To Mokuba's relief, Isono's situation did not prove to be too dire; he had been jumped, deprived of his mobile phone, and locked in the trunk of their car. For this offense he apologized profusely, while Mokuba assured him it was fine and everything had turned out okay. Judging by Isono's relieved gratitude, Mokuba guessed that his brother had not been quite so forgiving. Mokuba didn't call his brother on that, though; it had been a long day.
And not over yet. It was past midnight by the time he and Yugi finished giving their witness statements to the police. To Mokuba's consternation, he was still in the middle of his account when Seto returned with Isono, so that his brother ended up hearing most of it. Which was embarrassing, given how ineffectual his planning had proved; not to mention by the end of it Seto was looking like he seriously regretted surrendering the gun.
After they were done, Isono picked them up in their company car. They gave Yugi a ride, too; it was the least they could do, after his help. He was still in the guise of his darker self, sitting opposite Seto and watching him silently; Seto folded his arms and watched him back. It kind of seemed like they were having a staring contest, though his brother was otherwise preoccupied, querying Mokuba about MainBrain's cyberhacking and their progress undoing their financial trickery. Mokuba answered as best he could and asked his own questions in turn—he'd missed a lot of the day-to-day business of running Kaiba Corporation while undercover, and hadn't yet had time to catch up with everything. And now they had press conferences to plan, and the product launch for the new Duel Disk, and the police were going to want to talk to their lawyers about why Seto wasn't still in jail.
Plus there was Mokuba's whole return from the dead thing—the paperwork alone from that was bound to be a disaster, even with the provisions they'd taken. Still, it was good to be back where he belonged.
Mokuba didn't realize how hard he was grinning until he caught his brother looking at him with an odd, almost puzzled expression. "Ah, it's nothing, Nii-sama," he answered the unasked question. "I'm just excited—we did it! MainBrain's going down, and we saved Kaiba Corporation!"
And even his brother had no choice but to smile in satisfaction at that.
They were planning to just drop Yugi off, but when they reached the Kame Game Shop the lights were still on upstairs, despite the late hour. Yugi, back to his lighter self (Mokuba wondered who had won the stare-off) invited them both inside, and it was late enough that Seto took too long to come up with an excuse not to. So he and Mokuba followed Yugi in, where they were jumped by Yugi's friends, anxious and eager to hear how everything had gone down.
They wanted to know that Yugi was all right, of course—but they all asked Mokuba, too, and Anzu even looked at his brother and said, "Kaiba-kun, it's good to see you out of jail," and she sounded like she meant it.
Yugi got bottles of tea for everyone, and handed the last one to Seto like it was ordinary for him to be sharing drinks with his rival. He started to tell about the evening, while everybody flopped on the couch and floor to listen—except for Mokuba's brother, who stayed standing off by the doorway with his arms crossed, looking bored but listening all the same. As they talked, he glanced at Mokuba a few times with that same weird quizzical look, as if he were trying to figure something out; but he didn't try to stop Mokuba from chiming in to explain details that Yugi didn't know.
Jounouchi especially was outraged to not have been invited along. "I could've shown those homicidal assholes a thing or two! No one tries to run over my friends!"
"It's all right, Jounouchi-kun," Yugi told him. "We managed—thanks to Mokuba-kun and his prototype, of course."
So then Mokuba had to take out the new Duel Disk, and they each had their turn—with only a single Disk they couldn't actually duel, but it showed off his brother's latest holographic creations. Even though the prototype's monsters were all sized for tournament display, so most of them ended up only partway fitting in the room, with their heads or legs vanishing into the ceiling or floor.
Jounouchi and Honda found this hysterical and started going through their decks to find the most ridiculously sized monsters, while Anzu took the opportunity to ask, "Mokuba-kun, Kaiba-kun, your plan is over, right? Mokuba-kun will be going back to work and school as usual?"
"Yeah," Mokuba said, "tomorrow I'm miraculously resurrected. Without a magic spell, even."
"Good," Anzu said, smiling. "Then we can tell Shizuka-chan and Bakura and Otogi—they'll be so glad to hear you're okay after all."
"Don't tell me they were at the wake, too?" Mokuba asked, dismayed.
"Of course they were. We all wanted to show we cared. You'd go to any of our wakes, wouldn't you?"
Mokuba frowned, glancing over at his brother by the door. "Well, yeah, we would, but...I'm sorry for the trouble, really; I wish we could've told you it wasn't real..."
Before Anzu could answer, Jounouchi stepped forward. "Okay, Kaiba," he said challengingly, "how about you show us what you've got," and he tossed over the Duel Disk prototype.
Seto caught it in one hand, glaring narrow-eyed at Jounouchi. Then with a twist of his lips which Mokuba knew was hiding a smirk, he slid the Disk's strap around his wrist, pulled out his deck and selected his cards—four cards, Mokuba was at the right angle to count, and he didn't need to see their fronts to know which ones they would be.
So he was prepared when his brother slid in the cards, and Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon appeared in the room, all three heads with their mouths gaping in a mighty, if mostly silent, roar. His brother had reset the Disk so that the holograph appeared crouched, almost fitting under the roof, and its rightmost head was close and large enough to have bitten Jounouchi in two, had it been a real dragon.
Jounouchi automatically leapt back, stumbling into Honda, and Anzu made a little gasp, and Mokuba beamed with pride, that even knowing it was an holograph, and even having seen the Blue-Eyes so many times before, his brother's dragons could still impress them.
Yugi, naturally, had been expecting it; he walked up to the Blue-Eyes and leaned close to examine its namesake cobalt eyes and shimmering white scales, though he didn't touch it—neither did Mokuba's brother, if he could help it; they both liked preserving the illusion. "These really are amazing, Kaiba-kun," Yugi said. "Even better graphics than the old Duel Disks."
"So can I count on the Duel King's product endorsement?" Seto asked, not quite acerbic enough to be joking—he wasn't, Mokuba knew; Yugi's support could boost sales by a good nine percent, according to their projections.
"Well, that depends, Kaiba-kun—how much will you pay for my endorsement?" Yugi said, and then as Mokuba and his friends stared at him, he grinned, to show that he was teasing.
Mokuba's brother snorted, then turned off the Duel Disk, so the projection of the Blue-Eyes vanished. "Now that the special advance showing is over, we'll be leaving. Mokuba?"
"Coming, Nii-sama," Mokuba said, getting up from the couch and yawning as he did. It was going on two A.M. and he really shouldn't sleep in too late tomorrow; his brother would be needing his help. It would be better if he could get Seto to sleep in, too, but that would be asking too much of him, not with all they had to do.
"Hey, Kaiba—Kaibas—wait!" Jounouchi scrambled to get in front of Mokuba and his brother, blocking their way.
Seto glared down at him. "What? Shall I summon another holograph to scare you off?"
Jounouchi planted his hands on his hips pugnaciously. "Hey, I think you can afford some manners for the guys who helped save your company!"
"Nii-sama, we do owe them," Mokuba admitted. He had sort of been hoping he could avoid mentioning to his brother how much he had ended up relying on Yugi and the others—but no, that wasn't fair to them. "I couldn't have made it without their help. Jounouchi's, and everyone else's."
His brother quietly sighed. "All right, then. What do you want, bonkotsu?"
For once Jounouchi let the insult slide. "We want to be let in on your next crazy plan!" he demanded. "If another psycho's after you, or you or Mokuba are gonna be faking your deaths again—we want to know. You say it's none of our business, it's got nothing to do with us, but we're always getting dragged into this stuff anyway—next time, ask us, give us a chance to actually volunteer!"
Mokuba couldn't remember Jounouchi ever rendering his brother speechless before, but now he was staring at Jounouchi, without opening his mouth or blinking.
If it was another contest then Jounouchi lost quickly; he dropped his gaze and looked away, sticking his hands in his pockets as he muttered, "Well, it would save us all some time, right? And it's not like we're going to refuse, in the end..."
"Everyone..." Mokuba looked at Jounouchi, looked at Yugi and Anzu and Honda behind him. They all met his eyes, and Yugi nodded at him, smiling still.
"That's how we all feel, Mokuba-kun, Kaiba-kun. After all, you'd help us, right? That's what friends do."
"Friends," Mokuba repeated. He glanced up at his brother, but Seto was looking at the others, his brow furrowed, as if he were working out a particularly convoluted dueling strategy.
"All right," Mokuba said. "Next time, we'll ask. Promise!" and he grinned back when they all grinned at him. Honda gave him a thumbs' up, and Anzu gave him a hug, and his brother didn't say anything to contradict him, which was probably as close as he could get to approving of this new tactic.
Yugi walked with them down to the car, so he could close the game shop up behind them. As Mokuba rapped on the window to wake up Isono, napping in the driver's seat, Yugi said, "Kaiba-kun, could I talk with you a second?"
This late at night—or early in the morning—it was getting chilly, so Mokuba waited in the car. A few minutes later, his brother got in and instructed Isono to take them home—back to the mansion, not Kaiba Corporation, to Mokuba's relief. "I can't wait to see my bed again!" he said. With everything he'd had to do, he hadn't actually had the time to go back there.
His brother only nodded, looking more preoccupied before. "What'd Yugi want to talk about, Nii-sama?" Mokuba asked. "The endorsement deal?" Yugi might have been joking, but it was a serious proposition. Mokuba wondered if the pharaoh knew anything about business. Really, Mokuba would expect him to be as good at that game as his brother.
Seto only shook his head now, though. "No, not that."
"Oh." Mokuba stretched and leaned back against the seat, rubbing his eyes—he was tired enough that the lids felt scratchy again, even after a bottle of tea. "Well, we should give him some kind of contract—not anything too public, obviously, especially since he's won championship titles in Kaiba Corporation-sponsored events, but it wouldn't hurt to—"
"Mokuba," his brother said, like he'd hardly been listening.
Mokuba blinked and looked over at his brother, sitting next to him on the other end of the bench seat. "Yes, Nii-sama?"
His brother was looking at him, a certain sharp look—not puzzled; not quite angry, either. Mokuba remembered too vividly what his brother's anger was like, but he hadn't seen it in a while, and didn't now. But his brother wasn't content, either. "Yugi told me your strategy," he said. "Bringing him with you so he might be an eyewitness to MainBrain's attempt on your life."
"Well, I thought, since he is the Duel King..."
"That tactic was sound," his brother said. "But not the rest of it."
Mokuba winced. "I know it wasn't that well thought-out, Nii-sama, but I didn't have much time to plan—and then, things went wrong, with Isono and such, so we got stuck with the contingency plan, but—"
"Plan better," his brother said sternly.
"I'm sorry I put on a bad showing for us, but it worked, in the end," Mokuba said earnestly. "No matter what, I would've done it—I would've saved Kaiba Corporation." His brother needed Kaiba Corporation, for the sake of his dream; Mokuba would never let him down. His brother had to know that. "You can count on me, Nii-sama; I know what's important. I'll always protect Kaiba Corporation—"
"No," his brother said, and he was almost angry then, his blue eyes burning like they did when he dueled Yugi. "No," he repeated, more quietly, but his eyes were still hot. "That's not what's most important. The company—yes, we need it. But some things matter more."
More than his brother's dream? Mokuba frowned. "Like what?"
His brother folded his arms, turned away, gazing forward as he leaned back against the seat. "Losing," he said softly.
That lesson, Mokuba thought his brother had unlearned a while ago. "Nii-sama...you will beat Yugi someday. Maybe with the new Duel Disk system you can have a rematch..."
"Not that." His brother shut his eyes, opened them again—he was probably as tired as Mokuba was, Mokuba thought. "The funeral was troublesome," Seto said, straightforwardly, as if it weren't a complete non sequitur. "Making all the arrangements, enduring all that worthless sympathy—I'm not doing it again. I refuse."
"Well, no," Mokuba agreed, "it would be a hard ruse to pull off a second time anyway—"
"No," his brother said. "That isn't what I mean."
"But..." Maybe it was because he was so tired, that Mokuba only got it then. "Oh," he said. "Oh. I..."
"Promise me," his brother said. "That I won't have to do that again."
"But, Nii-sama—Kaiba Corporation—"
"If we lose Kaiba Corporation, then we get it back," his brother said, and made it as simple as that, just by saying it. "That's what you do when you lose. As long as you make sure you hold onto what can't be won back."
"Okay," Mokuba said. "Then I promise."
His brother nodded, satisfied. "Good."
"I'm making a lot of promises tonight," Mokuba remarked. "Which reminds me, I, um, might have told Honda that we'd buy him a new motorcycle..."
"That would be less annoying then going to them for help, just because we said we would," his brother said, sourly.
"Yeah, but we told them we would. And if they want to help us..."
His brother hmphed. Mokuba grinned—if his brother really minded, he wouldn't complain so openly, and with no purpose.
Kaiba Corporation was saved, Yugi and his friends were there for them whether his brother liked it or not, and they were going home. Mokuba contentedly snuggled back against the seat, his shoulder propped against the car door, thinking he might get a start on the night's sleep. They'd have to be up in a matter of hours anyway, if they wanted to be into the office before noon...
His brother didn't say anything, but Mokuba suddenly felt the prickle of his regard. He opened his eyes to see his brother studying him again, not angrily now, but that same oddly perplexed look he'd noticed before. "What is it, Nii-sama?"
"It's nothing," his brother said, too quickly.
Curiosity was better than coffee. Mokuba sat up. "No, really, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," his brother repeated. "Except...your hair...?"
"Oh! Yeah..." After a couple of weeks, it had stopped registering to Mokuba that the bangs falling in his eyes were blond instead of black, and he no longer felt like something was missing whenever he turned his head. Though it still was strange to run his hand over his head and have his hair end after only a few centimeters. "I needed the disguise, though."
"Yes," his brother said. He reached out, carefully combed his fingers through the cropped fringes on the side of Mokuba's head.
"It'll grow back," Mokuba said. "But I should dye it black anyway, so I can be recognized again." He already got taken as various employees' sons more than he liked, even if his brother was always quick to set people straight.
"Yes," his brother agreed. "It's important for everyone to understand that you're back."
Though he hadn't had much chance to think about it, it was still weird when he did, that there had been a funeral and everything. His brother arrested, even. "They really thought I was gone..."
"Only because they don't know you," his brother said, and he sounded as triumphant as any world competition champion.
o o o
The boy loitering outside the office building was one of the last people Takeuchi Yasuko expected to see. While she was always happy to meet up with her former students again, in this case she hadn't thought she'd ever get the chance. "Kazuya-kun—I mean, Mokuba-kun! It's good to see you."
"Hi, Takeuchi-sensei," the boy said, grinning. In the month since she last had seen him, he had dyed his hair black, and it was more mussed than he had kept it while in her class. He looked much more like the boy in the pictures she had seen in articles about Kaiba Corporation. His gray eyes and his smile were the same, though, big and bright and mischievous—moreso, even, now that she knew the scale of his mischief. "So what are you doing here?"
"I have a job interview," Yasuko told him, then considered the coincidence of their meeting and added, "...but you knew that already, perhaps?"
"You'd be wasted as a secretary, Takeuchi-san," Mokuba said, winking at her. "With your skills, you should be in programming. Or teaching. Or both."
"I don't know about that," Yasuko said. "If I couldn't even tell when one of my students was faking their ability with computers..."
"Hey, I wasn't faking anything! I wrote all those programs myself!"
"Yes, but you could have been teaching that class, Mokuba-kun."
The boy shrugged. "Well, yeah. But you still were a good teacher."
Yasuko had to smile at that. "Thank you." Now if only that could pay off—after quitting her last job, finding a new one was proving difficult. Admittedly her resignation had shown uncannily good timing, since she had left MainBrain Entertainment mere days before the company's stock crashed harder than a piano pushed off the top floor of a high rise. Even if it hadn't, she couldn't have regretted leaving them, not after having heard and seen what she did.
It had been an incredible relief to turn on the TV the day after she quit and see Kaiba Seto giving a press conference, with his little brother standing beside him. If anything had happened to either of them, she didn't know how she could have handled the guilt. As it was, she had no regrets. Even her concerns about her closer colleagues at MainBrain were mostly assuaged when Kaiba Corporation hired the best of them, and provided references for the rest—MainBrain Ent. itself had been taken over and liquidated with a thorough hostility that shocked even long-time market watchers, but only those in the top echelons really suffered for it.
Other companies, competitors or not, would think twice before trying to take on Kaiba Corporation. And this bright-eyed boy before her had no small part in that, Yasuko knew. "I'm glad you and your brother's company is doing well," she told Mokuba.
"Yeah," Mokuba said. "About that—Kaiba Corporation is starting a new program, special classes for kids who want to design computer games and things. I've got control of the project, and I need a good director. You wouldn't happen to have a resume on you, would you?"
Yasuko stared at him. "Actually," Mokuba continued, "if you've got the time, my brother's around, we could do the interview now..."
Yasuko looked down at her skirt and jacket—neatly pressed, but not formal enough for an interview with a hundred-billion-yen company CEO, and she would've worn her best shoes if she'd expected—
But she was already following Mokuba down to the limousine waiting on the curb, and the tall young man standing beside it, in a white suit. "Takeuchi-san," he said, extending his hand to her. He wasn't smiling, and his eyes were the same blue as his tie, not Mokuba's warm gray. "Thank you for taking care of my brother," he said, crisply formal, but she noticed that he said "brother" the same way Mokuba did, as if the word had its own particular meaning.
She glanced down at Mokuba. Her former student grinned again, nodding at her encouragingly. He was standing at his brother's side like he'd never been anywhere else—the two of them, just kids, but strong enough together to take on an entire corporation and beat them down. And they wanted her on their side.
"You're welcome, Kaiba-san," Yasuko said, and shook Kaiba Seto's hand.
Thanks to everyone who's read this story, whether you were there from the start and followed it all the way to the end (wow, that would be perseverance!) or whether you've just found it now. I hope it entertained! This is likely not my last YGO story - I love the Kaiba brothers too much to ever entirely let them go - but it's probably the longest I'm likely to post, and it feels so good to have finally reached the end.
Any feedback/reviews you feel like giving will be especially cherished, but you have my gratitude regardless for lending me your time to read.