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Complex Marriage

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"So," Jounouchi sighed as he turned around, "do you think this'll turn out to be a disaster?"

Seto huffed a breath of laughter into his coffee cup before taking a sip. "Of course I do."

"Then why are we doing this?" The blonde leaned back, placing his elbows on the counter behind him.

"Maybe we're just not that bright." Leaning back, as well, he rubbed his eyes with his free hand. "My God, I'm tired."

Jou pulled a corner of his mouth taut. "You're always tired."

"You're always pointing that out." He turned to grab the coffee pot.

"Yeah, well...I worry about you."

A small smile made its way onto his lips as he filled his mug. "Maybe that's the reason we're doing this." After replacing the coffee pot, he walked over to Jou, gave him a kiss on the cheek, then continued out of the kitchen.

He heard Jou padding along behind him. "Maybe I shouldn't've invited them to stay with us for the entire summer."

"It's truly a thing of wonder how you think things through after the fact. But I suppose I shouldn't be so astonished." He eased himself onto one of the couches in the living room. "It's not as though it's the first time you've made a stupid decision from beneath an overly confident veneer."

"Ha." The blond plopped down beside him.

He grinned at him. "Not denying it, I see."

Jou shrugged. "Can't deny the truth."

"You can...it's just an incredibly stupid thing to do. So I've learned." He winked at him from behind his raised coffee cup.

Jou dropped his head to laugh. "I guess I'm just second guessing myself. I'm worried you'll feel claustrophobic...that you won't be able to relax."

"It's a ten-thousand square foot house: I'm sure I can find somewhere to hide if I become antisocial." He placed his mug on an end table. "What I don't understand is why you're so uptight. They're your best friends; moreover, they're the friends you did all of that fantastical, crazy bullshit with for years, and you're having anxiety about having them vacation with us for a few months." He switched the cross of his legs. "Care to elaborate?"

Heaving a sigh, he leaned his elbows against his knees, interlocking his long fingers. "What if things aren't the same?" He shook his head. "Yes, I know we work together, we see each other quite a bit, but..." he shrugged, "I'm just scared that something like this might make us realize that we aren't as close as we were in high school. I'm scared things won't be the same."

He smiled at his partner. "They won't be."

Mouth hanging open, brow furrowed, the blond looked at him.

"It's not a bad thing, and it most certainly doesn't mean that you won't get along anymore. People grow; they change and evolve." He pushed his bangs out of his eyes. "Look at you and I. We used to hate each other."

"Yeah, and sometimes, we still do." Jou punctuated the sentence with a cheeky grin.

He blew a short laugh out of his nose. "Stop trying to recapture the past, Katsuya. Work with what you have, as opposed to what you had."

Taking a moment to collect himself, Jou heaved a deep breath, then nodded. "You're right...as usual. I knew there was a reason I keep you around."

"Thankfully, you provide ample opportunity for me to remind you."

He snickered. "You catty bitch." Blond locks tickled his jaw as Jou nestled his face in his neck, kissing and mouthing his skin.

Fingers grasped at those locks, the grip simultaneously gentle and desperate, as the kisses slowed and lingered. Eyes closing, he released a loud breath through his nose; he practically lived for that talented mouth.

The nibbles and licks intensified, and before he knew it, a hand was sliding on his chest...moving downward...downward...downward--

"Do we have time for this?" he whispered.

"Probably not." Jou gave him one more lick before bringing a bent finger to his jaw, guiding him into a kiss.

"Make time tonight, then. It's been too long." This time, he kissed Jou.

"Which is the other reason I was questioning my decision." The blond's hands slid down his shoulders. "I want to mess you up all night long," kiss, "make you scream," kiss, "but it might make them feel uncomfortable. We wouldn't want to be rude, would we?"

"We might," he whispered, his lips moving against Jou's as he spoke. Leaning his forehead against the other's, he just barely traced a line down his partner's cheek.

Ding-dong!

"Want me to tell them to go away?" Jou whispered.

He let out a small laugh. "A little." After pressing his lips against Jou's one more time, he relinquished his hair. "Go get them first. I need to calm myself a bit before being in polite company."

"Ooh, baby," Jou teased, rising from the couch to go answer the door.

Giving his partner a dismissive wave, he sighed, then brought a hand to his mouth.

Erection, erection, go away; come again another day...

The sound of the door opening echoed throughout the house.

"Hey! You made it!" Jou's voice boomed with excitement.

There was a giggle. "We did! And we love the new house, Jounouchi; it's beautiful!"

He knew that voice: Yugi.

"Seriously; I skipped a curb when I saw it. I was in shock!" a sweet and gently cadenced voice sang.

He knew that voice, too: Ryou.

"You guys..." Jou laughed.

"Thank you for having us," a smooth, sexy voice sounded.

He DEFINITELY recognized that voice.

"Are you kiddin'? You guys are like family, Yami--...I mean Atem!" Jou cleared his throat. "Apparently, I'm incapable of calling you by your--"

Jou was interrupted by a low chuckle. "It's fine. Call me either one."

Silence.

"Where's Bakura? Did he change his mind about coming? OH! Come in, by the way."

Feet shuffled around as the door closed.

Yugi let out an adorable giggle, while somebody else let out a sigh.

"He's taking a walk." Ryou sounded annoyed.

"A walk right now? Why?"

"Because I told him to. He was aggravating me; I didn't some three-thousand year old slut telling me how to drive."

He couldn't help but laugh at both the comment and the bitchy manner in which it was said; apparently, he wasn't alone, as the rest of them lost it, too.

Wow, Ryou. Kitty has claws.

"SO," Ryou continued, this time in a lighter, happier tone, "where's Mr. Kaiba?"

That's my cue.

He rose from the couch and headed toward the foyer as Jou stumbled across his words.

"Oh, he was...ah...I mean he IS...uh--"

"I was in the middle of an email." He turned the corner to find the four of them standing there, surrounded by luggage. "Sorry about that."

Their faces all lit up as they simultaneously offered him cheerful greetings; it sounded like a jovial, garbled mess, and it made him smile.

"Kaiba," Yugi beamed as he pushed his way over to him, "Ryou and I finished the new game prototype yesterday!"

He could feel his eyes go wide in surprise. "Did you turn it in already?"

The little one nodded. "Yup! The editors were super happy with us. We were ahead of our deadline for once."

"I can't believe you guys made it before the vacation."

"I can't, either." Ryou put a hand on his hip and smiled. "The art for it was a pain."

"But it looked SO good; I know you'll love it, Kaiba!"

"I'll bet he loves that you turned it in early even more," Jou cracked. "You two just moved production up by at LEAST a month. So, did you fix the--"

He looked at the blond. "I thought we weren't going to talk about work at length, Katsuya. You're the one who made the rule."

Jou winced. "Sorry."

"Whoa...I think that that look just cost you at LEAST five-hundred life points, Jounouchi." Yugi grinned.

The blond snickered, tussling the slighter one's hair. "It wouldn't be the first time that's happened, trust me."

"And it won't be the last." He fought a losing battle with a smile. "As much fun as it must be to stand around in our foyer next to your bags after a long trip, we should probably help you get settled."

Giving him a sweet smile, Ryou waved a hand at him. "You go relax. I'm sure the Yugis and I can figure it out. We don't want to be any trouble."

He cocked his head. "It's no trouble at all, but if you insist...just go up the stairs and pick any room you want."

The second he finished his sentence, Yugi grabbed Atem by the wrist with a giggle, then dragged him toward the stairs. "Come on, Yami!"

But Atem tried to put the brakes on. "Yugi, the bags--"

"We'll get them in a minute -- come on, Ryou!"

"Mm!" Ryou grabbed his duffle bag and followed along behind them.

With a happy sigh, Jou crossed his arms and walked over to join him. "It's been a decade since we graduated high school, but we're all still our old selves."

"Except Ryou." He raised an eyebrow at his partner. "He's clearly channeling his sass today."

"Maybe that's what Yugi meant when he mentioned that Ryou's gotten better with," he used air quotation marks, "'managing his yami' and standing up for himself lately. I haven't really noticed a change until today."

"Maybe you just haven't pissed him off yet."

"Yeah, that, too."

Before he knew it, Ryou was quickly making his way down the stairs. "You have such an extravagant place here; thanks, again, for having us." He finally made it to the landing.

"Did you pick rooms?"

"Do you need anything?" Jou chimed in.

Ryou snickered. "We did, and no, we're fine." Stooping down, he heaved one of Yugi's bags onto his shoulder, then picked up Atem's suitcase. "I just came to get these for them."

Both he and his partner stepped forward, but Jou was the first to get the words out: "Let me help you with that."

The white haired man let out a laugh as he shook his head. "Uh-uh; I'm fine. I can get it."

"Ryou," Jou insisted.

"Really, I'm fine!" His sing-song voice was bright as he said the words.

"I insist." Jou grabbed the suitcase, then transferred the duffle bag from Ryou's shoulder to his own.

Sporting an appreciative smile, Ryou gave him a little bow. "Thank you! Now, I can go get the groceries from the car and make us lunch." He turned around, braced the wall, and started slipping into his shoes.

Glancing at his partner, who was lugging the Yugis' bags up the stairs, he shook his head, then returned his gaze to the white haired man. "Ryou, you didn't need to buy anything. This trip? It's on me."

Ryou turned his smiling face back to him. "I really appreciate that, Kaiba, so I'll make us something to show that appreciation."

"Thanks, Ryou, but I don't want you to feel like you HAVE to."

He shook his head. "I WANT to. Be back in a moment."

"OK, then. Tell me if you need any help."

"I will!"

As soon as the door swung closed behind Ryou, he heard a chorus of laughter upstairs.

I'm getting flashbacks of high school just hearing that. I can't believe he was so anxious earlier ...Hm.

The front door swung open. "...--weren't even invented until three centuries after you croaked, Yami. And besides that...you don't even know how to drive." Holding a few bags of groceries, Ryou waddled over the threshold.

"And I could still do it better than you." Bakura followed along behind him, holding grocery bags, as well.

"Please. The only transportation devices you know how to use are attached to your ankles."

"I know how to ride horses, so...wrong again."

Ryou rolled his eyes. "Well, then, the next time I ride a horse, I'll yield to your advice!"

The yami narrowed his eyes. "And when are you planning on doing THAT?"

"EXACTLY." Ryou paused and looked at Seto. "Look who decided to grace us with his presence."

He nodded to the yami. "Bakura; welcome."

Bakura nodded back. "Nice digs."

"Thank you. Make yourself at home."

Just as a grin creeped onto the yami's lips, Ryou's head whipped around, giving him a near-violent warning with his eyes. "Do NOT take that literally." With that, he stomped toward the kitchen.

Bakura followed along behind his hikari. "Jesus, Ryou; who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?"

"I swear to GOD, Yami, you'd better not embarrass me..."

Their voices faded and became indiscernible as they presumably found their way into the kitchen.

My God. They've become a middle-aged married British couple. ...Speaking of couples: what're they up to up there?

Once Seto ascended the stairs, he followed the sounds of his guests' and partner's voices until he discovered which room they'd chosen and peeked inside. Atem lay on his side on the bed, propping his head up with his hand; Jou sat near his feet, and Yugi squatted on the floor, digging through his bag while he spoke.

"...really will be fun to play. Ryou and I are super proud of it." Yugi stood up.

Jou pouted. "Ugh, I want to play it right now! I wish you could've brought a copy with you."

"Me, too, but you know it'd be more trouble than it's worth." Yugi giggled, turned around, then jumped. "Kaiba! You scared the poop out of me! I didn't know you were there."

Jou and Atem smiled at him.

"Sorry. I didn't want to interrupt your conversation."

"How's it going down there? Is everything OK?" Jou asked.

"Other than the seemingly imminent death match between Bakura and Ryou in my kitchen, everything's fine."

Yugi and Atem gave each other a knowing look.

"That's normal for them these days." Atem sat up and put himself in the Reserve Lotus position.

Yugi nodded. "They'll be fine."

"Wait..." Jou looked around the room. "They ARE like you two still, right?"

"What do you mean?" Yugi blinked at him. "Dating?"

"Yeah."

The little one nodded. "Mmhmm."

"Could've fooled me." Leaning against the doorframe, Seto crossed his arms. "With the way they were interacting, I figured they'd grown to hate each other."

Eyes unfocused, Yugi sighed in contemplation. "Ryou and Bakura are--...well, they...umm..."

"They have a very unique dynamic," Atem finished for him.

Leaning back on his hands, Jou snorted in laughter. "The same thing could've been said for us at one point, Seto."

He couldn't help but grin. "Can't deny the truth."

Jou winked at him.

"Well, at least the both of you had some redeeming qualities." There was an unmistakeable harshness etched into Atem's face as he spat the sentence at them.

"Yami..." Yugi pleaded in a whisper.

Jou looked at Atem. "You don't like Ryou? When did that happen?"

"It didn't. Ryou's lovely. It's his counterpart with whom I take issue."

Brow furrowed and raised, Yugi wrung his hands. "Yami, you promised me you'd try your best to coexist peacefully with Bakura during this trip..."

Atem's sharp gaze found his other half. "The keyword being 'coexist.' I never promised I'd pretend to like him."

After staring at the ground with the most heartbreaking expression on his face, Yugi eventually nodded.

The response didn't appear to be lost on his yami, whose disposition softened a bit. "Aibou, you know I keep my promises...especially the ones I make to you."

But his words didn't seem to penetrate. The hopelessness and disappointment emanating from the tiny form was too much for Seto. Unable to stop himself, he stepped up next to him and put his hand on his shoulder. "Come with me for a bit. I want to show you around the house."

Tri-coloured hair bounced with a nod of consent.
A quick scan of the room assured him Atem and Jou understood his motives, although Atem's face was longing; Jou patted the yami's thigh in consolation.

He guided the slighter one out of the door, down the hall, and into his bedroom; it wasn't until he closed the door behind him, though, that Yugi seemed to start paying attention.

Big purple eyes blinked up at him. "I thought you were going to show me around the house..."

Placing a hand on either of Yugi's shoulders, he looked down at him. "Don't let them ruin this trip for you. If they want to be foolish and catty, that's their business. You and Ryou've worked hard -- probably too hard -- over the past year, and you both deserve to relax. If those two start to bother you, you just tell me, and I'll take you out to do something special, just the two of us."

Yugi dove forward, wrapping his arms around him tightly; due to the height difference, his arms sat around the top of his hips, which Seto found stupidly endearing. "Thank you..."

Pulling the little one close, he pressed one hand against his back, and cradled his head with the other. "If you want to thank me, do so by having fun while you're here. And if at any point you need somebody to talk to, you know where I am."

There was a nod against his chest. "I promise to try my best. And I appreciate you being there for me."

A warmth coursed through him as he held onto his former rival.

By all intents and purposes, a man in his twenties has no business being this cute.

Giving his hair a loving tussle, he sighed. "Do you feel a bit better now?"

Those purple eyes gazed up at him again. "Mm." He smiled.

He smiled back at him. "Let's go get something to eat."

"OK." After unlatching his arms, Yugi took him by the hand, and led him back to the room to get the others.

They peeked into the bedroom, Yugi still having a solid hold on his hand. A baby panic attack dug its claws into his stomach; the hand-holding, no matter how innocent, might've been violating a boundary for Jou or Atem, but at the same time, he didn't want to let go of him.

"Come on, you two," Yugi giggled, "we're going to get food!"

Jou and Atem blinked at each other, seemingly too stunned with Yugi's mood change to even notice the hand-holding, or too happy to care.

"Right away, Aibou." Atem smiled.

(Stay tuned!)

Chapter Text

Yugi marched them down the stairs and through the foyer, but when they got to the kitchen, they all just had to stare for a moment.

One of the Bakuras'd found the radio in the kitchen and had turned it on. On the counter, there were six sets of bread slices, and an array of condiments, vegetables, cheeses, and meats beside them. Ryou looked to be trying to put the sandwiches together, but was struggling due to the fact that his yami was pressed up against him from behind. Bakura held his hikari with one arm, while using the other to playfully get in the way; he moved condiment bottles around in front of Ryou, who was letting out loud, happy giggles the entire time. As Bakura nestled his face in his hikari's neck, Ryou snickered in delight.

"Sto-ha-hop!" Ryou tilted his head back. "I'll never get this done if you don't--...AH!" He jumped, then dissolved into giggles, once more. "Yami! Don't you want to eat?"

"You know I want to eat..." Bakura growled, then proceeded to repeatedly kiss Ryou's neck.

The hikari reached behind him and hooked a hand around Bakura's neck, letting out a squeal. "You can wait until later, ca--" Ryou's gaze slid over to the group by chance; his eyes went wide, and he nearly went pale with embarrassment. "Yami, stop! No, for real this time! YamiYamiYamiYamiYami!" Ryou wrestled himself out of Bakura's grip, who quickly figured out why Ryou was so uncomfortable; nonetheless, the yami looked at the group, seemingly quite pleased with himself.

"I'm guessing you two've made up," Jou teased.

Yugi snickered.

Bakura bit Ryou on the shoulder, but the hikari swatted him away.

"Sta-hop!" Ryou took a very quick cleansing breath, leaned against the counter, and placed a hand on his hip, trying to look casual. "Sorry about that. I'm, uh," he moved a piece of hair out of his eyes, "almost done here. Should just be another minute."

"Take your time." Seto motioned toward the kitchen table. "Have a seat, guys." He finally let go of Yugi's hand.

Everybody but Ryou followed Seto's directions. Bakura covertly reached for a cold cut behind Ryou's back on his way to join the others, but somehow, Ryou slapped his hand before he could get to it without even looking in his direction.

"Come on..." Bakura whined. "Just one piece?"

Ryou grinned at him. "That wouldn't be fair to everybody else. You'll get your food in a minute or two," he giggled, "now, go! Shoo!" He turned to the sink, and washed his hands.

"So, Kaiba, Jounouchi," Yugi began, "what're we going to do today?"

Seto looked at his partner. "Any ideas?"

Jou shrugged and looked back at him. "We can do whatever we want. Do any of you have any requests?"

"Let's burn something." It was difficult to tell whether or not Bakura was joking.

Seto nodded. "We could make a bonfire on the beach when it gets dark. Watch movies...sleep...swim, whatever you guys want to do." He glanced over at Atem; it was obvious that Atem was trying not to look at Bakura...his face was smothered in annoyance.

"And we don't need to do everything as a group," Jou chimed in. "Just make yourselves comfortable."

"OK!" Ryou came over to the table with a stack of plates. "Pass these around, and I'll get the rest."

Everybody was given a sandwich according to their personal tastes...except for Bakura: he just got a plate of meat, and appeared to be extremely happy about it.

All-in-all, it was a relatively lazy day. Jou napped, Ryou read a book (using his yami as a pillow), Yugi played video games with Atem, and Seto finally had time for quiet reflection.

After a few hours, Seto finally emerged from the library he'd locked himself inside of, and made his way into the living room. He let out a small sigh as he stopped to observe: Yugi rested his head on Atem's shoulder as he watched his yami play a video game, while Bakura slept on one of the couches.

After creeping along the outer perimeter of the room, he paused to look out the window: Ryou and Jou were sitting on the beach in the backyard, so swept away by their conversation that they seemed to be ignoring the nearly setting sun.

Lips curving in a smile, he let out a quiet sigh.

They look good together, somehow...like serenity incarnate.

"Kaiba," an inquisitive yet shy voice sang. He looked over to find Yugi blinking at him. "I didn't notice you there."

"Aibou, shh..." Atem pointed at Bakura's sleeping form, then glanced at him, as well. "Hey, Kaiba."

Yugi covered his mouth, looking adorably culpable.

He lowered his voice. "I didn't want to disturb you; everybody looked so content." He gestured toward the television. "That, and Atem's on a really difficult level."

"That's for sure." The yami sighed.

After giving Seto a smile, Yugi nodded. "We've been enjoying ourselves; it's very peaceful here.

He smiled back. "That's what I want to hear."

The little one giggled.

"I'm going to go upstairs and grab a sweater for the bonfire tonight, so--"

"Oh, good idea." The little one pushed himself off of the couch, then walked over to him. "It's OK if I walk with you, isn't it?"

Those sunset purple eyes sparkled, both eagerness and timidness swirling around in their depths; even if he'd wanted to decline, he wouldn't've been able to bring himself to do so. "Of course it is."

After they'd made it up the stairs, they went their separate ways, and Seto began his hunt for the particular sweater he had in mind...but it was nowhere to be seen in his closet.

Two to one...

He opened Jou's closet, and--

"I knew it." Rolling his eyes, he took the sweater from the hanger, then huffed a laugh.

The dangers of being in a same-sex relationship: Clothing theft. ...At least my pants are too long for him.

Knock, knock.

"Kaiba...?"

Once he'd backed out of the closet, he found Yugi, hanging onto the doorframe of his bedroom, holding two goth-looking sweaters. "Hey. Come on in."

The little one looked at the ground, nodded, then stepped inside. "Sorry for the intrusion."

"Not at all." He folded the sweater over his arm.

"I was just wondering how cold it gets at night; did I pick wisely, I wonder."

"Are they thin? The sweaters."

"Mm. One's really thin, and one's sort of...medium thin?"

He nodded. "You'll probably want to go with the thinner one; you could put the other back."

Yugi gave him a bashful smile. "I'll give the thicker one to Yami; better to do it now than to have him steal it from me later."

His eyes widened. "You have that issue, too?"

"Yes!" After letting out a giggle, he nodded. "All of the time."

"It's fan-TAS-tically annoying. Katsuya can borrow whatever he wants from me...I don't mind. He just never--"

"--puts it back! I know! Same here!"

They both laughed, but it petered out into an awkward silence. "H-how are you and Jounouchi doing lately?" Yugi broke the silence.

He nodded. "We're doing well. Except for this." He raised the arm with the sweater on it, and Yugi snickered. "How about you and Atem?"

Yugi nodded, as well. "We're...we're OK." Looking at the ground again, he shifted from foot to foot.

Heaving a patient sigh, he reached over Yugi's head, pushed the door closed, then backed up to the bed; after setting his sweater aside, he sat down, then patted the space beside him.

"I..." he didn't take his gaze from the floor, "I don't want to bother you..."

"You are never a bother." He patted the space, again.

Needing to exert a bit of effort to get onto the tall bed, Yugi climbed up, then set his sweaters aside, as well.

"Is it serious?"

The little one shook his head. "It's complicated." He blinked up at him. "We ARE OK...I did mean that. It's just...Ryou and I are really close...but Yami hates Bakura, even though he likes Ryou, and it makes things difficult. We -- Ryou and I -- didn't have a fair shake at developing a friendship during high school, and I feel responsible for that. I want to make it right...but I feel torn because of Yami."

Seto pushed his bangs aside. "His yami was a bit intimidating, to put it mildly. He took Ryou's body on rampages, and you never knew what he was going to do next. It's understandable that your group of friends--...that they..." It wasn't that he couldn't finish the sentence, but more, he didn't want to, upon seeing the guilt smothering the slighter one's face.

"Ignored him? Neglected him? Pushed him away?"

He sighed. "Yugi...you were just children who were unequipped -- in any way -- to cope with what was happening to him. Besides that, he was literally dangerous...what were you supposed to do in that kind of situation?"

"Be there for him!" The hikari choked the words out without a second thought. "Care! Care about him, and help him through it." Tears lined his eyes. "Even though I felt bad for Ryou at the time, I--...I'm ashamed of myself for how I handled it -- how I treated him...so much so that when I remember it, I can hardly even look him in the eye. I'm just...I'm just so ashamed." After a quick sniffle, he looked in the opposite direction.

Placing a gentle hand on the smaller one's shoulder, he closed his eyes for a moment. "I don't believe a normal person walks this planet who doesn't look back at the actions he took as a child and mourn some of them." He winced, remembering stepping carelessly around Ryou's unconscious form on the stairs in Egypt. "What matters is the here and now."

"The here and now IS the problem." The tri-coloured hair wavered as Yugi blotted at his eyes with his fingertips. "When Yami was restored to me, and Bakura to Ryou, I thought that he would be at peace with what happened with us in his memory world...but he's not."

Seto tilted his head. "It truly is a difficult feat to blame Atem for that, Yugi. Victim of possession or not, Atem watched Bakura go completely off the rails. He nearly changed history and destroyed the world."

Going quiet for a moment, Yugi nodded. "And who is responsible for that?"

"Zork is."

The little one shook his head. "We are." He looked up at him. "Yami’s father’s court is the reason for the creation of the Millennium Items, which caused the genocide in that village, and Zork to bind himself to the only innocent surviving soul: Bakura." He turned his gaze from Seto to straight ahead. "Bakura is the way he is because of the damage that we caused, and Ryou is trying so hard to repair that damage so that he and Bakura's soul can be healed and unified before Ryou passes on to the next life. And I want to help him do it. Atem, however...doesn't seem to even want to understand, let alone help because it involves interacting with Bakura."

Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he went quiet before asking his question: "Why do you suppose Atem is so resistant?"

Yugi gave him a hopeless shrug. "I've been trying to figure it out, but I can't. Usually, he's forgiving and sweet, but he can't seem to let go of his anger."

"Maybe you're too close to the situation...maybe you're allowing your emotions to rule instead of your head, and you come up empty."

"It's easier said than done, when it comes to turning my emotions off." He fidgeted. "If it were up to me, the both of them would always, always, always be treated gently; they'd be loved, cherished, and safe. So, when I watch Atem being so cold to Bakura, it's like seeing myself being like that with Ryou, and all I feel is anger and regret and sorrow and guilt and upset and I can hardly tolerate my own skin."

"Well," Seto leaned back and crossed his legs, "if you want my help at all, I would be willing to lend you my opinion...that is, after I've gathered some more information. I'd need to observe them a bit more; study their dynamic. But I'd be more than willing."

Yugi's eyes lit up. "Kaiba...you have no clue how grateful I'd be for your help! Ryou and I have...well, sort of have a plan, and you're welcome to help us...I just...don't want to bother--"

He put a finger to the little one's lips. "We've been over this: You are never a bother. What bothers me is watching you in peril, while I do nothing. Besides that...you guys claim that I was apart of that court, so I want to take responsibility for it, as well."

The lips behind his finger curled into a touched grin. "Thank you, Kaiba."

He traced the slighter one's lips, stopping for a moment when he got to the delicate corner of his mouth. In a slow, calculated movement, he curled the rest of his fingers around to sweetly cradle his rounded jaw before he allowed his forefinger to join them. "Call me Seto from now on."

Lips parted and cheeks flushed with colour, his former rival stared at him as though he were in a trance. "...U--...uh-huh."

"Yugi!" Ryou's sweet, raspy voice sang: it sounded like he was at the landing of the stairs.

But Yugi didn't react.

Giving Yugi a smile that was part endeared, part amused, he took his hand from his face. "I think Ryou needs you."

"Yuuuuugiiiii!" Ryou’s voice was beginning to sound desperate.

Blink, blink. "...Huh?" Maintaining eye contact the entire time, the little one's rapt expression transformed into one of realization before he jumped up from the bed. "C-coming!" he yelled. "Sorry, Kaib--...I mean, Set--...MM!" He grabbed the sweaters from the bed, then ran out of the room. "Sorry!"

Realization set in for him, as well -- more like struck him like a boulder; the weight of it sent him backwards, and he fell onto his palms.

Wh--...what came over me? He closed his eyes. Pull yourself together, Kaiba!

Chapter Text

Jou plopped down into the sand, then leaned back onto his hands. He'd napped most of the afternoon away in the living room, and was trying to wake himself up properly. Talking to anybody was out of the question, as Bakura was still asleep, and watching Yami play video games was making him drowsy, so...outside, it was.

A cool breeze swept off of the Atlantic; it swirled about his body, making his hair dance around his face. Closing his eyes, he tried to lose himself in the bliss of having nothing in front of him -- no responsibilities, no traffic, no frenzied employees -- nothing but the abyss that is the ocean.

And just as he was making some headway, a troubling conversation from earlier in the day came back to haunt him.

#

Jou gave Atem a few comforting smacks on the thigh as he watched Seto usher Yugi out of the bedroom. When he returned his gaze to the pharaoh, he saw him staring at the doorway, mouth firmly set in a straight line and brow heavy with stress.

"I hate myself right now."

Jou tilted his head to the side. "Don't say that."

"It's true." The yami bent forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "I want to kill anybody who hurts him...I always have. And now, I'm the one hurting him."

He pulled a corner of his mouth taut. "I sympathize with Yugi -- I really do...but his upset can't invalidate your anger. You two are just deadlocked."

The yami stayed quiet for a moment. "That's true."

"I was hoping you and Yugi, or even you and Bakura'd made some progress before you left." He let out a sigh and leaned back on his hands. "This has been going on for way too long."

"I couldn't agree more. I just wish that I could find a way around this."

He shook his head. "I hate to say it, but I don't think that there IS a way around it. You've only got two viable options: One," he put a finger in the air, "you swallow your pride and try to get along with Bakura, or two," he held up another finger, "you somehow convince Yugi to drop it."

"Neither of those are viable, Jounouchi," he said, stone-faced.

He shrugged, then sat up straight, again. "If you believe having Yugi miserable IS a viable option, then keep thinking that way."

The yami made a little growl. "I hate that option the most."

"Me, too." Scrubbing his face, he grumbled in frustration. "I would've tried to come up with something better, but I was too much of a nervous wreck all morning."

"Why is that?" The pharaoh's features softened a bit.

"I was nervous that this trip with you two being at odds with each other might make things worse for you. That, and I was kind of lying to Seto about it."

The pharaoh blew a small laugh out of his nose. "What'd you say?"

"I told him that I was scared we would find out all of us no longer got along the way we did in high school." He smiled at the pharaoh. "It technically IS true, though."

Atem softened a bit more. "You didn't want to stress him out."

He nodded. "And I don't want you or your other half stressed out, either. You're my friends, and I hate the fact that you're--"

#

"Jounouchi."

The creaky, melodic voice broke him of his trance, and he turned in his spot to smile at its host.

"There he is! What's up, Ryou?"

Returning his smile, the elegant hikari walked up to him. "I was wondering if you'd be all right with a bit of company."

"I would love some." He patted the sand beside him.

Ryou tip-toed over to his left, then carefully lowered himself to the ground; despite his best efforts, though, his rear came to the earth in a horrifically adorable plop. Giggling at himself, he pulled his knees to his chest.

Unable to stop himself, he laughed, as well. "You OK?"

Ryou nodded. "I'm fine," he assured him, the echoes of laughter in his voice. "Ohh...it's so beautiful here."

"The view is part of the reason why we fell in love with the property." He watched the waves of water, which sparkled with the light of the near-setting sun.

"I have to admit...I thought you two were a little crazy when you told us you'd bought a house in the Hamptons. New York is so, so far away, but seeing this makes me understand it." They looked at each other. "Removing yourself from everything makes you feel less tempted to stress out; it feels like I've run away from it all."

He smiled at Ryou. "If you ever need to run away in the future, just tell me; I'll give you the keys."

The wind blew Ryou's white locks around his face, and he tried to push it out of the way. A bashful smile came to his lips. "You don't need to go that far."

"It's not far at all. I want my friends to be happy."

After staring at him for a moment, he grinned a bit wider, then nodded. "Thank you, Jounouchi. That's so generous of you."

He cocked his head. "What was that look?"

"Oh..." tucking a lock of hair behind his ear, he turned his gaze toward his knees, "it's nothing important."

"You can tell me."

Ducking his head for a moment, the hikari sighed, then looked back at him. "I was just thinking that...we've come a long way, you, Yugi, and I...that's all. And I'm so grateful for it."

He opened his mouth to ask him to clarify, but stopped himself. Blotting his lips, he shook his head. "You know, Ryou...I don't think that I ever told you how sorry--"

"Jounouchi, stop--"

"I am for--"

"Please; I wasn't hunting for an apology, or--"

"Well, you're getting one, anyway," he said firmly, putting an end to their stream of interruptions. "I wasn't great to you in high school, and I'm eternally sorry for not being the friend that I should've been."

"Jounouchi..." Ryou whispered, seemingly unable to look him in the eye. "Please...it's making me feel bad."

"I can't imagine what hell you went through at that time: the bouts of unconsciousness, being stabbed, being mentally highjacked on a daily basis...and you went through it alone."

Ryou looked to the side and widened his eyes for a second. "Oh, I wasn't alone."

"You weren't?" He furrowed his brow. "...Oh, right. The cockroach."

The hikari's mouth dropped open, and a laugh tumbled out. "Cockroach?"

Eyes going wide in worry, he waved his hands in front of himself. "No, no, no! I didn't mean it in a bad way! He just reminds me of one because it's like...nothing can kill him."

Slowly, a smile crept across Ryou's face, and he laughed. Then laughed harder. And harder. "He really IS a cockroach, isn't he?"

"He even has the little antennae and all."

"He does!"

They both burst out laughing, Ryou wicking tears from under his eyes with the outer side of his index fingers. Their laughter faded, eventually, and they both went quiet.

"You know, Jounouchi...you really weren't bad to me in high school. To the contrary, I always found you to be quite sweet."

Shaking his head, he turned his gaze to the ground. "I don't think that I was."

"You were." There was a pause. "So sweet, in fact, that, after the smoke cleared from everything that'd happened, I actually had a bit of a crush on you."

Head whipping toward the hikari, his eyes went wide. "Me? You? A crush? For real?"

Ryou's head was cocked, making his smiling face look even sweeter than it already was. Letting out a giggle, he nodded. "Mmhmm."

"...Why?" The word seemed to just fall out of his mouth of its own accord, and he scrambled to catch it. "I- I mean--...not WHY, but...what did you...I--..." He pushed his hair back and sighed. "What I mean to say is: why didn't you say something?"

Ryou shook his head. "I didn't think you would be open to the idea. You put out a 'firmly heterosexual' vibe when we were in high school. You still do." A sheepish grin crawled onto his lips. "I figured you'd wind up with Mai, or somebody like her. I was quite stunned when you told us about Seto and yourself."

"I can't blame you. Hell, even I was stunned about Seto and myself." He grinned at the hikari, who giggled, in return.

"You two fought like cats and dogs in high school." Ryou looked at him. "It was, what...two months after graduation that you started dating?"

He nodded. "We've been together for a decade, now -- thanks to you."

Lips parted, eyebrows squished, Ryou cocked his head. "Me? What did I do?"

"Had you asked me out before we graduated, there'd probably've BEEN no Seto and myself."

Fingertips touching his top lip, the light haired man's jaw dropped open, obviously shocked, but those big, brown eyes sparkled in elation. "Jounouchi!"

One after the other, he slapped both hands over his mouth, squeezing his eyes shut. "Sorry," he squeaked from behind his hands. "That was supposed to be cute, but it wound up sounding douchey."

Ryou shook his head, placing a gentle hand on his forearm. "It's fine!" The words rang with laughter. "I'm just in a bit of shock that you liked me back."

Dropping his hands from his mouth, he revealed a shy smile. "I'm not sure how. EVERYBODY had the hots for you. Did you hit your head and forget?"

Cheeks flushing, he averted his gaze and fidgeted with his hair. "Some girls used to make me cookies, from time to time...that's all."

"Ryou, you straight-up had stalkers."

"And you, straight-up, are the friend who remembers everything from high school that people want to forget!" Ducking his head to hide his face, he dissolved into laughter.

Giving Ryou's head a friendly scruff, he snickered. "You can be embarrassed all day long, but it won't change the fact that I'm right."

"Ugh!" Ryou set his chin on his knees, grinning in relent. "I just...didn't know how to tell them, or anybody else, 'no.' So, I just tried to avoid them."

"That seems to've changed...especially when it comes to the cockroach."

"Well...it kind of HAD to change. I came to a point where I could no longer take it, and one day, I just..." he shook his head, "I snapped."

Blink, blink. "You...Ryou Bakura, the gentlest, sweetest, most patient person I've ever met...snapped?"

Culpability with just a dusting of pride overwhelmed Ryou's face as he nodded.

Sitting up straight, he turned toward the light haired man. "You've GOT to tell me what happened."

Ryou succumbed to a small laugh. "Where do I even start...?"

"How about..." he shrugged, "when it happened?"

"Mm..." Sparkling in thought, brown eyes turned in the direction of the ocean. "I think it was about...six months after he came back to me. It was wonderful to feel whole again but, despite the connection with darkness gone, he was just as pushy and dominant as he'd been when he'd initially came into the picture. Trying to exact revenge gave him purpose, and with all of that being more or less settled...I'm not sure quite how to put this..." he shook his head, "he just seemed so lost. It was like the drive to conquer was still there, but there was nothing TO conquer." Ryou looked at him. "Except me, I suppose."

"Sounds true to his nature..." Jounouchi sighed, then tightened a corner of his mouth. "So, what was it, exactly, that pushed you over the edge?"

"Maple syrup."

One eyebrow raised, he cocked his head. "...Maple syrup?"

Ryou nodded. "Are you familiar with the saying 'in the end, it's not the dragons that get you; it's the gnats?'"

He nodded. "Yeah."

"That was my situation, exactly. After being run down, walked on, and bossed around nearly every minute of every day, his inconsiderate, over-bearing personality finally got to me one morning. You see, I woke up a bit too early, and all I could think about were American pancakes. So, I researched a recipe, and made some. He partook...more than half, might I add...and I just smiled. He used the very last of the softened butter to top his off -- and took it just as I was reaching for it with my knife: I said nothing. But when he used every last drop of syrup and just said, 'we need more syrup,' then placed the empty bottle on the counter...well, the sentence I used was:"

#

"Are you FUCKING joking?"

Bakura's eyes widened, then turned in Ryou's direction. "...What'd you say?"

Stone-faced, he stared right back at him. "I said: are you...fuck-ing...jo-king."

Narrowing one eye in thought, he seemed to be assessing this out-of-character response. "No...?"

"And why is that?"

"...Because I used the last of--"

"Because YOU used the last of it!" If he'd been in his right mind, he would've been scared; his vision momentarily blipped out, as the words flew from his mouth in an other worldly shriek.

Mouth in a straight line, Bakura raised an eyebrow at him. "So, put some on the shopping list. It's not a big deal."

Not saying a word, he stepped closer to his yami, used an index finger to catch the underside of the lip of the plate Bakura held, and flipped it onto the floor.

The yami narrowed his eyes at him. "Do you understand how much of a spoiled fuck that makes you look like to somebody who spent his childhood having to steal every bite of food he ate?"

"I look like a spoiled fuck?" The question sounded more like a statement.

"Yes," the taller one spat.

"-I-...look like a spoiled fuck?"

"Yes."

"...Do I look like a spoiled fuck after I come home from the full time job I have, five days a week? Do I look like a spoiled fuck after I've paid for the groceries you devour all day long? Do I look like a spoiled fuck after I've paid all of my -- oh, I'm sorry...OUR bills every month? Do I look like a spoiled fuck when I'm making every meal we eat? When I take out the TRASH? DO THE DISHES? CLEAN THE HOUSE -- ALL WITHOUT HELP FROM YOU?" He paused. "Since you're so obviously confused about what a spoiled FUCK looks like, perhaps you should attempt to find your reflection in the puddle of 'it's-no-big-deal' syrup on the floor." He punctuated the sentence by giving the yami a small shove on the chest.

After looking down at where his hands had touched him, Bakura looked back into his eyes. "You don't want to go there with me."

"You wouldn't know what I wanted if it crawled up your urethra and laid eggs in it." He shoved the yami again.

Closing his eyes and taking a long breath, Bakura paused before laying his venomous gaze upon him, once more. "Be that as it may, I know you don't want to get physical with me." The last straps of Bakura's inhibition were very obviously about to break.

Getting so close to his yami that their noses nearly kissed, he brought his voice to a whisper. "Maybe I do."

BAM!

It'd been a long time since he'd had the wind knocked out of him, so when Bakura'd grabbed him by the biceps and slammed him against the refrigerator, that breathless feeling in his chest upon impact almost felt nostalgic.

"Pull yourself together. My patience is officially gone," his yami growled.

"What a coincidence!" His voice faltered as his knee connected with his yami's groin. The grip fell away from his arms as Bakura stooped in pain; he slipped away from him, putting the kitchen island between them.

Breath coming in pants, Bakura tried his best to adopt a true vertical posture, but was failing miserably. "You BITCH!" The yami hucked a mug full of coffee at him, which he narrowly dodged; it smashed against the cupboard, brown liquid flying everywhere.

"That's the closest thing you've done to housework the entire time you've been here, you lazy Kemetic FUCK!" Ryou grabbed a saucepan from the drying rack and returned fire; Bakura moved just in time, and it made a hollow clang against the refrigerator.

"I may not do housework, but I've helped your ass more times than I can count," the yami snarled, before chucking an unopened bag of rice from the pantry across the room. After narrowly missing Ryou, the bag of grains hit a block of chopping knives on the counter, like a bowling ball.

"Helped me?" Ryou threw a ladle at his evil twin. "HELPED ME?" He threw a spatula. "Everything you did was for YOU!"

"You ARE me, you stupid slut!" Bakura snatched the glass of orange juice he'd poured for himself off of the island and chucked it at him; it smashed against the counter, getting juice all over Ryou.

"You made my life hell!" His weapon of choice was a box of cereal this time, and finally, it made contact; the bottom corner thumped the yami right in the forehead before it fell away, a shower of cereal flying everywhere.

The yami pawed at his forehead. "You don't KNOW hell, princess." The next thing he knew, Bakura was holding a plate of lemon poppyseed muffins, and threw one; it hit him right in the chest.

"HEY! I just made those, you--" Another one hit him in the face. "AH! They hurt more than you'd think!"

"Yeah, you feel that? They were dry as hell."

After giving Bakura a look that could melt stone, he reached over the counter and grabbed a bottle of soy sauce, which he threw at his yami like a boomerang. Bakura grunted as the bottle bounced off of his hip.

The yami placed the plate of muffins onto the island. "That's it." He rummaged through one of the cupboards until he pulled out a cookie sheet, then started around the island. "I'm ending this."

Eyes narrowed, he grabbed a frying pan from the drying rack, then ran to close the short distance between them. Loud clangs rang out as they blocked each other's blows, but eventually, Bakura landed a painful one to Ryou's dominant elbow.

A sadistic smile curled the yami's lips as Ryou backed away from him, holding his banged up elbow, and he raised the cookie sheet above his head before he sped at him.

Stepping out of the way at the last possible second, Ryou used the other's momentum against him; he gave the yami a hard push to the back, and he went, face-first, into the wall.

The dazed yami fell to his knees; Ryou slid his fingers into his other's hair, clenched a handful, then threw him onto his back. Knees falling onto the crook of either shoulder, he straddled Bakura's chest.

Jaw clenched, teeth bared, Bakura snarled and struggled beneath him: it was clear that there was still fight left in him...that it wasn't over, and that simply wouldn't do.

Without a word, he reached over and grabbed the bottle of soy sauce he'd thrown earlier by the neck, then smashed it against the island...he brought it to the yami's neck, pushing a longer, jagged edge against Bakura's throat with one hand, and grabbed a chunk of his hair with the other.

Finally, Bakura was still. A psychotic smile curled his lips, as he stared up at him. "Well...go on. You've earned it."

Gazes locked, he dragged the bottle an inch or two down the flesh of his yami's throat. "You want me to?"

"I'm hardly in a position to tell you what to do right now, am I?"

He tilted his head. "Is that your messed up way of conveying your will to live?"

"Possibly."

"Then, why didn't you just say 'no?'"

"Because I love that a part of me both fought and won the chance to play God with a human life...even if it's my own. I love seeing my own face, staring down at me, looking the way you do now...completely in control."

They both went silent, just staring into one another's eyes.

CRASH!

Ryou threw the bottle against the island and, as though they were of one mind, met his other's eager mouth in a mad kiss.

Biting, scratching, licking, grinding, pawing at each other...it was a blur of passion so intoxicating, Ryou could hardly remember exactly how he had come to be pushed up against the wall, naked, with his legs wrapped around his other half.

"HAH!" Eyes squeezing closed, he reveled in the sweet pain, as his yami roughly pushed all the way into him.

Their gazes met. Placing a hand on his yami's face, he parted his lips to say something, but--

"Don't apologize to me."

"But--" Bakura's mouth connected with the flesh of his throat and did something so wonderful, it made the breath catch in his windpipe.

"You're the only one in this world who's ever shown me sympathy..." Bakura breathed against his neck, thrusting hard into him, "the only one who's ever cared about what I've been through..." thrust, "the only one who's ever given me a second chance..." Thrust. "You were right...I AM the spoiled fuck."

"Why're yo--...AH! ...--telling me...th-HAH!-hiss...n--...ow...?" He wrapped his legs even tighter around him. "You sh--...ooooould've sa--...hid it...UH! earli--...HER!"

There was a low, short laugh before the yami gave him a smothering kiss.

#

Mouth hanging open, Jou stared at Ryou, his eyes as wide as an owl's.

A flush came across the hikari's pale cheeks and nose; he rubbed the back of his neck, as his gaze sank to the ground. "I...probably shouldn't've been so graphic in describing the last part."

"NO! I mean...no, it's cool, it...it added to m-my understanding of...of-of the situation, and..." Blink, blink. "What were we talking about again?"

"Jounouchi...!" The other covered his head in obvious embarrassment, and it made him laugh.

After gazing for a few moments at his friend, who seemed to be more blush than man, he finally spoke. "I'm proud of you, Ryou."

The hikari peeked at him. "For what?"

"For finally putting him in his place."

A shy, modest smile just slightly curled the light haired one's lips as he gave one definitive nod of thanks.

He fell back onto his palms. "And it certainly clears up a few things that I was curious about."

"Like what?"

"How you can be so blunt, or even aggressive, with him. It's kind of out of character for you, and it's astounding that he accepts it."

"That's because it IS out of character for me." Ryou straightened a bit. "If we're ever going to heal the damage to our soul, we both need to inspire growth within one another. Deep down, I crave control and confidence, while he craves structure and security...so, we try to meet the other's needs."

"Is there something that the both of you want, together?"

"Yes. More than anything...we both want to be at peace."

There was a small cracking sensation in his chest, like his heart broke a little. "I can understand that..."

Pull yourself together, Jounouchi.

He cleared his throat. "Anyway, it seems as though what you're trying to say is that you each have what the other wants..." He averted his gaze as he rolled his thoughts around in his head. "Seems to me as though the only way to interrupt each of your old patterns of behavior is for each of you to become more like the other."

Blink, blink. "I'd never put the sentiment to words before, but...yes. That's precisely what it is." Ryou smiled at him. "What an astute observation, Jounouchi."

He sighed. "Why does everybody seem so stunned whenever I cough up something halfway coherent?" It was difficult to keep himself from grinning, but he was successful in doing so.

Covering his mouth, the light haired one burst into laughter. "That's not what I was stunned about!"

Finally, he gave into a grin. "Just...do me a favor."

Eyes sparkling, he maintained that amused, happy expression. "What is it?"

"I know you need to change and grow, but...if you can...save some of the original Ryou Bakura -- the one I've known for all of these years. I'd miss him if he were to ever disappear, completely."

Ryou's expression fell; his brows pushed together and raised, and his smile softened around the edges. "Jounouchi..."

A few strands of the hikari's hair blew over his face and, without even thinking, Jou brushed them back for him. Attempting to weave the strays into the rest, he brushed the unexpectedly soft locks on the side of Ryou's head a few times, immersing his fingers completely. Even though he had every intention to pull away, his hand seemed reluctant to escape the snowy forest of hair...especially upon seeing Ryou's closed eyes and flushed face.

He's unreasonably beautiful...

As if it were acting of its own accord, his hand pulled out of the hikari's hair, then slowly delved back in, but this time, his hand pushed against the scalp, cradling his head.

'...I actually had a bit of a crush on you.’

Quietly releasing a sigh, he dragged his fingers out of the hikari's hair. "You should put your hair back tonight."

Ryou's eyes fluttered open. "...O-oh..." He blinked a few times, looking as though he were recalibrating. "You think?"

He nodded. "The wind's probably going to pick up even more."

"Maybe I will, then." Ryou put on a polite smile.

"Speaking of which: It's finally gotten dark. We should go inside and start kicking asses into gear for the fire."

Giving him a bigger smile, the hikari nodded, then tucked some hair behind his ear. "And I need to begin my search for something to keep my hair at bay."

He hopped to his feet, then offered Ryou his hand. "Shall we?"

"Mm." He put his delicate, cold hand in his.

Chapter Text

The walk back to the house was a bit quiet, so it was quite the shock to the system when Jounouchi opened the back door, and the sounds of acrimony fell out.

Somehow, Bakura and Atem'd been left alone in the living room together, and they were getting along about as well as one would expect.

"If you'd’ve just fucking listened to me, you wouldn't've died!" Bakura, who was standing behind an arm chair, scowled at the pharaoh, who was sitting on the couch, holding a video game controller.

Closing his eyes, very obviously trying to tame his temper, Atem took a breath and paused. "I told you: I don't NEED your help!"

A droll laugh dropped out of the other's mouth. "To suck? Yeah. I see that; you've got that perfectly covered."

Atem's eyes narrowed when he looked in the other yami's direction. "You can take your unsolicited advice, and--"

"WE'RE BACK!" Ryou practically screamed in an awkwardly cheery tone. "Who's ready for a bonfire?"

Both yamis shot Ryou a look.

The hikari leaned over to Jou, bringing his voice to a whisper. "Go find Seto. I'll deal with this."

"Godspeed," he whispered back.

The hikari nearly laughed, then gave him a little push.

Taking the hint, he gave Ryou a grin, then dashed toward the foyer...but instead of going upstairs, he beelined into the bathroom.

Once the door was closed, he fell onto his hands, grasping the counter. Closing his eyes, he took a slow breath, trying to steady himself.

But it was to no avail: he could still feel the soft hair slipping between his fingers...could still see the flush over porcelain skin.

You love Seto. You love your relationship with Seto. You love working with Seto. You love LOOKING at Seto. You love everything about Seto. And he loves you, too.

"So, stop being an asshole," he whispered.

Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, THUD!

Somebody was booking it down the hall, past the bathroom.

"Yugi!" Ryou cried; it sounded like he was at the stair's landing.

Oh shit! I was supposed to get Seto!

He yanked the door open and jogged over to Ryou.

"Yuuuuugiiiii!" the hikari cried again, looking upward.

"Hey," he placed a hand on Ryou's shoulder, "sorry. Had to see a man about a horse. I was just about to go up there. Everything OK?"

One look at those frenzied brown eyes, and he immediately knew the answer.

Jou's eyes went wide. "I'll go get Seto."

"PLEASE." The hikari twitched.

But just as he began his mad dash up the stairs, he nearly crashed into Yugi, who seemed to be running for his life.

"OH!" the little one squeaked. "Sorry, Jounouchi!"

"You're cool; is Seto up there?"

Eyes widening to cartoon-like proportions, Yugi looked away, then ran past him. "Yeah."

Jou raised an eyebrow.

...What the hell was that?

"Thank God," Ryou cried, grabbing Yugi by the wrist as soon as he got to him. "I need you NOW."

"How bad is it this time?" he asked, as Ryou dragged him down the hall.

"There was talk of live mummification."

"Oh jeez...again?"

Their voices faded out as they headed back toward the kitchen, and he continued his dash up the stairs.

"Oh, Darling...!" he called out in a teasing tone the moment he reached the upstairs hallway.

"In here," the familiar voice called back.

After trekking down the hall, he entered their room to find Seto, sitting on their bed. "Hey." He smiled. "Whatcha up to?"

Giving him one of his famous 'I-got-you-mother-fucker' half grins, Seto presented a very familiar sweater. "Care to explain how this wound up in YOUR closet?"

He gave him a toothy smile. "...No?"

After rolling his eyes, his partner got to his feet. "How're they doing down there?"

"The Egyptians want to pull each others’ brains out of their noses."

"Beautiful." Seto walked over to Jou's closet, then started digging through the collection.

He cocked his head. "What're you doing?"

Seto emerged, one sweater richer. "Grabbing another sweater. It's going to cool down out there."

Pulling one corner of his mouth taut, he pouted; the sweater his partner held was one of his least favorites, hence the reason he tried to maroon it in New York. But, with the look he’d gotten earlier, he didn’t dare say a word about it.

“I just want you to be warm.” Seto handed him the one he’d scolded him about.

A touched smile curled his lips as he accepted the offering.

...Followed by a pang of overwhelming guilt.

Giving him a half smile back, Seto started past him. “Let’s get down there before fur starts flying.”

But he caught his partner by the arm before he could pass through the doorway; Seto turned toward him, those blue eyes looking inquisitively back at him.

“I don’t think I tell you often enough that you’re the best part of my life.”

Seto’s eyes widened before they blinked; he averted his gaze, but not before Jou realized his partner was fighting an overcome smile. “Like I don’t already know that.”

Drawing his partner’s arm toward him, he pulled him into a loose embrace, wrapping his arms around Seto’s thin waist. “Even if you do, smart ass, you deserve to hear it. And I need to say it to you.”

Even though the brunette looked at his face, he wasn’t looking into his eyes; expression unreadable, he drew in a breath as he tucked some of Jou’s hair behind his ear. “As long as you believe I deserve you, I don’t need anything else.”

“You probably deserve better.”

“There’s no such thing,” he whispered.

A warmth grew throughout his body; Seto leaned forward, touching their foreheads together, digging his fingers into his hair. Despite the fact that the brunette was still holding the sweater in his other hand, it came up to his head, as Seto planted a lingering, closed-mouth kiss on his lips. Fingertips pressing into Seto’s lower back, he let out a sigh as his partner released his lips.

“Let’s not get too carried away,” Seto whispered, dropping his hands from his head. “Once again, we’re being poor hosts.”

Giving him a reluctant nod, he slid his hands down to Seto’s rear, giving him a quick grope before letting go. “You’re right. But let it be known: If we ever do this again, we’re coming alone a week before anybody gets here.”

The sound of footsteps running up the stairs silenced them both; they looked toward the doorway as somebody with little feet ran into a room, rummaged around, then ran back out, and down the stairs.

He cocked his head. “That didn’t sound very good.”

“No. It didn’t. We’d better go.” Seto dashed out of the room, and he followed along behind him.

Chapter Text

Yugi rushed down the stairs, a small, rectangular box in-hand. Leaving Bakura and his yami alone with Ryou as referee was something he didn’t like doing, but with how badly things were going, he had to try for a hail Mary; they needed a distraction, and they needed it fast.

Thankfully, everybody was precisely where they were when he’d left: the yamis silently fuming at either end of the dining table, trying to ignore each other, and Ryou poking around in the kitchen.

“Ryou!” he sang. “Are you almost done?”

The hikari turned his head. “Pretty much. Why? What’s up?”

Grinning, he took a seat at the table, then placed the box in front of him. “I wanted to show you what I br--”

“Hey guys!” Jounouchi and Seto appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, both looking a bit strained. “Everything OK in here?”

Giving the blond a smile and a nod, Ryou stepped a bit closer to the couple. “Everything’s fine. Yugi and I put a plate together so we can make s’mores with the bonfire.”

The brunette brushed past his partner and looked over the counter. “That was very kind of you two; you didn’t have to do that.”

The light-haired man waved a hand at him. “It wasn’t any trouble at all! We had fun doing it.”

“I’ll go get the fire going.”

“I’ll help out,” Jounouchi offered. “Unless you need...help...in here?”

“We’re fine. You can go make the fire,” Ryou chirped.

Once the couple escaped through the back door, Ryou walked over to the table, then took a seat across from Yugi. “So,” he smiled, “what did you want to show me?”

His grin widened. “I brought this game from home, and was wondering if you were interested in playing.” Even though he made a point not to look at either of the yamis, he could feel them both perk up in interest.

“Sure!” The other hikari leaned forward in interest. “What game is it?”

“It’s called ‘Senet;’ it’s an ancient Egyptian game. It’s one of the first -- if not, the first -- board games.”

The interested energy emanating from the yamis was nearly oppressive; if they were teapots, they’d be whistling.

“I didn’t know you had Senet,” Atem peeped in a quiet, envious tone.

He nodded, but kept his eyes on Ryou. “Grandpa just got a few copies of it and gave me one a few days before we left.”

Ryou cocked his head. “Do you know how to play? Because I sure don’t.”

“Mm...” he opened the box and laid the contents thereof out in front of him, “kind of. I’ve read through the instructions, but I’ve never played it before.” After replacing the lid of the box, he started to place the pieces (which were small, white cone-shaped and black spool-shaped) on top of the lid, alternating the colors. “One of us will be the white pieces, and the other will be the black pieces. The object of the game is to make it down all three rows before your opponent can. And you use these,” he scooped up four flat sticks, “in place of dice to decide how many spaces you move.”

“Ohh...” The other hikari reached out with his pale, delicate hand. “How do the sticks work?”

He placed the sticks in Ryou’s hand then opened his mouth to answer, but before he could say anything--

“Each side is a different color -- that’s how,” Bakura interrupted. “You only count the ones that land light side up.”

“Hm.” The monosyllabic reply was cold and hollow. He, just as Yugi had done, didn’t look in Bakura’s direction. “So, since all of the pieces are in a straight row, I’m assuming you can have more than one piece in a spot?”

“Only if it’s your opponent’s piece; you can’t land on your own,” Yugi clarified. “And, when you do that, you set your opponent’s piece back where yours was.”

“Oh, really? This must take so much strategy, huh?”

He nodded. “It sounds so fun!”

Ryou nodded, as well, his lips curling in a smile. “It does!” The hikari handed the sticks back to him. “Too bad we’ve got other plans tonight.”

After placing the sticks beside the box, he nodded. “For sure! Maybe tomorrow, huh?”

“Wh--...” The forlorn noise came from his yami. “Wait...you’re not going to play?”

Looking over at Atem with a blank expression, he pushed his chair out. “Of course not. I’m going to go help Kaiba and Jounouchi.”

There was a scoff from the white haired yami, who was looking down-right offended. “You’re just going to set it up and leave it there?”

He rose from his chair. “Yeah. It’ll make it easier for later.” Giving Bakura a warm smile, he rounded the table and grabbed his sweater from a barstool by the counter.

Leaning forward, Bakura scowled. “That’s a waste. Play a round with me, Yadonushi.”

“Sorry!” Ryou got up, as well. “I’m helping out, too.”

“Oh, come on...how many of you does it take to build a fire? It’s not like they’re out there, rubbing sticks together.”

“I said no, Yami.” The hikari gathered his hair into a half ponytail as he spoke. “Besides: It’s not as though there isn’t somebody else you can play with.”

Almost as though it were choreographed, the two yamis’ eyes widened as their gazes met across the table, then dropped away, in opposite directions.

“No way.” Bakura crossed his arms.

“I’ll pass.” Atem turned his nose up.

A placid smile on his lips, Ryou shrugged. “Suit yourselves. Come on, Yugi.”

“Mm!” With that, he opened the door to usher his fellow hikari through, then followed along, himself.

The moment the door shut behind them, Ryou grabbed him by the hand and quickly led him away; they practically ran until they were out of earshot, then both doubled over in laughter.

“Did you see the look on their faces?” he cried, holding his stomach.

“Yes!” Ryou wiped the tears from the corner of his eye. “Yugi...that idea was absolutely brilliant!”

“That’s yet to be determined...but there’s one thing for sure:” he snorted, “Atem looked like he was going to cry, and Bakura looked like wanted to kill us!”

“It was perfect!”

They both burst into laughter, again.

“OK, OK, OK...” The light haired man placed a hand on his chest and took a calming breath before continuing. “Now that that’s out of our systems, I just want to make sure that you’re committed to the plan, one-hundred percent.”

Even though there was a nervous lurch in his stomach, he gave his friend a definitive nod. “I’m committed. Completely committed.”

“You need to be MARRIED to it: This is going to get rough, and it’s not going to work unless we back each other up without condition.”

Again, he nodded. “I’m at the end of my rope with those two; even if it’s hard, even if it’s cruel...I’ll stick to the plan. I’m giving you, and only you, my full allegiance.” He stuck out his hand.

And Ryou shook it. “I give you mine, as well: you and only you.”

They took their hands back, and when they did, he grabbed one of his elbows. “I have to admit: I am just a little nervous...historically speaking, I cave in to Atem so easily.” Giving Ryou an unsure shrug, he looked back up at him. “Like I said, I’m committed, but I’m going to have to rely on your strength.”

A cute, yet devilish grin graced the hikari’s lips. “I don’t mind taking the lead in making the moves as long as the undisputed king of games takes the lead with our strategy.”

It was his turn to grin. “It’s a deal!”

Ryou raised a mischievous eyebrow. “We’ll get those two to quash this stupid feud whether they like it or not.”

He giggled. “And they’re really, really not going to--”

“Yugi?” A familiar voice came from behind him. “Ryou? What’re you two doing over there?” He turned to find Jounouchi, placing a few chairs around the fire pit in the yard.

“Nothing!” they answered in unison.

“We’d better go help out before we get caught,” Ryou whispered.

Giving him a huge smile, he nodded. “Mm! Let’s go!”

Chapter Text

Ryou and Bakura

Staring straight ahead of himself, Bakura let out an annoyed sigh; he’d already done his nightly rituals and climbed into bed the better part of twenty-five minutes ago, and was waiting on Ryou to join him.

Why do you always take so God damn long to get ready for bed, Prissy?

Hurry up.

I want to do stuff to you.

There was a loud sigh of relief from the ensuite bathroom, heralding the hikari’s return to the bedroom; Ryou practically sparkled as he made his way over to the bed and got in. “Ugh...I’ve been waiting for this all day.”

A grin crawled across his lips, as he scooted closer to his partner. “You and me, both.”

After giving his yami a quick smile, Ryou turned toward the nightstand, grabbed a book, and settled in.

Eyes narrowing, he paused. “...What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

The hikari looked at him, blinking those big, innocent brown eyes. “Getting ready to read. I haven’t had any real down-time for reading until we arrived at the house, and I found this book at the airport about a fascinating commune from the 1800s called ‘The Oneida Community.’”

”Weren’t you reading earlier?” The irritation was plain in his voice.

”That was a different book; I wanted to finish it before I started this one. I’ve been looking forward to reading this one for the last two days.”

“Yeah, well...look forward to it tomorrow.” He pushed the book down, toward Ryou’s lap with one hand, and hooked the other around his neck. “I want to do dirty things to you.” The familiar scent of his partner filled his nostrils as he mouthed the soft skin of his throat.

But he leaned away, pushing him off. “Yami...not tonight. I’m tired.”

Rolling his eyes, he released his hold on him. “You’ve been ‘tired’ for the past week. Can’t you just lie there and let me do all of the work?”

Propping the book back up, he squirmed around to get comfortable. “Even if you do all of the work, I’d still need to go clean up afterward, and I’m just too exhausted to deal with that.” Finally, he opened the book.

Taking a long, steady breath, he stared at his hikari for a few moments. “You’re punishing me, aren’t you?”

Ryou’s eyes didn’t leave the book. “Now you’re just being silly.”

“You’re the one who’s being silly; you think you can get away with lying to me?”

“Please. Why would I bother going through the trouble of lying to you when it’s so much easier to yell at you, instead?”

“Because you know that no matter how much you yell at me, it won’t change the fact that I hate that fucking pharaoh.”

“I wasn’t going to bring it up but, now that we’re on the topic,” the hikari looked at him, “I’m none too pleased with your behavior today. You swore, up and down, that you’d be decent to him.”

His eyes widened. “Are you fucking with me? I tried to play nice, but all he did was act like a total stuck-up bitch!”

“Gee...I wonder why he wouldn’t believe you to be anything short of a basket of sunshine and flowers.” Ryou gave him a droll look.

Eyes narrowed, he shook his head. “I can’t believe that you, of all people, would throw that Zork shit in my face.”

The slighter one’s expression softened. “I’m not. I know it wasn’t your fault -- Yugi knows that, as well. But Atem’s clearly still struggling with separating the real you and Zork-possessed you. What happened back in Egypt was really traumatic for him--”

“And it wasn’t for me?”

He tilted his head. “Of course it was, Yami. Look,” he closed the book in his lap, “my point is that both of you suffered...both of you were hurt, and both of you have every right to be angry. But until you both acknowledge each others’ pain and show a bit of empathy toward one another, you’ll both always be angry.”

A short, stiff puff of air pushed out of his nose. “You know what? You’re right, Ryou. I’ve seen the light: I feel so sorry for him. He must’ve been through hell, living in the lap of luxury, giving zero fucks about his father’s court murdering my entire village, while I was destitute and alone. Halle-fucking-lujah.”

“Yami...” The word rode out of Ryou’s mouth on an exasperated breath.

“Yeah, no; I’m going to bed.” He rolled over, pulling up the blankets around himself. “Wake me up if you want a hate-fuck.”

Yugi and Atem

As soon as Atem slipped his pajama top over his head, he peeked over at Yugi, who was curled up on his side in the bed. Although the mattress was huge, the little one practically hugged the edge of it; it was as though Yugi wanted to be as far away from him as possible once he got in.

Taking a slow, deliberate breath, he paused to stare at his partner for a moment before climbing in next to him: when he did, he stayed a good two feet away from Yugi, but turned his head toward him. “Are you still awake?”

“Mm,” the back of Yugi’s head replied.

“Are you angry with me?”

“A bit.” Silence. “More than that, I’m disappointed in you.”

“Aibou, if I could force myself to like him, I would. But I can’t.”

“You can; you just choose not to, Yami.”

Closing his eyes, he took a moment to gather himself before speaking. “You seem quite certain of yourself.”

“I am.”

“And why is that?”

“Because you’re not even trying; you’ve never tried with him.”

“And how would you know that?”

“Because when you try, you usually succeed.”

He smirked to himself. “You know, more than anybody else, that I don’t win every battle.”

Yugi shifted in his spot a bit. “I know you more than anybody else, in general; you didn’t afford him one ounce of kindness at any point today when you had ample opportunity.”

“Frankly, he didn’t seem to want any kindness from me -- not with the way he was behaving.”

“Please stop trying to ret con the day; I was there through most of it, and I know for a fact that he was trying to be friendly toward you. Every olive branch he offered you was snatched out of his hand and cracked in half.”

A bit of anger churned in his stomach. “You didn’t interpret any of his words as disrespectful? Not one?”

“What I saw was a man you wanted nothing to do with try to engage with you, then become frustrated -- and justifiably so -- when you continued to be a brick wall with him.”

Going silent, he rolled Yugi’s words around in his mind for a bit. “Maybe you’re partly correct.”

“...Partly?”

“OK; maybe you’re correct.”

“...Maybe?”

He drew a quiet sigh. “If I promise to try harder tomorrow, will that be enough?”

Yugi paused. “Maybe.”

Rolling his eyes, he couldn’t help but smile. “Is it OK if I snuggle you?”

“No.”

He furrowed his brow. “No?”

“I’m tired. But I suppose you can give me a hug.”

Once he slid over to his partner, he wrapped an arm around his middle, pressing his body against Yugi’s. The smell of bonfire was still in the little one’s hair, and he couldn’t help but take a long inhale as he spooned him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” It almost seemed that Yugi was moving on instinct, as he pushed back against him. “You promise you’ll try harder?”

“Yes. I promise.”

Seto and Jounouchi

Once Jounouchi put down the hair dryer, he gave his clean, dry, bouncing do a shake, then entered the bedroom from the ensuite bathroom.

“Hey.” Seto’s gaze didn’t leave the screen of his phone; even still, he looked irresistibly snuggle-worthy, all bundled up in bed.

“Hey, yourself.” He climbed into bed next to him. “What’re you up to?”

“Texting Mokuba.”

“Oh, how’s he doing?”

“He’s fine.” Seto placed the phone on the night stand. “He really likes Yugi’s new game.”

He grinned, snuggling up to the brunette, draping an arm across his slender stomach. “Yugi just keeps on making us that ‘fuck-you’ money, doesn’t he?”

“That’s why I hired him.” Seto kissed the top of Jou’s head, then went silent.

...For a moment.

“How stupid do you think I am?”

Jou’s eyes went wide in terror. “...HUH?”

“Are you going to admit that you lied, or are you just going to keep going with it?”

“Lied? Lied about what?”

“Please. You weren’t afraid for a second that things wouldn’t be like they were in high school.”

He sighed. “That was fast.”

“Did you honestly expect anything less?”

“No, I just...” he snuggled his face against the crook of Seto’s shoulder, “didn’t want you to get stressed out or bitchy about the fact that those four are having some issues. I was even a bit scared that you’d regret having them around because of the bickering.”

There was a short breath above him. “I’m not sure if that says more about me, or more about you.”

“I didn’t mean--”

“Am I really that un-compassionate?”

He squeezed the taller one a bit harder. “No, that’s not it. I just didn’t want you to be on-edge; I know how much you need to unwind, and I didn’t want to make things awkward, but I didn’t want them to not be here.” He gave him a kiss on the chest. “I’m sorry. And, not for nothing, you’re one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met.”

“You didn’t always believe that, though.”

“No. No, I didn’t.” He smiled. “But, then again, I didn’t really know you when I thought that.”

A long, slender hand snaked its way around Jou’s shoulder and squeezed. “I didn’t really know you, either, Puppy.”

“Hey now...”

A deep laugh reverberated in Seto’s chest. “I want to help them work things out.”

“I’m relieved that you feel that way, because that’s how I feel, too.” Stretching his neck, he turned his head toward Seto’s throat and mouthed the delicate skin. “Why’re you so perfect?”

“Hm.” The short laugh was followed by a deep sigh; it vibrated against Jou’s mouth. “I think you’re far more appropriately situated to answer that question than I am.” Skinny fingers wove their way into Jou’s hair, grasping lightly at the blond locks.

“Maybe,” he whispered before running his tongue against the brunette’s neck.

Once he lifted the covers a bit, he crawled on top of his partner. Running his hands up Seto’s chest, he overwhelmed his mouth with his own; the brunette’s hands came up to desperately cradle his face, surrendering to his admonishments.

One by one, Jou popped each button of his lover’s pajama top open, and when his shapely chest was completely exposed, he pulled away from those tempting lips to kiss a frenzied trail down his torso.

Squirming under his touch, Seto panted, pawing at the top of Jou’s head as it descended toward his belt line.

Right then left, Jou draped either of his partner’s legs over his shoulders, then smiled up at him. “I guess you’re still in the mood?”

“Shut up.” The droll reply came with a slightly amused expression, and it made him smile even wider.

He rose until the brunette’s rear lifted from the bed; fingers hooked around the waist of Seto’s pants and pulled until they were down to his mid thigh. Ever so delicately, he guided one long, devastatingly sexy leg out of its pajama prison, and immediately attacked the smooth, warm skin of his inner thigh.

“Mm...!” Seto arched his back, his head lulling against the pillow, digging the heel of the targeted leg into Jou’s back.

Moving up the thigh, working his lips and tongue along the way, he eventually came to the delicious junction where the leg met the hip, eliciting a muffled moan from his other. While Seto was distracted, he gently lowered the still clothed leg onto the bed, then gave his member an agonizingly slow lick up the entirety of the length.

There was a soft thud next to him; cocking his head, he looked over to find that Seto’d tossed a bottle of lubricant beside them, and smiled.

He reached under Seto’s propped up leg, snatched the bottle, then pushed himself up into a sit on his knees. Finally, the brunette took his leg off of Jou’s shoulder. Even though he loved having those impossibly long legs all over him, he let it happen; he had to get his pants off, anyway.

Once he maneuvered out of his pants, he slathered the clear liquid onto himself. “So soon?”

“I’ve been waiting for hours,” the brunette nearly whined.

Blowing a laugh out of his nose, Jou pulled his shirt over his head, tossed it aside, then inched up closer to his partner.

Seto pulled his knees up toward his chest, hooking a hand under each of them, and Jou leaned forward, between them: he braced himself by the heels of his palms, then came up to give his partner a kiss.

A gentle hand came to his erection; Seto guided him to the place he wanted him, and once he was there, Jou began his slow, gentle push inside.

They both vocalized, moaning into one another’s mouths, and eventually, Seto turned his head to the side to break the kiss and gasp for air.

“You OK?” he whispered.

Blue eyes gazed up at him; swollen parted lips slightly opened and closed with each labored breath he took. “Yes.”

With a loving smile, he collapsed down onto Seto, buried his face in his neck, and began to thrust into him.

“Hey.”

“Mm?”

“Could you push the other pant leg off of me? It’s distracting.”

“Yeah.” Jou snickered, then complied with his lover’s request. “Sorry; I forgot.”

“You get so horny, you don’t know what you’re doing sometimes, I swear to God...”

He lifted himself so that he could see Seto’s face, a wide grin on his lips. “You’re such a spoiled brat.”

“Then give me what I want.” He looped an arm around Jou’s neck and pulled him in for a deep kiss.

Settling into Seto’s embrace, he pumped up into his body. After making love to the same person for around a decade, he knew exactly how his little spoiled brat preferred it: long, slow thrusts with their torsos making as much contact as possible. Seto’s legs wrapped tightly around his lower back, pulling him closer, pushing himself up to grind against him...driving him further and further toward the edge.

The thrusts began to quicken as he felt that familiar build up, and--

“Wait!” He tore his mouth from Seto’s to gasp the word.

Narrowing in amusement, that blue-eyed gaze bore into him. “Already?”

Jou rolled his eyes. “Hey, don’t give me that; if you want me to last longer, stop egging me on like that.”

“Hmhm.” He grinned. “Very well. Hop on.”

In a slow, careful motion, he pulled out of the brunette, then reached over for the lubricant once more; this time, though, he greased up Seto’s erection.

Once Seto lowered his legs, Jou straddled his slight hips, took hold of his partner’s member, and guided it into himself.

Those beautiful hands slid slowly up Jou’s thighs as he lowered himself down; already, he could feel Seto’s length nudge against the spot inside of him that made him see stars, and he nearly lost it. His eyes squeezed shut as he tried to hold himself back.

“Was that a good face or a bad face?” When he opened his eyes, he could clearly make out the concern swimming in Seto’s eyes.

After a few short breaths, he smiled. “Good. Too good.”

His partner’s features relaxed. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Are you close?”

He nodded. “I’m decently close.”

“Want me to just go for it?”

“Yeah.” Seto gave him a slight smile.

He sat up a bit, then eased back down...sat up...eased back down, feeling his body become used to the substantial piece of Seto inside of him. And once it felt right, he began sliding up and slamming down hard, just the way he liked it.

“Mm...” The brunette made a growl. His fingertips grabbed at Jou’s hips, digging into him.

But Jou’s hand...it came to his own erection. Grabbing hard, he pumped himself in double-time of the thrusting rhythm he’d established, but--

“I’m coming...” The sexy whisper tumbled out of Seto’s mouth, drop-kicking him straight over the edge of his own orgasm.

“HM...!” Come flew hard out of him as his body spasmed and jerked, sending him into a bliss-filled stupor.

Once he regained his senses, he stared down at the pulchritude below him; Seto’s arm laid over his eyes as his chest heaved, and it made him smile.

“Happy,” pant, “now,” pant, “you brat?”

Lifting his arm, Seto grinned up at him. “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Five and a half years ago...

Yugi collapsed onto the bed of the hotel room with dramatic gusto, letting out a loud, yet somehow relieved, sigh. "I can't remember the last time I was this tired..."

Ryou giggled at him before digging through his suitcase. "You should be grateful for that fatigue."

Turning his head toward him, Yugi raised an eyebrow. "Grateful?"

He nodded. "It's morning in Japan, night time here; if you sleep soon, you'll be on New York time in the morning. So, it's kind of a blessing."

The smaller one dragged his hands down his face. "It doesn't feel like one."

"A blessing in disguise, then." Pajamas in-hand, he rose to a stand, then ruffled his friend's tri-colored hair. "You'll get through it."

"Meh!" He swatted at him.

"I'm going to get ready for bed." He snickered.

"I guess I will, too..." the little one grumbled, pushing himself up to a sit.

After his nighttime rituals, he traded spaces with Yugi in the bathroom, then crawled into bed; it really had been a long day and, tired enough to sleep or not, he was ready to at least close his eyes...

...So, he did.

But the silence in his mind was deafening.

Something lurched in his chest, his breath caught in his throat, and his eyes shot open.

Yugi stood at the foot of the bed, his head tilted, his expression concerned. "Are you OK?"

Forcing a smile, he nodded. "I'm fine. Are you ready for bed?"

The little one blotted his lips. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Blowing a short-winded sigh out of his nose, he stared at him for a moment. "After so many years, there’s not much to say that hasn't already been said."

After making his way to the side of the bed, Yugi sat down on it, laying a hand on one of Ryou's. "Having nothing new to say about it doesn't mean you're over it."

He looked up at Yugi, whose violet eyes were gazing distantly at the bed. "I know," he whispered.

They stayed quiet for a few moments before he turned his hand over to give Yugi's a squeeze. "Do you want to cuddle?"

"Yes." Even though it was a single word, it was saturated in a loneliness and despair that only the two of them could understand.

Lifting the sheets, he beckoned the little one in, and Yugi immediately obliged his request. Yugi laid his head on his shoulder, draping his short arm around him. 

Turning toward him, he drew Yugi in tightly, giving him a loving kiss on his head. "Oh! Hold on a moment." Making a strained sound, he leaned forward and turned off the light, eliciting a tiny giggle out of his friend, then re-situated himself.

Drawing in a contented breath, Yugi nuzzled his face against his neck. "Thank you."

He smiled to himself, petting the boy's colorful hair. "You don't have to thank me."

"Yes, I do." Yugi's lips moved against his skin as he breathed the nearly whispered words. "You don't understand how much this helps me."

"It helps me, too." He closed his eyes. "I know much you miss him."

"And I know how much you miss him...how hard it is...how much it hurts...so, even if you can only repeat yourself, I want you to talk to me whenever you need to."

Giving Yugi's head a loving scratch, he let out a sigh. "Same to you."

Silence.

"Ryou?"

"Yes?"

"What's our schedule again?"

"Dinner tomorrow with some executives with Kaiba Corp, meetings the following two days with the gaming division, then, we have a day off, and the next day, God willing, the final product review."

"That's the one Kaiba's coming to, right?"

"Mmhmm. So, let's try hard to make him happy."

"OK." Yugi made a sleepy squeak, followed by a heavy exhale that warmed his neck. "Let's get some good sleep."

"OK." He pushed a knee between Yugi's thighs, and they cuddled even closer together.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city...

Her eyes opened. It was the middle of the night and, somehow, her apartment was quiet for a Manhattan home; no car alarms, people talking outside, or anything else that might wake somebody in a city.

She tried to remember her dream: A cavern...a cave?

Useless. It was gone.

But there was a familiarity to the scenery...an almost nostalgic feeling of home.

Rubbing her eyes, she sat up in bed, then glanced at the alarm clock: 3:33 a.m.

But when she looked away from the clock, she saw something that she could never'd been prepared to see: The glowing form of a man, draped in robes, his head wrapped with a turban, staring at her with lifeless eyes.

Eyes wide, her whole body trembling in fear, she back-peddled up the bed.

And just as she began to question her sanity, the form opened his mouth to speak one simple sentence.

Three days later...

"It's so cold!" Yugi whined.

It was finally Yugi and Ryou's day off.

...Too bad that they had to spend most of it stuck in their hotel room, preparing for a meeting the next day.

The sunset triggered a near-temper tantrum from Ryou, as it dawned on him that they'd seen barely any of the city, so he forced Yugi to go out and play with him.

The mood in midtown was decidedly festive: Christmas was drawing near, and there were signs of it everywhere. Store windows had elaborate displays, people wound through the crowds with stuffed shopping bags, and Christmas music oozed out of every doorway.

Ryou wanted to finally see Rockefeller Center in person, and was delighted to watch all of the people ice skating there, but Yugi was being an absolute poop about the weather.

"Oh, it's not that cold." Ryou gave him a playful nudge and a smile.

"Yes it is!" the little one argued, rubbing his hands together.

Giving him a patient grin, Ryou stared at him for a moment, preparing to say something placating, but before he could open his mouth, something caught his eye a few feet away. "Come on; let's go buy you some mittens."

Yugi gave him a pouty nod.

Taking the smaller one by the hand, he directed them over to vender -- the one who'd captured his attention -- who was selling all kinds of cute, animal-themed mittens. After getting approval from Yugi, he bought a pair of bear mittens, and handed them over to the little one.

"Oh, thank you, Ryou!" Yugi giggled as he slid them onto his hands. "They're so cute!"

But he was hardly listening.

The vender was the first of many, set up along a winding path, and he soon realized that it was a sort of Christmas shopping bazaar.

A shiver of curiosity went through him.

"Are you warmer now?" He smiled at his cohort.

"Mm!" Yugi nodded; he looked so cute, all bundled up in his thick scarf and new mittens.

"Oh, good!" He took Yugi by the hand again. "Let's go explore, then, shall we?"

"Kay!"

They wandered here, there, and everywhere, looking at all of the goods; they even bought a few things to give as gifts for coworkers and personal relations.

Just as he handed his money to a vendor, Ryou felt a tug on his sleeve, and found Yugi staring off a few yards away. "What's wrong?"

Bear-mittened fingers gestured at a small, closed tent. "What does that sign say? You know how bad I am at English."

He squinted in the dim light. "...Past life readings." Eyes going wide, he bounced on his toes a bit. "Can we try it?"

Obviously hesitant, Yugi looked up at him. "I'd be lying if I told you I weren't interested...and I know how much you like occult stuff, but with what happened to us--"

"Please?" Allowing all of the excitement and desperation he felt to show plainly on his face, he put his hands together, as one would in prayer. "It'll be fun -- I know it will!"

A smile struggled onto the slighter one's face. "OK. Let's do it."

They took each other’s hands as they made their way over to the tent, Ryou leading the way; once they got there, he pushed the flap open and peaked in at the young woman who sat behind a small table, looking bored out of her mind. "Excuse me?" he called in English.

"Oh!" she peeped with a start, then smiled at him. "Please, come in, come in!"

Smiling back at her, he dragged Yugi into the tent.

She gestured toward the two chairs in front of the table, then tucked her dark hair behind her ears. "Please, have a seat."

"Thank you," he sang, then switched back to Japanese for Yugi. "She wants us to sit down."

Yugi nodded, as they both settled onto their respective chairs. "Oowa! It's so warm in here...I love it!"

Ryou giggled. "She was smart to bring a space heater."

"You're Japanese?" the woman asked in Japanese.

Both of them looked at her, then each other, stunned.

"Yes," he answered in his native tongue. "You speak it?"

She smiled, then gave him a nod. "I learned in college, then studied abroad in Japan for a year. I've only been back in the U.S. for two years."

"Thank goodness!" Yugi placed a hand on his chest. "I suck at English!"

They all laughed.

"Well," she tilted her head, "don't get TOO excited; I may not know a few words."

"It's OK. We'll figure it out." Ryou beamed at her.

"I hope so!" She beamed back. "You know...I can't put my finger on it, but," she gestured toward Yugi, "you seem really familiar to me, somehow. Are you from Nagoya, by any chance?"

Yugi slowly shook his head. "No. I've never even been there before."

"Huh." After considering him for a moment, she shrugged, then gave him a grin. "Maybe we knew each other in a past life." She gave him a wink.

Yugi snickered.

"Speaking of which...you both want past life readings?"

They both nodded at her.

"It won't be too much trouble to do two, will it?" Yugi wrung his hands. "We don't want you to have to turn anybody back into the cold."

"Oh," she waved at him, rolling her eyes, "you don't need to worry about having a line behind you; barely anybody is interested in their past lives. All they want to know about is the present or the future: who they're going to marry, is their partner cheating on them...that kind of thing. I'd make so much more money if I could do those types of readings, but all I can do are past lives."

Ryou shook his head. "That's so strange. Who wouldn't want to know about their past lives? They're SO interesting!"

"I think so, too." She smiled. "So, who's first?"

He looked at Yugi. "Would you like to go first?"

The smaller one shook his head. "You go first. I want to know what to expect."

"For real?"

Yugi nodded.

"You're sure?"

Yugi nodded.

"Thank you!" He smiled.

The woman snickered. "The Japanese 'ask three times rule,' huh?"

He and Yugi giggled.

"OK." The woman put her hands palms-up on the table. "Put your hands in mine." Once he complied, she took a deep breath, then closed her eyes. They all went quiet for a few moments, until she finally spoke. "...So, the first thing coming to me is ancient Egypt."

"We know," he and Yugi said, simultaneously.

Eyes staying closed, she smiled. "Want me to explore a different one, then?"

"Please."

"You got it." Again, she went silent, but this time, her expression became tense...eyebrows furrowed, eyes squeezing in strain. "...Um..."

He and Yugi leaned forward, rapt.

"...OK, this is going to sound REALLY strange, but...it's like there's a part of your soul from your Egyptian life that seems to've..." her lips went tense, "well, in English, the phrase would be 'splintered off' from the rest of you, and he...wants me to tell you something. It must be important, because he's literally blocking me from looking at any of your other lives until I help him."

Eyes wide, he leaned forward; he could actually feel the color drain from his face. "I want to know what he has to say."

A mittened hand grabbed him by the crook of his elbow.

She paused for a moment. "He says that the two of you were severed from one another in the wrong way, and at the wrong time." Looking confused at her own words, she shook her head in resolve, then continued on. "He says that he's trapped somewhere between worlds, and that since he's a part of you, you'll join him there instead of reincarnate if you don't act as his host again and heal what was damaged..." Her sentence trailed off, and her eyes opened. "I don't like this. It's...it's not normal. And it doesn't even really make sense. Maybe we should sto--"

"NO!" he yelped, his eyes filled with tears. "I mean...please; I need to hear this."

Tightening a corner of her mouth, she stared at him for a bit. "If you're sure...but--"

"Ask him...please ask him if he knows how we can do what he needs me to do."

Heaving a hesitant sigh, she closed her eyes again. "...He says the...I hope this makes sense to you...the keepers of the pharaoh's memory can help you...? And that you need to return to Egypt--" She paused abruptly. "OK. This has taken on a whole new level of strangeness."

"Why? What happened?"

"Another presence has somehow pushed its way into this conversation, and..." she opened her eyes and looked directly at Yugi, "he looks almost exactly like you."

He turned his head toward Yugi, whose mouth was hanging open. "That has to be the other me!" The little one had tears streaming down his face. "My Yami!"

"Yugi..." he whispered, becoming even more emotional than he already was.

Wiping the tears from his face with his sleeve, Yugi hiccuped. "What did he say?"

Obviously endeared with Yugi's reaction, she pressed her lips together. "He said that the thief will not be hosted unless he is, too. He doesn't trust," she looked at Ryou, "your fragment to be unleashed in the world without him."

"What?" Yugi squeaked. "Does that...does that mean...?"

The boys looked at each other, stunned.

"Are they saying anything else?" Ryou looked back at her.

"...Um..." She closed her eyes for moment, then looked back at them with a strained smile. "Not really...they're just kind of arguing."

"That's them, all right." Yugi gave a tearful giggle, and he joined in.

The woman blinked at them. "Wait a minute...this stuff is actually making sense to you?"

They both nodded.

"It's making perfect sense." Yugi smiled through his ever-lessening tears. "All except for how we go about fixing this."

"The keepers of the pharaoh's memories..." He looked over at Yugi. "The only ones who fit that description would be Malik and Ishizu."

"There is another." An accented male voice came from behind them.

When he looked behind him, he saw the familiar, turbin-wearing spirit staring straight in the past life reader's direction.

The woman let go of Ryou's hands, jumped to a stand, knocked over the table, and backed up as far away as she could from the spirit without falling out of the tent.

"Shadi?" Yugi went wide-eyed.

Pretty much ignoring Yugi, Shadi continued to stare at the woman. "Do you remember what I told you?"

They both looked at the woman, who was obviously scared out of her mind.

"I...you...how did you get into my room that night" she screeched.

"It's OK," Yugi stood to approach her. "Shadi's a spirit -- a good spirit. He must've had an important message for you."

"Do you remember?" Shadi repeated.

Taking a moment to collect herself, she eventually nodded. "He said 'you were an Ishtar.'"

He and Yugi looked at each other.

"No..." Yugi started.

"...way," Ryou finished.

"In another life, you carried the pharaoh's secrets on your back," Shadi continued. "And now, you are being called upon to serve him once more, by doing something only you can do: rejoin broken souls."

Blink, blink. "But I have no CLUE how to do that! The only thing that I know how to do with souls is read the memories off of them...nothing else."

"Every gift mankind is granted has a purpose, and your gift is no exception. Your ability to recover forgotten memories is essential to healing fragmentation; you possess the capability, but are simply unaware of it because you've never tried to do so before."

"Hold on." Ryou put his hand up in front of him. "Is--" he looked at the past life reader, "...I'm sorry; I never asked your name."

"It's Sabrina." She looked gratefully caught off guard somehow, offering him a small smile.

He smiled back. "Thank you. Is Sabrina only capable of healing fragmented souls because of her connection to the Ishtars?"

"No," Shadi answered. "She's being put in the position to help because of her connection to the Ishtars; her ability is a matter of coincidence. Once a keeper, always a keeper."

Sabrina found her chair, once more, and sank down into it in silence.

"Sabrina?" Yugi's tiny voice finally spoke.

"Hm?" She looked at him.

"I know this really must seem strange for you, but..." he wrung his hands, "do you think you could try to help us?"