Mokuba very gently pushed the joystick a little to the right, and then a little forward. Oops, too far! He tugged it back, watching the claw behind the plexiglass jerk as it changed directions. All the while, he was aware of the digital numbers that were ticking off how many seconds he had left. He had eight, right now. He tapped the joysticks a bit more, trying to line things up just perfectly. Five seconds - he almost had it. Three seconds - he just had to nudge it a little more to the left. One second - no! He wasn't done yet! Too late. The claw dropped and closed around the horn of a Feral Imp and lifted it free of the jumble of plush toys. A few onlookers applauded as the fuzzy creature was dropped down the chute, but Mokuba groaned inwardly.
Not the one I wanted, he thought sadly.
He investigated his pockets and found that he had no more coins suitable to feed the machine. Of course, he could have easily bought the machine and everything in it with no more than a few words to his big brother, but he didn't want to take the easy way out today. He had wanted to win something by his own effort, and the fact that he could not made him feel vaguely depressed. He picked up his toy and walked away from the game machine.
Now what? There were a lot of other game machines around here, and places where he could exchange some bills for a bit more change. He could have a few more tries at winning the prize he wanted, or play something else... but his heart wasn't in it. Losing didn't come easily to anyone in his family, even his adopted family, and he was tired of being beaten by a stupid metal claw and a pile of stuffed Duel Monsters. Maybe taking a break would make him feel a bit better, and he could come up with some fresh ideas.
The sound of music and cheering caught his attention, and he wandered over to the part of the arcade where the dancing games were kept. Someone was obviously putting on a good show. Curiosity got the better of him, and he went to have a look. The crowd parted obligingly for him - after all, they knew he was the brother of the person who owned the arcade.
Two girls were on the dance pads, following a pattern of arrows that flashed across the screen. One was working frantically to keep up, but the other was clearly in control of the game and having a wonderful time. She even added little flourishes at the end of various moves, drawing much appreciation from the crowd. Finally, her opponent stumbled, and she flashed the victory sign to her audience, who clapped and whistled. Mokuba clapped, too - not just for the performance, but because he didn't have a lot of friends, and liked to be supportive to the ones he had, when he could.
The girl hopped down from the stage to let someone else have a turn, and as she did so, spotted Mokuba's face in the crowd. She glided over to meet him.
"Hi, Mokuba!" she greeted.
"Hello, Anzu," he answered politely. "I was watching you dance."
She grinned. "And here I thought you were a little too young to be staring at girls."
"It wasn't like that!" said Mokuba, blushing furiously. "I just heard everyone cheering and thought I'd come and see..."
"I'm teasing!" she said. "You need to get out more, or you're going to turn out way too serious."
"You mean, like my brother."
"I didn't say that," said Anzu.
"No, but you were thinking it. I was, too." Mokuba sighed. "He is too serious. He hardly ever does anything for fun anymore. I'm trying to work on that, though." He hesitated a moment before saying, "Anzu, would you like a plushie?"
"Hm?" she said, staring in surprise at the small horned creature Mokuba was offering her. "Well, thank you! What prompted this?"
"I got it out of the machine, and I don't really want it," he explained. "I wanted a Blue-Eyes White Dragon, but this was the best I could do."
"Oh, I see," she said. "Bet I can guess who you wanted it for."
"Yeah. He's going away to a conference next week, and I can't come. I wanted to give him something before he left, and I thought he might like one of the dragons, so I tried to win it for him, but..."
"Those things are really hard to win at," said Anzu sympathetically. "I'm amazed you got anything at all. I never win. Yugi's pretty good at it, though. Maybe you could ask him?"
"Maybe," Mokuba said doubtfully. "I don't know. I'm not sure a gift from Yugi would mean quite the same thing."
"Could you buy one, maybe?"
Mokuba fidgeted a little. "Well, the thing is... I wanted it to be something from me. He could buy every toy store in the city, if he wanted to. Just buying something wouldn't mean anything. That's why I wanted to win it by myself, with no one's help. Then it would really mean something."
"Ahh, I see," she said. "Well, I wish I could help. I could probably make one, if I had some time, but that wouldn't really work, would it?"
Mokuba shook his head. "Not really, but thanks for offering."
"Well, good luck," said Anzu. "I hope you work something out. And now I'd better get going - Yugi and the rest of the guys invited me to come play Monster World with them. We've got a good story going. What do you call it, a campaign? Anyway, it's fun. You should join us, sometime."
"Maybe I will. I won't have much else to do while Big Brother is gone," said Mokuba. "And you really can keep the plushie. I have one just like it at home already."
"Thanks! You're a good kid. See you around, Mokuba!"
She hurried away, proudly holding her newfound Feral Imp. Mokuba smiled a little - at least he had made someone happy.
"Hmm," he said, as an idea occurred to him. "That's not a bad idea..."
Never in his life had Mokuba truly comprehended how many colors of fabric there actually were. Making clothing, or anything else that would involve large bolts of cloth, was out of his realm of experience - why bother, when he could get anything he needed or wanted tailor- made by people who were trained in that kind of thing? He had never been in a fabric shop before, but now, here he was, surrounded by material in every color of the rainbow and then some. There were shelves and shelves of the stuff: patterned and plain, fuzzy or smooth, bright or dull, glittery or lacy or gauzy.
And all I wanted was one piece of white cloth!
The question was, what kind? He had never imagined there could be such variety in a plain color like white. He looked over a few selections before finally picking out something shimmery, with just the faintest blue tint - just like the color of the foil cards that his big brother so prized. It was smooth to the touch, reminding him faintly of cool water.
"I want to buy this," he told one of the shop ladies.
"All right. How much would you like?"
Mokuba hesitated for a moment. How much did he need? He had no idea how much material went into the making of a Blue-Eyes White Dragon.
"Um... three yards?" he guessed. That sounded like enough. It wasn't going to be a big dragon, after all. That would leave him some leeway to make mistakes.
While he waited for the shop girl to cut the fabric for him, he investigated a rack of various small sewing accessories - buttons and beads and appliques. He picked himself out some sewing needles, a spool of white thread, and some jewel-like blue plastic buttons that would do for the dragon's famous eyes. After some thought, he picked out some silver ribbon, too.
It's going to be beautiful, he thought, as he paid for his purchases and left the building. Already, he could see it in his mind's eye: a gleaming white dragon with sapphire eyes and a spray of silvery flame coming from its mouth. It would be perfect, and the only one like it in the world, because he had made it with his own two hands. Seto liked things that were one-of- a kind. He was sure to love this. Mokuba was glad he had come up with the idea.
As soon as he got home, he rushed through the main entrance hall, nearly bowling over a butler, and raced up the stairs to his room. It took a lot of running to get to anywhere in this house, if you intended to get there in a hurry. He knew enough to appreciate status symbols, but there were days when he wished that his brother cared less about having lots of rooms to impress visitors with and cared more about putting everything where it was easily accessible. Unlike his older brother, Mokuba didn't have any particular love of sweeping grandly down hallways in flowing coats. He contented himself with being grateful that whoever had designed the building had at least had the foresight to give its two most important occupants their own private baths, because it would have been dreadfully inconvenient if the bathrooms had been as far away as everything else in the house. Mokuba was a little flushed and sweaty by the time he finally made it to his suite.
"Master Mokuba! Why the hurry? Is something wrong?" asked a maid as he rushed by.
"No, everything's fine," said Mokuba. "I just wanted to hurry."
Her lips twitched a little. "The boundless energy of youth, hm? I wish I was young enough to zip around like you do. What have you got in the bag?"
"Stuff," said Mokuba. He liked Akie well enough - she had looked after him from the day he had come to live here, and had shown him far more kindness than his adoptive father ever had. In the few times he felt the need to go to a mother-figure, he often went to her, and trusted her with a lot more than most people, Seto included, might have believed. He didn't feel like telling her all about this, though. Some things were best left between him and his big brother. "It's just something for a school project. Akie, have you got any sewing scissors? And one of those needle-threader things?"
"Of course! Wait just a minute; I'll get them for you."
Mokuba nodded and went into his room to wait. While he might have been spoiled in many ways, he knew how to do a lot more than the average eleven-year-old. Those talents included operating assorted bits of sophisticated machinery, a sound knowledge of how to run an international corporation, and sewing. He wasn't a genius at it, but he thought he still remembered how. When he had been much younger, and had required a certain amount of supervision, Akie had sat with him and worked on needlepoint samplers. He had naturally been fascinated by this activity, and had insisted that she teach him how to do this strange thing she was doing. She had obliged by getting him a dull needle and threading it, and supplying him with some scraps of cloth, and left him busily stitching them crookedly together while she pursued her own interests. He generally got bored with the game within a few minutes and wandered off to play with his other toys, but it did keep him quiet for a little while, and that was of the utmost importance when one's livelihood depended on how well the youngest Kaiba was kept quiet and out of the way. In the end, he had learned how to lay out a row of fairly even stitches in a relatively straight line, but he had given up the hobby a few years ago when he had begun to get into the CapMon games. He hadn't touched a needle and thread since he was eight.
I hope I still remember how, he thought, as he upended the contents of his bag onto the rug. The shining fabric gleamed like a mound of snow. When the maid came in and saw it, she gave a little gasp.
"Oh, how pretty!" she said. "I wish I could afford fabric like that! Are you really going to use this for a school project?"
Mokuba dodged the question. "If there's any left over when I'm done, you can have it, if you want." He couldn't imagine what he'd do with leftover fabric, anyway.
"Thank you, Mokuba. That's kind of you." She brushed the wrinkles from the fabric. "It doesn't look like you got a lot of it. I wonder what I could make. There probably wouldn't be enough left to make actual clothing, but it would be the perfect thing for a camisole..."
Mokuba feld mildly disgruntled at having his Blue-Eyes White Dragon material ranked with underwear, but he held his tongue.
"I'll call you if I need you," he said instead.
"All right," said Akie. "Good luck with your project."
She breezed out, leaving Mokuba to consider his work. Cloth, needle, thread... everything was here, but how could he put it together? He had never actually tried to make anything like this - never tried to make anything, really. All he'd ever done was stitch one piece of material to another in a kind of aimless crazy-quilt. He wondered exactly how to get started.
A pattern, that's what he needed. He got out some clean paper and began roughing out a sketch. It took him several tries; he was only an indifferent artist, and didn't have much experience in drawing dragons. In the end, he managed to work out a rough diagram and get it pinned over his fabric. Then he raised a gleaming pair of scissors, took a deep breath, and set to work.
The next day, Yugi and the rest of his friends were in his room playing Monster World when Mokuba came in. Everyone stopped in the middle of attempting to take out a particularly nasty monster to look at him. Three things were immediately apparent: his face was fixed in unusually grim lines, he was carrying a bulging knapsack, and there were a number of bandages on his fingers.
"Mokuba, what happened to your hands?" asked Anzu.
"I tried to take up sewing," he replied. "I kept sticking myself with the needle."
"Sewing?" said Jonouchi. "Since when do you need to sew? I thought you could hire people to do stuff like that for you."
Mokuba gave him a glare. "Not this time."
"So what's up?" asked Yugi. "Are you going to join our game? I'm sure Bakura can find a game piece for you somewhere."
"Not today," said Mokuba. "I just wanted to get your opinion on something. I'm going to show you something. Tell me honestly what you think of it."
He unzipped his backpack and took something out, holding it up with both hands so everyone could see it. Everyone looked. There was a moment of silence.
"Well?" Mokuba persisted. "What do you think?"
"It's a chicken," said Honda.
"Are you sure it's a chicken?" Yugi asked, tilting his head to one side. "I'm not sure that's what it looks like."
"It's a white chicken," Jonouchi said. "See, it's got some kind of a worm in its mouth."
"But it has arms," said Bakura.
"I thought those were feathers," said Honda.
Mokuba looked pained. "This is not a chicken. It's the Blue-Eyes White Dragon."
There was another long pause.
"Oh," said Anzu. "Well... it's... very nice!"
Everyone else refrained from saying anything. Mokuba looked sadly down at his creation. All right, so maybe it's legs were different lengths, and maybe its arms were a little crooked, and its tail was a lumpy bunch instead of the sleek appendage it should have been. Its eyes were indisputably not level, and the spray of flame Mokuba had imagined had not turned out anything like how he had intended, but still, it couldn't possibly be bad enough to be considered a chicken, could it?
"Of course it's the Blue-Eyes White Dragon," said Yugi. "I should have known it was the Blue-Eyes White Dragon. Anyone ought to be able to see that."
"It does look like a chicken," Mokuba groaned. "I knew this was a bad idea! I should have known this wouldn't work. I can't give this to my brother!"
"Why not?" Bakura asked. "He'll know you worked hard on it. When I was your age, I would give the things I made to my sister, and they looked a lot worse than your dragon. They didn't even manage to look like chickens - more like lumps."
"And how much is your sister like my brother?"
"Um. Not much," Bakura admitted. "But that doesn't mean he won't like it anyway."
Mokuba sighed. "Well, I guess I don't have any choice. He's leaving this afternoon, and I don't have anything else to give him."
"Good luck," said Jonouchi.
Mokuba didn't look particularly encouraged by that remark. He stuffed his dragon back into the backpack, hiding it from critical eyes, and waved a forlorn farewell to his friends. With his spirits low, he made his way back home to find his brother waiting for him.
"And just where have you been?" Seto demanded, as Mokuba walked through the front door. "If you had been any later, I would have had to leave whether you were here or not."
"I'm sorry," said Mokuba. "I was... doing something."
Seto didn't look completely pleased by this explanation. Mokuba wished he could sink into the floor. He loved his brother more than anyone in the world, but it was hard to show all the affection he wanted to when Seto was looming over him like that with disappointment flashing in his eyes. The message was clear: Seto thought Mokuba had found something else more important than him. Mokuba knew he had better come up with something, fast, to let his brother know how wrong he was.
"I... I have something for you," he blurted. "It's not much, but... I made it myself. I want you to take it with you, when you go."
"Oh?" said Seto. His haughty disapproval changed to a look of interest.
Well, here goes nothing, Mokuba thought. Slowly, he unzipped the backpack and took out his unworthy creation. He closed his eyes, took a breath, and thrust it out towards Seto, who picked it up gently, as if he thought it might come apart at the seams. Cautiously, Mokuba opened one eye to see how Seto was reacting. Seto was turning the creature over in his hands, inspecting it thoroughly.
One of the servants, who had been helping Seto load his things into the limo, looked at it with astonishment.
"A chicken?" he said.
Seto shot him an icy glare. "Don't be such a fool... and don't you dare call this a chicken. Don't you know the Blue-Eyes White Dragon when you see it? If you can't tell the difference between a dragon and a chicken, perhaps I ought to find easier work for you - something that doesn't involve any responsibility?"
"I'm sorry, sir! I see, now - it's definitely the Blue-Eyes White Dragon," the servant blurted. "Don't know how I could have made such a foolish error. Sorry, sir. Won't happen again." He bowed and hurried away.
"So you like it?" asked Mokuba, his eyes lighting up hopefully.
"I'll have to find a place in my luggage for it," Seto replied. "It won't fit in my carry-on."
Mokuba allowed himself to grin. He knew what Seto was saying: he wanted to take it with him.
"I wanted to give you something," he said. "Something I made myself, since I can't come with you myself..."
"You didn't have to do that," said Seto. "It's not as if I won't be thinking of you. You take care of yourself... and don't sew any more presents for a while. Your hands don't look like they can take the abuse."
He ran a hand through Mokuba's hair, flicking a few stray hairs away from his face. His hand rested on Mokuba's shoulder for a moment before dropping away again. Seto turned and walked unceremoniously away. Mokuba didn't mind. It wasn't often Seto showed that much physical affection, especially not while there were servants and things running around who might see him. Mokuba ran to the window to watch his brother get into the limousine, waving a frantic goodbye. Seto, secure in his place in the front seat, raised a solemn hand in reply. Then the car began rolling away. The last thing Mokuba saw of his brother was that parting gesture - and then a gleam of silver-white, and a glitter of blue eyes.
Two days later, Mokuba was reading the newspaper. He liked newspapers more than the average small child, mostly because his name cropped up once in a while. Today, though, his interest was in a sidebar involving his brother's conference. It seemed that there had been a minor fire in the kitchen of the hotel where Seto was staying, and all the guests were ordered to evacuate while the blaze was being put out. The newspaper reporter was gleefully describing the famous multi-billionaire, standing on the lawn of a hotel in his pajamas... and clutching a ragged stuffed chicken.