"Fucking bastard," Seto grumbled to himself. The stupid sidewalk shifted beneath his next step, becoming all wobbly like jello and causing him to stumble. He managed to grab hold on a nearby lamppost at the last possible second. "I'll teach you a lesson you won't soon forget!" he shouted up to the cloudy night sky.
People were staring. Seto had been on the receiving end of looks since middle school, so he'd become more than accustomed to the weight of eyes following his every move. "What are you all looking at?" he snarled and the slack-jawed idiots dispersed like a swarm of gnats.
He tried to pull himself to his feet and immediately regretted it. The entire world spun in a cacophony of haloed shadows and wavy lights that were. Too. Damn. Loud. Seto pressed a hand to his mouth as the urge to vomit rammed up against his esophagus. He gave up, falling to his knees and leaned his overheated forehead against the cool metal of the pole.
Seto still had enough faculties intact to recognize how ridiculous he was being. He should go home and sleep it off. But Noah would be home, and the mere thought of the bastard and his sickly green hair caused all attempts at rationality to evaporate like... Like... Whatever. The point was that he was liable to smother Noah in his sleep if he went back to the mansion tonight. He wasn't quite at that point yet.
(But he sure as hell would be with another few drops of whiskey in him... How sweet would that be?)
Yep, definitely not going home tonight. He stood and kept going. His feet, though shuffling drunkenly against the concrete sidewalk, seemed to already have a destination in mind. Some time later, he lifted his head and glanced around. Wait, exactly how far had he wandered from the downtown area? There was nothing but residential houses as far as the eye could see.
There's light up ahead, spilling out of the windows of a 7-Eleven.
But his feet were still moving on auto-pilot, taking him in the opposite direction of the store and down a smaller, dark street. Finally, they came to a complete stop in front of a shabby-looking two-story apartment building.
"What the hell?" Seto muttered to himself, prepared to turn back the way he came and go to the 7-Eleven for directions. But a hazy memory resurfaced and gave him pause. That's right. He'd been here before. Yami, his classmate from university, lived here and Seto had crashed at his place several times before. That was before they had graduated— he had not seen Yami in the year since then.
Whatever, it was a convenient place to spend the night. And he wouldn't go home and smother Noah with his pillow and bring dishonor to his mother and his little brother. Sounded like a good plan. Yami was unlikely to say no— he was a pushover like that.
(When he later recounted the sentiment to Yami himself, the man rolled his eyes and said, "It's called being civil, Kaiba. You should try it sometimes.")
Seto dragged himself up the stairs to the second floor, down the hall to the second to last door from the end, and punched the doorbell. He heard the chime through the thin walls. No one came to the door. No one even shouted for him to go away from inside the apartment. Seto got irritated.
"Yami!" He banged on the door.
Still no answer.
"Fine, be that way." Going back down the stairs was easier than the other way around. He went around the back of the building and looked up. The window of Yami's balcony was dark. Seto clamored onto one of the trash bins and pulled himself up onto the balcony. He peered in through the window and knocked on the glass. Still no reply, which meant he must be out.
The handle on the door came loose with one good wrench. "Tch, that's what you get for living in such a cheap place," he said and tossed the handle over his shoulder.
Inside, he didn't bother to turn on any of the lights until he stumbled into the bathroom to relieve himself. Afterwards, he peeked into the bedroom and found only an unmade bed— no annoying ex-university classmates who thought they knew better than Kaiba Seto. He shed his suit jacket and left it by the doorway. Seto fell face first into the messy (and small! so small!) bed and was out like a light.
The sunlight was trying to pry his eyelids open. Seto groaned and buried his head in the pillow that smelled like cheap shampoo. Last night came back in bits and pieces— being forced to entertain some business associates along with Noah, the endless rounds of Crown Royal XO, and Noah's usual teasing getting more and more under his skin with each sip. His only saving grace appeared to be that he'd excused himself and left before embarrassing himself in front of said business associates.
Or so he hoped.
He lifted his heavy head and licked his chapped lips. His mouth was parched too. A digital alarm clock sitting to the side of the bed informed him that it was nine in the morning. He'd better check his cellphone for messages. He spotted his jacket lying in a crumpled heap by the floor and went to retrieve the device. On the way, he stepped over several small piles of dirty laundry. Funny, he didn't remember Yami being this messy before.
Two of the messages were from Noah, which Seto deleted angrily without reading first. He fired a text off to his secretary and informed her that he was taking a half-day and would be into the office later in the afternoon. It wasn't like he had meetings or important duties to attend to— not with the way Noah was doing his best to keep Seto out of the family business in everything but name.
Seto slipped the phone into his trouser pocket. He should go home soon and get changed. His suit was rumpled from having been slept in and he was sticky all over from sweat.
There was no sign of Yami in the tiny living room and its attached kitchenette. It looked as if he hadn't come home at all yet. How unlike the boy scout to stay out all night. Actually, the entire apartment, furniture included, seemed a lot shabbier than the last time he was here. Empty beer cans sat on top of the kotatsu in front of the television, and an open bag full of trash sat next to the front door. Seto doubted Yami could have changed that much since they last saw each other.
Unless... Fuck, this wasn't Yami's apartment at all, was it?
Before he could react, the lock in the front door turned. When it fell open, Seto came face-to-face with the man whose apartment he had broken into and whose bed he'd slept in.
The blond man in the doorway froze as soon as he saw Seto— his expressive face morphing from fatigue to shock and then to anger in the span of microseconds. "Who the fuck are you?!" he spat through gritted teeth and narrowed eyes. "What the fuck are you doing in my house?"
Unable to stop himself, Seto snapped back, "I could say the same about a nobody—"
Seto didn't get the chance to finish, because the blond man charged forward like a rabid dog and knocked the wind out of his chest. Before Seto had the chance to draw from his many, many years of martial arts training, a heavy fist slammed into his right cheek and knocked his head against the edge of the kotatsu.
And that was how the great and mighty Kaiba Seto of the Kaiba Corporation was taken down in a fight by a single blow.
After things calmed and Seto had a chance to gather his wits, he explained his situation to the overly-aggressive blond man. The name "Yami" seemed to have a tranquilizing effect on his accidental host. Without ice (or anything else really in the fridge), the man had offered Seto an ice-cold can of beer to nurse his bruised cheek and ego.
"Mutou Yami?" the blond cocked his head and asked. "You're Yami's friend?"
Seto nodded, then winced when his head throbbed in protest. Well, friend was an oversimplification of his relationship with Yami. They had been in the same year and spent much of their four year tenure at the university competing over the top spot in the econ department. Rivals— or even "frienemies" as Yuugi once put it— was the more appropriate term.
"He doesn't live here anymore. He moved back home to be with Gramps a few months ago. This is my place now."
Of course, Yami no longer lived here. That was just Seto's rotten luck. "I'll keep that in mind," he sneered.
The blond man ran a hand through his hair, having the sense to look somewhat ashamed. "Sorry for jumping you, man. I thought you were a burglar or something."
Seto was insulted. What part of him resembled a petty criminal? He cast a skeptical glance around the room and said, "Yes, I'm a burglar here to steal your ample belongings."
The other man's expression darkened. "You're kind of an ass, aren't you?"
"So I've been told on multiple occasions." A small part of Seto felt remorse over the breaking and entering bit, but his pride refused to bow under the indignities he'd been subjected to so far. The Kaibas were not generally famed for their ability to be humble or to apologize.
He glanced at the clock hanging on the wall. He needed to leave soon if he wanted to reach the office before noon. "I'm going now. I won't impose on you any longer."
He put the unopened can down on the kotatsu and tried to stand. But as he did, a wave of dizziness washed over him. Seto's ego wasn't going to be able to take much more of a metaphorical beating— much less another hard knock against the wood. The blond man shot up and grabbed Seto by the shoulder before he could fall. Seto squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force down the nausea and the scent of bargain deodorant.
"Uh, are you sure you don't need to go to the hospital? You hit your head pretty hard." The other man's amber eyes shone with concern. Seto could feel the muscles helping to keep him upright.
Did people normally move through so many different moods so quickly?
"I'm fine," Seto shook the man off his arm and headed for the door.
Behind him, the blond man looked torn— unsure if he should be relieved that Seto was finally leaving or if he should remain worried. Just as Seto guessed, the man was the sort to wear his heart on his sleeve and Seto couldn't resist the urge to pick on him more.
"By the way, I came in through the balcony. You need to get the lock on the window replaced," Seto called over his shoulder and ducked out of the apartment.
The door falling shut in his wake did nothing to muffle the "WHAT DID YOU DO, YOU S.O.B.?!" that followed. Seto raced out of there as fast as his aching head would let him.
As soon as Seto entered the Turtle Game Shop, Yami took one look at him and then turned away to fix a display, but not quickly enough to hide the smirk on his face. "Huh, so Jounouchi wasn't kidding."
"Who?" Seto glared at his rival's spiky head.
Yami's smirk transformed into a full-fledged grin. "Jou-nou-chi, you broke into his apartment a few days ago."
Right, the blond. Seto's jaw ached at the very thought. "Is that his name?" he sneered.
"You break into a man's home and don't even ask for his name," Yami tutted.
Seto seethed. "He. Assaulted. Me."
"That's Jounouchi for you. He's all fight and no flight," Yami sighed wistfully like some nostalgic old fart. "What are you going to do, Kaiba? Press charges? Remember, you broke the law first."
"Who are we talking about?" Yuugi poked his head out from the backroom. "Jounouchi-kun? Hi, Kaiba-kun! Long time no see."
Refusing to get double-teamed by both brothers, he focused his ire on Yami first. "Why didn't you tell me you'd moved?"
"I did. I sent you an email about it back in December." Yami moved to take the box that Yuugi was passing to him. As he went to stock some shelves, Yuugi stepped up and replaced his brother behind the cash register.
Last December, Seto had been busy with his orientation at the company— doing intensive rotations of work-study through a corporate department every two weeks. The entire ordeal was a bit of a blur, especially the drudgery that was marketing and accounting. The only highlight had been when Mokuba came home from school for the winter break.
"Why were you trying to get into my old place anyway?"
"I needed a place to stay for the night."
"Then why didn't you go home?" Yuugi butted into the conversation with his usual good cheer.
Seto had already lost control of the situation. The Mutou brothers often had that effect on him, which was why he avoided seeing them too often. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"I knew it!" Yami twirled around to face Seto with a triumphant expression. "You were drunk! I took you home with me that once after the econ party in our second year, and you came wandering over every time you got shitfaced after that."
Seto's cheeks heated as he shot back, "That only happened three times."
"Four times now," Yuugi singsonged. He ducked behind the counter when Seto cast a glower in his direction.
Seto turned and marched toward the exit without another word. As he yanked open the door, Yami called from behind, "By the way, Jounouchi said you better pay for the repairs on his locks."
Seto slammed the door shut behind him, and the glass rattled in its frame.
The following month, Seto was tasked with entertaining the visiting executives from Miyamoto Conglomerate. At least Noah was busy with other matters and didn't tag along this time. It was bad enough that they'd dragged him to the hostess club after dinner, but it had taken the gregarious and insistent executives less than an hour to drink Seto under the table.
He plied the clingy hostess, Mamiko, from his side and staggered off in search of the restroom. The door to their VIP room swung shut, thankfully cutting off the sound of Yamato-san's crooning and the other hostesses' overly enthusiastic applause. With the world spinning, he brushed past a waiter in the hallway, muttered an apology, and ran the home stretch to reach the toilet in the first bathroom stall.
Seto heaved for a few moments and emptied his dinner into the bowl. His eyes watered and his throat burned beyond belief. Just when he thought the torment was over, he threw up a second time.
"There, there, you'll feel better now." A soothing hand rubbed his back.
Seto spat several times to clear his mouth. He sat up and wondered which hostess had been brave enough to follow him into the men's room.
A blond-haired man clad in a waiter's uniform was offering him a paper towel. Seto sluggishly blinked— once, twice, then three times. The face haloed against the club's dark marbled walls was a familiar one.
He squinted to get a better look, but then he was seeing double. "I know you..." he said hesitantly. The only problem was he couldn't recall exactly who the man was or where they'd met before. It was just a vague feeling that Seto should know him.
The waiter broke into a bright, silly grin. It was nice... and warm... and fuzzy? "Wow! You're really fucked up!"
"Am not," Seto protested. He still had his pride.
"Okay, fine, just take this and clean yourself up."
Seto made two attempts before his fingers closed around the towel. He dabbed the corners of his mouth and his chin before laboriously climbing to his feet, except he kept getting stuck halfway through. The waiter sighed and grabbed his elbow, hauling Seto to his feet with an impressive show of strength. Together, they made it over to the sink where Seto splashed his face with water and inspected his reflection. Thankfully, he didn't get any vomit on his shirt. He was still sober enough to grimace at the thought.
He allowed the counter to support his weight as his forehead fell forward to meet the glass. "I want to die," he whispered to himself.
The waiter's reflection rolled his eyes. "Man, if you can't drink, you shouldn't be here."
"I don't have a choice. It's my job to entertain," Seto winced as his head pounded. "Them. I have to go back."
The waiter caught him when he fell back. It was comfy and warm. Seto could fall asleep if he curled up here, but the waiter had to ruin everything by opening his loud and uncouth mouth again. "You can barely stand. You're going to drink yourself straight into a coma at this rate."
Seto's temper snapped. He was the customer here! Didn't this idiot know the first thing about service? How dare he... he... question Seto's ability! He was Kaiba fucking Seto! How dare anyone question him? Yamato-san said he needed to loosen up— that a young person should know how to have some fun!
"I can be fun!" he screamed. "I'll go back and be fun right now!"
Even if the only thing thicker than Mamiko's perfume was Higata's cigar smoke. He would show the world that Kaiba Seto could be "fun"!
"Oh boy," the waiter muttered under his breath.
He turned his angry glare up at the waiter and found himself caught over the color of his eyes. "Do you doubt me?" he asked imperiously.
"Nope, you're loads of fun. A bundle of sunshine!" The waiter nodded. Seto got the feeling he was being placated. "Why don't I take you somewhere where you could rest for a moment and drink a glass of water or two?"
"That's not fun at all," Seto sulked.
The waiter made a funny face— like he had swallowed an insect or something. Seto's feet dragged, scuffing his nice shoes against the club's equally nice floors. For a moment, he could at least appreciate Yamato's refined (and expensive) taste. If Seto was going to a hostess club, it better well be high-class and the best! They took another corridor and things suddenly seemed a lot less fancy. Before he knew it, the waiter had deposited him onto a nice couch in a room with bland white walls and lockers.
The waiter moved to the other side of the room and returned with a bottle of water. He unscrewed the top, making sure to show Seto that it had not been opened before, and brought the bottle to Seto's lips.
Seto grasped the plastic with shaky hands. "I'm not a child."
"Of course, you're not," the other man said— suddenly shifting to polite speech. "Please drink all of it, sir."
Seto regarded him suspiciously at first, but then complied. The water did wonders for his parched throat. Once he had his first sip, he didn't stop until the bottle was empty. The waiter gently pried the bottle from Seto's overheated hand.
"I'll be back. Stay here and rest," the waiter said and pulled away.
Seto curled into a small ball and waited for the world to stop spinning.
Seto wondered if dying felt this awful. Every joint in his body hurt and his skull was splitting. None of this was eased by the angry overtones of the conversation taking place nearby.
"You can't abduct a customer like that, Jounouchi!" a female voice scolded.
"I didn't freaking kidnap him. He's right there," another male voice argued.
The woman sounded like she was at her wit's end. "I've always given you a lot of leeway, but there are things that are just not done with customers."
"He's not just any customer! He's... he's a friend of mine!"
Seto groaned and rolled over on the couch. Very slowly, he plied the eyelids from his eyes and took in the scene taking place right over him. The woman of the conversation was a busty blond in her mid-thirties, still beautiful but ultimately too old to be a hostess. The man was Seto's age, also blond and dressed in a white button-up shirt, black slacks, and a server's waistcoat. His hair was gelled back, but Seto could still recognize him as the man who now lived in Yami's apartment.
"Ah! Kaiba-san, you're awake!" the woman fell to her knees and helped him sit up— all while giving him an impressive view of her cleavage.
"As if anyone could sleep through the racket you were making," the waiter grumbled. The woman shot him a glare that promised the most painful of deaths.
When she turned back to Seto, she was wearing the most humble of smiles that still managed to be lavacious at the same time. "Kaiba-san, I'm Kujaku Mai, the mama-san here at Exodus. Please forgive the rudeness of my staff. You have my assurance he will be strictly reprimanded. Please allow me to escort you back to your VIP room. Your guests have been worried about you."
"They didn't even notice he was gone until it was time to pay the bill."
"You!" Mai hissed and stabbed a long painted fingernail in the waiter's direction. "Not another word out of you."
"It's fine." Seto wanted nothing more than the night to be over. He rummaged through his pockets and retrieved his wallet. With shaky fingers, he pulled out the company expense card. He never had the chance to use it before now. "Please tell Yamato-san and his colleagues that I had to leave early due to a family emergency. You can charge everything to this."
Mai took the black card with a satisfied glimmer in her eyes. "Of course, Kaiba-san. I'll be sure to pass your message to them. Please let Jounouchi know if you need anything." She swiftly stalked out of the room in her three-inch heels.
Seto rubbed his throbbing temples.
"You should be more careful about handing your credit card over before you see the bill. Who know what extra charges Mai might slip in?" Jounouchi said after a moment.
"The company can afford it," Seto grumbled.
"Maa, rich people sure have it easy."
Seto looked up to study the waiter. His gaze lingered on the name tag over his breast pocket— Jounouchi, written as "the castle's inside."
"You work here?" Seto regretted the question as soon as it left his mouth. The answer was stupidly obvious. Must be the damn alcohol. "Nevermind, don't answer that."
Jounouchi sighed and looked at him warily, "Some friendly advice, since you're a friend of Yami's and all: don't force yourself. I won't be there to save you every time."
He glared at Jounouchi. "Surely you understand this is the norm for businessmen. I can't not entertain the clients."
Jounouchi threw up his hands in surrender. "Fine, but don't say that I didn't warn you. And I'm not going to be nice about it the next time you break into my apartment."
Seto's jaw dropped. Nice? "You hit me!"
"You broke the lock on my balcony," then he added after a poignant pause. "And then you slept in my bed!"
Shame crept up on Seto. He valued his control and to have lost it to that extent was an embarrassment. Yami's friend or not, Jounouchi didn't have to help him tonight. And he could have reported Seto to the police for the previous break-in. But he didn't.
Seto opened his mouth to say something, but another waiter then stuck his head into the break room. "Oi, Jounouchi, we're short-handed, so you mind contributing?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," he grumbled. "You can relax here until you feel better." Then he was out the door.
Eventually, Seto called a cab to pick him up but he didn't see Jounouchi again before he left the club.
Seto stood with a fist poised in mid-air. In broad daylight, he took note of the name listed next to the apartment door, which decidedly didn't read "Mutou." The sun beat down on the back of his neck. He had taken two circuits around the block before climbing the rickety stairs. He glanced over to the tiny window on the side, but the curtain blocked his view of the inside.
He turned around, walked two feet away, and about-faced again. He marched back and punched the doorbell, not giving himself a moment to consider otherwise. When no one answered, he rang it again and again as his irritation peaked.
Still no one came to the door.
Then there was the childish impulse to kick at the door. Dammit, his time was valuable. He had come all the way here from his nice, air-conditioned office. He didn't have to be—
"Please let up on that, I can't afford anymore repairs this month," a man said mournfully from behind.
Jounouchi wore a t-shirt and a pair of casual shorts with a plastic bag from 7-Eleven in one hand. The expression on his face could only be described as long-suffering. Seto straightened, sensing a hint of shame sneaking up on him again.
"You mind?" Jounouchi nodded in the direction of the door as he pulled his keys out with his other hand.
Seto shuffled back. Jounouchi slid his key into the lock, grunting and ramming the door with his shoulder as he turned the key. He had to repeat the action before it opened. Seto watched from the other side of the threshold as Jounouchi kicked off his flip-flops.
"Come on in," Jounouchi called as he disappeared into his kitchenette and left the door ajar behind him.
"Please forgive the intrusion," Seto muttered to the walls as he slipped out of his loafers.
Jounouchi emerged from behind the refrigerator door with a dewy can of beer in hand. "Do you want one?"
Seto shook his head a little too vigorously, but the overheated part of him was tempted.
Jounouchi smirked in response. He leaned back against the fridge and popped open the can. "So what can I do for you today?"
Seto did a once-over of the tiny living room. It was much cleaner than what he remembered from last time, even if he was hungover then. The collection of puroresu DVDs was tidied and lined in alphabetical order on the bookshelf besides the TV. The apartment even smelled fresher.
In the background, Jounouchi cleared his throat.
"It's not that different from when Yami lived here."
"Yeah, I inherited a lot of his furniture when he moved out. He's a real bud." Jounouchi threw back his head and pulled a deep gulp from his can.
"How do you know each other?"
"Yuugi and I were in high school together. I used to pick on him."
"Oh." That had not been the answer that Seto expected.
"So I have a feeling you're not here for my life story."
Seto hesitated before he stepped toward the other man. He drew a personal check from his inside pocket. "This is for your broken lock."
Jounouchi gave a low whistle once he saw the dollar amount. "That's a bit heavy-handed for one broken lock."
Truth be told, Seto had no idea how much it would cost to get a lock replaced. It seemed he had overestimated as a result. "Take it," he grumbled, already feeling off-kilter as it was. "Think of the rest as compensation for the services rendered the other night."
Jounouchi pulled a face. "Do you have to put it like that? You make it sound so dirty." He still pocketed the check in the end. "You are Yami's friend after all."
"Still you didn't know me," Seto swallowed. "You didn't have to help me."
Jounouchi set his beer down on the counter and straightened up before bowing. "My name is Jounouchi Katsuya, nice to meet ya." He smirked with only a hint of mocking.
Seto filed the name away and bowed in return. "Kaiba Seto, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Jounouchi winked. "Now we've introduced ourselves, you can't claim we don't know one another anymore."
Seto didn't mean to find himself at Exodus again so soon after the last visit. But Yamato-san was back in town to discuss something with Gozaburo and he claimed to be smitten with one of the hostesses there. Mai greeted them at the entrance, flirting with and complimenting everyone in the group before shuffling them into another VIP room. Yamato ordering a bottle of Hennessy right off the bat bore ill omens for Seto's immediate future. But he smiled as best as he could manage and forced down the first glass.
Then the hostesses arrived.
Seto drew the short straw when Mamiko glued herself to him again. Yamato's hostess started doling out the next round. He tried not to cringe when she pushed another glass his way.
"No, I wanna drink Cristal," Mamiko whined.
"Mami-chan, don't be like that," one of the other hostesses berated.
She pouted but the exaggerated protrusion of her lower lips was almost comical looking. "You'll drink it with me, right Kaiba-sama?"
Then she leaned in, squishing her breast against his biceps and blew into his ear. It tickled and he resisted the urge to slap a hand to his ear.
"Just say yes," she whispered. "It has a much lower alcohol percentage than the cognac. We'll be able to match them drink for drink and they'll be too smashed to care soon enough."
He was too caught by surprise to respond. Had he been so bad last time that even the hostess was taking pity on him?
"Seto, you should say yes to the young lady," Yamato chastised. "How are you ever going to find a wife and girlfriend if you don't learn to please girls."
Seto maintained a bored expression as he sat back in the couch. "Hn, do whatever you like."
"Thank you, Kaiba-sama! I'll order us a bottle right now."
The bottle of champagne materialized at once— delivered by Jounouchi too. With a flourish of his arms, he popped the cork much to Mamiko's delight. Jounouchi poured out two flutes and set the bottle back into the ice bucket. He faced Seto and Mamiko, turning his back to the rest of the group.
"Is there anything else I can bring you, Kaiba-san?" he asked with a wink.
Mamiko gave him two discreet thumbs-up, and Jounouchi glided out of the room with a self-satisfied smirk.
Afterwards, Seto found Jounouchi out back with a cigarette between his lips.
"That is a filthy habit," Seto declared as he crinkled his nose. He stopped a foot short of the other man.
Jounouchi blew a puff of smoke into the night sky. "So you don't drink or smoke, what do you do for fun?"
Seto thought about it long and hard for a few seconds. There wasn't much to his life besides his work and family— both equally tedious as they were irrevocably intertwined. "Nothing actually."
Jounouchi laughed. His entire body shook as he hung his head and hugged his sides. "Oh my god, you didn't have to answer so seriously."
"You asked!" Seto's head still buzzed from the champagne. The feeling wasn't unpleasant, and at the very least, he wasn't hunched over a toilet.
He could get used to this.
"Yes, yes, sorry, my fault." His body continued to quivered as the last of the giggles subsided.
The night was still young, filled with the noise of passing traffic, loud conversations coming from the sidewalk, and the pulsating music of other nearby clubs. Light from the surrounding buildings shone down on them and cast the air with a strange purple glow. Jounouchi's smile was brighter than any of the neon lights surrounding them. The smoke from his cigarette was almost iridescent; with his hair haloed in the light and his lips shining.
Seto's heart hammered away in his ribcage. It was just the alcohol, he told himself. "You helped me again. Why?" he asked.
"What can I say? I felt sorry for you. And I didn't want to have to clean up after you again."
People didn't usually help Seto unless they wanted something in return. "That's it?"
"That's it. Friends help each other out."
Had Seto been more sober, he would have laughed cruelly and abrasively to brush aside his discomfort or walked away. Friends— never has the word sounded more earnest than that moment where it left Jounouchi's lips. If anything, Jounouchi had some strange ideas about acquaintances that started over a misdemeanor.
Seto stayed as Jounouchi smoked his cigarette down to an orange stub. He pushed off from the wall, figuring this would be the end of their interaction.
"Hey, give me your hand," Jounouchi said as he rummaged through his pockets. "Come on."
Seto reluctantly extended an open palm toward the other man.
"There it is!" Jounouchi exclaimed and dropped a matchbook into Seto's hand. "I also work there part-time on Thursday and Sunday nights. You should come by sometime for a drink."
The cover was purple with the silhouette of a palm tree behind the words Havana Nights. Half of the matchsticks inside were missing— Jounouchi must have used them. Seto pocketed the matchbook and found himself nodding in agreement.
In his spare time at the office, Seto fiddled with the matchbook.
He had a lot of spare time.
Next Thursday night, Seto made his way to the part of Domino frequented by the expats. Nestled between an English pub and an Italian bistro, Havana Nights stood in stark contrast to its more demure neighbors. Salsa music blared over the speakers strategically placed in each corner of the bar.
Seto jostled past a large group of drunk Americans blocking the doorway. It may be a weekday, but the way the patrons acted suggested otherwise.
Jounouchi was situated behind the bar, simultaneously pouring the content of two shakers into an over-sized margarita glass. Seto waited his turn behind two Japanese uni students talking about their classes.
The atmosphere was less formal than Exodus. Still, it was odd to see Jounouchi in a tight t-shirt with the bar's logo and well-worn jeans. Beads of sweat rolled down the curve of his cheek and his neck— the temperature spiked.
"What can I get for you tonight, Señor Kaiba?" Jounouchi asked with a winning smile as Seto stepped up to the bar.