Part One – Resonance – when several strings are tuned to harmonically related pitches, all strings vibrate when only one of the strings is struck
He was tired by the time he got home, but at the very least he would be able to spend the next two days with Mokuba. Thinking of his little brother, Seto felt familiar guilt wash over him. There was never enough time in his day and the last month had been particularly busy in preparation for the holiday season. Mokuba had spent most of the nights alone in the enormous Kaiba mansion as he stayed late in the office implementing some last-minute marketing campaign deals.
"Nii-sama, you're home," Mokuba exclaimed, jumping up and hugging his beloved older brother. It never failed to amaze Seto how much energy he had, and the exuberance he showed in life. One might have expected Mokuba Kaiba to be somewhat similar to his infamous older brother. And when people described Seto Kaiba, words like glacier, heartless, and arrogant frequently were heard. Mokuba was none of these, and Seto cherished the difference, had worked all his life to make sure that his brother would never become…well, like himself.
Released from Mokuba's grasp, Seto stood back and surveyed the rest of the room. The table at the center of the room was covered with leftover wrapping paper and various shiny, discarded ribbons, but the neat stacks of carefully-wrapped presents nearby were evidence of Mokuba's effort. The charm of the scene, as much as he was loath to admit it, was not lost on the usually stoic Kaiba.
Examining the colorful packages, Seto's eyes narrowed in annoyance when he saw the labels. Whether he wanted to or not, however, he couldn't ignore the fact that Yugi and little his circle were some of Mokuba's closer friends. He wondered why his brother preferred older friends that he rarely saw. It wasn't as if he had difficulty making other friends. Then again, Mokuba had always been mature…or did that just add to the mystery, seeing how 'mature' Yugi and his friends were? Kaiba inwardly snorted.
The only one with even the slightest bit of sense in that group was Yami, but that was probably outweighed by his sense of the melodramatic. He was also crazy. Seto had reluctantly been forced to admit that Yami existed, seeing as how the last time he'd met up with the group, the self-declared 'pharaoh' had been right there would them. But he still wasn't willing to believe any of that ancient Egypt junk.
Except his subconscious might, if the dreams that had lately begun to bother him were any indication. Why on earth did his rebellious imagination insist on such insanity? Yami was bad enough in real life, let alone running around in his head gleefully dressed and acting like the pharaoh he claimed to be.
For a moment, Seto was almost cross-eyed as he imagined a certain annoying, miniature pharaoh dancing around his head saying 'I AM pharaoh! I told you so!' Then he abruptly realized the direction his thoughts had taken, all from his scrutiny of Mokuba's choice of present recipients. Seto scowled, annoyed with himself. He must be more tired than he thought.
Realizing that Mokuba must have been quiet for quite some time, he turned his attention back to his brother. At this moment, Mokuba was fidgeting in his chair, something he rarely did.
"What's wrong?" The thought of Mokuba being bullied at school again made his blue eyes seem even colder than usual. The fact that Mokuba bore the Kaiba name exposed him to more than the average kid.
"Nothing, Seto." Under his brother's direct stare, Mokuba squirmed and then said meekly, "I wanted to ask you…"
"Actually, Yami and Yugi are throwing a party at their house," Mokuba said in a rush. "I was invited and—"
Seto thought of the quiet Christmas he had planned to spend with Mokuba and interrupted: "You can go."
"But…" What Mokuba couldn't point out was that the invitation didn't extend to Seto. No doubt kind-hearted Yugi had tried, but Yami and the others would have stopped him. Yugi had probably given up, thinking that Kaiba would never accept anyway, and that it was not worth breaking peace in the group of friends.
"You can go by yourself. Just make sure you're home before midnight."
"I'm sorry, nii-sama," Mokuba said in a small voice, blue-violet eyes downcast. Somewhat alarmed—his brother was more attuned to his feelings than anyone else in the world—Kaiba redoubled his show of indifference.
"Don't be. There's nothing to be sorry for. Don't be afraid to ask, Mokuba." He was rewarded with a brilliant smile. "When is this party of yours?"
"Tomorrow night starting at seven," Mokuba told him, eyes sparkling with anticipation.
"All right then." In a rare display of affection, Seto ruffled his brother's hair, thinking about the holidays and all that they meant. "I'll even drive you there. But you have to go to bed now. It's late."
"Okay!" The kid dashed off to his room, but not before Seto reminded him to brush his teeth. Some time later his tired older brother checked up on him. Mokuba was fast asleep in bed, a blissful smile on his face.
The steady yet uneven sound of typing continued late into the night. Kaiba sat before his computer system, checking over all the details that came with controlling his highly profitable company. At least Mokuba would have a good time later tonight with Yugi and Yami. It was Christmas Eve, and he deserved it. It was usually a time for family gatherings, but Yugi's gang had various family problems, and Mokuba would be surrounded by a bunch of his chosen friends, however disagreeable Kaiba personally found the choices. It wasn't a bad way to spend Christmas.
They didn't celebrate Christmas for any religious reasons. Kaiba didn't believe in God. He didn't believe in anything at all, except perhaps the power of human volition, and that was only because he was so self-controlled, confident in his own willpower.
Why was he pretending? He had gone over these very documents just a few hours before. There was nothing that needed to be done, and he should catch as many hours of sleep as he could, to make up for all the times he had spent entire nights working. But Kaiba typed on, because he didn't want to sleep.
It was a torture to sleep, because he was tempted to escape into oblivion. To relax into that blissful state of unconsciousness and visit near the shores of death. When was the last time he had slept well? He couldn't remember. After a point, the world just seemed to be fantastic, the colors seemed brighter and almost garish, and reality became dreamlike. He knew it was all the effects of fatigue, but he still couldn't bring himself to sleep, as if to do so would be to admit a weakness to himself. Lately he had dreamt, too.
He was so tired, but the truly weary things were his heart and mind. He needed to keep busy, didn't want to think—usually he had so many things to do, so many deadlines to meet that life flew past him without his ever truly noticing. But now there was nothing left to do, and he tried very hard not to think about how empty the house was, blanketed by never-ending silence.
He preferred solitude anyway. Human relationships were so tenuous, so easily broken. Why put yourself through all the pain? People betrayed you, people grew distant and ignored you, people didn't want to see your problems because that would make them feel like they had some sort of obligation, and everyone hated guilt. Over time, he'd learned well enough that the only one you could truly count on was yourself. So he had chosen to isolate himself from the world.
Or did he? Did he teach himself to accept, to even pretend to prefer being alone, because he had been alone for so long? For some reason, it bothered him that he was excluded from Yugi's warm circle of friendship, that no one had even attempted to invite him. Probably the thought had not even crossed their minds. He stood apart from them in every way. Normally, Seto would have considered it a good bargain if Yugi and his friends left him alone. He despised them, after all.
But he knew the truth was that part of that hatred came from envy as well. Not that they had each other to depend on—Kaiba didn't believe in anything but self-reliance—but that they were together.
Suddenly, inexplicably, he was angry. Angry at himself for being so weak, for letting his thoughts get out of control, and for dwelling on things he shouldn't. He saved all the programs and closed down the computer with sharp clicks of the mouse. The room was eerily quiet with the absence of the computer's soft hum and the clicking of the keyboard.
The glowing red numbers on the clock proclaimed the time to be six-thirty. Mokuba was probably ready, then. All day long he had been practically bouncing off the walls in his excitement. Seto was glad to see it. Mokuba couldn't remember, and Seto only had a few memories himself—but he remembered the warmth of Christmastime, when the family gathered around the tree and exchanged gifts, when laughter and joy and life had drifted out through the windows of their house. Before his parents had died. Before the orphanage. Before Gozaburo.
He was a poor substitute, trying to be brother, father, friend, and protector to Mokuba at the same time. And he had failed, hadn't he? Pegasus had taken Mokuba because he knew he was Kaiba's greatest weakness. Noah had turned Mokuba against him, and it had terrified him, hurt him in ways he would not admit. For that one moment, he had realized that there was no one else but Mokuba that cared one iota if he lived or died. And while Kaiba would have responded to this with the natural assertion that he didn't care that other people didn't care, it wasn't altogether true. He could lie to the world, but lying to himself was a little more difficult.
His pride, one the few things that sustained him, was torn into two. To admit that he was weak enough to need anyone, or to indirectly admit that he needed to wrap his own mind in a safe, comforting web of lies.
It was so long ago that it felt almost as if he had dreamed it. Not quite a memory, no. Just wishful thinking, a lingering trace from the past, from a time when he was…happy. He had everything he needed, now. He had money and Mokuba and the company. But he was honest enough to admit to himself that his was not happiness, or even life. Just existence. Just a cold and lonely endurance against fate.
He strode into the hallway, down to Mokuba's room, and rapped on the door a little sharper than he had intended. Mokuba opened the door and then stared at him with wide, surprised eyes. Seto hadn't realized that his blue eyes were blazing cold, icy sapphire until he looked at his brother's expression.
"Let's go," he said brusquely.
Mokuba hesitantly lingered in the doorway. "Are you sure you want me to go?"
"Of course. Come on, you don't want to be late now, do you?" Seto forced some warmth back into his voice, but he could tell by Mokuba's attitude that it came off falsely. Mokuba didn't comment, however, as he got into the silver car and Seto personally drove him to Yugi's place.
The Turtle Game Shop was cheerfully decorated with flashing Christmas lights and snowflakes. The trip there was completely silent until Kaiba pulled up by the curb. "Go have some fun," he said as Mokuba opened the door and clambered out. "Call me on my cell phone when you need to be picked up."
"Come with me," Mokuba said impulsively. "Please, nii-sama?"
There were so many replies that made their way fleetingly across his mind. Have you forgotten? I wasn't invited. They don't want me there anyway. But all he said was: "I wouldn't fit in. Don't worry about me. I want you to just enjoy yourself."
"All right, Seto." Flashing a dazzling smile towards his big brother, Mokuba hauled out the paper bags with all his presents and closed the door awkwardly. Kaiba watched him make his way to the door, and turned his own words over and over again in his mind.
He didn't fit into this world, not on the inside. The outside reflected success and ambition, confidence, arrogance. But what was it all for? He was missing something, and all his vain attempts to cover up the hole, to fill it up with some substitute, to simply ignore it…all of it failed.
The place was lighted and warm, and some of the others must have already arrived because he heard bright laughter fill the frosty night. The door opened so that the light spilled out and briefly he saw two figures, which must have been Yami and Yugi.
He thought he saw one of the figures, tall and slender, perhaps ruby-eyed, pause and look out to where he was sitting in the silver car by the curb. But he must have imagined it, because the windows were tinted, and while he could see the world, the world couldn't see him. He could no longer remember if he'd requested the tinting, or if the dealership had assumed he wanted it that way, since wealthy customers liked privacy. Suddenly he was haunted by the question. Who had put that barrier up first? Had he isolated himself by his own free choice, or had he merely been rejected?
When he had been younger and forced to music, he had been fascinated by something that he'd inadvertently learned. When two strings were tuned to harmonically related pitches, one only needed to strike one string for both to vibrate. It had seemed magical to him, that the other strings could respond without being touched, that even across the wide distance of the room, the second string would resonate, a fainter echo. Later, when Gozaburo had required physics, he'd learned the exact mechanisms of why and how and so forth. Yet the enchantment remained.
Now he wondered if hearts, too, resonated the way that strings did. If they echoed each other across time and across distance.
Greetings done, Mokuba disappeared inside, and Kaiba silently left, almost as if he had never been there.
A/N: Newly edited and rewritten. I finished this prideshipping story after Christmas last year so I decided to post it for next year. I didn't realize how much my writing has evolved over just ten months, though! I know this beginning's short, but I hope you're intrigued. Please review. The YGO fandom overall just isn't as generous as some others, which I think is a shame - everyone needs encouragement, and I for one want good writers to continue writing lovely things for me. So if you read something (this isn't a speech for my story, but a general appeal) please take a moment to leave the author a few words.