Author: chocolate-moosey PM
It is said that there are facets to each person, different personalities accessed whenever they are needed. Seto Kaiba discovers this early on, under the branches of an apricot tree.Rated: Fiction M - English - Family/Angst - Seto K. - Words: 17,194 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Published: 08-05-12 - id: 8398599
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Trigger Warnings: Sexual abuse of a minor, rape, disturbing imagery
Note: So, this fanfiction is very different from what I usually write. This particular story evolved from a conversation I saw on tumblr about Anzu actually being Kaiba; this story then stemmed from the oneshot I wrote in response called 'False Identities'. I wanted to take a silly idea that people saw potential in and make it into something very genuine and human. It's certainly different from what I imagined it would be, but I feel as if I managed to express what I set out to say with this particular work, and then some.
Notes on birthdays/dates: This fanfiction assumes that the events of Duelist Kingdom/Battle City/Millennium World take place in 2012. Also, the timeline may be a bit different from what's established in cannon (certain events may take place when a character is older/younger than they are in cannon), but remain in the same order.
Adjusting for the shift, Seto and Mokuba were born the following years:
Seto Kaiba – October 1996
Mokuba Kaiba – July 2001
"Spring goes, hundreds of flowers fall.
Spring comes, hundreds of flowers blossom.
In front of the eyes, everything goes on ever.
On the heads, showing the year of age soon comes.
Who can say that when spring ends, all flowers fall down?
Last night, in the front-yard, a branch of apricot flowers blossomed."
Mãn Giác; "Nhất Chi Mai"
The name was meaningful to him.
There was a beautiful print that his mother kept on the wall of the living room by an artist from the Yuan dynasty named Wang Mian. Years later, he would still remember the winters when he was young and would sit at the kotatsu, watching his mother draw her comb through her wild, black hair. She would smile at him, her dark grey eyes scrunching and lighting up before he averted his attention, embarrassed at becoming so enthralled by a girly habit. Inevitably, his eyes would fall upon the print: wispy limbs laden with apricot blossoms. It was such a delicate curve, like an inverted S, and the blossoms upon it looked impossibly fragile.
Seto never inquired about the print until the winter before Mokuba was born.
"Mom, why do you keep that?" He drawled, frowning at the print glimmering in the lamplight.
Akemi paused in her brushing, setting the comb down on the table and casting a glance over her shoulder. "You mean my Mian print?"
Seto nodded, folding his arms over his chest. "Yeah. It's real… feminine." He wrinkled his nose in distain, "An' it doesn't serve much of a point in a house other than looking pretty."
Akemi pressed a delicate hand to her lips to smother a giggle, ever impressed by her precautious child. "Some people hang art in their homes because it's meaningful."
"It's a tree." Seto intoned flatly, pulling an unimpressed face. His mother laughed again, shifting into a more comfortable position beneath the kotatsu. She stretched out her leg to poke his with her toe. Seto scowled.
"Yes, it's a tree." Akemi confirmed with a mischievous grin. "But do you know what kind of tree it is?"
The young boy's brow furrowed, his eyes flitting over the painting. "It's… a plum tree?"
"Close, but not quite." His mother reached over to brush a lock of hair from his face. "In China they call it a plum tree, but we know them here as apricots. Anzu."
"Anzu." He repeated. "And how's it signif… sig… how's it important?"
"Significant." She supplied gently, still grinning proudly. "It's significant to me because my mother gave me that print as a wedding gift," She rolled her weight back onto her palm, passing a thoughtful hand over her tummy. "The Japanese Apricot's a curious flower, because it blooms in the dead of winter, most often when there's snow out."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Seto inquired, slumping over onto the kotatsu. His mother just kept grinning in that impish way of hers.
"Its practical advice from your grandma: even when life's entered its winter, there's always going to be those delicate little blossoms." She gestured back towards the picture. "It looks like the snow would ruin them, but every year—without fail—those apricots will not fail to grow."
At her fond grin, Seto shot a seething glare towards the shoji screen. "Stupid." He grumbled. Akemi laughed and softly began to recite something. At the time, he only caught fragments of it, but upon later inspection, he discovered it was a poem:
"When everything has faded they alone shine forth, encroaching on the charms of smaller gardens. Their scattered shadows fall lightly on clear water, their subtle scent pervades the moonlit dusk. Snowbirds look again before they land, butterflies would faint if they but knew. Thankfully I can flirt in whispered verse, I don't need a sounding board or winecup."1
Years later, Seto became very different person from himself and Kaiba tried to erase everything.
But she still crept through.
The Worth of a Name
Seto waited beneath the Japanese maple in the front yard, turning a rubix cube in his hands. His mother had given it to him the day before, and after managing to solve it once he was able to solve it time and time again in mere seconds, no matter how badly it had been scrambled. The puzzle was useless now, but still something to occupy his hands with, finding new ways to click patterns into place. Typically he'd be inclined to ask for something else to busy himself with, but golden week was just as much of a break for his mother as it was for him. She didn't need to be burdened any more than she already was.
A dog woofed softly the next door over, drawing Seto's eyes up from his distraction. He could see the yellow creature moving between the thin slats in the gate, pacing anxiously. It seemed unfair for it to be cooped up, waiting tirelessly for someone to return for it. But then again—
"Alrighty," The shoji slid open and Seto's mother waddled onto the porch, one hand clasping the small of her back and the other balancing a plate of fruits above her belly. "Could you give me a hand, kiddo?"
Seto rolled his eyes at the pet name, but complied with his mother's request. He took to his feet, relieving her of the plate and setting it next to the plush wedge laying on the grass where she eventually settled herself, adjusting her ponytail from one shoulder to the other.
"Are you comfortable, Mom?" He asked, taking a wedge of fruit from the plate. Akemi nodded, rolling her neck a little this way and that; a slim chain around her neck hissed through the loop on the locket that weighed it down.
"For now." She released a good-natured laugh and rubbed circles into her distended middle. "He's not kicking—not right now, at least."
"Maybe he's taking a nap?" Seto suggested with a little shrug. Akemi responded with a chuckle and a shrug of her own.
"Maybe," She sighed a little, picking up her own wedge of fruit. "He's kicking a lot more than you did, that's for sure. You were so docile that your daddy thought you'd be a girl."
Seto sat erect, a full scowl on his face as he wrinkled his nose in distain like an annoyed feline. "Who cares what he says? It's not like he's every around anyway."
Akemi sighed, reaching over to envelop her son in a one-armed hug. Seto turned into her embrace, allowing his head to gently collide with her shoulder. "Dad works hard to provide for us, Seto. You know that, sweetie."
Seto sniffled angrily, mashing down his upset with an angry façade. "Can't he provide for us closer to home like other kid's dads do?"
"I know it's difficult," Mrs. Ryuzaki sighed gently, ruffling her son's hair. "To be honest, I wish that Dad could be around more often, too. Especially with this one on the way." She patted her tummy as if to make a point. Another little sigh and she clapped her hands brightly, a clear signal that she was about to make a topic change in order to alleviate the melancholy mood.
"Did you know we have a name picked out?" She asked suddenly. Seto made a noise of interest, sitting erect.
"Really!" Akemi confirmed with a little nod. "You wanna hear?"
"'Course I do!" Seto pouted, crossing his arms over his chest in the way he'd seen his father do whenever he was frustrated. "Tell me, Mom!"
Akemi giggled and tweaked Seto's nose, much to his annoyance. "What's the magic word?"
Seto regarded her with a blasé stare. "Now?"
"If you were any other child, I'd have of sent you to your room for that comment." The woman rolled her eyes, helping herself to another slice of fruit. "The magic word is 'please' by the way, you little monkey."
"I am not a monkey." The child nearly gasped, deeply affronted by such a ridiculous accusation. Akemi shoved a piece of fruit into his mouth in response, which he chewed on bitterly.
"Mokuba." She said softly, "It means 'wooden horse'—it's to honor my family, actually, since my maiden name was Uma."
"Horse." Seto nodded in understanding before scowling hard. "My name means 'turmoil', though."
"But it's still meaningful," Akemi assured him, holding up her index finger. "It was your grandfather's name—Seto Ryuzaki. Your dad's father passed away before you were born, and he wanted to honor his legacy by giving the name to his first-born son."
Seto shuffled into place, picking up another chunk of fruit. "Still a cruddy name, though."
Akemi responded to this quip by poking his cheek. "Hey now, it's a very significant name to your dad. He looked up to grandpa very much—he was your father's role model, and it was very important to him that you inherited that name."
"Okay." Seto resigned, still unsettled that his brother was going to be getting such a better name than the one that had been bestowed upon him. He decided to change the subject, clapping his hands in a similar manner to his mother. "So you say it's significant? Like the Mian print in the family room?"
Akemi nodded, impressed at her son's ability to recall conversations from months prior: "Yes. Funny you should mention that actually." She gestured towards the almost-empty platter of fruit. "I was thinking about it earlier when I was cutting these apricots up."
"Hnn." Seto nodded as well, furrowing his brow. "So… when a child is important to you, you give them a name that's significant, yes?"
"It can definitely go like that." His mother agreed, turning her face up to the sky. The shadows of the maple leaves washed oddly over her pale face, making her hair and lashes appear even darker. Seto watched her think, transfixed at the subtle way she worried her lips. "What name's significant to you, Seto?"
He paused, considering her inquiry. The first answer to pop into his mind was 'Sho'—his father's name—but that seemed a bit clichéd, especially since his father had named him after his father. The child drummed his little fingers on his rubix cube, glancing cautiously at his patient mother out of the corner of his eye.
It was the last time Seto saw his father.
He and Mokuba were being picked up by their aunt and uncle via train, from there they would travel out to the country to spend a week of their winter vacation with them. Mokuba was four and Seto was nine.
They sat on a bench at one of the many stations in Domino, silently admiring the scenery. A bronze statue of a dragon—traditional in appearance—weaved in and out of a wall flanking the waiting benches. The three of them sat on a bench opposite the wall, each enjoying their own cone of soft serve despite the cold weather: black sesame for Seto, chocolate for Mokuba, and winter melon for Sho.
He was a young, lithe man. He wasn't even thirty, for what it was worth, and with his long trench coat he looked less like a young father and more like a punk teenager dressed in a visual kei getup. Akemi always said that Seto looked just like his father, but even from a young age the child genius was able to discern vast differences between them. Sho's face was more slender and pointed than his own, and while their eyes were both the same constantly-narrowed blue, Sho looked far less grumpy and much more thoughtful. The fingers on his spare hand were drumming incessantly. Seto had asked his mother why he did that, and she said that before he'd been born, his father had been a smoker. Smoking was a hard habit to quit, she'd said, and Sho's fingers would flutter like that whenever he wanted a cigarette.
A train stopped at the station, but it was too early to be the one Seto's aunt and uncle were on. The doors slid open and a mass of people poured out onto the concrete walkways. Seto noticed Mokuba squirm closer to their father, who proceeded to scoop the toddler up with his free arm and place him on his lap. Seto himself scooted a bit closer, gazing up at all the unfamiliar faces surrounding them. He caught the eye of a little girl about his age passing through the station. Her hair was straight and glossy, trimmed to look like a porcelain doll. She beamed at him and he looked away, shrugging into his parka.
"Daddy!" Mokuba quipped suddenly, flailing and flinging a bit of chocolate ice-cream from his cone in the process. "Seto's makin' a friend!"
"Is that so?" Sho asked, leaning back onto the bench. He reached over to muss his son's hair. Seto scowled and smoothed it down.
"No. It was a girl my age passing by." He grunted, folding his arms and sinking down into his parka. "She was in no way affiliated with me."
Sho laughed once, turning his eyes back onto the now-empty tracks. "My, aren't you a charmer?"
"You know what they say, Dad," Seto shrugged a little, smirking purposefully at Sho. "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit."
Sho didn't miss a beat. "You're such a shit to me."
Seto rolled his eyes.
"Daddy, wat's a shit?" Mokuba asked.
"It's a bad word," Sho explained, patting him on the head. "Don't say it."
"'Kay." Mokuba agreed, and busied himself with the remainder of his soft serve.
"You shouldn't swear in the presence of children, Dad." Seto said between mouthfuls of his own treat. "Or talk to me in such a casual manner—and in front of Mokuba no less. We may grow up to be just as delinquent as you."
Mokuba paused in his slurping. "Daddy, wat's dinklet?"
"It means you're a heathen." Seto explained offhandedly.
"Oh, okay!" Mokuba beamed a chocolate-faced smile at his brother before looking back to his father. "What's a heevin?"
"It means you're a good-for-nothing dog, like me." Sho continued in his typical nonchalant manner. "And why shouldn't I talk to you like you're an adult, Seto? If I talk to you like you're a child, you'll only get mad at me."
"You could at least censor yourself for Mokuba's sake." The boy scowled.
"You could at least try to smile every once in awhile." Sho parroted his son with a grin, waving his cone at him. "Your face will get stuck grumpy like that and then you'll get wrinkles."
"You're an idiot." Seto accused.
"I suppose you just took all my smarts away when you were born." Sho shrugged. Seto growled a little. If there was one person who could outsmart him, it was his father—and it wasn't even in the traditional sense of outsmarting someone. Every one of Seto's seething glares and snide remarks rolled right off of his father—there wasn't a single time Sho was left without a retort to his son's witticisms.
Seto retreated into the depths of his ice-cream cone, longing for the day when he would defeat his greatest rival.
Sho, in the meanwhile, had flopped his head back and was enjoying a view of the slate-colored sky. He closed his eyes, sighed, and gave Mokuba a little squeeze. The toddler laughed and fell backwards onto his father's chest.
Seto's gaze traveled through the train station, tracing the path where the young girl had passed him only moments before. Taking a small lick of his ice-cream, he glanced hesitantly at his father in repose.
"Dad," He began. "What are girls like?"
Now this was a quip that Sho apparently had no retort for. His eyes cracked open and he shot a weary glance at his son. "I'll tell you when you're older."
"I already know about sex." Seto grumbled, "I mean, in general. What are they like?"
Sho hummed lowly, scrubbing a hand over his mouth. "Plenty of your classmates are girls, right? Like Tomomi-chan and Ren-chan—your mom said they visit our house pretty often."
"Only because their mothers are friends with Mom." Seto explained. Truth be told, Tomomi and Ren would often run away to play by themselves and coo over Mokuba whenever they visited. They wanted nothing to do with Seto, and whenever they talked to him it was like attempting to communicate with a little animal that would run away halfway through a sentence. Seto would usually just end up sitting at the kotatsu with the mothers, drinking tea and staying quiet. He failed to understand even them half of the time; housewives were wont to gossip about the most trivial little matters.
But there was always something about them—even about Tomomi and Ren— that fascinated him to no end. While they were inclined to act stupid, gossipy, and giggly, women were much more open than men. There was a quality of softness to them in their appearance, their words, their actions… qualities that were appealing to Seto. Girls smelled nice, too: every once in awhile he'd catch the smell of peach from Tomomi's hair, the powdery scent of his mother's hand cream. They were fascinating to watch, as well: when younger, they were energetic and light on the balls of their feet; when older, their movements were so graceful that Seto spent more time than he was willing to admit studying the way they moved in both real life and in his anatomy texts. It made him feel—
Well, he supposed it was a textbook case of arousal and nothing to concern himself with if any of his books on puberty knew what they were talking about.
While Seto had been having this internal monologue with himself, Sho had polished off his soft serve and was chewing thoughtfully on a shard of the cone. "So what you wanna know is," He began, "What girls are really like?"
Seto had little idea what his father was getting at, but nodded regardless.
Sho sighed and rolled his neck, "Well, they're undoubtedly the fairer sex. Men are expected to be stoic, especially in this society. We don't get to show as much emotion as women—they're allowed to be open books, and sometimes even expected to be. Now I'm not saying that this is always the case, or even that this is okay, per se, but women—." He paused, rolling the shard of cone between his lips thoughtfully. "Women are more extreme. They can be so, so gentle and kind—but once you piss off a woman, you're dead. Done deal. You can reason with an angry man, and you can almost always reason with an angry woman, but when you cross that line with a woman." He shivered, "Yeah. Well. Let's just say women are a lot stronger than they let on. A lot stronger than men, even."
"But biologically—." Seto began. His father held up a hand.
"Biologically, sure—men are typically physically stronger than women and humans have evolved to be pretty different when it comes to gender—."
"Dimorphic, right. We're evolved to be pretty sexually dimorphic, but do you want to know where women are the strongest, Seto?" Sho posed the question, leaning forward and glancing at his son through dark brown bangs.
Seto was silent, his eyes meeting his father's as he pondered the question before happening upon the answer. "Giving birth?"
To Seto's surprise, a grin broke out over his father's face, and Sho threw back his head to release a barking laugh; Mokuba proceeded to mock him with freakish accuracy.
"True!" Sho declared, still grinning like an amused creature of some sort. "But that's something only women can do. They may be strong as hell there," As if to accentuate this point, his jostled Mokuba on his lap, smiling down at the toddler briefly before returning his attention to his older son. "But where women are really strongest," He laid his hand over his chest. "Is here."
For a man who shot people in the face for a living, he was certainly corny.
Seto stared. "You're joking."
Sho stared right back. "I'm serious."
Just then, there was the low sound of an approaching train's horn and Mokuba began to flail wildly.
"Is that the one, Daddy? That the one aunt 'en uncle on?" He grinned, waving a little fist at the train. Sho glanced up at the ticker, nodding slightly.
"Yeah, that's the one." He set Mokuba on the ground, gathering up each boy's duffle bag and handing them off to Seto. "You got it?"
"Yes." He confirmed with a little nod, staring up at his father. Sho looked down at him and then, inexplicably, plucked some of the extra fabric on Seto's parka.
"Is this getting a bit small for you? You've had it since last winter."
"It's a bit small, but—." He stopped, finding the duffle bags removed from his shoulders as Sho unzipped the parka and discarded the puffy jacket. "What are you doing?"
"Here," Sho said, removing his forest green trench coat from his person and helping Seto into it. The coat dragged on the ground and the sleeves sagged horribly. "I think this will fit you very well some day."
"That won't be for awhile." Seto scowled, hitching up the dragging fabric as his father carried the duffle bags towards the train. Mokuba caught sight of their aunt waiting in the loading area and proceeded to sprint into her arms, laughing and kicking. However, before Seto could join him, Sho placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Son." He said very softly. His eyes were dragging along the ground as he reached into his pocket and slipped out a cigarette. Seto had never seen him smoke in his entire life, but Sho was lighting up right then and there. And in that moment, with his body practically curled around the cigarette, and an improbable weight on his shoulders, with something in his eyes, he really did look like a father.
"Take good care of your brother."
"Seto! Hurry up and climb aboard!" His uncle shouted from the train. Seto cast a brief glance over his shoulder at the man before looking back up at his father. Sho jerked his head towards the train, silently urging his son aboard. Seto turned on his heel and nearly tripped onto the train. While his aunt and uncle relieved him of the luggage, Seto began to roll the sleeves of his new coat up to a more respectable length. He hitched the coat up once more, frowning when he detected a slight weight in one of the pockets. Seto slipped his hand into the offending pocket, something cool and round brushing against his fingertips. Curious, he extracted the object and turned it between his fingers, surprised to find that it was a small, oval-shaped locket, identical to the one his mother wore around her neck. He pressed the tab on the side, revealing a small picture of her within. Seto suddenly felt as if he had stumbled upon a very personal and private artifact of his father's, feeling ashamed to even hold it, let alone know of it.
"Dad…" He said softly, looking away from the locket towards the slowly closing doors of the train. "Dad!"
Even knowing that it was no use, he began to run, squeezing the locket so tightly in his fist that it instantly began to warm in his grip. He could vaguely hear his aunt call after him in distress, but it was imperative that he returned the locket to his father.
"Dad!" He shouted, surging up against the closed doors. The train began to roll away from the station, agonizingly slow, and he began to pound on the glass, watching as his father retreated. "Dad!"
Sho glanced over his shoulder, his image flickering through the pillars that the train was passing with increasing speed, his figure growing farther and farther away until he was gone.
December 16, 2005
Young couple perishes in house fire
Salesman Sho Ryuzaki and wife Akemi Ryuzaki neé Uma were killed the evening of December 10 when their Domino City home was burned to the ground. The circumstances surrounding the fire are being investigated.
Sho Ryuzaki was born December 29 1975 while his wife Akemi was born February 19 1978. They are survived by their two sons Seto Ryuzaki (9) and Mokuba Ryuzaki (4).
Surviving relatives and friends were unavailable for further comment.
A wake will be held at the Kaede Funeral Chapel on December 21 at 3 P.M., followed by a funeral and crematory services on December 22 at 12 P.M.
It was unanimously decided that Mokuba was too young to partake in the bone picking ceremony.
Dressed in a black kimono, Seto Ryuzaki stood in the funeral parlor over the tray of ashes that was once his mother. Under the watchful eye of the crematorium operator, he took up a thick pair of mismatched chopsticks and sought out the foot bones in order to transfer them into the urn.
At the wake, his uncle had thrown a fit at the thought of Seto doing the bone-picking ritual by himself. "No child should have to go through such a thing alone!" He'd snapped. But Seto had remained resolute. His aunt and uncle, despite their titles, were not blood relatives and Seto had wanted the very personal ceremony to remain within the family. But seeing as everyone was dead, that left only Seto and Mokuba—and Seto refused to put his baby brother through such a grim process.
The crematorium operator stood at the head of the tray, arms politely folded across his chest as he directed the young man picking up the bones. "You place the foot bones in first and then work your way up the body," He politely indicated a fragment of the vertebrae he had set aside. "This is the last piece to go in."
Seto did not reply, but merely continued the process with a determined look upon his face. The cremains were still radiating heat and making his hands sweat, his grip slipping on the chopsticks. Piece by piece, he transferred the bones to the urn decorated with a painting of a willowy apricot branch. The flowers upon it were pale and impossibly delicate.
The crematorium operator shifted uncomfortably, "You're very young." He commented.
"I'm nine." Seto replied curtly, working along the skeleton.
"I was surprised to learn that you wanted to partake in this ceremony alone." The man said. It sent irritated prickles up Seto's spine. He was certainly not in the mood for such inappropriate small-talk.
"It's not your place to say, sir." He spat the last word with as much loathing as he could muster, and it shut the idiot right up. Seto's hands were shaking with the effort to hold back screams. Every bit of his being was struggling to lash out, to call out some un-existing higher power and just ask it why. It was all he wanted to know, and the only answer that he needed in order to make it through the day.
By the time he had finished transferring the bones of his mother's remains to the urn, his father's remains were ready for the ceremony. Still, Seto could not believe that the white and grey fragments and ashes were the same components of the man who had seen him off of the train station not a week earlier—of the woman who had kissed his and Mokuba's cheeks and sent them off with a wave and a smile. It was even hard to comprehend that they were the same part of the gnarled and burnt corpses, with Sho's face mangled beyond recognition and Akemi's wild black hair gone forever, presumably singed away in the flames. This powder couldn't have been the same remains of the people who were placed in pine boxes and rolled into the doi-saien.
And that was where it hit him.
Seto nearly dropped the chopsticks, freezing in place as a shard of his father's tibia slid out of their grip. It curled up from his belly like an awful snake, traveled up into his chest, and came to rest in his throat. It was hard to breathe. He could hardly swallow, feeling the light pricks of tears at the base of his eyes, and the mounting pressure in his chest.
He'd never speak with his father again.
He'd never sit under the Japanese maple with his mother, never watch her brush her beautiful, long, black hair.
This was all that was left: ashes and a pile of bones.
And in that moment, Seto revoked his identity.
Because he was merely an orphan.
When he finished the ceremony at long last, and the urns were packaged to be sent away for burial, the orphan clutched his hands to his chest and felt his heart begin to fracture under the pressure. He'd heard of heartbreak before on TV and in the songs on the radio, but never before had he felt the literal stress of his heart being torn apart in his chest.
The orphan wished he could be strong that moment, because despite his front, he was suffering so badly.
He remembered his last conversation with Sho.
Perhaps it would be easier to become a woman.
Every day he hid behind a pretty face.
"I'm Anzu Mazaki!" He chirped in a falsetto, and the voice that was produced was flawlessly female. She offered a hand towards the tiny boy cowering before her, cocking her head to the side. "We should be friends."
The little boy scrubbed away a bloody nose with the back of his hand, offering a smile missing a front tooth: "It's nice to meet you Mazaki-san, I'm Yugi Mutou."
"It's okay Yugi, you can call me Anzu." He replied just as pleasantly as his mother would. She was dead now, and the only proof of her ever living was is in Mokuba's tangle of dark hair, and in the girlish façade that the orphan displayed. He left the orphanage whenever he could get away with it—the hours between school time and when he was supposed to be in bed. Just long enough to continue his masquerade as a little girl. Just long enough to get his mind off of the genius child he was supposed to be—that he needed to be if he wanted to preserve his father's dying wish: keep Mokuba safe.
Just long enough to try and understand.
Friendship was easier to comprehend through the eye of a different person, however. A stupid little girl who wanted nothing more than to dance and befriend a stupid little boy crying behind a slide had a much greater chance at making friends than a child genius with a penchant for cross-dressing.
The moment they met, the orphan loathed Yugi.
He was a weakling. That much was clear straight away. He was passive, meek, and struggled with playground bullies in a manner similar to that of an injured kitten. He clung to Anzu's skirt and followed her around like a frightened duckling—if it weren't for the orphan, Yugi would have been mincemeat. But as the months wore on, it became less about keeping the boy around for his own devices and more of an obligation. Something pinched in Anzu's chest when she thought about Yugi getting punched or harassed.
But the orphan felt nothing but smug satisfaction. Perhaps the next beating would teach the runt to stand on his own two feet. Perhaps the one after that.
Domino City Television Magazine
8:00 P.M. JST
Channel 58 DCTV
In The Know: An insider's look into Gozaburo Kaiba's adoption
Following the devastating death of his ten-year-old son, Noah, CEO of notorious weapons company Kaiba Corp Gozaburo Kaiba has accepted two orphaned children into his home and heart. Join reporter Sayaka Wantanabe on a tour of the Kaiba estate and meet his new sons Seto and Mokuba.
When Gozaburo adopted him, Anzu became sick for awhile.
She'd come down with pneumonia while on winter vacation with her parents in Hokkaido, and needed to be hospitalized for a long while. Yugi fretted and Yugi wrote, and Kaiba somehow managed to intercept the letters. Anzu responded whenever she could manage it.
It was around this time that he started to fear Anzu.
She had different feelings from Kaiba—she cared for Yugi in a way that Kaiba never could. She comprehended friendship, she still believed in that disgusting mar of magic that followed prepubescent girls around, she could smile in a way that was not mocking or bitter. And as Kaiba grew up during those months that Anzu was sick, he began to realize what a pervert he truly was.
It wasn't hard to believe when he had been told the same thing night after night, face smothered into a pillow.
Kaiba didn't want to emulate his mother anymore.
Seto had no choice.
For a Better Lack of Tears
Kaiba eventually found that he could no longer cry.
It took him awhile to realize.
The revelation came to him as he was curled up on the floor of his shower, alternating between vomiting and feebly scrubbing away blood and cum. Usually when he needed to cry, the shower was where he did so. He didn't have a bed in his room, only a desk, and if he had wanted somewhere comfortable to cry, there was only one bed he was allowed into. And there was severe punishment whenever he cried while in that bed. It wasn't safe to cry in his room either—he would have been easily discovered and punished if he was ever caught slacking in his studies for something as trivial as a cry. However, he was expected to shower and even if someone was watching through the security camera, it was difficult to differentiate the water from his tears.
But while Kaiba was scrubbing his arms pink, he realized that he hadn't cried for a good four nights. He paused and brought a hesitant hand to his chest, but failed to feel the same strain of heartstrings as before. Instead there was a shivering blank within him. Pain had been replaced by something so mechanical that it should have scared him. But again, there was nothing.
For a moment, he tried to summon those sensations of before—the horror and the pain and the humiliation that came with being fucked into a mattress until he was certain that both his body and his entire being would just break. The tearing sadness when he'd picked the bones from his parents' ashes. The fear over losing Mokuba as well.
No matter how much he willed himself to, he could no longer cry after that.
Anzu cried, though.
She cried every night.
Kaiba walked into Gozaburo's office, numbly admiring the view of the Shiodome skyline through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the spacious room.
He'd been sitting in at a business meeting yet again when the President of Inokuma Steel Works found that his pen was out of ink. Gozaburo had instantly turned to address his assistant, but the man had been sent off to fetch coffee only moments before. After an awkward pocket-check for additional pens, Gozaburo had resorted to sending Kaiba into his office for a spare pen in his desk. A mere twist-off-top pen from an intern would have been considered an insult.
"Only the finest for an honored guest," Gozaburo had assured Inokuma with a thin smile, much to the other man's delight. Kaiba had fought back a sneer; if only Inokuma knew what happened behind closed doors, maybe he wouldn't have accepted Gozaburo's false pleasantries with such ease.
Kaiba was humiliated at being sent out of the meeting room like some sort of errand boy, and greatly insulted at that. If Gozaburo wanted to insist he sit in at meetings in order to "learn the trade and gain report", then the least he could do was treat his adoptive son like a respected member of the company in front of his business partners.
Kaiba shrugged off the insult, walking around the desk. He'd never been allowed into the office by himself before, and he had certainly never been allowed to go through his Gozaburo's desk. After adopting Kaiba and Mokuba, Gozaburo had been quick to stress that if he'd ever found them touching his personal belongings, there would be hell to pay. Keeping this in mind, Kaiba was quick to slide open the thin drawer and remove the Waterman pen, mindful of touching anything else.
But the moment he went to shut the drawer, a flash of silver caught his eye.
Kaiba's brow furrowed as he observed the locket lying innocuously behind the pens. It was not engraved on the side that was facing up, nor was it on the other side when Kaiba cautiously flipped it over with the pen he held. It seemed such a curious thing for Gozaburo to be stashing in his desk—maybe it belonged to a woman? As far as Kaiba knew, Gozaburo was not seeing anyone at the time, which meant it possibly had belonged to his late wife. But then again, Gozaburo had never said even two words about her or his late son and did not seem the sentimental type. Before he knew what he was doing, Kaiba had reached out to pick up the locket, brow furrowing. As he picked it up, a slender silver chain hushed through the loop when he turned it between his fingers. It seemed strikingly familiar in a way that made his skin crawl.
'I need to put this thing back and get this pen back to the meeting room. The last thing I want is for him to come storming in here and see me holding this.' Kaiba thought anxiously, hand wavering uncertainly as he made to set the locket down. 'But when will the next opportunity come? I doubt he'll ever let me into his desk again and I know it's a ludicrous thought but I just need to know if—.'
He pressed the button upon the locket.
When it popped open, his mind went blank.
A picture of Sho Ryuzaki stared back at him with impassive blue eyes.
Kaiba snapped the locket closed, flinging it back into the desk and slamming it shut. His hand grasping the Waterman pen was beginning to sweat as he staggered back, gasping for air. This couldn't have been right. Akemi had never removed that locket from her person as long as Kaiba could remember, and while all of her other jewelry had been recovered from the remains of the fire, the locket hadn't been found on her body. It had always been assumed that it had been stolen off of her before her death, seeing as during the investigation evidence of a break-in and a scuffle had been uncovered. But it would make no sense for Gozaburo to be in possession of Akemi's locket.
Despite himself, Kaiba reached out for the drawer with a shaking hand and—in a swift movement—slid it all the way open.
Stashed at the back of the shallow drawer was a bound mass of unmistakably black and wild hair.
That night, Gozaburo called Kaiba into his room.
At this point, the emotional response had almost completely been stripped from the fourteen-year-old. It wasn't the first time Gozaburo had called him there in the past four years, and it certainly wouldn't be the last. Kaiba went like a dog, so badly defeated and so horribly broken that he couldn't even comprehend not going. His entire body was aching by that point, both inside and out—his chest felt like it was caving in, curling unto his rotting heart. Every step inspired horror and pain, but the sooner he responded to the call, the sooner it would be over with.
He was surprised, upon entering the room, that Gozaburo was not alone.
A woman was in there sitting on the bed, and she was the most beautiful woman Kaiba had seen since his mother died; she certainly reminded him of her. She was dressed in a flowing black evening gown and tall, strappy shoes. Her hair was long and beautiful: black, full, and draped over her shoulders. Her face was small and round, and pleasant-looking enough, but in that moment she looked confused.
For good reason.
Kaiba's mind began to expand and retract, like it was some sort of lung. Filling and collapsing as he attempted to comprehend the situation at hand. What was happening? His hands were shaking beyond his control, despite his attempts to quell them. Everything they said was muffled, and his vision was warped—despite the ridiculous connotation, it was almost like he was wearing a fish bowl over his head. It certainly felt strange enough. Everything he did was happening on another side of the glass, like watching someone play a first-person shooter. Each breath was constricted; each one of his words was delicately chosen and spoken by another boy named Seto Kaiba. He began to note nuances, brain firing disjointed thoughts off in rapid succession: 'I have to vomit. It's rolling up in the pit of my stomach with hot bile. Gozaburo and the woman are exchanging words; she looks frightened; she's lying down on the bed and I really wish she didn't have to. If there was a God I'd say: God. Please. Not her, too.'
But he couldn't do much of anything as he stood there as (he believed) he had been told to do. He couldn't quite recall what his orders were, but his body was trained to respond to them without fail.
He didn't want to watch Gozaburo fuck her, but he did. He had to. And when her hair was spread out over the pillow, and she was getting her slender little throat bruised, arching off of the bed with tiny screams, Kaiba could more than imagine what she felt. The penetration was awful, like every ounce of his body was simultaneously recoiling and restricting in order to force it out and away. It was like an aching, hot pinch against his most sensitive of places—but it fucked more than his body. It fucked his soul.
'This call-girl looks like my mother. Like Mokuba.' He thought, choking on the vomit threatening to roll into his throat, 'He meant for me to find Mom's hair in that drawer. He's not an idiot. It wasn't a mistake. It's clear why he's chosen to show me this tonight—I'm almost all used up, aren't I? Isn't Mokuba the same age as when I was first brought here?'
Gozaburo was calling him over, to the woman who was only attempting to do her job. Kaiba's lips quirked without amusement, 'Perhaps I should look down upon her in her line of business, but there's almost a sense of camaraderie in our positions. I'm just as much of a whore as she is, if not more.'
Suddenly, Gozaburo reached out took hold of Kaiba's wrist, forcing him to touch the woman's sex. It was moist and warm, almost unlike anything Kaiba had ever felt. He'd learned every bit there was to know about anatomy, both male and female, and although it was his first time touching a woman, he knew exactly what he was touching.
'Labia majora, labia minora, vaginal opening, urethra, clitoris,' It was like clockwork in his mind, each name ticking off a second as his fingers were forced to pass up over her belly and then onto her breasts. By this point she was a gasping mess, but even through the horror on her face, Kaiba could see the guilt scrunch her eyes.
She shouldn't have had to feel like she was hurting him, too.
Gozaburo reclined on the bed like some sort of archaic oni, the embers of his cigar creating glowing red points in his eyes, watching his stepson work her over. Kaiba couldn't stop shaking. He didn't know how to touch a woman. He didn't know what was supposed to feel good. He didn't want to touch her at all. A small voice his caved-in chest noted that the last thing he'd ever want to do was hurt her. But he had to do what was expected of him.
So he learned rather fast what made the woman shiver. And fuck if it didn't get him hard to see her calming down and reacting to his touches—her vulva darkened, her breath and pulse quickened, her nipples became rosy and erect. It was just as fascinating as it was disgusting. As arousing as it was anything else. And Kaiba wanted to vomit. It stung high in his throat as he attempted to choke it down and follow his directions.
There was only one order:
He was still swimming behind the warped glass, and it wasn't as if Kaiba owned his own body anymore, let alone did he have any control of it. He was fourteen and he was hard, and the woman—the call-girl—the whore was moaning for him like a wind-up doll.
His hands shivered to a stop. The world retracted around him again and for the first time since he could remember, he tasted a single word on his lips:
"We interrupt this broadcast to bring you breaking news from Shiodome outside of Domino City. Let's cut to Minako Ushiba reporting live from Kaiba Corp Tower."
"Thanks Naota. I'm here just meters away from the Kaiba Corp Tower, where police have just confirmed that CEO Gozaburo Kaiba has fallen to his death from the top story. As you can see, behind me the entire block is closed off to pedestrians and dozens of police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks are blocking the way. Let's cut to the other side of the block where Aiko Aoyama and her camera crew have just—we're airing it now, yes—Aiko Aoyama and her camera crew have footage of a covered body being wheeled into a black body transportation van. We—we're unsure… if this is indeed the body of Gozaburo Kaiba we're seeing right now, or if there were multiple victims. Police are not commenting on the situation beyond the confirmation that Gozaburo Kaiba is dead—so we're not sure if what we're looking at here is foul play, or an accident, or even a suicide."
"And what a time for a fall, Minako. Could the circumstances of this fall be tied with the sudden shift in the ownership of Kaiba Corp's stocks? Or, more likely, the child molestation rumors surrounding Gozaburo Kaiba in the wake of the anonymous letter to the DCPD allegedly containing incriminating Polaroids from 19—the 1980's of Gozaburo Kaiba and an unnamed minor committing sexual acts?"
"We can only hope that as we continue our coverage more details will arise, Naota."
A Precise Craft
He could not be Anzu any longer.
He had become taller, broader in the shoulders, and far less androgynous in his frame. A little boy could easily pass for a girl, but a young man could not.
Kaiba ran a hand down the elastic sinews of what would soon be an arm. He was breathing heavily, each movement labored with insomnia and some sort of insanity. It was the only way out.
If he had no choice, then so be it.
If he could not be Anzu any longer, then—
Anzu returned, bright and chipper, just weeks after Gozaburo flung himself off of the Kaiba Corp tower's top floor.
"You've grown a lot!" Yugi remarked, adjusting the collar of his middle-school uniform. By the way he was blushing, Kaiba was certain that the boy thought Anzu was cute in her new uniform. "You're a lot taller, I mean."
Kaiba typed in the command for the facial expression, leaning into the microphone.
"Well, girls do grow faster than boys!" The android remarked, ruffling his crazy hair. "Once I got better, I grew like a weed!"
"Maybe one day I'll grow, too." The tiny boy responded, kicking feebly at a stray leaf.
Kaiba hit a button and Anzu began to wave her hand dismissively. "Hey now, you're not too bad. One day I bet you'll be even taller than me!"
Yugi glanced up at her meekly. "You think?"
"No." Kaiba grunted to himself before leaning into the mic. Based on Yugi's genetics and a simple algorithm from a growth chart, he couldn't ever become taller than 165 centimetres.
"Of course!" Anzu giggled pleasantly. Her laughter was impish like Mokuba's. Like Akemi's.
Mokuba's laughter was no longer like Akemi's.
His laughter had become lower, warped, and snarky. The imp-like behavior Mokuba inherited from their mother had been perverted into something worthy of a fairy tale. The shy child who accompanied the orphaned boy into Gozaburo's household was gone. He had inherited a vicious streak that showed no sign of waning. This boy kicked and screamed and bit and fought—he was wickedly intelligent, but had taken a leaf out of his brother's book and used it to dissect others with knifelike precision and depraved joy. This boy made his classmates shiver in fear and his teacher cry. He flipped his butterfly knife back and forth as he loomed down the street, a tangle of black hair obscuring his eyes, betraying only the coldest of smirks.
The monster had once been worth Seto's love. Mokuba had been gentle, curious, and cheerful. He sat under the blossoming trees with their mother, nestled in her lap like a small copy of her—like a matryoshka doll. Seto had helped him take his first steps, had shown him how to pet the neighbor's kitty nicely, taught him his numbers and colors and how to read. Mokuba had faithfully gripped his big brother's fingers and smiled, following Seto wherever he went. Akemi watched them with eyes so tender they glowed. She brushed Mokuba's hair every night before she tucked them in and every morning when they woke up.
The monster had once been worth the orphan's love. Mokuba had been upset, frightened, and very dependant. The older kids often picked on him to the point where physical violence was common, and his nii-san had found it necessary to respond in turn. The elder boy remembered once when a bigger kid had been pulling on Mokuba's hair, holding him up by the roots until the child had rose to his tiptoes in an attempt to alleviate the pain. He had hurled himself across the yard and tackled the bully, knocking him into a metal tub that was used for play with toy boats. But when the bully's head had become immersed, the orphan had straddled his chest and held him under. It had been a flash of snarling protectiveness, a moment wherein every threat had to be eradicated. Sho would have been proud. The caretakers who eventually pried the screaming orphan off of the drowning bully said that this was nothing to be proud of. It was deplorable behavior, and if he kept this up no one in their right mind would want him for a child.
The monster had once been worth Kaiba's love. But Kaiba was beginning to question what there was left to give. And why—if he still had the ability to love—should he waste it on such a disgraceful creature? Why should he look so much like their mother? Kaiba would sometimes pick up his scissors at his desk and look out over the gardens of the mansion, where the creature was dragging a hapless child into a ring of bullies that he'd gathered there himself. He'd watched that glossy black head of hair twist and bob as Mokuba held up the victim by the roots of his hair and allowed the other children to kick his shins until he bruised and begged.
The monster did its best to emulate its kin. Mokuba strut around the mansion, clinging to every word Kaiba spoke, inserting himself into every conversation. He flaunted his Capsule Monsters in front of his brother, chattering on about his cutthroat 'wins' and his "Desire to become just like Nii-sama."
It was deplorable behavior, and no one wanted him as a brother.
Bright and Beautiful
Time wore on and one night Kaiba found himself glaring at the droid.
It was in sleep mode, slumped pleasantly in one of his office chairs, chin tucked to its chest. There was a little smile on its face as beads of light passed through its iris, downloading responses and information for the day. Kaiba was starting school the next day and he wouldn't be able to man the android as much as he was usually wont to.
It was the most advanced of its kind. It looked human—it felt human. It could learn, it could dance, it could laugh, eat, and cry. It was his prize possession and a perfect archetype for what would be the next step in Duel Monster's technology, but he hated it. He hated it almost as much as he hated Yugi, hated it even more some nights.
He wanted to destroy it.
It would be so sweet to destroy Anzu Mazaki right then and there. To finally snuff out the last little bits of aching in his chest that made him so disgustingly like Yugi and his little mutt friends. She was his last tie to a world he wanted no part of anymore: something he could never be a part of again, even if he tried to.
The pointer on his desktop hovered above the button marked "WIPE SYSTEM", his finger poised above the mouse.
'Once more,' He decided, powering up the droid. The glazed look dissipated from her eyes and she straightened in her seat. 'And then no more.'
She smiled, cocking her head to the side. "Good morning, Kaiba."
"Good morning." He responded lowly.
"I have a request, if it isn't too hard." She quipped, folding her hands in her lap politely. He fought down a scoff, rolling his eyes. He might as well do the damn machine this one favor if he's about to destroy it.
"Shoot." He grunted. The android reached up to run a finger through her brown tresses.
"Will you please hand me a hair brush?"
The Worth of a Memory
He didn't destroy her after all.
Because in that moment, she was—
Because in that moment, he finally understood why his mother had that print hanging in the living room. In that moment, he understood what she hadn't said, the meaning behind the meaning.
The apricot tree was a woman.
And he couldn't—
Kaiba rested after his return from Duelist Kingdom. Too much physical exertion so soon after his incapacitation had left him worse off than he'd anticipated. Every day to fought to leave his bed—he had to get out of the mansion. Needed to leave the memories creeping up in the darkest corners of the back rooms. Of every stolen innocence and every forced depravity. He needed to continue building Kaiba Corp—he needed to perfect its image, to solidify its new standing—he needed to work, but the nurses fought him every step of the way.
"You need to lie down!" They would say, "You can continue doing light work from bed, but this is ridiculous! You can't be meeting with anyone right now, sir! Even a brief public appearance may—!"
"Your suggestions are ridiculous." He'd retort in a low snarl, standing on shaking legs. "I was able to do as I pleased for an entire weekend thank you. I don't see why I should be confined to a stuffy room when I'm perfectly capable of handling myself."
One day, while he was getting dressed, he heard the small staff of nurses fussing outside of his room. He'd only been at it for several days, but he could feel the toll the exertion was taking on his body. He knew he needed rest; he was no idiot. But there was only so much rest he could get when he had a public image to uphold and an entire corporation to run—
The door clicked open and he turned his head, ready to fire off a snarl at the unfortunate nurse who'd sauntered in.
However, it was no nurse.
Mokuba shuffled in, his head ducked down, big grey eyes visible through his bangs. Seto had seen him but once since waking up in Pegasus' castle. He was still uncertain if the sobbing child he had embraced really was Mokuba—his Mokuba. There was so much sorrow and trepidation in his eyes when he walked into the room, looking as if he was frightened of making a wrong move and earning a scolding. Like a kicked animal.
"Nii-sama." He said softly, starting to edge back towards the door a little. One of the live-in nurses in maroon scrubs gave him a little shove forward and closed the door. Mokuba looked ready to cry. There used to be a time where he'd cry if he was ever without his brother, but now—
"Mokuba." Kaiba stepped forward, extending his hand a little. "I—." He was truly at a loss for words this time around. It didn't happen often, especially after having been silent for so long, but it seemed as if Mokuba was at a loss for words, too.
The boy scrubbed shyly at his nose, eyes darting across the room. "I'm. Uhm." He looked up at his brother imploringly. "You really should stay in bed until you get better. I mean—please? The nurses say you could get really sick, or something else really bad could happen. So. Please stay in bed!"
Like that, he ran out of the room, all but wrenching the door open in order to escape. When Kaiba had relented and resigned himself to bed with his laptop, the nurse in the maroon scrubs came by to bring his food and check his vitals.
"You know, he never left your side." She said gently. "Not for the entire time you were out. He'd insist on wheeling you over to the window so you could see the apricot blossoms back when they were blooming—he'd hold your hand and talk to you for hours and hours about nothing and everything. You're lucky to have a brother like him."
'Yes.' Kaiba thought, 'I am.'
"A girl came around often, too." The nurse went on conversationally, "I think her name was Sumomo? Anzu? Something like that—talking about the blossoms reminded me."
Once the nurses had returned home and the one handling the night shift was fast asleep in the recliner outside of the door, Seto cracked open his laptop and started up the program.
The doll responded and within moments had entered travel mode. Despite himself, Seto sank against the pillows propping him up and fell into a deep sleep. When he opened his eyes, grey morning had begun to break over the manor, spilling in through the thick, drab curtains and giving Anzu's face an eerie glow. She had dragged a chair over to the side of his bed and was sitting pleasantly with her hands folded over her lap, eyes closed, a dreamy smile over her face. She'd always had clearance from security, and the nurse had undoubtedly let the android in at its insistence. It would be bad publicity if word got out that a teenage girl was sneaking into Seto Kaiba's mansion in the middle of the night, but—
"Good morning, Anzu." He addressed her softly. The doll's eyes fluttered open as delicately as a human girl's, and they met with a twin set of blue.
"Good morning, Kaiba." She responded in turn.
She seemed to be functioning fluidly, even after all that time without maintenance—she must have been updating herself daily. Every one of her little movements, down to the subtle flutter of the corner of her lips, was perfect. Kaiba felt his chest swell with pride, if only a little bit. It would only be a matter of time before slacking employees were replaced with impeccable dolls such as these. However—
There was somewhat of a shallowness behind those blue eyes. Kaiba could never place it, what with the personality he installed into her, but when he was unable to see himself reflected in her gaze, it forced him to realize what a half-person she was without his intention there. He shivered. She wasn't supposed to be a person at all, let alone half. The longer he stared into her impeccably pleasant eyes, the more disturbingly uncanny she seemed—but perhaps…
Perhaps the reason he identified her as a half-person was because he had stored half of himself within her.
In light of this revelation, Kaiba made room in his bed, wriggling artlessly to the other side and flipping down a corner of the dense sheets. Responding to the unspoken command, Anzu removed her house slippers and climbed up onto the plush mattress, pressing her mechanical body up against his flesh one. Even if she was synthetic, she felt so real—too real. The last time Kaiba felt the warmth of a human body—
He bit down the sickness that tumbled through his stomach at the fragment of a memory.
Shoving it away, he focused on the form beside him, rolling up close to her and smoothing a trepid hand over her shoulder. Anzu stared on with her pleasant smile and impeccably blue eyes. He realized with a begrudging scowl that he'd never learned to properly cuddle—nothing beyond the snuggles he'd shared with Mokuba in the orphanage. But still, he wrapped his arms around her and said:
"Tell me about your friends, Anzu."
"Jounouchi-kun. What's sex like?"
One day, the mutt offered to walk Anzu home. There had been a string of muggings in the past several weeks, and the blond refused to let his friend make the trip to her apartment by herself. It was one of the now-rare times that Kaiba had been able to pilot the android personally, and the question all but fell out of his lips through Anzu. It was blunt, and not at all like her, and the mutt responded with an appropriate sputter, his face turning bright red. His recent growth was impressive enough to warrant a quirked brow from the boy behind Anzu. There was a time not long before then that the mutt would've responded with a lecherous grin and leer, wherein he would've slipped his arm around her shoulders and breathed into her ear: "Well why don't I show you, cutie?"
But he was all nervous noises, scratching his nose and looking every which way. "T-that was kinda random, Anzu. Geez… I thought girls were supposed to be shy about this sorta thing."
"Well you guessed wrong!" Anzu huffed a little, marching passed him and standing in his path. She crossed her arms below her breasts, pouting her lips. "I'm just curious, and you seemed to be the best person to ask."
Kaiba cringed admitting this, even through the barrier Anzu provided. If he had two brain cells to rub together, the mutt would be getting suspicious soon—
"W-well." The blond continued to scratch the side of his nose, a nasty habit that would probably cost him all of the skin there. Kaiba rolled his eyes back in the control room. How foolish of him to think that the stupid mutt would even begin to suspect anything. When sex was brought into the question, it appeared that what little blood the dog had in his tiny brain rushed elsewhere.
"Uhm, you see," The mutt flailed a little, and Kaiba was getting pretty tired of the bullshit. He came here to get a simple question considering carnal desires answered and—
"It's really nice," Katsuya finally decided, making a little box with his hands, like a flight attendant. "I-it feels good to have your body close to another person's. Warm. Flesh-on-flesh is a good sensation."
'I beg to differ.' Kaiba snarked silently to himself. He'd been curious what the general consensus about sex was, having been—having—he was intrigued and it was a question that he needed answered. Despite his revulsion to his own sexuality, he was still sixteen years old. He still woke up hard. He may not ever trust any person to get that close to him, to get that far under his skin, but he still needed to know.
"Why do people like it so much?" Anzu asked suddenly. She drew a hesitant hand to her chest, eyes darting away. "Doesn't it hurt for the one receiving it? For—the girl? It's not exactly fair."
"H-hey now!" Katsuya placed one hand on her shoulder, using the other hand to tilt her chin up. Kaiba sat up straight in his seat. Anzu turned bright red. "I… I don't know what it feels like for the girl, but—but I can tell you straight up that any guy that makes a girl hurt for his own pleasure is a damn monster, okay? Sex isn't supposed to be scary, Anzu. It's supposed to be fun and feel… good."
They were getting really close.
They were getting really, really close.
So close that their noses were almost touching, and Kaiba was leaning closer to his monitor despite himself. Maybe—perhaps—perhaps the mutt had a point. If so many people did it, then shouldn't it have been a pleasurable act?
Kaiba felt almost as if was in Anzu's body just then—back when he used to brush his hair out and wear it long and talk in a gentle falsetto. He wondered what Jounouchi smelled like up close—he'd caught whiffs of cheap laundry soap and some sort of personal spice but… it probably smelled better up close, up along the sinews of his neck and somewhere sensitive on his ear. Could it possibly feel pleasurable to have someone's breath ghost across his skin? Goose pimples broke out over Kaiba's skin at the thought of Jounouchi's hot breath in the crook of his neck. Maybe it would feel good to have someone touch him—
They were leaning closer. Kaiba could only imagine the base taste of lips on his. Maybe—
The mutt pulled back, turning his head away sharply. "I'm sorry Anzu—I can't. I—I can't do this to Yugi. You know how he feels about you."
Anzu stepped away, and looked down at her feet. Kaiba recoiled from the screen, chagrined and humiliated in himself. "I'm sorry, I—."
The mutt began to backpedal, and then changed direction, heading towards her flat.
"We should get you home, Anzu."
Kaiba buried his face in his hands.
Of Love and Archrivalries
Kaiba eventually came to suspect that Yugi knew.
One afternoon, when Kaiba sat down at his terminal, Yugi and Anzu were sitting in her flat at the kotatsu. Yugi was organizing his deck yet again, and Anzu was experimenting with new shades of nail polish. Every now and then Anzu would ask Yugi if he liked a specific color and he'd smile, nod his head a little, take a sip of cocoa, and continue with his deck. After several minutes of the same monotonous process, Kaiba nearly left the terminal. But just as he stood to leave, Yugi blurted something out.
"Anzu, is there someone you like?"
Seto froze before taking his seat once more.
The droid hesitated and glanced away.
"It's okay if you like my other self, you know."
Even Kaiba was surprised at that statement.
"Yugi!" Anzu gasped, sitting straight up. "I—!"
Yes, of course his program had to have learned to desire companionship. And the person she wanted had to be the split personality Yugi called his other self. Of course it had to be Kaiba's damned rival of all people (said person's existence notwithstanding).
The smaller teen was shaking his head. "He's not listening right now. I think he's asleep."
"Yugi… I don't really know what to say about that." Anzu said, and Yugi withered. Kaiba grumbled a little at the thought of his first (and only) friend being kicked aside once again, but something remarkable was happening. Yugi reached across the table and lightly touched the back of her hand.
"It's okay." He repeated, and he smiled with utmost sincerity. "I know you can't control who you fall in love with."
Kaiba rolled his eyes a little.
"Oh, Yugi…" Gushed Anzu, laying her palm on her chest. His program really needed to stop observing so much girly anime.
"I can't control it, either." He squeezed her hand and looked at her. Yugi really looked at her, into her eyes, and he smiled in that shy way of his that made Kaiba's breastbone quiver uncomfortably. "Sometimes you fall in love with the person you least expect."
It was as if Yugi was staring through Anzu and at him. It was too damn much, and he shut the terminal off, allowing the droid to run on its own.
Seto ran his hands over his forearms, scoffing slightly. What had love cost him by this point? It was a surge of chemicals, the biological necessity to seek out a mate. Love and sex. One was just an excuse for the other. Neither was necessary when it came to living. To him, love was something akin to poison. It was something he could do without. But—
'There are other forms of love, aren't there?' He thought, resting his chin on the steeple of his fingers. His mind flitted from Mokuba to Akemi, briefly touching upon a memory of Sho. 'Maybe one day.'
It was a brief incident, but it was a poignant one.
Through Another's Eyes
Although he didn't accompany them to Egypt, he was there the entire time.
He was watching through Anzu's eyes as Yugi finally picked himself off of the floor and stood on his own two feet.
And he was waiting there in the sand when they surfaced from that tomb.
Yugi turned, but he didn't seem surprised to see him. It's as if he knew Kaiba was watching all along.
And maybe he did.
Kaiba stood in the foyer of the darkened penthouse. The blinds had been opened, allowing in the inky glow of the city. The Shibuya skyline coruscated against a night sky awash with light pollution, every light duplicated oddly in the double panes. Tickers and advertisements glowed on endlessly below the building, the hum of the city that accompanied them muffled by the height. Anzu sat at a window seat, knees drawn to her chest. She had cracked the window open and the breeze sent odd ripples over her silhouette.
Kaiba slipped off his shoes and toed on a pair of house slippers. He didn't bother announcing his presence; Anzu would not have responded. The doll sat there every night in complete silence, disturbingly still. He'd ran a hundred different diagnostic tests on her system, backed her up every night, inspected every limb and piece of her fabricated body, but found no cause or cure for what could only be described as a melancholy stupor.
He walked into the kitchen, the sensors responding to his presence with ease and illuminating the room in weak light. It was like coming home to an empty house every night, despite the presence of his 'wife'. It had been a marriage of convenience. It solidified her presence as a human being, prevented her identity from becoming revealed, and provided Kaiba with excellent social standing.
Despite this, it was almost as if the droid had become this way because she knew she'd been used, that her entire existence was arbitrary to Kaiba's whims. He'd installed something like emotions within her, yes, but the anxiety and depression she felt was self generated. It was like there was something a bit like a consciousness taking form, and if the droid had frightened him before, the thought of having built a sentient creature downright disturbed him now.
He didn't know how to treat her with kindness or patience, so he avoided her. She was no more than furniture now, despite how much resorting to that sort of treatment shook Kaiba to the core.
He popped a small pod of coffee into the machine, retrieving a mug to catch the brew. There was a time earlier on, wherein he would have returned to the penthouse and be met with the smell of a freshly-cooked meal and Anzu's smile. Even if she wasn't real, even if the smile was programmed, at least he would have something to talk to her about. She was always eager to tell him stories of her schooling and of her friends. But she had drifted away from those other people in her depression, becoming more inclined to spend time alone in the dark, rather than act as a bridge between Kaiba and the only companions he'd ever known.
Suddenly, warm arms circled his waist and Kaiba felt Anzu press her face between his shoulder blades. She gave him a small squeeze.
The coffee began to drain into his mug, filling the tiny kitchen with its pungent scent. Anzu released him and reached out, sticking her hand into the scalding stream. Acting on instinct, the young man reached out and wrenched her hand away. Anzu drew it to her chest, admiring the flawless skin with an impassive look.
"What are you doing?" He asked, choking when she reached across the counter and pulled a steak knife from the magnetic strip above the sink. "Anzu!"
He grabbed her wrist, but she'd already managed to drive the point of the steak knife into the back of her hand, releasing a little sob. She peeled away the skin, revealing the mechanics beyond it. The knife clattered to the counter and she held her hand to her chest, curling in on it. Kaiba reached out to her, setting his hands on her shoulders.
"Anzu." He said firmly. "Why would you—?"
"We're not whole people." She mumbled suddenly, casting her eyes down on the floor. Seto's head recoiled as he stared at her, taken aback at her words.
"We?" He repeated weakly, giving her shoulders a little shake. "What—?"
"What does the breeze feel like, Kaiba?" She asked. Her eyes were turning red, a natural reaction to the saline solution that was supplied to her tear ducts when the 'sadness' emotion was accessed. But they were bubbling up quicker than he'd ever seen, spilling over her cheeks and down her throat. Kaiba weakly swept the tears away with a thumb, at a loss for words. "I'm programmed to think 'pleasant' or 'cool', but the only time I can understand the breeze is when you feel it for me." Finally, she looked up at him, and her face looked positively torn. "But there are things that I can feel that you can't."
"A program. An excuse." She whispered, a wry smile tweaking her lips. "Kaiba, do you love me?"
She laughed, looking away and brushing away her tears with the butt of her palm as she turned. "If you even cared, you wouldn't let this go on."
He stepped back from her, eyes narrowing. For some reason, his heart was beginning to beat violently against his chest, so hard that he could feel it in his throat. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, you didn't use to be this way." She supplied. "You were cruel, yes, but—you were never this apathetic, not truly."
Suddenly, she surged against him, pressing her face into his chest. "But you're hurting, too, aren't you?"
"I don't—." His mind was spinning, attempting to provide proper responses to her questions. This was far outside of her programming; she was never supposed to act like this in his presence.
"I'm the one that's not supposed to feel anything." Anzu said weakly, balling her hands into fists. "But you're—you've always—."
She stopped to stifle a little sob with her hand. "I just don't want to be anymore, Kaiba. Please. Please. I just—I just have one last request for you."
He stiffened. "Anzu…"
She smiled at him, looking broken and mechanical, even through the tears. "I want you to be Seto again."
Kaiba choked on his retort. Of course he was himself. It wasn't as if he had ever been anyone else—
Only that was a lie.
He could never be Seto, not when he had stored away a part of himself in Anzu. Not when she could still smile and cry and laugh. Not when she could brush Yugi's hair from his eyes and tell him to be strong, not when she could briefly keen into the mutt's body heat when the bus they were on took a sharp turn, not when she could feel something other than fear when another person wanted her to let them in.
He'd mistreated her. Android or not, she was still her own being. Anzu Mazaki. A being he had locked a little bit of his soul in and essentially managed to abuse not with his actions, nor his words, but with his neglect. He'd effectively shoved this part of himself into a little box and proceeded to keep it close to himself, without ever having the courage to look inside.
He looked up into Anzu's eyes and finally understood what she was asking.
They were the same person, after all.
Domino City Press
September 8, 2016
Wife of CEO, Anzu Kaiba, dies at 21
Former local Anzu Kaiba neé Mazaki was pronounced dead this Thursday September 8 at Kaiba Corp general hospital.
Her husband of two years CEO Seto Kaiba returned from a business trip in Kowloon, Hong Kong to find his young wife unconscious in bed in their Shibuya penthouse. After summoning paramedics, Mr Kaiba reports performing CPR until the medical team relieved him. Upon autopsy, it was discovered that Mrs Kaiba had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by unknown factors. No foul play is suspected.
Mrs Kaiba was born August 18 1996 in Kumamoto to parents Daisuke and Megumi Mazaki. She was wed to CEO Seto Kaiba of Kaiba Corp in April of 2014 at the Domino City Hotel Royale. Mrs Kaiba attended Domino City Public Middle School and Domino City Public High School, where she received several awards for recognition in dance. At the time of her death, Mrs Kaiba was studying at Domino City School of Performing Arts.
According to peers, Mrs Kaiba was a friendly and outgoing individual. "She was also so upbeat and positive," Says classmate Miho Nosaka, "Every person she met became an important friend to her. Even at the risk of sounding clichéd, I'd have to say that it's like a light in my life turned off."
A long time friend of Mrs Kaiba—reigning Duel Monsters champion Yugi Moto—had this to say: "Anzu was there when I needed her most. Without her contribution to my life, I honestly don't know where I would be. She meant the world to me. Although it's heart-wrenching to know she's gone, I'm glad to know that she's in a better place."
Mrs Kaiba's husband, Seto, was not available for comment.
Anzu Kaiba is predeceased by her parents Daisuke and Megumi Mazaki and survived by her husband Seto Kaiba and brother in-law Mokuba Kaiba.
A wake will be held at Kurabara Funeral Home in Domino City September 15 at 10 A.M. Funeral services will follow September 16 at 9 A.M., proceeded by cremation services. All ¥200,000,000 yen donated to the memorial fund will be donated to Domino City's child services and Domino City School of Performing Arts.
The Kaiba family would like to extend their thanks to all family friends and the city of Domino for such kindness in their time of mourning. When everything has faded they alone shine forth, encroaching on the charms of smaller gardens –Lin Bu
The chirps of the cicadas rose in tandem as Seto and Mokuba crossed the threshold into the cemetery, each toting a shopping bag.
It was situated behind a small shrine in the countryside, where his father's family had originated from. Due to the location, there were no chatty tourists or nosy paparazzi in this area to bother them during such a private ceremony. A monk ambling by paused and pressed his hands together, inclining his head in a bow. Seto and Mokuba repaid the formality, watching as the monk made his way towards the temple. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be any more families visiting in the cemetery, which was to be expected as they had purposefully made the trip later in the Obon season in order to avoid any unwanted attention.
The brothers approached the provided grave-cleaning supplies set out on neat racks behind the temple; Mokuba immediately picked up a bucket and placed it under a tap, filling it with fresh water while his brother collected the ladle, scrubber, and sponge from the racks.
"It's been awhile since we've been here, hunh?" Mokuba asked as they made their way up the small incline to where the Ryuzaki family grave was located. Mokuba had grown considerably in the past several years, his height nearly matching his brother's at the age of seventeen. Today his hair was pulled out of his face and gathered low at his neck in order to keep it out of his face, and he was dressed casually in a tee shirt and shorts. In that moment he could've been any normal teenager visiting his family grave. Seto was quite a different story, appearing just as formidable and professional as ever in one of his long coats. Physically, not much had changed within the past four years with him, save for the fact that he may have been a bit broader in the chest. Mokuba, however, was a bit scrawnier than Seto had been at his age, but made up for it with charisma that had the girls flinging themselves at his feet.
He was cresting the hill now, glancing over his shoulder at his older brother, expectantly awaiting a reply. Seto nodded his head a little. "Yeah."
"Geez," Mokuba rolled his eyes, setting the bucket down in front of the family grave. It had become considerably overgrown with weeds, its once shining finish tarnished with dirt and wear from the nearby sea. "You should probably take off that trench coat of yours Nii-sama—I think you're getting heat stroke."
Seto rolled his eyes in turn and began to pull the weeds from the main pagoda of the grave. Mokuba busied himself with righting the sōtōba bearing their ancestors' names, brushing dirt from the wooden faces. "We've really let this place go, hunh?" He intoned guiltily, tracing the characters of their mother's name. He reached into his collar and extracted the card-shaped locket that housed the picture of his brother; dangling beside it on the string was the tiny silver oval that contained Akemi's picture. With a tiny click, he opened it and held his mother's likeliness up to the sōtōba, as if he were comparing. Seto mirrored his actions, holding Sho's tiny portrait up to the neighboring grave maker that bore the man's name.
Seto closed the locket and tucked it back into his shirt, kneeling down to pull two small bouquets from his shopping bag. He silently arranged them in the metal vases flanking the pagoda and turned to the bucket in order to ladle a scoop of water into the little well between the vases. The brothers quickly set themselves upon scrubbing the headstone clean with the brushes and sponges that they had collected earlier, working in determined silence until the grave was spotless.
"There we go." Mokuba mumbled, scooping up a bit of water and pouring it over the top of the grave; Seto remembered that he'd had to pick Mokuba up in order to do so the last time they had visited. Mokuba finished the ritual with a prayer and Seto repeated the process, but found that his mind ran blank when he was expected to pray. He hadn't prayed since the last time that he'd visited the grave with his parents back when he was nine. He'd never had any need for or belief in religion after they had died. He knew that there were no expectant ancestor spirits standing behind the tomb listening for a prayer. No thought-up words would ever reach his parents.
He managed a quick thought of 'Rest in peace,' before Mokuba was tore into his own shopping bag in order to load the small slots behind the well with incense. He struck a match, and the unique aroma burst to life around the gravesite. He then removed their offerings from the shopping bag, placing them neatly on the slab before the well: a pack of Seven Stars cigarettes for Sho and his father, a chocolate daifuku for Akemi, a peach for their grandmother, with rice and saké for the rest of the family.
They stood in front of the grave for a long time saying nothing, merely staring at their warped reflections in the damp sheen of the pagoda. Mokuba reached out and brushed his fingers along the characters of the family name, up and over the family crest.
Seto turned to him at the unexpected words. "Excuse me?"
"I can tell you're lonely, Nii-sama." Mokuba said, looking at Seto from behind the black fringe of his bangs. "You've been lonely for a long time. Especially now that Nee-chan is... no longer with us."
Seto glanced down at his feet, feeling a rush of humiliation. Mokuba was no idiot—Seto wasn't certain how or for how long, but Mokuba knew about Anzu. Of that much he was sure. But Mokuba was too kind to ever call his brother out on his eccentricities; he'd never hurt Seto in that way. Certainly it would have been a grand chance to get back at Seto for the way he'd been abused in his youth, but outside of one or two instances when he was young, Mokuba was not the petty type to seek revenge.
Perhaps knowing that Mokuba knew his secret was what made the shame all the more worse. The back of his brother's hand brushed against his own for a moment and Seto flicked his eyes towards Mokuba's. The gentle smile on his face was so reminiscent of their mother that it made Seto's heart squeeze painfully.
"You don't have to punish yourself like this." He continued. "You shouldn't have to punish yourself at all, Nii-sama."
"Who said I ever intended to punish myself?" Seto asked curtly. Mokuba rolled his eyes.
"Don't give me that," He sighed, placing a palm on his forehead in exasperation. "You know full well that you're torturing yourself. That you've been torturing yourself for God-knows-how-long."
"And how am I doing so, Mokuba?" His brother snapped, hackles rising.
"You force yourself to be alone," Mokuba began to load the now-empty bucket with the cleaning supplies. He marched down the beaten path back towards the hill before stopping and sighing, his shoulders buckling as he bowed his head. "You've always forced yourself to be alone."
"I don't trust anyone." He replied softly.
"You trust me, don't you?" Mokuba cried, turning suddenly.
"That's different, Mokuba. You're my brother and—."
"And I don't know what you've gone through. Yeah. I've got it. But for God's sake, Nii-sama!" Mokuba looked at him desperately, looking upset enough to fling the bucket. Whether it was at his brother, the ground, or a nearby tree, Seto was uncertain. "You can't just spend your life sitting alone in your office! What would Dad have said?"
"Don't bring Gozaburo into this." Seto grit out from between his teeth, effectively irked at the mention of the man.
Mokuba made a noise somewhere between a snarl and an expletive. So the tree it was, then. "I mean Dad!" He thrust a finger towards the sōtōba bearing their father's name. "Sho Ryuzaki! What do you think he would've said about all this?"
Seto paused, actually taking the time to consider his brother's question. He closed his eyes, worrying his brow as if he were attempting to squint back into the past. The last living image of his father's retreating back in the train station, surrounded by a billow of white cigarette smoke, raced across his mind's eye. He could almost see Sho propped up against the tree Mokuba had just chucked the bucket at, smoking and shaking his head with an amused smile.
"Or Mom?" Mokuba added after a pause, a bit weaker. The suggestion tore into Seto's heart like a serrated knife as Akemi joined his father, her impish grin replaced by a concerned frown. When he opened his eyes, he half-expected to see them there under the tree, waiting expectantly for his answer.
"I…" Seto licked his lips, "I don't know, Mokuba."
The younger sibling sighed, nodding a little to himself in exasperation. "Of course you don't. Let's just—let's just go, okay Nii-sama? This place—I dunno. It just gives me the creeps."
Mokuba set off once more, leaving Seto to pick up the bucket and the cleaning instruments that had been ejected from it when Mokuba had tossed it. He knelt down beside the tree, glancing up at the pregnant limbs once he had finished cleaning up. The branches bowed down towards him, laden with their fruit. He reached up to brush his fingers over the blushing skin of an apricot, glancing hesitantly at Mokuba.
"I think Dad would be amused." He said, causing his brother to stop. Mokuba looked over his shoulder at him once more, clearly taken aback. "And Mom would be worried."
Mokuba smirked a little, "Don't be dumb. Mom never worried. Dad would've been the worried one, and Mom would've been amused."
Seto found himself smirking a little as well, "Perhaps they'd both be amused? What do you know of it anyway? You can hardly remember them."
"I remember enough to call bull on you." Mokuba's nose wrinkled in a bratty fashion as his brother handed off the bucket, chuckling softly.
December 2018 Issue
FREE DM CARD WITH 2019 SUBSCRIPTION!
Rising Stars of Duel Monsters! Get the inside scoop with America's reigning champ Rebecca Hawkins… (Page 19)
Lovely in Lace?! Mai Kujaku's scandalous lingerie photos circle online dueling forms… (Page 24)
He's Back! Ryota Kajiki tells all about his six year absence from the arena… (Page 36)
Duelist Princess! Duel Disk creator Seto Kaiba adopts… (Page 43)
Meet Jun Manjoume! An interview with this month's rising star of Duel Monsters… (Page 50)
Seto Kaiba, 24, returns from routine orphanage trip with a new family member…
Orphan Wenquing Choi didn't know what to expect when CEO of Kaiba Corp Seto Kaiba arrived to visit Domino City Children's Home one Wednesday afternoon. Kaiba has been making yearly visits to the Children's Home since 2011, having been a resident there in his youth after the death of his parents. Kaiba has been known for his charitable donations to child services since inheriting Kaiba Corp in 2010. Wenquing first caught his eye when the children of Domino City Children's home were on one of their bi-annual fieldtrips to Kaibaland.
"One of the main attractions at Kaibaland is our duel arenas," Kaiba remarks cooly, sitting behind his posh glass-and-metal desk. "I happened to be observing when Wenquing took the stand. She was an impressive duelist—but what struck me most was her demeanor. She looked so little in the stands, but the moment she climbed up to duel I could see that there was fire in her eyes. She was so quiet, but you could see her thinking."
"She blew every opponent right out of the water." Kaiba adds with a smirk.
(Pictured: Wenquing Kaiba, 9, and her father Seto Kaiba, 24, posing for Kaiba Corp's annual Christmas Letter)
Wenquing says that at first, she was afraid she was in trouble. "The next day, after we got back to the orphanage, Ms Junpei [one of the caretakers] asked me to come into one of the offices. I didn't know what was going on, but when I got in there and saw him [Kaiba], I was afraid that I'd done something wrong. I started apologizing right away! I didn't know if I'd broken something at Kaibaland or what and I may have started crying a little."
However, Wenquing was in the opposite of trouble. Kaiba asked the caretakers to excuse them and invited Wenquing to play a round of Duel Monsters with him.
"It was amazing," Wenquing is dressed in a casual blue
(Wenquing's style! Rumor has it that the new heiress is expected to release a line of clothing for girls ages 8-13 this spring. Pictured is a prototype for her sweet Lolita line.)
jumper and grinning at her matching mary janes. "He's all like: 'Would you like to play with me?' and I was all like: 'UH!' I didn't know what to say, I was really confused! But then I stopped going 'UH!' and agreed to play. It's like, when do you ever get a chance to play Duel Monsters with SETO KAIBA? Never! So we played and he totally won with his Blue Eyes (I almost screamed when I saw it, it was so cool). But afterwards he looked at me and asked if I would like to be adopted by him. And then I may have started crying again and we hugged a lot. It was the happiest day of my life."
Kaiba, however, has come under fire by conservative groups for choosing to adopt a child while single. After surviving his wife of two years, Anzu Mazaki, in 2016… (cont. on page 46)
Seto sat beneath a blossoming apricot tree. It wasn't snowing, but it was certainly cold enough outside, even during the day. Wenquing was sitting beside him, fussing with the hem of his forest green overcoat.
"Daddy, stop squirming!" She demanded softly, pushing out her lower lip. In her hands were a needle and thread, and she was swiftly and professionally patching the frayed edges of the coat. Seto smirked a little and remained silent, looking up into the falling blossoms. A petal landed on Wenquing's face and she blew it off in swift irritation, resuming her project.
"But I'm not squirming." He retorted with a little shrug. Wenquing glared at him with a single intact eye. The other was a false one: glassy and light blue, pointed in a bit of an odd direction. After earning a little chuckle from him, she resumed stitching, grumbling under her breath.
"If you'd just take it off and let me mend this properly, we wouldn't have this problem!" She huffed a little, giving the coat a bit of a tug in order to make her point. "It's like you never take your coats off. I haven't even seen your arms."
He shrugged again. "I get cold."
"You liar, you do not." Wenquing was grinning by this point, and Seto knew that the accusation was not empty. Wenguing was clever enough to identify when someone was actually cold, and she must have quickly noticed that Seto became overheated in his coats more often than not. Before he could retort, she had stood up and began wrestling the overcoat from his shoulders.
"Wen—!" Seto flailed a little, but it was late: the coat was coming off.
Smug, the little girl plopped back down beside him and resumed stitching, singing a little tune under her breath.
'Brat.' Seto thought. However, he vaguely recalled being similar in his youth and allowed the incident to pass without further comment. After getting over her initial nervous tendencies in the first several months, Wenquing discovered just how much she could get away with during the year she'd lived with her adoptive father. He allowed it, however, as she always excelled in her daily activities and was top in her studies; if they wanted to pick on each other during the time they had to spend, then she was more than welcome to instigate. A passive daughter would be boring, after all.
After a short bout of silence, Wenquing finished her sewing and laid the coat over her lap. "So," She began. "I've been reading about the etymology of names recently."
Seto glanced at her, interest piqued. "Yes?"
"Yeah." Wenquing nodded once, sharply. "The character for 'quing' in my name means 'emotion'. Mokuba's name means 'wooden horse' and yours means 'straight door'. Kind of a funny name if you ask me."
"I didn't." Seto said flatly, but he was still amused. Wenquing shrugged. "And you're wrong about my name meaning."
"Oh?" Wenquing quirked a brow, playing with the reconstructed edge of Seto's coat.
"Seto actually means 'tumultuous person'." He responded. Wenquing stared.
"What kind of people name their child 'tumultuous person'? Your parents must have been messed up."
'Never holds back on her opinions, this one.' Seto sighed a bit and directed his attention back to the pale flowers on the tree above them. The wind disturbed the branches, curving the wispy limbs into inverted 'S' shapes. "My father was often absent and expected a lot out of me. Accompanied with this name he gave me, I resented him quite a bit in my youth. But he was a good man, Wenquing. In fact, that's his coat you're holding."
Wenquing looked down at the fabric in her hands, bunching it up slightly as she listened.
"The name he gave me was actually his father's. According to my mother, my father respected his father more than anyone else—he thought it would be an honor to give me his name. So even if the meaning has a negative connotation, there is a deeper significance behind it."
The girl pulled her eyes away from the coat and there was yet another lapse of silence. Wenquing squinted her eyes, and Seto could see her thinking. At long last she turned to him and asked, very softly:
"Daddy, why do you keep your arms covered up?"
Seto swallowed, looking down at a knot in the roots of the apricot tree. He knew that Wenquing would never stop asking, and he supposed that the answer had the potential of being be a bit traumatic for her, given—
"It's private, Wenquing." He responded.
"Is it something bad?" She asked, and the lilt of worry in her voice was so sincere that he reconsidered and nodded a little to himself.
Finally, Seto rolled up his sleeves. Raised bands of discolored, puckered flesh emerged, welts criss-crossing over them. At first he was afraid that she'd think that they were self-inflicted, but the second her cold, trembling fingers gingerly pressed over them, the question spilled out of her mouth.
"Daddy," She began, tongue poking out to wet her parched lips. "What are these from?"
Seto allowed himself a long moment to consider his answer before taking a slow, measured breath and continuing. "The ones wrapped around my arms and wrists are from restraints." He reached across to press his fingers against a wider welt. "These oblong ones are from a riding crop."
Wenquing was silent, but there was a steady stream of tears beginning to slip from her good eye. She was completely still, accept for where her body shivered with the intake of each breath. "Did," Her voice was so small, "D-did someone fuck you, too?"
Seto started, almost choking on his own tongue. It swelled up inside his mouth, and her words inspired something forigen to beat on the base of his eyes, demanding release. The question was unexpected to begin with, but it was the 'too' tacked on the end that sent rage roiling up in his throat. It was unbearable—but it wasn't as if he didn't know. The history on her adoption papers had clearly labeled a history of sexual abuse from her parents. But this was the first time she had ever spoken about it and—
Seto had never been a hugging type of person. And thankfully, Wenquing was not a hugging person either. Other than their initial meeting and a few rare occasions after that, their physical interactions were fairly limited. But when Seto saw her crying, he turned to his daughter and took her up in his arms.
He placed her in his lap, smoothing a hand over her long black hair and holding her as securely as possible. She was so tiny. She never seemed that tiny when they were dueling or when she was winning an argument or talking like a tiny adult. But when she was curled up against his chest sobbing, she really did seem tiny and fragile. Seto was thankful that he was so tall in comparison to her; it made him feel like he could do a better job at protecting her.
Finally, Wenquing pulled away and cuffed away the tears from her eyes. She made a tiny noise of sorrow, however, when she saw his face.
"Oh, Daddy…" She whispered, reaching out to touch his cheek. Seto was confused for a moment, but was surprised to feel Wenquing wiping something damp from his cheeks. He realized that he was crying.
Wenquing tucked her face into his shoulder and Seto set his chin on hers, securing the back of her head with his hand. After awhile, the tears stopped and Wenquing climbed from of his lap, holding his arm instead as they admired the falling petals.
"They're meaningful to me, you know." He said slowly. "The apricot trees I planted here."
"Why's that?" Wenquing asked, sniffing away the last of her tears.
"There was once someone very important to me who loved them." He explained. "And they were meaningful to her in turn."
"Then they have meaning to me as well." Wenquing smiled, catching a petal in her hand and holding it close to her heart.
Warm and sincere, Seto smiled.
1 "Little Plum Blossom of Hill Garden"; Lin Bu