Disclaimer: I own nothing but a handful of ideas, a spark of talent, an inflated ego, and an army of evil green gerbils that will hunt you down if ever you try and steal this story.
Seto Kaiba stared at the man in front of him, not wanting to believe what his eyes were insisting was true.
Gozaburo Kaiba was dead. Seto had watched him die. Twice. Yet this wasn't a disembodied soul trapped forevermore in a computer system, searching for a way to return to the world of blood and flesh that it had long been denied. This was his adopted father, undeniably real and in the flesh, watching him with that predatory, mocking look that he had been so adept at.
It made his head spin.
The teenager suddenly became aware that his finger had tightened on the trigger of his gun; any further pressure and a shot would be fired. He couldn't remember moving his hand; he made no effort now to lower his arm.
Behind him, he could hear a startled gasp escape from Joan. Carlson, true to a bodyguard's nature, was silent, but Seto could bet that his weapon wasn't the only one pointed at Gozaburo. At his feet, Willie's snarls were no longer silent; a quiet growl drifted from between the dog's curling lips and barred teeth, mingling with the ringing in his ears.
Wait a minute... That wasn't his ears that were ringing...
His eyes widened imperceptibly as a sudden thought struck him. Slowly, his shock and horror faded, replaced with a smirk similar to the one that adorned the other man's face.
"You're looking rather smug for someone who supposedly died over a year ago," Seto drawled, keeping his weapon directed at this menacing phantom. He was enjoying being in a position that he had dreamed of years before, with only the faintest pressure of his finger between Gozaburo and death.
"You're looking rather proud for a total and complete failure," Gozaburo quipped back.
Seto's jaw twitched; he withheld a scowl only because he knew it would give his enemy pleasure. No longer enjoying himself, he lowered the gun and replaced it in his coat; he wouldn't need it for this. "I'm not a failure."
"Aren't you?" A sneer. "You, a scared little orphan who was so weak as to turn my empire to make games," he said the word like a curse, "who was defeated by a nobody, who can't even protect that sniveling excuse for a brother that used to mean so much to you, you think you can honestly claim to have earned the Kaiba name?"
Seto's voice was quiet, yet it echoed throughout the room. "It was enough to defeat you."
"But you haven't defeated me," Gozaburo hissed in a tone just as quiet, yet dripping with acid. "I'm right here."
Silence greeted his words.
Seto stepped forwards until he was scant inches away from him, looking down at the man who had been the pivotal point in his life...and his pain. It was almost amusing how the figure who he remembered towering over him was now almost a full head shorter than he was. He had known this for awhile, ever since they had met in Noa's twisted mockery of reality, yet it had never really sunken in. Gozaburo had always remained a pillar of all that must Seto strive not to be, a towering shadow that he constantly had to fight.
"But I don't have to worry about you anymore," he whispered, eyes alight with triumph.
"And why is that?"
Seto lunged forward, grabbing onto the collar of Gozaburo's shirt, deceptively real under his fingers. "Because you're not real!"
Time seemed to stand still in silent tableau, the only movement that of Gozaburo's steadily widening eyes. Then his image shattered into a thousand tiny pieces, drifting to the ground like a defeated Duel Monster, and Gozaburo was no more.
No one moved for what seemed the longest time. Finally Joan, her tone a mere murmur, asked, "What was that?"
"A hologram," Carlson answered, sounding awed.
Seto half turned to face them, kneeling down to stroke Willie's head. The dog had ceased growling; the buzzing in Seto's head had stopped, as well.
"How did you know?" Joan asked him.
"The buzzing," he answered.
"Buzzing." He glanced up, then rose to his feet as he explained. "It was a flaw in the earliest hologram generators that Kaiba Corp. produced. We were able to solve the problem in later models, but older systems – and most reproductions that our competitors create – still retain the defect. It was an unnecessary distraction for duelers...and, luckily enough for us, a dead giveaway that the image was a hologram instead of reality." He smirked, then frowned. "Gozaburo... Whoever's behind all of this sure did their homework."
Carlson opened his mouth as if to add further comment, but he was cut off as a quiet, ominous chuckle reverberated through the room.
Willie's ears went back; he began to growl again. Seto whirled around, trying to find the source, but it seemed to be coming from all directions as once.
A sickly smooth voice replaced the chuckle. "Well done, Mr. Kaiba. I knew you'd be able to see through my little game." There was mockery in the stranger's tone.
Joan's voice was deathly quiet as she spoke; only Carlson, standing beside her, could hear her. "I don't suppose there's any change that's a hologram?" She knew there wasn't.
"I suppose you're here for the little Kaiba, aren't you?" the voice continued.
"Where is he?" Seto called back, his tone demanding an answer.
"I'm sure you'll find him, bright lad that you are. And once you do... Then, the real fun can begin."
The voice laughed again, and Seto shouted something that couldn't be heard over the echoing tones. The malevolent chortling faded away into nothingness again.
Seto turned back around, his face livid. However, before he could speak, another sound rung through the room.
It was a scream.
Seto froze, his eyes widening. He knew that scream.
Once more, he whirled around, adding his own cry to the terror-stricken, pain-filled wails. "Mokuba!"
And then he was running, sprinting headlong into the darkness, not heeding Willie's anxious barking or his companions yells to slow down, to stop, to return to them. He ran blindly into the shadows, his gun in his hand once more, determined to find the source of the screams, and to destroy whatever it was that had given his dear little brother reason to make such a sound.
Mokuba was staring at a puzzle.
He couldn't actually see it, but it hovered in his mind's eye, all the pieces laid out before him.
One piece was Fear. Fear was in place. He thought he could remember a time, not so long ago, when Fear hadn't had a place in this puzzle that was his life. But that didn't fit the puzzle anymore; now there was just Fear.
Another piece was Helplessness. Helplessness was in place. He no longer made an effort to fight back against the jeering men that tortured him so.
Torture: that was the third piece. Torture was in place. This was the room of Torture; these were the men of Torture; he was the victim of Torture.
Yet another piece, Torture's kin, was Pain. Pain was in place. He screamed as Pain shot through him, tearing at him, shredding him, demanding that he give in. He did so; many sessions with Torture had taught him that doing otherwise only brought more Pain.
All the pieces were in place, yet somehow he seemed to be missing something. It was as if there was a hole somewhere, an emptiness that his puzzle could not fill. This Missing Piece, he instinctively knew, was the antithesis of his other pieces. If he could find it, he felt sure that the Fear, the Helplessness, the Torture, the Pain would disappear. They would be vanquished by his Missing Piece, no longer to trouble him. If he could find it, other pieces would follow, pieces that he no longer had a name for. All the pieces, all the right pieces, would come together again, and his puzzle, for all it would be without Fear, Helplessness, Torture, and Pain, would be whole.
But Pain ripped through him again, and he couldn't remember.
Suddenly, there was a change. The Torture and Pain stopped; Fear and Helplessness were still there, he felt, but somehow they weren't affecting him this time. There was shouting around him, and a loud crack like a gun being fired, and his puzzle shattered.
Something warm was holding him, wrapped around him, murmuring to him. Mokuba whimpered; his cries were soothed.
And all the pieces came together again.