t forgiven him. But he meant what he had said… he could be patient, if that was what it’d take.

They sat rather companionably on the bed for a minute more, then Mokuba pushed himself back up onto his feet. "I guess I should get back to work," he announced, grateful and frankly amazed that Seto was still asleep. Then again, Yami had gone back to petting his brother’s scalp and back. But Mokuba had been in there a while already, enough to constitute a real break, and figured if he hung around any longer that he’d end up either waking his brother or forgetting about whatever he was supposed to be working on. Neither was acceptable.

Yami inclined his head. "All right. But don’t overdo it. I know how you Kaibas get."

Mokuba rewarded him with a half smile and a slight shake of his head. "I won’t… but thanks for worrying about me," he said softly, not needing to look over to know there was a burgeoning grin on Yami's face, before he turned and headed for the door.

* * *


Author’s Notes:

April 1, 2008