"You're supposed to be at home."
Mokuba looked up from his computer as his brother entered the office. "I've been home for two days already. I missed almost a week, there's a lot of work to catch up on."
"The doctor recommended at least three days of bed rest," his brother said, taking a seat behind his desk.
"So I'm resting on the couch here. It's okay, Nii-sama, I feel fine."
His brother didn't look entirely convinced, and that Mokuba took as a bad sign. Seto had never put much stock in doctors, especially after reading all the various and sundry and totally wrong diagnoses of his condition after Death-T. For him to trust some random doctor's word, over his own brother's--something was wrong.
It wasn't like Mokuba was lying, after all; he was fine. Perfectly fit for work. Okay, he looked a sight in the mirror, with the bruises everywhere, but the injuries were superficial. All he had really needed was a good meal and a good night's sleep. The couple cracked ribs would heal completely with time; as long as he remembered to breathe shallowly they didn't hurt enough to distract him.
But there had been something wrong since he had woken up in a hospital bed two days ago, with his brother there, sitting in a plastic chair beside the bed. Wrong, because his brother had had his laptop with him, but Mokuba hadn't heard him typing; when he opened his eyes Seto had been staring at the screen, but blankly, like he wasn't even reading whatever document he had up. And he had looked so tired--Seto often looked tired, especially close to a shipping deadline for a new game or product; but not like that, not so exhausted that his cheeks were drawn in, hollowed, and his eyes unfocused. Mokuba hadn't seen his brother look like that for--years. Not since Gozaburo's lessons.
"Nii-sama?" he had asked, concerned, and his brother had sat up straight, leaned forward to take his hand and ask him how he felt, nodding with quiet relief when Mokuba had assured him that the painkillers were working fine.
"Your injuries aren't severe," his brother had told him then, and Mokuba, because he had been too sleepy from the drugs to think of a better way to do it, had said, "Good, so you can go home and sleep, Nii-sama."
Usually that would have occasioned a curt accounting of precisely how much an hour of sleep cost the company, or at least a derisive mention of the correlation between losers and sloth; but his brother didn't argue, just smiled faintly, tiredly, and said, "If the doctors say so, we both can."
Which they had, and Mokuba had dozed off on the ride home and pleasantly awoken in his own bed the next morning. And Seto had looked more himself when they ate breakfast together, the dark circles gone from under his eyes. Though it was odd for him to be there at all; usually he would have been at the office hours earlier. Like he had been waiting for Mokuba to get up before he left, and he came back early, too, long before Mokuba went to sleep that evening.
But there was no reason for that; not like his brother were still holding his hand when he went to sleep, or sitting by his bedside when he woke up. Not like Mokuba needed that attention. As he reminded himself every night, he shouldn't have nightmares. Even if the police hadn't arrested all three of the Ghouls, they wouldn't be kidnapping him, or anyone else, for a very long time. Or walking or talking, for that matter. Their lack of external injuries had baffled the cops, but Mokuba knew better. It had taken his brother six months to awaken, and none of the Ghouls were Kaiba Seto. They wouldn't be coming for him again.
His subconscious, however, was harder to convince. But Mokuba had no clear memories of his nightmares; whenever one might have woken him, it was dispelled by a warm touch, a soft voice. Come morning, he couldn't fully recall whether that comfort was real, or just more dreams.
Like the dragon. He still wasn't sure if he had just dreamed the Blue Eyes, or actually hallucinated it, or...something else. What that else might be, he didn't know.
Anymore than he knew what was wrong with his brother. And his brother wouldn't look him in the eyes long enough for Mokuba to figure it out. Which was the problem, because Seto didn't hesitate to meet anyone's eyes; he never had. Even the other Yugi's sharp glare he faced unflinching.
But for the past few days, whenever he looked at Mokuba, he would just as quickly turn away. Almost like he was afraid, but that didn't make sense, because this was Seto, and Seto wasn't afraid of anything.
But something now made Seto look away--and made him peer into dark corners, or glance behind himself occasionally, not nervously, but like he was hearing something, or checking for something. He had taken out his deck yesterday evening, but not to play, or to test the latest version of the duel disk; instead he had just shuffled through the deck, gazing at his cards. At the Blue Eyes, like he had needed to make sure the dragons were still in his deck.
Mokuba might have asked him then, had he been able to figure out how to say it. 'Hey, Nii-sama, I saw a Blue Eyes come to life without a duel disk and protect me, it was really pretty.' Right. Because his brother wasn't looking at him strangely enough already.
Maybe that was why. Maybe he had talked about it in his sleep, so his brother knew he was crazy, and that was why Seto turned away, from the shame of it. It must be embarrassing, having a crazy little brother. Not to mention it was hardly a fit mental condition for KaibaCorp's vice president.
Which was one reason Mokuba had pushed to come to the office today. He had shirked his duties long enough, getting kidnapped like that. And it wasn't any help to his brother to do like the doctor had said and stay home playing video games.
Besides, he had a lot to do. Even more than he had thought, he was discovering, checking their schedule now. There were an awful lot of things that should be done that hadn't been, for some reason. "Nii-sama, why do you have a meeting scheduled with the disk R&D team tomorrow afternoon? You were supposed to meet with them last Wednesday, weren't you?"
"The Wednesday meeting was cancelled," his brother said.
"Cancelled? And what about last Thursday's interviews for the new e-games programming head, were they rescheduled, too? "
Seto glanced over. "Something came up."
"Something? What? Nii-sama, it's like KaibaCorp just shut down for a few days--what happened, when I was gone?"
His brother was looking at him directly for that moment, though there was still something strange in his eyes. "You were gone," he said, finally, simply.
"But, Nii-sama, you don't need a vice president for everything. And you couldn't have wasted that much time looking for me--"
"I didn't waste any time," his brother said, almost sharply, almost angrily. "I concentrated on what was most important at the time."
"What was most important..." And now Mokuba was the one who had to turn away. "Nii-sama... I'm sorry I let the Ghouls take me. I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough."
"You were strong enough," his brother said, and it was in his duelist's voice, his challenger's voice that few had the nerve to defy. "You're here now. You're here and they're gone--you were strong enough."
"But I didn't get away by myself, I couldn't defeat them--"
"Mokuba." And now his brother did look away, look down, and that something wrong was clear in his voice, in how he hesitated, as if he didn't want to continue. As if he really were afraid. "Mokuba, I'm the one who wasn't strong enough. I'm the one who couldn't defeat them, not by myself. I needed...I couldn't have saved you, without their help."
Whose, Mokuba might have asked, but that wasn't as important as the note in his brother's tone, that doubt, where there should be none, where he knew that none belonged. "Yes, you could have, Nii-sama. I might be too weak, but I knew you would save me, no matter what you had to do, or whose help you had to get." And after saying so much already, he found himself continuing on, "Nii-sama, when the Ghouls had me, at the very end, I saw...something."
His brother's voice was sharp but cautious, balanced on an unseen edge. "What did you see?"
He'd said too much, much too late to chicken out now. "I was so hungry and thirsty, the doctors said I was dehydrated, didn't they, and you can hallucinate because of that, or if you're tired enough...but it didn't feel like a dream, it felt real. I thought I saw a Blue Eyes. Not a hologram, a real dragon. It...protected me. It's the one that roared, and brought you--you asked me yesterday, how I programmed the duel disk to make a fake Blue Eyes, and I don't remember exactly what I did, but...it wasn't a fake. It was real. Really there."
His brother could have told him he was crazy then, not at all cruelly but honestly. But he wasn't going to; even before he said anything, Mokuba saw his answer, in the way Seto straightened up, caught his breath, almost inaudibly. "Mokuba...I saw them, too."
"But how? What were they? Were they a shadow game?" His brother didn't own one of the ancient artifacts that the other Yugi and the others had, but then Mokuba didn't doubt that his brother could make a shadow game anyway, if he really had to. "You really saw your Blue Eyes, they really were there."
"...Not just them."
"You mean there were other monsters, too? Other cards? How many were there?" It occurred to Mokuba then, what his brother might have been looking at lately, when he had been glancing back over his shoulder. "Are they still here? Can you still see them, Nii-sama?"
His brother gave him a long look. Cool and closed, mostly unreadable, but that aloof composure was more familiar than the guilt that had been in his eyes the past few days. "They're most probably hallucinations. It's the only logical explanation. The only possible one. That we shared some of the visions is likely only coincidence--"
"Possible? Nii-sama, since when is anything we do 'possible'? The God Cards, you being able to read the Ra card, or what Pegasus did to us--or what Yugi did to you?"
"Or which Yugi did it," his brother muttered, then grimaced like he hadn't intended to speak at all. "Yugi didn't see any of them," he said. "Neither Yugi said anything about the monsters. Though the shadow games are his, that other Yugi's."
"But maybe they weren't shadow games, maybe they're a different kind of magic. Or maybe Yugi did know the monsters were there. Maybe they're always there, and we just don't know it. Besides, Nii-sama, why would you have been hallucinating anyway..." Mokuba paused, struck by a sudden realization. "Nii-sama, if Yugi didn't mention them--Yugi was there? When you were looking for me?"
His brother's face momentarily twisted into a look that was half resigned chagrin, half the agony of a man who has suffered torment so extreme there are no words adequate to describe the experience. It was quite an incredible expression, though being Seto, it lasted all of half a second before he mastered it, to state flatly, "Yugi was there. And his friends as well."
"Really? I thought I heard their voices, when you found me, but I wasn't sure if I'd imagined them..." He wondered just how that had come about. More than once in the past Mokuba had gone to Yugi for help, but his brother never approved of those measures. And for Yugi's friends to have been there, too--while Yugi would help anyone who asked, his friends didn't especially like Mokuba's brother. That they would have agreed... "Nii-sama, is that why there's this appointment on this afternoon's schedule? The one about 'hammering the bonkotsu into the ground'?"
His brother's expression was too pained for even his control to hide it. "We're dueling this afternoon."
"You agreed to duel Jounouchi? But you always said that would be too big a waste of time for you ever to bother--"
"He likes the taste of defeat. And I... He was...helpful." Seto sighed. "They all were. Without them, I..."
He was about to turn away again, but Mokuba had had enough. Things had been wrong for too long already and he wasn't going to let them keep being that way. Ignoring the pang that shot through his chest, he got up and pounced to wrap his arms tight around his brother. "Nii-sama, thank you."
His brother didn't hesitate to return the hug, carefully, crucially aware of those cracked ribs even though Mokuba had been trying to hide them so he would forget to worry. "Mokuba, you--"
"You saved me, Nii-sama, even though you had to work with Yugi and Jounouchi and the others you don't like, but you did it anyways, to save me."
"Of course I did," his brother said, sounding genuinely surprised.
"I knew you would," Mokuba told him, "but it still makes me happy to hear it, Nii-sama." He held on a little longer, finally had to let go to catch his breath over the ache in his ribs, and asked, "Can I come with you this afternoon, when you go to duel Jounouchi? I want to watch you crush him. And we could all get dinner together afterwards."
"With Yugi and everybody. I'd like to see them."
"I've seen enough of them to last me a lifetime."
"But I haven't. And I want to thank them, too, for helping you."
"The doctor recommended three days of bed rest at least."
But it wasn't like his brother had ever followed a doctor's recommendation. Mokuba grinned. "Thanks, Nii-sama! You'll see, it'll be fun."
His brother grunted a monosyllable of pure disbelief, then said, "If you're staying here, we might as well get something done."
Mokuba nodded, and his brother launched into an explanation of the new security measures to be implemented by the next upgrade of the duel disk network. The next generation of fake cards recovered from the Ghouls' stash would require additional precautions, and Mokuba was glad to brainstorm the problem with his brother.
He was even gladder to have his brother looking him straight in the eye again, whatever that had been wrong put aside, buried and forgotten. Like the last week hadn't happened at all. Except for the couple times he caught his brother glancing around the office, like he was watching for someone when no one was there.
Mokuba didn't bother bringing that up. He would ask Yugi about it when he saw him this afternoon. Find out for sure if Yugi had seen anything. And maybe ask him, too, about what exactly had happened when he had been gone. Mokuba could ask Seto, but he had a feeling Yugi could tell him things his brother might have forgotten. Like what could have happened to his brother to make him believe that he logically might have been seeing things.
Though really that didn't matter. How his brother had saved him wasn't as important as knowing that he had. That he always would. No matter what monsters he had to sacrifice, or who he had to duel with afterwards.
Or how many dragons he had to summon. But then, maybe he didn't need to summon them. Maybe they were with him all along.
"Thank you, too," Mokuba whispered, to whatever unseen and impossible ears might be listening.
"What was that, Mokuba?" his brother asked, looking up from his computer.
"Nothing, Nii-sama," Mokuba said. "I found a good site on the latest probability matrix encoding, let me email it to you..."
His brother was right. The monsters had probably just been hallucinations, gone now that they were fully aware and awake and better again.
And if he felt something brush against his cheek, like the smooth scales of a shining white wing, well, maybe he was still dreaming a little bit after all.
To all my readers, those who reviewed and those who didn't - thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, all the way to the end! And for everyone who did review, I can't tell you how much I appreciated it. It's great knowing how you feel about the story as it progresses. Especially a story this, er...crazy!
To the people who noted some discrepancy in Yami Yugi's attitude in chapter 10, while I hate to explain a story (it's poor writing on my part if the story doesn't explain itself!), I do want to point out that this fic is told mostly from Kaiba's point of view, and Kaiba, bless him, can be a terribly unreliable narrator. What he might see as a challenge made in contemptuous anger might, from other perspectives, be an unconventional overture of friendship, an attempt to wedge a foot in a door that Kaiba has slammed shut in their faces so many times before...
Now that this is over, I have other fics to turn to - am working on the end of "Safeguard" (as well as fic for my other fandoms) and there will be more YGO from me as well. Sorry, Kaiba boys, I'm not done with you yet - you're just too much fun!