The wet thump of a fist meeting flesh was an ordinary enough sound in the back corridor of Fielding Hall, out of sight of the teachers in the minutes between classes. Students weren't supposed to be in the maintenance tunnels, but when your English class immediately followed Chemistry it was the only way to get there by the bell.
Lex's first thought was to be glad it wasn't him this time. He was immediately ashamed to have such a thought, unworthy of a Luthor in the implied cowardice. Half-assed beatings from lazy, unpracticed society brats and politicians' sons were no worse than the marks earned from his private fencing instructor; the aches rarely lingered more than a day, and his peers were as careful as Henrik not to inflict permanent damage. And little matter if he was a favorite target because of his freak baldness, and because his bruises never lasted, never clear enough for the teachers to notice or call him on them. Thankfully; the hour he went whining to a teacher who made less in a year than his father did in a day was the hour he proved himself undeserving of all he stood to inherit. He remembered every face and name. He would pay them back with the obliged interest when he had the means.
But for now he slowed his steps, not so much as to plod, but leisurely enough that by the time he turned the corner the other boys had ambled off, high-fiving and laughing as they wiped their knuckles with monogrammed handkerchiefs. The wreck they left behind was sitting up, his back to the painted cement blocks, staunching blood from his nose with a paper towel. He probably carried some with him; he wasn't crying, was making no sound except his rasping breaths. Used to this.
Lex stopped before him. The boy looked up, not flinching, not challenging; neither prey nor predator, only curious. Evaluating. He didn't blink at Lex's bald head, and if he was in pain or angry it didn't show in his smooth motion, as swift and alien as a reptile's. Lex recognized him as one of the Asian exchange students, here for one semester to perfect their English and provide a respite for the customary targets of the bored and boorish.
Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or other. Lex took a chance. "Daijoubu desu ka?"
The boy's eyelids flickered once, like a lizard's. "I'm fine," he said, shoving himself to his feet and picking up his bag. Standing, he was tall for a Japanese kid, thin and gawky. "Do you enjoy running late, or are you here for your Japanese lesson?" His English was excellent, not flat or hesitant but biting.
Lex shrugged, let himself smile. The boy was a class below him; a fourteen-year-old's attitude was hard to find insulting. "There's blood on your sleeve," he said helpfully.
The boy ignored him. He had put his hand to his pocket, and his eyelids flickered again; then he cast his gaze around the hall, stooping low to peer under the heating unit. "Chikusho," he muttered under his breath, "nakushite wa ikenai..."
Lex looked around the floor, lifted one shoe and the other carefully and then bent down. He spotted a corner of white wedged beneath the ventilation grating by his feet, felt along the edge until he slipped it free and picked it up. "This what you're looking for?"
It was a photograph, stained and creased, of two little kids playing chess. He held it out and the boy snatched it from him, returned it to his pocket without glancing at it. "Thank you," he said stiffly, jerking his head down in a nod that was probably an aborted bow.
"No problem," Lex said. "Lex Luthor." He put out his hand.
The boy took it after a moment. "Seto Kaiba," he said, just as stiffly. His eyes were dark, but going towards blue in the light instead of brown, oddly mismatched to his Asian features. Colored contacts, or else a mutation.
"So, see you here again," Lex said sardonically, but Seto Kaiba didn't answer his smile, just turned and strode away, fast enough to remind Lex he was late himself. And Ms Calloway's English class was never worth skipping. She might not be wearing nylons today. He hurried the other direction down the hall.
Lex saw Seto Kaiba again two days later, at lunch. Kaiba was sitting with the chess club, not eating but playing three games simultaneously, turned from one board to the next, picking up pieces and setting them down with a bored look. Lex, a sometimes member himself, took a seat next to the club president and began stripping his croissant layer by layer. "New kid any good?"
Bradley was somewhere between casual acquaintance and friendly rival. He ranked as a junior grandmaster; Lex routinely beat him in private matches but bored of tournaments before winning any rank himself. The senior stared at Lex now. "Are you kidding? His father's a grandmaster."
"And he taught his son well?"
"There's a rumor," Bradley said, lowering his voice as if imparting state secrets, "that Seto beat his father. When he was only ten years old."
"Is that so." Lex watched Kaiba move another piece. His opponent sighed, shoved back his chair and knocked the board off the table with a nudge of his elbow that might have just been clumsiness.
"Hey, none of that!" Bradley protested, getting up.
Lex finished shredding his croissant, ate the chocolate center as he watched Kaiba soundly trounce his other two adversaries without breaking a sweat or a smile, then got up and took the seat across from him most recently vacated. "So you were one of the kids in that photo," Lex said. "Playing chess."
"Luthor," Kaiba said by way of greeting, and didn't answer.
Lex picked up three white pawns, placed them on the board. "Up for another match?"
Kaiba still didn't smile, but he picked up the black pieces and began to arrange them. "Sure."
Kaiba played silently and quickly, rarely hesitating more than a moment before choosing his piece. Lex preferred to take his time, considering strategies and amending tactics as the game progressed. But their gameplay was similarly vicious. Lex had always been a brutal player, more interested in crushing his opponent with evident dominance than the finesse of a careful trap. He fought to take control of the board as soon as possible and battled to keep it. A good defense is a good offense, was always the Luthor way.
Kaiba was just as ruthless, forgoing forks and feints to wage a war of attrition, content to sacrifice piece after piece as long as Lex lost his as well and always pushing onward. By endgame the board was decimated and Lex was sure Kaiba was going to force a stalemate, only to get a look at Kaiba's eyes, gaze locked on the few remaining pieces and his mind working invisibly behind that opaque blue. No surrender; Kaiba disdained of a draw as much as Lex himself. Anything but a clear win was a loss, and that was untenable. Lex wasn't surprised to soon find himself boxed into a mate in three. He knocked over his king and nodded across the board. "Good game."
A smattering of applause broke out among the geeks gathered around their table. "Play you again sometime?" Lex asked.
Kaiba looked at him. He hadn't smiled once during their game and didn't now, but there was such interest in the way he leaned forward, obsession burning in that thin body that appealed to Lex as much as the need to win, the need to prove himself. Kaiba was good but Lex was better; he only needed to get a handle on the younger boy, understand which way the wheels in his head turned.
It wasn't an unpleasant proposition. Kaiba was handsome enough, pretty really, in the androgynous way Asian boys could be, not exactly feminine but delicately featured. The thick brown hair falling in his eyes couldn't hide their striking blue. And for all the angular ungainliness of adolescence, he moved gracefully, lithe and swift, the sinuous certain purpose of a snake through grass.
"All right," Kaiba said, "I'll beat you again sometime," and Lex smiled.
It took Lex three days to ascertain Kaiba's dorm room, and another three days for his roommate to be busy in the library for the evening. Lex showed up at his door with a few books for the offer of English tutoring and a portable chess game.
As it turned out that Kaiba's roommate had his own full-sized board, so they set that up instead. Without an audience Lex was comfortable filling the silence. "I play with my dad now," he said, "but my mother first taught me how to play. On her grandfather's hand-carved ivory set, she left it to me. It's at home now. Did you learn from your father?"
"Yes," Kaiba said.
"He's a grandmaster, I heard."
"I learned from my real father," Kaiba said, not sharply but flat. "He had no rank. My adopted father's a grandmaster."
"And you can beat him."
Kaiba didn't answer that. He moved his queen, captured one of Lex's bishops.
"That photo you have," Lex asked. "Is the other boy your brother?"
"Yes," Kaiba said, flat again, sounding bored. It would have been convincing if Lex didn't remember how keenly Kaiba had been searching the floor for his photo, how quick he had been to grab it from Lex's hand.
"I had a little brother myself," Lex said, hearing his voice go soft and distant, the way it always did when he talked about Julian. "He died a few years ago, as a baby. I always wondered what it would be like to really have a brother. If he'd gotten old enough, what we could've done together. Maybe we would have played chess."
A single bishop did him no good anyway. Lex moved it to fork Kaiba's rook and knight, forcing a sacrifice. Eye for an eye.
Kaiba didn't immediately choose either piece. Lex raised his gaze from the board to find Kaiba's blue eyes on him. Not sympathetic at all. Maybe angry. Maybe accusing and Lex had to steel himself not to flinch, like he was facing his own father, hand raised and face a mask of rage. Though if he was angry then Kaiba's rage was cold, ice-blue as his eyes. And Kaiba couldn't know his sin anyway, would have no way of knowing; Lex's father had seen that not a wisp of rumor about his child's death had ever escaped.
But he was angry, for whatever reasons, and the sickness in the pit of Lex's stomach wasn't his own temper answering but the sucking hollow of guilt. He pushed the chess board to the side. "Whatever. We can finish this later."
"It's my mate in six anyway," Kaiba observed.
Lex cast his eyes back to the board. The boy was right.
There was a video game console plugged into the small television on one dresser. "Yours?" Lex asked, grabbing a controller.
"My roommate's," Kaiba said. "I'm not here to play games."
Which didn't stop him from kicking Lex's ass in Street Fighter, F-Zero, and even Warrior Angel Whirl, which Lex not only could play with his eyes closed but was pretty sure hadn't even been released in Japan. After a while he gave up trying to win and settled back on the couch to watch Kaiba instead. The boy played video games like he played chess, sitting straight up and focused on the screen, working the controller with an expert economy of motion that seemed too intense to be enjoyable.
Lex watched the light from the flickering TV screen playing over Kaiba's round young face, the passionate focus there. Like there was something in the balance far greater than a simple game, like losing would be his death. He wondered what Kaiba would do if he lost. He wondered if Kaiba had that expression when he came, open eyes and closed mouth.
When the roommate returned they were on the chair together, Lex perched on the padded arm leaning on Kaiba's shoulder, far too close, but Kaiba didn't twist away for all the precepts of Japanese modesty, merely glanced over at his roommate and said, "We're borrowing your system, Wong."
"All right, okay," replied the other boy, doing a poor job of not staring. Lex smiled at him, made a show of stretching, his hand grazing Kaiba's shoulder, as he yawned, "It's late, I should get back before curfew. I'll see you around."
He felt Wong's eyes follow him out, but not Kaiba's, which was a disappointment. But as he opened the door, Kaiba said, "See you later, Luthor."
Lex gave the roommate a cheery wave, and walked out.
Lex had an acquaintance in student records. Kaiba's GPA was almost as high as his own, and his demerits were significantly less; in fact he was a model student, though teachers complained about their inability to draw him out of his shell, about his lack of friends.
He was the adopted heir of Gozaburo Kaiba, the CEO of Kaiba Corporation, a Japanese mega-conglomerate best known for defense contracts among a host of other interests. LuthorCorp wasn't generally in direct competition with any of their companies, and Lex didn't know if their fathers had ever met. Gozaburo looked nothing like his adopted son, to tell from the picture in the KaibaCorp annual report, a stout gray-haired man with a mustache and a cigar, none of Seto's slender serpentine strength.
Lex met Kaiba after his calculus class, when according to his schedule they both had a free period, sidling into the classroom as the underclassmen filed out. Kaiba in the back was busy at his laptop.
"Working on your own computer game?" Lex inquired, leaning over his shoulder to check out the diagrams on the screen.
"Hardly," Kaiba returned. "You wouldn't understand."
Lex sat himself on the desktop next to Kaiba's. They were alone, with no class here next. The teacher had taken his books and briefcase with him, gone to a late lunch. "It looks like a design for a holographic simulation chamber. Virtual reality?"
Kaiba closed the laptop. "Wong warned me about you."
"That I'm interested in complex electronics almost to the level of prime geekhood?"
"That you like to play games with the other boys. And not only chess."
Lex leaned back on the desk. His blazer was open and the top two buttons of his shirt undone, baring the column of his neck and the dimpled outlines of his collarbone. He didn't know if Kaiba considered himself gay or straight or too young to care; in his experience such considerations were meaningless in the long run. Kaiba was watching him now, blue stare alight with curiosity, or more.
"So are you going to run away?"
"I don't run away."
Of course not; that would be too like losing. Lex tilted back his head, regarded Kaiba through half-shut eyes as he ran his tongue over the scar on his upper lip.
Kaiba stood, arms straight at his side, chin lifted. With Lex sitting on the desk their gazes were level, blue on blue. "I told you, I'm not here to play games," Kaiba said. "I'm here to learn."
"Want a tutor?" Lex murmured, and stretched out his hand to touch Kaiba's face, stroked his fingers down his cheek.
Kaiba didn't move, probably didn't breathe. Like a startled rabbit. Or a snake stilled the moment before striking. But he opened his mouth when Lex kissed him.
Not submitting, not even close. But some games have more than one winner. Lex could teach him that much, at least.
Lex's roommate was gone for the night, enjoying a study session clandestinely supplied with illegal beer. Kaiba sat on his couch the same as he sat anywhere, back ramrod straight, hands folded before him. He kissed back when Lex kissed him but his spine didn't relax. Even when he brought up his hands to grab at Lex's shirt, pulling him closer, it was premeditated, as tactically correct as his chess moves.
But his mouth was hot and he learned fast. Lex hadn't had so much fun in months.
Though when he reached down to the button on Kaiba's slacks, the boy went rigid. Lex took pity. "Don't worry," he murmured into his ear, other arm curled around his tense shoulders. Kaiba was hard under the trousers, had to be uncomfortably tight, but his back was so stiff it could crack in half. "This'll be good."
Lex had lost his virginity at thirteen, and had enjoyed the majority of the two years since. He kissed the boy again, hard and deep, then slithered off the couch onto his knees, pulled down Kaiba's zipper to free his cock.
Kaiba's hands closed over the couch cushions, his fingers digging deep furrows in the padding. His erection was dying, shrinking as his shoulders hunched in. His eyes were open, all their intensity fixed on nothing, and his face was unguarded for that moment. Furious.
He was trembling. "Hey," Lex said. "It's okay." He climbed back up beside the boy. "First time, huh." Dropping his hand to Kaiba's arm, he felt the vibrations shaking the whole couch. "It won't hurt."
"It isn't the first time."
Lex followed the tense hunched lines of his body with his eyes and nodded in recognition. "Your father."
"Adopted father," Kaiba corrected, savagely. "My father's been dead for years—chikusho!" He turned his head away. His eyes were dry but his throat worked as he struggled to master his expression. Not fear, not pain, just rage. Against himself as much as his adopted father. "Do it, Luthor," he grated.
"I can't," Lex said. "Forcing you would be my loss."
Kaiba glared at him. Lex shrugged. "Those are the rules of seduction. You have to want it." He leaned forward. Not quite close enough to touch, but Kaiba would feel the warmth of his breath on his cheeks. "I have to make you want it."
Kaiba drew a breath. "If those are the rules," he said, and then he was on Lex, kneeling on the couch straddling his lap. It was the first kiss he had initiated and it was vicious and feral and desperately hot. Lex arched his back up into him and Kaiba ground his hips down, not hard yet but getting there.
When Kaiba yanked down his zipper, when Kaiba took a deep breath and then slid down between his legs to wrap his soft boy's mouth around the head of his cock, Lex choked and came almost immediately. And Kaiba smiled, a victorious, assured smirk that lasted unmarred even as he wiped come from his cheek with his sleeve.
Though when Lex took him into his arms, he was still shaking a little.
The third time Kaiba beat him with a perfect score at Warrior Angel Whirl, Lex had to ask, "So how many times have you played this? Are you a big Warrior Angel fan or what?"
"I've never heard of him." They were lying down together on the couch, Kaiba in front of Lex, propped up on their elbows to hold the controllers. Being horizontal or vertical or having Lex's hand stroking his chest or Lex's tongue in his ear didn't have a significant effect on Kaiba's final score. "And the game is shit."
"Those are fighting words," Lex warned, and batting the controller out of Kaiba's hands he pushed him onto his back and rolled on top of him, pinning his shoulders to the cushions. "Now take it back."
Kaiba struggled violently for almost two seconds, arms braced to wrench Lex off him, and probably with force enough to break bones, but then he relaxed back into the couch. He was learning, every time a little quicker to realize they were playing. "I don't know Warrior Angel, but his video game's total shit," he repeated, taunting.
"It's maybe not the best game now, but it's three years old. When it came out it was fantastic."
"The controls are clumsy, the gameplay is mundanely linear, there's no story to speak of, and it could've had better graphics five years ago."
"Except the console hardware couldn't handle it."
"It could have," Kaiba disagreed. "The Super Famicom's engine could do more than any of these idiot graphic designers ever exploited. With 64 kb SRAM and 15-bit color, you could—"
"Are you getting hard talking about game system specs?" Lex asked suspiciously, and needlessly because his knee pressed between Kaiba's thighs was already giving him the answer.
"You're hard just thinking about Warrior Angel," Kaiba returned.
"I'm hard because my dick has almost been against your butt for the last half hour. You want to do something about that?"
Kaiba tensed but before he could freeze solid Lex ducked down and put his lips to his ear. "So what about the Sega Saturn? What could you do with those specs?"
"The Saturn? That's nothing, won't last long enough to matter. Sony's Playstation is going to lead the market until Nintendo comes through, but there will probably be new systems anyway by 2000. And the generation that comes after that might actually have the graphics and processor power to do something interesting."
"What kind of megahertz are we talking about?" Lex worked his hand down between them.
"Gigahertz, by then," Kaiba said, gasping it as Lex squeezed hard through his slacks.
"Personal computers will barely be running gigahertz chips by the early 2000s—"
"Game consoles will be surpassing your PCs, by then," Kaiba said. "Unless something better corners the marke—ah," and he lost his last breath as Lex shoved down his trousers and briefs to take his cock in hand.
After he came, Lex brought up his hand and licked his fingers, his palm, as Kaiba's watched. "So, consoles are the best investment?" Lex inquired.
"For now," Kaiba answered, panting. "But wait and see. There's other sorts of games, too, that might overtake the consoles someday."
Lex thought of the VR system on Kaiba's laptop. A video game after all? "I like to keep my options open for a variety of opportunities," Lex agreed, and kissed Kaiba with the taste of his come on his tongue.
Even alone in his room, Kaiba didn't like to take off his clothes. Lex, sliding his hands up under his shirt, realized why, but still, when finally he convinced the other boy to shower together, he was surprised by the extent of the damage. Lex's own body didn't scar, with the exception of the blow which had split his lip. He couldn't help but be fascinated, tracing his fingers over Kaiba's scars, the lash marks running puckered and pink across his back and shoulders, the circular burns down his arms from Gozaburo Kaiba's cigars.
Kaiba suffered the examination in barely tolerant silence, steeled not to cringe at Lex's touch. In the shower, under the water, Lex made him close his eyes as he glided soapy hands over his flawed skin, working his fingers until Kaiba's thin frame finally unlocked and relaxed.
Afterwards, as they lay on Kaiba's bed together, naked and warm under a sheet, Lex admired the contrast of their skins, his arms over Kaiba's. They were both pale, but in the streaming afternoon sunlight he was pink from the water's heat while Kaiba's skin was golden. His hair was very thick and it amused Lex to run his hand through it, wondering what it would feel like growing from his own head. "It's a mullet, you know."
"Your hair. You almost pull it off, but this style, you'd have to call it a mullet."
"Ah," Kaiba said, filing the new English vocabulary into his mental dictionary.
"It's not a complimentary style these days," Lex clarified.
"And a shaved head is complimentary?"
"It's not shaved," Lex said after a moment. He had spent half his life avoiding questions and insults and sympathy over that famous event, was used to the freak look and the pity look and the deliberately and carefully avoided staring. Total ignorance was new. But Kaiba had no friends at Excelsior to share gossip, and apparently small-town America meteor showers weren't news in Japan. "I lost all my hair a few years ago, when I was a kid." The shockwave, coming toward him, a wall of wind and dirt; the breathtaking terror, and then nothing... "There was...an accident." He stroked one of his eyebrows. "These and the lashes are implants."
"Ah," Kaiba said again, filing this away, too.
"So did you think I shaved down there, too, or did you think I was that immature?" Lex asked after a moment, curious.
"Think about it?"
"Ah," Lex said.
Later that night, Lex half-awoke to fingers ghosting over his bare scalp, exploring his own scars. He kept his eyes closed and didn't try to move away.
Kaiba never had lunch with the chess club again, but he kept playing against Lex. He kept winning, too, although Lex altered his strategies, devised traps and elaborate feints, or brute force sacrifices. He checked books out of the library, followed in the footsteps of other grandmasters, to no avail.
Kaiba never smiled when he won, never gloated even though the victory burned in his eyes. If any game was equal to life or death to him, then chess was no game at all but existence itself.
He hated the game, Lex came to realize. After a match he would be edgy and disconcerted for hours, would snap at Lex or refuse to talk. Whenever they made out afterwards he was rough and dominant, the seducer, never the seduced; always the clear winner, but that need was a loss in its own way, and Kaiba knew it as well as Lex.
Lex kept challenging him to matches. He would until he won, and Kaiba accepted that, as he accepted all of Lex's challenges.
He thought he had a chance, the night Kaiba's brother called. They were in Kaiba's room, his roommate off on a field trip, in the middle of their third chess game of the evening. Lex was trying to build his defenses slowly instead of striking out, and Kaiba was off-balanced with his forays not being returned, his moves more cautiously considered than usual. It was nearing midnight and Kaiba was wound up tight and silent, studying the board with his lips pressed over his teeth.
The phone's ringing jarred their concentration. Kaiba shot it a glare that by all rights should have melted the plastic and metal to plasma, but picked up the receiver. "Kaiba."
Then his blue eyes widened and all the angry tension of the game drained from him, leaving an emptiness Lex couldn't identify. "Mokuba?" he hissed into the phone. "Doushite? Nanika atta? Itte kure!"
His voice was hushed, almost broken, his face young for that moment, a boy's face, and frightened as Lex had not seen before. Lex leaned back on the cushions, turned away. Picked up the copy of Playboy under the table (Wong's, he was sure; Kaiba wouldn't care enough to actually spend the couple bucks, even for appearances' sake) and leafed through it.
He listened as he turned the pages. Lex had been practicing his Japanese, not with Kaiba but on his own, and this conversation wasn't so difficult to follow. "What happened? Did he touch you? If he did a thing—if he laid a finger on you, the bastard, if he broke his word then I can drop out, I'll buy a ticket back this minute—tell me!"
Kaiba listened for another moment, then said, his voice hard again, "Mokuba, you can't call just to hear my voice—you can't risk it. If he finds you..." Kaiba breathed in and breathed out, almost silently, listening, Lex listening to him listen. "I'll be back in another month and a half," Kaiba said finally. "You must not call me again."
With that he hung up, and all that betrayed him was how his hand stayed closed over the receiver, as though he could not let it go, even with the connection severed.
"Mokuba's your little brother?" Lex asked him. "Adopted? Or by birth?"
"Birth," Kaiba said, dropping back into English without a moment's confusion. "He hangs onto me. Always trying to follow me around. You know how little kids can be." He said it dismissively, irritated and uncaring. Like Lex hadn't heard his fear when he had first answered the call.
Kaiba must have realized he had given too much away. He turned back to the board. "We have a match to finish."
But he was distracted, Lex saw, shooting glances at the phone, at his laptop. Not giving the game his full attention, and this might have been Lex's chance, but it would be an empty victory. Not a situation he could replicate again; false proof. An experiment counted for nothing if the results could not be reproduced.
So when Lex rose to relieve himself, he was careful to bump the table with his knee, such that the board flipped off the edge and scattered the pieces. He apologized and helped Kaiba collect them, but when Kaiba suggested recreating their positions Lex protested that they couldn't be sure. As a matter of fact he had the game memorized, and knew Kaiba did as well, but when Lex said, "Let's just have another game later," Kaiba accepted the offer.
Lex went back to his own room that night, slipping in through the window to avoid being caught out past curfew. Kaiba hadn't refused him, but he hadn't been paying any more attention to Lex than to their chess game. He might have trained his body to respond, but whatever was under those scars and cold anger was untouchable, unreachable. At least to Lex.
Lex had built his own walls long ago, his father the architect, instructing him in laying the foundation, but he had been stacking the bricks himself for years. He was safe behind them, protected. Kaiba's walls were as high as his own, as thick and strong, but he left room for someone else behind them, left a gap someone could climb through and join him. Hurt him. Odd, for someone as smart as Kaiba. Atypically naive.
When Lex slept that night, alone and cold in his dorm bed, he dreamed of Julian, dreamed of his little brother calling him at school, eager for him to come home, begging him to come back to their family.
The bullies targeted Kaiba because he was young, small—if tall for a Japanese boy—and friendless. Lex rarely spoke to him when anyone else was around, and while thanks to roommate Wong their new association was a poorly kept secret, those rumors didn't help make Kaiba any less of a target. Lex was nearly as popular a victim anyway.
Kaiba never said a word to the teachers, stared down any helpful adults who asked through black eyes and bruised ribs. Lex saw him beaten a few times. His eyes were always dry and he never made a sound, not so much as a grunt. Sometimes that made the other boys stop sooner. Sometimes it provoked them more.
Knowing the scars hidden under the neatly pressed slacks and blazer, Lex doubted that any Excelsior boy could do anything to Kaiba that would matter. Until one day in Fielding Hall, when he came across Kaiba kneeling on the floor, arms wrapped around his chest. "Chikusho," he cursed, still no tears but he swallowed convulsively. "Chikusho, ano kuzu, kisama-ra wo korosu!"
His laptop was on the floor beside him, the screen snapped off and the CPU trashed, the keyboard trampled and stomped on.
"Kaiba?" Lex asked, and Kaiba looked up, blue eyes blazing. There was blood in his mouth and blood on his knuckles.
"They took the disk, Luthor," he said, "damn them, the sons of bitches took my backup disk. I don't even know their fucking names."
"I'll get it back," Lex promised him.
Five boys had jumped him; Kaiba hadn't gotten a good look at their faces before they ran off, but they weren't difficult to track. Lex may have had few actual friends, but he cultivated acquaintances enough both in the staff and the student body. Three students showed up at the infirmary on account of a broken nose, a cracked rib, and a moderate concussion, all of which were reportedly the result of an unlucky collision during a friendly, fast-paced soccer game. Since three of them has been in class five minutes before the accident, and two of them had another class starting five minutes after, it must have been a hasty game indeed.
The other two buddies of those three unfortunates were soon located. Lex went to their dorm room personally that evening, with no company but his checkbook and his cellular phone.
Half an hour later Lex arrived at Kaiba's room with the CD-Rom in hand. "They swore they hadn't been able to copy it," he said.
"They shouldn't have been," Kaiba said, took the disk and inserted it into his desktop. He entered a password and hissed out a long, relieved breath. "Those assholes didn't scratch it."
"They weren't the usual thugs," Lex observed. "McGinley's father is CEO of Wing Electronics & Software, and Chalke's the kid of the director of development at the second biggest aircraft manufacturer in the world."
"Who did this? All their names," Kaiba said, and something in his voice was predatory, lethal as snake venom.
"Forget it. It's taken care of," Lex told him. "They didn't get anything and they won't try again." He leaned back, hands in his pocket, casual. Unable to be intimidated by the cold-blooded ferocity of Kaiba's glare. "So what were they trying to get?"
"It wasn't what they thought it was," Kaiba said.
"No computer game, that's for sure. It's the designs for your VR system, right?" Lex had seen enough of Kaiba's diagrams to make some sense of them, and he had also been investigating defense contractors lately. Seeking investment possibilities, he had said, and that had gotten him access to contracts not yet made public. He had learned imaginary numbers when he was five; he could add two plus two. "You're working on the new KaibaCorp military simulator."
"No." Kaiba was on his feet, almost as tall as Lex, his face gone pale but for a feverish flush in his cheeks. "No, it will never be that."
"What do you mean?" Lex asked. "I've seen the projections—KaibaCorp's going to make a killing off this thing. Your father must be proud."
"That man," and Kaiba's voice was pitched so low it came out grating and strangled, "that man is not my father, and his dirty eyes will never see these designs. Will never see what it's truly going to be. He won't live to see it."
"So it's not the simulator?"
"That simulator's garbage. The designs I showed off to that man before were only rough drafts, imperfect concepts. I've been more careful since. He doesn't know how much farther I've come. Since I got here—my classes are a joke, I've had plenty of time to work. I'm getting closer."
"What are you going to do with the real simulator, when it's done?" Lex asked him. "Sell it and start your own defense company?" He could do it, from what Lex had seen. This technology, perfected, would take him as far as he wanted to go.
"No." It was the first time Lex had ever heard Kaiba laugh, a wrenching, disruptive noise, like an unexpected blast of static on a clear transmission. "No, I'm the heir to KaibaCorp, and I'm going to take what's mine. I'll win against that old man. And then KaibaCorp will become what we—what I want it to be."
"And what's that?" Lex was honestly curious.
But Kaiba only shook his head. "You'll see," and his uncharacteristic smile was as disturbing as his laugh. "Everyone will see."
Kaiba liked to draw. He doodled in the margins of his notes in class, and sometimes when he talked with Lex the pencil in his hand would wander over whatever was underneath it, notebooks, folders, magazines, napkins. Sometimes he sketched electronics diagrams, circuit paths or optical transmitters.
Sometimes he drew dragons. White dragons with ridged and shining scales, armored talons and heavy horns. Wings spread to glide, or furled as they dove through the sky.
It reminded Lex of the box his mother had given him, supposedly forged from the armor of the legendary St. George. Lead and iron smelted to withstand a dragon's fire. But Kaiba's dragons breathed radiance, not flames but shining bursts of light.
Once Lex glanced over and saw the dragon under Kaiba's pen was a steed, two small riders perched on the crest of the creature's spine, holding onto one another as they flew. When Kaiba looked down and saw his own picture, he crossed lines over it, steady straight hatch marks until the paper was almost black with ink and the sketch was obliterated.
Lex had gotten his roommate suspended, and then expelled, so he had a single dorm room now. But until Kaiba's replacement laptop arrived from Japan, he preferred to spend nights in his room to work on his other computer, and he refused to sneak back after curfew, unwilling to risk the possible demerits if caught. He had to maintain the good reputation of the Kaiba name. His little brother was living with the owner of said name; Lex didn't question his reasons.
But Kaiba's roommate was just as much a stickler for the rules, so it was difficult to arrange his absence. After three days Lex resorted to paying off an impressively developed sophomore girl at the local public high school to occupy him for one night.
Five minutes after he knocked on the door, Lex was going down on Kaiba, Kaiba standing before his computer with his hands behind him, clutching the back of his chair. He never touched Lex when Lex was before him, and never closed his eyes or looked away. Lex could always feel that blue gaze on him, sure as any touch of his hands.
After Kaiba's hips bucked and he was spent, Lex rocked back on his heels, looked up at the other boy. Kaiba was always focused after he climaxed; sometimes his eyes would be far away but his expression was always searching, thoughts racing and reaching for more.
Lex put his hands on Kaiba's narrow hips, slowly pulled himself to his feet, their faces close. "So tell me," he murmured, "is this when you dream up solutions to those problems with your VR designs?"
Kaiba blinked at him, and for an instant it was like shutters had been drawn aside, so the boy inside could look out clearly. "No," he said, "this is when I dream of flying."
When Lex entered his room Kaiba was sitting with his new laptop in front of him, but not typing; instead he was looking at something held between his hands. The white-backed rectangle disappeared by the time Lex shut the door. He shook his head and slouched down on the couch beside Kaiba. "I've seen that already, you know. The photo of you and your brother."
Kaiba glared at him, but took the photo back out of his pocket. "Mokuba called you again?" Lex asked.
"He sent me a letter. I threw it away," Kaiba said. "He doesn't understand. What he wants me to be—what he thinks I can be, it's impossible. Not if I'm going to do this. Not if I'm going to win." He tossed the picture down on the table.
Lex picked it up, studied it with interest. Two little boys playing chess, grinning at the camera; Kaiba looked nine or ten and his brother, four or five. Lex had only gotten a quick glance at the photo when they had first met. Now, looking at the other grey-eyed boy with the messy mane of black hair, he could see the family resemblance in the shape of the eyes. In the smile. Because the other little boy in the picture was smiling, too, the same happy grin curving his mouth.
It rendered him almost unrecognizable. Lex glanced from the photo to the grim-faced boy beside him. Kaiba's few smiles looked nothing like that. And he didn't smile at all over the chessboard. Maybe he had loved the game once, as much as he hated it now. Or maybe he still smiled like that with his brother.
Lex tried to remember if there were any photographs of himself looking so happy. He didn't think there were, not even with Julian. Maybe with his mother, before the meteor shower. Never after. He ran one hand over his smooth pate, tried to recall what his hair had felt like, those terrible red curls. He couldn't.
"What does he want you to be?"
"A fucking loser," Kaiba snarled. Then he put his head in his hands. "I was stupid. I was an idiot. When our father died, I told him I'd be his father. I swore it to him, so he wouldn't cry anymore."
It was like a hand had wrapped around Lex's heart, had squeezed all the valves closed. He could hear nothing, not even the rush of his own blood in his ears. "I always hated it when Julian cried," he said, aloud he thought, though he couldn't hear it. "My baby brother—I didn't want him to cry."
"He was your brother," Kaiba said. "You'd do anything to stop him crying. When Mokuba was a baby..." He shook his head. "Mokuba's not a baby now. He knows better; he doesn't cry anymore. But he doesn't understand, either. What I've done, what I have to do—years ago, before the adoption, we made a promise. Our dream, we promised. And I'm going to keep it, but he doesn't understand that this is the only way."
"We do what we have to," Lex said, an answer or an echo. "Whatever way we can."
Kaiba nodded, jerkily, his face distant. Lex opened his fists. He could hear his heart beating again. He took Kaiba's head in his hands, burying his fingers in his glossy chestnut hair, and drew him in. Kissed him, down the line of his brow, sucked on the lobe of his ear as he wound his hand under his shirt and stroked the scarred skin, until Kaiba was looking right at him, until Kaiba's body arched up into his touch. He turned to Lex, put his own arms around him, confident enough now to be at ease as he pulled Lex on top of him.
"I'm going to win," he murmured into the hollow of Lex's neck, lips moving against his smooth pale skin, "I'm going to win, I'm going to win, I'm going to win..."
He said it until he came, grinding against Lex's erection, and fell asleep there on the couch, angular limbs stretched out alongside Lex. Lex kept his arms around the smaller boy to keep him from rolling off, Kaiba's sleeping head rocked against his chest. He pressed his cheek to Kaiba's thick hair. "We're both going to win," he promised, listening to their beating hearts.
A week before the semester's end, Lex decided that it was time. He was going to have Kaiba's ass.
Kaiba had topped him a few times, which bothered Lex not at all; he had been partial to bottoming since his second time, and Kaiba was undeniably skilled. But this was a matter of principle, and also a matter of Kaiba demanding it; he wouldn't count himself victorious until he had achieved everything. They had tried before, but for all his progress otherwise the boy went rigid as bone when so much as Lex's hand touched his butt, so tight it was hard to slide one finger in.
Kaiba was spending most of his time in Lex's room anyway now, needing the privacy. With only six days left before his return to Japan, he skipped half his last classes and most sleeping hours in favor of working on his laptop, programming trials and plotting calculations. "I've been getting more sleep here than I have for years anyway," was all he had said when Lex had pointed out the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on mathematical and logical thinking. His VR technology designs were nowhere near complete and wouldn't be in only a week, but he wanted to do as much as he could in the short time left.
But all work and no play, etc. So Lex took a cab into town to pick up supplies and came back that evening fully stocked with lube, condoms, and a selection of Italian, complete with a couple bottles of illicit wine (an extra five hundred dollars worked better than a photo ID with a twenty-two-years-old sales clerk). Kaiba hated beer almost as much as Lex did, but the ruby red Recioto di Valpolicella was expensive, sweet and would go down easy as juice.
They ate on the bed, devouring cold antipasto with their fingers and scattering crumbs across the sheets breaking the bread, dipping the crusts in garlic-flavored oil. Kaiba at first recoiled when Lex pushed down his shirt and drew his oil-slick fingers across Kaiba's bare shoulder, but relaxed into it, his fingers fumbling at Lex's own buttons.
The bottle of wine was almost empty by the time Lex cleared the plates away; Kaiba was lying on his back on the narrow bed, cheeks flushed dusky rose, his blue eyes watching the ceiling, a little unfocused. Lex stripped off his pants and lay down lengthwise beside him, on his side facing him. "How do you feel?" he asked, sliding his palm over Kaiba's bare chest.
"Good," Kaiba said, sounding surprised. Lex had been watching the wine closely, but it could be hard to judge a new drinker's tolerance. But Kaiba rolled onto his side toward him, loose-limbed and easy. His eyes were all the bluer for the black pools of his pupils. "Get to it, then," he said. "Or do you have something better to do?"
Lex laughed. "You're an ornery drunk."
Kaiba didn't crack a smile, but his tipsy face was softer, obscenely younger. "And what am I sober, then?"
"Point," Lex said, and kissed him. Kaiba willingly curled closer, and Lex whispered in his ear, "No, nothing better to do."
He took his time, exploring Kaiba's body as thoroughly and satisfyingly as the first time, until Kaiba was shuddering against him, fighting to hold himself and failing, trembling as he came, biting into Lex's shoulder as he spurted hot over his thigh. Only after that did Lex slide his hands down, around to his back, to his ass. Kaiba quivered, held himself still, his breath coming too fast. "Easy," Lex murmured, cheek to his cheek, "it won't hurt so much. I promise."
Kaiba's breath was sweetly redolent with the wine. He pushed against Lex, murmuring back, in Japanese too blurred for Lex to understand, or maybe not words at all. Lex reached back over his head, blindly located the lube and slicked his fingers. One finger in, then two, and Kaiba was clenched around his fingers, eyes squeezed shut, a mewling sound in his throat.
"It's okay," Lex said, "you're with me," keeping to English because that would remind him as obviously as anything where he was, who he was with. He kissed Kaiba, hard enough to startle him, to take his breath away and take his wine-dizzied mind to somewhere else, entirely removed from the damage that had been inflicted on his boy's body, the hurt he had endured before. Somewhere only the two of them could exist, and remembered pain could not, only the possibility of pleasure.
When finally Kaiba relaxed, loosening in Lex's embrace, Lex moved slowly, like one would around any wild creature, rolled on the condom with expert fingers and lifted Kaiba's legs to his shoulders. Kneeling, he eased himself in, carefully, achingly slow. Kaiba's eyes were fixed on him, intent and enormously wide in the low light. He was breathing in short focused pants, arms curled back over his head to grab at the plain wooden bed frame behind him. He was tighter than any boy or woman Lex had been with and it almost hurt, how good that closeness felt.
Lex rocked his hips, gently, cautiously, and Kaiba gasped, head tipped back, the sound strangled by his stretched throat. Lex thrust again, then with more confidence as Kaiba gasped again, a dry sharp sound, not the choking wet of a sob. Leaning forward, Lex set his hands on either side of Kaiba's narrow shoulders, sinking into the mattress. Kaiba lifted his head and met his kiss, lips sealed and tongues warring. When Lex came a moment later he groaned his climax into Kaiba's mouth, and Kaiba kissed him harder, bucking up his hips to come again against Lex's belly.
On trembling arms, Lex withdrew, cast off the condom and dropped to the bed. His arms curved around Kaiba and Kaiba twisted onto his side to spoon up against him, coiling in like a lizard seeking warmth. For a long time they lay together in the hazy sweating heat, silent but for their counterpoint heartbeats.
"Don't go back to Japan," Lex whispered finally.
Kaiba's even breathing might have meant he was asleep; but then he replied, "I'm going."
"You don't have to," Lex said. "You're only adopted anyway. Quit being that man's heir. Give your simulator to me and I can see to its manufacture, its distribution—medical, entertainment, military, we'll make millions on that tech alone. We'll found a company together. Dad can keep LuthorCorp, your adopted father can keep KaibaCorp. We'll crush both of them someday."
"No," Kaiba said.
"If it's your brother, get him out of Japan, bring him over here. We can find a way to manage that. He'll be better off here than there anyway. You both would be."
"Maybe. But I can't."
"Because I'm going to win, Luthor," Kaiba said. "Because I'm the heir to KaibaCorp, and it's going to be mine. That man bought me; that man sold my soul to the military machine, to weapons and death. But I'm going to win against him. I'm going to destroy him and take everything he has, and I'm going to make it into what he despises, what he finds worthless and meaningless. I'm going to keep the promise we made."
"You will," Lex said, and kissed his shoulder, the nape of his neck, until Kaiba turned in his arms and brought their mouths together.
It was probably the couple glasses of wine he had drunk himself, that when Lex dreamed that night, he dreamed of the meteor shower in Smallville, those years ago. Running through the cornfields, sharp green leaves whipping against his arms and chest, as dust choked the air and the earth rocked under his feet. Then he was knocked to the ground, and a rushing heat so great it had a physical pressure forced him down, stole the air from his lungs, stole the light from his vision and the sense from his mind.
Only this night, this dream, he didn't wake from that blackness in the hospital, but in a jouncing rocking ride, voices around him, arms holding him. Smell of brandy and cologne that was his father. And someone touched his cheek, a soft, gentle touch, too soft to be his father's hands, smoother even than his mother's. A baby's touch.
He opened his eyes, and a little boy smiled at him. Thick black hair, green eyes, a wide angel's smile he would never forget.
Julian, he thought, but Julian's hair had been sparse and pale; and Julian wouldn't be born for years. Kaiba, he thought, but even in his crumpled photograph Kaiba's smile wasn't that brilliant, wasn't that welcoming.
You're not my brother, that smile said, that gentle touch said; You aren't my brother and you don't have to be, because I'll be with you anyway.
Then there was nothing but the void of unconsciousness.
When Lex awoke, Kaiba was already up, half-dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed to put on his socks, his shirt unbuttoned, the shirttails hanging like wilted white wings. He finished with the socks, turned toward Lex as he sat up in bed.
"Thank you," Kaiba told him seriously.
"You're welcome," Lex said. "Anytime. You were good, you know. Very good."
"I know," Kaiba said, and smiled, a crooked crocodile's smile that left his eyes cold, for all his face was the more alluring for it. And when Kaiba leaned down to kiss him, Lex recognized every one of his techniques in the expertise of his tongue, his lips, his breathing. Like kissing his reflection.
A mimic will always be found out; mirror chess can never win. "You won't beat me that easily," Lex said, and pushed Kaiba out of his bed and onto the floor, smirking the same crocodile smile.
They played their last chess game the day Kaiba left, waiting in his dorm room two hours before the car came to bring him to the airport. Most of the students going home for the summer were staying another week, but Kaiba took his finals early at the demand of his adopted father, who was no doubt anxious to have his heir once more under his lash.
Kaiba played as focused as ever, a canny and sharp game, more devious than his usual callous sacrifices, his knights running interference while his queen sliced back and forth across the board like an assassin. Lex let him nip off with pawns and bishops, lackadaisically reciprocating the captures while he focused on his own strategy.
Kaiba as always preferred to play in silence; thus, needless to say, Lex talked throughout the game. "So Jenkins went to the emergency room with a broken arm, and Reyes has two black eyes, and Flynn isn't admitting why he's in the infirmary but the rumor mill assures he will be able to have children, with surgery. Probably."
Kaiba moved his knight. Lex considered the board for a moment.
"They know it's not worth getting anyone in trouble at the end of the semester, so they're not saying who got them this morning. You're public enemy number one to about half the campus, and a personal hero to the other half. Anonymously, of course. And everyone wants to know why it didn't happen sooner," Lex went on, and castled.
Kaiba moved his queen and took Lex's. Trap sprung. Lex allowed himself to grin once Kaiba had taken his hand off the piece.
"Of course if you had made outright enemies of that many guys, they and their allies would have made your life hell even if you kicked their asses every time. Like this, there's nothing they can do, unless they take their summer vacation in Tokyo—only you're not based in Tokyo anyway. So they're beaten, and know they're beaten, and know that you could have beaten them at any time if you had so chosen. They're not going to say a thing about you to anyone." Lex moved his knight into position and sat back in his chair. "Check."
Kaiba extended his hand, then paused before touching a piece. His eyes narrowed as he took in the board. After another moment he moved his king one square over.
"By the way, I heard that KaibaCorp went public with its new military simulator last night," Lex said. He took Kaiba's queen with his knight. "Oh, and check, and mate in four."
"Yes," Kaiba said, tipped over his king and stood.
Lex stood with him. "He's doing it to get to you," he noted. "Your adopted father held the press release until you were coming back, to remind you who's in charge."
"Obviously," Kaiba said, bored.
"You're going to beat him," Lex said.
Kaiba smiled, tight and sharp. "Yes."
He advanced the steps between them. Lex stood still, let Kaiba wind his arms around his shoulders and press their lips together. He didn't pretend he wasn't hard but he didn't do anything about it, either, as Kaiba grinded his hips against him. Kaiba's hands were as cold as his mouth was hot, the trimmed nails scraping his skin like claws.
When Kaiba stepped back, he looked satisfied. Like he hadn't expected the win. Maybe he didn't realize the loss at all. A cold-blooded look, fierce and armored as the dragons he drew.
"I should go," Lex said, heading for the door. "Chemistry final study group."
Kaiba nodded, knowing well that Lex could teach said class with a fair bit more confidence than the teacher.
"Be seeing you," Lex said. "Maybe in the board room. Will KaibaCorp be going up against us, when it changes direction?"
"Probably not," Kaiba said. "It depends. Will LexCorp be a significant presence in the gaming industry?"
"Hard to say, considering LexCorp doesn't exist."
"But it's going to. You're going to win, too, Luthor."
"I don't lose to losers."
Lex raised his eyebrows, replied, "And I don't need a pity win to express gratitude for something I'd've done anyway. Or are you telling me you honestly didn't see that knight fork coming?"
"Maybe." Kaiba shrugged. "Maybe not."
"I'll play you again," Lex told him. "And I'll beat you again. That's my promise."
Kaiba's blue eyes analyzed him, far older than any schoolboy's. Ancient as a dragon's smoldering orbs. At last he nodded. "All right," he accepted.
Lex opened the door, paused on the threshold. "The gaming industry—your VR, you could do anything with it, but it's a video game after all, isn't it."
"Hardly," Kaiba said disdainfully. "Or would you call the atomic bomb a firecracker?"
"A firecracker that changed the world."
"That destroyed it, for so many people. I'll never create anything like that, not for anyone ever again." His eyes on Lex burned steady, fiercer and hotter than any of their days or nights together. The radiance of a promise more important than anything they might have ever had. "We're never going to be partners, Luthor."
"Maybe," Lex answered. "Maybe not." He raised his hand. "Sayonara," he said, the American pronunciation, crass instead of rounded. "Give your brother my regards, when you see him."
"Goodbye," Kaiba said, and Lex closed the door behind him.