Part 3 'The Alternative Ending'
It had been a few days since Mokuba had claimed everything was fine. His words had made his elder brother not question his habits any longer, or at least not verbally. Mokuba had gone back to school, and if Seto did make certain homework was not taking up the majority of his life, the young CEO no longer commented on Mokuba's habits. Everything appeared to be back as it was previously.
Still, maybe because he felt guilty or that he held true the belief his brother had said (and even though Seto never said it directly, Mokuba could guess how he felt about it from his actions and attitude), but Mokuba did not do anything with art or even practice his violin. It was a waste of time. So, what did he do in all his spare time that used to be filled with extra studying? Mokuba struggled to do anything that would make his brother pleased, but that was an experiment every day. So, from what worked or did not, Mokuba planned the rest of his time.
Cleaning was obviously something Kaiba did not care to see his younger sibling doing, and Mokuba did not try that again. Instead, he started doing other chores like cooking or laundry just to see whether or not it would make his brother happy. Unfortunately, Seto did not comment on what Mokuba did anymore.
'Maybe my brother is really so bored he wants to do housework. So, I'll let him. It is better than other habits he could be getting into at his age.'
So thinking, Seto walked through the door each day after work at Kaiba Corporation to the delicious smell of tested recipes. Whatever he smelled was always tantalizing to the tongue and even made the workaholic want to eat. Yet, unknown to him were all the previous recipes Mokuba struggled to make during the day and had decided were not good enough. The kitchen was always clean by the time Seto came home and the food decided good enough on the table, so Seto had no reason to believe all the work Mokuba was doing in the kitchen. The extra food that was not good enough was secreted out the back door of the kitchen to various workers of the mansion to eat.
Thus far, Seto ate what his brother made with little comment. Once, however, to the furious beating of his brother's heart, he surprisingly acknowledged the taste of the food. While if he had had a pop quiz the next day on what actually spewed forth from his mouth unbidden but for his amazement, he would have failed it, but Mokuba recalled every syllable and nuance of tone because it meant so much for him.
"Hmm, Mokuba," Kaiba had said, "I never knew you could cook anything, much less something so intricate. I can guess what you have been doing in your free time."
And, just like that, a real smile adorned the boy's face. All the other failed attempts at the same recipe were well worth it for those meager words of his older brother. For the rest of the evening, nothing, not even his brother's absence could bring back down his excited emotions. If only things could always be this way.
But, the 'if only' phrase was something even a little whisper of wind could blow away to leave only a trail of weeping regret within the heart and mind. The memories would remain, but choices could not be remade.
There were a few students at school that could almost be considered casual friends. Sure, they asked the regular questions and glazed their eyes to the answers, but at least the questions were asked. Besides, what kinds of questions were "How are you?" or "What's going on?" anyway? They had become societal prerequisites to a conversation, so no matter what a person had to get through them before starting anything else or be deemed rude.
That was like what life was like for Mokuba everyday now. Any conversation with his brother was on a basis of purely superficial comments and answers. Not all of them were the truth, as many replies of "I'm good, I'm fine" are lies. Sometimes, merely to avoid needless explanations little white lies had to be spit out. That was the key to the boy's life.
"How was school?" became the same as "How are you?" to Mokuba. What was the immediate reply? The same as many teenagers or pre-teenagers entering a moody stage. The answer that compounded so much meaning in the one line. "Fine." The I'm-not-pleased-you're-asking-me-and-I-have-to-seem-cool-but-sometimes-I-wish-someone-would-really-mean-the-question-or-pry-further-and-force-out-the-truth reply. Mokuba's answer was always left as it was.
Perhaps Kaiba could not have been blamed completely. After all, he was still in his teenage years as well. Yet, he was trying to raise his younger brother, run a company, and keep a good name all at the same time, showing how difficult being a parent figure is when too young.
Mokuba's so-called friends at school would ask the reciprocal of his older brother's question to the same reply. Nothing very important ever came out in the response. What was the use of bothering people who were not very close anyway? And, in his brother's case, what right did he have to complain about what was happening in his life?
Always, the images of those having a far worse life were before his life. He heard stories from other students about what they seemed to live through each day. Also, though he was not supposed to know, he knew about some of his brother's schoolmates. Jonouchi lived with an alcoholic parent, so Mokuba was well aware of how well-off he himself was.
'Besides, it is not as if anyone is abusing me purposely. Seto just doesn't know how much I wish he would spare a kind word or praise. And it is my own fault that I have not told him that I wanted it.' A rude, nasty undertone reminded him of when his brother had stormed into his room and taken away his books. Mokuba had come so close and had almost mentioned how much he desired some recognition in what he did. If Seto had not figured it out from that, he did not deserve to be told. But, always, the other voice would return and force the other one to be silent, for did he not know how difficult life was already for his brother? Mokuba had no desire to make it any harder.
That day, much like many before it, passed with schoolwork and cooking dinner. For once, Mokuba thought the meal tasted good enough before multiple attempts, and he found himself with extra time.
"What should I do?" he mused aloud to himself. "I wish had a puppy or something to walk. Then I would always have something to do." He sighed. The odds of him getting a pet, besides something kept in a cage, were zero.
So, with the food being kept warm on the stove, he looked around for anything in which to amuse himself and caught sight of an old text on the table. Someone, obviously his brother, had left it there. The cover was bland and of a solid color with a few computer graphics.
On Success was the title, nothing special. However, his eyes froze a moment on the author and blurred. Then, refocusing, the boy stared at it a little longer. How could he have no idea this book existed? Here, then, was the key to everything. For once, he thanked his good luck to have spotted such a book.
There it was. A book written by Gozaburo Kaiba. This was something that would hold many answers to his confused mind. Now, he could see something that his brother most likely was forced to pore over for countless hours to please their foster father since Mokuba guessed no one else would want to read the horrid work.
'Once I study this, I will understand what Seto went through.' His thoughts were racing ahead in his eager anticipation. 'Then, I will be able to grow closer to him because we will finally understand each other! Maybe, he will even come to respect me for what I learn and be pleased by it! Then, because he will see that I can be like him if I want to be, Seto can relax a little and stop being so cold. Perhaps he'll actually compliment me on his own then! Seto will be proud of me and be glad I am his brother!'
Mokuba could hardly wait to begin reading the four hundred sixty-three page text in order to become closer to his brother. In his mind, it could not fail.
The dinner was a little dry…all right, it was exceedingly crispy and had the tendency to taste like sawdust that had been storing in a workshop for several years in a corner littered with dust. For once, however, Mokuba was not crushed by the food since he now had a different plan in order to win his brother's admiration. In fact, it was because he had been so excited to start on his new plan that he had forgotten the food in the first place, so he had left it simmering on the stove too long without being stirred.
Kaiba made a face as he brought a forkful to his mouth. It was a very large forkful because all the noodles were crunchy and stuck together, making one big clump of hard noodles with dry tomato paste decorating the edges.
"New recipe?" he asked as he struggled to chew the mess.
Mokuba's head came up. "Huh?" The boy's eyes alighted on his brother's disgusted expression and ducked his own head. "Oh. No, I just left it on the stove too long."
"Heh." That was an understatement.
The two brothers ate in silence for a few moments, or at least tried to, but they failed in both aspects. Eating something so nasty took tremendous willpower, and it was getting harder to force the fork to the mouth each time. Also, because of how done the goulash was, every bite emitted loud cracks into the air like eating raw noodles. Obviously, noodles went through stages, starting out iron hard, turning softer until they were extremely gooey and then turning back into rock.
Finally, plate still half-full, Seto shoved it away and downed his full glass of milk. "All right. The maids can clean up tonight, I think. You've done more than enough in the kitchen." He attempted a rueful smile, but it was done only half-heartedly and Mokuba never glanced over. So, Seto just continued, "I have one question, Mokuba. Have you seen a book I left down here? It was one Gozaburo wrote that someone at work gave to me. Hmph. To think they actually thought I wanted it."
Blinking a couple times, Mokuba's eyes went wide and then turned back to their usual size. Maintaining a cheerful voice, which was not too difficult, Mokuba replied, "Nope. Sorry, but I didn't pay attention to anything down here. Maybe you left it at the office."
Staring at a spot at the table, remembering, Seto's eyes narrowed. "No, I know for a fact I brought it home. Maybe one of the maids moved it." Then, he stood and took his plate to the sink before going back up to his room.
'That was close,' Mokuba thought. 'But I need a lot more time before I get enough information from that book. Just reading the first few pages was an awful bore. Somehow, I'll get through it.' He took a moment to concentrate utterly on his next thought. 'I know I'll get through it because it is for Seto.'
So, now with days that held at least some meaning for a future goal, Mokuba stumbled through every other assignment at a running speed without caring for his grades overly much. Yes, he still wanted to do well in case it would please his brother or keep him from having reason to chastise him, but with the bigger goal looming before him, grades were a minor matter.
Gozaburo's book he brought to school to read in his free time. Also, there it was safe to read since Seto was not anywhere near to catch him with it. Even so, reading at home was mainly possible because his brother seldom came to his room, and when he did, he knocked.
'All good workers know that to question a superior is unheard of. Such obedience is the well-oiled mechanics of the clockwork of bureaucracy. It is important to do a job and do it without questions. For, as everyone with any intelligence will admit, unless they are attempting to keep people out of places of power, it is automatic obedience that is the most sought-after skill. Indeed, obedience is a skill learned throughout life, though when young, it is learned best.'
Mokuba glanced over that paragraph again, making certain everything was utterly clear to him. There was what he knew of Gozaburo set out on a little platter to show everyone. There was what Seto had to deal with when learning from Gozaburo's tutors. Maybe, Seto had learned the lessons so well he now only wanted obedience from Mokuba, as the boy had thought before. Still, there were another three hundred thirty-eight pages left.
They would have to wait, however, since the last bell of school had rung about a minute ago. He needed to pack up his bag and go home. There, after his homework, of course, Mokuba might sneak in a few more pages.
Oh, Mokuba had plenty of time to sneak in more pages. Seto had told him before that the maids could clean the house and cook, so he would let them. Instead, the extra time would be devoted to learning how to be a better brother to Seto Kaiba.
'One of the barest essentials to becoming a worthy businessman is giving up any connections to anything besides the job. Work comes first and always first. The office is the home and bed of an employee. Family is something to be sacrificed for the greater good of success. Besides, if they are loyal enough, the family will still be there waiting for you as you work for success.'
That was all that a family was good for to Gozaburo? For the first time, Mokuba felt sorry for the deceased man since he obviously never felt any bond to anyone. Or, rather, if he had, he had severed it as soon as possible in order to achieve his dream of ultimate riches. At least Mokuba still had Seto, even if his older brother seemed to be doing as Gozaburo wrote about.
With a jolt, the boy put down the book. It was true. Seto was becoming unattached. In fact, he had been detached for some time. Well, Mokuba still remembered how swiftly his brother had come to rescue him from Pegasus's dungeons, but that seemed like such a long time ago to his present predicament.
'Maybe,' Mokuba began thinking with a pang; then, his mind faltered. Still, he struggled to force his mind to think it and accept it. 'Maybe…maybe Seto does not want to ever seem appreciative of me because he does not want to get attached. Maybe he is worried of what will happen when he is.'
In the book, Gozaburo painted terrible scenes of workers failing miserably because of their commitments to other people and causes other than work. Even if the rest of the work was a bore, the man did manage to get across the negatives of bonds in a truly delightful, colorful scene. To Gozaburo, nothing was more tragic than a determined worker failing to rise to the cause because of some other attachment. What if his brother believed that?
Slowly, ever so gradually, the words of Gozaburo managed to sink into Mokuba's heart and open his eyes to why Seto acted as he did. And, becoming more and more obvious, Mokuba knew that if he wanted to help his brother succeed and truly pay him back for all his hard work, Mokuba had to let Seto go.
It was not simple and easy. One cannot simply decide to say, "I no longer want to love you, so I won't." Anyone who had experienced the pains of infatuation or love can attest to that. And what kind of love was deeper than that which had been forged from the very beginning and strengthened from all the troubles in childhood? It should have been so easy to go on loving his brother. After all, now it was finally a time that the struggle seemed passed and they could live as they wished in ease. Yet, it was that very love that now troubled Mokuba to no end. If he loved his brother, the little cruel voice in his head whispered constantly, if you love him, you will let him do as he wishes and stay out of his way.
So, that was what Mokuba began doing. His dreams of being appreciated by Seto faded to an old picture placed in the back of a drawer where it would remain safe. Safe, but unreachable. No longer desired.
All that he did was a way to slowly detach himself. The games his brother occasionally asked him to play became fewer and gradually forgotten. If it pained Mokuba completely, what hurt worse was the first time he had refused. There, for a brief moment, a flash of confusion and even sadness had crossed Seto's features when Mokuba offered no excuse. Just a simple no was what he said. But, Seto was used to hiding disappointment from rivals and jumping back from setbacks.
As each time brought a negative answer, there was only one thing to do to halt the pain and losses. Therefore, the questions of whether Mokuba wished to do something with him came seldom.
'Mokuba's growing up,' Seto thought at first, 'he's going to be moody and detach from me. I am like a father figure to him, so of course he wants to get away from me. I just wish I had something left to me, something untainted by Gozaburo. Mokuba was the last, but now he is leaving…I just have to deal with it as all parents do.'
And so it seemed he did. Any pain was suffered alone in his room. Mokuba was never privy to it. Besides, the boy was certain he was taking the right action, finally, and would not have understood what Seto revealed on his face had the mask been removed.
"I'm becoming independent. No doubt Seto is pleased to have me out of his way, no longer bothering him needlessly." He nodded to himself in the mirror.
There was a problem in the Kaiba mansion. Yet, to the maids and people excluded from private thoughts, the problem was not so easy to see. Only if one could read the deep eyes that held such sadness within their depths could one come to a hint that there existed an issue at all. His eyes were blue and cold as the chill winters on the plains, but the ice only was out in order to hide everything else. The ice kept in the regret and sorrow that would otherwise leak out. Only through ice could the way be blocked to other such emotions. And so Kaiba remained cold and frosty to everyone, living his own life in the mansion. His brother lived his own life as well.
Now, the boy no longer saw Seto as a role model except in the barest sense of the word. What Mokuba did was done to help Seto reach something the young man never knew he wanted to reach if such commitments had to be left behind.
If there were times at night that Mokuba felt bereft of any hope or understanding, he whispered to himself as a mantra to keep himself going, "I'm doing it for Seto. I have to help my brother succeed."
So the philosophy of Gozaburo lived on in the hearts and minds of those who most desperately wanted to ignore him and forget he existed.
And each, for love of the other, remained distant and cool since it was so obvious that was what the other desired most of all.
The Absolute End