Title: Summer of '69
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: Yu-Gi-Oh! is the creation of Kazuki Takahashi. The Endless Summer is a film by Bruce Brown. "Running on Empty" is performed and recorded by Jackson Browne. World of Warcraft and all monsters, armor, etc. within are the property of Blizzard Entertainment. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.
Summary: "I'd love to stick around but I'm running behind, You know I don't even know what I'm hoping to find"
Status: 14 / 15
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

Summer of '69

Ch. 12: The Endless Summer

* * *

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive
In sixty-nine I was twenty-one and I called the road my own
I don't know when that road turned onto the road I'm on

Running on - running on empty
Running on - running blind
Running on - running into the sun
But I'm running behind

Honey you really tempt me
You know the way you look so kind
I'd love to stick around but I'm running behind
You know I don't even know what I'm hoping to find
Running into the sun but I'm running behind

- "Running on Empty," Jackson Browne

* * *

"Yugi, are you ready?" Sugoroku asked in a very low voice.

The violet-eyed man thoughtfully trailed his fingers over the pocket containing his deck, then nodded. No time like the present, he supposed. Even though he had already said goodbye, he'd still miss the Dark Magician of course, just as Sugoroku would miss the fourth BEWD. But both grandfather and grandson understood and accepted that neither card belonged to them anymore. Seto's tournament had been the final confirmation of that.

Yami, I need to speak to you for a moment. Privately.


And Jii-chan needs to talk to Kaiba, Yugi added. He could sense Yami's curiosity being piqued and tried to stay calm, lest he give anything away.

Jii-chan? ... Okay...

Taking a deep breath, Yugi turned and motioned for his grandfather to follow him to the table in the back of the room where Yami and Seto sat waiting for them. Seto stood up when they arrived, taking a few steps back before turning to see if Sugoroku would follow. The elderly game shop owner nodded and went with the young CEO, feeling the card in his pocket growing warm again, encouraging him in his endeavor.

Seto led Sugoroku to the back corner of the room, stopping only when he was satisfied that there was enough distance between them and Yugi-tachi. The young billionaire wasn't sure what Sugoroku wanted to talk to him about, but if it was because he had done something wrong, he didn't want to chance anyone overhearing it. Not that he was sure what he had done to deserve a lecture; the only thing that came to mind was that maybe Sugoroku had heard from Yugi about how drained Yami had become from their attempts at energy transfer, and he disapproved. Or maybe Yami wasn't the issue... maybe he was upset that Yugi's opportunity to duel had been stolen from him because of the way he had handled the Siegfried situation. He wasn't sure. But it made him uneasy, because he knew Yami thought of the old man as his grandfather, so he couldn't just blow off whatever he had to say.

Sugoroku tried to give Seto a reassuring smile. The younger man seemed to be growing tense, as if he expected something bad to happen. Not that the signs were easily noticeable. He had crossed his arms and let his bangs drift down to slightly shield his eyes, just enough to indicate that he was anticipating a fight. Sugoroku tried not to take offense... the last time he had spoken to Seto alone, he had questioned the permanence of Seto's relationship with Yami. That wasn't a very good precedent to set. Maybe he had only agreed to a chat to give Yami and Yugi a little privacy, not because he was curious, like Sugoroku had initially thought.

Well, regardless of the reason, there was only so much he could do with words. But maybe his actions could set things right.

Reaching into his back pocket, Sugoroku carefully pulled out the dark blue velvet case and silently held it out to Seto, hoping that he'd simply accept it. Seto unfurled his arms, tentatively extending his hand just a little... and then stopped, staring at it.

"Go on, take it," Sugoroku finally said, seeing that the brunette wasn't going to take it without some encouragement.

Seto shook his head very slightly. Oh, he knew what it was all right. Even with the lid closed, he could feel it. There was literally a spark of electricity in the air. His pulse quickened, his mouth went dry.


"I can't," he muttered, still staring at the navy blue box. Even though he wouldn't take it, he just couldn't take his eyes off it, either.

"But it belongs to you."

"No. It rejected me. And I tore it up."

The game shop owner tried to think of what he could possibly say to convince the young man before him. It wouldn't be an easy task. "You have a connection with the Blue Eyes White Dragon. And that's true for all of them, including this one. But... you used to be a very different person. You stole this card from me. But dragons only give their loyalty to those who've earned it."

Seto gave a slight nod. He agreed with that at least. He just disagreed with the notion that he had earned it, and he couldn't stand the thought of it rejecting him a second time. After all, it wasn't like Sugoroku was proposing a duel, and he hadn't asked for payment...

"Let's make a deal," Sugoroku said, stepping forward to push the box with gentle insistence into Seto's hand. The younger man held his breath as his fingers slowly curled around it, resting so lightly on the surface that Sugoroku wondered if the box would tumble to the ground if he were to let go at that moment. "I want you to take it and keep it this week. Next week, when you come back to Domino, if you still feel it doesn't belong to you, you can return it and I will never bring it up again."

Seto gulped a breath of air. "Why?" Surely, there had to be something in it for the older man...

"Because... this dragon has decided that you've earned its loyalty. And I'm not going to argue with it." He carefully let go of the box, feeling it tremble slightly between his fingers, but as he had hoped, Seto tightened his grip just enough so that it wouldn't fall. But Seto made no effort to open it, as if even holding the case was too much for him.

Then, after a long minute, Seto finally looked up from the box to meet Sugoroku's steady gaze. His mouth opened, but he couldn't think of anything to say. Should he thank him? Promise to take care of it until it was time to return it? Maybe he was being tested... "I..."

"You're welcome," the old man said, as if Seto had voiced his thoughts out loud. Then, perhaps to spare Seto the embarrassment of having to stammer a thank you, he turned away and headed back to where Yugi and Yami sat, giving the young CEO standing unsteadily in the corner of the room a chance to consider his words in private.

* * *

While Sugoroku had been trying to convince Seto to accept the fourth Blue Eyes, Yugi had been busy with his own version of the same task. He had sat himself across from Yami, a little nervous and a little excited. He had no doubt he could convince Yami to take the card, but his other half seemed distracted, casting side glances over at the corner where Sugoroku and Seto stood. It probably didn't help things that Yugi was subconsciously projecting his mood at Yami, but once he realized that maybe that was part of the problem, Yami calmed down... a tiny bit. Well, maybe Seto's nerves were doing a number on him too.

"Yami, I have something for you," Yugi began assertively, hoping to get the attention of the other man.

Crimson eyes swung over to meet violet. "I'm sorry... I'm a little distracted," he admitted. He shifted in his chair slightly so that he was now fully facing Yugi, giving him his attention. "What is it?"

Yugi smiled as he reached into his pocket, drawing the Dark Magician from his deck for the last time, placing it on the table as confidently as he would if he were playing it in a duel. Yami wouldn't accept it if he were anything less than certain. "Just as the Blue Eyes belong to Kaiba, this belongs to you."

Yami blinked once, then twice, realizing not only what Yugi was intending, but Sugoroku as well. "Aibou... but I told you to keep it. You're still using him in your duels."

"I know. And I think maybe I wasn't ready to let go of it, until now. But he's always been yours. I was just borrowing him for a while. It helped, having him, when we were finally separate and you were ready to move on, to have a piece of you with me," he explained. Then he reached up, lightly touching the Sennen Puzzle hanging from his neck. "Well, another piece of you."

"I hope you aren't going to suggest I take the Puzzle back as well," Yami countered even as he reached over and picked up the card, running his fingers over the familiar image. Even when it hadn't been in his hands, he couldn't help but see it in his mind every time he thought of his lover, who permanently carried the spellcaster on his back. "Are you really sure about this?"

"Yes. When I saw you play him during your duel with Leon, I knew it was time... and I said goodbye."

Yami visibly relaxed a little. "Thank you," he murmured. It wasn't sufficient to express how grateful he felt, how grateful he was to have someone like Yugi in his life, but what words could? Yugi was everything to him... friend, brother, partner. And holding the Dark Magician, which called to his soul as well as his partner's, felt like holding onto another affirmation of their bond. With a smile, the ex-spirit caressed the surface of the card once more, then pulled out his deck and reverently slid the card into a place of honor on top of the stack.

"No, thank you. For understanding, and for letting me hold on to it so long."

Yami just chuckled, and pulled his partner in for a hug. "I meant what I said about the Puzzle though," he said with a grin when they finally parted.

Yugi matched his grin. "I'm glad. I don't think I could ever let go completely."

"I wouldn't want to."

"Me neither."

Yami nodded, thankful that Yugi understood and felt the same way.

Then, as if to reconfirm the strength of their connection, the violet-eyed man gave Yami a long, searching look, and told him, Go on, he needs you.

Are you sure? Yami asked, even as he rose to his feet. Sugoroku was already heading back towards them, a half smile on his face. Seeing that, plus sensing Seto's obvious discomfort, he could guess what had happened, though the contrast between their respective reactions felt strange.

Of course. I can feel it too, through you. And I won't feel any better until you do, Yugi pointed out, his mental voice a warm and soothing balm on Yami's nerves.

Grateful for Yugi's understanding and unable to think of anything else to say, Yami took a small step back and bowed deeply, then stopped to courteously nod at his grandfather before hurrying off to join Seto.

The little duelist watched as Yami ran off, then looked over at his grandfather. "How did it go? I'm assuming he took it..."

"Yes, eventually. Though I don't think he's convinced that this isn't all some sort of trick, even now." The elderly man sighed. Despite Seto's obvious desire for the card, it had taken some work to convince him to take it, even temporarily. And he supposed that if Seto came back to Domino and decided to return the card, he'd have to accept it - they had a deal. He really hoped that wouldn't end up happening since that hadn't been his intent, but given Seto's unpredictable nature, it was a remote possibility.

Watching as Yami finally reached his boyfriend and feeling the slight drop in Seto's anxiety level that followed, Yugi smiled. "Well, it was probably the last thing he'd ever expect to see. But I'm glad you did it. I think it meant more coming from you than if you were to give it to me and I gave it to Kaiba in turn."

"Yes." Then, following the direction of Yugi's gaze, he coughed mildly and added, "I think we should give them some privacy now, don't you agree?"

Yugi started, then shook his head and laughed at his own behavior. "Yeah. Let's go grab something to eat...."

* * *

Noa, Mokuba and Leon ended up taking their conversation over to a round table by the head of the buffet area, where they could easily load up on more punch if they felt like it. Leon had initially feared that they'd have nothing to talk about, nothing pleasant at least, and had wondered one last time... was it a mistake to attend the party? But almost immediately his fears were allayed. Mokuba and Noa were friendly. Even Rebecca came over to join them. They were all interested in getting to know him more. None of them cared that he was a top ranked duelist or a von Schroider or anything. It was... nice, just being himself for a change. And it turned out, they had a lot in common...

"... so then of course, I had to tell Nii-sama that I was the one that got feared into the whelp pits. And the guy who was bitching about it got booted from the raid and gkicked, right in the middle of phase 3," Mokuba was saying, animatedly describing his guild's first Onyxia kill. It turned out Leon was not only an avid online gamer, but he had an unguilded Alliance druid as well. It made sense to try and recruit him to their server, especially when they could always use another decent healer.

Leon laughed at the story. "That's awesome! I never got in the whelp pits, thankfully... I always tried to steer clear of them."

"Well, you obviously never tried keeping up a main tank who believes in nothing but berserker stance," Noa pointed out, grateful for the fact that he had chosen to play a hunter and not a healing class, like a druid.

Leon nodded. "Yeah, that's just... ouch."

"I aggroed them once. The whelps, I mean," Rebecca admitted. "On purpose."

Noa snorted. "Why? That's dumb. People must've been pissed."

"Well, I was mad, okay?!" Rebecca shot back. "It was a semi-PuG, and the guild running it said we could all roll, but the raid leader gave the tier 2 hunter helm to a guildee without a roll and then claimed he 'accidentally' clicked it when you know it doesn't work that way!"

"That sucks," Leon said sympathetically. He had seen that sort of thing happen, but thankfully, had never been directly affected by it.

"Yeah. So as they divvied up the loot, I used 'Eyes of the Beast' on my pet and ran it into the whelp pits." The blonde girl smiled wickedly at the memory. "You should've heard everyone screaming in Vent..."

"Uh... yeah." Noa made a mental note to never invite Rebecca's hunter to their guild. Last thing they needed was a loose cannon with their guild tag floating overhead pissing off everyone on the server.

"Well, like I said, if you two feel like transferring or making a new toon on our server, send me a tell and I'll send you a guild invite. We're just looking for people who like having fun," Mokuba explained, giving his boyfriend an apologetic look. He knew Noa still wasn't fond of Rebecca, even though she wasn't so bad now that she'd stopped making a play for him. The black-haired teen wasn't sure what had changed her mind about him, but whatever it was, he was grateful for it.

He felt pretty comfortable talking to both Rebecca and Leon. Maybe it was an age thing, since they were all younger than Yugi and the rest of the gang. Maybe it was a bit of shared experience and understanding. Well, whatever it was... Mokuba liked it. He hadn't always understood why Yugi, Anzu and Jounouichi thought friendship was so important. After all, Seto didn't need it. But - and Mokuba hated to admit it - Seto had been wrong. He just hadn't really understood it until he met Yami and began to see things through his eyes.

They all lived in different places, and came from different backgrounds. But Duel Monsters had brought them all together. Now looking around the room, at all the conversations and the laughter, the smiles and the camaraderie, and best of all, at the bonds of friendship and love, Mokuba knew... this was how things ought to be. And it was a wonderful birthday present.

Then he looked at his watch, realizing that even when a moment seemed perfect, it was just a moment, over in a heartbeat. "What time did you say your flight was again?"

Leon glanced at his watch as well, then looked up, a bit forlorn. Time had just flown by. Why did he have to go now, when he had new friends to talk to? It didn't seem fair. "Oh... my brother and I need to start heading to the airport. I wish we had the foresight to schedule a few more days off. But... I know Siegfried's eager to get back. After all, we have a lot of work ahead of us if we ever hope to compete with Kaiba Corp."

"There's not enough hours in the day for that to happen. But you can try," Noa said, smirking.

Leon didn't take offense. It was an honest challenge. He looked forward to making the effort. "I welcome the opportunity. But we'll do it by the book from now on." Then the redhead spotted his brother slowly starting to wander over, and stood up, quickly bowing at the waist. "I'm glad I met all of you..."

"It was nice meeting you too, Leon," Rebecca said as Leon half-turned to look at Siegfried. The pink-haired man simply nodded politely, but didn't approach the table. He wasn't going to disturb their goodbyes, having learned something of restraint during the tournament.

"Aw, don't talk like that. We'll see you around online," Mokuba told Leon.

"Once you hear Seto screaming about lazy DPS and not getting enough heals during Maulgar, you'll feel like you're sitting right there with us," Noa added, unable to resist making another lighthearted jab at Seto's style of raid leading. Mokuba poked him in the arm for the comment, though even he couldn't deny the truth of that statement.

"I can hardly wait," Leon replied dryly, though a half smile crept through on his face. He really did mean it. He looked over at his brother one more time, then turned back to give the group a final wave. "Well, we better get going. Thanks for everything, you guys," he said, then he spun around and trotted up to Siegfried, walking side by side with his brother as the two of them disappeared out the door.

For a minute, the remaining trio was silent. Uncomfortable with the sudden drop in communication and sensing that the younger Kaibas wanted some privacy, Rebecca excused herself to go grab something to eat. When the blonde girl finally left, Noa smiled thinly and ran his index finger around the rim of his empty glass, mumbling, "I really admire you, you know?"

Mokuba blinked at him. "What?"

"The way you don't hold grudges against people. I mean, Leon's Siegfried's brother. And look at everything Siegfried did, and everything that Leon did because of Siegfried."

Mokuba shrugged a little. "That's like saying I'm only Seto's little brother, nothing more..."

"You're not! I mean, of course you are, but you're more than that." He didn't know why he had said that. He wouldn't want anyone judging him based on their opinion of his father. Frustrated at his own flawed logic, he sighed. "I know, I'm being unreasonable..."

"Besides, if Leon didn't do everything in his power to help his big brother... I think I'd have more of a problem with that than anything else," Mokuba added quietly.

Noa knew his boyfriend was thinking of Seto, as always. "Yeah..."

"... But if it really bothers you, I won't talk to him if he contacts me later, if that's what you want..."

"Geez, no! I think it's cool that still you want to be friends with him... Rebecca too. I'm just not as good at this type of thing as you are. But I'm trying to be better about it."

Mokuba smiled, encouraged by Noa's words, then he nudged the green-haired teen. "I know. And I guess we should look at the bright side, too. At least you and Seto kinda worked through some of the things bothering the two of you. You really came through with that anti-virus..."

It was Noa's turn to shrug. "I'm glad he wasn't mad about it, that he accepted what I did. At least, he hasn't said anything to the contrary. But I owed him, for opening my big mouth about him and Yami. I just hope he understood what I was trying to tell him..."

The younger teen was ready to just blurt out an affirmative, but with Seto... it was always a little hard to tell if things had sunk in. He could be a bit thick headed on occasion. And Noa was, quite obviously, equally unsure about how successful his efforts were, not quite trusting in himself or in Seto.

God, they're each as stubborn as the other, Mokuba realized. What Seto and Noa really needed to do was to sit down, just the two of them, and have a good long talk. Lay all their cards on the table so to speak, because nothing would ever really be resolved if they refused to communicate with one another directly. But he knew they were both trying, and they had made obvious progress... and that was good enough for the moment. He could be patient.

But... that didn't mean he wasn't allowed to help move things along, either. "You could talk to him, if you're worried about it..." Mokuba continued on as he cast an eye out for his big brother. Surprisingly, he wasn't sitting with Yami, who was plopped down at a table across the room chatting with Valon and the Doom guys. "... Not right now, but when things are a little more settled... But speaking of Seto... where is he? I don't see him."

Noa took a quick look around. Thankfully Seto's height made him pretty easy to spot, even though it turned out he was in the last place Noa had thought to look. "Um... he's by the end of the buffet line." He pointed over to where the brunette was standing.

"Ah, good. He needs to eat," Mokuba commented, watching as Seto drifted further away from where they were seated, brushing past Jou, Honda and Bakura. There seemed to be something off about him... he didn't seem angry or anything, but just... something was wasn't right. Mokuba just couldn't place his finger on it.

"I'm glad he agreed to take a day off. Maybe we can talk him into two or three even. He needs the rest," Noa said, then he noticed that Mokuba seemed distracted. "Hey... what's wrong?"

Mokuba quickly looked over at his boyfriend, then back at his older brother. "I... guess I'm just glad this is all over, that's all," he replied, a hint of a frown on his face.

Noa wondered about the change in Mokuba's demeanor, but couldn't imagine what would be causing it. "Me too... And hey, it's your birthday, and everything's okay now, right?"

"Yeah, I guess." But he still had the feeling that he'd better keep an eye on Seto, just in case.

* * *

Jou had been stalking the buffet line for a while now, another nearly full plate of food carefully balanced in one hand. He couldn't resist... as the party wore on, the menu kept changing and he wanted to try everything, especially since it was on Seto's dime. He zeroed in on a display of skewered shrimp with sesame glaze that looked awfully tempting. Even Seto must've thought so, since he was standing in front of them, staring at them. But he wasn't putting any on his plate.

"Come on Kaiba, grab some and move on. You're holdin' up the line," Jou complained at the brunette's back. When Seto didn't budge, didn't even acknowledge him with an insult, Jou realized that something was wrong. But he wasn't sure exactly what it was. "Hey, Kaiba..."

Seto started, then blinked hard once, then twice. Strange... he couldn't see a thing. It was as if someone had suddenly turned off the lights. The knowledge of what he was experiencing slowly crept into his sluggish brain. He had experienced it several times before under Gozaburo's tutelage, but was helpless to do anything about it now that his mind was in the middle of a full shutdown. It was more than a little disconcerting.

"Kaiba... you okay?"

Seto finally grunted breathlessly in response. He had heard Jou say his name but the rest of what he said was gibberish. Seto frowned, replaying the jumbled sounds in his head, trying to focus long enough make sense of them, but he was getting nothing but static that rushed up on him like a hurricane...

Meanwhile, Jou was beginning to get a little mad at the lack of response... and maybe a little worried too, just a bit. Seto was just zoning on him. It was so unlike him. Usually he'd whirl around and call him a stupid mutt, but he was just standing there. Jou looked a little more closely at the taller man. Seto's breathing was becoming labored, his skin paler than usual. A cold sweat had broken out on his brow and his eyes were glassy. He began rocking back slightly on his heels just as Jou began reaching out instinctively for his arm, which turned out to be a fortunate thing indeed, for no sooner had Jou's hand closed around Seto's bicep did the unconscious CEO drop like a lead weight, his head lolling back dangerously...

"What the fuck?!" Jou gasped as the taller man's head barely missed smashing into the travertine tiles beneath their feet, the plate of food shattering on the floor as if to emphasize what could've happened. Good thing he had grabbed Seto's arm as quick as he did!

"What happened?" a voice asked, hands reaching in to help. Jou followed them up along powerful forearms to see Rishid helping him lower Seto to the floor.

"Dunno. One minute he's standin' there, and then he just dropped like a rock," the blonde explained as he yanked off his lightweight jacket, wadding it into a ball to serve as a pillow of sorts. He'd never be best friends with Seto, but he didn't really hate him either, despite all the things he said to the contrary. Besides, the guy had just passed out. It wasn't a good time to be cataloging his flaws.

Ishizu, who had been standing next to Rishid, bent down and did a quick check to make sure Seto was still breathing as Yami sprinted up, eyes wide in concern. She and Rishid parted to make way for him, though they remained close by, in case he needed any assistance.

"What happened?!" he asked brusquely, not expecting an answer as he knelt down to catalog his boyfriend's condition. It wasn't the first time Seto had conked out on him, but he had never done it standing in the middle of a crowded room before, and never so abruptly. Thankfully, he didn't appear to be injured, but Yami could sense just how physically depleted Seto was now that he was no longer able to block him. He had literally run out of gas.

Yami was tempted to ask Rishid or Rafael to help him carry Seto up to a vacant room or something so that he could get the rest he desperately needed, but he knew Seto would be pissed off at the thought of everyone watching him getting carted off like a sack of potatoes. Plus, it was Mokuba's birthday party on top of that, and the black-haired teen was rushing over now, a look of panic on his face. Seto... wake up!

On the edge of consciousness, the young CEO heard someone calling to him in concern. But they sounded distant... muffled... the voice echoing in his head, familiar... but he couldn't quite nail it down. Everything seemed so surreal, like a dream, cottony and indistinct. He didn't like it. There was something wrong. The voice called to him again, more strongly this time. His consciousness shifted toward it, slowly pushing past the omnipresent fog surrounding him...

Seto suddenly awoke with a start, exhaling harshly. There were hazy faces peering down at him, their voices loud, indecipherable. Why were they there? Disoriented, he tried to ask what had happened and where he was, but he literally couldn't find his voice. He couldn't even move. It should've bothered him, and he knew that, but for some reason, he couldn't think of the reason why.

Seto... Baby, it's okay. I'm here, Yami whispered when he saw his lover's eyes rolling around, out of focus. And he was panting, as if he had been running a marathon. Yami held onto him tightly, stroking his hair reassuringly, hoping that his touch, along with his mental voice, would be enough to get through to his boyfriend.

Seto shivered involuntarily, faint, fuzzy memories sparking his very sluggish mind enough that at least, he knew he had been in this situation before a long time ago, but... it didn't seem the same. Eight, nine years ago... someone calling his name and touching him would've been bad news. It would've meant that he had fallen asleep during his lessons, that Gozaburo or one of his many tutors were angry, that there'd be a slap across the face or the sting of a switch across his knuckles. But the voice he had heard belonged to Yami, not Gozaburo, and those were Yami's crimson eyes above him, looking at him in concern, and Yami's arms cradling his body...

With a soundless sigh, he rolled his head towards Yami, and let his eyes slide shut again. God, nothing felt real - not the hollow aching of his muscles, not the chill of the hard floor. He was so tired that he wasn't even conscious of being tired anymore. But now that he knew Yami was there, he knew he was safe. It was okay to sleep.

A small smile creased Yami's lips at the gesture, and he tightened his grip on Seto even more. Kai-baby... come on, wake up. Just for a little bit. Seto barely stirred. I know you're tired. But you can't sleep here. And even though he knew his lover was against it, he went ahead and pushed open the pathway to his energy reserves, literally force-feeding Seto enough energy to get him by, but not too much, for fear of triggering his slumbering defenses.

"Nii-sama..." Mokuba added, his voice pleading. He had run over the moment he saw Seto go down but had hung back after he saw his brother come to on the ground, thinking he'd be okay and that he just needed a moment to gather himself. But now that Seto had slipped back into seeming unconsciousness, he felt his own anxiety increasing again. He wasn't sure what was wrong with his big brother and Yami hadn't saying anything to reassure him that things were all right.

Seto issued a soft groan at the sound of Mokuba's voice, but despite his condition, he couldn't deny it. If Mokuba needed him, he'd respond. It took him a long minute to find even the tiny amount of energy needed to force open his eyes, but when he finally did, he was rewarded with the sight of a blurry, pale face set in a mass of black hair. "Mo... kuba?"

"He needs to sleep, but in a real bed, not on the floor," Noa whispered into Mokuba's ear as his boyfriend crouched down to take Seto's hand, giving it a squeeze, trying to reassure both himself and Seto that everything would be okay.

"I know..." Mokuba sighed. He looked at the crowd that gathered around them, suddenly extremely grateful that Siegfried had already left. Everyone standing around were their friends, but still... he didn't like having so many people seeing his big brother in a moment of weakness. Tugging on Seto's hand, he urged, "Nii-sama, come on..."

"He can't get up, never mind walk," Honda muttered.

He can walk, Mokuba thought, even though he knew Seto was better off being carried. But it was already bad enough that everyone saw him collapse. He'd at least give him the chance to salvage some semblance of dignity. "Nii-sama..."

Much to everyone's amazement, Seto complied, slowly bending a leg and planting a foot on the ground, trying to get his feet under him while Mokuba tugged on his arm and Yami braced him from behind. With tremendous effort, he somehow managed to get upright, his eyelids drooping closed as he began swaying dangerously.

"He needs to go to a hospital or something," Bakura said, concerned.

Mokuba quickly objected with a shake of his head. It was exhaustion. He didn't need a doctor to tell him that. Seto would recover on his own as long as he got plenty of rest. "Noa, can you call the front desk and find us an available room? Anything will do."

"There should be one or two on our floor," Shizuka hesitantly volunteered as the green-haired teen began dialing. Noa nodded his thanks, for once biting back the obvious question that her remark had brought to mind.

That settled, Mokuba concentrated on keeping Seto up until they could find someplace to put him. He was already starting to lean back pretty hard, his chin dropping to rest on his chest, so Mokuba hooked one of Seto's arms around his shoulders and encouraged Yami to do the same. At least they could keep him propped up a little while longer that way.

Seto was barely aware that he was standing by the time Noa reported back that the keycards for room 869 were ready to go. He was nodding off a second or two at a time, only to jerk awake for a moment of lucidity before repeating the cycle all over again. When Mokuba encouraged him to start walking, he tried to comply, but he honestly wasn't all that certain if he was actually making progress. He felt like he was walking on legs of gelatin with cement blocks strapped to his feet - they felt impossibly heavy and the floor felt far away and uneven beneath him. Then he'd blank out for a moment, only to come to enough to realize that people were talking around him, or perhaps about him... he wasn't exactly sure. They all seemed to be mumbling, and it sounded like a hive of bees had taken up residence in the room as well.

Yugi volunteered to go to the front desk to fetch the keycards while Mokuba, Yami and now Noa helped Seto up to the room. It was slow going, but at least they were moving forward. To avoid any passersby seeing what was going on, they took the back exit and used a staff elevator to get to the 8th floor. Thankfully, the room was close to the elevator, and Yugi was already there to greet them.

It felt like the last few yards were the hardest, but with a combination of loud encouragement and flat out dragging, they finally managed to get Seto through the small sitting room and into the bedroom, seating him on the closer of the two beds. Somehow realizing that he had arrived at whatever destination they'd been heading for, the brunette passed out again, taxed beyond even his impressive limits. Mokuba and Noa were left to keep him propped up while Yami swiftly stripped him down to his underwear. A little more teamwork, and Seto was properly curled up beneath the covers with his head on a fluffy pillow, breathing loudly.

"Thanks you guys," Yami told Noa and Mokuba and even Yugi, who had waited discretely by the door. He yawned, feeling the pull of Seto's sleeping mind on his own, his body continuing to feed Seto's thirst for energy. "I'll stay here with him. Go and have a good time at the party, 'kay?"

Mokuba blinked. "No way, I'm not leaving."

Noa stepped closer to his boyfriend, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Me neither."

"But it's your birthday party, Mokuba. And Seto would be disappointed if he knew you had missed it on his account," Yami reasoned as Mokuba frowned at him. Well, it was the truth.

"I'm not leaving," Mokuba repeated, eyes narrowed, jaw set in determination. "I can't go down there and pretend to be happy while Seto's up here, passed out!"

Yami didn't argue back. He figured Mokuba had made up his mind the moment they had walked out of the ballroom, and really, had he expected anything less?

From his vantage point, Yugi shook his head and smiled slightly at the scene. Mokuba was just as stubborn as his big brother. Well, he was a Kaiba, after all. "I'll pass the news on to everyone downstairs. It's been a hectic couple of days; they'll understand."

"Thanks," Mokuba said, and Yami threw in a nod as well.

Yugi returned the gesture, then as Yami tossed off his own shirt and began removing his various accessories, he asked him, Are you going to be okay? It was clear what the crimson-eyed man was intending to do, and while he knew his other half well enough to realize that there'd be no talking him out of it, he couldn't help but be a little concerned for him as well since Seto was so depleted.

Don't worry. He'll still have to sleep most of it off himself. But since I can help, I'm going to. He can yell at me once he's up and on his feet again, Yami replied, slightly amused at the thought. He would welcome Seto's wrath in this instance, since that would mean he was okay.

Yugi gave a mental chuckle. All right. I'll come and check up on you guys later, okay? Then to Mokuba and Noa, who were quietly quibbling over whether or not they needed sleep as well, he said, "I'm gonna take off. The keycards are right here..." and he tossed four of them on the nightstand. "If you need anything, I'm in room 861, or just go bang on a random door, since it's just us staying in this area of the hotel. But I'll stop by a little later anyways, just to make sure everything's okay." He held up a fifth keycard.

Mokuba looked over, pausing for a moment to take in what Yugi had said. He figured they could take care of things themselves. But Yugi just wanted to help, and he WAS Yami's other half, so he really couldn't deny him the right to check in on them. So he consented, giving the violet-eyed duelist a nod.

Yugi hid a smile. He knew the black-haired teen well enough by now to know what he'd been thinking, but when it came to anything involving Seto, Mokuba was always going to be protective and cautious, a regular mother hen. He couldn't blame him though... he felt the same way about Yami. So with one last look at the quartet and a final goodbye, Yugi backed out of the room and exited the suite, quietly shutting the door behind him.

* * *


Author's Notes:

June 30, 2007