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“How’s it look?”

Katsuya spun around, a wide grin deliberately directed at his partner.

“It fits you well.”

Seto continued eyeing the blond as the latter mimicked an exaggerated modelling pose. Even in that ridiculous stance, and with that stupid lopsided smile that Seto didn’t love blinding him, he couldn’t help tracing the contours of Katsuya’s lean form in silent admiration. He felt his gaze catching as it settled on the clothing article the other was showing off. It couldn’t be a more perfect fit.

“Gives you good support too, doesn’t it?”

Katsuya bounced on the balls of his feet before answering, “Ya, kinda snug. Too snug.”

“It still looks good on you.”

The businessman then turned away (not because if he stared any longer, even his normally oblivious boyfriend would start to be creeped out), attention redirected to the catalogue spanning the screens of his monitors.

Katsuya did a couple of knee lifts, confirming his comment before moving to sit on their bed. They weren’t uncomfortable. On the contrary, they fit him like a second skin. But as someone who preferred boxers for their airiness, this wasn’t exactly his choice pick. Perhaps they would be less restrictive on someone with a smaller stature, and to be fair, things tended to be a little more fitting on him than they would be on Seto’s wiry form.

He played with the soft Egyptian cotton of the sheets absentmindedly as he looked over to the monitors, eyeing the various designs the other man was perusing.

“Why did ya wanna go inta fashion? Thought ya were more… Sciencey.”

Without missing a beat, Seto turned around and deadpanned, “Can’t have you sitting around leeching off me.”

“Eh?”

The unsophisticated reply would have been the start of an argument years ago, but now that Seto had familiarised himself with the other’s quirks, it was almost comforting, and somewhat endearing in its predictability. Almost.

“Didn't you want some involvement in my company?”

Katsuya squinted, trying to recall when, or if he had ever mentioned that. Even if he didn’t, and this was Seto’s way of introducing an option to his otherwise dry employment spell, that was a pretty good idea.

“No–, ya, eh, I don’t mind…” Katsuya trailed off, frown still visible. “But why fashion?”

The brunette sighed, making a point to temper the impatience and irritation in his original answer. Not everyone possesses an almost eidetic memory, especially not someone who occupies his mind with the frivolous. Sometimes Seto wondered how, and why he put up with the other man. He looked over to the somewhat contemplative Katsuya, the latter’s face scrunched up in thought, resulting in a slight pout that rested on his plump lips. In that moment, the doubt his annoyance had produced evaporated between the ribs of his quickening heartbeats.

Seto wasn’t sure if being a lovesick fool, or a lascivious pervert was worse.

“Seto? Earth ta, Seto…”

Katsuya waved his hand in front of the partially scowling man, a look of worry evident on the former’s face. Seto shook away the last of his thoughts, and tried to even out the sullenness he didn’t realise he was giving the other. He had the worst habit of defaulting to displeasure at the slightest deviation from perfection. Katsuya didn’t deserve the pettiness of his uncontrolled temper, not when he was arguably the one who tended to relent first in most conflicts. (And it didn’t help that the blond was also the object of Seto’s admiration.)

The businessman steadied himself, and inhaled deeply, feeling the assurance of logic calm his unwarranted agitation. He looked at his partner, the latter having leaned forward in concern. The guilt that settled in the base of his neck intensified into a new heat as he stared at the sharpness of Katsuya’s collarbones, exacerbated by the way the light framed them against the surprising tenderness of his throat–

Being a lascivious pervert was definitely worse.

Forcefully pulling himself back into reality before his mind devolved into further salacious thoughts, Seto hastily pieced together an answer for his still concerned boyfriend, “Four months, and seventeen nights ago, you asked if I could employ you. Specifically, as a secretary or something, and with the substantiation of giving me something else to look at during my day besides the four white walls of my office.”

It took Katsuya nothing less than six blinks to vaguely pull that memory from the depths of his completely-unimportant-events-that-people-shouldn’t-remember-with-the-same-precision-as-Kaiba-fucking-Seto folder. He was feeling rather dejected from the lack of responses from his job hunt that particular night, and that comment was more a joke than an actual suggestion. Obviously he shouldn’t had allowed his tongue to throw anything less than a fully considered proposal at his more lucid than he had expected, unreasonably sharp, and incredibly successful CEO of a boyfriend.

“Secretaries can be in charge of fashion lines?” Katsuya replied slowly. He almost regretted his words when he saw Seto let out the most exasperated sigh he had heard in a while, but decided the latter deserved the headache for forcing him into the overly formfitting undergarment he was still trapped in. Why couldn’t Mr. Flat-ass have done it himself?!

“I’m not offering the position of being my secretary to you,” Seto explained, pinching his nose bridge out of habit. “More importantly, secretaries are definitely not involved in product line extensions.” He tried to overlay the images of Katsuya looking more than fine earlier, hoping they would mask the near absurd ignorance (or idiocy, he wasn’t sure) the blond was spewing.

“How’d I–,”

“That’s why I’m educating you.”

Before Katsuya could interject with a retort of his own, Seto continued, “You need to know these things, Katsuya. Especially if you are running it.”

Even Katsuya noticed that what Seto had just said was not a proposition. There was no perhaps, maybe, or what if involved, and for a moment, the former forgot that he was still fidgeting in the product the other wanted him to market. So, this was why Seto had been spending most of his time trying to divest into the fashion industry, persisting despite the disparity between product lines.

Not hearing a reply from his normally boisterous other half, Seto exhaled, and tried to soften the harshness of his expression (again) as he awaited an answer.

What? I can’t–, I don’t–, the hell, Seto! I know jackshit about fashion!”

Katsuya looked every bit as agitated as he sounded, and a part of Seto wanted to empathise. But after hauling himself to meeting after meeting with consultants, and other industry experts; working with designers on a preliminary collection after rounds of feedback from focus groups; building up a small but competent team that would help, but more importantly, would also support Katsuya as he learnt; creating, and polishing the product’s brand until he was certain it would remain viable in its independence whilst retaining KC’s overall brand essence; Seto was running on empty.

No matter how his heart always hiccupped against the light of the other’s eyes, or how desire swelled within the heat of his abdomen at the sight of his boyfriend until his ache was consumed by the other, faced with that less than satisfactory answer, Seto’s patience was just stretched too thin.

“I don’t know?! What sort of an excuse is that?! You can learn, Katsuya, learn!”

“I know! But where do I start?! Walkin’ inta Evisu?!”

Seto paused, already glowering, and threw the most withering look of disbelief he could muster at Katsuya.

“Evisu isn’t even close to the stylistic direction we are heading.”

“I know, it’s just an example, dammit! Can’t ya just–, UGH!”

Before Seto could berate the other man for his puerile impertinence, Katsuya had already stormed out of the room, marking the end of their conversation with an indignant slam of the door.

“Unbelievable.”

 


 

The rest of the night was spent by Seto giving his feedback on the rest of the designs (alone, no thanks to someone), with clear instructions that the collection must not bear any resemblance to streetwear.

He shut his eyes, weary from the incessant glare of the screens, and anger still not completely abated as he revisited the events earlier. For all that the gripes the other man had about him being obstinate, Katsuya too, was dogged in his various pursuits (which were definitely not limited to making his unhappiness known). Although the latter tended to cave first, it could be days before that happened. Which was going to be quite the inconvenience because the introductory meeting for Katsuya was scheduled for the start of the upcoming work week.

Whilst Seto was still brooding, he heard the soft click of the door opening. Sure enough, Katsuya was by the doorframe, bare bodied save for the same boxer-briefs.

Even against the prickles of annoyance that bit into his skin, and the steel that bound the other man’s jaw, Seto’s resolve faltered against the rue that dulled the latter’s brown eyes, the same ones that had illuminated even his darkest nights. This entire thing was a labour of love for Katsuya, and it would be the biggest dishonour to let his pride squander the opportunity away. (Moreover, he would be lying if he claimed he wasn’t captivated by how the black of the piece sat in contrast against the glow that was intrinsic to Katsuya’s skin.)

Still, the nature so fundamental to him prevailed, and all Seto could do was to compromise the apology trapped under his tongue.

“Aren’t you cold?”

Katsuya looked up, surprised at the verbal surrender. His own grudge waning (but not enough for him to fall into the other’s lap, lips offered to seal his apology), he kept an eye on the other man as he cautiously entered the room, and closed the door gently behind him.

He carefully searched Seto’s face — the gentleness of his eyes, and the tiredness of his lips betrayed the steeple that Katsuya knew was originally intended to intimidate an apology from him. So, he shrugged as nonchalantly as his could, arms unconsciously circling himself before he answered.

“Maybe.”

Seto resisted the urge to throw his mug of piping hot tea at the blond. It was still winter, and the heating outside the rooms left much to be desired this late into the night. That aside, he was honestly impressed that his boyfriend was stubborn enough to tolerate the cold alone for a solid three hours. He repelled the urge to throw a snide remark, more concerned about the micro-shivers his boyfriend tried to suppress.

“Why didn’t you put something on?”

Katsuya met the brunette’s gaze, relaxing into its warmth as it washed over his cool skin. He instinctively rubbed his palms across the length of his upper arms, trying to disguise the sheepishness that had teased itself into a smile on his chapped lips. Now would probably be a good time to jump onto the other’s lap, and let himself sink into the heat of Seto’s kiss, but not often was he a recipient of his boyfriend’s submission, and the cheekier part of him wanted to push it further.

“Ya thought I was hot enough like this.”

Neither was sure if it was the sheer ludicrousness of Katsuya’s answer, or if it was the act of it that finally broke the tension they were trapped in. Katsuya watched on proudly as he saw his stoic partner crack a sliver of a smile, just before it was exchanged for a signature eye roll.

With the last of the latter’s frigidity melted, Katsuya was so close to what he coined a flawless victory. All he had to do was to push the other to initiate physical contact, and he would have achieved the impossible.

He loosened his smirk into a hearty chuckle, fuelling its brilliance with the relief from the resolution of their dispute, and sustained with the fondness for his other half that he could never fully suppress. This was his final blow, because Katsuya knew that deep down, somewhere beneath the hostile glaciers, and impenetrable ice sheets, was where the spark of Seto’s heart danced alighted amongst the embers of Katsuya’s laughter.

The tinkle of Katsuya’s laugh whistled, coaxing in its caresses against the artificial strain Seto hid behind. The angles of his limbs, and the harshness of his mouth betrayed the grace birthed in him. He inhaled, breathing in the light that seemed to always spill from his partner’s seams, holding it in his chest until he could feel the same explosion chase away the chill that he had once called home. There was a desperation in Seto, as he held it in his palm, pulsating and wanting, until he could return it to the enclave of the other that was his.

He extended a hand, wrist gentle as he pulled Katsuya into an embrace. He pushed into the latter’s back, searching, filling the space under his initials with love unvoiced. In his damage, he had cost the other that same comfort he selfishly monopolised. But Katsuya returned (he always did), petty game forgotten, filled with a greater fullness than before. Seto could feel the former weave it between his spine; rethreading all that was frayed, pulling, until their backs aligned. There they set, reinvigorated, brimming, lips swollen and limbs entwined in the light they now shared.

 


 

When dawn arrived, the pair awoke against its faded intensity, soothing in its existence. Before Katsuya managed to get a foot out of bed, an uncharacteristically touchy Seto rested an arm heavily on him. Whilst it was refreshing being the one clung on to instead of being the ‘clinger’, Katsuya non-too-gently pushed the offending limb off.

Knowing Katsuya was rarely the first one out of bed, Seto sniffed blearily, voice husky with sleep as he called out to his partner. Unable to resist the unexpectedly adorable sight of his usually immaculate boyfriend floundering, Katsuya paused to watch the former struggle to heave himself into a sitting position amongst the plush sea of duvet.

“I need ta shower, didn’t get ta last night.”

Once more, Seto did the unfathomable, making a noise that sounded curiously like a whine as he leaned his full weight into Katsuya’s side. Wondering if the infamous iron will of the brunette was finally broken by the overdose of affection between them the night before (or if somehow Seto had managed to conceal this side of him for so long), Katsuya eased back under the covers, finally deciding to savour a moment that was quite the rarity in their relationship.

They stayed; watching as the beams of sunlight trickled under the heavy curtains, and skipped along the outlines of their silhouettes; listening as the rhythm of each other’s breaths played symphonies across their skins, and gradually diffused into their beings; inhaling the familiarity of each other’s presence against their strange serene, and imprinted its entirety into their shared memories; savouring the aftertaste of yearning skin until it found a home in the hollows of their tongues, and there it remained enduring into eternity; touching, just touching, always touching.

“Ya never answered my question.” Katsuya felt Seto shift, and exhale a muffled sound of confusion against his skin. Dammit, can’t ya spread ya cuteness out instead of dumpin’ it all onta me at once?!

Pretending to ignore the (welcomed) change in his boyfriend for the sake of his own sanity, Katsuya continued, “The fashion thing. Why fashion? I ain’t fashionable like ya.”

It was several beats before Seto even registered the question. Despite how late an hour it was versus his normal routine, somehow his brain had persuaded itself that it was still too early to process any coherent thoughts.

Grumbling, Seto detached himself from the warmth of his boyfriend’s skin, a hand rested on the latter’s thigh as he willed the room to stop spinning. He could have sworn he heard the blond lightly chiding him for his horrific lack of sleep in general, but dismissed it in favour of once more closing his eyes, and leaning his forehead into the sturdiness of Katsuya’s back.

Seto fell into its steady rise and fall as he tried to construct an intelligible sentence, letting the motion ground him from the reverie he had trouble leaving.

“Does that matter?” Seto felt the other’s dissatisfaction at his response in the stuttering of his rhythm, and the tightening of his muscles.

Gathering his still fragmented thoughts into some semblance of logic, Seto added, “Accessibility.” He rested himself deeper into the butterfly of Katsuya’s back, thumbs kneading the knots at its base before he elaborated.

“Unlike many industries, the barriers of entry to the fashion industry are significantly lower. Less technical jargon that you so detest, and the absence of numbers to reduce your confusion.”

He felt Katsuya relax into his ministrations, as though whatever fear had haunted him had dissipated.

“But it is an unfair industry, one in which the product competes with packaging. It runs on the paradox that the trade skill is both valuable, yet disposable. Past the setting of the brand’s foundation, success lies not in the designers, but in a creative yet adaptable marketing team.“

He traced imaginary lines across Katsuya’s back, watching them fade past his imprints.

“What we lack aren’t good designers. There is an abundance of them, each more talented than the next, all clamouring for a chance at fame. But a good leader with an innate ardour, who is also able to follow the industry’s whims is hard to come by, and imperative for success.”

Seto straightened up, removing the distance between them, climbing the expanse of honeyed brown until his breath grazed the peak of Katsuya’s shoulder bone.

“You fit the bill.”

The conclusion was set in certainty, undeniable in its direction. Still, Katsuya felt his breath hitch, less at the content of Seto’s words, more at the simple conviction they conveyed.

It wasn’t as though Katsuya had debilitating self-esteem issues. Throughout his life, he has showcased a remarkable resilience against even the most calamitous faces of adversity. He wouldn’t be where he was today if he lacked the willpower to fight against the unfavourable hand he was dealt at birth, and to undo the impetuous decisions of his youth.

If this were any other topic, Katsuya would have laughed off his worries, falling back on his inflated confidence that was also proof that the advice fake it until you make it was sound. Of course he could do it, and he would do it well! With his tenacity, there was nothing under the sky that he couldn’t conquer! (Except for Seto’s hatred for his favourite pair of sneakers — nothing save for the wrath of Exodia could expunge his boyfriend’s disgust for it.)

The problem lay not in himself, but in the obligation he now had to another. The former was contained in its consequences, but the latter begot compounded effects that tugged at his confidence in their ramifications. Katsuya wanted to work alongside Seto; to see the latter in his element, all grace and power, the reliable support he had always held on to. But how could he bear a burden this heavy, when failure meant the betrayal of trust from the one he admired most?

What could–, should, Katsuya say?

“I… Do?”

His words thankfully carried more confusion than the uncertainty he tried to mask. He turned his head slightly, and was met with a mess of brown locks that tickled his cheek, its owner still contented despite his reply.

The answer although innocuous, betrayed the doubt that had long made its residence inside Katsuya. Seto knew, having long discovered how the other laid himself out like an open book. He thumbed through the crispness of the other’s fragility, a quiet beseeching, his own vulnerability extended. It nipped, more defensive than hostile, seeking solace in their shared inadequacies. Still, he persevered, kneading, until it yielded; quivering, unlike the crumpled scraps of potential discarded, but from the determination it contained, persisting until it could touch the sky once more.

For all the eloquence he possessed, Seto wished he could pull out the appropriate signifiers trapped inside his throat. He grasped at the words, and syllabus, seeking the chance to express even a minute fraction of the faith that pulsed inside him in like a second heart.

Seto saw what only he was allowed access to — the purposeful hunt for success etched in coarseness of Katsuya’s palms; the unwavering focus at goals most would have deemed too farfetched in the strength of Katsuya’s back; the unbreakable grit that always tided him to an uncertain tomorrow, but weighed at the uneven stumbles of Katsuya’s footsteps during late nights; the wholeness of devotion painted in the afterglow of Katsuya’s lips as they drew a definite future on heated skins, a promise of infinities.

How could he fill words so empty, with the depths of his belief so deep?

So, he doesn’t. Instead, Seto murmured in wordless assurance, exhaling them into the tenderness of his partner’s neck, pressing, a soft dominance, until they bloomed against the intensity, the hearts of each bearing his unvoiced comforts.

“Not good enough,” Katsuya laughed (its sharpness not escaping Seto), tilting his head to grant the other better access to his neck. Seto took up the offer anyway, hungrier, bolder, almost frenzied– Why do you hide in the shadows of the person I see?

“Not that,” Katsuya breathed, his eyes fluttering. (And Seto devoured the sight, swallowing, until it beat inside his flesh like a swarm of butterflies.)

“Of course you do. I’m never wrong.”

“Don’t say that for the sake of sayin’. And ya are wrong a lot.”

If Seto heard Katsuya’s second sentence, he made a very good show of ignoring it.

“Say what? The truth?”

“Nice try. Ain’t workin’ on me this time.”

Despite the retort, Seto could hear the smile in his partner’s words, and that was all the invitation he needed to pull Katsuya into an impassioned kiss.

Only parting when both were starting to feel lightheaded, Katsuya found himself the recipient of more intimate touching than he would like this early in the day. That needy bastard!

Jumping out of the bed as quickly as he could, Katsuya scampered off to the bathroom, and away from the greedy hands of his insatiable partner.

Before he could close the door, he heard Seto smirk, “As a bonus, you are also hot enough to succeed in the industry.”

Katsuya let out an exaggerated groan before literally shutting the brunette out.

 


 

The rest of the day passed by rather uneventfully, with Katsuya familiarising himself with the rest of the designs, and Seto preparing the former for the meeting.

When Seto was finally convinced that his partner would not run his mouth off on the unrelated, or make his usual asinine comments in front of the team, he finally released the blond from his intense crash course. Exhausted, Katsuya flopped onto the bed, releasing a loud yawn as he stretched his stiff limbs.

Seto rolled his neck, grateful to finally alleviate the tension. He moved to the bed, and seated himself by his partner. Katsuya’s tee had hiked up from his movement, exposing a glimpse of defined abs. For all the unhealthy food Katsuya insisted on ingesting, even Seto was amazed at the other’s ability to maintain his build.

Weariness fading into a newfound excitement that gnawed prominently in his chest, Seto’s vision narrowed at that almost upsetting exposure. He reached out, hesitating just before contact, considering his options as he visually traced the curvature of the muscles to the hem of Katsuya’s sweatpants.

Noticing Seto’s sudden lack of motion, the blond pushed himself partially up, only to catch his boyfriend staring a little too intently at–, oh. Sighing, he rolled off the bed, not caring when his leg accidentally caught the chest of the other man.

“Ya are incorrigible.”

Snapping out of his stupor, Seto regained as much of his composure as he could before replying coolly, “Oh? Parroting Dictionary.com’s word of the day?”

“Nah, ya keep usin’ it on me, so now I’m returnin’ the favour!”

A sense of dread smacked Katsuya right in the gut as he became the recipient of a very devious smirk.

“Looks like an old dog can learn new tricks.”

Katsuya sputtered hotly, an accusatory finger pointed at an overly smug Seto.

“Ra damn it, how many times must I tell ya, I ain’t no dog!”

Leaning back on a propped arm, Seto looked on amusedly at his scowling boyfriend. How is it possible for someone to be even more attractive when flustered?

“Perhaps, but you bark at me daily, you are very fond of my lap, and you have a ravenous appetite for bones…”

“ARGH, ya are hopeless, Kaiba Seto! Hopeless!”

“I know, you just told me. ‘Hopeless’ is a synonym of ‘incorrigible’. Please vary your barks to avoid committing pleonasm again.”

Katsuya started towards the door, and for a second, Seto was pierced by a very real regret that he had probably overstepped the line. Instead of stomping out like the night before, Katsuya stopped by the door, arms folded, and lips pursed. Now, it was Seto’s turn to feel like a helpless kitten seeking its owner’s forgiveness. (Not that he would openly admit his mistake, well, only if it placed what they had in peril. And this was inching dangerously close to that maximum.)

“Look, Seto, I ain’t some dirty mongrel ya picked off the streets to play with–.”

“I know, Katsuya–,”

“Then why the fuck do ya keep callin’ me a dog?!”

Seto knew that it was not Katsuya’s favourite nickname, and it was no fault except his own that its meaning here got misconstrued. In spite of that knowledge, he did not expect it to materialise into the rage that was almost palpable around the blond. Which in turn, only reinforced how Seto felt like a tiny kitten pawing in futility at its owner. (Perhaps the comparison was rather dramatic, but Seto certainly empathised with the kitten in its situation.)

“When I don’t mean it as a dirty mongrel, but as–”

“As what? A cute little puppy?”

“Yes.”

“Really.” Katsuya glared at the other man, completely sceptical at the reply’s authenticity as anything other than a last ditched attempt to curb his temper. “Ya think I’m an idiot or somethin’?!”

Hearing the other man’s outburst, Seto pinched the bridge of his nose, muttering that it was way too late for him to deal with yet another argument.

“No, I do not,” he clarified, trying to keep his own emotions intact. Although at this point, Seto was almost tempted to pull no less than twenty instances of precisely that from his memory, and agree out of petty spite. But that which was concealed in the shadows of Katsuya’s eyes, and the way his brows pinched from something beyond his trigger temper cautioned Seto’s reaction. He reverted back to the rational, deciding that the truth was his best option.

“I was trying to change the word’s association from before we got together.”

Katsuya paused, surprised by the explanation, but not enough for it to nullify the ire that accumulated in the crests of his knuckles, and in the edges of his jaw.

Taking his boyfriend’s temporary silence as an opportunity to explain himself, Seto continued, voice unsteady in the breaking of his composure, “Back then, I–, relished in the schadenfreude of putting you down. I wanted, needed to break your spirit, the same one that kept you defiant against me. There was no better way to demean you than to strip away what was fundamental to your identity, so I denied you even of your species.”

“And it worked.” Too well.

Deluged with decay, his mouth was the cemetery of a traitor long buried. His tongue choked from the ashes of shame and apprehension, still fighting past the rot that was his pride’s inertia.

“I’m sorry, Katsuya. I’m sorry.

There was something visceral in the emotions that swelled between Katsuya’s ribs upon witnessing a moment that poignant. Of a resolution coveted but long abandoned, finally attained not by his own hands, but by the initiative of the perpetrator. Katsuya never expected this day would arrive.

What triggered the tears that teetered precariously at their precipice of release in Katsuya’s eyes was not the act of apology itself. This wasn’t the first time Seto has apologised, and it would definitely not be the last.

Throughout their time together, Katsuya grappled with the irony of his situation — how could a tongue that dripped with such affection from its lavish tenderness that even the most wretched of his scars found luxury; a tongue that willingly replaced its world with the map of his skin, resolute in its decision that the entirety of its future could be contained in his present; a tongue that pressed cherried words into his bruises until the pain felt like the same sweetness again, and again, until he forgot the agony of raw suffering; a tongue that buried all his wilt in its shadows, infusing them with an essence that is neither his nor his, and when he received it again, what was became what is — how could the same tongue had slipped between the shadows of his light, burying itself in crevices he never knew he had, twisting, him unravelling, until all he bled was the hollowness of what he had never been?

How could he relinquish the last of his softness, press it into the control of Seto’s palms, and bear the ache of the loss (then, and now) that lay just beyond reach? How could he lay content, the other picking apart his pieces, until his angles fit perfectly into the enclave of Seto’s arms? His lack, filled with the other, a foundation of buried old open wounds, upon which the temple of the other would rise. In its silent halls between his prayers, the rattle of bones from a past unresolved punctuated; the illusion shuddered, shattered. It echoed in his nothingness, fading, into a new frequency; pieces now unbroken, oscillating in a resonance of a cycle anew, awaiting the amplification of his ghosts sleeping between his cracks again.

After years of containing that which was unsettled between them, Katsuya didn’t know it was relief or fatigue that overwhelmed him. His knees buckled under the absence of the weight he had long grown accustomed to, face partially buried in his folded arms as he allowed himself to fall into the reassurance that had eluded him.

What he didn’t expect was the arms —normally steady in their strength, now slightly trembling— that encircled him, and pulled him into Seto’s own hesitation. It heartened Katsuya to know that his other half wallowed in his own misdeeds, and that his avoidance of the issue was not from his apathy, but his anxiety.

He felt the unsure stroking against the side of his face of fingers light, and cold. They barely skimmed the edge of his cheek, brushing past the wetness, redrawing them into circles of comfort in a quiet gesture, trying to assuage the grief they had caused. Katsuya pushed into their coolness, feeling them absorb the heat of his anger, and despair, until what was left was the relative tranquillity of a past removed.

Katsuya breathed unhindered for the first time against Seto’s support, hands rested against the uneven cadence of his heartbeat. He released his softness from their prison, pressed it into the caution of Seto’s palms, feeling not the ache of its loss, but the peace of its departure. He lay contented, the other putting back the pieces he had thought were lost in history, manoeuvring in accommodation until his angles fit perfectly into the enclave of his partner’s arms once more. His fullness, filled with the other, a foundation of cauterised wounds laid to rest, upon which their temple arose. In its quiet halls between his prayers, the whispers of hope from a promising future inspired; the reality reinforced, solidified. It echoed in his everything, infusing, into a new frequency; pieces now unbroken, oscillating in a resonance of a cycle anew, awaiting the crystallisation of a shared tomorrow now waiting between their seams.

 


 

The couple spent the last day of their weekend indulging in each other as they worked, basking in the strengthening of their bonds past a history they should have conquered sooner. They sat next to each other as they went through the catalogue of designs once more, bodies barely touching, and fingers half interlaced in their lazy perusal.

Satisfied with how familiar Katsuya finally was with the material, Seto concluded their session. He looked at his partner, admiring the way his eyes gleamed against the setting sun as he excitedly retold a story Seto had heard countless times before. Still, he nodded absently, lost in the motions of his partner’s plush lips as he willed the shapes they formed onto his own neglected flesh.

There he continued to sit, watching Katsuya’s hands paint in haphazard companionship to his verbal tale, admiring the sharpness of their incline against the gentleness of his hold. A tee slack from years of washing hung against the edges of his collarbones, barely dipping into the cusp brimming with innumerable nights of Seto’s confessions. All he wanted to do was to suckle its sweetness until the honey of Katsuya’s skin filled him, and all he spilt was the same pleasure.

Seto did not remember if Katsuya had finished before he clambered onto his very surprised boyfriend, his urgency knocking them both (thankfully) into the softness of their bed.

“Hey! I ain’t done!”

The blond’s complaints were silenced by a hungry kiss from his partner. His own want penetrating the latter’s growing desire, brown eyes dipped against the ridge of the other’s nose, falling shut from the sensation of Seto palming down the length of his heaving chest.

Katsuya finally (half-heartedly) pushed Seto away, only to have the latter seal his lips to his collarbone, their cushioned tenderness obscuring the occasional bite from his teeth. Before Katsuya could continue his story (because its climax was definitely worth making his impatient partner wait), the latter summarised his tale in slight annoyance.

“And you proceeded to change all the sugar in Honda’s house to salt, and vice versa. I suppose stupidity–,” Katsuya reactively smacked his forearm, and it took all of Seto’s willpower to not retaliate by punishing him there and then, “–affects your sense of awareness, because somehow he didn’t notice, and completely ruined his meals for an entire week.”

“It’s a real cracker!” Katsuya chortled wickedly, whatever he was doing with Seto already forgotten. “He even gave cookies, salt cookies ta Shizuka! I love ya sis, but ya reaction when ya took a bite was priceless!” He wiped away a stray tear from his laughter, still chuckling when he concluded his story. “Fuckin’ Hiroto, man.”

How could Seto remain miffed at his boyfriend’s inattention, when the crescents of Katsuya’s eyes, and the ringing of his laughter, nestled themselves inside the concave of his chest, growing, until all he felt was the same happiness? (It was his fault, again, for choosing to be with someone who had the attention span of a goldfi–, toddler.)

Despite having what Katsuya always teased as the warm fuzzies from seeing the blond smile, Seto could not continue ignoring the heat of his own need. So, he mumbled a reply —less in agreement, and more as a hint to his (still very dense) boyfriend—, trying to get the other man to redirect his focus back to him.

Oh, lemme tell ya about another thing Hiroto did…”

Seto groaned frustratedly, stopping his partner before he wandered off along another tangent. It was bad enough that Katsuya tended to run his mouth during their moments of intimacy, noticing none of the hints Seto threw at him with increasing disgruntlement. This on the other hand, was a whole different level of self-indulgent disregard, with his repeated mentions of Honda’s name more than counterproductive.

Interrupting Katsuya’s yelp by capturing his startled mouth in a fervent kiss, Seto took a more direct route of tugging pointedly at the elastic of the former’s sweatpants (the same ones as the day before, and the day before that, because even with over ten housekeepers at their beck and call, the blond still insisted on rewearing them for the entire week).

Finally feeling Katsuya liven up under his touches, Seto mouthed at the steps of his ribs, fitting his fingers into their notches. He slid down them, playing, like keys on a piano; fleeting, past the tautness of the other’s stomach; holding, until his partner panted out a melody so resonant, it reverberated in the trembles of his own hands.

Katsuya gasped, fingers tightly clutched around the material of Seto’s shirt, nails digging unkindly into the brunette’s flesh. The former’s chin rubbed roughly against the bone of his shoulder, as Seto grasped blindly past their motion, and clothes for–

“Seto, Seto, dinner is–, soon,” Katsuya breathed into the musk of Seto’s exertion.

“It can wait,” Seto replied hurriedly, descending until he could almost feel the sear of Katsuya’s want–

“But I’m hungry!”

The abruptness, and shrillness of Katsuya’s whine startled Seto from his fervour, the placement of his hands awkward in the sudden change of atmosphere.

Stifling his annoyance at yet another intrusion, Seto tried to urge his partner on before the entire mood was lost.

“We can be quick–“

Ya can, not me!”

“We can still try–“

“And I don’t like it quick–“

By then, Katsuya had escaped from Seto’s hold, swatting away the hand that tried desperately to grab at him. The former narrowed his eyes, tightly folded his arms, and completed his look with a childish sulk. The entirety of his demeanour was made all the more preposterous when he peered at the brunette searchingly from under his dishevelled hair.

Making a mental note to confront Katsuya about his impeccable ability of deflecting most of his advances, Seto pinched the bridge of his nose again, hoping the motion would squeeze away both his exasperation, and his arousal. He gave a cursory downwards glance at his boyfriend, and sure enough, the prominence of the other’s lust had almost completely disappeared. Seto straightened himself up, own eyes tight with vexation as he questioned the still unapologetic blond.

“What am I going to do about this?”

Seto gestured brazenly between his legs, eyes unflinching as he stared at Katsuya. His irritation spiked uncontrollably as he saw not only the other’s relative nonchalance in his relaxed stance, but also the glimmer of amusement of his pout. Don’t think I’m unaware of what you’re up to, you tease.

“I dunno. Get rid of it, or somethin’.”

Katsuya shrugged easily, eyes already resting on the clock across the room.

“It’s not a switch. Unlike you, I can’t just turn it on and off.”

Once more, Katsuya shot him a patronisingly apologetic look, the sides of his mouth then slowly curling in enjoyment at the latter’s predicament.

“At least give me a blowjob,” Seto demanded (tone closer to a plead in reality) as he felt himself twitch at the sight of Katsuya giving him a very nice view (the nerve of that brat), before turning around and climbing off the bed.

“Not on ya life!”

“Handjob?”

“Fuck yaself!” Want me ta pleasure ya, and not myself? Fat hope, ya selfish prick!

Stuck between a rock(headed boyfriend), and a (literal) hard place, Seto’s options were not particularly enticing. Despite that, he wasn’t about to let his partner saunter away in all his smugness to victory. If Katsuya weren’t going to be physically present in his activity, Seto was still adamant on making his boyfriend aid him indirectly.

“Fine, I will.”

Katsuya turned around to stare at his partner, wondering if all of the latter’s blood had indeed rushed from his brain to his groin.

“Only if you put those on.” Seto gestured to the pair of black boxer-briefs from two nights ago, sitting newly washed, and pressed atop their pile of fresh laundry.

“Wha–, again?! No!”

“Or I’ll call the kitchen to clear our dinner.”

“Ya dare!”

“You are the glutton, not me.”

“I’ll–, I’ll shout for ‘em not ta!”

“I’m certain they will listen when I’m the one paying their salaries, not you.”

Katsuya gaped at the other man in disbelief, aghast that the latter would resort to blackmail of such extent. It was one thing to seduce him, or even to coerce him with intimidation, or outright punishment. However, both seemed inconsequential in comparison to the current threat of having a meal, an entire meal, removed. Faced with the gravity of his situation, what else could Katsuya had done but to comply? Especially when it was a gigantic plate of delicious pork curry rice at stake.

“Okay, fine! Jus–, just don’t cancel dinner!”

Katsuya huffed in defeat, ignored the grateful growl of his stomach, and trudged grudgingly to the undergarment. Skin already moist with apprehension at the prospect of squeezing himself inside the dreaded piece again, he considered hightailing it. I shoulda just agreed ta suck him off… As he stared forlornly at the piece in his moment of self-pity, he missed the utterly triumphant smirk Seto shot at his back.

“Move it. I thought you were the one in a hurry.”

“Shuddup! Ra, I hate ya…”

Giving as scornful a scowl as he could to his overly pleased partner, he changed out of the comfort of his clothes, feeling unexpectedly self-conscious as he carefully tucked himself into the undergarment. He could feel the intensity of Seto’s gaze boring through his back, scrutinising every minute shift of his muscles as he adjusted the article until he felt somewhat comfortable. (He did the exact same thing multiple times a day in front of Seto, so why did he feel so embarrassed now?)

Unsurprisingly, when he finally gathered the courage to turn around, he was met with a stare so piercing that he almost crumbled under its ownership, and a smile so ravenous that he felt more nervous than the pork cutlet on his dinner plate. Before he became completely petrified, Katsuya angled his head to the side, eyes latching on to the first thing they saw beyond the eagerness of his boyfriend.

“Happy now?” Katsuya finally voiced, arms still protectively wrapped around his uncovered midsection. He tried to let the defiance that characterised most of his interactions with Seto seep into his question, hoping it would deviate the other’s attention from how flustered he looked behind his bangs.

Rather than latching on to his growing unease, Katsuya heard his partner hum in appreciation at his compliance. Although unsure if it was an illusion his mind had conjured as a buffer for his distress, even if Seto did dole out such a compliment, Katsuya was not sure if he could hear it beyond the deafening thumps in his chest, let alone take full advantage of the other’s preoccupation.

“I dunno why ya like this so much,” Katsuya wrinkled his nose, fingers distractedly stretching the hem of the material. “Can barely breathe in ‘em.”

“It’s for support.”

“This ain’t support! This is how ya become infertile!”

Instead of snapping at Katsuya for ruining the moment again, or pinching his nose bridge in amazement at the things that spewed from the blond’s mouth, Seto half-shrugged impassively. He remained more interested in Katsuya than the allegation even as he answered, “Doesn’t matter since neither of us can birth children.”

“Ain’t. The. Point! How can I sell somethin’ like this?!” Can’t have kids, or don’t want kids? The answer Seto gave was rather peculiar, and Katsuya reminded himself to bring the subject up again at a more convenient time. “Also, I don’t wanna be impotent!”

“Cut the dramatics, Katsuya. You are not going to be impotent. Definitely not from wearing those.” Seto rolled his eyes before returning to his observation of the other man. A little stuffy? Perhaps. An instrument of infertility? Not so much. (Katsuya should know by now that Seto would never let the former near anything untested, let alone something potentially damaging.)

It was difficult to be cross when all Seto could focus on was how the blend adhered to the firmness of Katsuya’s body. It generously outlined every bump, and dip it was attached to, leaving little to no margin for imagination even against the darkness of the fabric. It was just the way Seto liked it. More importantly, this was also something Seto was confident he could get Katsuya to adapt to.

“And you aren’t the one selling it. That’s what we employ the sales team for. Until you are more familiar with the business, your job is to just look good in it.”

“Wait, I’m just a walkin’ clothes rack?! I’m not–”

Until you gain the skills necessary to keep the business from collapsing, it would be to the business’ advantage to self-promote. To have a frontman, who is also in charge, to wear the brand’s items in public.”

The explanation although logical (like most of what Seto tended to say was), still left Katsuya somewhat unconvinced. But as much as he wanted to further their disagreement, there was a hot meal of his favourite pork curry waiting downstairs. Everything, and everyone else could wait.

“Ya done starin’? I’m gonna–“

“Wait.”

“Seriously?! Ya still ain’t done?!”

“Turn around.”

Before Katsuya could protest, he felt himself slowly turning at the command. Confounded by his sudden willingness (and blaming it on his hunger messing with him), he laid his hands on the worn handle of their dresser, shoulders hunched, and head slightly bowed as he grumbled, “Hurry up.”

Whilst Seto was pleased with Katsuya’s unusual obedience, he had no intention of rushing his indulgence. He traversed the ridges of Katsuya’s spine, tame against the weight of his gaze, counting the blessings he had left in the shadows of each joint. He sunk into the hollow between his partner’s shoulder blades, pulling past its curve, imagining his neat nails dragging against its smoothness, encircling, etching in possession. Katsuya shivered, leaning his weight against the furniture (and for the first time in his life, Seto felt envy towards an inanimate object), as though reacting to the sensation of his boyfriend’s imaginary touch. The ends of the former’s hair parted from the motion, exposing the smooth of his neck in an invitation that Seto could not refuse.

Katsuya was still trying to steady himself from his unanticipated loss of composure when he heard rustling behind him. Suspicious at what his partner was going to try this time, he snapped around just in time to see Seto retrieve a coil of something red. He squinted at the item, following its trail as it hung loosely from the brunette’s grasp, silver accents glinting under the light–

“That thing again?! I thought I told ya ta toss it!”

Regretting turning when he did, Katsuya physically repelled from the sight before him. He eyed the collar warily, thoughts of his dinner abandoned as his gut flipped in dismay at the other’s silent suggestion.

“No. No. Whatever ya are thinkin’, stop it. Now.”

“Not even–“

No, Seto! I told ya! I don’t want no doggy leash near me–“

Before Katsuya could further his outrage, Seto had shifted his position, moving towards the end of the bed with a nimbleness that should not be possible given the flagrance of his problem.

“Katsuya. Katsuya–”

“–ain’t repeatin’ myself–“

“Katsuya, listen to–“

“–I ain’t a damned pet–“

“I never said–“

“–or I’m fuckin’ leavin’ ya–“

Katsuya!”

If anything could stop Katsuya mid-rant, it was Seto shouting. The latter rarely did, preferring to emphasise his points with scathing precision, directed mostly at the recipient’s intelligence (or rather lack thereof). So, when Seto found a reason to shout outside dueling tournaments, Katsuya would listen, and would listen very intently.

“Don’t ever say that again. Not unless you mean it.”

Seto seethed, jaw tight, and knuckles white with bridled rage. A density hung in the air, smothering in its pressure. It bled past the adrenaline of Katsuya’s evaporated temper, constricting in its descent down his dry throat, unfurling into his constricted chest, pervading in its heaviness, blotting out even the spaces in which he had hid the cinders of moments treasured.

Jounouchi Katsuya, do you understand?

Each word was punctuated with a frigidity Katsuya had not felt from the other man in years. He hastily swallowed, the lump stuck in his throat not helping as he tried to placate the other’s anger.

“Yes, Seto.”

His answer was almost meek, but given how he was the one who had antagonised the other, Katsuya figured not escalating the matter further was the best choice he could have made.

Perhaps he had jumped (headfirst, and full bodied) into conclusions earlier. Regardless of how vehemently he hurt at the presumed betrayal, he should not had said what he did. But given how the memory of his first introduction to the collar was tarnished by yet another dog joke, could one really blame him for his overreaction, especially after he had spent the entirety of the previous night admonishing the other for that exact thing?

Weary from the confrontation, Katsuya avoided the eyes of the other. He ignored how they pierced through him, puncturing the cover of his excuse; cold steel on supple flesh, they impaled past his hypocrisy, of boundaries violated; a ruthless retribution, until the bitterness of his guilt pooled in his broken mouth.

“The next time I hear you so much as whisper that, I want you out of my house. And don’t you dare return.”

“Seto… I’m–“

Before Katsuya could get his apology out, Seto cut him off curtly.

“It’s time for dinner.”

Katsuya traced the asymmetry of the floor tiles in attempts to block out the laboured silence between them, waiting as the other man tidied himself up. Not even bothering to throw anything else on, he fell in step behind the brunette, eyes downcast in resignation as he tried to avert his vision from the unmistakable tension in the other’s back, only to be bitten by the terseness of his steps.

 


 

Dinner was strained, with neither fully acknowledging the other. Katsuya tried initially (he swore he did) to find an opportunity, or any opening that allowed him to express his remorse. However, each time he did, his tentative words were met with the finality in the sharp clinks of Seto’s cutlery, the hardened set of their owner’s jaw a further warning that preserved the oppressive stillness.

There Katsuya sat, barely remembering (or feeling) his state of undress as he forced the meat into his mouth, its usual sweetness lacking as he washed it down with the similarly tasteless curry. He knew this wasn’t the fault of the chef, whom he had once declared was the best in the world, something he continued to stand by even as he chewed into the blandness of his dish.

It was Seto’s fault (and his own) that the one meal he was most looking forward to for the entire week was ruined. If the former had not insisted on bringing that thing out, he wouldn’t had ran his mouth, then Seto wouldn’t be pissed off, and they wouldn’t be in their current positions. Katsuya felt the infinity between their elbows, an intentional void of exile, one which they both sought cover behind, preserving their conclusions in a thought vortex of mutual accusation.

Katsuya crunched his salad with much more force than necessary, occasionally glancing up at the unchanging look of aloofness the other man wore. At least give me somethin’ ta work with, ya stubborn nut. He sighed, pushing the remnants of his mostly untouched meal away. (But not before setting his cutlery on his plate neatly, like how anyone who isn’t uncouth should, as Seto used to lecture.)

The mid morning after was the meeting they had been preparing for. Although Katsuya was certain Seto’s professionalism would mask whatever personal discontentment he felt, the former was less than confident in his own ability to retain whatever advice the latter had given him, and repress his own feelings of disgruntlement whilst seated next to the exact person he was mad at.

He recalled the flash of agony that tormented the other man’s normally indomitable demeanour — icy eyes clouded with indictment at Katsuya’s blatant insolence, their ends tightening at the provocation, tautness stretching past the cliffs of his cheekbones, finally accumulating into an almost vicious snarl that sat challengingly on the angles of his thin lips. More worryingly, it vanished just moments after into the apathy Katsuya had grown to fear.

The discordant dragging of expensive wood against similarly pricey marble interrupted Katsuya’s reflection. He focused on the other man, watching as he departed without a second glance. Quelling the imminent surge of indignation from being ignored, Katsuya started his long journey back to the bedroom, wondering how he could atone for his mistake.

 


 

Seto exited the bathroom, the strain from controlling his emotions partly alleviated. Even for him, it was difficult to not relax under the therapeutic massage of warm pellets against the tightness of his muscles, especially when they not only rained from above, but sprayed steadily at his sides too.

He was met with the sight of the blond seated by the edge of the bed, the latter’s back partially turned to him. If you want to continue sitting there like the immature devil-spawn you are, I– Before Seto could finish the thought, he noticed a hint of red under the cover of dusty gold, trailing past the length of burnished bronze before resting in the hesitance of the other’s hold.

Unsure if the extended length of time he had spent in the shower had caused the steam to affect his eyesight, Seto approached the other man soundlessly, maintaining the item in his scrutiny as he did.

He paused a safe distance from the other man, finally positive that the latter had indeed put the collar on. Willingly. Seto stood distractedly, pondering the blond’s sudden change of heart as he admired the contrast of the ribbed material against the silk of the other’s flesh.

Resisting the urge to caress the leather, Seto folded his arms, mask of detached neutrality adorned once more before confronting the still oblivious man.

What are you doing.”

The abrupt breaking of silence startled Katsuya, who nearly fell off the bed in shock at the disturbance. As someone who used to run in one of Domino’s most notorious gangs, Seto wondered how the man managed to survive with his complete lack of situational awareness. In any other instance, Seto would have felt the pinpricks of endearment at the other man’s gaffe. But when the brunt of the other’s mistake still smarted his pride (and although he refused to admit it, bruised something more tender inside him as well) with every pulse in his veins, all he could muster was the slight unhitching of his brows.

The blond composed himself, grievance at Seto’s almost uncanny ability to sneak up to anyone already half-formed as he turned around. However, instead of the playful smirk he was so accustomed to, he was met with the indifference from the stoic disposition of the man before him. Remembering, Katsuya tapered the animations of his motions, and let his teasing gripe die on his tongue.

Reverting to a cautious optimism as he acknowledged the brunette, Katsuya was taken aback by how bizarre their interaction was. He felt like he was putting on clothes he had outgrown, feeling them pinch in places that had never before, and tripping over the excesses from crests long eroded. The result was a formality, spurious in its creation, from the unnatural rigidity of his motions. Yet when he moved, he found familiarity in the way the fabric shifted, lingering in the memories of a past self that Katsuya thought he had long left behind. It was not unpleasant, but neither was it comforting, as he traced the clumsy stitches of a tear mended, remembering the scar that had long healed beneath. It was just another incident, like the splash of a stain just above his hip, or the faded strokes of the marker-drawn smiley on his right sleeve — moments that were indelible to who he was now, but from a chapter long passed.

It was frightening, when things he thought were lost in their closures returned from their graves. Even more terrifying when he fell into their patterns, of actions once repeated, and repeated, time, and time again, now entombed so far within they became immortal. Katsuya could feel them throb from just under his skin — the anticipation of a bloodied war, bones shattered, and flesh severed; the clash of weapons unbound, lethally sharp, and savagely blunt; the command of an assault unrelenting, bridges burnt, and walls constructed; the annihilation of unmitigated devastation, past charred, and future scorched; the insistence of a victory all-encompassing, he survived, but he didn’t.

Was this what they truly were? Enemies in a temporary truce, remaining by each other’s side not in genuine favour, but in a disguised precaution? Participating in an exchange of secrets (some real, but mostly false), only looking for an advantage in their inevitable reprisal, tolerating, until the other’s convenience was exhausted?

Katsuya refused to believe it. He had never fallen in the face of adversity, and this would not be his first, not when the stakes were this high. He swallowed the pounding in his chest, hand wavering (but eyes determined) as he wordlessly extended his hand towards the other, where the leash of the collar laid within the heart of his palm.

And he waited.

No words were required for Seto to understand the significance of Katsuya’s gesture. He felt the weight of the latter’s essence, an offering of self in sacrifice for their collective peace. He reached, balking before the gift. Wasn’t this what he had originally coveted? His ultimate goal from when he had first set his sights on the other man? To create a malleable other who conformed to his whims, performing all it was told with broken wrists, and an absent tongue. To have a puppet shackled to the ends of his fingers, coming when beckoned, leaving when dismissed, a caricature, but still the perfect shell of a companion.

Was that really what he wanted? To strip Katsuya clean from his bones, leaving but the spirit of his devotion, beaten, and worn, its dimness barely a flicker, just so the man could finally be his, and only his? Perhaps in a past life, when all Seto could see was contempt, and spite in the amber of the other’s eyes; when the other’s hands were all fists, and Seto’s blood; when the other’s tongue was a sword unsheathed, grinding against the brutality of his teeth; when the other’s body was the pain reflected from Seto’s own, twisting, contorting, into the nightmares Seto thought he had finally escaped from.

This was a different life; the scarlet of Katsuya’s mouth echoed not of war, but of a passion now in peril. Seto looked back to the image of Katsuya, the latter’s calmness an earnest surety, strap still dangling freely between his fingers, the same ones that gently curled upwards in latent memory, as though clasping Seto’s own.

Seto wordlessly retrieved the strap of the collar, letting his fingers slide between the material —warm from the other’s touch—, and the surprising clamminess of Katsuya’s palm. He allowed them to linger, prolonging their contact for his already touch-starved skin, reassured when Katsuya lightly cupped his fingers in response.

He gathered the length, clumsily winding it around his fingers, feeling Katsuya’s hand move to slide down the smooth of his forearm before resting at his elbow, supporting, like he always did.

How could he even think to split the chest from which he found solace; to abandon the hands from which he drew his strength; to break the throat from which hymns of them were sung; to fracture the smile from which he had learnt to love again; to blind the eyes from which his light of tomorrow shone? How could he even think to destroy the person from whom he rebirthed anew?

This was a different life, and Seto was a different man.

Sitting by Katsuya, Seto folded the distance between them. He barely noticed the world dissolving around them when all he could see was the relief in his partner’s smile. Tenderness on tenderness, Seto brushed the fullness of Katsuya’s cheek, thumbing past the ache that sat in its redness, the same one that bled into the restraint of the collar.

Seto stroked the curve of his partner’s neck, gliding from flesh to leather, halting at their disparate convergence. He felt his boyfriend’s grip on his arm tighten, sending a throe of regret rattling through his bones with such intensity that he felt it in the crack of his jaw. Was he truly a different person, when his actions remained fuelled by the same selfishness?

“You didn’t have to.”

Katsuya leaned back, surprised at the pain in his partner’s words. He instinctively reached for the band around his neck, covering Seto’s hand with his own.

“I wanted ta.”

He rubbed the lines of the latter’s veins, trying to press some of the warmth that was overflowing in his chest into the coldness. He traced their paths to the angle of his partner’s wrist, the place where he had cut himself on countless times before. He thumbed it, circling in encouragement until he had smoothened away its harshness.

By then, Seto had fallen into him, easily filling the emptiness between his arms, notches fitting in places they never used to. The former rested his head in the crook of Katsuya’s neck, mouth searching for a softness that existed only in his other half, perturbed when he was instead met with the roughness of the accessory.

Katsuya remained still against his partner’s weight, content in just enjoying the proximity between them once more. Before he could fully relax into it, he felt Seto shift, both hands reaching for the collar, trailing, until Katsuya heard the clink of nails against metal.

“Seto, it’s–“

Fingers so incessant they were almost forceful, Katsuya felt his partner pull almost angrily at the item.

“Seto, no, I wan–“

Not listening to Katsuya’s protests, Seto continued his struggles to undo the buckle, not noticing how his frantic motions made the coarseness of the leather bite into his boyfriend’s neck.

Seto!

Katsuya wrapped his fingers around the strained wrists of his partner’s, firmly pulling them away from his neck. He frowned worriedly, noticing the glistening in Seto’s eyes despite the set of his mouth. So, he pulled his boyfriend’s hands into his own once more, brushing away a blame that was no longer his other half’s, but now willingly his.

“Seto, it’s okay. I wanna do this.”

Seto bristled at the assurance, eyes now flashing with a fury directed less at Katsuya, and more at himself.

Want?! How can you want to do something you hate?!”

Katsuya resisted the urge to shout his boyfriend’s name in retort, realising that his quip would be less than appreciated given his partner’s current emotional state. I don’t really hate ya, but dammit, for someone that smart, ya sure are dumb.

“No, I’m not going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. Not anymore. Katsuya, take the damned thing off–“

“See! There ya go again, forcin’ me ta do somethin’ I don’t wanna do!”

Tired of how bullheaded Seto is, Katsuya grabbed the former firmly by his shoulders, gently shaking them, as though trying to wake the logical part of him up.

“Look, Seto. Ya didn’t make me put this,” Katsuya tugged at the collar pointedly, not letting go of it until Seto’s unfocused eyes settled on the item, “On. I did. I took the damned thing from the bed, I unbuckled it, and I put it around my own neck. Me. Not ya, me.”

Katsuya gathered the length of the collar’s leash from where it lay forgotten between their bodies. He pressed it into the tentative hands of his other half’s, his own pair almost faltering at how atypical their quivering was for someone who was nothing short of definite in his pursuits.

“I know when ya wanted me ta wear this earlier, I–, I didn’t wanna. I dunno. I guess I was scared I’m still nothin’ more than a mutt ta ya.”

“But… I know last night ya said I ain’t ya pet. Maybe ya did again earlier, but I was ta mad ta listen,“ Katsuya let out a mirthless laugh, hands limp in Seto’s unmoving ones, “So, I wanna do this, because ya want me ta. And this… This ain’t just somethin’ ya wanna use ta control me. Right?”

He whispered the question faintly, letting his voice trail off in the absence of a proper conclusion. He looked back to his boyfriend, and saw how the shadows had somewhat lifted from his eyes. The guilt that had depressed the ends of his mouth abating, released in the shallow breaths that escaped his tired lips. Katsuya wanted nothing more than to inhale the ghosts of that hurt, to press it into his blood, returning it to the love, Seto’s love, which coursed through his being with every heartbeat.

“No, of course not.”

Seto tried to return some of the tenderness Katsuya had gifted him in his reply, hoping it would give his partner the comfort Seto had always failed to provide.

How could words, flippant in the callousness of his youth, inflict wounds that enduring? He held his other half’s hands in his, wondering how deep the scars ran, wondering if they threaded his all, like arteries binding a heart, rendering Katsuya reliant, until the accursed became the life force he subsisted on. What use was his conquest, when all the power Seto controlled was useless to break the prison that held the one he cared? When he, unable to retrieve the key, tormented instead of consoled the victim within?

“Then I wanna keep wearin’ it. For tonight at least.”

“If we hadn’t fought, would you still have worn it?”

The blond paused in contemplation, unconsciously fiddling with the collar as he did.

Seto knew the answer from the second his boyfriend laid his eyes on the collar half a year ago — all hostility, and revulsion, fists balling, and teeth flashing as he demanded its immediate disposal. Of course, Seto did not comply (not that its price tag had anything to do with his final decision), choosing to stash it under the clutter in the drawer of one of their nightstands. (Mess being thanks to Katsuya, and only Katsuya. His significant other treated it like a makeshift storage, tossing in random odds and ends, and never once retrieving them since.) On hindsight, Seto felt uneasy, almost unclean, knowing that for months he had hidden the item beneath Katsuya’s artefacts. He allowed its intrusion, neglecting as it festered, and tainted the naivety of his partner’s trust, waiting until it accumulated into an intolerable narcissistic desire he was compelled to impose on Katsuya.

“Ya.”

The reply was thoughtful, word weighted in a truth that Seto disagreed with.

“Don’t lie to me, Katsuya. I know how much you despise it–”

“I don’t despise it. I just don’t… Like it,” Katsuya corrected.

Seto could not stop the smile that peeked from the corners of his mouth when he heard how miffed his boyfriend was at his accusation. It warmed him to know how Katsuya still had not changed, although when it came to this particular trait, Seto wasn’t sure if it was better or worse for his sake.

“Then why do you still want to wear it?”

“Because ya like it.”

The simplicity of Katsuya’s reply, coupled with the sincerity of his voice was almost too much for Seto to bear. I don’t deserve you.

So, Seto allowed himself to be enveloped, damp hair against warm chest, holding, and holding on, to a gift that should not be his. He basked in the light of his partner’s dawn, feeling their rays cascade between his own storm, loose strands caressing past the darkness of his despair, covering his vision in a delicate gold.

He rested on Katsuya’s sternum, inhaling when it swelled, and exhaling when it retracted, seeking a reprieve in its familiarity. Seto traced the history of fingerprints he had left, hastily carved into bone, from the fear that they would one day vanish under the touch of another. But now when his name still remained in the vocabulary of Katsuya’s tongue, until that day arrived, Seto would keep the luminescence he was given in the hollow beneath Katsuya’s ribs, where he hoped its light would inspirit his partner during the days when even the sun didn’t shine.

“I don’t want you to do it just to appease me, Katsuya. I never want you to do anything at the expense of yourself.”

With the strap still crumpled in one hand, and the other supported against Katsuya’s chest, Seto silently implored. He breathed in the sweetness that collected in the ribbon of his partner’s collarbones, nosing from just above the line where leather met skin, ascending, until he touched bow of Katsuya’s jaw. He nudged his partner’s chin upwards, feeling the latter swallow in return at the exposure. Seto planted a slow kiss along the arc of Katsuya’s Adam’s apple, tasting the pulse that quickened under his touch. The former’s hunger grew as he continued his ascent, flitting a trail of pecks as he pulled away from the underside Katsuya’s jaw, climbing over the bump of his chin, only stopping when he arrived at the prize of his other half’s swollen lips.

They parted to each other’s hooded eyes, shining with a passion revitalised, and a deep-seated want intensified. Misgivings resolved, they felt a calm descend upon them, of a chapter finally closed, and the start of a more vivid one opened.

Still unsatisfied at Katsuya’s lack of verbal affirmation, Seto steadied the shuddering of his breath, moving to cup the cheek of his partner firmly before he repeated, “Do you understand?”

“Understand what?” Katsuya questioned, similarly breathless.

Seto narrowed his eyes disapprovingly, trying to maintain the illusion of his displeasure against the cheekiness of his partner’s grin. He lightly rapped the top of Katsuya’s head, trying to knock the memory back into his partner’s too-thick skull.

“Hey!” Katsuya batted at Seto’s limb, smile still visible as he answered offhandedly, “Yeah, yeah.”

“I’m serious, Katsuya.”

“For real?”

“Yes. For real.”

Katsuya tapped a finger against his chin, smile widening before he asked, “So… Does this mean I don’t needa put my dirty clothes in the basket?”

“That is not something done at the expense of yourself–“

“Yes it is! Puttin’ ‘em there takes two whole seconds! That’s two, not one, but two seconds of my lyin’ down time wasted!”

Seto instinctively reached for the bridge of his nose, and pinched it hard. He is worth it, he is worth it, he is definitely worth it…

“You are–“

Incorrigible, I know!”

Katsuya chuckled heartily at the despair in his partner’s sigh, managing to avoid the second knock that was impending in the latter’s knuckles. Before he could further rib the brunette, Katsuya felt a short tug at his collar, the suddenness of the motion causing him to topple over, and crash inelegantly (and quite painfully thanks to the other’s boniness) into Seto’s lap.

The blond turned around, grimacing at the unwelcomed interruption. If he wanted me here he coulda just asked… Seeing the almost devilish smirk his boyfriend was donning, Katsuya flipped himself around (grumbling further when he stumbled straight into the edge of Seto’s knee in his attempt) before he lamented.

“Ya are–“

Hopeless, I know.”

It was Katsuya’s turn to let out a loud groan, regretting turning himself around as he tried to find somewhere to hide his face in that wasn’t Seto.

The sight of his boyfriend fumbling in his lap ignited an affection so tactile in Seto that he felt his chest threaten to split open from its fullness. So, he leaned over, stopping whatever protest Katsuya was mid-sentence in, and connected their mouths. Yet, the kiss that followed lacked the expected eruption of a love so intense they melted into it, nor did it evolve into a lust so considerable they were consumed by it. The aftermath was instead the gentlest tingle of each other’s presence lingering on their lips; like the mist from an early morning, refreshing, welcoming, as it coalesced the possibilities of a new day into tired skin.

 


 

“If this ain’t a doggy leash, why did ya get me a collar?”

Seto turned to the man beside him, only then realising he had been unconsciously twirling the collar’s length since they had lain down by each other.

“So it can be a physical tether.”

“Eh?”

“An uninterrupted physical connection. Between you, and me.”

Katsuya blinked confusedly at the convoluted explanation, still not fully understanding why the collar’s presence was required for what Seto wanted.

“Can’t ya just hold my hand or somethin’?” Like a normal person??

Seto let out a long drawn sigh, reminding himself that in many ways Katsuya was a child, so his explanation should be moderated for one.

“That’s not always possible when I need to support myself against your substantial weight.”

“I ain’t fat! Ain’t my fault ya are a bag of skin and bones!” Katsuya countered, pointing to the beginnings of a large bruise on his abdomen.

“The joints of any healthy person are naturally prominent. And that is the result of your own lack of coordination, not from my insufficient nutrition.”

Unable to conjure up a better retort, Katsuya returned his attention to the ceiling, listening to the hum of the heater fill their silence.

“Ya gonna get rid of it tomorrow, right?”

“Yes. Isn’t that what you want?”

Katsuya nodded in acknowledgement, noticing how Seto had exchanged the strap for the companionship of his palm.

“It’s a shame. Just as I’d thought, the red looks really good on you.”

“Does it…?”

He sat up, trying to peek at the band below his chin. After several failed attempts (and a decision completely uninfluenced by Seto’s growing amusement), he draped the excess material over his arm, peering at it curiously as he tried to envision what it was that his partner saw.

“The warmth of your skin complements, but doesn’t overpower the vibrancy of this particular shade of red. They sit in harmony, both present in one’s attention. Your skin doesn’t fade into obscurity, even with the red as the centrepiece, yet neither vies for dominance when viewed as a whole.”

Katsuya stared as hard as he could at the confluence of colours, still not fully comprehending all Seto had shared. There’s the red, and there’s my skin… I can see both–, wait, now I’m focusin’ on the red–, no, my skin–, red again–, back ta my skin… Ugh, this ain’t workin’! What nonsense are ya spoutin’, Seto?!

Choosing to take his partner’s words as they are, Katsuya tried to further the topic instead, “How did ya know which kinda red ta choose? I don’t wear it much…”

“Because I’d long memorised the colour of your skin.”

Unused to receiving compliments from his partner, especially one that intimate, Katsuya felt his face heat up, thankful the length of his hair provided some cover between him, and his significant other. Katsuya felt his heart expand with appreciation at the extent of his boyfriend’s attachment, touched that Seto found him worthy of such attention.

He was incredibly thankful that after the years of futile waiting, of an endless loop of premature departures from faces long lost to faded memories, that someone could finally see past his ruins of a violence displaced, and of the majesty that could have been. That a person would stop to sift through the rubble of self-disgrace, searching, until the little that was left that was worth preserving could be found. Even though what was reflected in the fragments that remained repelled even his saviour, yet somehow, his pieces were never left as the forsaken. Seto always returned, even when not by his side, still watching from afar, to help rekindle a light that Katsuya thought had perished in a youth deprived. Cursing the eloquence of Seto he lacked, Katsuya did the only thing he knew, and interlaced his fingers with Seto’s as a substitute for a gratitude his throat did not know how to voice.

Yet to Seto, the converse was true — grateful that he too could hold the fragility of an affection so selfless, one he had believed would splinter upon contact with his harshness. He never thought there existed a person in his world, whose warmth he would let melt the icy confines he resided in. Someone whose will to free him never once wavered, remaining where he stood, and following where he travelled, even when what all efforts were rewarded with was just a frosted image hidden behind an impenetrable wall. Gradually, the energy from Katsuya’s vivacious attitude to life wore down even the thickest of his barriers. Even after the last of Seto’s defences crashed down, Katsuya always remained mindful of the intensity of his own blaze, conscious in his approaches, not wanting to singe the vulnerability that was finally revealed. Seto was mollified, by the memories of muted touches; by the wisps of playful whispers; by the promises of secret smiles; by the laughter of candid confessions; by the dedication of simple companionship. How could he repay a debt this immense, with anything less than the absolute worship of a devotion committed?

“Let me see you.”

Seto pushed up, supporting himself on his side as he admired his partner’s profile. Deciding he wanted a better view, Seto stepped over a confused Katsuya, and gave the latter a smirk that was too fiendish for it to bode well for the blond before he straddled his boyfriend.

Cutting off the undignified yelp Katsuya gave with a deliberate roll of his hips, Seto finally settled on the pliant body of the former. He inhaled sharply, the beauty of Katsuya catching his breath somewhere between his throat, and his chest.

He rested his hands, cold from his shower, onto the warm skin of his partner. Seto secured himself just below the latter’s hipbone, fingers sliding along the groove of Katsuya’s obliques until he just grazed the outline of his partner’s abs. He felt them constrict under the feathers of his touch, his boyfriend’s chest slightly heaving, brown eyes hooded, dark under their shadows with a need that Seto wanted as desperately to satisfy.

But it was not often that Seto found the opportunity to truly observe Katsuya. Given the conflict of their schedules (or rather the impossibility of his own), all he remembered from the brief chances he was given was the dawn of his partner’s skin, illuminated by a light that never seemed to leave his eyes. They framed a smile, brilliant, like all of Katsuya was, filled with such carefree vitality that even the persistent migraine of his that always seemed to return evaporated alongside the stress of his forgotten responsibilities.

Seated atop his partner, Seto was nearly blinded. Katsuya felt like light, and perhaps he was light itself. How could he be anything but, when the glow of his presence had long become the lightness in Seto’s heart? Rejuvenating, inspiring, his brightness shone past the umbra of a body listless from the eclipse of a hectic life, guiding, until Seto could revel once again in the rising of the sun. Even with the silly pout Katsuya sported, his eyes never lost any of their lustre, glistening with an adoration that his playful nature could not fully hide. Katsuya glowed with such radiance (and if he could put aside his astrophysics knowledge for a second), that Seto was certain his other half must have been birthed amongst the stars.

Seto slid both hands over his partner’s abdomen, pressing into its definition, lingering amidst the gentle rhythm of the latter’s breathing. Conflicted, Seto grappled with the greed of his desire. He wanted to push forward, craving the warmth from the chamber that contained Katsuya’s light. Yet the primal part of him urged him lower, hungering for the sweetness of Katsuya’s essence.

“If ya keep starin’ at me like that, Imma burst inta flames.”

Katsuya smiled, although his tease proved insufficient to shield him from the embarrassment evident in the pink that dusted his cheeks.

“That won’t be good. Can’t have you ruin my sheets again.”

“Then stop starin’ like ya wanna eat me or somethin’–,“ Katsuya was interrupted by the purposeful palming by Seto of his pecs, slowly dragging across his sensitive tips before spreading to cup both sides of his chest from under his arms, slightly lifting, waiting, wanting, to close the distance between them.

Seto watched the shiver undulate under his partner’s skin, following, until it dissipated into the breath of the latter’s soundless gasp.

“I said I want to look at you.”

“Yea, but that was five minutes ago–“

“Hardly.”

“–Whatever, just, I dunno, stare at a photo or somethin’. And get ya bony ass off me! I wanna shower!”

Seto retracted his hands, an evil grin spreading across his lips. One so crafty, that Katsuya felt his heart leap into his throat in anticipation.

“That’s a fantastic idea.”

“Idea? What idea?”

“I like it.”

“No, wait, what idea are–“

“Thank you for the splendid suggestion.”

“Dammit, tell me wha–, oh. Fuck.”

Seto reached behind Katsuya, deftly picking up his phone before the latter had any chance to react.

“No. No way. Ya ain’t photoin' me. Not with this–

The brunette’s smile continued to grow, and Katsuya was fearful whatever little dignity he managed to keep around the man would soon be lost. That’s exactly why he wanted a photo ain’t it! That pervy asshole! Not that way dammit, but he’s still an asshole!

“Hold still…”

“No, nope, nada, ain’t happenin’–“

Katsuya tried to push his partner off, only to find that the latter had locked his legs by looping his own around them. The entirety of Seto’s weight was pressed into his hips; a firm hand grabbed one of his own, pining it above his head, and leaving the other trapped between their heaving bodies. To surmise, Seto had rendered him pretty darn immobile. Katsuya would have been rather impressed if this had happened during any other time; it was just unfortunate that in this instant, it was his dignity on the line. Ya persistent fucker…

Hold still.

Seto whispered into the shell of his ear, voice breathy, and low with want as Katsuya felt his free hand traversing down the length of his waist.

“Get off, or Imma kick ya off!”

Despite the volume of Katsuya’s objection, his face held no anger, only the evidence of a challenge accepted in the curl of his lips.

“You can try,” Seto exhaled along the curve of Katsuya’s neck, lips barely grazing the prominence of his jugular, a hand still rubbing the indent of his partner’s waist leisurely.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn ya…”

Katsuya jerked violently, hoping the abrupt motion would catch Seto off guard. He needed an opening, just one, for him to regain some leverage against his partner’s hold. He felt Seto’s grip loosen just enough for him to slide his wrist out, now’s the chance…!

Before he could push the brunette off, Katsuya felt the unmistakable, and unbearable sensation of fingers lightly prodding his side. Bastard! Seto remained casually on top of him, fingers working their magic until Katsuya was a writhing laughing mess under him. Checkmate.

“Stop–, stop! For the love of Ra, stop–“

“I can’t hear you.”

“Stop, ah–, Seto, please!”

Considering prolonging his partner’s torment just because, Seto considered his options before deciding that Katsuya in a red collar, and skin-tight black boxer-briefs was too good an opportunity to pass up. He let up the intensity of his poking, just enough for Katsuya to form a coherent sentence.

“Ya jerk…”

“Ready to surrender?”

“Ya wish!“

At his partner’s dissatisfactory response, Seto resumed his tickling with a renewed vigour, taking special care when he reached the spot just below Katsuya’s ribs–

“Okay! Okay!” Katsuya managed to sputter out mid-laughter, “I–, I give up! Just stop-, ticklin’ me...!”

“Only if you pose for me.”

“Any–, anythin’! Just, stop already!”

Convinced that Katsuya would not dupe him (and also worried that his poor boyfriend was going to pass out from laughter), Seto finally stopped, allowing several moments for his partner to catch his breath.

He pushed himself back up, and seated himself on Katsuya’s thighs (as a precaution because that man was notorious for fleeing the second he could), phone already in his hand, and its camera centred on its subject.

“Pose.”

“How the hell–“

“Do something other than beached whale–,” realising his mistake, Seto corrected himself, “Someone drowning.“

“…I prefer beached whale,” Katsuya wrinkled his nose at the morbidity of the second analogy (and Seto nearly wasted his shot snapping that completely un-cute expression), “Not that I’m fat or anythin’!”

“You aren’t. Stop talking, and do something that is worth me taking a photo of. Or I’m tickling you again.”

“What?! That ain’t fair! Ain’t my fault if I dunno what ya want me ta do!”

“Look sultry. Sexy. Seductive. Something that fits the mood of what you’re currently wearing.”

Katsuya was sure he turned the colour of his collar at his partner’s candidness. The latter was never known to use such vocabulary, and him throwing out three in a row was enough to make Katsuya burrow into the sheets in embarrassment.

“I didn’t say adorable.”

Now thoroughly distraught at how much fun his partner was having at his expense (and how uncharacteristic this light-heartedness was), Katsuya tried to sink as far as he could into the bed, a forearm draped over his face in attempts to block the teasing arch of an eyebrow Seto directed at him.

“This shouldn’t be hard for you, Katsuya. Both items look excellent on you.” Bending down until their lips almost met, Seto murmured, “So excellent that I want to rip them off you right now.”

When Seto returned to his original position, Katsuya was prime for his shot. The former adjusted himself until he could capture all that he wanted in the photo, hands firm, but chest trembling as he swallowed the sight before him.

He could almost taste the honey, the same one that coated all of Katsuya in its allure, on his name as it was rasped from between his significant other’s sugared lips. The drawl on his vowels, rounded, and full, like the tongue just visible between parted lips, tempting, inviting, its tip melting into the softness of his mouth, until all Katsuya could offer was tenderness, and more tenderness. Seto fell, into the desire that glazed his partner’s eyes, unfocused, searching, as he drowned in molten gold, languid in his escape, his thigh becoming the anchor to a hand grasping a wordless plea.

Seto reached for the discarded leash of his partner’s collar, looping it before Katsuya’s lidded eyes, his movements unhurried, continuing until it showed an owner behind its tension, but did not compromise on his boyfriend’s comfort. He gave it a tentative tug, putting in just enough force lift Katsuya’s head from the bed, wisps of hair fluttering from the movement against his nape. Neck extended, Seto focused the lens on his partner’s exposed throat; where bronze met red met bronze; where smoothness was interrupted by textured coarseness; where its passivity was contrasted by its strain; all proxies of Seto even in his visual absence.

The click of the shutter, another, and the others that followed, captured Katsuya in all of his glory; his yearning flesh immortalised in the private server of the Kaiba family’s cloud network. His hair, tousled from their earlier struggle, sprayed the midnight of the sheets in a pool of auric, burnished strands dissolving into cotton until they became one; daylight kissing the night goodbye. The rest of him was reds melding into browns, like the earth touching bowed skies; Katsuya’s colour diffused into the flush that crept under the collar, seeping, until it hitched by the peaks of his collarbones, dissipating, until its ardour cumulated in the space between his splayed thighs.

If he heard the multiple photos taken instead of the single one promised, Katsuya never showed it; attention diverted, still dangling from the end of Seto’s hold, anticipating, tensity evolving into an ostensible heat that was carnal against his neglected skin.

Intoxicated, Seto could deny himself no longer, covering his partner’s body with his own, feeling the former’s fervour coalesce under his own abdomen. He lightly rubbed their heats together, feeling the surge of a need so electrifying, he collapsed on knees weak from the assault, barely controlling, hold on the strap loosened, and his body supported by Katsuya’s panting own.

Ra, he is beautiful.

Katsuya recovered from his stupor, his neck finally released, leaving just a dull pinch where the leather chafed his skin. He ran his fingers through Seto’s hair, still limp from the shower, dragging the dampness onto cool skin, drawing carelessly over the bridge of his partner’s spine until the brunette shifted in response.

“Gonna use me as ya phone’s lock screen now?”

Seto snorted, sound muffled from being half buried in his partner’s chest, “Only if you want all my prospective business partners to die prematurely from heart attacks.”

“Maybe,” Katsuya replied thoughtfully, breaking into a smile before he wrapped a lazy arm over Seto, “Then ya won’t needa work so much.”

“Fair point. I won’t have to when I’m in jail.”

The answer resulted in a light punch to Seto’s side, with his partner giving a grunt of disapproval at the possibility before resuming his absent stroking of Seto’s back.

“I won’t let ‘em.”

Giving in to his amusement at Katsuya’s protectiveness, Seto decided to continue along the tangent of whatever ridiculous scenario his partner imagined, wanting to hear how Katsuya would play the hero this time. He folded his arms, rested his chin in their centre after finding a comfortable spot on his boyfriend’s chest, eyes following the movements of Katsuya’s jaw before he enquired.

“How? By punching the police?”

“Yeah! I’ll punch ‘em, and punch ‘em hard! They won’t know what hit ‘em! Eh, besides my fists.”

“And what happens after your inevitable capture?”

“Ain’t happenin’! They’ll never catch me!”

“Please elaborate on this foolproof plan that allows you to evade the entire Domino police force.”

“By runnin’ away like this!”

Without further warning, Katsuya flipped his boyfriend over, and leapt off the bed, giggling like a maniac as he did. A quick sorry was thrown latter’s way —the unconcealed glee in the apology a further teasing taunt—, as Seto scrambled to grab on to something, anything, that would stop the blond’s escape. Seto’s fist finds nothing but air, noticing that somehow his cheeky rascal of a boyfriend actually had the foresight to wind the entire length of the leash around his hand, not giving Seto any opportunity to foil his plans.

With Katsuya’s superior dexterity, he easily dashed to their bathroom before Seto could even leave the bed, only peeking back to shoot a dazzling smile that was too triumphant at a rather peeved Seto. Making a victory sign over his head as a last jibe to his partner, Katsuya slammed the door behind him, locking it, still laughing uncontrollably at the utter annoyance in Seto’s expression as he prepared to shower.

Jounouchi Katsuya!!

 


 

Mokuba was scheming, like he always did, except this time his target was not rivals of Kaiba Corporation, but his own brother (and by association, his brother’s flame for who-even-remembered-how-long, Katsuya). If his older brother were every bit as astute as he was during his younger years, he would definitely have seen this coming, and would try to mitigate its effects. Not that it would matter, because like Seto used to teach him during their chess sessions, always think ahead of your opponents, so Mokuba had already factored that into his own calculations.

What he had planned was not too nefarious, but rather something closer to a prank. It was just a little gift for Seto since he would rather slave away trying to break into an industry that was unfamiliar, especially when neither he, nor his partner had any knowledge of, or contacts in the fashion industry. All that effort, and stress just in hopes of giving Katsuya a chance at success. (He would have thought someone as brilliant as his brother should have considered letting Katsuya work in his much less stressful business venture instead.)

In comparison, Mokuba had done up a thirty-page proposal on his idea of opening a trendy dessert chain (entirely unrelated to his own love of parfaits), featuring a mix of local, and fusion flavours that would definitely capture the young, and hip crowd that wandered about the shopping stretch. Having already established a network with notable players in the industry, Mokuba was confident he could maintain his presence without incurring their wrath, while at the same time growing his market share in hopes of future expansions. With all the preparation, and research Mokuba had done, to say that he was anything less than pissed off when Seto barely skimmed his proposal before rejecting it was an understatement.

Since it would take a lot more effort to raise funds via angel investors than to get the money off Seto directly, Mokuba decided that getting even with his brother was the best alternative —both to relieve his frustration, and to divert some of the other’s attention back to him— until he found time to schedule such a meeting.

For days he had pondered, wondering how he was going to exact his revenge. Doing something like replacing common words in his brother’s phone’s dictionary with ridiculous things was insipid, whilst messing with the code of the latest virtual reality simulator Seto had been working on for the past half a year was too catastrophic in its consequences.

Finally, the idea came to him as he was chatting to one of the many girls who fancied him on KC’s instant messenger. When he was trying to save a photo his conversation partner had sent to him of her cat, Mokuba accessed his family’s private cloud database where he chanced upon how his brother’s personal photos folder was recently updated. This would not be an interesting observation if the folder’s owner were anyone other than Kaiba Seto — the man who never bothered with the frivolous, like selfies, or wefies, preferring to live in the present as he said (or rather as Mokuba believed, express his vanity by wearing outfits so ostentatious that the media could not shut up about him).

Putting his conversation on hold, and making good use of the knowledge he was learning in university (not from secretly reading Seto’s half written codes lying around his study), Mokuba bypassed the security of the folder, impatiently scrolling through its sparse contents until he found the latest additions. Already large eyes widening further upon seeing their suggestive content, Mokuba cackled evilly before saving the photos. He transferred them in a nondescript folder to a non-wired computer (Mokuba was not going to take any risks, especially when Seto had Ra knows how many scripts silently feeding his paranoia built into KC’s OS), mind already devising his newfound plan of revenge.

 


 

“They’ll like me right?”

Katsuya rocked on the balls of his feet, fidgeting uncomfortably in his starched shirt, and tailored slacks (with both pieces of course being items from their catalogue). He had yet to put on his brand new oxfords (also another KC item), choosing to nervously pace the length of their room instead, the noise from his movement irritating an already immaculately groomed Seto.

“Yes.” Not that they’ll have a choice anyway.

Still not reassured, Katsuya sat himself heavily next to Seto, head in his palms (and mussing up his previously neatly styled hair), as he bemoaned to his partner.

“I’m gonna fuck this up! I ain’t used ta these businessy things!”

“Don’t be stupid, Katsuya. We’ve spent almost three days helping you prepare. With that amount of time spent, even a literal idiot with an IQ under seventy can do this.”

Changing his look of despair to that of a sulk, Katsuya shrugged into his blazer, thankful its cut was less severe than he had expected. He stood up, examining himself in the mirror, and feeling an urge to jump back under the covers at how disconcerting his reflection looked. It definitely was not the outfit; conversely, the clothes selected by Seto fit him wonderfully, perfectly balancing the fine line between stylish, and professional. It was just that the smartly dressed man in the mirror felt incredibly dissonant to who he was, and Katsuya could not help but feel what Seto wanted him to do was incredibly out of his depth.

Noticing his unnaturally silent boyfriend, Seto sighed, empathising as he remembered the dread in his much younger self’s nerves during his first meeting with KC’s board of directors. Seto picked up the red silk tie that lay forgotten by his still distressed significant other, and moved before his stationary partner.

“Relax,” Seto murmured, long fingers looping the material around the collar of Katsuya's shirt, concentrating in his adjustments until he got the perfect Eldredge knot. (He could not have settled for anything less elaborate, especially when Katsuya was attending as the potential lead for the business, and more importantly, as Seto’s other half.)

“I don’t wanna make a fool of myself in front of ya colleagues. Don’t want them ta think your boyfriend is dumb or somethin’.”

“You won’t. Not with me as your teacher,” Seto flipped his partner’s collar back down, brushing the material out of habit, his eyes meeting Katsuya’s before reassuring the latter, “Even if you did, I’m there to reverse any mistakes you make.”

His fingertips just barely touching his boyfriend’s, Seto continued, voice now slightly clipped, “And if any of them so much as thinks of you as someone lesser, they can bid their jobs farewell.”

A smile finally cracking his face, Katsuya broke into laughter at the excessiveness of his partner’s solution to his insecurity. Only Kaiba Seto would be able to declare something that outrageous with a completely straight face, and as much as Katsuya hated to admit it, it was starting to become one of the reasons why he was so fond of the brunette.

“Ready?”

Katsuya nodded, trying to squish the last of his worries into oblivion as he followed his partner to the limousine that awaited them.

 


 

The office was quiet, too quiet for a typical workday. Seto observed his employees, wondering why most had their heads bowed even as they greeted him. Respect may be a priority when working for him, even then, he never insisted on bowing being necessary each time he entered. (Not that bowing their heads alone would help, which seemed increasingly like disrespect the more Seto dwelled on it.) More curious was how the monitors on each visible desk were pitch black.

“Why are your computers turned off?” Seto barked impatiently, feeling the beginnings of his temper start to flare.

“There’s… A problem, sir,” a voice meekly replied. Fujita? Fujiwara? Furukawa?

“If it’s a technical problem, call IT instead of sitting around gaping at me like fishes!”

“We’re sor–“

“And tell IT if this problem isn’t resolved before noon, I’m cancelling their year-end bonuses.” The one day I really don’t want to lose my temper on thanks to you incompetent fools. “What are you waiting for?! Call them now!”

“Y–yes! Right away, sir!”

With that, Seto thundered back to his room, and Katsuya carefully followed behind, too uncomfortable to even look at the poor employees.

“Why do I even employ such cretins…”

Not wishing to aggravate his partner further —especially with his own nerves becoming on edge again thanks to Seto’s outburst—, Katsuya retrieved the kPad his boyfriend kept specifically for him, trying to calm himself down by watching a video compilation of animal fails.

What is the meaning of this?!”

Seto’s exclamation interrupted a particularly funny instance of a cat missing its jump. Katsuya looked up quickly, giggles retreating back into his throat when he saw his boyfriend’s face in such a prominent shade of red that he was afraid Seto would erupt into flames any second.

“Wha–“

Who did this?! Who dares?!”

The CEO stared intently at his screen once more, and before Katsuya could even get a second word in, the former slammed a fist furiously into his desk, the noise from the impact so sharp that it made Katsuya jump what felt like ten metres into the air. Seto narrowed his eyes, rage escalating when he finally found what he was looking for in the corner of the image — the distinctive cursive of a signature encased in a sundae. How dare that brat…!

“Seto, what’s wrong?”

The concerned voice of his boyfriend partially lifted the veil of red that clouded his mind. Upon Katsuya’s approach, Seto scrambled to find the mouse that was flung off his desk during his explosion, fury transforming into trepidation, panic growing as he hurriedly objected, “Wait, don’t—“

Before Seto could hurl his monitor out the panels of his windows, Katsuya peeked over his shoulder, his hand on it tightening when he saw what Seto was so offended by.

“Oh my Ra, Seto!” Katsuya guffawed, the shaking of his body from the intensity of his laughter making Seto’s body sway too. “I know that’s ya fav photo of me, but ya didn’t needa set it as ya work comp’s wallpaper!”

Plastered across Seto’s monitor was not the usual KC official company wallpaper, but one of the photos the brunette had taken of him the night before. What Katsuya found even more hilarious was how tiny hearts in pink, and red were scribbled around his (frankly, rather wanton) face.

Relieved that his partner is handling the mishap–, calamitous misfortune that had befallen them a whole lot better than he was, Seto tried to compose himself past the near heart attack his dearest little brother had given him. I don’t care if Mokuba is twenty-one, I’m still going to ground him so far into the Earth that his fossil won’t be rediscovered before humanity’s extinction.

“Ya shoulda just employed me as ya secretary! Then ya won’t have ta stare at me on ya screen–“

Trying to keep himself from losing his temper again, Seto seethed through gritted teeth, ”I’m not the one who did this,” he glared at Katsuya before adding in testily, “And I’m not so beholden to my libido that I need to stare at this as I work.”

Finally comprehending the reason as to why his usually unflappable boyfriend lost his cool, Katsuya tried to steady his voice, his own face slowly turning into the same shade of scarlet as Seto’s, “If ya didn’t do this… Ya mean… someone else has this photo?!”

“The question now isn’t who has this photo, but who doesn’t.”

When Katsuya fully understood what Seto was insinuating, he stared in absolute horror at his partner before half-whispering weakly, “Is… Is this the problem Mr. Fujiwara was referrin’ ta?”

Committing that mousey employee’s name to memory for a potential plan of making him Seto’s direct eyes on the floor in the future, the CEO nodded gravely. He then folded his arms as tightly as he could whilst trying to regain his composure, going a step further to close his eyes after his efforts repeatedly failed (from aggravation, and definitely not because he could not stop glancing at his desktop).

If Katsuya were a superhero, he would wish for the power of concealment, so he could hide himself in another dimension until this entire thing blew over. Or if that was too farfetched, super-powered digging was good too, so he could immediately burrow himself into a hole whenever necessary. Like now.

Laying himself on the floor, Katsuya cried out, “How am I gonna show my face at the meetin’ later??” He rolled over so that his back faced his still unmoving partner, curling himself up slightly before he whined, “Seto, fix this!”

“Cut the theatrics, Katsuya. If you’re going to miss the meeting for something as trivial as this–“

“Easy for ya ta say!! It ain’t ya in a collar makin’ ya O-face at the camera!”

“You didn’t orgasm, neither of us–“

“It still looks like I did!”

Acknowledging Katsuya’s point, Seto sighed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose, wondering why Mokuba had to choose this of all days to get even with him. Admittedly, there were worse things Mokuba could have done (although at this point in time, all possible examples completely eluded Seto), and since the photo did not include any part of him in it, why was he so agitated to begin with? He was not concerned about any possible backlash from others hoping to leverage on his boyfriend’s supposed deviance. Because if anyone were foolhardy enough to try, Seto would destroy their lives so completely that they would struggle to get jobs even in rural Japan. With that out of his consideration, why else was Seto so upset?

He looked over to his significant other on the floor, where he lay with his jacket crinkled from his position, his hair back to its original untameable form from its owner’s tossing around, his fingers tapping idly on the floor as he did whenever he was deep in thought. Seto wanted nothing more than to whisk his boyfriend back to their home, away from strangers who knew not how to appreciate the latter’s presence. There, Seto would sit by Katsuya until his partner could relax into the carefree, and lopsided smile that he really needed to see right now.

Seto’s vexation at Mokuba’s prank stemmed not from the potential ruining of his (and Katsuya’s) image. While that was still a concern if the photo was somehow leaked outside the building, it was an issue that Seto was sure remained within his control until something unanticipated indicated otherwise. What infuriated him was how something he considered intimately his was ripped from his hands, and shared with the anonymous eyes of strangers who had done nothing to deserve that same access. The way that Katsuya always released the tiniest gasp whenever Seto initiated contact; the way Katsuya tended to twist his head to the left when hiding in embarrassment; the way Katsuya mirrored the desire in Seto from under the lidded coals of his eyes; the way Katsuya almost inhaled his name from the pulse of Seto’s veins whenever he wanted the latter to pull in closer until they became one — these things about Katsuya that were private, that were his, and only his, laid exposed, and it took every ounce of Seto’s self restraint to not drive himself to Mokuba’s residence, and confront his sibling there, and then.

Reverting back to the unemotional, and logical CEO his company was infamous for, Seto decided that Mokuba could wait. Right now, he needed to do damage control.

“Wait in the toilet.”

“Eh?! What?!”

Before Katsuya could argue, Seto practically dragged the former into the en suite toilet, leaving his partly bewildered, but mostly annoyed boyfriend with the commands to stay quiet, wait patiently, and to tidy himself up.

Although Katsuya was anything but happy being shoved, and locked in a toilet, he knew Seto was probably going to do something important, and could not risk him messing it up. Huffing in resignation, Katsuya rummaged through Seto’s items until he found some mousse, and a comb, and started work on his unruly nest of hair.

To ensure that every single person in the building would hear his message, Seto remotely controlled every digital device on the network, overlaying each screen with a video of himself —calm, collected, and in control—, as he addressed the fallout of Mokuba’s prank.

“With regards to the earlier unintentional dissemination of information that is of a particularly sensitive nature, please be reminded that every single employee of Kaiba Corporation is bound by the confidentiality clauses in your employment contracts. Breaches of any sort will not be tolerated, and the appropriate punishment will be exacted harshly, and swiftly. To all staff of Kaiba Corporation, I thank every single one of you for your unwavering loyalty to the company.”

Announcement concluded, Seto returned the authority of the devices to their users, and turned off his video feed. He sat with his fingers in a steeple, not forgetting that his significant other was still locked in the toilet, but wanting a moment to consolidate his thoughts (and repressed emotions).

When he finally felt every bit of the composure he wore in his video, Seto rang for Isono, who came bounding into his office barely seconds after.

“Let everyone know that for every year this matter remains within this building, the bonus of every employee will be doubled from their original. I also want you to monitor the web for any signs of a leak. If, and when that happens, I don’t care how small an audience it is getting, send me a red alert immediately, and I’ll take over from there.”

Just before Isono returned to whatever matters he had at hand, Seto stopped him.

“Tell the IT department to fix this mess before my meeting is over, or the entire department is fired.”

Nodding in understanding, panic evident at Seto’s ultimatum for that department, he rushed off to deliver the message, hoping for all of their sakes that they could conform to their boss’ wishes.

When Katsuya was finally let out, he threw himself into Seto’s chair, swivelling around whilst enjoying the rays of sun the office's floor-to-ceiling windows allowed in. Seto leaned against his desk, a hint of a smile tugging at a corner of his lips as he saw his significant other’s cheerful demeanour.

“Knew ya could fix it! Ya are the best!” Katsuya threw him an appreciative wink, grin relaxing into a full toothy smile before he turned to face the view again.

Seto could have stood by his partner’s side, watching the latter admire the view of Domino’s financial district, him following how the entirety of Katsuya was gilded under the late morning light, ignoring the world that trickled by beneath them. Perhaps in another life; when Seto’s hands weren’t the angles that defined his numbers; when Seto’s tongue wasn’t the blade that governed his rules; when Seto’s flesh wasn’t the sacrifice that constructed his empire; when Seto’s breaths weren’t the ice that reinforced his defences. Perhaps in a life after this, in which Katsuya had long became a part of him, and everything about him became softer, more tender, until Seto could finally be the same light his boyfriend was to him — absolute, and unconditional.

“Hey, Seto…”

Seto released himself from his thoughts, humming a reply as he redirected his attention to the object of his reflections.

“Ya know what’s the bright side about this whole thing?”

“Tell me.”

“At least everyone now knows ya are inta kinky shit.”

Seto threw his head back, exasperation palpable in every inch of his expression. Of course the man he waxed lyrical about would also be the same person who barged into his choir with a cacophony of vulgar instruments.

“I’ll take that as an affirmation of you wanting a new collar.”

“I neva said that!”

Satisfied that the threat of another collar wiped the (completely not enchanting) smirk clean off his partner’s face, Seto stood up fully, and straightened his clothes before gesturing that it was time for them to head to their meeting.

As Katsuya fell into step next to his boyfriend, he heard Seto comment, not missing the mischievous glint in the latter’s sharp blue eyes.

“Maybe I should get you a muzzle…”

The hell, Seto!!”

“Because children should be seen, and not heard.”

“UGH, I hate you!”

Katsuya stomped into Seto’s private lift, a pout sitting in the fullness of his lower lip as he folded his arms overdramatically, and awaited his partner’s entrance. Seto complied, his long strides bringing him to his boyfriend’s side. He thanked the gods he did not believe in for the gift of bliss, and responded to Katsuya’s pout with a smile that reflected the fondness in his own eyes.

“I love you too.”