I suppose it should come as little surprise that I don't have the same traffic on this particular work as I used to. Yu-Gi-Oh has pretty much passed its prime, what with things like GX and 5Ds or whatever that second spin-off is called. Combine that with my tendency to take long breaks into the realm of obscurity and...well, any number of other potential issues, there you have it.
However, for those of you who have either stuck with it for this long or have recently stumbled across it, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and welcome you now to take part in its swan song. Yes, that's right. This is it. We've reached the end of the road. For the second time in my life (the first being a marathon project that's being posted now as "Shifting Images: The Circle of Necessity") I have finished a novel.
I hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as I have. This is the final lap, folks. So, let's begin.
To say Nathan was beaming would have been like calling the sun warm. The grin on his face was something Seto might have expected on a child receiving their first bicycle.
Mokuba looked positively thunderstruck.
"I'd say something about taking care of it," Nathan said offhandedly after a moment, "because this is one of a kind, and I don't have any intention of letting it become otherwise, but...honestly, the fact that you have it has probably already increased its collector's value, anyway."
The way Mokuba went on about the man's work, it was quite easy to forget that Mokuba, himself, was a celebrity, and Seto found it rather amusing to find that Nathan was more than likely right. He had seen any number of Mokuba's old belongings – such as a collection of Capsule Monster Chess pieces that he no longer used – sell for well over 5,000 dollars.
The pieces had cost Mokuba around fifty.
This latest book, which Nathan had called "Night of the Endrider," would likely become some sort of talisman once its existence became known. The Holy Book of Geekdom.
Judging by the look on Mokuba's face, however, Seto didn't think he'd ever sell it. "I...I don't...I don't believe this..." he whispered, awestricken, his eyes wide and becoming faintly wet as he continued to stare.
Nathan looked just as thrilled, if not more, to see his work received so well. "It was your brother's idea," he said. "I've been working on it ever since I arrived in the city. I...hope you'll forgive some of it. It's a bit sketchy."
Seto thought Mokuba hadn't even heard him.
"So, uh..." Nathan said, looking a bit apprehensive now, "...happy birthday, Mokuba."
Mokuba finally looked up, and it looked as if nothing in the entire world could bother him today. Cloud Nine had nothing on him.
As he clutched the hand-bound, 500-page graphic novel to his chest, Mokuba started to cry.
"I'd say he's thanking you," Seto murmured thoughtfully.
Nathan's grin widened.
With the way he'd been pacing about the shop, one would have thought that Joey was getting ready for his senior prom. He wasn't dressed in a tuxedo, but he constantly smoothed his shirt and straightened his jacket; not necessarily because he thought he had to, but because he needed something to do with his hands other than twitch his fingers like some telekinetic pianist on a sugar high.
"Joey, what is the matter with you?" Yugi asked. "We've been to Kaiba's place before."
"I don't...frickin' know!" he snapped. "I jus'...I mean...damn it, Yugi, what the hell do I say?"
Yugi's amused grin softened sympathetically. "Try 'hi.' Remember what Kaiba said. If Mokuba wants to talk about it, then he will. And if he does, then we'll say what needs saying. Otherwise...just calm down."
Joey growled in frustration, and looked for all the world like he wanted to punch something. He swept his hands through his hair and snatched up the soda he'd placed on the nearby card table and slammed it like a shot of whiskey.
Tossing himself onto a chair, the blond crossed his arms and sighed. "So..." he muttered abruptly, "what're you doin' with all 'at stuff, Yug?"
Yugi was currently stuffing any number of books, notebooks, Ziploc bags filled with dice, and plenty of other items Joey didn't recognize into a duffle bag.
"Well," he said, shrugging, "I figure Mokuba needs something to occupy his mind about now, right? So he doesn't...dwell on things."
His tone softened, and his slightly perky demeanor quickly sobered. Shaking his head quickly, he continued: "I thought we might get everybody in on a bit of role-playing. Y'know, the classic kind."
"Ah," Joey said, suddenly understanding. "That's a buncha D&D stuff, ain't it?"
"Yup," Yugi replied. "Grandpa just got a shipment in, and I thought I'd...borrow some of it for a while."
Joey brightened. "That ain't a bad idea, actually. Been a damn long time since I found somebody who played. Y'know I ain't played that game since I was eleven? Think Moku's ever played?"
Yugi shrugged. "If he hasn't, so much the better."
Joey grinned broadly; the more he thought about the idea, the more he liked it. "Hell, yeah," he murmured under his breath. "That's a damn good idea."
Yugi grinned in turn, and was about to say something else when a sudden ring came from one of Joey's jacket pockets.
The blond took a phone out of the pocket and looked at it.
"Hey, uh...Yugi?" he asked, suddenly sounding nervous.
"What's the date today?"
Yugi told him.
The grin wiped from his face.
The almost icy tone of the voice actually made Joey feel a bit better. He steeled himself, closing his eyes and taking several deep breaths before he said, "Hey, Ma."
"How are you doing?"
Joey resisted the urge to roll his eyes, as if his mother were standing in front of him and might slap him for it. "Been better, been worse. Yaself?"
"Fine, Joseph, fine. How's...work going?"
The former Missus Wheeler had never approved of Joey's choice of employment. Children's games are best left to children, she often said, never minding that one of those children's games had paid for the surgery that had saved her daughter from blindness.
Bad enough that he played such frivolous games, but to work in a place that sold them?
"Fine," Joey said finally, teeth gritted. "I'm savin' up to move outta my apartment. Found a place f' sale, closer to the shop. It's a small place, but I'm plannin' to own it, so it's all good."
"Really?" she asked, and her voice was genuinely surprised, with a slight tinge of skepticism that made Joey's teeth clench.
"Say whatcha want about my work, Ma," he said, somewhat sharply. "Gramps treats me good here. I make a decent livin'."
"I see. Well, that's wonderful, Joseph. I'm happy for you."
He noted, with a sigh that he turned away from the phone so his mother wouldn't hear, that she didn't say she was proud of him.
"Yeah," Joey said. "So, uh...what's up, Ma?"
He knew the answer, but he waited for it, anyway.
"Your aunt and uncle will be here in two hours. Everyone else is here already. Do you need Kevin to pick you up, or can you get here yourself?"
"I gotta car, Ma," Joey muttered.
"Ah. Well, good. I'll see you here soon, then."
He drew in another deep breath.
"...No, Ma. You won't."
"I'm not goin'. Ain't got time."
He waited for the bombshell. Yugi looked somewhat nervous, noting that Joey's entire body was tense. His grip on his phone was too tight.
"...Joseph. This is a family tradition. You have to be here. Everyone's expecting you."
"Someone else's expectin' me, too," Joey replied. "I made plans for today, and I ain't gonna break 'em. Sorry, Ma. I'm bowin' out this time."
"What about us? What about the plans you made every year to be here for the one family get-together everyone can actually come to?"
"...I'm not asking your permission," Joey replied, his voice suddenly just as cold as hers, and Yugi would comment later that he had sounded very much like Kaiba. "I'm not gonna be there. That's it. Discussion over."
"This 'discussion' will be over when I—"
"Ma," Joey interjected. "I don't take orders from you anymore. You lost any right to talk down to me when you decided I wasn't important enough to protect from Dad."
Joey decided to take advantage of it. "I got plans. I'm gonna be spendin' the weekend with a friend. I owe it to 'im, and I'm sure's hell not gonna break my word to spend time with fifteen people who don't give a flyin' fuck about me. Have your family reunion. Have fun. Just count me out."
"...You're saying this...friend..." came the stunned reply after several seconds, "is more important to you than your own family?"
Joey's face twisted into a scowl. "...Yes."
"...Who is it?"
"Don't see how it's any o' your business," Joey snapped, "but it's Mokuba Kaiba. Dunno why I'm tellin' you, but there it is. I gotta go. He's expectin' me."
Without bothering to say goodbye, Joey hung up.
Yugi was staring.
Joey raised an eyebrow. "Let's go slaughter some orcs or somethin'. I'm in the mood to kill shit."
"When's everybody getting here?" Noa asked.
"Yugi called," Seto replied, not looking up. "They should arrive within the hour. You took out the food for dinner, didn't you?"
"Good. Thank you."
Noa nodded. "Of course."
"Is Mokuba enjoying the book?"
Noa laughed. "He's reading it again."
Seto chuckled. "Good. That's good."
"I think...I think we might just be okay," Noa murmured thoughtfully after a moment's silence. "I wasn't...sure, you know? I mean, I worried that...that maybe..."
Seto smiled, and it was a faintly sad smile. "Mokuba is made from tougher stock than you might think," he said. "Kaine...could have ruined him. But that isn't going to happen. I know it isn't going to happen."
"You won't allow it to happen," Noa added, raising an eyebrow.
Seto's smile widened the slightest bit. "Exactly."
"We're a...funny family, aren't we?" Noa asked. "We're all messed up, and you wouldn't think any of us would've stood a chance."
"We," Seto said, "have a better chance than most. We have seen, each in our own fashion, the worst this world has to offer."
Noa smiled. "I guess so."
"Kaiba," he said sharply into the phone, setting down the knife he'd been using to chop lettuce.
"Well, I'm certainly not Mokuba," Seto muttered.
Noa, who was cracking eggs into a large glass bowl, snickered loudly.
"I want to talk to you."
"I should hope so," Seto said, rolling his eyes. "We'd be in a bit of a problem if you didn't, seeing as how you called my phone."
Clearly, the woman on the other end of the line, whose voice Seto found only slightly familiar, wasn't amused. Seto picked up the knife again and set back to work, waiting for a reply.
"Apparently, my son Joseph is going to be spending some time with you?"
"I'm going to assume you're speaking about Wheeler," Seto surmised, "and in that case you are wrong. He'll be spending time with my brother. Along with the rest of his little circus troupe."
"Did he tell you that he's completely ignoring his family in order to do this?"
"No," Seto replied, "and frankly, I'm glad that he didn't. I'm not all that interested."
"We have a reunion, every year, today, so that we can keep in touch with everyone. Joseph has decided your brother is more worthy of his time than us this year."
"Okay, apparently I wasn't clear enough when I said I wasn't interested. I don't care what Wheeler does with his time, and I have no idea why you decided to call me. Much less how you got this number. If you're so offended with your son, talk to him."
"He won't talk to me."
"And this is my fault?" Seto asked sharply. "Listen to me carefully: I could not care less about your son's affairs if I actively tried. What he does is his own business, and I do not appreciate you trying to make it mine."
The woman whose name Seto didn't know was silent for several long seconds, clearly affronted.
"...He wouldn't tell me what's so special about your brother that he would ignore his family. I want to know."
"He didn't, hm?" Seto asked, raising an eyebrow. "...Good man. I'll have to thank him. I'm busy, though, so this conversation is over. Do yourself a favor and forget this number. I did not give it to you, and I did not give you permission to use it. Therefore, you will not use it again. I hope I'm clear in this."
"...Just who do you think you—"
"Someone more important than you are," Seto snapped before hanging up.
"Uh..." Noa began, a confused expression on his face. "...That was interesting."
"Some people believe that age breeds respect," Seto muttered. "Self-important idiot. Check the oven."
Noa chuckled and nodded.
"What's going on?" Mokuba asked as Seto walked into the parlor, snapping his cell phone closed and slipping it into a pocket. "You're making dinner already?"
"Quite a bit of preparation involved this time, kiddo," Seto said offhandedly, casting a cursory glance at the clock on the wall. The front door opened, and the Rodericks walked inside. "Ah. You're back. Good timing."
Sasha inclined her head. "Hello."
"Noa and I are working on dinner," Seto said. "Just...do what you like for now. So long as nothing is broken, I'm sure we'll be fine."
Henry laughed. "You sure? 'Cuz I was thinking of what to do with that TV right there, and a baseball bat sounded like such a good idea."
Joey Wheeler, Tristan Taylor, Yugi Motou, and Téa Gardner were four people Seto had at one point in his life never assumed would ever set foot in his home. But, he supposed, that was what he got for letting his brother socialize.
Seto supposed he'd let it slide. Upon answering the door and seeing his friends there, prepared to stay for any number of days judging by the multitude of things they had tucked under their arms, Mokuba may as well have stumbled upon the World of Perpetual Christmas.
"Oi!" Joey said with a grin. "Guess what, rich boy? We're invadin'. So, like, step aside 'n take us to your leader or whatever."
"The leader is uninterested," Seto called from the other side of the room. "If you could keep your invasion confined to the parlor, that would be wondrous."
Joey glanced over at the obscenely large television, the myriad of electronics set up beneath it, and his grin widened. "Negotiations complete. You got a deal."
Noting the sleeping bags Tristan had apparently been commissioned to carry, Mokuba's eyes widened and he turned to look at his brother. "You're...letting them stay over?"
"They're invading," Seto muttered. "Ask them how long they're settling. Keep well in mind that if the allotted invasion time exceeds a week, however, I will have no choice but to retaliate."
Seto wondered just how many times Mokuba would come within seconds of losing consciousness on account of pure glee. He hadn't thought a person could look so happy.
"Dinner will be ready shortly," Seto said before escaping into the relative safety of the kitchen.
"Your mother called me."
Joey, who had been sent into the kitchen in search of drinks, stopped dead in his tracks and turned. "...What? Yer shittin' me."
"She told me that you shirked out on a family reunion to be here?"
The blond noted that there was no semblance of accusation in the eldest Kaiba's voice. He was simply asking a question; nothing more, nothing less.
Seto turned. "She also told me that you refused to tell her why you decided to visit Mokuba instead of your family."
Joey frowned. "No business o' hers," he said.
Seto set the spoon he'd been using to stir the soup on the stove onto the counter and regarded Joey intently for a while, face unreadable.
Then, he held out a hand.
Joey shook the offered hand and smirked. "Didn't do it for you."
Seto returned the smirk. "That's why I'm thanking you."
As everyone entered into the dining room and caught a glimpse of what Seto had prepared over the course of the day, the shocked silence was palpable.
Soup, salad, breaded chicken, grilled steaks, bread, wine...it may as well have been the spread at the sort of restaurant most of the people currently staring at it would never set foot in.
Seto was not sitting at the head of the table.
He glanced at Mokuba and gestured to the seat he usually occupied. As the others all seated themselves and Seto gestured for them to begin, Noa – who had not eaten anything that day, helping Seto as he had been – immediately tore into a steak, and blinked in surprise when Sasha and Seto both reprimanded him to slow down.
Glancing from his mother to his brother, Noa sheepishly lowered his head and began slicing the meat slowly, sullen and blushing slightly. "Sorry," he mumbled, and the table erupted with laughter.
As they began to eat again, Sasha smacked Joey in the back of the head with her knife. "Noa was cute about it," she said sharply. "You I won't hesitate to hit."
Rubbing the "wounded" area of his head, Joey grimaced. "Yeah...kinda figured that."
"Don't piss 'Mommy' off," Tristan chided, then went pale when Sasha turned a very maternal sort of glare his way. Immediately averting his gaze, he suddenly found the glass of water in front of him very, very fascinating.
As the meal went on, Seto realized that having eleven people at his table wasn't necessarily the cataclysm he had figured it would be. He found himself actually enjoying himself, and berated himself for it.
Mokuba was smirking at him.
Seto scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Eat," he snapped without any real venom. "Be merry. Have fun. Go crazy. And stop that."
"I think someone's not quite as introverted as he thinks he is," Sasha said, grinning widely. Seto glared at her.
"Is that a challenge?" he asked. "I just might send the rest of you to eat in the yard."
"Yard's pretty nice, actually," Henry put in. "Be like a ritzy picnic."
"Can we use the pool?" Kyle wondered.
"Oh, I'll let you use the pool, all right," Seto muttered.
"Maybe we could set up a fire pit or something," Yugi said. "Do you have any marshmallows, Kaiba?"
"Oh, yes," Seto said. "I keep them in my utility belt next to the batarangs."
Mokuba, who had been taking a drink, snorted with laughter, sending soda out his nose. Coughing and sputtering, he barely managed to stay in his chair while he gradually regained control of himself.
Seto handed him a napkin. "As entertaining as it would be to watch you drown in your Pepsi," he said, "I think I'd rather you not. Just for now."
"T-Thanks," Mokuba managed, wiping his face.
Seto shook his head, hiding a snicker with a cough of his own.
Mokuba sifted through the various charts and maps Yugi had spread across the dining room table after the last of the food had been relocated to the kitchen. He picked up a miniature plastic soldier. "Looks like a Capmon," he muttered.
"This...is what I thought we'd do for the rest of the evening," Yugi said. "Maybe longer, if it takes off."
"No self-respecting dork goes through life without playin' this game," Joey said, winking at Mokuba. "'Parantly you haven't. So...good a time as any t' initiate ya."
Mokuba picked up a hardcover book. "We're gonna play Dungeons & Dragons? Seriously?"
"Don't knock it jus' yet, kid," Joey said. "C'mon. Give 'er a shot. I betcha it'll be perfect for ya. You like RPGs, don'tcha?"
"Well, this is the classic."
"It looks like fun," Téa said enthusiastically, reading one of Yugi's other books.
"Are we all playing?" Noa wondered.
"I think I'll just watch, thanks," Henry said. "I'm not cut out for this stuff. Never did have much of an imagination."
Sasha bowed out, as well.
"I think I have a better idea on how to...engage in this activity," Nathan offered, lifting a huge sketchpad he had on his lap. He winked.
Yugi counted. "Uh...wow. I've never handled this many players at once...um. Well, I guess we'll just see how it goes."
"Ah..." Seto murmured. "...I see. So you thought you'd manage this campaign. You've been a DM before, I'm supposing?"
Yugi blinked, obviously not having expected Seto to say anything. "Uh...yeah. For a few years, anyway. But not with five players. So..."
"Six," Seto said, standing up. "Step down, Motou. This is my home; I call the shots."
Yugi stared. "Uh...u-uh...what?"
"How long has it been since you've been a player?" Seto asked.
"Right," he said, crossing his arms. "Well, it's about time you sat on that end of things, then, too. Unless you don't think you're up to the challenge?"
"...You want to be the DM?"
Seto chuckled. "Who do you think you're talking to, Motou? I own a gaming corporation. Where do you think the inspiration for my virtual reality game came from, exactly?"
All eyes were on him, now, and there was a competitive gleam in Seto's eye that hadn't been there in a long time. Yugi stared at his rival, dumbstruck, for several long moments before finally grinning.
"You're on, Kaiba."
Nathan raised an eyebrow. "Oh, hold on just a second."
He left the room, and came back with Seto's laptop. Flipping it open, he looked over at Seto and grinned. "We can't let something this epic go unrecorded, now. Something like this has to be saved."
Seto frowned. "You want to record this?"
"'Course! Can you imagine? People will go nuts over this."
Seto considered this a moment, then nodded.
"All right, then. Let's begin."
Mokuba didn't fall asleep until well after midnight.
Seto had just called for a five-minute break when he almost fell to the floor. Blinking furiously, trying to force himself to stay up, he looked as if he were drugged.
"...All right," Seto said, "I think we're done for now. You all can either set up camp in the parlor or find a bedroom for yourselves. Come on, Mokuba. Time for bed."
Mokuba mumbled incoherently.
As Seto lifted the black-haired boy in his arms, he glanced back at the others for a moment. He nodded, then turned away and left the room. Yugi began organizing the various articles they'd used for the game, but left them on the table.
"That was a good idea, Yug," Joey said.
"I didn't think Kaiba could...well, sheesh," Yugi replied, shaking his head in wonder. "It just never struck me that he would be into that. But...he's good. I've got some practicing to do."
Tristan and Téa nodded their agreement.
Noa chuckled. "You saw Mokuba," he said. "He was about six seconds from a fit of giggling through the entire game. I don't think I've ever seen him have that much fun in one sitting. I'd say this qualifies as a pretty good birthday."
Yugi laughed. "Yeah, I think you're right."
"We'll hafta one-up ourselves tomorrow," Joey said. "Can't let it go without an encore."
Nathan was sketching madly, glancing every few moments at several sheets of notes he'd taken throughout the game. He glanced up at them "Do me a favor while you're one-upping yourselves," he said, "and figure out what your characters look like. Just a rough idea."
Noa raised an eyebrow. "You just got finished with 500 pages," he said, "and you're already working on something else?"
Nathan laughed. "I'll make a killing off this. Just wait."
Noa supposed he had a point.
After tucking Mokuba in, Seto stood in the room and just watched him for a while. Mokuba adjusted his weight, turning on his side. His eyes fluttered open, and he looked up.
"Have fun today, kiddo?" Seto asked softly.
Mokuba smiled. "Yeah. Best day ever."
Seto ruffled his brother's hair. "Good."
Mokuba settled himself and closed his eyes again. Seto turned and made to leave the room, glancing back twice as he did so.
Mokuba's voice was faint, slightly slurred.
Seto turned. "Yes?"
Seto's smile broadened. "Welcome home. Now get some sleep."
"I love you, Seto."
Seto reached out, taking hold of the doorknob, blinking back a sudden blurriness to his vision. He took a last look back at his brother's face, and felt a sudden surety settle about his shoulders: everything would turn out all right.
It wasn't even a question.
He turned out the light.
"I love you, too, Mokie."
...And there you have it. Three years after its inception, "Back from the Dead" has reached its close. I don't know if I ever thought I'd come to this moment, because let's face it, I only have one other multi-chapter work classified as "complete" to my name, and it was one of my first, and less than a fourth this one's length. Finishing a story isn't something I'm especially known for.
Remember way, way back, when I first started talking about this story coming close to its ending? It's funny how long I've gone on since then, isn't it? Considering how much came out of those chapters that arose from that misconception of mine, I must admit that I'm a fair bit embarrassed. But I guess that's how things roll, huh? Again, thank you all so much for allowing me to take up so much of your free time to give you my take on the Kaiba brothers yet again. If you enjoyed it half as much as I did, then I daresay I've done my job.
I don't know if you'll ever read this, but I'm going to say it anyway: Caorann, this story is for you. I know that dedications usually show up at the beginning, but it just doesn't feel right this time. The beginning would have happened no matter what. But it's only because of you that I reached the end. So...it seems fitting to me. Thank you.
With that said, if you're not quite finished with me yet, you may want to pick up "Shifting Images." It's a work whose concept is even older than this one, but was only written a few months ago. With luck, you'll find it worth your while. Besides, aren't you curious about what caused me to take so long this time?
Either way, I'm glad to have had your attention and your feedback these three years. Glad and honored.
And with that, I think I'm done. I salute you.