Gen fic, due to be longer than my previous multi-parter. Features Yugi & co., but the story is Kaiba-focused, naturally. Moi? Obsessed? You don't say...
A note on place and characters: I write the Japanese version of the series, generally manga canon supplemented by the anime, because it's what I'm familiar with. Therefore this story is set in Japan, using the Japanese names (Joey is Jounouchi, Tea is Anzu, Tristan is Honda, etc.) I try to avoid Japanese terms unless I find they don't translate properly. The one exception is that Yugi's other self will call him "aibou" (literally "partner") because I'm a sap and think it's cuter in the original language. Honorifics are retained; their significance should be evident from context. "Onii-chan" and "Nii-sama" both mean "big brother" - in Japan most younger siblings don't call their elder siblings by name, anymore than most American children would call Mom or Dad by name.
It should have been raining, they all thought it, though none of them said so aloud. It had rained hard the night before, but this morning had dawned a bright, clear day, and the cheerful sunlight was a slap in the face to their grief.
None of them had been invited to the wake, but they came anyway, to offer their condolences, wanted or not, and to mourn. None of them had been contacted the day it had happened, either; they had heard about it over the television and in the paper. First that there had been a hit-and-run in Domino early that morning, and the victim had been a child, a terrible misfortune to spice the morning talk shows. Then the victim's name had been released, and that was famous enough that the reporters not already paying attention rose to the occasion. By evening it was all over the city.
For Yugi and his friends, it was more than an abstract tragedy. Yugi had cried when he had heard, and the next day at school they were all mute and shaken, not wanting to talk about it and not able to think of anything else to talk about. They were still young, even after everything they had been through, and for all the close calls none of them had actually lost a friend before. Anzu had wept in school that day.
She was crying now, a little, and silently, tears bright in her eyes as they walked together through the gates of the Kaiba estate under that shining sun.
Mokuba had been part of their circle, for all his age, had talked with them and played with them and stood alongside them during some of the crazier, more intense moments of their lives. They hadn't seen much of him lately; he and his brother had only recently returned from America. It still seemed unbelievable, that now they wouldn't ever see him again.
None of them had seen Kaiba Seto, either, save on the news. He appeared there often enough, though in the recent days it had only been archive photos, Battle City publicity shots and clips from the opening of the first American Kaiba Land. Kaiba Corporation's CEO had spent the last two days holed up in his mansion or his office, barricaded from the public eye by servants and assistants. Attempting to call him had proven useless, though Yugi had tried anyway.
If this was what it took to see Kaiba in person, they would have all rather gone without meeting him ever again. Though none of them said that today, either.
At the door the seven of them were greeted and ushered inside, walked down the high-ceilinged corridor to where the ceremonial hall had been prepared, with the altar at one end. Others had already arrived, mostly older men and their wives, business associates paying their formal respects.
They all glanced at Kaiba as they entered, then looked away. As his brother's only relative, Kaiba Seto sat as chief mourner, austerely elegant all in black, sitting straight and tall and spider-thin. None of them looked directly at his face, as if afraid meeting those blue eyes might blind.
He sat beside the altar, flowers scrupulously arranged around the framed photograph, and the closed white coffin. Anzu caught an almost inaudible sob when she saw it, how small that coffin was, too small. Too young.
They walked forward in pairs. First Jounouchi and Shizuka, Shizuka with her eyes red and damp and Jounouchi with his arm around his sister's shoulders, a tight, sheltering hold. Difficult to say if it was because she needed that comfort, or he did, facing this as an older brother himself, the reminder of what treasure he himself had to lose.
Honda walked beside Anzu, and Otogi and Bakura had fallen into step behind them, a silent honor guard. Otogi had not known Mokuba as well as the rest of them, but enough to come today, to pay his respects, and to honor his friends' grief. Bakura was pale and silent, as he had been for the past two days; whatever he thought today, looking at that altar, it stayed in his head unspoken, as his other thoughts had.
Anzu reached to take Honda's hand, needing the reassurance of a friend, offering her own reassurance. He took it, squeezed back, as she brushed at her eyes with her other hand, her makeup smearing.
Honda's own cheeks were wet. Even standing before the coffin, seeing the face in the photograph, there was something unreal, being here, knowing that a boy who had once saved his life would soon be only ashes in a graveyard. Cosmically unfair, that a bright, wild kid like Mokuba would never get the chance to grow up. That their friend would grin at them cockily only in photographs now, never again in real life, would never again laugh, or boast to them about how his brother would be sure to win...
As Anzu sat before the altar, Honda glanced at Kaiba, sitting like a statue; he hadn't even turned his head in their direction when they had entered. Honda looked away again before getting more than a glimpse at Kaiba's face, the stern set of his features. No tears, of course. Not on Kaiba Seto's cheeks.
Anzu rose, and Honda knelt to pay his own respects, burned the incense and bowed to pray.
Yugi, last in their informal procession, looked to be the only one walking alone, to all but his own tear-blurred eyes. He could see his other self pacing beside him, grim and quiet, his head bowed. The pharaoh was far older, and knew death better than any of them, but this was still painful for him, he who valued his friendships so highly. He had made promises to Mokuba before, and while he had fulfilled those vows, there was still a sense that he had failed, a lingering guilt that he hadn't been able to protect a soul close to his.
Yugi had no room for that guilt in his own heart, just grief, for his loss, for the loss of his friends. And Kaiba's loss most of all. He knew why he nor any of his friends dared look at Kaiba. They all knew how he had cared for his brother. Just thinking about the anguish that must be in Kaiba's heart now made Yugi's own ache. To witness the physical shape of that suffering would hurt that much more, though he felt like a terrible coward, for not having the strength to face it.
When he knelt at the altar, his other self knelt beside him, an invisible gesture, but heartfelt, and Yugi heard the soft murmur of his prayer, though the words were foreign, ancient and unfamiliar. Yugi spoke his own silently, and left tears in offering, fallen on his folded hands.
When he looked up, he saw his other self had stood, was looking over his bent head. Looking at Kaiba, directly, without hesitation, and frowning, his angled eyes pensive.
Yugi stood and turned to look as well, to see what about Kaiba had so struck the pharaoh, but then Jounouchi came between them, the first of their group to dare approach and properly offer condolences. What he said was too low to hear, and Kaiba's answer also was quiet, but from Jounouchi's expression as he fell back, it hadn't been anything too awful. Perhaps too polite; Jounouchi looked more surprised than insulted, as if he had expected more from Kaiba's usually acid tongue.
Passing Jounouchi, Yugi walked over to Kaiba himself, emboldened by the invisible support at his side. Apprehensively he raised his eyes to Kaiba's face, and immediately saw what had caught his other self's attention.
That Kaiba's blue eyes were dry and showed no trace of tears, that didn't surprise him; that Kaiba's bearing was rigidly correct, that his suit was perfectly pressed and not a hair was out of place, that was all as might be expected of Kaiba, who understood the value of image and knew how to present the best one. That visibly he showed no sign of grief was so like Kaiba, who lived and dueled with the same absolute control, refusing to show anything he thought might be weakness. Even to them, who knew what his brother had meant to him, who grieved with him for Mokuba even if they couldn't completely share his pain.
But Yugi had, with his other self, dueled with Kaiba multiple times. He understood how Kaiba played, his strength, his genius tactics, and had learned to see through his strategies. Not completely, because Kaiba always had one more trick to play. But enough to know that Kaiba's brilliance was not just the cold, calculating precision of his extraordinary intelligence, but as much the fierce pride and fire of his heart.
Of that heart now, however, Yugi could see no sign. Somewhere inside Kaiba it must be bleeding, torn, broken, but not a trace of that pain showed in his eyes, in his expression. Instead he was so impassively composed that he almost seemed bored, as if he were using that iron control to resist checking his watch and seeing when this endurance trial would be over. That impression of impatience was heightened when he met Yugi's eyes, and his own narrowed, almost in frustration, it seemed to Yugi.
Yugi thought he might understand. Kaiba didn't comprehend sympathy, would prefer their hatred or apathy to what he could only see as pity. To Kaiba, an emotional display would only demean his brother's memory, not honor him. But still, that he could have risked life and soul for Mokuba before, and yet now not even flinch before his coffin...
"He should at least have remorse for his failure," the pharaoh said, that sharp censure unheard by anyone but Yugi.
Yugi cast a reproving look at his other self, but he was still watching Kaiba, still frowning. And it was true, if Kaiba only would show something, if not grief, than regret, or rage - some proof that he cared, that this mattered to him as more than a social obligation. Unless that really was all his little brother had been, an obligation, a responsibility now ended.
Yugi could not believe that. "Kaiba-kun." He wasn't sure what to say; the standard phrases all seemed so inadequate. Mokuba had been his friend, but Kaiba's brother, and the only family he had. In the end all he could manage was simply, "I'm sorry..."
"Yugi," Kaiba began, emotionlessly, without the usual challenge, but as he looked at Yugi, he seemed for a moment to be taken aback, a brief flash of—something, crossing his face, too quick for Yugi to identify the feeling. Then Kaiba stood, abruptly unfolding to his full height, gaze focused somewhere above Yugi's head. "Excuse me," he said, turned and departed through a side door, closing it behind him with a click.
Yugi looked to his friends, and saw his own concerns mirrored in their faces. If Kaiba needed to be alone for a moment, to collect himself—they understood, but at the same time, they weren't sure if they should let him be, not now. As his friend, though they had never exactly called Kaiba that.
Except for Yugi's other self, who had. Yugi could feel the pharaoh's unease, stronger now than before. He had vanished from sight to return to inside Yugi's heart, murmured now from within, There's something wrong, aibou.
"I think we should find Kaiba-kun," Yugi said aloud to his friends, quietly, and they nodded and followed him through the door after Kaiba.
to be continued...