"Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of withering, of tarnishing."
Kaiba Seto leaned on the rail of the forward balcony of his stateroom, staring out at the horizon over the sparkling azure waters of the Ionian Sea. The warm Mediterranean breeze ruffled his chestnut locks and the late afternoon sun beat hot upon his face. But he did not notice such trivialities, nor did the luxurious accommodations that would be his home for the next eighteen days make any impression on him. Today, just like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that--362 days in all-would be yet another day of numbness, another mark on the calendar to serve as a reminder of the way time continued to march inexorably forward and propel him along with it, away from the last time he had laid eyes on Jounouchi Katsuya, the love of his life. With each passing day apart from his beloved, Kaiba believed that his heart shriveled and hardened a little more, until eventually, when he died, it would be discovered that it had been shrunken to the size, shape and texture of a peach pit.
Kaiba imagined that as the years passed he would no longer be able to freely recall the timbre of Jou's voice, the expressiveness of his beautiful honey eyes, the taste of his very kissable full lips, or remember exactly the endearing way he would run his fingers through his unruly blond hair--hair that always stubbornly managed to fall right back into his eyes. Kaiba closed his eyes as he conjured up the fading image of his beloved, and he remembered the hoarseness in Jou's voice when, after they'd exhausted themselves in their lovemaking, he would whisper into Kaiba's ear "I love you Set-always and ever" before nuzzling snugly underneath the crook of the brunet's arm and drifting off to sleep. Kaiba knew in time he would need to rely more and more on the photographs of his lover that he had collected to remember all the details of Jounouchi that had once been as familiar to him as the features of his own face and body.
He felt the gentle thrum of the ship's engines, signaling the disembarkation, vibrating the rail beneath his hands and the deck beneath his feet. The ship rocked gently as it slowly moved forward and out toward open water. He glanced over the port side, taking in the sun-drenched vista of Taormina against the backdrop of Mount Etna. A ubiquitous wisp of smoke drifted from its active crater, a singular smudge serving to mar the perfection of the clear blue Mediterranean sky. On the forward deck that his stateroom overlooked, the crew stood at attention in their dress whites, strung like pearls in a V-line that traced the contour of the ship's bow. He caught a glimpse of blond hair peeking out from under a cap, but by the time its resemblance to his Jou's hair color had registered in Kaiba's mind the owner had disappeared below-deck; with the disembarkation completed, the crew members were now assuming their work stations.
He shook his head, disgusted by his own heart-sickness. The whole point of this vacation was to put the past firmly behind him. He needed to move forward, move away from the rut he'd allowed himself to wallow in. While he did not believe that he would ever love another as he did Katsuya, he was beginning to believe what everyone else who knew him had come to terms with long ago-Jou was gone for good. What Kaiba would deny to his dying day was that his lover had killed himself. Until irrefutable evidence was brought before him, he would continue to maintain that Jounouchi had disappeared deliberately and continued to stay away from his loved ones on his own volition. And until such evidence of his lover's demise appeared, Kaiba knew he'd forever search for the hint of his familiar countenance in the faces of strangers.
With a last glance at the ancient port city sandwiched between the sea and cliffs, he stepped back into the cool sanctuary of his stateroom. He'd booked the largest suite aboard a ship on one of the most exclusive cruise lines in the world. It was a small ship with a passenger capacity of just under 300, and a crew of about equal number. The service was unparalleled, and the clientele was generally an international mix of the extremely wealthy. At over 1,300 square feet, the stateroom was huge by any standards. It had two separate bedrooms, each with their own private marble whirlpool bath and balcony, and a separate living/dining area also with its own balcony. The living area was expensively appointed in teak and brass, an overstuffed leather couch, several leather club chairs, a dining table that seated four, and a state-of-the-art entertainment center. All the comforts of home, Kaiba sighed, knowing full well he would be hard-pressed to find any comfort alone in the prison of his thoughts.
It would be time for dinner soon, but he knew he was not up for dining in the public dining room. He sifted through the packet of embarkation papers that had been left on the table and found the current day's dinner menu. Tonight he would be better off dining alone en suite and later if he was up for it, he would explore the rest of the ship. He picked up the telephone and dialed the number listed for his cabin steward. In the state he was in, everything on the menu looked equally unappealing; he asked the steward to bring whatever the chef recommended along with a wine selection suggested by the sommelier.
* * *
Kaiba picked at the food that had been delivered to his stateroom. All of it looked delicious, but he had no appetite. He stepped out onto the portside balcony and sipped his wine, staring off at the twinkling lights of Messina and its surrounding suburbs. The ship was cruising through the Straits of Messina nearing the open water of the Tyrrhenian Sea as it made its way to its next destination, the port of Sorrento. He heard the steward come in and remove his uneaten dinner, then return to turn down the covers of the beds.
He had thought that getting away from the familiar places of his life that reminded him of Jou would ease the acute loneliness that had gripped him since his lover had left. As far back as Kaiba could remember he'd always felt alone and it wasn't until he'd opened his heart to Katsuya that he'd experienced the contentment that blossomed from true love and friendship. But when Jou walked out of their life together, the void left in his wake was filled with an intense desolation that had turned Kaiba into an empty shell. He no longer felt alive-he felt that he was just marking the time until his life ended.
He drained his glass of wine and for a time sat watching the lights of the coast grow more and more faint as the ship traversed the sea, turning northeast toward the Italian mainland. The water was jet-black; the wave crests glistened faintly from the weak illumination of starlight. He dug deep into his trouser pocket and pulled out a thick band of gold and examined it carefully. It was channel-cut yellow gold; a perfect match to the band he wore on his wedding-ring finger, the sole exception being its stones were perfectly matched red rubies, and his ring was encrusted in flawless blue sapphires. He'd had the rings commissioned last year and had planned on exchanging them with Jou on their first anniversary. He took off the band he was wearing and slipped them both back on his finger. Jou's was slightly larger, so it occupied the spot closest to his palm. His ring kept the other secure on his finger. He often wore them both together when he was by himself; he found a small amount of comfort from the additional weight on his finger-it served to remind him that his life together with Jounouchi had not been a dream-otherwise, sometimes he found himself doubting that it had actually happened at all.
"There is a time for departure even when there's no certain place to go."
-- Tennessee Williams
It had started out innocently enough.
Kaiba Seto had sent an email to his lover Jounouchi Katsuya. It wasn't anything important really, he'd been working far too hard on a rather unimportant deal, and knew his beloved was feeling more than a little neglected. So he'd sent a love note, a little nothing, just to let Jou know that he was thinking of him. Just as the CEO was about to leave the office for the day, he checked his email one last time and noticed his message had bounced. The text of the warning message explained that the mailbox email@example.com had exceeded quota.
"Damned dog." Kaiba muttered to himself. He still had a habit of calling Jounouchi after the animal he so much resembled in Kaiba's mind, even though the brunet knew how much it annoyed his lover. Or perhaps it was because it annoyed Jou so much, and he was just so much more attractive and far more fuckable with a fire in his eyes and a flush in his cheeks-a combination that Kaiba found to be tantalizingly irresistible. He sighed as he gathered his belongings and made a mental note to remind Jou to do some housekeeping on his email account.
He came home to an empty house. Mokuba was still abroad, having spent the bulk of his summer vacation in Paris, brushing up on his French and gaining a better appreciation of the fine arts. Lately it had become more common than not, and the CEO wondered idly exactly how his lover was occupying his time. He'd assumed that Jou still spent the bulk of his free time with his friends, but on more than one occasion in Jou's absence Yugi had called the house looking for him. Once, after both Yugi and Honda had called looking for Jou, upon his return home, Kaiba had asked his beloved where he'd been. Jou had simply replied, "Out walking. I needed to clear my head." The fact that Kaiba did not catch him in a lie relieved the brunet, and he had pressed the blond no further. He also did not question the gulf that had developed recently between them. It had been nearly a year since Jou had moved into his mansion and bed, and the blond still grew surly whenever he felt Kaiba neglected their relationship. Instead, the CEO had made elaborate plans for a surprise vacation to coincide with their first anniversary, one where they would be able to reacquaint and recommit themselves to each other. They just needed to weather another week of negotiations and business dinners and they would be free to spend three weeks immersed in the nightlife and culture of New York City. The trip would also serve to reunite Jou with his sister Shizuka, who'd moved there with her mother after their parents' divorce. He knew that the extended time spent together in the one place in the world Jou most wanted to visit would heal any rift that had developed between them due to the CEO's commitment to the management of Kaiba Corp. and its board of directors.
The effect that his workaholic tendencies had on his relationship with Jounouchi was not lost on Kaiba. But his habits were deeply ingrained and sometimes the effort to change his ways seemed overwhelming. Often they would lie in bed together discussing different strategies to maintain their close and loving relationship. It seemed that just communication alone made a difference; it helped Jou to understand the forces that drove Kaiba to strive for excellence and Kaiba in turn to understand his beloved's need for attention and boundless quantities of affection.
He dialed Jou's cell, only to be put through to his voicemail. Kaiba shook his head in mock exasperation, wondering why in the hell Jounouchi bothered to carry a cell phone if he never turned it on. He made his way to their bedroom and changed from his business suit into an oversized black T-shirt and a pair of royal blue silk lounging pajamas. He turned on the Jacuzzi in the master bathroom thinking how lovely it would be for he and Jou to share a relaxing dip before eating a late supper. Tonight would be the only free night for Kaiba for the next several days, and he planned to make the most of it. Remembering Jou's full inbox, the brunet sat down at the laptop in the bedroom, logged on as admin, and set about the task of deleting any trashed messages that his lover had inadvertently left on the server. Curiously, Jou's trash file was empty; it was his inbox that had exceeded quota. That was very odd as Kaiba knew for a fact that Jou had checked his mail this morning-he'd seen him at the computer on his way out the door, typing away furiously, composing an email to his sister.
He was loath to pry into his lover's personal mail, but what he was seeing just didn't make sense to the brunet. Somehow Jou's inbox had received over one hundred megabytes of data. Kaiba knew this as he himself had set Jou's mailbox quota to that ridiculous amount because Shizuka often sent him virtual rolls of digital images of scenes she took around her home in New York City. Kaiba chuckled; she must have emailed her brother dozens of high-resolution images. "Baka," he muttered, having little patience for another's ignorance of email netiquette, even when the other in question was his beloved's adored sister. He would just download them to the hard drive and let Jou know what he'd done, and ask him to politely remind his sister that there were better ways to share her images.
He opened the inbox and was shocked to see that the last three emails Jou received were from ~his~ email address; and each had a sizeable attachment. His first thought was that he was looking at some brand new virus--for though Kaiba Corp.'s security was unparalleled, even the diligence of his security experts was sometimes not enough when devious hackers targeted Kaiba Corp. A closer inspection however revealed that the attachments were not executables, they were movie files.
At this point, his curiosity far outweighed any conscious warnings being set off that he was about to breach his lover's trust; he had to find out what was going on. He rationalized that someone had spoofed his own email address, and in that act had subsequently involved him. He did the unthinkable--he clicked on the attachment to view its contents. The movie opened with a close-up of Jou's eyes. There was something about the expression in them that caused the hair on the back of Kaiba's neck to stand up. They were open wide and had a feral quality, like that of an animal that had been cornered. The camera panned out revealing his beloved's entire face; Jou's mouth was being held open by some kind of gag. He was stripped naked and kneeling on his hands and knees. Kaiba's jaw dropped in shock but he was unable to stop himself from watching the scene unfolding on the screen.
The camera cut to a close-up of Jou's profile as a hardened cock was slowly thrust in and out of his defenseless mouth. Two hands were buried in Jou's silken locks, holding his head immobile. The camera panned out to show that Jou's hands and ankles had been cuffed and the cuffs then fastened to rings protruding from the base of a raised platform. As he was being fucked harder and harder in the mouth, another cock appeared in the frame at his ass; Jou's back arched as he was roughly entered from behind.
"Oh gods you little slut--you are so fucking tight!" Kaiba heard a voice that had been digitized to disguise its owner. "I'll bet you're enjoying every second of this. Does your master, Kaiba Seto treat you this well?"
Jou was being pounded mercilessly from both ends now and Kaiba watched as Jou's own semi-erect sex was fondled and coaxed into full hardness. The same hand then grabbed his hardened shaft roughly and began to jerk him off in rhythm to the cock that was pistoning in and out of his ass. Kaiba could not help but feel the stirrings of his own erection while at the same time a sense that something was horribly wrong began to take hold in his mind.
The camera cut several times between the action that was happening at Jou's mouth, at his rear end and at his own erection, artfully speeding up the length of eat cut, culminating with shots of Jou's face being covered with cum, his own seed arching out of his cock, and ending with his second partner spurting his semen across Jou's back. A hand then slapped him hard on the ass and that same voice said, "What an obedient little dog you are. I can see why he's so possessive of you." Jou's arms and legs gave out then, and the movie ended as he collapsed in a heap, still helplessly bound.
Kaiba could not believe what he'd just seen on the screen, and as if to verify its reality, he clicked on the movie attached to the second email. A cold film of sweat broke out over his body as the next movie loaded.
It opened with a shot of his lover's naked torso that panned out to reveal Jou kneeling on a bed. His pants were undone and had been pulled down to his knees along with his boxers. His arms were stretched above his head and attached by manacles on his wrists to either end of a long bar that was suspended from the ceiling. A black mask covered his eyes, essentially blinding him. A man, fully aroused and naked except for a leather mask disguising his appearance climbed on the bed behind him, and wrapped a hand around his flaccid penis and began to stroke and pull at it, intent on teasing it into an erection.
"Stop it!" Jou hissed through clenched teeth. Kaiba could hear the strain in his beloved's voice and his cock twitched unpleasantly. He felt dirty that he'd been aroused by the other movie, because the longer he watched, the more certain he was that Jou was not a willing participant in what he was seeing. His lover had been raped in the first movie, and as he watched the event of this one unfold, cold fury gripped the brunet. Whoever was responsible for this would regret the day they'd ever crossed paths with Jounouchi Katsuya. By the time that Kaiba was done with them, they would be lucky if they were alive.
"Did I say you could speak?" That same digitized voice from the earlier movie asked. "There's two ways you can have it. As pleasure--" he continued to stroke Jou gently and his free hand slid over Jou's chest and lightly teased a nipple, "or pain." He grabbed Jou's balls roughly and began to squeeze them while simultaneously twisting his nipple away from his body. Kaiba felt a sympathetic twinge of pain in his own balls and nausea swept over him as Jou struggled vainly to escape from what the brunet could only imagine was excruciating pain.
Unmoved by the obvious pain he was inflicting, Jou's captor continued "So tell me, which will it be?" He gave one last squeeze with each hand before releasing the gasping blond.
"P-pleasure!" Jou managed to spit out, which was met by derisive laughter.
"Just like the cheap whore you are. But by the time I'm done with you, you will have forgotten that bastard of a lover's name."
The masked man continued his ministrations on Jounouchi's cock, while his other hand caressed his captive's chest and traveled further up to trace Jou's lips. "Lick them, get them nice and wet," he crooned as he forced his fingers into Jou's mouth. As Kaiba watched his lover comply, once again he found himself becoming aroused--watching Jou's hot mouth working over those fingers, he was reminded of the way that soft pink tongue would slide in between his own fingers-he closed his eyes briefly at the sensation. He was brought back to the present by a harsh grunt-he opened his eyes to his beloved's grimacing face, as he and the bar his upper body was suspended from was being pushed forward; the masked man was spreading Jou's legs further apart.
The camera cut to a new angle, and Kaiba was now watching those saliva-slicked fingers sliding in and out of his lover's puckered entrance, as Jou struggled to maintain his balance. The camera panned back to bring into frame the bar Jou was bound to. It was swinging back and forth erratically, pulling his upper body along with it.
Jou arched his back against the intrusive fingers, but the force at which they were being thrust inside him propelled him forward each time, which caused him instinctively to try to regain his balance. It was a losing battle and after several minutes, his body sweating profusely from the exertion, Jou ceased his struggles, allowing those fingers to fuck him with impunity.
"I told you, you would like it that way, but I'm going to like ~this~ even more." The disembodied voice continued. Kaiba watched in horror as he pulled his fingers out of Jou's passage and rubbed what appeared to be lubricant over his entire hand and wrist then clenched his hand into a fist and pushed it in its entirety back into the blond. Kaiba gasped in unison with his lover's agonized scream, and felt the sting of tears in his eyes, as he watched his lover's body contort and twist against the new intrusion until his tormenter's free hand snaked around and grabbed his shaft.
The camera cut back to face Jou as a sob escaped his lips. Despite the torture, his sex was engorged, and the hand that had captured it was now working feverishly on it to bring him to orgasm.
"That's right, show your lover what a dirty whore you are. Show the mighty Kaiba Seto what a cheap slut you are."
"No!" Jou managed, but his body had betrayed him, long ropes of cum spurted from his cock even as his denial escaped his lips. At completion, he swooned and hung limply from the bar. The anonymous man released Jou from his grasp and repositioned himself so that his now-weeping cock could take Jou.
Two hands gripped the listless blond by his hips, steadying him against the erratic thrusts of his captor's shaft pounding into him at a frenzied pace. "Gods you are so loose I could drive a truck through your hole!" The other man gasped and with one final thrust he grunted and pulled out of the semi-conscious blond, and the movie ended focused on Jou's inert body swaying gently in concert with the suspended bar.
Kaiba sat stunned for several minutes. Over and over the images of his lover being raped played out in his mind. Each scene remembered served to stoke his cold rage further. He would destroy whoever had done this to Jounouchi, and everyone that scumbag had ever cared about. There would be no escaping the firestorm of the brunet's wrath, by the time he was through, there would be nothing left to remind the world that the man and his accomplices had ever existed.
He needed to see this to completion. Kaiba clicked on the third movie. Once again he was presented with the image of his naked lover. Again Jou was on his knees, his hands bound behind his back at the wrist and at the elbow. Kaiba watched as his lover was forced to give head to two cocks at the same time. Each man guided his swollen member into Jou's mouth with one hand, and held his head immobile with the other. Slowly, in unison the cocks began to fuck Jounouchi's mouth.
"I told you he had a big mouth." That now familiar voice boasted. "Tell me that this isn't putting it to good use."
Kaiba watched as one of the cocks pulsed in orgasm, flooding Jounouchi's mouth with cum. The other was withdrawn, and Jou was pushed roughly forward. His face connected with the floor in a sickening thud. Without any preparation the still erect penis was slammed into the blond's prone body to its hilt. Jou's back arched against it, and two hands reached out and grabbed his shoulders, pulling his head off the floor. A grunt escaped him as whoever held him began to frantically hammer into his sweet tunnel.
Kaiba heard a noise from behind his back, and turned in surprise to see the shocked face of his lover peering at the laptop screen. All color had drained from Jou, and he was visibly shaking. The rage that had been building within Kaiba spilled over into his words as he growled ferociously at his beloved "Explain this to me, Katsuya."
They were both frozen for several moments; the only sound in the room the impassioned grunts coming from the movie still running on the laptop. Kaiba watched as tears began to stream from Jounouchi's eyes, he saw that he could barely stand he was shaking so hard.
"Tell me, Katsuya." Kaiba said, his voice murderously flat.
Instead, Jounouchi turned and fled the room. Kaiba gave chase, but by the time he made it to the mansion's front door, his lover was nowhere to be seen. The brunet had no clue as to the direction Jou may have headed. He trudged up the stairs, back to their bedroom that now felt soiled from the images he'd witnessed on the screen. He watched as the last movie ended on a close-up of his lover's sobbing face, eyes hidden by the fringe of his beautiful blond hair.
"The heart has reasons that reason does not understand."
-- Jacques Benigne Bossuel
It had been three weeks since Jounouchi disappeared, and Kaiba had exhausted all avenues for finding him. He'd been in contact with all of his friends, with his father, mother, and sister-not one of them had seen or heard from the blond. Jou had neither used any of the credit cards that Kaiba had given to him, nor had he made any calls from his cell phone. It was as if he had dropped off the face of the earth.
The first few days after Jou's disappearance, Kaiba, figuring that his beloved had sought refuge with either Yugi or Honda, had been content to give him time; to allow Jou to come home of his own volition. Outwardly the CEO continued to go to work and to attend meetings and social engagements as if nothing had happened, murmuring politely to anyone who enquired about Jou's absence that his partner was out of town on a family matter. Inwardly though, Kaiba was on an emotional rollercoaster, veering from anger and rage at both his lover and the anonymous men in the movie clips, to panic that what had happened had caused an irreparable rift between them. Over and over in his mind the brunet railed at his lover for not coming to him for protection, for running away instead of staying and giving him the chance to understand his actions. For once Kaiba was relieved that Mokuba was traveling abroad and not at home with him--he didn't know how he would be able to adequately explain why Jounouchi had left.
By the first weekend after Jou's disappearance both Yugi and Honda had telephoned looking for him, Yugi concerned because Jou had blown off a movie they'd agreed to see and Honda because he and Jou had planned to spend that Saturday together at Kaibaland. After questioning both of the blond's friends, it became apparent to Kaiba that they had not heard from Jou at all since before he had disappeared. The knowledge that not even Jounouchi's closest friends knew of the blond's whereabouts frightened Kaiba terribly, and that fright had overridden his desire to keep his private life intact and sheltered from any public scrutiny.
Faced with the reality that Jou might be missing rather than in voluntary hiding, Kaiba had invited Yugi and Honda to the mansion to fill them in on the events that had occurred. Kaiba hated the idea of divulging the activities contained in the movie clips that he'd discovered, but by the time he'd played them for Yugi and Honda, he'd become desperate to find his lover.
Both Honda and Yugi had been stunned by what they saw. Neither of them had had any clue that Jounouchi was in trouble, nor could either imagine who might have been able to coerce their friend into such compromising positions. Yugi had burst into tears and cried out, "Kaiba, you have to believe Jou would never have done that willingly. He loves you more than life itself! He would never hurt you!"
"Of course I know that, Yugi. What I don't understand is why he ran away--why he didn't stay to explain to me what happened." Kaiba confessed bitterly.
"Someone or something must have scared him, Kaiba. We have to find Jou and make sure he's okay!" Yugi exclaimed. Kaiba glanced over Yugi's head, locking eyes with Honda. The malevolent look on the other brunet's face had mirrored the rage that gripped the CEO.
"God help the bastards who did that to Jounouchi. When I get through with them they'll wish they were dead." The hazel-eyed brunet had seethed. In that moment, the CEO had realized that he had a powerful ally in his quest to bring justice to the lowlifes who'd abused his lover.
Kaiba thought that once he'd brought Jounouchi's circle of friends in on the search for his beloved someone would be able to find him. But as the days stretched into weeks with no clues turning up to indicate Jou's whereabouts, the CEO had reluctantly admitted that wherever his lover was, he most certainly did not want to be found. His heart grew heavy with that realization, and a cold numbness settled over him. He became obsessed with identifying the other men in the movie clips, not only to exact his revenge on them, but also to find out if they were in any way involved or responsible for Jounouchi's disappearance. Kaiba's heart was filled with terror at the thought that someone had harmed Jou, and that might be the reason why he had not found his way home.
It had been a simple matter to determine the originating IP address of the user that had spoofed Kaiba's email, but unfortunately it belonged to an offshore spam farm, which made it near impossible to trace to an actual user. So Kaiba assigned his top security expert, Matsumoto Yoshi on that trail, gave him an unlimited expense account and let him know he was free to use any necessary tools at his disposal to successfully track down the and verify the sender. The CEO did not care how much it cost, only that it got done.
Yet something kept nagging at Kaiba. He knew he was missing a clue that once uncovered would allow all the pieces of the puzzle to fit together. Night after night he lay alone in his big bed, replaying the events of the past few months over and over, trying to remember the times Jou had acted out of character, trying to reconstruct a timeframe around when the movies might have been shot. He knew there must have been signs, but he'd been so caught up in the intricacies of the business deal he'd been trying to close that he'd missed them. He cursed himself for expending so much energy on that transaction. On top of everything else, it had fallen through the same week that Jounouchi had disappeared. It suddenly occurred to the CEO that there might be some significance to that coincidence.
Kaiba began to focus on all the work he'd put into the deal. It should have been a minor acquisition--Matsuki Inc., was a small publicly held electronics manufacturer that he'd wanted to absorb and repurpose for manufacturing of the newest generation of Duel Disk circuitry. He was tired of dealing with outside vendors; bringing the manufacturing in-house would cut costs and allow Kaiba Corp. control of its own manufacturing schedule. Matsuki Inc. offered an appealing alternative to building his own plant from the ground up. Normally Kaiba would have had one of his lawyers handle all the negotiations, but the founder of the other company, Matsuki Haru, had insisted the two CEO's deal directly with one another. Kaiba had hated the other man on sight. Matsuki wore his jet-black hair slicked back and dressed garishly, pouring his slightly overweight frame into suits that were the Yakuza high-fashion of the late '90s. And while Kaiba was certain that the other man had no Yakuza ties, he acted as if he did, namedropping important gang leaders and acting as if he was on a first-name basis with them. Kaiba despised man's blatant attempts to impress him, and he mistrusted the middle-aged man's beady eyes, which always shifted away from his when they were engaged in conversation.
What started as a small inconvenience to Kaiba developed into a fruitless exercise in how not to negotiate, Kaiba recalled. All he did was wine and dine the other man and his top executives, and as the brunet's frustration mounted at his inability to close the deal, it gnawed at him incessantly until he found it impossible to walk away from the negotiations--he needed to win. So instead he poured far more energy than he ever should have chasing after the elusive company.
The CEO thought about all the nights he'd dragged Jou to interminable business dinners with Matsuki and his crones. It wasn't out of the ordinary for Jou to accompany him on these outings, but after attending a couple of the dinners planned for Matsuki and his executives, Jou had become pissy about going. Kaiba felt the hair on the back of his neck raise as he remembered that. Jounouchi had never protested any of the myriad social and business functions that had been his duty to attend, except for the ones that were involved in that damned business deal. Kaiba reached for the bedside light and turned it on. He was getting somewhere. He'd stumbled onto something he knew was significant, he'd found a clue.
He now knew somehow someone at Matsuki Inc. was involved with Jounouchi's disappearance. But he couldn't for the life of him figure out the connection. He'd examined all of Jounouchi's email correspondence and his cell phone records. Kaiba had been able to identify all the email addresses, with the exception of the three that contained the movie clips, and all the telephone numbers listed-the CEO had found nothing out of the ordinary--certainly not any calls or emails to or from any of his business associates. He needed to find solid evidence of a link. All he had now was his gut instinct, and though he knew it was right on, he'd never be able to flush out the perpetrators on that alone. He knew he'd gone as far as he could for the moment. He turned off the light once more and settled back into his lonely bed. If only he could trace the spoofed emails--he would check on Matsumoto's progress in the morning.
The next day when Kaiba arrived at his office, there was a message from Matsumoto waiting for him on his desk.
I've found something very interesting. Please call me at your earliest convenience.
He immediately dialed the security expert. Matsumoto told Kaiba that he'd been able to trace the email path back to its point of origination; that he had uncovered the IP address of the actual sender. On a hunch, he'd cross-referenced the address to the database log of IP addresses that the IT department kept of all connections made to Kaiba Corp computers, and he'd gotten a hit on the numerical range. While he could not pinpoint the individual computer that had sent the offending emails, Matsumoto had been able to determine that the emails had been sent from someone within the Matsuki Inc. organization.
Now Kaiba had a smoking gun, but still no way to identify the hand on the trigger. He shook with rage. Someone in that company had done unspeakable things to his lover, and he would find the bastard and his accomplices if it took him the rest of his life. It nagged at him that there was something he was missing, something right under his nose. He sighed in frustration, vowing that he would not rest until he figured out what it was.
* * *
The rest of the day had been long and exhausting; Kaiba had been distracted by Matsumoto's discovery. He had found it near impossible to focus on the menial tasks of his every day existence with the knowledge that he was close to solving the mystery of who was in those movies with Jounouchi. It had taken all of his self-control to keep from calling Matsuki and threatening him to within an inch of his life. But the brunet was still a master gamer. He knew showing his hand at this point would ruin any chances he had of getting what he really wanted-no, what he needed-the identity of that voice in the movie clips. Right now, whoever had abused Jou was probably feeling safe in the knowledge that they'd gotten away with it. Kaiba needed to allow them that delusion until he found the link; solid evidence of their complicity.
Kaiba reclined in his bed watching the late news, mind drifting to thoughts of what Jou could possibly be doing at that same moment. He felt an ache in his chest at that, and picked up the pillow on the bed next to him, nestled it against his chest and buried his nose in it. It still smelled faintly of his beloved; he'd found such comfort from Jou's lingering scent that he'd ordered that the pillowcase remain unwashed. Kaiba rolled over on his stomach to Jou's side of the bed, allowing the force of his loneliness to fully engulf him. He reached over and opened the drawer of Jou's bedside table, where the blond kept a stash of manga and doujinshi. Kaiba pulled out a few of the magazines to look through. As he lifted them to the bed, something heavy dropped from between two slick covers. He looked down on the floor beside the bed and saw a small black leather-covered book. It was a diary--Jou's diary.
Gingerly, he picked up the well-worn volume, running his hand over the butter-soft cover. The last time, he'd invaded Jou's privacy with devastating results. He snorted, how much worse could it be? He opened the book and thumbed through the pages scanning Jou's entries for any clues.
I can't believe he's making me go to another God-damned dinner with Matsuki. He scares the shit out of me, and Set has his head so far up his ass about this business deal that he can't see what's in front of his face. I am not going to let that pervert corner me in the john again. Maybe I got lucky and I scared him off last time. I can only hope. Set always tells me that I just don't understand the intricacies of how business is done, but where I come from, we call what's going on here being strung along. That bastard has no intention of selling his company to Set, and he's so fucking addicted to winning that he's thrown all reason out the window."
'Tell me what you really think, Jounouchi,' Kaiba thought wryly as he turned the page to the next entry.
Shit. I am so fucking screwed it ain't even funny. That fucking bastard-how was I supposed to know he had a tape recorder?!? Now he's got me on tape threatening him the other week, and says he's going to go public with it if I don't meet him at some skanky hotel. Couldn't wait to drop that little gem on me, followed me right into the men's room to let me know my ass was his. Never mind that he was trying to shove his hand down my pants when I was taking a leak. I don't know what to do. I'll go to jail if Matsuki hands that tape over to the cops, but jail would be better than what will happen to me if Set finds out. He'll kill me if I damage his company. I wish Mokuba was here, he'd be able to help me. He'd make Set see that I didn't have any choice. He'd figure a way to get that tape from that bastard. I'm just going to have to meet him and get that tape by myself."
Kaiba's hands trembled in rage. It was Matsuki himself who'd gone after Jou. He vowed to crush the bastard; he would bring him to his knees and take away everything that mattered to him. He would leave him with nothing. He continued to look through the entries for more references to Matsuki.
God I hurt all over, but I got that fucking tape. I crushed the cassette into little bits on my way home. I ripped the tape into a million little pieces. I doubt even Set or Mokie could put that sucker back together. I can't believe I had to lie to Set, but he was up when I got back and wanted to know where I'd been. How could I tell him the truth-that I'd been tied up and getting fucked seven ways to Sunday by Matsuki and some pro he hired in some sleazy hotel room just so that I could prevent that bastard from hurting my love and his company? The worst thing is how dirty I feel. Set wanted to make love and I just couldn't. I pretended I was asleep and he let it go, but I've never felt so awful in my life. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I am NOT going to another function that that piece of shit is going to be at."
Kaiba thumbed ahead to the last entry in the diary. He had to find out what Jou knew about the movies. The last entry was written on the same day Jou left.
I thought last week was bad, but yesterday was the worst day in my life. Set wouldn't hear of me not going to the dinner he'd planned for Matsuki. He said Katsuya, we both have jobs to do in this relationship. You knew when you moved in with me there would be certain requirements. You can't tell me the benefits aren't worth a few boring dinners. God Set if you only knew. But what could I say? As far as he was concerned, I was being a whiney brat. I knew one thing though--I wasn't visiting the bathroom. It turns out I didn't have to. Seto's cell rang and he excused himself to take the call, and that bastard sat down in Set's chair next to me. I have a surprise for you, pet he said, and whipped out his cell phone. He showed me some pictures on it-they're of me tied up! I am such a loser. I should have known that wouldn't be the end of it. I didn't even see any fucking cameras there-he must have had them hidden. I would have never-damn I just wanted make everything all right and instead I fucked it up even worse. We made quite an interesting movie the other night he said. I asked him what the hell he wanted from me. That's when he told me he wanted me to himself, that if I didn't leave Set, he'd send him the movies. Fuck you I told him. Go ahead, I dare you. I dare you and while you're at it I dare you to tell him how you blackmailed me. He didn't like that one bit, but I didn't care. Thank God Set came back, he glared at Matsuki and for a second I thought he finally saw what was going on, but he only asked the fucker to please go back to his own seat. When this gets out, Seto might not want to have anything to do with me, but I'll kill myself before I ever let that bastard touch me again. I've got to come clean with Seto, no matter what happens, I have to tell him before he sees those pictures."
Kaiba closed the diary and lay back on the bed, digesting the passages he'd read. It was not lost on the brunet that Jou had tried to talk to him and he'd blown him off. So much so that his lover had been afraid to come to him until it was too late. For the first time since Jou had left, Kaiba broke down and cried.
"Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another's heart, or its flame burns low."
-- Henry Ward Beecher
Kaiba woke up the next morning, his eyes still swollen from the tears he'd shed the night before. He could not remember ever crying so hard, or ever feeling so utterly abandoned. Even after he'd been orphaned he'd had Mokuba to share in his grief. Now he was completely alone--he could not bring himself to call his younger brother and pour out his miseries to him from halfway around the world, nor did he have any other family or friends with whom he could unburden his heavy heart. He thought about Jounouchi who at that very moment was equally as alone in the world and his chest was consumed by an exquisitely dull ache.
He knew that he had to accept the lion's share of the blame for the events that had transpired. He berated himself for being so insensitive to his lover and so blind to what was going on right under his own nose. He would never forgive himself for dismissing Jou's reservations so easily and for cajoling him into playing the role of adoring partner. He'd taken Jounouchi for granted--believing that he'd invested far more into their romance than the blond would ever manage--when the reality had been that it was Jou who had consistently made the compromises that the success of their relationship rested on. It was Jounouchi who dropped everything and anything at a moment's notice to tend to Mokuba, inform the staff of last minute dinner guests, and who attended to any of the myriad tasks and errands that cropped up throughout any given day that Kaiba deemed essential to be completed. Kaiba knew that if he'd taken the time to analyze every facet of their personal life, that despite his lack of financial contributions, Jounouchi had been more than an equal partner.
In short, Jou had altered his life until Kaiba and Mokuba occupied its center, whereas the CEO had simply accommodated his lover and scheduled him in on his agenda, as he would have any other obligation. The dynamics of their relationship had slanted the playing field; advantage Kaiba Seto. That had been very wrong and now he wondered if he would ever be given the opportunity to rectify it. He winced, thinking of all the opportunities he'd squandered to reassure his beloved how much he was cherished and loved.
It had been a mistake to think that he had meant more to Jou than Jou had meant to him. What had really been the case, he realized in retrospect, was that Jou had been far more skilled at demonstrating his devotion to the CEO. After weathering the blistering abuse heaped upon him by his stepfather, Kaiba had become squeamish about openly expressing his feelings, and often he had found himself more than a little embarrassed by his lover's shameless exhibitions of affection. Now the brunet found that it was that part of his relationship with Jounouchi that he felt deprived of the most. While their sex life had been both spine-tingling and breathtaking--Jou had never failed to excite and enrapture Kaiba with his sense of adventure in the bedroom and had an appetite for making love that at times left the brunet reeling--he found that it was the knowledge of being ~loved~ that Jou never failed to remind him of that he missed the most. It was the little moments--the lingering touches, the passing glances that made his stomach flutter and groin ache in desire. It was the breakfasts Jou served to him in bed after the CEO had toiled late into the early morning hours. It was the bubble baths that Jou would force him to soak in and endure the blond's ministrations over his tired body with both loofah and washcloth.
He was guilty in the knowledge that Jounouchi had given so much to him, and yet had asked for so little in return. And just what ~had~ he given to the blond? He had thought that the creature comforts afforded to the partner of one of the wealthiest men in the world should have been enough of an exchange, but now in the cold light of the morning, he realized how miserly that truly had been. Even in their carnal bed, he'd withheld a part of himself; never fully giving in to the vocalizations that he'd known his lover sought from his lips. In his desperation for control, he'd never been able to open up to his beloved and reciprocate in full, and that knowledge filled him with remorse.
He could see now that it hadn't been too great a leap for Jounouchi to think that once Matsuki had sprung his trap, the brunet would choose to protect Kaiba Corp. and, by extension Mokuba, over his hot-tempered lover. Further, knowing Jou's fanatical need for independence--to prove that he was capable of taking care of himself--the brunet understood exactly what had led Jou to that hotel room. Kaiba reflected belatedly that while Jou had easily seen through Matsuki's ploy in the stalled negotiations of selling his company to Kaiba Corp., he'd blindly played into the bastard's hands when he himself had been the quarry. But now the time had come to exact revenge, Kaiba thought grimly. Perhaps in that act, Jou would see that Kaiba ~always~ took care of his family, and that despite the brunet's inability to demonstrate it, Jou's place in the Kaiba family had indeed been front and center.
As far as he was concerned, Kaiba had enough evidence to go after Matsuki and make him suffer, but the CEO was not satisfied to ruin him alone; his rage knew no bounds. He also wanted to ensure that the humiliation of the other CEO would be complete, and for that to happen, he needed to uncover undeniable proof. He knew that the movie clips he'd seen had been artfully edited-somewhere there existed raw footage, and he had a good idea where it could be found-the main server for Matsuki Inc. He would hack into it himself and have a look around.
* * *
In the end, Kaiba had found that the revenge he exacted in no way diminished the sense of loss he was plagued with on a daily basis, nor did it quench the blood lust that had driven him to seek retribution. It had been far too easy to bring Matsuki to his knees. He was a victim of his own hubris, his own belief that he was untraceable to the events on the movie clips. Kaiba had been able to find the files he was looking for within minutes of hacking into the Matsuki company server. The raw footage had confirmed the identity of Jou's rapists and proven beyond a reasonable doubt in Kaiba's mind that he'd not been a willing participant. Kaiba had watched, his heart breaking, as Jounouchi was reduced from his proud lover to a sex slave, all to protect the Kaiba brothers from any hint of scandal or wrongdoing on his part. He left Honda to deal with the prostitute on the tape, certain that the other brunet would be as thorough as he would be in his quest for revenge.
Kaiba vowed he would take everything away from the other man. He would leave him with nothing. He knew at any given time the edited clips could be made public and would serve to embarrass him greatly. He had to be pre-emptive. As much as it killed him inside, he knew his only recourse was to go public with the unedited footage, which clearly showed that his lover was forced into the degradation depicted in the movie. The CEO knew he could not go to the police with his ill-gotten evidence--it would never be admissible in a court of law. Instead he would try his case in the court of public opinion; that would help him destroy the man responsible for hurting his lover. He called a news conference at which he played the unedited movie to all the reporters in attendance from every major media outlet in Japan. When it was done, the silence in the room was palpable, before a reporter for the Daily Times quietly addressed him.
"Kaiba-san, where is your partner, Jounouchi-san right now?"
"I do not know where Katsuya is." He replied evenly. "He has been missing for weeks. I am hoping that by going public, the men who were involved in this crime will be brought to justice and my ... lover will come home." He felt a tear slip from his eye.
There was a murmur through the crowd as other reporters gained confidence and began firing questions at the CEO. He patiently answered each and every one, knowing that the more he spoke the more sound bytes he was generating-sound bytes that would be played over and over for weeks. Kaiba was confident that the ripple effect would both humiliate Matsuki and hurt his pocketbook. He was right, as usual. The Matsuki Inc. stockholders were the first to feel the fallout from it. The stocks nose-dived almost immediately as censored versions of the movie clips hit the national TV news. Matsuki was stripped of his position and forced to resign with no compensation. The damage his actions had caused his company had violated the agreement of the deal he'd negotiated for his golden parachute.
The brunet remained unsatisfied by his preliminary attack. As Matsuki Inc. struggled to stabilize, he continued his offensive by making a low-ball offer to buy it outright. The board of directors, eager to distance themselves from the scandalized ex-CEO, jumped at it, and Kaiba Corp. was able to buy the plant for pennies to the dollar on the offering Kaiba had initially made.
His first action as the new owner was to divest the Matsuki name from the newly acquired company. He knew the symbolism would not be lost on the other man, in fact the brunet had hoped that his actions would provoke him into seeking retribution. When there was no public reaction from the other man, Kaiba pushed a little further. He needed to make him suffer more for what he'd done.
He'd always been an incredibly astute businessman, and early in his career he'd invested in a multitude of different industries, including mortgage brokering. He knew that the house Matsuki and his family lived in had been heavily mortgaged after he lost his position. So Kaiba directed one of his mortgage companies to buy the bank that held the mortgage to Matsuki's house. He noted that the house was in his wife's name, no matter--he instructed that the note be called in immediately.
That got Matsuki's attention. He called Kaiba directly--he was irate that the brunet would stoop so low as to destroy his family.
"You should have thought about the consequences of your actions before you decided to hurt what was mine. Did you really think I'd let you go unpunished?" Kaiba replied coolly.
"You better watch your back, Kaiba, next time it'll be you or that cute little brother of yours. I've nothing left to lose now--you've taken it all from me."
"You have no idea how much more you have to lose, Matsuki, and I hardly think you're in any position to threaten me with harm."
"It's not a threat you bastard, it's a promise. When you least expect it, I'm going to put a bullet through your pretty little head. I hope you're little fuck toy was worth your life."
Kaiba bit his tongue; he needed to keep a level head. He'd gotten what he needed. He'd recorded the bastard threatening him. Anything more would be icing on the cake.
"You don't have the guts Matsuki. You're nothing but a coward."
"We'll see about that, won't we? And just so you know, once you're out of the picture, perhaps I'll look Mokuba up. He'd make a nice little pet."
"Why don't you worry a little more about taking care of your family while you still can. I hear that they're hiring at McDonald's."
"Just you wait Kaiba, I'm going to get you for what you've done-"
Kaiba hung up and shook his head. It had been way too easy to crush the bastard. He hadn't suffered enough. He decided to poke Matsuki a little further--he called the police to alert them to a threat made on his life.
* * *
One morning about two weeks later, Kaiba's secretary buzzed him nervously.
"Kaiba-san, there's a woman here who insists on seeing you. She's very upset. She won't leave. She says her name is Matsuki Kaede."
Kaiba smirked at the name. The bastard's wife wanted to see him.
"Send her in, please." Kaiba took his seat at his desk and began to peruse some of the projects he'd been overseeing.
"How could you have done this to my husband?" the woman shouted as she entered his office.
"He brought this all on himself," Kaiba responded coolly without bothering to look up.
"You've destroyed him. There's nothing left of the man I fell in love with!"
Kaiba snorted. "I did nothing of the sort. Unless you fell in love with a monster, he'd changed long before I did anything to him."
"You're right," she admitted. "But your father caused him much heartache. His actions filled Haru with hate."
"My father?" Kaiba asked, momentarily confused. He glanced up at Matsuki Kaede and was immediately struck by how well put-together she looked. It was obvious she'd taken care to make a positive impression on him. The older woman was dressed impeccably, her jet hair pulled back in a severe chignon, with minimal make up applied to accent her fine-boned features. She wore a modest light olive-colored business suit and was adorned with very little jewelry. Her black eyes sparkled with unshed tears.
"Yes, Kaiba Gozaburo. He destroyed Haru's mother."
"He. Is. Not. My. Father." Kaiba spat. "I am not responsible for what he did!"
"No you are not. But Haru could not forgive or forget what happened. You see, his mother worked for Gozaburo as one of his personal secretaries, and they had a brief love affair. When she broke it off, he fired her. But Gozaburo was a vengeful man, and if he couldn't have Nozomi, no one else would-it could never be proven, but shortly after that, she killed herself. When Haru's father went through his wife's belongings, he came across a letter from Gozaburo-he threatened to kill her family if she did not resume the affair."
He was stunned by Kaede's words. He had assumed that Matsuki bore some grudge against him-he had made many enemies in his own right over the years as he'd flexed his influence to gain what he wanted. But this had been a vendetta against his stepfather-the man who'd made his own childhood a living hell. And now he'd lost the love of his life because of him. He would never be truly free of his stepfather's shadow, he thought miserably.
"That gave him no right to hurt Jounouchi." Kaiba replied, his anger building. "He deserves everything that has happened."
"No, of course it didn't, and I understand Kaiba-san why you did what you did to my husband. But you didn't stop there. Now you're hurting my children. They have no father and we no longer have a home. You're heartless, you are just like your father."
Kaiba's eyes blazed at her as he growled, "That's not true! I did have a heart at one time but your husband ripped it from my chest the day he raped my lover."
"But we are innocents. How could you destroy my family--my children?" She implored.
"Jounouchi was innocent too, but that did not stop your husband from setting out to destroy him to get to me. Let me tell you one thing," he added. "I'm far from finished with Matsuki Haru. By the time I am, he will be reduced to nothing. He will own nothing; he will have no one to turn to for help. His name will be erased from memory."
"Please! " She shrieked. "Have mercy on me and my children. We have done you no wrong." She threw herself at him and clung to him. "Don't you see that you will only serve to further this grudge? Do you want my children to grow up with such hatred for the Kaiba name as their father did? Please I will do anything you ask-"
"Will you turn back the hands of time and bring my lover back to me? Will you find him and comfort him and let him know that what your bastard of a husband did to him wasn't his fault? You can't do that can you? Kaiba hissed at her venomously. "Then I want nothing from you. Leave. NOW."
"Seto, please! This has to end!" Mokuba interrupted. Kaiba looked at the doorway, where his brother now stood. He must have heard the argument and come to investigate. Since he'd come home from abroad and Seto had confided in him all the events that had led to Jou's departure, Mokuba had shadowed his beloved brother relentlessly.
"This is no concern of yours, Mokuba," he snapped. He pushed the sobbing woman away from him.
"Seto, please. This won't bring Jou back to us. There is nothing left for you to do except forgive yourself. You have to start to let go."
He noticed the tears streaming down his brother's face and it hit him that Mokuba missed Jounouchi as much as he did. Mokuba, who'd befriended Jou long before Kaiba was prepared to give him even so much as the time of day, long before he recognized that his need to insult the blond had been borne from his desire to be with him. Mokuba, who had grown up with Jounouchi as an integral part of his adolescent--as a friend, a playmate, and at times, a babysitter.
Something inside the brunet broke then. He realized that all he'd done to make things right, to signal to Jounouchi that it was safe to come home, had been in vain. Jou had still not contacted any of his friends and family--and his passport, the original of which remained at Kaiba's house--had not been reissued, nor in the months since his disappearance had he used any of his credit cards or his cell phone. It was quite clear that Jou was not coming home.
It was at the point that Kaiba lost his appetite for retribution. He looked over at the sobbing woman, who would not raise her head to meet his eyes. "You can't tell me that you still love him." He stated more than asked.
She looked at him then, unwavering. "No, I despise what he did. I've served him with papers for a divorce."
"I'm done." He said tiredly. "You can keep your house."
"I just hope to sleep
And never awaken
Nothing left in this world
Could replace what you have taken"
-- Sandy Cheney
Kaiba woke to a spectacular view of the dun-colored cliffs of Sorrento. In the orange cast of the early morning sun, he watched the local fishermen setting out for the day from the crescent of a sheltered sandy beach far below the city that clung precariously to the cliff-tops.
He'd not slept well his first night on board; his fitful slumber had been punctuated by dreams about Jou. He couldn't really say that his dreams of his lover were recurring; it was more that their theme was. The time, the place, the others involved might change from dream to dream, but all of them inevitably ended with him chasing after the elusive blond, all of them ended with him waking up with his heart beating erratically and a feeling of intense sadness and loss.
He had observed over the past year as one by one each of Jounouchi's friends and family members had given up on the blond. One by one, they came to terms with Jou's disappearance, each concluding that he wasn't coming back because he was dead. The consensus reached was that Jounouchi, in the throes of deep humiliation, had chosen to end his life. Kaiba alone maintained steadfastly that his lover was alive somewhere in the world. He had endured the disgusting looks of pity from Jou's friends and their insipid offers of condolences, but when the memorial service for his beloved had been planned, he'd emphatically insisted that he would have no part of it.
It had torn his heart in two when Mokuba had tearfully confessed that he didn't believe Jou could be alive and still not have made contact with any of his friends and family. He begged Kaiba to accept that his lover was gone for good--he begged his older brother to let go of Jou, to move on. Kaiba simply told him that it was not possible.
He couldn't fully explain to Mokuba or anyone else how exactly he knew Jounouchi was alive. For as much as he demanded evidence of his beloved's death, he had no proof that his lover was alive. He could point to only one thing, he believed that Jou was alive because the blond haunted him in his dreams. And he was well aware that if someone else had given that as a reason for believing, he would have scoffed at openly.
Kaiba had never had dreams about either of his parents after they had died. It was as if the extinguishing of their lives had erased every trace of them from his unconsciousness. Of course he could still dimly remember things about his mother-he still retained frozen moments in time, which over the years had become more akin to memories of memories, but she never appeared in his dreams, not even in some form other than the woman she'd been in life. The same held true for his father, after he died in the car accident it was also as if he'd never existed. Gozaburo had vanished too, even though Kaiba had been certain that his cruel stepfather would haunt him to his grave. And so, because his lover populated so many of his dreams, the brunet clung to the irrational belief that that alone proved Jounouchi was alive.
Upon the ship's arrival in the port of Sorrento, Kaiba had arranged for a private car to chauffeur him on a personal tour of Pompeii. He watched from his port balcony as many of his fellow passengers disembarked and lined up on the pier in front of a few idling buses. He despised the thought of riding a tour bus, no matter how luxuriously it was appointed--he loathed the idea of being ferried about as a group and herded like cows. He also had no desire for the forced interaction that usually occurred when a group of strangers were stuck in close quarters for extended periods of time.
The car he'd hired turned out to be a Mercedes sedan and he sunk into the plush leather back seat and gazed absently out at the Campanian landscape as they drove north along the coast. The towering peak of Mount Vesuvius dominated the horizon although it was roughly 80 kilometers away. The driver droned on his cell phone, which seemed permanently affixed to his ear, but Kaiba didn't mind--he certainly didn't want to engage in small-talk with the Italian-the man's English was marginal, and Kaiba had a difficult time deciphering the heavy accent. He thumbed through a self-guided tour book that mapped out Pompeii and detailed the ruins he would see.
Standing on a hill overlooking the ancient city, Kaiba was astonished by the vista laid out below. Nothing could have prepared him for the sophistication of the ancient Romans, laid bare by over one hundred and forty years of archeological excavation. He had thought from the history he'd learned of the Greco-Roman empire that the Romans had merely absorbed the finer culture and architectural aesthetics of the Greeks and had been master copiers of their unparalleled classicism. But as he surveyed the city below, he realized that that was simply not the case. While the ancient Romans did borrow heavily from the rich Greek history they'd inherited, they had proven to be master engineers and artisans in their own right. The city had survived virtually intact under the volcanic ash that buried it in 79AD, and he was amazed at the beauty inherent to its logical grid pattern--Pompeii had not grown organically as the population increased--it had been carefully planned. As had the ingenious system of aqueducts that brought running water to the city, at every street corner there were cisterns that had supplied the citizens with clean water. Ancient Pompeians had also enjoyed hot and cold baths in the public bathhouses that dotted the city, many of which were decorated with decidedly erotic imagery, and denizens of the city had been entertained by gladiators and could view performances at one of two public amphitheatres. They had also been able to spend many a night on the town at one of the many wine bars, taverns and restaurants that populated almost every street.
But most marvelous of all to Kaiba were the frescos that decorated the interior walls of the huge, block-long private villas. The wall-sized paintings were grounded on deep reds and rich golds and depicted mythological scenes and ancient rituals. In the Villa of the Mysteries he gazed upon a cycle of murals that depicted the initiation rites into the cult of Dionysus. Set on a brilliant red ground, panel after panel showed life-sized initiates dressed in Roman togas being offered platters of delicacies by voluptuous women. He was relieved that he was alone when he entered the Vettius House and stumbled upon the fresco of Prapius weighing his phallus--at which he'd guffawed-for according to the image, the man had been hung like a horse. As his laughter's echo faded in the empty room, a stab of sadness reminded him of how much he wished Jounouchi were here to share with him in his discovery.
As he was preparing to leave and head back to the ship, he stopped by one of the exhibits of plaster casts that had been made in the 1860s. There he saw sculptures of some of the ancient citizens in the various positions that they had died in. They had been cast in their undisturbed ash tombs by the Italian archeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli. Some figures were lying together, apparently sheltering each other from the smothering ashes, still others looked as if they had died peacefully in their sleep. One man was crouched down on his feet, hands over his nose and mouth-it was obvious that he was trying not to breathe in the noxious fumes and particles before he'd been buried alive.
As his car drove him back to the port, Kaiba mused over the disturbing casts, he had been deeply saddened by them. He wondered what it must have been like to be trapped in the city as mountains of ash and rock and lava rained down-people must have thought that the world was ending, and for them, it was. It reminded him of how tenuous life truly was, how easily and indifferently it could be extinguished in the blink of an eye. He was filled with great melancholy as it occurred to him that he could live out the rest of his life and die without ever seeing Jounouchi again. He would never be given the opportunity to make things right. That thought angered him, because it was Jounouchi himself who had determined there would be no second chance, and somewhere deep in his soul, he was outraged that his lover had lacked enough faith in him to allow him the option of working it out together. After all was said and done, he could understand Jounouchi's reasons for leaving, but he was infuriated that he'd remained away.
He arrived back at the deserted ship a couple of hours before it was due to leave the port. Kaiba decided it would be a good time to set out and explore before it became crowded again with the passengers. He took the elevator to the open-air top deck and strolled around its circumference, taking in the view of the pool on the deck below. He walked down the outer stairs to the pool deck, and lounged in a deck chair listening idly to the bells on the boats of the fishermen who were returning to port after their long day at sea. The smell of turpentine permeated the air, and he spied two crewmembers across the deck from him white-washing the ship's metal hull. His eyes narrowed as he noticed a familiar mop of sun-bleached blond under one of the crew caps and he scrutinized the lithe body of the man whose back was to Kaiba has he meticulously painted around a porthole. The man reminded Kaiba so much of Jou--he held his breath as he willed him to turn in his direction. It seemed as if time was standing still as Kaiba continued to watch, unable to tear his eyes away from the other man. He felt goose bumps on his skin and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end as he turned his head to say something to his partner and graced Kaiba with the unmistakable profile of Jounouchi Katsuya. The other crewmember said something inaudible to Kaiba and walked through a nearby door.
"Katsuya?" He managed to croak, but the other man continued to paint as if he had not heard the brunet. Kaiba rose from the chair and began to approach him. His heart pounded in his chest and he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. As he closed the distance, he once again found his voice, and this time called out louder "Katsuya?" This time he could see a shudder run through the other man's body, before he quickly gathered his paint bucket and roller in one hand and disappeared into the same doorway his partner had entered moments before.
Kaiba broke out in a run, trying to catch up, but when he got to the door and tried the handle it was locked. A small sign on it read 'Crew Only.' There was no uncertainty in the brunet's mind-that man he'd just seen was Jou. His sense of joy at his discovery was quickly dampened though, by the realization that Jounouchi had embarked on an entirely new life when he'd left his old one behind. Kaiba had thought when he'd finally tracked down his errant lover he would be as broken and lost as he felt inside. He hadn't thought his lover would find it so easy to leave him in the past, as it appeared it had been.
He pounded on the door--he wanted, no he needed to see the blond. He told himself that he just wanted to make sure that Jounouchi was okay, but he could see with his own eyes that his lover had seemed to be perfectly all right. No he wanted Jou to see him. What he wanted was for Jou to know how much pain his desertion had caused. He continued to knock urgently on the door, vowing he would continue rapping until someone responded, his mind preoccupied with thoughts of just what he would say.
After what seemed like forever, a crewmember finally cracked the door open.
"May I help you, Sir?"
"Yes, I'm looking for ... Katsuya Jounouchi," Kaiba said hurriedly, remembering to westernize Jou's name. "I just saw him go through this door a few minutes ago."
The crewmember looked perplexed. "I don't believe I know anyone by that name," he said.
"Let me speak with your superior, then. This is an emergency." Kaiba dismissed him. He had to find someone who would take him to Jou.
"Hold on Sir," the man said politely as he closed the door.
Kaiba folded his arms and waited impatiently. His pulse was still racing and he could feel a bead of sweat on his brow. He was finding it hard to believe that he'd actually laid eyes on his lover, that he hadn't been an apparition. A few minutes later an officer appeared at the doorway.
"Excuse me, Mister ... ?"
"Kaiba, Seto Kaiba. I'm looking for a crewmember, Katsuya Jounouchi, I just saw him go through this door a few minutes ago." He could see the original crewmember over the officer's shoulder.
The officer looked at him puzzled. "I'm sorry, I don't recognize the name, can you describe him to me?"
Kaiba sighed in exasperation. He knew the man he'd seen was Jou, he was positive. "He has blond hair, a slim build, and stands about two inches shorter than me. He was just out on deck painting." He saw a glimmer of recognition in the officer's eyes.
"Ah, you must mean Joey Wheeler!"
"Joey Wheeler?" He let the strange name slip off his tongue.
"Yes, Joey Wheeler. He fits your description, and he was assigned to paint outside the deck this afternoon."
Kaiba stared at the officer and glanced at the nameplate pinned to his shirt pocket. "Mr. Garofalis, I need to see ... Joey Wheeler. It's very important." He added.
The officer looked down at his watch. "I'm sorry Sir, the crew is preparing for disembarkation right now, I can send him to your stateroom once the ship is out of the harbor and I locate him. Which number are you in?"
"I'm in Suite 701."
"Very well Sir, I will send Mr. Wheeler to your stateroom as soon as possible."
* * *
It all made sense now, Kaiba thought as he paced the living room of his suite. Jounouchi Katsuya ~had~ dropped off the face of the earth. He felt the vibration of the ship's engines as it made its way out of the harbor into the Gulf of Naples. He stepped out onto the dining room balcony and stared off at the Italian coast and Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
An hour later, he was still waiting for Jounouchi to knock on his door. His stomach grumbled in protest at not having eaten all day, he decided he would dine en suite once again. He looked over the menu as he had the night before, but now he was too agitated and too distracted to choose. He phoned his steward with the same instructions as the previous night.
"One more thing," he added. "I'm waiting in my suite for a crewmember--Joey Wheeler. Please find out when I can expect him." After all, the officer had said as soon as possible.
The steward arrived shortly with Kaiba's meal and wine. "I'm sorry sir, Mr. Wheeler was assigned to the dining room this evening. I've been assured that he will come to your stateroom as soon as he is off-duty."
He was irritated by the news, but bit his tongue. It had been a year since he'd seen Jounouchi, he could wait another hour or so. He thanked the steward and settled down to eat. His mind was spinning and his moods were swinging wildly from minute to minute. He found it impossible to concentrate on what most likely was a delicious meal. One minute he was elated and the next he was furious. He was having a hard time with the new knowledge that Jou was using an alias. He pushed the food around his plate for a while, then sat out on the dining room balcony as dusk turned into night. He watched the twinkling lights of the coastal towns gradually growing closer and closer together as the ship approached Naples on its way north toward the port of Citta Vecchia. Tomorrow the itinerary was Rome.
He heard a knock at the stateroom door. He could feel every fiber in his body stretched taut as he opened up the door to reveal Jounouchi. They stared at each other frozen in silence for a few seconds.
"Wheeler, it is?" Kaiba said sarcastically as he glared hard at the blond.
Jou shrank under his icy gaze. "Seto." he whispered in astonishment. He averted his gaze and stared down at the floor.
"You had no intention of ever coming back to me, did you? Did our time together mean nothing to you?" Kaiba seethed. He had a year of emotional turmoil to feed off of.
"It wasn't like that," Jou said softly, still unable to meet Kaiba's gaze.
"No? What was it ~like~? Tell me, Katsuya." He hissed. He could see that Jou was shaking, but he did not care. His anger would not, could not be denied.
After several seconds of silence had ticked by, Kaiba stormed on. "Okay, then let me tell you what it was like. All the months I spent looking for you, searching for any sign that you were alive. How about I tell you how broken up Mokuba was, or your friends, or your family? Would you like to hear about the memorial service they held for you?"
He saw the look of horror register on Jou's face as he raised it, and he sought words that would hurt him further. "That's right Katsuya, they ~all~ mourn you as dead. I alone believed that you were alive somewhere on this planet. But you couldn't care about that could you? Just as you chose the coward's way out rather than stay with me and explain what those movies were. You thought I would hate you, but you weren't man enough to face me. Don't you ever think about the consequences of your actions?"
"You're what, Katsuya? Sorry? Sorry for leaving, or sorry that I ran into you?" Kaiba snarled. With some satisfaction he saw tears streaming from Jounouchi's eyes. And he immediately felt disgusted with himself. He turned away and stared out into the inky night. His anger was dissipating, and in its place he felt joy in the knowledge that he'd finally found his beloved. Once again he was reminded of how many times in the past year he'd ached to see Jou, if only to know for certain that he was alive. His hand reached instinctively into his pocket and his fingers caressed the ruby encrusted ring that he kept there. All at once it became clear in his mind, he still loved Jou.
"Katsuya," He continued softly. "I can't tell you how hard it has been for me this past year." His voice broke with emotion. "Not knowing where you were, if you were all right." He turned back to his lover only to be faced with an empty doorway. Once again, Jounouchi had vanished.
"It is better to break one's heart than to do nothing with it."
-- Margaret Kennedy
Kaiba felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach; it hurt him physically to know that this time he ~had~ driven Jounouchi away. But he knew there was nothing more that he could do at the moment. To order 'Joey Wheeler' back to his stateroom would cause undue scrutiny. The only thing left to do was to try and get some sleep and to try to find Jounouchi tomorrow. He undressed and crawled into bed.
He tried in vain to sleep but his mind was still racing and adrenaline was still pumping through his veins. Jou was alive! Despite his rage, as he lay tossing and turning in the stateroom bed, Kaiba knew with all his heart that he still loved the blond. He had known it the moment he'd laid eyes on him again. And, as angry as he was, he rejoiced that his lover was alive, that Jou had not committed suicide, as everyone else had believed. All at once the stateroom felt claustrophobic, as did its three private balconies. Knowing that he would not be able to sleep, and craving open space, Kaiba slipped into some clothes and went out onto the open deck.
He leaned on the rail and stared out into the black abyss of the open sea. The steady ache he felt in his heart--that had been with him since he watched helplessly as Jounouchi had fled their bedroom and their life together--slowly intensified until he thought that his heart was truly breaking. He knew he had been more than harsh and unfair when he'd summoned Jou to his stateroom and then berated him and railed at him and unloaded onto him all the grief and misery that he had lived with for the past year, and he regretted it deeply. It was not how he had imagined their reunion would be. He cursed himself for once again allowing the blond to escape from him. At least this time Jou would not be able to run far. Unless he went over the side of the ship ... Kaiba immediately banished that thought from his mind, even after his cruel words, Jou ~had~ to know he still loved him.
The crew had left out deck chairs for any one who wished to spend time above-deck overnight. He reclined in one of the cushioned teak lounges, fixing his eyes on the racing clouds overhead that stood out in relief against the carpet of stars. The gentle hum of the engines and the slow steady rock of the ship as it cut through the waves lulled Kaiba into a fitful sleep.
He opened his eyes to bright daylight. Jounouchi was leaning against the rail, facing him. He was topless, and his crew pants were resting low on his hips revealing his bronzed torso right down to the crests of his pelvic bones. He was staring intently at Kaiba, as if he were trying to find the right words to tell him something.
Kaiba was filled with lust and remorse as he stared at his blond lover. The emptiness and loneliness of the past year hit him full force, and he felt tears trickle hotly down his cheeks. He wanted to touch Jou, to hold him, to tell him everything was alright, he was forgiven-no, not that he was forgiven--that he'd done nothing that needed forgiving. He wanted to tell Jou that he still loved him. But he could not find his voice.
"Why did you leave like that?" he finally managed to croak.
"Because you didn't love me enough." Jou answered, his eyes shining angrily.
"How can you say that? I loved you more than anyone, I would have done anything for you!"
"If that's true, then why didn't you stop ~him~?" Jou snarled.
"Jou--I--I didn't know! You have to believe me when I tell you that! I had no idea what he was doing to you!"
The blond snorted. "Yeah right. You, the Great Kaiba Seto, didn't know. All the signs were there. If anyone was ta ask me, ya didn't ~want~ to know."
"You're wrong, Katsuya! You should have come to me, you should have told me what he was doing. I would have stopped him."
"Ya think I didn't try? You. Weren't. Listening. Maybe you didn't stop him because you liked the thought of what he was doing to me," the blond sneered. "Yeah, you liked the idea of me bein' tied up and fucked by him and his friends, didn't ya? I bet ya found those pictures hot, huh? Did'ja jack off ta them?"
"NO!" Kaiba roared. "Stop it! I couldn't stand to see you humiliated that way--"
"Yeah, I get it now. I was just a fuck toy to you Kaiba, right? I was only ~useful~ when I was warming your bed. Even now I can see the lust in your eyes, ya can't take them offa me." The blond approached and leaned over Kaiba.
"C'mon, admit it." He purred. "Ya still want ta fuck me, don'cha?"
Kaiba whimpered as he felt the heat rolling off of Jou's skin, felt his own need coursing through his body. Of course Jou was right, he wanted nothing more than to have his lover back in his arms, to feel his lithe body stretched out under his own.
* * *
Kaiba woke with a start and instinctively reached out at the shadow that loomed over him. His hand fumbled against a forearm and he grabbed his would-be assailant.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" he asked menacingly.
"I'm crew! I saw you out here, and thought you might catch a chill. I just tucked a blanket around you!"
In the moonlight, Kaiba could see the white uniform of the man whose arm he held, could see that his head was turned away. It registered that he knew that voice--he would know it anywhere--he had heard it at least 10,000 times in his dreams during the past year.
"Look at me," he ordered. Slowly Jounouchi turned and faced him, refusing to meet his eyes.
"I said look at me!" Kaiba tightened his grip on Jou's forearm. Slowly Jou raised his eyes until he was staring directly into Kaiba's. He could feel the blond trembling beneath his grip.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean ta wake ya. Please let me go," Jou begged softly.
"No, I've got you now, and I'm never going to let you go again," with a fluid movement, he tugged on Jou's arm and pulled him into his lap.
"You're freezing!" Kaiba exclaimed as Jou shivered against him. He maneuvered Jou into a sitting position, still refusing to let go of him. He pushed the blanket at him. "Wrap this around you," he ordered.
Instead Jou threw himself onto the deck, pulling Kaiba forward in the lounge chair. He knelt, forehead bowed to the floor. Kaiba was now leaning over Jou in an awkward position, his head hovering inches above the blond's.
"Please, let me go." Jou sobbed. "I-I didn't mean to wake you!"
Kaiba reached out with his free hand and stroked Jou's hair. He felt his own tears slipping freely down his cheeks, felt the wetness in Jou's hair where they landed after they dripped from his face.
"I can't do that." Kaiba whispered softly. "I love you, Katsuya. Now that I've found you, I can't let you go."
Jou was visibly shaking. "I don't deserve your love. I don't even deserve to live. Please just let me go and I won't bother you again." His voice was wracked with sobs.
"Haven't you heard a word I said?" Kaiba said harshly. He climbed down onto the deck and pulled Jou into his lap. Jou was sobbing uncontrollably now, and the brunet hugged him tightly to his chest, and alternately kissed his blond locks and whispered "Shhhhhh, it's over now," over and over until Jou's crying subsided.
They lay still together for a long time-Kaiba's legs outstretched and his back against the ship's wall, Jou curled in his lap. Kaiba listened to the evenness of Jou's breathing interrupted at odd intervals with dry heaves. The brunet was exhausted, yet felt more content than he had at any time in the past year. He breathed in the familiar scent of his lover, and trembled at the revelation that Jou was once again in his arms. "Please come back to my stateroom," he whispered softly.
Jou began shaking again. "N-No, I can't go back there. Please, I don't want to be yelled at any more. I don't want to fight with you." He pressed his face into Kaiba's chest, wedging his head under the brunet's chin.
"No, that's over. I promise. I was wrong to say those things to you." Kaiba said tearfully. "Please forgive me."
"Forgive you?!?" Jou's red-rimmed eyes looked into his. "~I'm~ the one who needs to ask forgiveness, but I don't deserve it-"
"Stop it Katsuya! Stop blaming yourself! I ~know~ what happened. I read your diary.
If there is anyone to blame, it is me. I never let you know what you meant to me-what you still mean to me. I let you believe that a business deal was more important than you, than us. You thought Kaiba Corp. meant more to me than you did, and that couldn't be further from the truth."
"Nonononono. I brought shame to your house. He could have destroyed you-everything you worked so hard to build! How can you even look at me after what I did?" Jou struggled to escape Kaiba's grasp. "Please just forget you ever saw me. Pretend I'm dead. God knows that after what I've done I wish that I were."
"Stop it!" Kaiba repeated. "You did nothing of the sort. That bastard did, and he's paid for it dearly. He is nothing--he's in prison. No one hurts what's mine and gets away with it. And whether or not you want to believe it, as long as you live and breathe, you are mine, Katsuya." Kaiba pulled Jou's body tighter to him. Their tear-streaked faces were inches apart. He looked deeply into his beloved's honey-colored eyes and before he could stop himself his lips descended upon Jou's.
The kiss was electrifying and he felt Jou's immediate response--his lips parted slightly and Kaiba let his tongue slip between them, then he suckled gently on Jou's soft lower lip before slipping his tongue into the familiar-tasting loveliness within. Jou moaned softly and melted against Kaiba, and he continued to kiss Jou slowly, savoring the moments as they passed. It thrilled him when he felt Jou's tongue tentatively brush against his lips, and then bolder still begin to explore within, sliding over his teeth, and caressing his tongue--it was all Kaiba could do to maintain the gentle pace he'd set. He pulled away to take in the beauty of his lover's face, and then kissed Jou's wet cheeks, his closed eyes, his nose, and his forehead. With one arm he still had Jou wrapped tightly in an embrace, but his free hand stroked his lover's hair, feathered over his jaw line and traced the contours of his neck. Jou pressed his head back against Kaiba's shoulder, nuzzled his face into the brunet's neck and wrapped his arms around him. He clung to the CEO tightly, clung to him for dear life.
Kaiba felt a chain around Jou's neck and let his fingers trace along it, let them travel under the open collar of his crew shirt until they wrapped around a familiar rectangular pendant; the dog tag he'd given Jou. Kaiba shuddered as he realized that although they had spent this year apart, the blond had not moved on either. That he'd continued to wear the dog tag proved it. Somehow he'd held onto their past as tightly as Kaiba had.
"You still love me too." Kaiba said huskily. "I know you left me because of it. I know how much pain you were in, how much pain you are still in. I know you did it to protect me." His voice cracked with emotion.
"Please Katsuya, I'm begging you. Please come back to my stateroom. I promise I won't hurt you. I just want to hold you all night. I just want to hold you for the rest of our lives. We can have our happy ending, we can still live happily ever after."
He felt the weight of Jou's head lift off his shoulder. "You still want me after all I did?" The blond asked with disbelief.
"Gods I never stopped wanting you. I never stopped loving you. I have missed you every day that we've been apart."
"I missed you too, I missed you so bad that I thought I would die from loneliness. I missed everyone. But ya hafta understand, I thought I was doing the right thing. When I saw those pictures on the screen, I was so ashamed--I thought you could never forgive me." He replaced his head on Kaiba's shoulder, and Kaiba continued to caress Jou and hold him tight. They lay there on the deck quietly for quite some time, and Kaiba silently rejoiced in the fact that he had found his lover again. He felt Jou's weight shift in his lap and he nuzzled his face into the tender spot below the brunet's earlobe and whispered into his ear the words Kaiba had yearned countless times to hear over the past year.
"I love you Set, always and ever."
Kaiba groaned with need. "We can't stay here all night Puppy. Get up."
This time Jou complied, and Kaiba led his beloved back to his stateroom. Wordlessly they undressed and climbed into the king-sized bed. They were both completely spent emotionally and physically and they were content simply to entwine their bodies and drift off to sleep.
* * *
Kaiba woke alone in the cold bed and sighed deeply in the enveloping darkness. It had only been another dream. He turned on to his side to gaze out through the sliding doors that led to the balcony and felt his heart pound against the wall of his chest as he recognized the silhouette leaning on the rail that was outlined in the pre-dawn light. He slid out from underneath the covers and padded through the open door. Coming up behind his beloved, he encircled Jou's waist with his arms, pulled him close and rested his chin on the blond's shoulders.
"I thought it was only a dream," he whispered hoarsely.
"No, it was a nightmare," Jou replied softly as he surveyed the Italian coastline. "But now it's over." He leaned back into the brunet's arms and folded his hands over Kaiba's.
"Yes, it is," Kaiba nodded as the first rays of the sun broke over the horizon. He felt a tightening in his groin and was overwhelmed by desire. He pressed the length of his body against Jou. "Let's go back to bed."
"Tell me whom you love and I will tell you who you are."
Jou turned around so that he was facing Kaiba and gently pushed the brunet backwards through the open doorway until Kaiba felt the edge of the bed against the backs of his calves.
"Sit," Jou whispered hoarsely and in one graceful motion his hands slid down Kaiba's sides and his fingers hooked into the waistband of the brunet's boxers. He slid them off as he knelt on the floor before his lover.
Kaiba sat naked on the bed, his arms propped behind him and his prominent erection pointing skyward. He shivered as Jou's hands lazily caressed his knees and thighs before ghosting over his hardened cock. He watched his blond lover hungrily through heavy-lidded eyes; his head lolled back as Jou's tongue licked up his hardened shaft before swirling over the crown, and dipping into its slit to taste the pre-cum that had accumulated there.
"Katsuya, stop! You don't-" Kaiba gasped, but then all rational thought was banished as he felt his erection enveloped in the moist heat of his lover's mouth. But then his mind was barraged with the degrading images of his beloved that he'd seen in the movie clips. He placed his hands on Jou's shoulders and gently but firmly pushed him away. He felt his cock freed of that fantastic heat and he ached in disappointment and need as he gazed down into Jou's tearful eyes.
"Don't' tell me ya don't want me Set. I couldn't take-"
"Shhh." He placed his index finger over Jou's lips. "I want you more right now than I've ever wanted anything in my life. But that isn't why I asked you here. You-you don't have to do this. I don't want to hurt you." He added raggedly.
Jou wrapped his arms around Kaiba's waist and laid his head in the brunet's lap. The feather-like touches of his blond hair tickled Kaiba's sex and he shuddered in delight.
"You love me," Jou murmured. "You could never hurt me. Please, Set. I want you. I need you. Let me make love to you." He nuzzled his face into Kaiba's groin, and the brunet groaned wantonly. Jou did not wait for his assent; instead he sucked gently on the brunet's cock head. Kaiba gasped at the sensation and his hands tangled through Jou's hair, urging him wordlessly to continue.
Kaiba was soon lost in the ministrations of his lover's talented tongue and hands. He was shaking uncontrollably from desire and need, and heat emanated from his groin as Jou gently licked and nipped his way down the length of his shaft, pushed his legs further apart and then suckled gently on each of the brunet's sensitive sacs before burrowing below to his puckered entrance. There Jou's tongue briefly teased him and Kaiba moaned in ecstasy as it retreated and once again encircled his scrotum before traveling back up the length of his shaft and then taking the entire length into his mouth. Kaiba strained against Jou's hands, wanting nothing else but to thrust deeply into that all-consuming moist heat. Denied, he whimpered shamelessly, "Gods Jou, stop! Please, I can't take it!"
Jou climbed up Kaiba's torso, and pulled them both into a standing position as he rubbed their erections together before dominating the brunet in a blistering kiss. Kaiba was mad with desire, and he wrapped his hand around his beloved's erection, sliding his thumb into the pre-cum slicked slit as he stroked and squeezed the shaft gently. He was desperate to please Jou in the same way as he had been, and he fell to his knees in front of his lover, slid his boxers off his hips and let them slip to the floor. He guided Jou's cock into his mouth and swirled his tongue over the velvety crown and let his hand travel down the length of Jou's hardened shaft. He fondled his balls before pressing further, his index finger circling his beloved's sweet entrance before gently pushing past the tight ring of muscle.
Jou thrust deeper into Kaiba's mouth and he took him in gratefully, glancing up into his lover's face, teleporting his love and need for him from his cerulean eyes. Jou groaned and his hands found purchase in Kaiba's chestnut hair and he continued to thrust erratically into Kaiba's mouth, while the brunet worked over Jou's delectable cock, teasing it by alternately licking, sucking and nibbling at it. He felt Jou's erection swelling and he slipped a second finger into his sweet hole, curling both slightly as they brushed lightly against his prostate. Jou's reaction was instantaneous. A guttural roar escaped his lips and Kaiba continued to hit that sweet bundle of nerves over and over, pushing his lover to his limits. As Jou reached climax, Kaiba increased his suction and thrust his fingers in rhythm to Jou's pulsing cock.
"I need you Set." Jou panted as the brunet released his hold on him and climbed to his feet. Kaiba was aching with his own unfulfilled need--he wrapped his arm gently around his beloved's waist, grinding their groins together and captured him in a ravishing kiss--he knew how excited it made Jou to taste his own essence on his lips. Jou melted against him, and caressed Kaiba's swollen cock before once again pushing him down to sit on the bed. Kaiba looked questioningly into his lover's honey-colored eyes.
"Stay right there," Jou whispered hoarsely, and Kaiba watched him disappear into the bathroom. He returned within seconds, brandishing a bottle of lotion, and a feral glint in his eye. He stood in front of the brunet and lasciviously played with himself, his cock twitching to life as he became more aroused. Kaiba licked his lips appreciatively at his lover's libidinous show.
"I need you to fuck me," Jou said huskily as he squirted lotion into his open palm and straddled Kaiba. "I need to feel your gorgeous cock inside me, fucking me until I don't know where I end and you begin." He dipped his tongue into the brunet's ear as he slicked the lotion all over Kaiba's rock-hard erection. Then he raised his hips and positioned the brunet's weeping head at his entrance. He slowly pressed himself down on the shaft until Kaiba was buried deep inside his beloved's silky passage. He stayed still and felt Jou's muscles spasm and adjust to accommodate him. And then all at once Jou began to rock his hips, sending ripples of desire throughout Kaiba's body. He pulled his lover into a crushing embrace and nipped roughly at the ivory column of his neck, then trailed kisses down his chest. He lifted Jou up, and the blond gasped wantonly as Kaiba's sex almost slid out of him. Kaiba teethed on a hardened nipple before simultaneously releasing his grip on his lover and rising up to meet Jou's rapidly descending body.
At the force of Kaiba's thrusting, Jou arched his back and screamed his lover's name. Kaiba held Jou fast, his hands on his lover's hips, guiding his body up and down as he thrust deep into him.
"Faster, Set!" Jou whined. "I want you to pound me, I want to remember us how we were--to erase everything else." He panted, his amber eyes wide and pupils dilated with desire.
They were both sweating profusely from their lovemaking and Kaiba was finding it difficult to keep hold of his slippery lover. "Get on the bed," he rasped, and Jou climbed into the center of the mattress and lay on his back.
Kaiba crawled in between Jou's legs and repositioned himself at his lover's sweet tight entrance. His gaze raked over his Jou's prone body, rememorizing every plane and ridge--he was far more beautiful than the brunet remembered. He drank in the bronze-toned skin of his beloved's sculpted chest and abdomen that were well tanned from the tropical sun. His hands feathered over Jou's torso, fingers lightly teasing his dusky nipples. Then he took Jou again roughly, his leverage in this new position allowing him to grant his lover his wish; he slammed Jounouchi with all he had, and at each thrust Jou gasped his name and urged him on.
It was heaven to be inside his lover again and Kaiba felt tears slipping from his eyes, but unlike those he'd shed the previous year, these were joyful. His lover had come home. He pressed the length of his body against Jou's and pressed his lips to his ear.
"I love you Katsuya," his voice broke with emotion. "I can't tell you how many times I've dreamed of having you back in my arms," He felt a tightness low in his belly, he knew he was close to his release. "How many bargains I made-all the promises I made to every god I could think of-all conditional to you coming home to me."
He reached down and stroked Jou's tumescent cock in rhythm to his thrusts. As Jou reached his second orgasm, he let out a throaty howl, his seed spilling between their sweat-soaked torsos.
"I love you too, Set." He gasped when he had recovered. "I promise, I'll never leave you again. I was wrong to hurt you." He hugged the brunet tightly.
Kaiba nuzzled into Jou's neck, he was so close to coming; he could feel his cock swelling as his own orgasm built. "It's okay Katsuya. None of that matters now. All that does matter is that you are home." He cried out his lover's name as he climaxed and rained kisses on Jou's face, his neck, and his chest as he pulled out of his sweet channel. He slipped an arm under Jou and curled around him, and they lay together in silent bliss as the Mediterranean breeze wafted through the open door, caressing and cooling their naked bodies. Jou sighed in contentment and snuggled in closer to Kaiba as he drifted off to sleep in the brunet's arms. Kaiba lay awake for a while longer, marveling at the beauty of his lover's form, overjoyed in his heart to have him lying beside him once again. He laid his head on Jou's chest and the even thump of his lover's heartbeat lulled him to sleep. As he joined his lover in slumber, Kaiba realized that for the first time in his life he truly felt complete.
* * *
Kaiba woke sometime later to a room drenched in sunlight. They must have fallen asleep for hours. Rome was an hour away from the port, and he had an intense desire to explore the eternal city with Jounouchi. He was still fast asleep, snoring lightly, and as Kaiba caressed Jou's perfect chest and felt a different desire welling up inside, he determined that Rome could wait a little while longer.
"Wake up sleepyhead," he whispered playfully into his inert lover's ear. When that generated no response, he slid his tongue into the canal and nibbled on the outer shell.
"Mmmmm," Jou purred, and then exclaimed heatedly "Oh shit! I gotta go!" Kaiba trapped Jou as he struggled out of the tangled sheets.
"Just where do you think you need to go?" He asked as he pinned Jou down.
"Set, it's late, I gotta work!" Jou's eyes were wide with worry.
Kaiba smirked at his blond puppy. "I think it's safe to say that you've been relieved of your duties." He pressed his lips to Jou's cheek and trailed wet kisses down toward his lovely mouth.
"Hnnn-" Jou moaned as his mouth was filled with his lover's questing tongue.
After a few minutes of tongue wrestling and sweet caresses, Kaiba broke away and asked breathlessly "You were saying?"
Jou grinned at him lazily and squirmed underneath him. "Saying? I wasn't sayin' nothin'" He laced his fingers behind Kaiba's neck and pulled him into another kiss. Kaiba could feel Jounouchi's arousal growing against his hip and he ghosted his hands down Jou's sides before lifting his body off of his lover. Their lips were still locked together--neither willing to break the kiss just yet. Kaiba gave in first.
"Shower, we need to shower," He gasped. "Then we're going to go sightseeing in Rome." Jou's stomach growled in response and they both chuckled.
"All right, I suppose I'll need to feed you first," Kaiba added as he reached for the phone. While he instructed the steward to bring two Continental breakfasts, pots of coffee and tea, Jou teased his cock mercilessly by softly stroking it.
"You are a very naughty puppy," Kaiba admonished when he hung up the phone, "and you need to be punished."
He scooped the protesting blond off the bed and carried him into the bathroom. Once there he deposited Jou into the marble shower and turned on the water, laughing as the indignant blond howled from the cold.
"Aww, you're cold? Let me warm you." Kaiba adjusted the hot water and pinned Jounouchi against the tile in a searing kiss, running his hands over the blond's enchanting body. "I can't get enough of you," He murmured as grabbed for the soap.
"Same goes here. You touch me and all I can think about is how good it feels when you're fucking me." Jou took the soap out of Kaiba's hands and lathered the brunet's hardening erection.
"Mmm, who needs to ~think~ when we can ~do~?" Kaiba whispered suggestively as his soapy fingers squeezed Jou's ass and he pulled him into an embrace. Once again he pinned his lover against the tile, this time threading his arms between the blond's thighs. He lifted Jou off his feet and pressed his body against Jou's as he wrapped his legs around Kaiba's waist and arms around the brunet's neck. Supporting Jou's weight with his body, Kaiba repositioned his hands to the outside of Jou's thighs and palmed each perfect cheek. Jou moaned in delight and anticipation as he felt Kaiba's soapy cock pressing at his entrance.
"Take it slow love, I'm a little sore," Jou cautioned as the soap slipped from his hands.
"Mmm-hmm," Kaiba agreed as he felt Jou's silky heat bearing down on his shaft. "Nice and slow," he added as he swiveled his hips in shallow thrusts, each punctuated by the most erotic sounding mewls and needy moans he'd ever heard slipping from Jou's lips. He shifted his hold on his beloved so that one arm cradled Jou's seat and brought his free hand in between their joined bodies to wrap it around Jou's engorged sex. Jou's vocalizations were driving him nearer and nearer the brink, and Kaiba's hand stroking his cock only served to ratchet them louder and make them more plaintive.
"Gods Jou, I can't remember it ever being this good. You are so fucking hot," Kaiba panted as he felt his climax nearing.
"Don't stop Set, I'm so fucking close to coming ... god I love you. You are so. Fucking. Good." He exclaimed as Kaiba felt the slippery heat of his lover's seed spill over his fingers only to be washed away in the warm cascade of water. As Jou relaxed against him, Kaiba found it impossible to maintain his control; he began to drive into his lover recklessly. His release culminated in several deep thrusts. He leaned into Jou then, trembling slightly from the exertion and post-coital bliss as the soothing water washed over them. After a few moments of rest, they finished their communal shower by gently shampooing each other's hair and cleansing each other's bodies.
Breakfast was waiting for them by the time they were finished in the bathroom. Jou scanned the bedroom nervously, and Kaiba, catching his furtive glances asked him what was wrong.
"Umm, I don't exactly have any clean clothes to wear."
"You can borrow something of mine," Kaiba said, getting dressed. Then, as he had every morning for the past year, he transferred Jou's ring into the pocked of the fresh trousers he had put on. He fingered it thoughtfully, watching Jou search through his belongings for something that would remotely fit. Jou settled for a casual shirt and a pair of jeans. They were tight in the waist and Jou cuffed the extra two inches of length.
"You lost weight, Set." he commented.
Kaiba shrugged his shoulders. "You start breakfast, I'm going to find someone to discuss your employment status." He saw the disappointment on Jou's face because he was being left alone and added, "I'll be back in a few minutes, so don't eat everything. Then you and I are going to spend the day in Rome. We'll buy you some clothes to wear, though I can't say I mind the way your ass looks in those jeans." He smiled wickedly at Jou as he left the stateroom.
* * *
They arrived in Rome just in the early afternoon, Jounouchi insisting once they made it to the city center they would leave the chauffeured car behind and explore on foot. They crisscrossed the myriad piazzas, and shared gelato in the Piazza Navona, which had once been a stadium for chariot races. They tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain to ensure they would find their way back to the ancient city, and they toured the Forum and the Coliseum and stood in the ruins of the Roman Senate. Hungry once more, they enjoyed a late afternoon meal at a sidewalk trattoria, Kaiba admitting that the cheap red jug wine tasted as good as some of the most expensive wines he'd ever drunk--Rome was casting a spell on him. They shopped for clothes for Jounouchi by the Spanish Steps, buying him several outfits.
It was getting late and they needed to return to the ship, but Kaiba had one more place he wanted to see before they were chauffeured back to the port. He'd always been fascinated by the pictures of the Pantheon that he'd seen in his textbooks, and he refused to miss the opportunity to see it. He dragged Jou through mazes of streets, referring to a street map of the city he'd brought with them, until they spilled into the Piazza della Rotonda. The ancient building stood alone between two streets, its massive portico beckoning to them.
"Come, Katsuya. I want to go inside." They entered the ancient building and were greeted with the ethereal chanting of a choir in practice. They stared up, awestruck at the harmonic perfection of the architecture, the recessed squares of the domed ceiling that diminished in size as they neared the unglazed oculus, the sole source of natural lighting in the main room.
"I can't believe this building is almost 2,000 years old," Jou marveled. "That it survived all these years in all its beauty." He wandered away from Seto, eyes glued to the brilliant blue sky beyond the opening in the dome. Kaiba stared at the blond lovingly, he wondered if Jou realized that tomorrow would have marked their second anniversary. He tried to quell the nervousness in his stomach for what he was about to do as he closed the distance that had grown between them.
"Do you know what tomorrow would have been?" He asked his lover as he gently captured him in an embrace.
Jou answered without hesitation, "Our anniversary." He smiled sadly and hugged Kaiba close, laying his head on the brunet's shoulder.
"Do you know what I want tomorrow to be?" Kaiba continued softly. He felt Jou's head shake slowly. "I want it to be our wedding day." Kaiba separated from their embrace and knelt on one knee in front of Jou. He looked up into his lover's amber eyes as he dug the ruby ring out of his pocket. Holding it up for Jou to see, he asked tenderly, "Jounouchi Katsuya, will you marry me?"
"There is no remedy for love but to love more."
-- Henry David Thoreau
Kaiba watched Jounouchi pace over and over the length of the fuselage. The closer they got to Domino City the more agitated and nervous his blond lover became. He stood up and intercepted Jou, pulling him into a warm hug.
"I told you Puppy, everything is going to be okay," He kissed Jou gently, and feeling his compliance, deepened it. Jou pulled away reluctantly.
"It's just ..." he said and Kaiba saw the far away look in his beloved's eyes return. In the time since they'd reunited, he'd learned that that look meant that Jou was reliving the nightmare that he'd lived through. He held Jou loosely, and rubbed his back soothingly.
"No one blames you, love." Kaiba said quietly. "No one is going to be angry with you or hate you. You've been missed beyond comprehension. All of your friends and your family will be overjoyed to see you." He trailed chaste kisses across Jou's cheek. "Come sit with me, let me hold you."
Kaiba knew that it would be a long time before Jou would fully recover from the trauma that he'd experienced, and he would need to be patient as his lover healed and came to terms with the abuse he'd suffered. He slipped into a nearby captain's chair and guided Jounouchi sideways into his lap. Jou rested his head against the brunet's shoulders and closed his eyes.
"But I don't want to face the press, Set. Can't we just go home?"
"You're not going to be alone. I will be right by your side. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and if we don't do this, it will seem as if you do."
Jou sighed in resignation. "You promise that I don't have to answer any questions about the movies?"
"Of course. The press conference is only to announce our marriage, and believe me, that will generate enough interest to make those halfwits forget all about the events of last year."
Kaiba took Jou's hand in his and rubbed the ring he'd given him at the Pantheon, remembering the joy that had flooded into his heart that day when Jou had answered his proposal. They had been wed the next day at sunset by the ship's captain as they sailed between Portovenere and Portofino, on what would have been their second anniversary. The rest of their vacation had been a blur of sightseeing, feasting and lovemaking that had served to begin the healing process.
It had killed Kaiba to do it, but he'd had to tell Jounouchi that he'd gone public with the unedited movies he'd confiscated from the Matsuki company computers. Jou's reaction had been predictable. At first he'd been angry, and when Kaiba had explained that he'd had no choice because as long as the edited movies existed Kaiba and Kaiba Corp. would be vulnerable to extortion or worse, Jou had become disconsolate in the realization of the futility of his rash actions. Running away hadn't solved anything. It had only served to make both of them miserable. He'd hung his head in shame, and it had taken him a long time to come to terms with that. Kaiba, all too familiar with how poisonous living in the past could be, had quietly reasoned with Jou that none of it mattered, that they had their entire lives to live together, and the one year's length of separation would prove to be a mere blip on the radar screen. Still Jou had sworn that he could never go back home again, swore that he couldn't bear to be an object of pity or ridicule.
"What happened to you was awful, Katsuya, and it is only natural for people to feel compassion toward you. Don't you see how much worse it is that you are considering continuing your exile from every one who loves you, from every place that's familiar to you? If you keep running, then Matsuki will have won. He will have succeeded."
But Jou had been stubborn, and remained unwavering until Kaiba had caved. "All right, Katsuya, name where you want to live and that will be our home."
"Are you serious?" Jou had asked, incredulous at Kaiba's offer.
"Yes. I will not force you to go back. We are equals, and it is more important to me that you are happy than where I live." He'd added meaningfully.
Evidently the thought that the CEO would uproot his life for Jounouchi had been enough to tip his decision, because the next evening at dinner he'd agreed that ultimately he would be happier back in Domino City surrounded by his loved ones.
The pilot's voice crackled overhead. "Mr. Kaiba we are approaching the airport, all passengers must be buckled in and seated in a forward position."
Jou slid out of Kaiba's lap and into the seat next to him. "And after the press conference we're going straight home, right?"
He cupped Jou's chin. "Yes, straight home."
Kaiba had kept true to his word. While the press conference had been interminable, he'd remained by Jou's side, his arm around his waist in a loving embrace. Kaiba answered question after question about their marriage and Kaiba Corp., but carefully intercepted and deflected any questions that remotely touched upon the events of the previous year and Jou's subsequent disappearance. After what seemed like hours, they were finally in the limo and on their way home. Jou slipped his hand into Kaiba's and looked out the window at the familiar landscape.
Jounouchi had been adamant that there be no welcoming committee at the airport or at the mansion; he would handle his friends and his family when he felt that he was ready. A year ago it would have pleased Kaiba to no end that he'd trumped the Yugi-tachi--that Jou had chosen a quiet reunion with him and Mokuba over a boisterous party. But Kaiba had realized that even though Jou didn't want a big reunion, it was exactly what he needed. He needed to be surrounded by everyone who loved him, to be welcomed home with open hearts and open arms. Kaiba had telephoned Mokuba and instructed him to arrange for a grand celebration.
The house was dark when they arrived, and as he unlocked the door, he wondered how successful his brother had been in his arrangements. He reached for the hall light switch as Jou followed him inside and as he flipped it on, many voices in unison sang out "SURPRISE!"
There was a flash of magenta-tipped gold and brunet and then Jou was pinned against the door in a three-way bear hug. Honda and Yugi began talking at him at once, and then Anzu joined in the group embrace. In between hugs and kisses and exclamations, Jou caught Kaiba's eyes with his own tear-filled ones and smiled.
Mokuba hugged his older brother whispering, "You did it Seto, you found him and brought him home." He hugged him back, wordlessly nodding his head.
Gradually Yugi, Honda and Anzu released their long-lost friend and gave Jou space to see who else had come to welcome him home. Mokuba hugged the blond tight, crying "Welcome home, Jou!" and Jou hugged him back tearfully.
Kaiba took Jou's hand and led him into the living room, and there Jou saw all his other friends -- Bakura, Otogi, Malik, and Mai, each smiling, each greeting him with hugs and kisses. Then it was his father hugging him, and as he looked over his dad's shoulder, he saw his mother and Shizuka, tears of joy streaming down her face. Jounouchi was overwhelmed with emotion and he collapsed into Kaiba's arms. He held his lover steady, and whispered, "I know you said you didn't want this, but you needed it, and they needed to see you too."
"Thank you Set," he whispered back hoarsely, as Shizuka wrapped her arms around her older brother.
Jou spent hours talking with his friends, filling them in on the details of his year in exile, of how he'd created the name Joey Wheeler at an Internet café at a website called "Find your English name" by typing Katsuya Jounouchi into the data fields, and had immediately used it to forge a passport. That expenditure had cost him all the money he'd had in his wallet, and after a couple of days living on the streets and begging for spare change while he wondered whether or not he should go home, he'd gone back to the café and searched for jobs abroad, which is how he ended up working for the cruise line. He tearfully admitted how miserable he'd been without contact with his loved ones and, taking Seto's hand in his, he promised them all he'd never disappear like that again.
The celebration lasted well into the early morning hours, with Yugi and Honda being the last guests to leave, and then only after Jou promised they would spend the next day together catching up. Shizuka and her mom had long-ago retired to the guest bedrooms Mokuba had ordered readied for them; they would spend the week in Domino with Jounouchi before heading back home to New York on one of Kaiba's private jets.
They were finally alone in their bedroom, both exhausted from jetlag and the emotional reunion. "I'm so glad to be home Set," Jou said as he began to undress.
"And so am I, Puppy," Kaiba agreed. He'd already stripped down to his boxers and lay stretched out on his side of the bed. Jou joined him and they lay together, hands entwined, and drifted peacefully off to sleep.