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-
It was the winter I had to get away
-

Jounouchi Katsuya's head snapped to the side. The blow had come a lot harder than he had expected. His stupid drunken father swayed on his feet. Jounouchi gritted his teeth as he pushed his father out of the way of the on-coming knife. He spun around and knocked the blade out of the attacker's hand. It went spinning into the air and he was the one to catch it. Their assailant froze when he felt the cold blade against the hollow of his throat.

It was near midnight, in the bad part of Domino City known as the badlands, on a cold winter's night... Their heavy breaths created trails of steam in the frosty air. Wisps of capricious spirits... The shabby apartment windows with their cracked windows and pungent odor loomed over them. How Jounouchi wished he was in bed already instead of freezing out here.

"Go rob someone else, punk. Next time I see you in this neighborhood, I'm not holding back." The hot breath against his ear caused the assailant's blood to run cold.

Jounouchi pulled away. The would-be robber nodded mutely and swallowed. He just ran as fast as he could. Jounouchi turned back to his father. The man was sitting on the ground of the alley like a lost little puppy. Jounouchi sighed and he hauled his father to his feet. Jounouchi Tanaka stumbled and his son lent his weight to the other man to lean on.

Jounouchi grunted under Tanaka's weight. "Next time warn me before you decide to take a midnight stroll. It's dangerous at this time of the night. Better yet, call me from whatever bar you're at and I'll come pick you up. I've told you before not to walk home alone after 10:30. Haven't I told you that before?"

Tanaka hung his head in shame. He had once again forgotten his son's instructions in his state of drunkenness. "I'm sorry, Katsuya. You had to come to get me when you have school tomorrow."

Jounouchi sighed. "Don't worry about it, Tou-san. Let's just go home."

-
Though I didn't know it then,
I needed the kind of solace
you get at depressing movies
if they're good;
-

The apartment the father and son shared was small. It had only one bedroom, a tiny living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Tanaka usually occupied the bedroom in his hours home. Jounouchi slept on a futon in the living room and when he was too tired, the couch. The cup of tea sitting on the table had gone cold a long time ago.

Jounouchi helped his father into the bed and left the room. He came back a few moments later with a couple of aspirin and a glass of water. He handed the items to Tanaka. The father took the pills and water like an obedient child.

"Lie down." Jounouchi ordered and Tanaka did as he was told. Jounouchi pulled the sheets up and tucked his father in. "And what did I tell you about drinking on Thursday nights? You have the early shift at work on Friday mornings. We can't afford for you to lose this job."

Tanaka whimpered. "I'm sorry, Katsuya. I forgot again."

"You always forget." Anger flashed briefly through the younger blond's eyes.

Tanaka grabbed onto his son's arm. "Do you hate Tou-san?"

Jounouchi's gaze softened. "No, Tou-san. I could never hate you. I may get annoyed with you, angry with you, but I would never hate you."

"You swear?" Tanaka asked weakly.

It occurred to Jounouchi how much his father resembled a child sometimes. Tanaka depended on his son more than anything. When Jounouchi had vanished those two days a while back, Tanaka became excessively violent. He had even been arrested by the police for starting a brawl at a bar. "I swear on my life, Tou-san."

Tanaka closed his eyes and settled back. "Good..."

Jounouchi ran a hand through his father's balding hair. "Good night."

-
all those others
just like you.
-

Jounouchi yawned as he stepped into the classroom. He was early today, a drastic change from his usual twenty-minutes-late-and-get-detention routine. He hadn't been able to sleep after he got his father into the bed.

Something flew into his side and nearly knocked him over. Jounouchi twirled around and saw no one. That could only mean... He looked down.

Mutou Yugi was tiny for a high school student. At 17, he only stood a mere five feet, including that outrageous hairstyle of his. Yugi bowed several times to Jounouchi in quick succession, muttering some inaudible apologies. A slight expression of fear crossed the smaller teenager's face. Jounouchi reveled in the power.

Jounouchi glared down at the smaller boy. "Watch where you're going, Mutou."

"Oh I'm so so sor-sorry, Jounou-nouchi-kun..." The shorter boy was known to stutter whenever he was nervous. Jounouchi just found it very annoying. Yugi bent down to pick up all the cards he had dropped when he collided with Jounouchi.

Jounouchi sighed. He bent down and helped Yugi to gather his cards. He flipped over one of the cards and stared at the picture. It read: Baby Dragon.

"Jounouchi-kun?" Yugi watched him with those wide violet eyes. Any trace of his previous fear was gone. He poked at the mask Jounouchi wore and felt something underneath.

Jounouchi shoved the card into Yugi's hand and stood. "Just be careful next time."

Yugi bowed again. "Yes... Th-tha-thank you, Jou-jounouchi-kun..."

Jounouchi snorted and turned away. The other boy rushed past him to his seat in the back of the classroom. Jounouchi sat down at his own seat not that far away. He could suddenly feel the acrid glare of Kaiba Seto burn through him.

Kaiba Seto was Yugi's best friend and together they made the most unlikely duo in the whole school. While Yugi was the shortest student in the whole school, Seto was, no doubt, among the tallest at a towering height of six feet one. Jounouchi snorted. He was also one of the most arrogant and pig-headed students in the school. The only person Seto seemed to respect remotely was Yugi.

Since it was only the three of them that morning, Jounouchi could hear every word of their conversation. Not that he really cared or anything, but it wasn't like he had anything better to do...

"Did you run into bullies again, Yugi?" Seto asked. A fierce protectiveness flashed through his steel blue eyes.

Yugi gave Seto a weak smile. "It's nothing, Kaiba-kun. Want to duel?" Seto was one of the few people that Yugi didn't stutter around.

Seto sighed. There was no use in talking to Yugi when he was like this. "Fine, let's."

Jounouchi had heard briefly about this card game that Yugi and Seto were so avid about. In fact, it was Seto's pet project at Kaiba Corporations. Though the rumor was, Kaiba Noa was looking to cut funding to all of Seto's project. Anyway, the game was called Duel Monsters. Some American named Pegasus J. Crawford, who was said to be a bit touched in the head, had created it.

His curiosity got the better of him. He got up from his seat and wandered over to the pair. He furrowed his brows as he tried to follow the game and its rules. It involved a lot of strategy from the looks of things. It wasn't one of Jounouchi's strong points either. He preferred to shoot first and not ask questions at all.

"What do you want, mutt?"

Jounouchi glared at Seto. Still as arrogant as ever.

Yugi looked up at him, eagerness shining in his eyes. "Do you want to learn how to play, Jounouchi-kun?"

Jounouchi couldn't understand Yugi's sudden change of disposition towards him. It was hard to imagine someone capable of being so ridiculously capricious. It would have been the better judgment of Yugi to ignore one of the school's most infamous gangsters. "Eh..."

Seto snorted. "The mutt doesn't have the capacity to even understand the rules."

Jounouchi clenched his fist and suppressed the urge to hit his classmate. Better yet, castrate the bastard and feed him his own testicles. Jounouchi's mind chuckled at the sadistic yet pleasant thought.

Yugi scowled. "Don't say that, Kaiba-kun. Well, Jounouchi-kun?"

Jounouchi turned away. "I don't give a fuck. Have fun with your childish games." He could feel Yugi's spirit plummet even with his back turned. He knew that if Seto could, the boy would have killed him right then and there.

-
In Orlando,
biding time, I watched peacocks
among people in a wooded reserve,
-

"Noa-sama is waiting for you in his office, Seto-sama."

Seto nodded his head in the briefest indication of acknowledgment to his brother's secretary. He pushed open the double doors and strode into the oval shaped office as if he owned it. It was rightfully his as far as Seto was concerned.

Kaiba Noa was facing the window at first. His form lost behind a mass of expensive Italian leather.

"What do you want, Noa? I have better things to be doing than talk with you."

The chair swung around. Kaiba Noa was twenty-six and president of one of the most wealthy arms-weapons producer in the world. He was every bit of the man his father, Kaiba Gozaburo, was. But he had something his father didn't: Charm. And that made him all the more dangerous than the deceased Gozaburo. Noa had been in a car accident when he was ten and suffered severe head trauma as a result. He was never quite the same afterwards. As far as Seto was concerned, Noa was the textbook case for sociopathy.

Noa grinned at his younger adopted brother with that same deranged smile he had been using all these years. "Now is that any way to talk to your brother, Seto?"

Seto hated the way Noa said his name. It never failed to make his skin crawl. Not that it really mattered in comparison. He hated everything possible about Kaiba Noa. That awful green hair... That goddamn sweet facade... And that impeccably clean white suit... What he hated the most was seeing himself in the older man. Their resemblance to each other was uncanny, especially considering the fact they had no real blood relation.

"Wouldn't you say, Mokuba?"

Kaiba Mokuba looked up from his book in surprise. A curtain of raven black hair fell over the meek yet haunted violet-gray eyes. "Right, Noa-nii-sama." He refused to look at Seto.

Noa gestured to the seat before his desk. "Make yourself comfortable, Seto. I wish to discuss the progress in your holographic projection model."

Seto remained standing. He glared at the older man coldly. "The projection model has been finished for years. I invented it when I was thirteen. Otou-sama was going to market it."

Noa gripped his chin in a thoughtful gesture. "Oh yes, a stroke of genius on your part Seto, I must admit. It was such a pity that Chichiue died so soon afterwards."

A disgusted expression swept across Seto's face. Everyone knew that had been foul play on Noa's part. Kaiba Gozaburo was about to pass over his own flesh and blood, and bequeath everything onto Seto. Then, the old man died unexpectedly. It didn't take a genius to figure out what really happened. But with Mokuba providing the perfect alibi, Noa was acquitted of all possible charges.

He glanced over at his little brother out of the corner of his eyes. The younger boy was trying his very best to keep his attention on his book and not on Seto. He never understood why Mokuba was content to spend all his time with Noa when it obviously wasn't what he wanted. Not doubt Noa was using underhanded methods again. Seto and Noa had battled for control of the company but Noa won in the end, after Mokuba had given his 2 percent to Noa. Although Seto was hurt by his brother's betrayal, he had learned to accept that his brother didn't really need him anymore.

"And why have you taken such an interest in my SolidVision technology now?"

Noa made a small sound of approval. "SolidVision, what a appropriate name. You see, a certain client has gotten wind of your glorious invention and would like to purchase it, if you would give instructions to modify it. Their governments have high hopes for the performance of your system on the battlef-"

"No."

"Excuse me?"

"No, you heard me. I'm not selling my system to some war-mongrel country to be used in someone else's stupid war."

"You don't have much say in that matter, now do you? Would you dare oppose me?" Noa's eyes flashed with anger.

"As a matter of fact, I do, your Royal Highness of the entire world. I will not sell SolidVision for the purpose of war." Seto clenched his fist tightly.

Noa jumped to his feet and slammed his fist into the table. Mokuba winced at the thump. "If you don't step down now, Seto, I'm cutting funding to all your projects. What good is your system going to be if used for some child's card game?"

Seto turned his back. "I refuse. I will not compromise. Cut all my funding if you like. It's not like I give a damn."

Noa narrowed his eyes dangerously. "You have no choice, Seto. This is not a decision for you to make. And here I thought I would have the decency to at least tell you first."

"I'll kill you if you dare to do such a thing, Noa! You have no right!" His entire body was shaking in rage. He grabbed the handle and yanked the door open. It slammed behind him with a force that made the secretary jump.

There was the sound of breaking glass from behind the closed doors and a whimper of fear followed...

-
then drove further inland past cattle
to where my friend lived.
-

Impulse was the driving force in Jounouchi's life. There was no doubt in his mind about how reckless and careless he could be and chose to be. He chose to entertain most his of flighty whims simply because it meant he could lose control. But because of his impetuous nature, he often found himself in fights he didn't necessary have to take part in. More often than not, he initiated them as well. It was a thrilling feeling though. There was nothing better than throwing all caution to the wind, and just acting and just being. No drug could ever have such an effect on him.

He grunted as his back was slammed against the wall. He glared at his opponent. It was that punk from a few nights ago; the one who had tried to rob his father, except he had backup this time. He glanced at the person they had tried to rob this time. He couldn't see the other's person's face as he circled around his opponent.

"You..." Jounouchi's foe hissed.

Jounouchi couldn't resist the smirk that slipped over his features. "I told you I never wanted to see your face in this neighborhood again. I warned you already."

His opponent laughed. "Am I supposed to be afraid of you? You're just a nobody."

"The name's Jounouchi. I'm sure you heard of me."

A flicker of recognition and fear flashed through the other's eyes.

"Nice to meet you."

Jounouchi lunged forward. His opponent dodged and caught him in the jaw. Jounouchi's tongue darted out to taste the coppery blood from his busted lips. He caught the punk by the collar and flipped him, hurling his weight down much like a wrestler. His foe rolled away and hopped right back to his feet. Jounouchi cracked his neck. He hadn't had a good fight in a while.

The fight, if you could even call it one, lasted less than ten minutes, much to Jounouchi's disappointment. His opponent, knowing he had been defeated, fled and abandoned his partner as well. Jounouchi turned to the person that had almost gotten himself robbed. To his surprise, the other's assailant was lying unconscious on the ground and looked thoroughly beaten. To his even greater surprise, the would-be victim was none other than Seto.

Seto gazed at Jounouchi impassively. Jounouchi was still pumped on adrenaline and he was quickly becoming annoyed with Seto's blank stare. "What the hell are you doing here, Kaiba? You almost got your rich ass robbed."

Seto snorted. "I'm touched by your concern, but I can take care of myself. I just needed to relieve my frustrations."

"By picking fights with gang members in the badlands? You're one crazy bastard." Jounouchi shook his head.

"And what are you doing here, mutt? Going through the garbage?" Seto raised a mocking eyebrow.

"Fuck you, Kaiba. You're in my territory now. And I was just itching for a good fight." Jounouchi looked away in disgust. "If I knew I was helping you, I would've left this alone."

Seto stepped closer to Jounouchi. "And who asked you for help? I know Aikido. I can take care of street punks like you easily."

Jounouchi laughed. "You sound so damn naïve. This is the street, a lot of these punks carry guns these days. As amusing as it would be to see your Kaiba guts splattered over the sidewalk, I don't need the police on my ass."

"And you, Jounouchi? Do you carry a gun and take others' lives?"

Jounouchi shook his head furiously. "Hell no! Guns are cheap. Honda and me may be two of the most known in the badlands, but we're not murderers. We're just trying to survive."

Seto brushed a finger against the scar on Jounouchi's arm. He had never noticed all the scars on the other boy's body. Jounouchi always wore some kind of high collar jacket over his ragged T-shirt. Now that he thought about it, Jounouchi wore t-shirts all year round. "You get into a lot of fights, don't you?"

Snow fluttered down from the sky. Jounouchi pulled away from Seto and grabbed the jacket he had discarded during the fight. He chose to ignore Seto's earlier action, no matter how out of character it seemed. "Of course," he couldn't keep the smug tone out of his voice. "There's all kinds of idiots out there who think they can take on the 'two man gang' of the badlands."

Jounouchi was proud of his scars. He bore them like a soldier would of old battle scars. He could tell you in exactly which fight he had acquired each scar. His street life distressed his father though, so he was forced to hide the evidence as best as he could. "Next time you feel like beating the crap out of worthless shit, try the West Side. At least they don't carry guns."

Seto scowled. "I didn't ask for your advice."

"Consider it free." Jounouchi tossed Seto a devilish grin. "These streets aren't the best places to be. I should know."

"So the mutt's not just all bark, he has some bite." Seto grabbed Jounouchi's arm and suddenly twisted it back.

Jounouchi hissed in pain. "What the fuck, Kaiba?" He tried to unlock his arm to no avail.

Seto didn't seem to mind Jounouchi's pain. "Have you ever hated someone so much that you just wanted to break all their limbs?" He twisted Jounouchi's arm back even more. "Better yet, cut off all their arms and legs and let them bleed to death. Have you ever had that feeling?"

Jounouchi slammed his foot down on the brunette's foot but received no reaction. "I think I'm starting to get that feeling you're talking about. Has anyone ever told you're one sadistic bastard?"

Seto chuckled and leaned in, resting his body against Jounouchi's back. "But would you kill me?" He received no answer. "I thought so."

Seto released Jounouchi and the blond stumbled on his feet. Jounouchi twirled around and snarled.

"I just wanted to know your answer." Seto walked out of the alley- newly fallen snow crunching under his shoes.

Jounouchi cradled his aching arm as he glared at Seto's retreating back. He pulled his jacket on. He was starting to feel chilled. He checked his watch. It was a quarter to seven. The streetlights to the side flickered on. He shot one last glance down the alley. "Crazy fucker," he muttered to himself as he left in the other direction.

-
I was glad the peacocks made awful sounds,
-

Seto stormed down the hallway of Domino General Hospital. He had just gotten word that his brother had broken his arm after falling down a flight of stairs at home. Nurses, doctors, and patients scurried out of his way. Though he didn't appeared so, he was scared out of his wits when he heard Mokuba was in the hospital.

He hated the hospital. There was no doubt about it in his mind. The ever lingering scent of anesthetic... The impeccably clean and sterile environment... And death... Death hovered over the premises like a cloud of locust waiting to devour unsuspecting victims. It was in the hospital that his mother had died after giving birth to his younger brother... It was at the hospital where he had stood at his father's bedside as the man took his last breath...

He scanned the walls for examination room 304. He spotted it, never noticing the name over the number, and threw open the door. It was a patient's room. The room was littered with paintings, both oil and watercolor. A small bookcase stood against a wall. An easel was set up by the window. A petite redhead was seated before the canvas with an oil palette in one hand and a brush in the other.

She stared at him with wide emerald eyes. For the first time, he realized how true the old adage of "the eyes are the window to the soul" was. She set the palette down in her lap. "May I help you?"

He tore his eyes away. He glanced around the room once more. "I must have the wrong room. Excuse me." He turned and left.

She couldn't tear her eyes off the back of the blue-eyed stranger. The door closed with a gentle firmness behind him. She looked back to her canvas where she was doing an oil canvas of the yard her window overlooked. She removed her canvas from the easel and placed an empty one in its place. She dipped the brush in serene blue and began to paint again.

-
and I was glad-
after we jogged his circular path
through the orange groves-
-

Jounouchi bent over and pecked his sister on the cheek. In his arms was an enormous bouquet of brilliant sunflowers. He laid them before her. He had spent his work's paycheck on them, but it was worth it. Tou-san had yet to slack off in the last few weeks so he was fine. He had always imagined sunflowers as overly bright happy faces. Don't ask him why. It just reminded him.

Kawai Shizuka laughed. It was a melodious sound and it was rare to hear her laugh. Only her brother would be silly enough to bring a bulky bunch of sunflowers to the hospital, but she appreciated the gesture nevertheless. She leapt up and tackled her brother in a tight hug. Jounouchi laughed and returned her tight embrace.

The Jounouchis had separated when Shizuka was eight and Jounouchi was ten. Kawai Michi, who reclaimed her maiden name upon divorce, had taken custody of Shizuka and left Jounouchi in the care of his "dead-beat" father. It was only a year later that Shizuka was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, which would eventually lead to blindness, and clinical depression as well.

She was known as the "Mozart of painting" for her young age. After winning a local art contest, her painting was displayed in a local art gallery. Some American art dealer had brought it up front for a value of 10,000 American dollars. She rose to fame and fortune so fast that her head still spun. But now she had a means of paying for the operation that could correct her eyesight.

"I missed you, Onii-chan."

"Me too, Shizuka."

She disentangled herself from her brother's arms. She pulled out one of the flowers and snapped the stem. She tucked the blossom carefully behind her ear. "How do I look?"

"Like the princess of the sun." Jounouchi swept the rest of the flowers up and laid them on the table. A sudden flash of light dancing across a cerulean blue surface caught his eye. He walked over to easel by the window and picked up the canvas. "Who is this?"

She was pulled out of her pleasant little daydream. "You mean in the painting? I don't know. He just walked into my room by accident. I think he was looking for someone else. Do you know him?"

He placed the canvas down and stared at it for a few more seconds. "No... I don't..."

She twirled a strand of auburn lock in her finger. "He was so handsome though. Blue really suits him."

He continued to stare at the unfinished portrait of Kaiba Seto. "Yea... I guess..."

-
that our polite, complete sentences
broke down into talk
-

Seto's second visit to the hospital was for Mokuba's check-up. The doctor hovered over Mokuba, fussing over every detail. Seto shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Noa was leaning against the wall, acting like the dutiful guardian he was supposed to be. The doctor stopped. He stared at the large ugly red marks on Mokuba's body. He turned to them.

"Where are these from?"

Seto stared at the signs of faded scars and past wounds. This was the first time he had ever seen them. "Where...where did those come from?"

The doctor furrowed his brow. "I can't see how they missed this before... These scars are old, years old." He prodded Mokuba's abdomen. Mokuba winced. "But these bruises are new. Where did you get these?"

Mokuba bit his lip. He didn't reply.

The doctor glanced at Seto out of the corner of his eyes. "These are usually signs of child abuse..."

A drop of blood trailed down Mokuba's chin.

"Did he do it?"

All eyes fell on Seto.

Seto jumped to his feet. "How dare you even insinuate such a thing! I would never do that to Mokuba!"

Noa placed a hand on Seto's shoulder and pushed him back down to his seat. "Now, now, Seto, there's no need to get all defensive. No one's accusing you of anything, but you must admit this is very suspicious."

Mokuba shook his head furiously. His hair flying wildly through the air. "No! It wasn't Nii-sama! Nii-sama would never do anything to me! I get these from bullies at school and I'm clumsy too!" Tears welled in his eyes.

Seto stared at his little brother. It had been a long time since he heard his little brother address him as "Nii-sama." "Mokuba..."

"Mokuba, you don't have to protect him."

Mokuba stared at Noa in shock. "How could you say that...? No! Nii-sama didn't do anything. I swear it!" He screamed fiercely.

The doctor glanced over at Noa. "If you could step outside for a few seconds Seto-sama, I need to talk to Noa-sama."

Seto stormed out of the room. He slammed the door loudly behind him. How dare Noa try and use such a dirty trick to try and make him submit? But then...how had Mokuba gotten those marks? He balled his fist. He would kill whoever did that to his brother. He walked away. He needed to get away right now. He...didn't like hospitals... He suspected he also needed to get as far away from Noa too, before he killed the bastard where he stood.

He found himself wandering through the halls, without any idea of what to do. He found himself near that room, the one that he had accidentally gone into last week.

As he rounded a corner, he caught a glimpse of golden blond disappear around the next. He blinked. He thought that mop of blond had looked familiar. He shook his head and faced the door. He raised his fist but stopped midway. He stood there at the door, looking ridiculous in his position.

What was he doing here?

The door opened. She smiled up at him. "Would you like to come in?"

He nodded and she stepped aside. The room had been the same as that day. It had a light and airy feeling despite the darkness that seemed to loom over it. It was a conflict that he saw reflected in her eyes. She offered him a seat and she climbed back onto her bed.

He realized that she was just a mere child. She was only about thirteen or fourteen at best, not that much older than Mokuba. A gamine and open face despite the secret thoughts she guarded within. That chin... He knew that stubbornly set chin from somewhere else.

She smiled at him, like a little mischievous sprite. "My name is Kawai Shizuka." She offered her hand.

He took it. "Kaiba Seto."

-
of his empty house, the woman who left,
-

It wasn't until Seto's fourth visit that he finally noticed the Braille book Shizuka hid under her bed. He picked it up off the floor and opened it. He ran his fingers against the bumps on the pages. The pages were crisp and white, as if they had never been touched before. Though several pages were torn, the jagged edges were a testament of one's anger and frustration. She watched him in silence. She must have been waiting for him to make the first move.

He had never asked her why she was in the hospital, and she never asked him why he continued to come back. It was one of the unspoken taboos of their secret friendship. First, they never inquired each other of the reasons they were in that room or each other's background. And though Kaiba had the resources to find out such information about her, he chose to respect her privacy. Two, they never addressed each other by name, in any form or way. Simply because the need had never arisen. Three, they didn't make trivial conversation such as asking about the events of each other's day. It was that day that Kaiba broke the first taboo.

"Are you going blind?"

She nodded as she turned her head away. "I have a rare disease. I've been gradually losing my sight over the last few years. There's a surgeon from the United States that flying in next week to operate on me. I don't know if it'll work."

"How high is the risk percentage?"

"There's a 48 percent chance the operation will fail and I'll lose my sight immediately afterwards." She bit her lower lip.

"What will you do if the operation fails then? You won't be able to paint anymore."

"Have you ever heard the parable of the tapeworm?"

He shook his head.

"Tapeworms are parasites that attaches itself to the intestinal walls. It just keeps growing and growing there. If you don't remove it properly, you can die. The artistic spirit is like that. Once it gets under your skin, you can't get rid of it. Art feeds off the artist. The artist shares his life with the art. As much as it may drain the artist, the artist cannot live without it. In that sense, what would happen to the artist if he suddenly lost that tapeworm and it was removed in the most inappropriate manner?"

"You'd die."

An awkward silence hung in the air. Seto stared down at his knees as he tried to take in her words. They were far too mature for someone her age, no matter how precocious she was. And most of all...they sounded absolute.

"Shizuka." A bouquet of camellias appeared in the doorway.

"Onii-chan!" Shizuka jumped off the bed and rushed over to the door. All trace of her previous gloom seemed to vanish, but Seto could see it following in her shadow. She took the flowers from her brother. "You don't always have to bring me flowers every time you come. My room's already filled with them."

Jounouchi ruffled his sister's hair as he looked over the room- ice blue met amber. He froze. "What is he doing here?"

Shizuka looked between Seto and Jounouchi. What was this tension between them? "Oh, he's that man I told you about. He's been visiting me. I thought you said you didn't know who he was, Onii-chan."

Jounouchi decided it was best to ignore Seto for the time being. He led Shizuka back over to the bed. "I got a surprise for you today. Guess who I brought."

Tanaka appeared in the doorway.

"Otou-san!"

"Shizuka!" Tanaka swept his daughter up in a tight embrace, as if he would never let go.

Seto felt out of place at the father-daughter reunion. A hand tapped on his shoulder. The blond gestured toward the door and Seto followed him out of the room.

"What are you doing here?" Jounouchi glared. "I swear, if you're trying to start anything with my sister, I'm gonna-"

"I have no interest of that sort in your sister. Though I must wonder how a punk like you could have such a sweet and talented sister." Seto looked down his nose.

Jounouchi gritted his teeth. "I don't care. I don't want you getting close to-"

"And what are you doing here?"

Both boys turned to face the newcomer. Kawai Michi was a stern-looking woman with fizzy auburn hair. She glowered at Jounouchi with pure and unhidden contempt.

"Michi." Jounouchi didn't bow. Their gazes met evenly. It was impossible to tell whom disliked whom more.

Her eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here, Katsuya?"

"Can't I visit my own sister?"

Michi pointed toward the exit down the hall. "Get out of here, before I call security."

One finger stood proudly in the air. "Screw you, Michi. You might have given birth to me, but you were never my mother. I can visit Shizuka if I want to."

Michi was shocked by the youth's blatant disregard. "You ungrateful dog, I gave life to you." She swung a palm forward.

Seto caught her wrist. He twisted it back slightly and she cried out in pain. Jounouchi stared at him in surprise. Seto ignored the other for the time being. "No one calls him a dog but me. I can't say you're a very good mother anyway." Their eyes locked in challenge and held for a few moments. He felt her capitulate and her hand went limp in his hold. He smirked and released her wrist.

Michi turned away. Her entire frame was shaking in rage. "I'll be back in half-an-hour and if you're not gone by then, I'm getting a restraining order." She vanished down the hallway.

"Thanks...Kaiba..."

"Don't mention it, Jounouchi. It was for Shizuka."

The second taboo was then broken.

-
and then my house far away.
-

Shizuka curled up in her bed. Her operation was tomorrow afternoon. Her brother was coming to see her again tonight, but it would be different. Their mother would be there as well.

She had always been a precocious child. A year after her parents divorced, she had been diagnosed with both a rare degenerative eye disease and clinical depression. So while her cold psychiatrist were drugging her without mercy and bombarding her with the neurological reasons for her problem, she began to take an interest in theoretical psychology and philosophy. She couldn't care less for her doctor's explanation on chemical misbalance and such. She refused to believe there was anything wrong with her. So what if she saw the world in a different light? In a different way than most people?

Through the next few years, Freud, Jung, and the greatest philosophers of all time became her closest friends. They were her secret confidants. They were the fathers she could no longer see and the mothers who never cared. She waltzed with the devil, being painfully aware of each sin she committed. She looked into the abyss and it did indeed stare back. And so within their words, she found herself, sinking ever deeply into apathy with the corrupt world around her.

She needed her brother to be here. She needed the courage and support he offered. Kaiba had been quite worried for her, but he was a cold person. His concern always seemed awkward and unnatural, though it wasn't his fault. He was a dispassionate person by nature.

She was weak. She needed her brother and others to support her through life. She knew Jounouchi was busy though. Yet she hoped he would get there soon.

What would she do if she lost her sight? She would die. Perhaps not in the physical sense, but she would not be living, she would simply be existing... Her art was her life. It was one of the things that kept her going through the hardships of the past few years. It was something that her psychiatrist actually encouraged. It was the one area where her mother actually supported her. Where would she be without her art? Nowhere...

She held the pillow closer to her and buried her face in it. "Onii-chan, where are you?"

There was a soft knock on the door. "Shizuka?"

She quickly wiped the tears in her eyes. "I'm still up, Okaa-san."

Michi came into the room with a bouquet of beautiful yellow roses. "These just came for you." She handed Shizuka the envelope that contained the card.

Shizuka stared at the ripped edges of the envelope in horror. "You opened it? You have no right to do that! Haven't you ever heard of privacy?"

Her mother glared at her. "I do have the right. I'm your mother and don't you yell at me, young lady. Now who sent that? Do you have a boyfriend I don't know about?"

"I don't." She yanked the card out angrily. It read: "Good luck". All well-wishing and support was summed up in those two words. She couldn't help but smile. She knew whom the flowers were from.

"Well?" Her mother was tapping her foot impatiently.

"He's just a friend, Okaa-san. No one you know." She turned away. She tried to banish the thought that her mother had planted in her head... Kaiba Seto...as her boyfriend... She shook her head to clear it. No matter how handsome the boy was, she couldn't allow herself to think in such a way. Instead of letting her mother reprimand her further, she said. "I wonder where Onii-chan is..."

Her mother's eyes darkened. "Katsuya's coming here?"

Shizuka knew her mother never loved her brother. Jounouchi always reminded the woman of her ex-husband she so despised. Jounouchi had been an accident; one that her mother felt ruined her life. This was the reason her mother had left custody of her brother to her father. She wanted nothing to do with the boy. "All men are dogs," her mother told her once. "And one dog deserves another."

"How long have you been seeing him? Katsuya." Her mother's fist was clenched so tightly that the knuckles turned white. She was mad just thinking about what happened a few days ago.

Shizuka glared at her mother and held her head high. "He's been visiting me ever since I checked in. Onii-chan is my brother. Why can't I see him? Why can't he come to see me?"

"I forbid you to see that boy!" Her mother screamed suddenly. The enraged woman grabbed a book off the table and threw it at the wall.

Shizuka stared at her mother in shock. Whatever reaction she had been expecting wasn't her mother's outburst. Her eyes hardened. "And what are you going to do about it? You can't keep Onii-chan from visiting just because you don't like him. And you know what? Otou-san came once too."

Her mother was furious. "That drunk came too? I have half a mind to keep you locked up for the rest of your life after this operation. You are never to see those two again for as long as you live!"

"I'm not listening to you anymore." She folded her arms. "You can't rule my life forever."

Her mother stepped forward and slapped her.

"You ungrateful bitch, this is what I get for taking care of you all these years?"

It stung. It really stung. One would have always thought that her father, being a chronic drunk, would be the first to hit her. Shizuka clenched and unclenched her fist. She couldn't remember being so angry in her life before. It was blinding. Her own hand sliced through the air and connected with Michi's cheek. The force of the hit sent the older woman's head reeling back.

"Fuck. You."

-
I told him what staying meant, as if
I knew; the precipice in every room.
-

Blood dripped over the sharp edge of the table like a leaky faucet. Platter. Platter. Platter. A dull knife flashed through the dark night, craving runes into soft mortal skin. A cough. A kick was delivered and then silence...

Noa leaned over and probed the unmoving form. "Wake up, Mokuba. You can't go to sleep yet."

Mokuba blinked back his tears. He would not cry. He would not show weakness. He would be strong for Seto, even as he felt his life slip away then. "I hate you, Noa."

He laughed and pressed the blade harder against Mokuba's arm. "Why must you continue to resist? I own you now. Anything that Seto can have, I have. Anything that Seto can do, I can do better. Why do you carry these futile hopes of protecting him from me?" He bent over and kissed a salty tear that trailed down Mokuba's cheek. "I hate Seto very much. I hate him for killing Chichiue. I hate him for trying to steal Kaiba Corporations from under me. I am the rightful heir!"

Mokuba gasped in pain. "You killed Gozaburo. I saw it with my own eyes. You're a deranged lunatic and Nii-sama will take care of you somehow."

Noa slapped Mokuba. The younger boy's snapped back at a painful angle. "That may be so, but Seto forced me to. He pushed me to the very edge. There was nothing else that I could do."

Mokuba smiled sadly at his older brother. "I really pity you, Noa. I may hate you, but I still pity you. I really do."

Noa slapped the boy again. "Don't say that! Shut up! I don't need your foolish pity!" He stood up. "Don't worry, Mokuba. You won't be sending your last night on earth alone. I found a friend of Seto's to accompany you on your journey."

He made his way over to a side door Mokuba had never noticed before. He yanked it open and dragged another immobile body into the room. Noa dumped the boy with his tousled blond hair next to Mokuba. "I don't see what Seto sees in this scrawny rat anyway."

Mokuba crawled over to the unconscious boy. He grabbed one of the boy's shoulders and shook him gently. He noticed the bruise blooming over one cheek like telltale flower. "Stop it Noa, there's no need to bring anyone else into this! You promised you would leave Nii-sama alone if I was good!"

Jounouchi groaned and amber eyes stared at the tall dark ceilings in a dazed manner. "What? What happened?" He tried to sit up but found his hands and feet to be bound. "What the fuck?"

Noa giggled slightly. "Welcome to hell, Jounouchi Katsuya."

-
Friendship: someone leaning
To your side of the truth.
-

Seto peeked in through the door. He could make out the shape Shizuka lying on the bed. He pushed the door open and strolled in. Shizuka stiffened, but she didn't move. Her eyes were closed as if sleeping. Seto laid the bouquet of brightly colored wildflowers next to the small garden that had been growing in the room for the last few months.

"Onii-chan? Is that you?"

He shook his head. "It's me."

Her shoulders slumped at the sound of his voice. "I thought it was Onii-chan..."

"I meant to ask you about that. Jounouchi didn't show up at school today." He sat down besides her bed.

"Onii-chan was supposed to see me the night before the operation... He never showed up." She balled a fistful of sheets. "I had a big argument with Okaa-san too."

His eyes narrowed at the mention of the despicable woman.

"Do you think she had something to do with it? She forbade me to see Onii-chan ever again."

He placed his hand over hers. "Don't worry. I'm sure Jounouchi's fine. I'll see if I can check up on him today."

She nodded and sighed. "I believe you, Kaiba-san. There's something I wanted to give you." She pointed toward some of her paintings resting against the wall. "It's a gift to you. It should be on the easel."

He walked over to the window. He blinked and stared at the portrait. Identical ice blue eyes stared back. "It's...a portrait of me..."

"Yes, please take it."

He picked up the canvas with shaking hands. He ran his fingers over the rough surface. "Shizuka...I don't know what to say." There was some amazement in seeing such a rendition of his image. He had never imagined his appearance to be this hostile. There was something else though, a part of him that he himself could not grasp. It was only Shizuka, the incredible artist that she was, that could begin to express that.

"Don't say anything." A tear trailed down her cheek. "Just treasure it forever."

"But I don't understand..."

He turned.

"It'll be the last painting I'll ever get done."

Dead emerald eyes stared at him with tears. The canvas clattered to the floor. Despite himself, he felt tears surface within him as well...

-
Next day was beautiful,
seventy-five degrees,
-

Seto threw himself onto his king-sized bed. He was exhausted. His visit to Shizuka had drained him of everything. She had lost everything... After trying and fighting so hard...she still lost the war. He wanted to do nothing more than sleep. He closed his eyes and his breathing slowed. His dreams showed him a world where Duel Monsters was known, where he owned the company, where Mokuba still spoke to him and Noa was gone, where Shizuka's eyesight had been saved, where Yugi and him were rivals, and where Jounouchi was still someone he liked to pick on.

He was later awakened by a loud crash and the shattering of glass. Sad as if was, this was nothing new in the Kaiba household. Everyone knew that when Noa threw one of his tantrums, it was best to stay away from the man. An even more peculiar sound followed.

"Up yours, you green-haired freak!"

Seto shot up in his bed. He could have sworn that was Jounouchi's voice. A sudden sinking feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. He rolled off the mattress and reached down the bed. He pulled out the handgun that he kept on the underside of the bed. He had stolen it from one of the bodyguards some time ago. It had been on a whim. The bodyguard had been stupid enough to leave it on the desk in the security room. He wasn't an idiot. He knew what he was doing and he knew how to use the gun. He also knew that this was his chance...to extract his revenge.

Seto did not believe in acting on impulse. No, action without a prior plan hurt people or worse, killed them. He had lived a strict Spartan lifestyle that he imposed upon himself. One needed structure and regiment in life. No, he had no time for irrationality. He had too many things to do. Last thing he needed was mistakes. And yet here he was, indulging in his darkest desires for blood and vengeance.

The sound of more glass breaking followed. The halls were empty. He moved quietly to Noa's door down the hall. He tested the doorknob. It was unlocked and all was too quiet. This was not the time to be a coward. He pushed the door open.

Noa looked over to the door. He grinned and pulled away from Jounouchi's beaten form. "Oh, nice of you to join us, Seto."

"Jounouchi!"

Noa chuckled. His gaze traveled down to the firearm gripped tightly in Seto's hands. "A gun? Little boys shouldn't play with guns, Seto. You should stick to your cards," He jerked his head toward the bed where Mokuba was lying on the bloodstained bed. "Not to mention that it's a bad influence on your little brother."

Seto felt a sort of rage he had never known before. Granted, for many years now he had felt nothing but angry and hate for Noa, but this was something new... This was something that could make him throw all caution to the wind. Without a second coherent thought, he raised the gun and cocked the hammer. "I'm going to kill you for what you did."

"I highly doubt that. You brought this upon yourself. You should have left my company alone. Kaiba Corporations will never belong to you. Chichiue left it to me!" Noa went over to the bed and grabbed a fistful of Mokuba's hair. The boy let out a whimper and opened his eyes.

"Nii-sama... I'm sorry..." He tried to sit up on his own. His crimson stained clothes draped over his broken body.

"Mokuba... Noa, you bastard-"

Noa laughed and dropped Mokuba. "As amusing as your little brother has been, I've tired of him. I want to see my prey try and fight back. I want to see more than just their suffering." He bent down next to Jounouchi. "You have an interesting taste when it comes to friends. At first, I was going to take that short one, but it didn't seem like he would put up too much of a fight. And a fighter this one is."

Jounouchi spat at Noa. "Fuck you, Noa. I'm gonna rip you apart with my bare hands once I get out of here." He struggled even more against his bonds.

Noa grabbed Jounouchi's hair and forced his head back. "You know, the only reason I haven't gagged you is so I can do this." He lowered his lips to Jounouchi's for a brutal kiss.

Seto growled. His fingers were just posed over the trigger. He only needed to shoot and everything would be over. He needed to get Mokuba to the hospital. As he watched Noa force himself onto Jounouchi, he felt an inexplicable rage and possessiveness. "Get off him now."

Noa pulled away but wouldn't let go of Jounouchi. "Aren't we possessive, Seto? I never knew these street punks were your type," he reached into his jacket and pulled out his own firearm. "But I'm afraid it's too late for your brother and Jounouchi-kun here." He cocked the hammer and pressed the barrel against Jounouchi's temple.

Seto trained his own gun on his older brother. "Just let go of him now and I might spare your life."

Noa laughed. "You spare my life? You don't seem to understand the current predicament you're in. Just one flick and I'll blow his brains out." He grinned smugly at Seto. "Didn't I tell you before? Anything you can have, I have. I now have both your brother and," he glanced at Jounouchi. "What would he be? Your future fuck toy?"

Jounouchi gritted his teeth. He hated this compromising position. "Just shoot the fucking bastard already, Kaiba. What the hell are you waiting for? The kid needs to see a doctor now. He's not gonna make it at this rate."

Noa cuffed Jounouchi across the face. "Shut up you stupid dog. This is between Seto and me."

"Like hell it is. As soon as you had me kidnapped, this became personal. And don't call me a fucking dog."

Noa turned his crazed eyes back to Seto. For one frightening moment, the younger boy saw a reflection of himself within Noa. Would this be him if he had indeed inherited Kaiba Corporations? "Let him go, Noa!"

"You can't stop me! No one can! Chichiue trained me to be the Emperor of the world! I'll never forgive you for coming into my life! I'll never forgive you for killing Chichiue!"

"You're one fucking crazy son of a bitch, you know that?"

"Shut up!"

Slap.

"Drop the gun!"

"Let go of him then!"

"No!"

Click.

Click.

"This is my last warning. Drop it!"

"Kaiba! Watch it-"

"Nii-sama..."

"If you fucking shoot me in the process, I'll never forgive-"

"I told you to shut up already!"

Another slap.

"Noa!"

"See you in hell!"

A shot rang out and a body hit the floor, drowning in an unfathomable sea of red.

-
and each of us
silent, back in control.
-

Shizuka groped around in the darkness. She turned on the faucet and just stood there, listening to the sound of the running water. She was blind... She gripped the edge of the porcelain sink tightly. The operation had failed... She cupped a handful of water and splashed it against her face. It was cold. It was ice cold. Droplets of water ran down her face.

"Shizuka?" A fist rapped against the bathroom door. "Come out. You can't stay in there forever."

She ignored her mother's call. She didn't want to live anymore. She was blind. She would never be able to paint again. She would have rather her arms been cut off. She reached for the knife resting on the side. She cut herself while trying to grip the handle. She didn't care though. Some part in the back of her depressed mind, the thought that her brother had abandoned her ran through her head. She felt her heart sink further.

She sighed. "Goodbye, Onii-chan... Kaiba-san..."

Vertigo... It was intoxicating and like a drug, she needed more of it. Her weakness was painful, but...she had nothing else. She wanted nothing more than to sink down into those feelings of failure. She craved it. She imagined the colors of her world falling in on each other, blending into the final darkness. She held the blade over her wrist. The decision weighed heavily on her mind. Vertigo called to her. She envisioned herself standing atop a cliff in the midst of a raging storm. She just wanted to jump. She wasn't sure why but she just wanted it. She wanted to know what death tasted like...

Impulse kills... She knew that more than ever.

Blood rained down onto the tiled floor, running through the cracks like tiny rivers.

-
We walked into the countryside,
pointed away from ourselves
toward the landscape,
took possession of it for a while.
-

Seto frowned at the door. The sound of a heated argument could be heard through the thin wood. His hand rested on the cold knob. The voices beyond the door elevated into screaming.

"Could both of you just shut the hell up?"

That was Jounouchi's voice. Shattering glass and dark memories followed. He wrenched the door open and stormed in. The broken shards of a vase littered the floor and the flowers that Yugi sent were crushed under the feet of the room's fighting occupants.

Tanaka had Michi up against the wall. His large hands were wrapped around her thin, frail neck. Jounouchi was trying to pry his father off the woman. Seto could see a spot of red blossoming through Jounouchi's bandages. His wounds...

"Let go of her, Tou-san!"

"I've had enough of this bitch!"

"You're going to kill her!"

"I hate you both! You killed Shizuk-"

"Shut up!"

"Give me back Shizuka, you monster."

"Stop it! Both of you!"

The three tumbled to the floor in a tangle of limbs. Jounouchi hissed in pain and pulled away, stepping on the glass shards. Seto picked Jounouchi up, despite the other boy's violent protest, and deposited him back on the bed.

Tanaka's grip around Michi's throat tightened. Her face started to turn red as air failed to reach her lungs. She struggled uselessly under the stronger man, wasting precious breath with her constant cursing.

Seto would have been content to leave the despicable woman to her death- had it not been for Jounouchi's desperate expression. He shook his head. He was becoming far too desensitized to death. He grabbed the back of Tanaka's collar and pulled the man off. It wasn't an easy task. Jounouchi's father was easily twice his weight. He pushed the older man's back to the wall. "Just stop it, you're only making Jounouchi more upset."

Tanaka glanced at his son out of the corner of his eyes. The man's expression softened and his posture slacked in defeat.

Seto stepped away from Tanaka and jerked his head toward the door while glowering at Michi. "I suggest you leave now, Kawai-san. You're not welcome here."

The woman's fierce expression intensified. "Who asked you? This is family business. Stay out of this."

"Get out, Michi," Jounouchi gnashed his teeth. "You're not my mother. If you come back, I'll get a restraining order."

Michi sputtered some incoherent curses and lunged at Jounouchi. Seto grabbed the woman's wrist and pulled her back. She lost her balance and slammed into the floor. He didn't let go. He dragged her over to the door, well aware of the fact that he was cutting her along the shattered glass, and threw her out. "Don't come back. Next time, I'll kill you and Jounouchi won't be able to stop me." He slammed the door.

Jounouchi pulled the pieces of vase out of the sole of his feet. He cursed and threw them at the wall, glowering darkly at the door. Seto knelt down by Jounouchi's bedside and pulled the last of the pieces out. He shredded the ends of the sheets and wrapped it around Jounouchi's wound. Seto's hands were gentle, as Jounouchi had never imagined.

"Thanks."

"I'm going to get the doctor. Someone needs to clean this up."

Jounouchi nodded and looked over to his father. "Tou-san, stop it. Just leave it alone." He was about to get out of bed again but Seto wouldn't let him.

Tanaka cradled the broken shards of the vase. He held them as he would his children. Blood collected in his cupped hands.

Seto was reminded of a martyr tainted by red. His stomach churned in protest of the image. He closed his eyes. He had seen far too much blood in one lifetime. Mokuba... He couldn't stop the image of a bloodied Jounouchi that rose to mind as well.

"Everything's all just one big mistake. I'm just a mistake. Michi used to tell me that all the time as a kid."

Silence settled over them. Awkward... Biting...

A quiet breath. "This is just a mistake..."

Seto slapped Jounouchi. The other boy looked up at him in shock. "Wake up already. It's already happened. It has already come to past."

He turned away. The hospital was suffocating. He had to leave. He could still feel those amber eyes burning into his back, searching for an answer that Seto did not have to give.

-
Kumquats were growing next to lemons
and white birds rode the back of cows.
-

Jounouchi leaned against the mahogany doorframe. He hadn't said a word since he got there. He massaged the pain in his right forearm. He was healing fine, if not a little slow. He watched quietly as Seto started pulling random articles of clothes out of his closet and drawers and stuffed them into a suitcase. Seto worked quickly and without sound. Chestnut bangs fell over his eyes.

"You're leaving?"

Seto turned to Jounouchi and decided to amuse him with one last banter. "Of course, you dumb mutt. Why else would I be packing like this?" To be truthful, he wasn't sure why he was leaving. It was an impractical decision, no matter from what angle you looked at it. Where would he go? Where would he stay? Then again, he found himself acting without thinking a lot recently. He was sure he would find some place to settle down quietly for a while since the criminal investigation was finally over.

Jounouchi threw Seto a nasty glare but refused to take the bait. "But I heard that they offered Kaiba Corporations to you. You could be a CEO, Kaiba. Just think, CEO at seventeen."

Seto grabbed a pair of pants and threw them into the suitcase. "I don't want it. It seems that the Kaiba name has brought me nothing but trouble and misery since the first day I took it. And now...Mokuba... I would rather die before I become someone like Noa," he gripped the edges of the suitcase tightly. "I feel like I've lost myself to him all these years..."

"I'm sorry about that." Jounouchi placed a gentle hand on the other's shoulder. "If only I hadn't-"

"No. It wasn't your fault. I'm glad I killed that bastard. As sick as it sounds, I think I enjoyed it."

Some unreadable emotion flashed through Jounouchi's eyes. "You're just lucky that you could use the self-defense clause," their encounter in that alleyway only a few weeks ago came to mind. "Or else you'd be doing hard time instead of going vacationing somewhere? Where are you going?"

"Somewhere, anywhere. Maybe Tokyo." He closed the suitcase.

"Are you coming back?"

For some reason, Seto's heart almost broke listening to those words. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but he heard a forlorn tone in Jounouchi's words. "I don't think so," he grabbed the handle and hauled the luggage off the bed. "Goodbye, Jounouchi."

Jounouchi stared down at the off-white carpeting. He felt Seto brush past him.

"No."

A dam of emotions he never knew was there broke free.

Jounouchi grabbed onto the end of the other's boy's trench coat. "You bastard, you were just going to leave without saying a word. I wouldn't had even known if I hadn't dropped by. Goddammit, and what about Yugi? Are you just gonna leave him to get beat up by more bullies? You stupid heartless bastard. I owe you! I hate to admit it but I owe you my freaking life. You can't leave before I repay my debt!"

"Jounouchi..."

"No! Shut up and listen to what I have to say for once. You told me that the past is the past, so why can't you just leave it and stay here? You think it's easy for me? My sister just fucking killed herself. You think I want to stay in this city anymore than you do with my goddamn insane mother and my drunk good-for-nothing father. I have no future here, but at least I'm not running away!"

Seto narrowed his eyes. "I don't have time for this." He needed to get away. If he didn't leave now, he feared he would never allow himself to even try again.

"Then you sure as hell better make time for this." Jounouchi wasn't going to let go. A strange desperation gripped his mind. He wasn't willing to lose this one, not this battle. He had already lost too much in such a short period of time. "Please, you can't just leave like this. There are people who need you here."

"People..." The words were softly spoken, not even above a whisper. But it was as if that singular word held the meaning of the world from the reverent way it fell from Seto's lips. His resolve crumbled with a sigh. "I'll be back. I just don't know when."

Jounouchi lifted his head up. He tightened his grip on the tail of Seto's coat. "Really?"

"I mean, I'll have to come back to see Mokuba at one point and your sister. I have to make sure Yugi'll be okay." He turned around. "And I'll come back to see you."

Jounouchi stared at Seto in surprise. He quickly wiped his face clear of the expression though. "Who wants to see you again?" He knew he was completely contradicting his earlier statements but he was still trying to get his grip on his straying mind and traitorous feelings.

Seto smirked. He started walking down the hallway. Jounouchi followed. The maids and servants bowed to Seto as they passed. Seto was left to wonder exactly when he and Jounouchi had developed this camaraderie. He would have never imagined them together in the same room of their own free will just a few weeks ago. It all started with Yugi... Yugi and his caprice to suddenly befriend Jounouchi.

"I'll take care of Mokuba's grave until you come back. Shizuka and him do have the same death anniversaries." He bit his lip. It was strange how the mood between them had changed so quickly, but he had extracted a promise to return from Seto. And for some strange reason, he felt relieved because of that. "I'm sorry. If you haven't been trying to save me..."

They made their way down the grand staircase. The footsteps echoed through the empty halls. They reached the front double doors and faced each other.

"Shut up, Jounouchi. How many times do I have to tell you? It's not your fault. If anything, I'm sorry I dragged you into this whole thing-"

"Don't say it. It's not your fault. I'm just sorry that I couldn't protect your brother."

"Stop saying sorry already." He ran a hand over his haggard face. "I...just...had no idea that Mokuba was doing all that to protect me... I've been such a fool."

"That makes two of us. I couldn't save Shizuka's eyesight and look what happened..."

"Guess we're both powerless idiots."

A silence settled over them. Jounouchi shifted nervously from foot to foot. Seto observed the endearing way the other boy's bangs fell over those amber eyes... No, he corrected himself, golden like honey, just like his hair. "And put some extra flowers on Shizuka's grave for me."

"Don't worry about it."

"And watch over Yugi for me. He gets lonely by himself. I can't help but worry about him," Seto dug into his pocket and pulled out a deck of cards. "These will be useful when Yugi teaches you how to play." He grabbed Jounouchi's hand and laid the deck in the open palm.

"Hell, Kaiba. I can't take these. You love these cards almost as much as your brother...and you can let go of my hand now."

Why was he entrusting his most beloved cards to Jounouchi...?

Seto dropped Jounouchi's hand as if he had been burned. A faint flush appeared across his cheeks. "Sorry, just keep the cards for me in the meantime. I won't be needing them for a while. Make sure nothing happens to them, I'm entrusting my heart and soul to you."

Jounouchi flipped over one of the cards. "They're in English too. I can't even read them."

"Just think of it as a way of improving your English then. I've heard you before. You sound terrible."

Jounouchi made a sour face. "Yea, thanks."

Seto laid a hand on the doorknob. "Try not to get yourself killed before I get back, Jounouchi."

Jounouchi leaned back against the wall and gave Seto his best 'devil-may-care' smile. "See ya later, Seto."

The doorknob turned and the door creaked. A slight grin slipped over thin lips.

"See you later, Jou."

The door closed with a quiet click and Jounouchi was left standing alone among the faded glory of a corporate empire, childhood innocence, and broken dreams.

-
Though it wasn't, it seemed enough,
seemed we'd never had to speak again.
- "Men Talk" by Stephen Dunn
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The Stay with Me arc continues with In the Absence of My Best Friend