This was written as a prompt exchange with LuckyLadybug as part of #AzureWeek2020. As we both have very similar, but specific tastes in fanfics and characterization, we decided to up the ante for ourselves and pick a prompt for the other person to write. "Fallen Leaves" was her request.
Many thanks to LuckyLadybug for not only doing this prompt exchange with me, but also for letting me borrow her universe and OCs. I didn't set out to write this fully within her YGO fanfiction-verse, but the way the story ended up unfolding, that's kind of what happened XD This is set in her "Pendulum Swings" verse, at some point after the fic Old Enemies, New Friends.
Things the uninitiated need to know about LuckyLadybug's YGO fanfics to understand this fic:
1) Through a series of events taking place over multiple stories, the Big 5 have regained their senses and their bodies;
2) They have repented of their wrongdoings towards Seto, Mokuba, and Yugi-tachi, and have gone forward with honest intentions...and are succeeding;
3) They are all extremely close and loyal to each other and consider themselves brothers;
4) They have become dear friends of Seto, Mokuba, and Yugi-tachi, to the point of becoming 'adopted uncles' of the entire group (and protect the teenagers as such);
5) Lector comes from a big family in Louisiana. Evangeline is his youngest sister, and an OC of LuckyLadybug;
6) Through a different series of events (and stories), Yami Bakura has repented of his sins and been restored to life in the modern era. He lives with Bakura; while the two are technically ancestor and descendant, they love and treat each other more like brothers.
If I haven't made it clear enough before, all elements of LuckyLadybug's fanfics that I have used are done so with her permission. Ask first!
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh! or its characters; all rights belong to Kazuki Takahashi. I am merely a fan who hasn't had her fill of this fun world. This is a fic written for pleasure only, not for profit.
Mokuba sighed as he gazed out the window. It was a picture-perfect autumn day: crisp blue skies, scents of apple and cinnamon in the air (and in Lector's kitchen), the reds and yellows and oranges all strewn about in the various leaves adorning the ground. Yet the beauty of the season did nothing to improve his mood.
Seto was working late again. For the general public, Halloween was still a month away...but to those who worked with the public (such as the owners of a successful technology company and now an equally successful theme park), the frightfully-fun holiday was just around the corner. There were decorations to get up, rides to vamp up—in some cases, quite literally—and of course, this being Domino City, duel tournaments to organize and execute. They were-
"Is everything all right, Mokuba?" The familiar Southern twang caused Mokuba to look over to his old friend and caretaker. Lector sat in a nearby chair, newspaper in hand.
"I'm fine." The boy nodded empathetically. Lector set the paper aside and crossed his fingers in his lap.
"That is the third time you've sighed in roughly as many minutes," the older man said, giving him a knowing smile. "Are you upset that your brother is working late again tonight?"
Mokuba frowned. Lector knew him too well.
"...It's not just tonight," he said at last, looking away. "I know he wants me to be a kid as long as possible, and that running a theme park is a lot of work...but...I wish he wouldn't push himself so hard...or that he'd let me help a little more…"
"You're to be the MC at the tournaments, right? And didn't you help him decide how to redesign the rides for Halloween and Christmas?"
"Yeah...but that's all fun stuff; it's not really work...you know?" Lector smiled.
"Yes, son, I do. But you'll get more responsibilities in time. Perhaps we can talk to your brother later about some of the office work; I'm certain there's something else you can help him with, if that's what you want." A pause. "Is that the only thing that's bothering you?" He knew from experience how difficult holidays could be without family. He had brothers in the rest of the Big Five, and now more adopted family in the teenagers they had repeatedly saved the world with...but that did not mean he did not miss those he had grown up around.
"Démas! I just put the apple pie in!" Lector smiled, looking toward the kitchen. Well, most of those he had grown up with. Evangeline had taken advantage of the off-season and come up from Louisiana for a visit.
"Fantastic, Sister," he smiled, looking back toward the kitchen doors. "It smells delicious already."
"I'm going to start dinner now...so don't you two come in here!" she admonished from the other room. Lector chuckled, then turned back to Mokuba.
"What else is on your mind, young man? This isn't just about your brother, is it? You've been out-of-sorts all week; the Ishtars and Miss Gardner and the other Four and I have all made note." Mokuba looked away. He should have known better than to try and hide it; the Ishtars were all unusually perceptive of others' moods—especially his—so were Téa and Crump (Crump oddly enough), and Gansley had grandchildren. And of all the Five, Lector had been the closest to the adopted Kaibas before Gozaburo died, even if he and the others had disliked Seto until recently (saving the world together multiple times had a way of helping people get past that).
"...I just…" Mokuba sighed a fourth time. "I don't have any memories of my mom."
"She died when you were just a baby," Lector recalled, nodding.
"But...I have a few of my dad. One fall—I think it must have been the fall before he died—he let me help him rake all the leaves up...and then he let me jump in the pile and play in them. Seto was still at school." Lector frowned, understanding the bittersweetness of such a memory.
"I take it your brother doesn't do these sorts of things?" The elder Kaiba would do anything for his little brother. Lector had warmed up to him a lot after seeing how deeply he actually cared for Mokuba. Nevertheless, the Southerner did find it just a bit difficult to picture the rigid Seto Kaiba getting down and actually playing in the fallen leaves. He played Duel Monsters...and even then, 'play' seemed like the wrong word to use.
"I've never brought it up to Seto," Mokuba admitted. "It seems kind of silly, now. Besides, we have gardeners." He shrugged. "There's never any leaves left to jump in...they just bag it up." He turned to gaze back out the window. Lector looked to the boy, then to the kitchen where his sister was cooking, to outside at his own leaf-riddled front yard and then back at Mokuba again.
Actually, Lector had gardeners, too. But...he could cancel them just this week, couldn't he? He stood up, removing his suit jacket.
"Come on, Mokuba," he said, smiling at the boy. Mokuba knitted his eyebrows, confused.
"Lector? Where are we going?"
"Outside, of course," the tall man replied cheerfully. "My yard is a bit bigger than what you grew up with, I'm sure...but that will make more leaves for us to jump in, won't it?" Mokuba stared for a minute, before a smile started creeping across his own face.
"One nice thing 'bout livin' in Oregon as opposed to New Orleans is you actually have four real seasons," Lector commented. "Besides, I have just been banned from my own kitchen by my little sister, so..." Mokuba chuckled, then cheered.
"All right...let's go!"
"Don't forget your scarf!" Lector called from behind him.
Seto scowled as he hung up the phone. Good grief, who the heck mixed up Easter and Christmas?! One had egg motifs; the other had trees. One was in winter, the other spring...and which amusement park went all-out for Easter? He knew the Disney parks had a few egg-themed activities each year and decorated for the spring season itself, but it wasn't anything like they did for the holidays at the end of the calendar year. Christmas had been overly-commercialized, but many people still celebrated Easter by going to church and-
A bzzz from his phone broke his internal rant. He picked it up; Téa had texted him.
'How's your day going?' it read.
'Fine. Busy.' He set the phone down, hoping she would get the hint. Having helped Yugi and his crew save the world multiple times had done wonders for their relationships, and earlier this year Seto had done the impossible and finally admitted to considering them his friends (much to Mokuba's, Yugi's, and Téa's delight). He still enjoyed getting Wheeler riled up—really, the Brooklyn boy just made it too easy—but it was...mostly benign. He and Téa had grown unexpectedly closer as well. She had dinner with them often, much to Mokuba's delight. But the elder Kaiba found he actually enjoyed her presence as well, and not only for how she'd bonded with his brother.
That acknowledged, he had a lot of work to get done before the day was out. Though he did admit now he liked talking to Téa, there were other matters needing his more immediate attention. She'd be having dinner with them tomorrow, anyway; today, they were focusing on the redesigns for Halloween and Christmas. Mokuba had suggested using Dark Necrofear as a meet-and-greet character during October...no doubt an idea he'd gotten from the Bakuras, but she was a good Duel Monster for that sort of thing...now if Pegasus would just get back to him on props for the Zombie World attraction...
'You're working late again tonight, aren't you? :( ' His phone buzzed again. Seto sighed. On one hand, Téa's concern was nice. On the other hand-
'I have a lot to get done...Kaiba Land won't fix itself up for Halloween.'
'...Have you taken *any* breaks today?!'
On the other hand, Gardner could be as stubborn as he was (more stubborn, really, when it came to the well-being of those she cared about).
Seto had made his feelings on their deepening friendship clear: yes, they were friends. Yes, he genuinely liked her company. No, they didn't have to go around wearing bumper stickers on their foreheads about it. Also, had they tried running a multi-billion-dollar company, going to high school, and raising their little brother all at the age of 16? He. Was. Busy!
'I have energy bars in my desk.'
'...I guess if you have nothing else...' He set the phone down again, shaking his head. That should be the end of that. Where was he? Oh yes: the idiot who had mixed up two holidays on opposite ends of the calendar-
"Mr. Kaiba?" his secretary buzzed. "Miss Gardner is here to see you."
Seriously?! Seto groaned, massaging the bridge of his nose with his fingers.
"Let her in," he replied, after a moment. Two minutes passed—the time it took to get from the ground floor to his office—and Roland opened the door.
"Thank you!" Téa cheerfully said, and the personal assistant nodded in return before exiting the room. She turned back to Seto with an exasperated smile. Her arms carried a large, thick paper bag.
"Lunch," she said pointedly, striding over and setting it down on his desk. Resigned, he moved his papers aside so she had more room to unpack. Besides...it did smell...quite appetizing. Perhaps he was hungrier than he thought. "Mokuba thinks you haven't been taking your breaks at work," Téa added. Seto cocked an eyebrow.
"What makes him say that?" he asked.
"He said that the last few times you've actually been home for dinner, your table manners have been more akin to Yami Bakura's." Seto harrumphed. Brat. Téa passed him a bowl with a lid, still warm.
"What is it?"
"...You made it?" he asked, pulling off the blue top. She frowned.
"...Is there something wrong with that?"
"No," he responded, taking one of the plastic spoons she'd brought. "It smells...good, actually. I just didn't know you could cook. When you have dinner at our place, our chef always makes it." Téa sighed, pulling a chair over to the corner of his desk and taking a bowl for herself. He did have a point.
"Well...I hope you like it," she finally said, watching him sprinkle some cheese on it. "I know it's no filet mignon, but…" He took a bite.
"It's good," he said, nodding for emphasis. She smiled, even as she shook her head in exasperation. Coming from Seto Kaiba, 'good' was actually high praise.
"Better than the Power Bars hidden in your desk?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow. He frowned, taking a few more bites.
"...Yes," he finally conceded, annoyed at being wrong. "So...Mokuba's recruited you to help feed me, is that it?"
"No...I recruited myself," Téa replied. She took a bite herself...oh yeah, that hit the spot. Seto could say what he wanted; this was delicious. Buuut...actions did speak louder than words. The fact that he was sitting in his chair still shoveling it in had to be a good sign, right?
(Admittedly, Mokuba's comparison to Yami Bakura's table manners had been a bit exaggerated. Still, Téa could see where he'd drawn the parallel.)
After a few more minutes, Seto threw the spoon away and set the empty bowl and lid back on his desk.
"Thank you," he said, offering Téa a sincere smile.
"How much more work do you have to do?" she asked, and he rubbed the bridge of his nose again.
"More than I should." He explained the mishap with the calendar-illiterate man on the phone, and Téa raised her eyebrows.
"Wow," she responded.
"Welcome to the world of corporate geniuses," he responded sarcastically. That company wouldn't last very long. Téa finished her own bowl of chili, then put the lid back on and began repacking everything into the bag.
"Mokuba's at Lector's?" she asked.
"Yeah." He glanced at the clock...and balked. Had the day really gone by that fast? He was due to pick Mokuba up in just over an hour.
"Well...I'll let you get back to work now," Téa said, standing up. "But...Mokuba's not the only one who worries now...when you have to stay here so late, so often," she added. Seto grunted.
"I know," he replied, looking away. She could have sworn his cheeks were pink. Rather than cause him any more embarrassment, however, she simply smiled, then closed the bag and began heading for the door.
"Have a good night, Seto," she called.
"Hold on just a minute," he replied, and she stopped to look back at him. "I'll have my chauffeur take you home."
"You don't have to do that; I rode my bike-"
"Then have him load it in the back of the limo," he said stubbornly, moving to pick up the phone. As he did so, his eyes caught the laptop and files on his desk.
...The paperwork and emails could be finished at home. It wasn't the ideal night in, of course, but...
Téa squinted as he set his briefcase on the top of his desk and began loading the folders into it. He set his laptop on top of those and locked it in place, then closed it. He came to stand next to her.
"I...thought you said you had to work late-"
"I'll come in early tomorrow," he replied. He looked away. "Mokuba...isn't the only one who wishes I was at home more. We'll swing by Lector's and grab him, then take you home."
The ritzy part of town was not all that far from the KaibaCorp central building, but there was traffic to contend with. Fifteen minutes later, Seto's limo was rolling through Lector's front gates. He stepped out of the car and offered Téa a hand, then both teenagers began walking up the driveway. Seto noted with curiosity the large piles of leaves on either side of the gravel; didn't Lector have gardeners?
"EYAHH!" Téa shrieked as a pile exploded, showering her and Seto with autumn-colored leaves. Beside her, Seto spit a few out...looking completely unimpressed. Oh—ick! Some of them were wet, too! Téa pulled a few leaves out of her own mouth.
"Hi, Seto," Mokuba greeted. Seto crossed his arms; the devious grin on his brother's face spoke of more mischief to be had, and Seto knew it.
"Think fast!" He and Téa experienced a second leaf-shower as the younger Kaiba threw up a bunch and then ran like a bandit across Lector's yard.
"Oh, this is how you're going to play, is it?" Seto replied. He shrugged out of his blue jacket. "Hold that," he said to Téa, then took off after Mokuba. Seto's much-longer legs enabled him to catch up quickly; he half-tackled Mokuba into one of the other leaf-piles. Alternating shrieks and laughter could be heard from the boy as he and his brother wrestled, kicking the dried plants this way and that. Téa couldn't help but laugh...as did Lector, who came to stand beside her.
"So...what...happened here?" she asked him, nodding at the multicolored hills of leaves all over the yard.
"Mokuba had a bout of...nostalgia, shall we say," he said, giving her a sad smile. Téa returned the expression, understanding what Lector didn't verbalize. "Still...I must say, I never expected to see Mr. Kaiba doing something...quite like this."
"Me neither," she said, snorting as Mokuba slipped out of his elder brother's grasp again. After who-knew-how-many kidnappings and attempted kidnappings, it wasn't surprising that the kid had learned how to be so squirmy. However, Seto knew Mokuba, and thus it did not take all that long for him to regain the upper hand...
...And pin the younger to the ground.
"I think I win," Seto smirked, as Mokuba tried—and failed—to push him off. "Tough break, Kid." Slowly, he sat up, and Mokuba with him, faux-scowling at his brother. Téa snorted: the two Kaibas looked more disheveled and muddied than she'd ever seen them. Their clothes rumpled and sported wet spots, leaves and grass sticking to their hair and person.
(Lector had virtuously tried to hide his laughter behind a fist. "Tried" being the operative word.)
"Démas?" A second Southern accent cut across the wind. "Do you have more of...oh, Mr. Kaiba, you're here earlier than expected! How are you?"
"Just fine," he said, rising up and brushing himself off. Mokuba did the same, pulling some of the leaves out of his unruly hair.
"She's been baking and cooking all day," Mokuba said, smiling up at Seto. "It smells delicious in there." Evangeline giggled and blushed.
"Oh, it's really nothing special," she said. "Say...everything'll be ready in about an hour; why don't you three stay and have dinner with us? You don't mind, do you, Démas?"
"Of course not."
Mokuba looked to Seto and Téa, who both nodded.
"That sounds fantastic," Téa said. "Thank you." They began following Lector back across his yard toward the house. A breeze blew some of the leaves up the walk, twirling them in the air.
"Brr...geez, it got cold quick!" Téa commented, wrapping her arms to her body. Her sleeves were long, but not as thick as her jacket...which she had left in the limo with her bike.
"Here." Thick blue cloth draped over her shoulders. Seto's coat. "Wear that back to the house," he said. Mokuba gave him a sly look, but if Seto noticed it—or her rapidly reddening cheeks—he didn't acknowledge it.
"So...Bro...I thought you had to work late," Mokuba said then, following Lector up the porch stairs.
"Well...I still have some work left to do," Seto said. "But I can do it from home. I know it's not a perfect solution, but—"
"It's okay," Mokuba said, hugging him around the torso. "You'll be at home." Seto returned the gesture with one arm, and Téa exchanged a smile with Lector and his sister. They'd come such a long way, all of them. Even Seto had been an enemy at first...now she couldn't imagine him not part of their group. Nor the Bakuras, nor Duke, nor the businessman whose house they were about to dine at. They'd come such a long way. As friends, as comrades...as family. All of them.
(The apple pie was delicious.)
Well, there's my first entry for Azure Week. I hope Seto and Téa sound okay; he's still the hardest one to write. (And Ladybug I really hope I wrote your characters okay; once it became apparent I was going to have to use most of your universe, I actually cut some lines because I didn't think they'd fit with how everyone had grown in your timeline!)
Ordinarily, dear Readers, my YGO fics have about five-to-ten different citations. Because the series canonically takes place on Earth, I tend to inject as much real-life detail as possible because it grounds my stories and makes them seem more relatable (I do this for original works, as well). So I'd actually planned to look up a real Southern apple pie recipe and some New Orleans food for y'all...HOWEVER, as previously stated, I'm working within a limited time frame because of Azure Week ;) So you'll just have to use your imaginations ;)
This is easily one of the hardest things I have ever had to write (I am aware I did this to myself :P) I have never had to use so many tricks to keep the creative cogs turning: I exercised, I used scents, went through multiple pieces of music (including some very unexpected ones)...and I still had to crank the cogs really, really hard XD However, this is one of the only pieces I've finished in under 72 hours from outline to post, so that's pretty cool XD
-The line about mixing up Easter and Christmas is, as Tim Burton fans will probably recognize, a reference to The Nightmare Before Christmas ;)
"Evening Breeze"—Adrian von Ziegler (instrumental; available on YouTube)
"Dance Above the Rainbow"—Ronan Hardiman (Lord of the Dance soundtrack)