CHAPTER 9: A MAJOR CATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT
Mokuba was grateful to the gang for coming so faithfully. But he also liked the time when night started to fade into morning, when he didn't have to keep up a brave front for anyone else, when he was alone with his brother and could pretend they were waiting up to watch the sun rise together.
"I love you, Nisama."
It was something he rarely said aloud. His brother would usually respond with a brief nod. On a good day he'd bark, "Me too, Mokuba. Never doubt it."
"Of course I won't," Mokuba would respond indignantly, ruffled that his brother thought he needed to remind him. Then one day Mokuba had caught the small smile on his brother's face before Kaiba had turned his head to hide it, and he'd realized his wonderful big brother was the one who needed the reassurance.
He stared at his brother as though concentrating hard enough could make his Nisama's eyes open. Mokuba's started to slide shut instead. His body slid forward until his arms were pillowing his head on his brother's bed.
Kaiba wondered if he was doomed to spend each morning trying to untangle what that troop of idiots had done to him the night before. He'd been somewhere that smelled strongly enough of antiseptic to remind him of all the times Gozaburo's control had broken in ways that had ended with his heir requiring discreet medical attention.
Kaiba shook the memory out of his head, not noticing how easily it had flown away, as insubstantial as a stray hair brushed from his face. He'd been fighting his past for years; he'd never dismissed it and had it leave so readily, as he focused on the present instead. He was feeling achy; he could remember a series of short stabbing pains the night before. Yugi and his friends were well-meaning dolts. He'd been a cat, he'd been somewhere that smelled like a doctor's office… and cats needed vaccinations and medical check-ups… and…. He moved his hand downwards under the covers, and breathed a sigh of relief. At least he still had his balls.
Kaiba froze. That hadn't happened in his imagination. He'd actually moved his hand. Kaiba's eyelids flickered experimentally, then opened. It was strange, he thought, to actually be able to see, to watch the weak dawn light filter through his windows. He looked down. Mokuba had fallen asleep in a chair next to him; his head had flopped down on Kaiba's bed. Messy black hair hid his face. Kaiba gently brushed the hair aside. Mokuba blinked sleepily than sat up.
"Nisama!" he cried.
He leapt onto the bed, hugging his brother.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you," Kaiba said, his voice rusty from disuse.
"I knew you'd come back!"
"Of course I would. It'll take more than some cheezy cat goddess to keep me down permanently." Kaiba said, pleased his lips could still twist into a smirk despite the lack of practice.
Mokuba laughed. Kaiba debated getting up. He'd been in bed for over a week. But he was holding Mokuba, the scent of unwashed little boy was filling his nostrils, Mokuba's hair was tickling his chin – and he couldn't think of a reason to move. Although there was no one else to hear, he whispered anyway. "I know what you did. It meant a lot that you were keeping an eye on everything… Kaiba Corporation… me… you'd make one hell of a big brother, Mokuba."
At Kaiba's words, Mokuba's laughs changed to great gulping sobs. He was still lying across Kaiba's torso; the front of Kaiba's pajama top grew damp from the force of his tears.
"It's okay. I promise. It's been tough, but it's over now," Kaiba said.
Mokuba nodded. His sobs got quieter and died away. He shifted a little so he was lying by Kaiba's side. Kaiba still couldn't think of a reason to move.
"I don't know why I cried like that," Mokuba said. "I really did know you were coming back to me."
"As did I," Yami added, as he walked into the room.
Kaiba's eyes narrowed as he assessed the other duelist. Yami met his gaze. There was no mockery in his expression, or pity, or any of the other emotions Kaiba had been afraid of finding. Only an overwhelming sense of relief showed. Yami took a broken step forward than leaned across the bed to hug Kaiba… and Kaiba decided to put the question of what Yami knew on hold, at least until Yami's hair was no longer brushing against his face.
"It wasn't all darkness," Kaiba said. "I knew you were here, Mokuba. I could feel you and even hear you, kind of." He turned to Yami. "You, too."
He felt Yami's nod. With the both of them leaning on him, he should have felt trapped or confined. But their bodies were as soothing as a comforter on a cold night. For once he felt peaceful… up until the moment the gang rushed into the room.
"Hey, you're awake!" Jounouchi yelled.
Kaiba stared at them. They'd come to visit almost every day, sometimes singly, sometimes all at once. He knew that. But today, his room felt over-crowded. He wasn't used to seeing anyone in it but himself and Mokuba. And now Yugi and his friends were all smiling and staring at him expectantly – although what the hell they were expecting, Kaiba couldn't tell.
He hadn't been able to distinguish individual words while he'd been in a coma, but now his memory was returning. Anzu had actually cried over him – something so weird he could barely take it in. He'd never bothered learning the tall kid's name before since he wasn't much of a duelist, but Honda had sat next to him day after day, talking about his motorcycle and his nephew, trying in his clumsy, clueless way to help. He suddenly remembered Honda saying, "You know what I love about Saturday? It's my day and I can do whatever I want with it."
Well, this was his day. If he threw the whole group of them out of his room there was nothing even Bastet could do about it. Bastet had violated his mind, had taken all semblance of choice from him. He wanted to snap his fingers in her face by booting them all out of his house. Except, for the first time he realized that he had a choice. He didn't have to be a jerk just to continue a fight with someone who wasn't even there. He could despise Bastet without taking that hatred out on everyone around him.
"It's my decision," he said. It came out as a snarl.
"What?" Jounouchi yelped but before he could say anything more, Yami grabbed his arm.
Yami turned back to Kaiba. "Yes, it is. And we'll accept whatever that choice is."
Kaiba hadn't meant to snarl at them, but once he had, he'd expected a fight or protests about his ingratitude or some reaction beyond Yami's calm smile.
He drew in a breath. It was his day and they'd helped bring it about.
"Thank you for your assistance. It helped to resolve matters." The words were formal – more suited to a business meeting than a get-well visit. They were awkwardly worded. But they'd been spoken nonetheless.
"Hey, I think by this time we should stop keeping score of who owes who and for what, don't you?" Honda said from the back of the room.
"I'll meet you downstairs in the dining room after I've gotten dressed. But after whatever the hell meal it's time for…" he drew in a breath, "I'd like to spend the rest of the day with my brother."
They surprised him again. He'd expected them to scowl or berate him for not wanting a group hug, for needing time and space. Instead they smiled as though he'd said something amazingly clever – instead of having just thrown them out of his room.
"Yeah, sure, we get it. You need to spend time with your brother. He's been the greatest," Jounouchi said as they headed out the door.
Kaiba felt an impulse to call out to Yami to stay, but his hair was lank and he was awake enough to care about how he looked, especially in front of his rival.
Kaiba showered and dressed, glad his movements were as precise and efficient as ever, with no sign of fatigue or loss of muscle tone.
As he buttoned his shirt and pulled on his pants, Kaiba could remember the feel of Yami's hand. It had been gentle, whether he was stroking a cat in his home, or brushing the hair off Kaiba's forehead in bed. It had been different from (although obviously in no way superior to) the brief hugs he and Mokuba had occasionally exchanged. Kaiba frowned. The part of his life that included Yami touching him was over. After all, human beings didn't pet each other when they were both awake and conscious.
He didn't look around when the door opened and closed behind him. He didn't need to turn around to recognize Yami's soft step.
"Do you remember anything?" Yami asked as came over to Kaiba and rested his hand on Kaiba's shoulder.
Kaiba remembered everything… purring in Yami's arms… wanting to remain there… feeling cared for… feeling wanted.
But Kaiba had a more urgent question of his own – one he couldn't bring himself to ask. How much did Yami remember and what did he know?
For the first time since he was eight and had stared up at the orphanage doors, swearing never to reveal an emotion again, a slight flush heated his cheeks, stained them a pale pink.
Kaiba turned around. Yami's hand slid to Kaiba's arm.
"Remember what? I was unconscious… unless you believe in fairy tales now, in addition to obsolete goddesses. Why are you asking, anyway?" Kaiba parried.
It was Yami's turn to pause. He glanced up at Kaiba's face, wishing it was more revealing. The blue eyes were as opaque as ever. But Kaiba hadn't walked away; he hadn't even thrown off Yami's hand, it was still resting in the crook of Kaiba's elbow. Had a door – even a small cat-sized door – finally appeared in the wall that Kaiba had built around himself?
Yami thought of Bastet saying that friendship without acceptance is only half offered.
He reached up and stroked Kaiba's hair as though he was still a cat. "I believe in everything – and you most of all."
"What Bastet did… giving me an ultimatum, forcing me… it wasn't right," Kaiba said, dropping the pretense of total ignorance once he saw that Yami was prepared to indulge it. It was as close as he could get to admitting what had happened. He glanced at Yami, expecting him to argue. He drew in a breath and braced himself, ready for a recitation of all the reasons he had to be grateful to the cat goddess, a litany of all the flaws that had made such a drastic step necessary.
"No. It wasn't right," Yami agreed.
Kaiba stared at him for a moment. Then Kaiba gave a quick nod and said, "But it happened… and now…"
"You don't know where to go?"
Kaiba frowned and looked away. "I can't disagree with what she was trying to tell me. You… your friends…"
"She should have trusted you. We should have done the same."
That brought Kaiba's eyes back to Yami. Whenever the conversation turned to trust, he was usually on the receiving end of the lecture.
"Bastet underestimated you," Yami said quietly. "You would have figured it out on your own. She took that from you."
Kaiba nodded briefly. He hadn't been sure what to expect when Yami had walked in the room, but Yami understanding something he couldn't quite put into words himself, hadn't been on the list.
"Come on," Yami said, squeezing Kaiba's arm. "Let's go join the others."
Breakfast was an easier affair than Kaiba had expected. His dining room still seemed very full of people, but they didn't expect answers to the questions they posed in the soft tones you used in hospital rooms. In an odd way, it was appropriate. Physically he felt fine, like he'd just woken up from a good night's sleep. (Which was, admittedly, a rare enough occurrence in and of itself.) But although none of them, including Kaiba, could have said just what he was recovering from, in some other, undefinable way, he did feel like a convalescent, like one newly restored to life.
They left as cheerfully as they'd come. None of them seemed to notice that Yami stayed behind.
"What do you want to do today?" Yami asked when the three of them were seated again at Kaiba's dining room table.
What did he want? Kaiba had been so focused on waking up, he hadn't thought further than that. What were his favorite things, Kaiba wondered. Working, he supposed, but he knew better than to say that aloud. He closed his eyes. A picture of Yami stroking his back, then brushing the hair off his forehead flashed across his lids. Kaiba opened them with a snap. He was sitting at the table with his brother. Why was he thinking of Yami like that… and why was the image so startlingly real?
Kaiba frowned and tried again. "I've always had things I've needed to accomplish: rebuilding Kaiba Corporation, raising Mokuba, reclaiming my Duel Monsters title, and the tasks that went with them. But I don't think I've ever asked myself what I want to do on any given day."
Yami's grin turned impish. "Neither have I."
"You guys are nuts!" Mokuba exclaimed happily.
"Possibly," Yami agreed.
They both turned to Kaiba again. He tried to come up with something suitable, but he wasn't used to celebrating anything other than Mokuba's birthdays or Kaiba Corporation product launches. If he had to put a word to his emotions, he felt free. So in a way was Yami, able to be his own person for the first time. And freedom, to Kaiba, had always meant flight.
"Do you want to go flying?" He didn't ask Yami directly, but he didn't exclude him either.
"Yes. I'd like that," Yami answered.
Kaiba nodded. His Blue Eyes White Dragon plane was a two-seater, but there was the customized LearJet he sometimes used when he was taking Isono and Fubeta with them. It was light and fun to maneuver and he suddenly wanted to share the sky with Yami as well as with Mokuba.
Mokuba looked from his brother to Yami. "I better go get ready!" he said as he ran for the door.
Kaiba stood up as Mokuba darted out, but he made no move to follow his brother. Yami joined him by the head of the table. Neither could think of anything to say; neither wanted to be the first to break eye contact.
In some ways everyone had been right, Yami thought in frustration. It was easier to talk to Kaiba when he was asleep, when he wasn't staring at you with a hint of uncertainty in those startlingly blue eyes. And that suddenly, another realization slammed into Yami: when had he ever seen Kaiba show anything less than total decisiveness before?
Yami reached out and grabbed Kaiba's hand, just as he had all week. Kaiba didn't say anything. His eyes didn't leave Yami's face, although neither could have said what he was searching for so earnestly, but some of the tension left his body. Then, slowly, for the first time, his fingers curled around Yami's hand in return.
"Why?" Kaiba said, although he wasn't sure what he was asking beyond that one word. Why had Yami stayed by his side all week? Why had Yami taken in a stray cat? Why had he reached out to hold Kaiba's hand?
"Because I wanted to."
Kaiba wondered which of his unspoken questions Yami was answering.
"Because I've been waiting all week for this," Yami added.
Kaiba didn't answer. He was alone in the room with Yami and the one question he'd avoided asking. "What do you know? About last week, I mean?"
He kept his eyes trained on Yami (not that his gaze had wandered from the moment Mokuba had left the room.) He was still waiting for some sign of contempt – or worse – pity. He saw the amusement in Yami's expression first. It was a gentle thing though, and utterly devoid of mockery. It skimmed the surface of Yami's eyes, a glaze over some darker, deeper emotion that Kaiba couldn't quite decipher.
"I know as much or as little as you remember," Yami said. There was a teasing note in his voice, but even Kaiba could recognize the sincerity of his offer: Yami was willing to accept whatever version of the last week that Kaiba decided to maintain.
"You know what else I know about the past week? That you're incredibly brave and resourceful, that you can survive any penalty game thrown at you and come out stronger than ever. That the future is suddenly so much more real than it was a week ago… for both of us."
Yami stood on his tiptoes and brushed Kaiba's lips with his own. He took a step back. Kaiba might have looked less stunned if Yami had slugged him instead. Then his tongue flicked out, lightly running over his lips, trying to capture the taste of Yami's mouth before it faded.
Kaiba's mouth silently formed the single word: "Why?"
"Because I wanted to. Because I've been waiting all week," Yami repeated.
Kaiba wondered if Bastet had lied, if he was still under some sort of spell. He wanted to write off the tangled emotions of the past week as an aberration or as the machinations of a malicious goddess. But that would mean writing off Yami… and writing off his first kiss… as an aberration as well. He studied the smaller, slighter man. Yami didn't need spells to enchant. Kaiba was willing to admit that, at least to himself.
He wanted to give in, to surrender to this unexpected feeling of warmth and safety, but he couldn't do that either. He was still Seto Kaiba. He was still wary.
Yami gave his hand a slight squeeze. "It's okay. I'm here. You're awake. We have all the time we need to figure the rest of it out."
Time had always been something that had rushed past Kaiba while he grabbed it and held on as tightly as he could, hoping to be pulled into his future. He had never thought of time as something to have, as if you could hold it in your cupped hands, before.
Kaiba barely managed to nod. Yami's smile was blinding; Kaiba would have looked away… except he didn't want to. And it was his day.
Before he could begin to shape his thoughts into words, Mokuba ran back into the room.
"You mean you guys are still just standing here? Are you sure you're okay, Nisama?"
Kaiba mustered up a smile. Slight as it was, it managed to encompass both Mokuba and Yami. "Yes. I'm sure of it. And for once, time seems to be on my side."
Mokuba frowned as he tried to puzzle out his brother's final sentence for a moment before giving up. He loved his brother, but he often found his pronouncements incomprehensible. And Mokuba had gotten so used to seeing Yami holding his brother's hand over the past week that he didn't notice Yami's fingers were still entwined with Kaiba's until Yami gave a final squeeze and released him as they headed for the door. But Mokuba turned away too quickly to catch the smile that returned to flicker across his brother's face, too wary to settle there but unwilling to retreat.
Thanks to BnoMiko for betaing this story. It's been a lot of fun!
AUTHOR'S NOTES: It's hard to believe that I'm already up to writing my final author's note. Then again, sometimes I have a hard time believing I wrote a nine-chapter story that turned Kaiba into a cat (lol). But instead of writing about Kaiba learning to trust, I wanted to have Kaiba experience trust instead – to see what it looks and feels and even smells and tastes like. (As it turns out, it tastes a lot like chicken!)
I wanted to write about acceptance as well. One thing that struck me in Yu-Gi-Oh! is that even after Yugi and his friends find out about Kaiba's relatives abandoning him, Gozaburo, his role in designing weapons, his betrayal by Pegasus and his own Board of Directors and all the Mokuba kidnapping attempts, on some level, they still expect him to be like them and are frustrated when Kaiba can't grasp all the basic things he has no experience with – like friendship and trust. So for all of Kaiba's showy, in-your-face flaws, I also wanted to explore the idea that Yugi and (especially) his friends have something to learn as well.
Well, that and I wanted to turn Kaiba into a cat – with getting to make a bunch of cat puns, including some of the silliest chapter titles I've ever come up with – as an extra perk.
Thank you very much for reading, for commenting and for all the cat stories and cat puns. It really made this story a lot of fun to tell.
Now that the story is over, whether your reaction is good, bad or anything in-between, I'd really love to hear from you. Please review.
Upcoming story idea: I have another story I'm in the middle of drafting. This one will be a flat-out romance. With my usual subtlety, the working title is "Return to Romance." Summary: It was the happy ending nobody expected – especially Yami. He knew he should be grateful but living had never been part of his game plan before. Then Kaiba decides it's time to repay his debts. But rivalry and obligation don't quite add up to friendship, much less romance.
If you enjoyed "Hello Kitty Kaiba," I hope you check it out. I should be ready to start posting in the fall.