Chapter 15: Unforgettable
Mokuba ambled over to the kitchen where he expected to find Malik, Bakura, and Rishid still working on their livestream. He tried to open the door quietly and sneak in, but in the time since he had last been in the room, Malik had shifted his setup and now the camera was pointing right at him as he entered the white and stainless steel space.
"Ah, and here's one of our hosts here at the Kaiba Hotel this evening," Malik spoke smoothly. "Will the Vice President of Kaiba Corporation be willing to review our leavened food art —a Tablet of Lost Memories made from focaccia bread and embedded with an assortment of colorful vegetables?"
Malik pulled back a fabric napkin over a rectangle the size of a large sheet cake. Mokuba's jaw visibly dropped as he caught sight of the bread: it had the smell of a freshly-baked loaf of bread, the telltale golden brown sheen to it, but otherwise it looked exactly like a miniaturized version of the ancient tablet. Bell peppers, onions, stalks of one herb and leaves of another—vegetables of every size and color formed the familiar shapes of the tablet, from a red Osiris the Heavenly Sky Dragon to a golden Ra the Sun God Dragon and a surprisingly blue Obelisk the War God.
"I almost don't want anyone to eat it," Mokuba admitted. "It looks way too good to mess up!"
"Japan is known for elevating food to an art form in its own right," Ryou put in. "But at the end of the day, food is meant to be enjoyed, to sustain us and inspire us. What do you think, Malik-kun?"
"I agree," Malik said. "When I bake, it's with the hope that my family—or my friends, like you Ryou-kun, and you, Mokuba-kun—will enjoy it. I try to be conscious of things like allergies and nutrition, but creating something beautiful at the same time brings its own pleasure to the process."
"Well, when you put it that way, I'd feel kinda bad if I didn't take some bread…" Mokuba replied.
"Did somebody say 'bread'?" a voice called out from the doorway. This time the voice didn't come from Seto—whew, thank goodness! I can't have him finding me too early and ruining the surprise!—but from Jounouchi, with Mai close behind.
"Everyone, please welcome to the show International Pro League Duelist, representing Japan for the past several years, Katsuya Jounouchi!"
Jounouchi blinked, his hazel eyes the size of saucers as Rishid swung the camera to face him.
"Oh...uh, hey everyone!" Jounouchi hesitated and then waved at Ryou and then at Malik, his jaw tensing. Mai's face paled slightly in the doorway and she backed away before Rishid could swing and capture her on camera, too.
"So, Jounouchi, do you have a favorite kind of bread?" Malik asked. "Ryou-kun and I are here this evening combining art and baking, and we've made Italian bread art using vegetables and herbs."
Jounouchi peered down at the loaf and licked his lips before he even seemed to realize he was doing it. "Uh, a favorite kind? Does 'any of them' count as an answer? I can't honestly think of a bread I haven't liked," he admitted, eliciting a laugh from nearly everyone present.
"Certainly," Ryou agreed. "You just finished a recent tour with the International League throughout Europe, am I right? What are your plans now that you're back home in Japan?"
Jounouchi glanced toward Mai, still visible through the doorway's circular window. The door was ever-so-slightly ajar, and Mokuba was sure Mai was listening to every word spoken within.
"I'm thinking I'll stay local. Get back to my roots, you know what I mean?" Jounouchi replied, his gaze never wavering from Mai's profile. As soon as he finished his words, Mai turned and offered him a tentative, wavering smile.
Ryou cleared his throat slightly before speaking. "Now, Malik-kun, while normally I am all for the preservation of fine art such as this, as I mentioned a moment ago, food is meant to be enjoyed. What say you and I cut this up and offer it to some of our friends here at the Kaiba Corporation Autumn Glory exhibition?"
"Good idea, Ryou-kun," Malik said. "While I do that, Mokuba-kun, why don't you tell our audience a little bit more about some of the exciting announcements your company has made this evening?"
Mokuba let out a chuckle but offered a winning smile and began to talk about the upcoming Kaiba Land outside of Paris, the Duel Academia Solid Vision lab as the second-to-last announcement for the 10th anniversary of the school in Japan, the upcoming 15th anniversary of Kaiba Land USA, and finally, the brand-new Duel Disk nano in a rainbow of colors.
"Much like this piece of bread art," Mokuba finished, grabbing a piece of bread—the part with the Osiris the Heavenly Sky Dragon made using red bell peppers. He tapped his slice of bread against the pieces Malik, Ryou, and Jounouchi took for themselves and said, "Cheers!" before Malik wrapped up the livestream.
Minutes later, Mokuba tapped his foot anxiously; he had to direct everyone where to go before he headed off to find Seto, but Malik was still busy talking to Jounouchi and Mai—and from the looks of it, apologizing just as sincerely to her as he had to Mokuba several weeks ago over SV Messenger.
At one point, Mai put a hand over her mouth, but she eventually nodded at something Malik said and accepted a piece of bread from his hand. She tentatively took a bite and, with Malik scrutinizing her face the whole while, closed her eyes in what appeared to be a mask of pure bliss. Malik's face broke out into a megawatt smile, and before long, the tension in Jounouchi's face disappeared, and Mai was laughing along with something Malik said.
"I wanted to let all of you guys know where to go for the 'after-party,'" Mokuba said, making air quotes with his fingers. "Did you get the message from Yuugi yet?"
"Is that who CatapultTurtle64 is?" Mai asked. "I was wondering why I got a message from someone with a name like that."
"I asked him about it," Mokuba replied. "He said it refers to the Turtle Game Shop, Duel Monsters, and his birthday all at once. At least it's not FB100875."
"A what now?" Jounouchi asked, tilting his head.
"Never mind. I'll see you guys at the designated room, okay? Just remember: no turning out the lights, no big screams of 'surprise' or anything, okay?"
"Understood," Mai replied. "I assume someone already picked up our gifts from the front desk?"
"Yep," Mokuba answered. "You should see them all when you get there."
"Mokuba-kun?" Malik asked, tapping Mokuba softly on the shoulder.
"Rishid and I still have some cleaning up to do in here, but we intend to be there—I intend to be there, at the very least, so I can apologize to Kaiba-kun once and for all. But if I am delayed… can you at least give him this for me?" Malik held out a larger-than-normal slice of the tablet, this one featuring the purple-robed priest and his White Dragon.
"Of course, Malik-kun. Not sure he'll want to bite the dragon's head off, but if he won't eat it, you know I will!"
"Maybe that should be my next attempt at bread art," Malik mused. "Dragon bread...hmm."
"You should make a Red-Eyes Black Dragon Bread!" Jounouchi exclaimed. "You can use all kinds of stuff for the red eyes, but you could make a black sesame loaf or something!"
"Why not a Harpie's Pet Dragon?" Mai countered, coming into the kitchen. "It won't look as burnt, and he could have fun shaping the dough more."
"Or how about a Dragon Zombie?" Ryou put in. "It would be interesting to see if you could get a purple bread using beet extract or pea flower petals…"
Everyone except Mokuba, Malik, and Rishid continued their spirited debate about which dragon Malik should make next as they headed toward the secret meeting place with Yuugi.
Okay, it's time for the grand finale of 'Give Seto a Birthday He Won't Forget!' Let's go!
Mokuba didn't care if it looked unseemly for the well-dressed vice president of Kaiba Corporation to be seen running in his own hotel hallways; he couldn't help the excitement coursing through his veins.
Seto will never see this coming!
It took Mokuba a good ten minutes to locate Seto among all the lingering Duelists, businesspeople, and hotel guests. Even better, Isono was busy directing breakdown operations for cleaning up the central conference hall, since it wouldn't be used in its current form for the remainder of the exhibition.
"Seto!" Mokuba waved from the entrance diagonal to where his brother was standing near an audio engineer.
"I'm glad I found you. There's a bit of a situation I need your help with in one of the conference rooms."
Seto raised an eyebrow. "A situation?"
Mokuba glanced left and right, his eyes briefly landing on the hapless engineer who was just trying to pack away his equipment. "Yeah, it's… not something I think I should discuss in the open," Mokuba stage-whispered.
"Fine," Seto responded. "Lead the way."
On the way, Mokuba checked his phone briefly when Seto wasn't looking, and saw a message from Yuugi confirming everyone had arrived and their preparations were complete. Mokuba quickly tapped out his text shortcut for "on my way!" and sent it right as Seto looked his way.
"Are you going to tell me what's going on in this room, or are you going to make me guess?"
Mokuba let out a thin laugh. "No, no, this is more of a 'show, don't tell,' kind of situation. You know, words can't really describe…"
It's one thing to ad lib a speech introducing your genius brother to VIP guests of an important exhibition, but you flub coming up with even a little white lie for why you're dragging him to some random conference room? Mokuba shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut, but he didn't say anything further.
"It's in here," Mokuba said, pushing open the small conference room's door and stepping aside so Seto could look inside. True to plan, the lights were dimmed, not off, and everyone stood around a table lined with presents and gifts. An obnoxious handmade banner—probably penned by Yuugi, judging by the handwriting in an assortment of rainbow colors—read "Happy Birthday, Seto Kaiba!" and had Blue-Eyes White Dragon stickers covering almost every centimeter of available white space.
"Happy Birthday, Kaiba-kun!" Yuugi called out, popping a small cracker full of streamers and confetti. Shortly after, everyone else chimed in with "Happy Birthdays" of their own, with the exception of Jounouchi who said, "You better have gotten at least three gray hairs by now or I'm filing a complaint."
Seto froze in the doorway, but Mokuba quickly stood behind him. He smirked when Seto turned around slightly to glare his way.
"No escaping, bro," he murmured.
"Dammit, Mokuba," Seto whispered. He sucked in a deep breath and stepped forward into the room.
"Thank you, everyone," he said sotto voce, looking from Yuugi, Jounouchi, Mai, and Otogi clustered together on one side of the room to Leonhart, Malik, Bakura, Rishid, and Isis on the other. They all applauded lightly and started pulling out presents or food.
"You deserve a fantastic birthday party," Yuugi explained. "And I asked Mokuba-kun if I could be the one to give it to you. So please don't get angry at him."
"I'm not—" Seto pursed his lips and looked back at Mokuba, who pulled the door shut behind him. "I'm not angry at all. And please, just… just call me Seto."
At least one person gasped, while Jounouchi's jaw went slack and Yuugi's already wide eyes somehow got even bigger.
"D-Do you mean it?"
"Yes," Seto said with a resigned sigh. "We're all friends, after all."
The absolute joy radiating off Yuugi's face could have rivaled a solar flare with its intensity, Mokuba thought.
"All right, SETO," Jounouchi said emphatically. "It's time for presents—"
At that precise moment, Mokuba's stomach growled obnoxiously loud and all eyes turned to look at him.
"Uh… sorry, I haven't eaten much tonight besides a few pieces of bread and some carrots," Mokuba mumbled sheepishly, scratching the back of his head.
"I changed my mind," Jounouchi said, taking back the red dice-patterned gift box he'd placed in front of Seto. He shifted slightly and put another, much larger, flatter, and more recognizable box on the table instead. "It's time for pizza!"
A good two hours later, Mokuba was helping an exhausted—and probably a little drunk too, if I'm being honest, Mokuba thought— Seto upstairs to the penthouse suite. Yuugi agreed to bring Seto's gifts—ranging from an already-opened box of Otogi's newest game, Dragon vs. Dragon (Jounouchi had insisted on playing a match with Seto, and lost by the fifth turn) to a wine-red silk dress shirt from Jacques Mode's upcoming collection—to the bell desk for transport upstairs at an appropriate time.
"It's a different color than you usually wear," Mai had explained of the shirt, "But trust me, it'll look good on you."
When Seto hesitated—removing the shirt from its gift box as if he were handling an ancient parchment—Mokuba had added, "I trust Mai's taste, Big Brother. She helped me get this badass suit, remember?"
"Yeah, live a little," Mai had said. "You can't always wear studded trench coats, after all."
Everyone had laughed after that, even Seto, and before long, they were all chatting, playing games, enjoying pizza, soda, and chocolate-covered popcorn. Even Rishid gamely participated in an impromptu game of "catch the popcorn with only your mouth," catching twice as many kernels as Jounouchi managed to, despite Mai cheering him on.
Leonhart had brought a vintage bottle of wine from one of the Schroeder family's wineries (yes, wineries PLURAL. It took all of Mokuba's willpower not to roll his eyes when Leonhart explained that it was their French winery, not their Italian one) and they'd popped it open immediately, not caring that they didn't have the proper glasses or the right food to pair with it. It ended up tasting pretty good with chocolate and cheese, anyway.
Rishid and Isis went a similar route, presenting Seto with a pair of cufflinks made from Egyptian lapis lazuli, a rich blue gemstone threaded with silvery veins. A handmade leather wallet—with stamped scrollwork courtesy of none other than Rishid himself—accompanied the cufflinks, its closure also made from a snap topped with a lapis lazuli bead.
Mokuba presented Seto with the portion of the Tablet of Lost Memories focaccia that Malik made. After a moment of looking at it with a bemused smile on his face, he took a bite and, while chewing away on the white onion and soft bread, offered Malik a few sharp, approving nods as he finished off the small loaf.
Jounouchi hesitated a moment before pulling something out of one of his tuxedo's trouser pockets: the brand-new Synchro Monster 'Destiny Breaker, Stormlight Beast Set.'
"I wish I could say I thought of the perfect gift for you, but honestly, I suck at picking out gifts, and Mai said I couldn't pretend like the shirt was from both of us. But I think this card makes more sense for you than it does for me," Jounouchi had said.
He didn't add whether or not it was because of their adventures in a certain Memory World all those years ago, but at this point in time—with this group of people—it didn't need to be said. They all knew that Seto strongly believed in the power of making one's own path, of fighting for the 'destiny' you wanted, rather than lying down and accepting what cards fate had to deal you.
There'd been a bit of silence at that point, but Ryou had cheerfully broken through it by smiling brightly at everyone and then slamming a heavy coffee table book onto the table in front of Seto.
"I thought you might appreciate this book on the art of dragons throughout history," Bakura had said. "I actually helped research and write a few chapters in here. I hope you'll enjoy it, Seto-san."
Seto nodded and started thumbing through the book, while Yuugi attempted to peer over Jounouchi's hunched shoulder. When Jounouchi's nose started getting a bit too close to the book's glossy pages, Seto abruptly slapped it shut, claiming he would take his time studying it over the weekend.
When everyone else started to head upstairs to their room, or head out for the night to their own homes, Yuugi hung back.
"Like Jounouchi-kun, I'm not really all that good at picking out gifts for people," he'd said, "but what would you get for someone who probably has everything, anyway?" Yuugi had laughed a little at that, but Seto and Mokuba didn't join in his self-deprecating humor. "Anyway, I think it makes more sense to give somebody an experience over more 'stuff,' if you can help it, so here's my present to you, Seto-kun," he said, holding out a glossy-looking travel guide to Domino.
At first, Mokuba and Seto had both been confused, but once they opened the book—apparently penned by none other than Sugoroku Mutou himself—they understood what Yuugi had done. Instead of the standard tourist's guide to Domino, almost every page was littered with pasted-in notes, personal photos, and even a few arrows and stars added to maps.
It's like what Anzu did with the libretto, Mokuba realized. Maybe Yuugi and Anzu haven't drifted so far apart after all. It wasn't that Mokuba suspected Anzu had helped Yuugi or anything; Mokuba knew full well that Anzu hadn't spoken to Yuugi in years. But now that they were both back in Japan, and maybe, just maybe, if Mokuba could get her to agree to work for Kaiba Corporation….
"Hey Big Brother, we're here. Are you awake enough to get changed?" Mokuba asked as he waved his keycard over the door's lock.
"Yeah, yeah," Seto mumbled, still hanging off Mokuba's shoulder. "Shouldn't've had that third cup of wine…"
"Probably not," Mokuba agreed with a small laugh. "But it's your birthday, and it's not like you had to drive anywhere, so you'll be okay. I'll leave some aspirin and water out on your nightstand. But I've got to show you something first," Mokuba said, steering his brother over to the suite's enclosed fireplace.
"Take a look."
Seto looked up, his red eyes already ringed with shadows. In the space of a heartbeat, the redness and dark circles seemed to vanish as Seto saw the oil painting of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon in person, from less than a meter away.
"Is– Is this—?" For what Mokuba suspected was the first time in a very, very long while, Seto couldn't seem to find his words.
"Happy Birthday, Big Brother. I wanted to get you something really special. So I did a bit of wheeling, a bit of dealing… and I got you this."
"Mokuba this… it's priceless." Seto wandered up to the painting, his fingers ghosting over the surface. He traced over the curves of the dragon's claws, the lower edge of the Tablet of Lost Memories, the plated tail, staring as if mesmerized.
Well, I'm sure as heck not going to tell him the real valuation of it! He'd probably find a way to ground me like I was twelve all over again!
"I know. That's why it belongs here, with you, not in some gallery or whatever somewhere. Oh, and one more thing," Mokuba said, quoting Seto's earlier words from his keynote speech. He reached into his jacket's inner pocket and withdrew a single card: a white Synchro Summon Monster featuring a translucent pale dragon: the Blue-Eyes Spirit Dragon.
"This is from Pegasus," Mokuba explained. "He said it belongs in its home, with you." The dragon could only be Special Summoned using a Tuner with one or more Non-Tuner "Blue Eyes" Monsters, and since Seto owned the only Blue-Eyes in the world….
"Hmph, now I have to write a thank you card," Seto grumbled.
"You should thank him for the other painting," Mokuba added.
"What other painting?" Seto asked, spinning around to face his younger brother.
"The one that's upstairs in your office at HQ," Mokuba grinned. "I had some installers hang it today. You'll see it on Monday when we get back, and not a day sooner!"
For a second, Mokuba thought his brother was about to insist that Mokuba couldn't boss him around, that he was the CEO, not Mokuba, but no such thing happened. Instead, Seto reached over and enveloped Mokuba in the tightest hug he'd felt in his entire life, and that was including the time they'd reunited atop Pegasus Castle following the conclusion of the Duelist Kingdom tournament.
"I don't know what I'd do without you," Seto whispered over his brother's shoulder. "I– I had my first taste of what it was like when you went away to college, but now it just feels like I'm holding you back from doing what you want, from being who you want to be."
"Bro!" Mokuba exclaimed, thrusting his arms out and pushing Seto away slightly. "I'm 24! Not a kid, yeah, but I'm not 100 percent sure of anything yet. Like, do I want to be your VP for the rest of my life, or do I ever want to have my own company? Or maybe I want to see what it's like working somewhere else, for someone else? Do I want a family of my own? Those aren't the kind of questions someone's going to be able to answer over a day or a month or even a year!"
Mokuba looked down at the floor, feeling the sting of tears on his lash line. He refused to hide his emotions in front of the one person that needed to learn that sharing them was more than okay, it was necessary for their relationship to improve.
"I don't think you're holding me back. I just want you to recognize me as being somewhere on your level, that's all. I want you to trust me."
"I do, Mokuba. I trust you more than I trust anyone else on this planet," Seto told him.
They meandered over to the master suite in the penthouse, where Seto proceeded to throw his suit jacket and tie on the nearest plush chair.
"They didn't end up coming," Seto said, in a voice so low Mokuba almost didn't catch it.
"Who— oh." Mokuba realized there was only one 'they' Seto could have been referring to: their biological relatives.
"I don't know if it's because they didn't want to come, or if they never got the invite… but if we're serious about reconnecting with them—and I do mean us, together—then we can look into it next week."
Mokuba smiled at his brother, feeling a pride well up in his chest that he almost couldn't explain. It didn't matter that he was the younger brother and Seto had raised him practically as a father since before Mokuba could even remember: he still felt proud of Seto.
All of the deals, all of the back-and-forth favors… it was all worth it, to have this moment. Seto's not the only one who'll never forget this birthday. I won't either.
—Dentsu Shiki Theatre Umi, Tokyo—
Mokuba met up with Leonhart and the Ishtars on Sunday evening, the day before they were about to head to Germany for their luxurious ski vacation.
"Is that—" Leon pointed up to one of the banners hanging from the theatre's entryway in the towering Dentsu Building. "Anzu-san?"
"Yup," Mokuba nodded. "She helped write, produce, and choreograph this whole thing. Plus she's the one that pushed for this Asian tour, so we wouldn't have gotten the show here at all if it weren't for her. She told me it took her ages to translate all the rap and hip-hop lyrics into Japanese."
"Incredible," Isis murmured. "I'm grateful for this opportunity to attend such a renowned performance, Mokuba-kun. Thank you very kindly for inviting us."
Mokuba glanced toward Malik. "It's no problem. I know… I know this isn't just a great show for guests to enjoy, it's important for all of us."
Malik nodded, but he didn't say anything.
"Hey, the tickets include a backstage pass at the end of the show, so we should get a chance to say hi to Anzu, too."
"Oh, we should buy her flowers!" Leon exclaimed. "Mokuba, will you help me find a vendor?"
Mokuba grinned and nodded. "Sure. Why don't you guys head on in, and we'll meet you there soon?"
Malik, Isis, and Rishid all nodded politely at Mokuba and headed toward the ticket taker at the theatre's main entrance.
Mokuba turned to Leon, talking and walking toward a florist he knew had a small stall not that far from the building. "Nice idea. Wish I'd thought of it first," he said.
"No problem," Leon replied. "Do you know if she has any favorite flowers? Or colors?"
"Let's just get her the most obnoxious, brightly colored bouquet they have, okay? I'll split the cost with you."
"Sounds like a plan," Leon said with a chuckle. "Let's do it."
Hours later, with the 'obnoxious bouquet' in Malik's hand (Mokuba had hurriedly explained to Leon that Malik wanted to apologize to Anzu for a past incident, and hadn't been able to reach her for years), the Ishtars, Leon, and Mokuba waited in the backstage area reserved for the show's VIP guests.
Though the show had opened some weeks ago at this point, almost every performance was completely sold out, and based on what Mokuba heard from one of the lighting technicians, every show had an encore, too.
Before long, the cast filed out, the Ishtars and Leon offering their appreciation and gratitude to each and every one. A few lingered for friendly conversation—namely the actors who'd played Isis, Rishid, and Malik—but as soon as Anzu emerged, her co-stars nodded and headed out.
"This is for you," Malik murmured from behind the array of sunflowers, roses, cremones, Asiatic lilies, and safflower.
"Oh," Anzu blinked several times. "Thank you very much, Malik-kun."
That she'd deigned to use an honorific with him spoke volumes about Anzu's willingness to forgive Malik. Mokuba gestured to the other Ishtars and Leon, and they stepped away for a few minutes to talk to some of the stage crew while Malik and Anzu had their long overdue conversation.
"Had a good talk?" Mokuba asked Anzu after she and Malik parted. The Ishtars and Leon headed outside to get some much-needed fresh air before they were all due to take a taxi back to the Kaiba Hotel and enjoy their last night in Japan for a while to come.
Anzu kept the large bouquet in front of her face, lowering it just enough that Mokuba could see she'd been crying.
"Yeah," Anzu whispered, her voice a little froggy. "I— I wouldn't have believed he would be so sincere even after you told me," she admitted. "But to see him here tonight, and these flowers… Sunflowers are my favorite."
"Well," Mokuba said, spreading his hands out and glancing up at a darkened corner of the theatre, "He didn't pick out the flowers, but it's the thought that counts, right?"
"Mokuba!" Anzu gently bopped Mokuba on the shoulder—and his neck and face—with her massive bouquet, sprinkling loose petals all over him.
"In any event," Anzu continued, "I did forgive him. And… I'm really happy for him. He seems like he's in a much better place now."
"He is," Mokuba agreed. "He did his first-ever livestream during the exhibition's opening ceremonies the other day, and it was the first time he ever showed his face on camera. He was afraid there'd be this huge backlash, but instead the chat had nothing but positive comments. It was kind of amazing."
"I'll bet," Anzu said. "The Internet can be pretty vicious at times."
"Yeah, but I'm sure having two pretty boys on a livestream doesn't hurt. Oh wait, three? Four?" He scratched his head in mock confusion. "Hey Anzu, do you think Jounouchi counts as a pretty boy? I know Ryou-kun does; he still has a fan club, only now it's a paid membership on one of those content creator sites."
Anzu burst out laughing and walked out of the theatre, arm-in-arm with Mokuba, smiling wider than Mokuba had seen in a long time.
Mokuba didn't expect to be back at the Dentsu Building so soon, but Anzu told him that she'd traded showtimes with her understudy so that she could have the evening off, for once. An hour or so after the performance of Millennium at the theatre, Anzu emerged in a flattering blush pink pantsuit, the jacket more closely resembling a cape with the way its wide sleeves fanned out over her shoulders. A pearlescent white blouse with a thin gold belt completed the look, and she'd replaced her teenage plastic bangles with elegant gold bracelets.
"Hey, I didn't know I was supposed to dress up for this," Mokuba joked upon Anzu's arrival. He gave her a light hug and they set out for the restaurant where they'd agreed to meet to talk about Anzu's post-Millennium plans.
"Oh please, Mokuba, you could wear jeans and a t-shirt and no one would bat an eye at you even if you went to the fanciest restaurant in town."
"That sounds like a challenge," Mokuba said in a sing-song, "but alas, here I am in my usual button-up shirt and slacks, unable to take you up on that bet."
"Besides," Anzu added, "I thought you said you wanted ramen. Or was it udon? Okonomiyaki?"
"Any and all of the above, yes, please and thanks," Mokuba said with a laugh. "I'm just in the mood for something traditional. I'm not partial to any particular dish. I figure you might know this neighborhood a bit better than I do, since you live around here."
"Ha! I only got here two months ago, and most of that time has been filled with either shows or interviews for my replacement," Anzu told Mokuba. "Or working on getting that libretto of yours put together. So how'd that go, anyway? You didn't tell me the other night after the show."
Everyone had been so tired after the show—the Ishtars and Leonhart with a morning flight to Germany, and Anzu after her performance—that they hadn't spent much time after the show chatting, so Mokuba hadn't been able to tell her everything that had happened since he'd seen her last.
"It went great," Mokuba answered. "Pegasus actually gave me two paintings, along with a new Synchro Monster—have you heard of these? They're the newest Special Summon Monster card type, and they're all white, it's pretty cool—for Seto. And he actually gave me a card, too!"
Anzu raised her eyebrows. "You got an exclusive card from Pegasus J. Crawford?"
"Yep," Mokuba responded, and he paused near the side of a building to take out his wallet and withdraw the card he'd delicately wedged into a credit card slot.
"Azure-Eyes Silver Dragon," Anzu read. "So this is what the new Duel Monsters Synchro Monsters look like? What's all this 'Tuner' stuff?"
"I'll explain it over lunch," Mokuba said. "Come on, let's go!" He grabbed Anzu's hand, even though moments before, he'd claimed to not know the area at all and that she should pick where they eat. Instead, Mokuba just followed his nose.
A few minutes later, they found themselves seated in a small, moody restaurant tucked into an alley just beyond the local train station's entrance. The place only had space for about ten people at a time, with a single row of wooden tables and chairs on one wall, and the preparation area lined with bar stools and a thin counter on the other.
After they'd placed their orders—a bowl of ramen for Anzu, kitsune udon and some edamame for Mokuba—they got to talking.
"So I told you I was retiring from Millennium, right?" Anzu said with a sharp inhale.
"Yeah?" Mokuba asked, crunching on a soybean. "Why, did your plans change?"
"No, not at all," Anzu said. "I actually announced it to the cast and crew today."
"Whoa. How'd that go over?"
"About as well as you'd expect," Anzu answered. "They were pretty surprised, since I only recently started the show here, but most of them knew I've been at this for a long time. Besides, I was taking too much on my own, anyway. Did you know that for some of the shows, I wasn't just playing my own role, but I was also the dance captain?"
"Yikes. Yeah, that does seem it would wear you out fast."
"Fast or slow, it's all in how you look at it," Anzu responded. "Point being, I think it's time to give other young stars a chance. Besides, it's not like I look like my 16-year-old self anymore, anyway."
Mokuba bit his tongue to avoid the temptation to tell Anzu she still looked as gorgeous as the day he'd met her again in New York, but she'd probably accuse him of "turning on the charm" again. She only wanted to be friends, and he had to respect that.
"So," Anzu said, folding her hands on her lap. "You are going to sell me on whatever this job you're inventing for me is at Kaiba Corporation. Spare me no details."
Before Mokuba could even open his mouth, a shadow fell over their small table just near the entryway.
"It's you," a seething voice intoned. Anzu looked up and over her shoulder at the intruder just behind her, while Mokuba raised his gaze from Anzu's face up to the stranger looming over her.
"Uh, can we help you?" Mokuba asked tentatively. He didn't recognize the white, somewhat scruffy looking man before him.
"Can you help me?" the man screeched. "You could have helped me by casting me in the role I deserved back in New York! You could have helped me by giving me a role in the touring cast—any of them! But NO!"
Anzu paled as she seemed to recognize the hysterical man just centimeters away from her.
The has-been actor's wild eyes turned to Anzu, and he reached out scuffed, dirty hands for her.
"Hey, hey, back off!" Mokuba shouted, rising to his feet. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the proprietor and head chef make his way to a back room, where he hoped the man was calling the police.
"You want to know why we didn't cast you?" Mokuba snapped, trying to wedge his way out of the tight space between tables. He had to get between Anzu and Jean-Claude, or else…
"Yeah, I remember you, Jean-Claude. I was there at your audition with Anzu. You wanted to play the role of my brother. But you didn't get it then, and you clearly don't get it now: the part wasn't right for you."
"How could the role of a pompous, arrogant rich boy not be right for me?!" Jean-Claude wailed, practically tripping on a nearby chair leg.
Anzu and Mokuba exchanged a brief glance; was this guy for real?
Did he seriously just brag that he's the best person to play a part he just insulted? It made no sense to Mokuba, but one thing was clear: Jean-Claude Magnum could not accept reality.
"How about because you didn't have the right chemistry with the other stars? Or because you're a bit out of range to play a 16-year old?" Anzu tapped a manicured finger to her chin, "Or maybe because your talent lies in big budget action movies and not Broadway musicals?"
She sounds really calm for someone with a nasty guy literally hanging over her head, Mokuba thought. He'd been able to edge a bit closer to Anzu, but there was barely a hand's width between her and Magnum. If Mokuba was going to get between them, he'd have to do it hard—and fast.
"After Battle City, no one in Hollywood would hire me!" Jean-Claude snarled at her. "I got blackballed, thanks to your friend Jounouchi!" Magnum spat the name out as if it were a foul-tasting piece of gristle that had been stuck between his teeth.
More like because he's a creep, Mokuba remembered. He hadn't been there for the duel where Magnum tried to kidnap Mai after she refused to marry him, but Anzu had told him all about it.
"Yeah, because you're a felon," Anzu whispered behind gritted teeth.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" Jean-Claude roared at her. He reached into his dingy coat picket and withdrew a switchblade, aiming for Anzu's throat. "I'll slice you to ribbons, you little bitc—"
Before Mokuba could so much as move a centimeter, Anzu whirled in her chair and sent a swift uppercut straight into Jean-Claude Magnum's chin. Mokuba swore he heard the man's teeth crunch together, and a split second later, a gold filling went flying out of his mouth. One moment after that, his head made contact with the solid wood beam framing half of the restaurant's entryway, and he collapsed to the floor in an unconscious heap. The switchblade skittered away into a corner of the restaurant.
Five heartbeats later, the restaurant fell silent once more.
"Holy shit, Anzu," Mokuba breathed. "You're a badass."
Despite her heroics, Anzu kept sucking in air like each breath might be her last, and her face resembled one of Siegfried von Schroeder's favorite pink suits.
"Here, drink some water. Come over here and sit down—" Mokuba started.
"Police, we received a call about—oh," an officer peered in the doorway. "Chief, is this the man you called about who was assaulting a customer?" He looked down at the unconscious Jean-Claude Magnum. "Why does this guy look familiar?"
He glanced at Anzu, sipping her ice water slowly, and at Mokuba beside her, gently rubbing her back in an effort to calm her down. Mokuba just shrugged at the officer's question. "Maybe he's on your Most Wanted list?"
He'd meant it as a joke, but a few minutes later, the officer got off the phone with someone from his department and confirmed that indeed, Jean-Claude Magnum was a wanted felon, having committed a string of assaults and robberies recently in Tokyo, along with a number of stalking reports against him in both the United States and in England.
"Thank you for calling us about this," the police officer said, gesturing to a fellow officer who'd arrived to help him haul Magnum into a waiting ambulance. "We'll get him out of your way."
"You...don't need to ask us any questions or anything?" Mokuba asked. Part of him regretted the question as soon as it was out of his mouth, but it would linger on his mind if he didn't ask. He'd seen too many movies where someone ended up getting spied on by the police, or murdered in an underground garage, or plastered all over the next day's newspapers….
One of those things is not like the others, Mokuba thought wryly.
To Mokuba's surprise, the officer glanced up at the proprietor, a tall, muscular man with a white headscarf tied on his head. The man just crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head.
"No, no need," the officer said. "Chief here says you're all good."
'Chief' didn't say anything! Mokuba thought. But he was grateful nonetheless. Less work for him to do later, if he didn't have to worry about scrubbing police logs or bribing nosy reporters. The last thing Kaiba Corporation needed was a dent in their publicity after such a successful exhibition. None of the crime beat reporters Mokuba knew seemed to care too much about the details behind a crime, only if there was a newsworthy name or number associated with it.
Mokuba looked toward the 'Chief,' who simply offered Mokuba a stern nod. He then brought two bowls out to the counter and gestured at Mokuba to take them. He scrambled to his feet and lifted the two bowls—weighted heavily with extra helpings of noodles or vegetables—and placed them on the table in front of Anzu.
"Well, that was a thing that happened," Mokuba said, letting out a long exhale. "Are you okay?"
"I— yeah." Anzu lowered her voice. "Is it weird if I say that felt good? I've dealt with so many creeps in my life, but I've never decked anybody before."
Mokuba let out a belly laugh. "'Decked?'" he echoed. "That's a good one. Hey, what do you think of 'Get set to get decked' as my duelist catchphrase?" Sure, he wasn't really a duelist, and he was pretty sure catchphrases weren't really a thing—unless you counted things like "The Heart of the Cards" or whatever—but still.
Anzu frowned at him. "Mokuba…"
"I kid, I kid," Mokuba said, waving his hands in front of his face. "In any case, I don't blame you one bit!" Right on cue, his stomach burbled loudly. "Anyway, I'm hungry, so let's dig in and then we can talk shop."
Anzu nodded in agreement and added "So long as you don't make any more bad puns!"
Mokuba favored Anzu with a devilish smirk. "I make no promises."
Too late, Mokuba had shoved at least two spoonfuls worth of udon into his mouth, and he only hummed in reply.
Behind them, the tiniest of smiles cracked the Chief's steel façade before he turned around and headed back to the kitchen.
To: kaiba . mokuba AT kaibacorp . com
From: leavens . levant AT egmail . com
Subject: Thank you again [Re: Vacation]
Attachments: 5 images: beerbread . jpg, riml-castlehall . jpg, spelunk . jpg, mountaintop . jpg, chocolatetour . jpg
I wanted to thank you again—so much—for arranging the vacation for me and my family. Leonhart is a consummate host, and we have all enjoyed seeing real snow for the first time. It's a bit early in the season to do much in the way of skiing, but we've enjoyed exploring caves, hiking, and trying German food for the first time.
The Schroeder estate here in the mountains is quite beautiful, and Isis can't stop talking about the rose-scented bathtub in her suite. Even Rishid spent a surprising amount of time in the sauna after we got back from one of our hikes. I think maybe he missed Cairo's heat?
I've attached a few pictures I insisted we take during our trip, including some "beer bread" that Leonhart and I made in one of his kitchens (he has FOUR of them! In his HOME!). You may be surprised to learn Rishid does, in fact, smile from time to time! I've never before been able to capture photographic evidence of this fact, but now you have it (just in case he manages to erase the copy from my phone).
Wishing you the best (and hoping we could potentially do another video together soon?),
To: leavens . levant AT egmail . com
From: kaiba . mokuba AT kaibacorp . com
Subject: Did it seriously snow in Cairo?!
I just saw on the news that there was a freak snowstorm in Cairo! Was that for real, or did I get taken for a sucker by one of those shows that makes deepfake videos?
If it was real, please tell me you and the family made snowmen. Or snow angels. Or snow Duel Monsters. Or snow mummies. Send me pics!
To: leavens . levant AT egmail . com
From: kaiba . mokuba AT kaibacorp . com
Subject: Re: Did it seriously snow in Cairo?!
Attachments: 3 images, 1 movie: snow-dragon . jpg, snow-kuriboh . jpg, snow-ra . m4v, viewtube-award . jpg
Yes, it is actually snowing right now here in Cairo! It's unbelievable, truly. I can't believe this has happened in my lifetime; the news is saying the last time it snowed here was 112 years ago!
There wasn't enough to make any sculptures like what we saw in ads while we were in Germany, but I've attached a few pictures of some of the things we did manage to make. I managed to put together a somewhat recognizable Kuriboh—though the light's not great enough to be able to see its eyes, I'll admit—and that got the attention of some kids in my neighborhood.
We worked with Rishid to put together a snow "dragon," but I'll leave it up to you to decide which Duel Monsters dragon (if any) it resembles.
Rishid claimed he made a snow Ra, and I went to go look, and he lobbed me with a snowball! He claimed it was Ra in "sphere mode," if you can believe that. Isis managed to capture that on video, but I hope you won't post it online or anything!
Though...I might do it myself anyway. I don't know if you heard, but I just got the ViewTube Gold Award for hitting one million subscribers. 1,000,000! I might still be in shock. The livestream really helped boost subscriptions, and now I have all kinds of companies calling or emailing me and wanting to arrange sponsorships or book deals or other things that sound far too good to be true.
I'm hoping we can chat next week and maybe you can help guide me into figuring out which of these offers is 'the real deal,' so to speak. Since I know you've got more experience in the traditional entertainment realm than I do, I hope you don't mind that I consider you a trusted resource on this matter.
Looking forward to speaking soon,
Just after 5:30 on Christmas Eve, Mokuba received a video in his messaging app from none other than Ryuuji Otogi. There was no comment to indicate what the video was about, so Mokuba hesitantly pressed on the play button.
A somewhat shaky camera panned upward, looking down at a table with a familiar pair seated at it: Hiroto Honda with his gravity-defying hair, and Shizuka Kawai, recognizable if only for her flame-colored hair, though she'd arranged in an elegant updo rather than letting it hang over her shoulders as she had when Mokuba saw her last.
"This guy," a low voice murmured. After a second, Mokuba recognized the voice as Otogi's. "I love Honda, but if he screws this up, I'm personally going to chase him down all 48 stories of this building."
Honda reached across the table to Shizuka, saying something far out of reach of the smartphone's mic. Shizuka's hands flew up to her mouth, and Honda withdrew a small box from one of his suit pockets. He slowly opened it, revealing something that twinkled brilliantly even in the faraway light.
"Good, he got a decent-sized diamond. That guy can be a cheapskate at times, but damn him if he's not the biggest teddy bear on the planet. Seriously. I don't know who's luckier, Honda or Shizuka-chan," Otogi added.
The camera flipped around to Otogi's face and he added, "Don't tell him I said that" before the video ended.
Two and a half hours later, he got a series of rapidfire texts from Anzu.
"Hey, sorry to bug you on Christmas Eve, but I just had to tell you: I saw Honda and Shizuka-chan tonight and OMG the ring he got her is GORGEOUS! So she said yes, if you didn't already hear. I'm actually a little jealous to be honest."
"Tonight was my big finale, and it went FANTASTIC. I refuse to send you any pictures or video because I've got mascara coming off my face and I look like a raccoon because of how much I've been crying, but believe me, it's happy tears."
"Also super shocking, but Mai-san and Jounouchi came too! I don't know if Jounouchi purposefully got tickets so he could spy on Honda, but I wouldn't put it past him. The cast freaked out to see so many of their real-life counterparts backstage. The actress who plays Shizuka actually started crying when she met the real-life Jounouchi, because she said he was a really big inspiration to her little brother who wants to grow up and be a Pro Duelist like him one day. Don't tell Jounouchi, but I'm pretty sure he cried. Don't let him tell you otherwise."
"Shizuka-chan is still super, super cute. When I told her about the Olivier Awards coming up in a few months, she got all worried about whether she's supposed to say 'break a leg' or not, since she's always known me as a dancer. I told her I was going to actually start working at Kaiba Corporation and she told me to say hello, so 'hi' from Shizuka-chan!"
"I hope your holiday party went well and you got to do a lot of 'schmoozing!' I'll see you after the New Year's, boss!"
Mokuba leaned back in his chair and laughed. He hadn't even had a chance to type so much as a single emoji before Anzu sent each of those messages.
I'm glad she's happy, Mokuba thought. I just hope I can help her on this new path of hers...and maybe, just maybe, take a vacation of my own.
I've definitely earned it.
Notes: Well, this is it. You've made it to the end. Thank you for joining me on this mad dash into Tropelandia, with a pit stop in Easter Egg Country.
The backstory behind this fic: A thread on Tumblr from kaibacorpintern inspired me (anzu-kaiba) to come up with a multichapter fic idea involving Anzu somehow working for Kaiba Corporation without Seto's knowledge. There's something of a trope in Azureshipping fics where she works for him, either as a secretary or a babysitter/tutor for Mokuba, but I liked the idea of it being for different reasons.
When I signed up for YGOME, I got several prompts that, while they each sounded fun on their own, I had the tiniest of inklings I could fuse together into one. At first, I tried to make it into a casino-heist fic, a'la Ocean's Eleven, but that quickly went out the window. I came back to the idea from kaibacorpintern and fused it with a recent trope I'd rediscovered from an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — the "Chain of Deals."
So I wanted to have a character who would have some reason for going around and interacting with the Yu-Gi-Oh! cast members mentioned in my prompts (the Battle City cast, and particularly the Ishtars and Anzu), making deals in order to get something they wanted or needed. But with everyone scattered to the four winds after the events of the series, who would have the time, energy, and wherewithal to do that? Enter Mokuba Kaiba.
This is my first time writing a story from his point of view, and it's quite difficult (for me) to write from both a male perspective and from an older Mokuba's perspective, but I hope I did him justice. There were only two scenes where I deviated from his perspective, but it was because I really didn't want to cut them: the scene where Honda picks up Jounouchi at the airport, and the scene shortly thereafter, where Jounouchi and Mai meet again in the limousine.
Several times throughout this story, Mokuba or Seto just took the damned proverbial steering wheel away from me, which is why we ended up with long scenes of them interacting, especially after they visit Mai at the atelier and before the exhibition.
I have never in my life completed a multi-chapter fanfic of this scope in 30 days. I didn't expect to combine NaNoWriMo with my YGOME entry, but here we are. Thank you, brightbriar, for this opportunity and the renewed belief that I can, in fact, write long (hopefully heartfelt) fics that END.
I'm sharing my first-ever NaNoWriMo completion certificate with you. Rock on. :)
Finally, I'm posting this on a one-month delay to FFnet, to coincide with the end of the ridiculous year that has been 2020. For those of you that have taken the time and energy to read and review this on FFnet, thank you so much. Reviews really do make my day and motivate me to keep writing, regardless of the fic. If you're interested in some of the behind-the-scenes "Easter eggs" for this fic, do check out my Tumblr for a series of seven posts, including some visuals for this story.
Happy New Year, and may 2021 be prosperous, entertaining, and full of all the self-care good fic (which I hope you consider this!) can provide! Catch you on the flip side~!