Until You Find the Answers
Notes: The characters aren't mine, the story is, and sibling cuteness abounds! The names of Siegfried's parents I have picked myself, since their names were never given on the show. Thanks to Aubrie for brainstorming with me about Siegfried's relationship with his mother! This is a bit of a different kind of story for me, as it is a four-part tale where each piece is stand-alone, and yet at the same time, the pieces are closely interwoven to show the complete picture. It's very deep and psychological, and I'm very proud of it.
Part One: Siegfried
Leonhard pushed open the heavy door leading to the outer area of Siegfried's office, where his secretary had her desk and computer. The child swallowed hard as he looked around, remembering how he had argued with Siegfried only a moment before and then had left, running out through this area. He had gone to a different floor, hiding in a conference room until he had calmed down enough to think of returning.
He rubbed at the tears in his eyes. He hated arguing with his brother. It had only happened a handful of times, and each time Leonhard wished that it would be the last.
Earlier in the day, Seto and Mokuba Kaiba had shown up and Seto had demanded to know if Siegfried had hacked into the infirmary computers and tampered with the results of several patients' tests, making it appear as though they had cancer when in fact they did not. Siegfried had been indignant, though he had kept his smooth, calm tone throughout their conversation. He had denied any involvement with such a plan, whereupon Seto had brought up the subject of the Grand Prix and what Siegfried had caused there, including using his own brother. Siegfried's retaliation had been to remind Seto of what he, Seto, had done to Mokuba during his own Death-T tournament—locking him in a darkened room with the safety measures on the holographic Duel Monsters turned off. Mokuba had been horrified at the mention of that dark time in the Kaibas' past, and Seto had been furious.
Leonhard had not thought it right for Siegfried to bring that up right in front of Mokuba. After the Kaibas had left, he had scolded Siegfried about it. Siegfried had conceded that perhaps he should have used some restraint, but he felt that Seto was in no position to enter the Schroider company building and to speak of what Siegfried had done to Leonhard, as if Seto had never made a mistake himself. "After all," he had said to Seto, "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones."
The boy sighed, heading over to the doors leading into Siegfried's office. Siegfried had apologized to him, but Leonhard had felt that he should apologize to Mokuba instead and he had left the office. "I love you, elder brother," he said quietly to the silence, "I really do. That's why I can't stand it when you do things like this. I know you're a good person, and you're trying hard. . . ." Usually Leonhard accepted his brother's ways in relative silence and moved on, so he was surprised that this had affected him so much. Perhaps it was because he knew how terrible Mokuba must have felt, having to hear such a dark secret dragged up again. It was the same way that he himself had felt when Seto had started talking about the Grand Prix and the events that had happened then.
He eased the door open, looking into the room and being surprised to find it almost in complete darkness. "Elder brother?" he called softly. The stillness made him uneasy, and he ventured in slowly, groping on the wall for the light switch. As he found it and as the room began to light up, he could see Siegfried slumped back in his chair, half-turned away from him. Leonhard blinked. He had fallen asleep? Well, it did not really surprise him—not with the long hours Siegfried usually kept—but something still seemed . . . off. He had not been gone that long, and Siegfried had been wide awake at that point.
Slowly the child approached, his eyes widening in horror when he saw blood splattered on parts of the carpet. "Siegfried?" he whispered shakily, gripping his brother's shoulder. He received no response and quickly panicked, reaching to turn the chair towards him better.
He backed up when he saw. Feelings of revulsion and alarm coursed through his being and he suddenly felt as though he would be sick. Siegfried was dead. A knife had been plunged into his chest, and attached to it was a stiff piece of paper, stained with his blood. Trying to swallow his absolute horror, Leonhard leaned over to read it.
This man has sinned grievously
with his hatred and arrogance.
He can only atone for his mistakes
by his death.
Receive him into Hades!
Leonhard staggered backward, clapping a hand over his mouth. Immediately he turned and ran for the bathroom that was just off the office. He knew he would be sick now.
The child remained where he was for several moments, shuddering and shaking from the grotesque scene he had just been forced to view. His brother was dead. Someone, for some demented reason, had apparently decided to take justice into their own hands and to do what they felt needed to be done. But Leonhard knew that this could not have been right.
"If I'd stayed," he whispered aloud, seeming to be addressing the sink, "if I'd only stayed. . . ." But he knew in his heart that it would not have made a difference. Most likely he would have been killed too, or abducted. He splashed cold water on his face several times, but it did not do any good. He felt numb, and his stomach was starting to twist again as he thought about seeing Siegfried's lifeless body. How could that have been justice? Siegfried had not even done anything that warranted death! There were many others who deserved death more than Siegfried. He turned away from the sink.
Tears slipped endlessly from his eyes as he gripped the doorknob, not daring to turn it. And yet he knew that he would have to. He had to face the scene again, because there was the possibility—however slight—that Siegfried could still be alive. Leonhard had been so sickened by the sight of the knife and message that he had not even been able to investigate his brother's form. And yet he knew that his brother had looked very dead. The murder could have happened anywhere from five minutes ago to thirty minutes ago, shortly after Leonhard had left after the quarrel. As he thought about it, he realized that it had actually been dangerous for him to enter the bathroom. If the killing had happened as soon as five minutes before his arrival, then the murderer could have heard him coming and hid in there. Usually Leonhard was rational enough to think of such things, but under the circumstances he was understandably unable to think of everything that he normally would.
At last he forced himself to turn the knob and enter the office again. The bathroom door shut behind him loudly as he slowly made his way back to where Siegfried's body was. The tears continued to fall and only increased in number once Leonhard arrived back at the chair. He tried to ignore the knife as he gently lifted Siegfried's wrist and checked for a pulse. His hands shook as he felt the coolness of the man's flesh. "Oh elder brother . . . what happened to you?" Leonhard wailed in anguish, his tears splashing down on Siegfried's hand. "Who did this to you?" His finger pressed hard against the skin as he searched desperately for any trace of a pulse, but there was nothing that he could truly feel. He leaned back in sorrow, taking in the gore with heartbroken hazel eyes.
He knew that he could not bear to leave the knife where it was. And since Siegfried seemed to truly be dead, Leonhard saw no point in not trying to get it out. As long as he was gentle, he could not see how it would hurt. Carefully he grabbed a piece of blank computer paper and held it curled in his hand. With this he grasped the handle and very slowly eased the knife out of his brother's flesh. He desperately wished that there would be fingerprints on it that would help the police catch the murderer, but he doubted that there would be. The culprit had probably worn gloves. But he would take the precautions anyway and not get his own fingerprints on it.
"This can't be real," he choked out as he set the weapon aside on the desk—the accusatory note still stuck through the blade. Then he turned to look back at Siegfried. His flesh looked so pale. . . . And why had he been in his chair? Had the person abruptly lunged and stabbed him before he could do a thing about it? Had it been someone that Siegfried had known and trusted to some extent? Maybe Siegfried had been standing when he had been attacked, but then had slumped backwards into his chair. At any rate . . . why had he not been able to get the knife out himself? Had the point of entry resulted in instantaneous death?
Gently Leonhard leaned over, hugging Siegfried around the neck and being careful to avoid hitting the wound. "I'm sorry, elder brother. . . . I know this wasn't my fault, but . . . I still feel guilty." He shut his eyes tightly, the tears spilling over again. "I . . . I never wanted this to happen. . . . I never wanted you to die!" He remained in that position for a moment longer before pulling back reluctantly. He knew that he needed to call the medics and let them know that Siegfried was dead, but he could not bring himself to. He was still struggling to accept it himself.
Abruptly the body jerked, as if released from some sort of pressure that the knife had been holding against it. Clapping a hand to his mouth, Siegfried leaned forward and coughed, then shuddered as he slumped back again and stared up at the ceiling with glazed-over green eyes. Poor Leonhard, frightened half out of his mind by the sudden actions, stumbled back and slammed into the desk. He stared at Siegfried, not quite knowing what to think. Was he alive? Was this an insane dream? Was it the product of much wishful thinking?
"Elder brother!" he finally cried at last, unsure of whether he dared to touch the form. Now the body was still again, but he could see that the eyes were open, still gazing blankly at the ceiling.
Siegfried tried to register the voice in his mind. He had indeed been dead for several moments, and during that time his spirit had unwillingly left his body and roamed the room. He still recalled it vaguely through the fog over his mind, and he was highly disturbed by the experience. But now he was back, though he could not remember how that had happened, and he recognized the voice that had spoken. "Leonhard," he murmured at last, turning to look at him. The pain in his chest burned and he weakly reached to hold his hand over it. Blood oozed between his fingers.
Leonhard's heart and mind were racing. Siegfried was alive again, even though he definitely had been dead. So many questions whirled through his confused mind, but he pushed them back as he finally moved forward and took hold of Siegfried's free hand. "You're alive," he whispered in awe as more tears spilled—tears of happiness instead of sorrow. "Elder brother . . . you're alive!" He gripped the hand tightly, feeling its warmth returning, and looked up into the man's clouded green eyes.
For a brief moment, the blankness faded from Siegfried's eyes as he gave Leonhard a weak smile. Then he closed his eyes again wearily, shuddering as the pain became more pronounced.
Leonhard bit his lip. Everything had all happened so quickly. . . . And Siegfried was obviously still hurt, even though he miraculously had returned to life. He was not out of danger yet. Hurriedly Leonhard reached for the telephone, dialing Siegfried's private medics and telling them to hurry. After he hung up, he ran back into the bathroom and washed his hands before getting a first aid kit to try to treat Siegfried's injuries as best as he could.
Siegfried watched Leonhard blearily as the boy gently but firmly tried to stop the bleeding. Leonhard was talking to him all the time, trying to keep him awake and aware of things, but Siegfried only caught a word now and then. He felt dizzy from the blood loss and a headache had chosen to bother him. He could barely concentrate on anything that his brother was saying, but he did manage to hear him asking who had done this. He frowned as he realized he did not know. He had never seen the person before.
The pain as the knife slammed into his body was unbelievable. Dizzily Siegfried staggered back, trying to grab for the handle and pull the weapon out, but he felt oblivion sweeping over him before he could. His heart was racing and he felt as though it had just suffered a tremendous shock. Breathing had suddenly become difficult, if not completely impossible. As his legs were kicked out from under him and he fell back in the chair, everything went black.
It could have been a few minutes or even a mere few seconds before Siegfried opened his eyes again, but when he did, he found that he was laying prone on the floor. What happened? he wondered. His mind was completely clear, and he recalled what had taken place right before he had lost consciousness, but he could not understand how he had ended up on the floor. Confused, he sat up and found that the wound was gone when he reached to touch the spot. He stared at his hand, certain that he was seeing things and that there must be blood on it, but when he looked down at his chest there was no wound and no knife.
Have I been healed? he asked himself as he slowly got to his feet. Or was it all a fantasy to begin with? But then he saw the blood splattered on the carpet around him. It had not been a fantasy. Someone had been wounded, and he knew that he had been.
Slowly he turned to look at the chair that he had collapsed into moments before. His eyes widened in sheer disbelief when he saw that he, or rather, his body, was still slumped within it. The knife was still plunged into the stilled chest, appearing to be mere centimeters away from his heart, and blood was dripping from the wound. Siegfried stared, as if transfixed, and realized that he did not know at all what to do now. By all indications, it seemed that he was dead. And yet, he obviously was not dead as in "ceasing to exist"; he could still see, hear, think, and feel—though when he reached out and tried to pull the knife out of his mortal body, he found that he could not. Instead, his hand passed right through.
This seemed to bring him out of his trance. He looked around the office, searching for the unknown man who had stabbed him, but all was quiet. His murderer had already made a hasty escape. He was alone.
I'm dead, he said to himself in disbelief. That wound . . . or some effect from it . . . killed me. But . . . what do I do now? It seemed that he was not going to proceed on to an afterlife. Or perhaps this was the afterlife, just not as he had imagined it would be. Perhaps he would be doomed to remain here, aimlessly wandering through the world that he had once lived in.
He narrowed his eyes angrily, not wanting to accept his fate. He wanted to live. There was too much he had to do to simply give up and die. He was not as his father had been. And he had Leonhard to think of. If he was dead, what would happen to the child? It was true that he was an arrogant, vain, and ruthless businessman (at least on the surface), but he still loved his brother. Leonhard meant everything to him, and he was the only person alive who knew of and had seen Siegfried's kind side. Why should he have to give up his life now because some insane assassin had decided that he should?
In desperation he turned back and struggled repeatedly to get back into his body, but each time he was struck back as if a barrier had been erected between him and the mortal shell. At last he stepped back, forced to forget the futile efforts. It was not working, and he was growing angrier, not to mention somewhat panicked.
It felt so surreal, to be standing in the darkened room staring at himself—and without the use of a mirror. His body was lifeless and cold, and he could see that the flesh was a sickly pale color. He frowned, clenching a fist, and then turned away as he heard the door open. Was the murderer returning for some reason?
He was horrified when he saw that it was actually Leonhard entering the room. "Leonhard! Don't come in here, younger brother!" he yelled in vain, knowing that the child would not be able to hear him but yet not being able to stop himself from trying. "This is not something you should have to see! Please, Leonhard . . . go back!" It was hopeless to even try. He watched helplessly as Leonhard came over, soon discovering his body and the knife. The child gave an alarmed cry as he backed up, right up against where his brother's spirit was standing. Siegfried reached out, trying to lay his hands on the boy's shoulders, but of course he could not. Leonhard shivered, however, as if feeling some invisible, chilling touch.
Now Leonhard leaned over again, trying to read the note that he had realized was there. Siegfried's green eyes narrowed as he noticed as well. He had been so distraught and bewildered over discovering that he was dead that he had not stopped to notice the piece of paper that had been stuck through the knife. He read it now with Leonhard, furious and indignant at the contents. So! The murderer thought he was the Angel of Death, did he? That was the implication the message gave. He had apparently decided to kill Siegfried because he believed that the businessman deserved it.
That outraged Siegfried. No one knew what he was actually like. He did not care if people misjudged him, because he often quite deliberately gave off an image of himself that was pompous and vain. But when they decided to take matters into their own hands and be the judge, jury, and executioner, then Siegfried drew the line. That was not right. Either the culprit had not stopped to think about how it would hurt poor Leonhard, or he had not cared in the first place. Siegfried would not be surprised.
He was startled out of his thoughts as the child tore past him, his hand over his mouth as he ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Siegfried watched him go, sickened at how this was affecting his poor brother. In his short life, Leonhard had seen both of their parents laying dead, but only at their respective wakes. He had never seen anyone dead and bleeding from whatever fatal wounds they had received. It was no wonder that he would feel nauseous at the sight of such a thing, and it was likely that this would leave him with emotional scars in the future. "Leonhard," Siegfried whispered softly.
He looked back to his motionless corpse, again with determination, and tried once more to enter. Again he was thrown back by some invisible force. He gave a loud German curse, since he knew Leonhard could not hear him, and then straightened up as he looked toward the bathroom. He gave Leonhard his privacy, waiting until he heard the sink come on before going to the door and phasing through. Sadly he watched the child, his soul twisting when he heard Leonhard's pitiful whispers of "If I'd only stayed. . . ." He had never wanted his brother to carry a burden such as that. It was not fair. Leonhard did not deserve this.
"No, younger brother," Siegfried whispered softly as he walked over and tried again desperately to lay his hand on the boy's shoulder. "You must never think that. You only would have died as well . . . though . . . I wonder if you would have preferred that." He could not bear the thought of anything happening to Leonhard, but he had to wonder if such feelings were partially selfish. Perhaps Leonhard would be in more pain now, knowing that he would have to carry on now that his brother was dead. He would be forced to take over the Schroider Corporation, even though he was unprepared for such a task. Most likely he would always be haunted by what he had seen here tonight, and perhaps even being in this office afterward would be unbearable for him. And if Siegfried was forced to always stay by him, longing to speak with him and offer comfort but knowing that he could not, he would indeed feel as though he were in Hades. It had already been agony enough just in the few moments since Leonhard had arrived.
Leonhard sniffled, finally venturing back into the office. Slowly Siegfried followed, wondering what the poor child was going to do now. His soul further twisted as he watched Leonhard checking in vain for a pulse. Even though the boy knew it was hopeless, he had still tried to hope anyway—but his hoping had been in vain. Siegfried was not still alive . . . at least not on a mortal plane.
After Leonhard removed the knife from Siegfried's flesh, the man tried once more to enter his body and again failed. He clenched a fist in frustration, not wanting to accept that this was the end and that he would not be able to return. Most certainly this was not the way that Siegfried had wanted to die.
He had not even thought much about dying before, or whether he believed that death was the end of existence. He supposed that now he would never be able to think of it that way again, though this was worlds beyond any concept of an afterlife that he had read about in religions or mythologies. It seemed endlessly dreary and depressing, and absolutely frustrating. More than anything he wanted to somehow get back in his body, and it was even worse since it was right in front of him, and since he was seeing Leonhard's grief and pain. If he had simply been sent to the traditional Heaven or Hell, and could not see what was happening, he doubted that it would be as hard to come to terms with as this was. Or perhaps he was wrong and he would have been just as agonized, since he would have known that Leonhard was suffering, even if he had not been able to see him.
"I'm sorry, Leonhard," he said softly as the child hugged his body and wept. "I was never the brother I should have been." He wanted to gently push the boy's hair back, a comforting gesture he had done at times when Leonhard had been very young, but of course he could not. Even so, he laid his transparent hand on Leonhard's head. This time the magenta-haired boy was too caught up in his grief to notice the chilling touch. "Even though you have such a pure heart as to be able to forgive what I did to you during the Grand Prix tournament, that does not change what happened nor does it make it better. My hatred and anger drove me to insanity. I was obsessed with besting the Kaibas at all costs, and I never stopped to think about how it was hurting you." He still regretted how their relationship had fallen apart. It had never been the same since he had been trained to take over SchroiderCorp. And then he had further damaged it because of his hatred and pain. "I'll never have the chance to try to make it up to you. . . ."
Even though they were getting along better than they once had, Siegfried could still sense that there was a certain tension. He did not know if Leonhard even fully trusted him. And why should he? He would not know if Siegfried was plotting something else to discredit KaibaCorp. Siegfried doubted that he would ever be able to ever completely regain his brother's trust. Leonhard had readily forgiven him, but forgiveness was not the same thing as trust. Siegfried sighed sadly, embracing the child as best as he could but knowing that he could not offer any comfort that would actually be felt.
"Do you want a second chance?"
He started at the sound of the quiet female voice. As he looked up, he saw a majestic figure standing before him with flowing sapphire blue hair and a determined, serious gaze. She was dressed in armor, complete with a winged headdress, and a long cape spilled over her shoulders and down her back. He stared at her, wondering if this was a hallucination. She looked exactly like his favorite Valkyrie, Brunnhilde.
"You will be given another chance, if you wish it," she spoke again, half-turning.
He continued to gaze at her, bemused and overwhelmed by everything. "Who are you?" he asked finally.
"Don't you know?" she retorted calmly, and then was gone.
The next thing Siegfried was aware of was that he had returned to his body. The pain of the wound was overwhelming and he felt very dizzy. His mind was clouded over and he could barely think, but he knew that he had been sent back. He could feel Leonhard gripping his hand and he could hear him calling to him. The mists of confusion and semi-consciousness passed just long enough for Siegfried to be able to recognize Leonhard and smile at him. Then he slipped back into his confusion, while Leonhard called for the medics.
Siegfried was aware of very little that went on in the real world. He drifted in and out of consciousness as the medics finally arrived and as he was taken to the infirmary owned by SchroiderCorp. Vaguely he heard one of the paramedics mention something about a possible poisoning, and Leonhard crying out in horror, but then unconsciousness claimed him once again.
He found himself wandering through what looked like an endless, dark space. The only light came from a beam that was shining down on him and which seemed to follow him around as he moved. He frowned darkly as he glanced around and then down at himself. Either he had separated from his body again or this was a highly realistic dream. He found himself hoping that it was the latter. He had experienced enough of wandering free from his body.
"Look at yourself! You are still a failure!"
Siegfried froze, his blood going cold. He had not heard that voice for years, but he would recognize it anywhere. He looked around wildly, wondering if it had possibly just been his imagination, but then he saw the man step out of the shadows. The light expanded to include the elder von Schroider in it.
At first Siegfried could not get any words out except "Father!" This meeting was so utterly unexpected, so shocking, that Siegfried could not believe it was actually taking place. He took a step back. The man was dead. How could they be meeting again? Did it have something to do with the fact that Siegfried himself had died for a few moments?
His father glared at him. He was just as Siegfried remembered him—the cold, flashing eyes, the stern face, the angry voice. . . . "How could you let yourself be overpowered like that?" he snapped. "Are you so weak that you would let one knife wound kill you?" Of course, most anyone in Siegfried's position would have reacted the same way to the knife plunging through their flesh. After all, it had been dangerously close to his heart. What Siegfried did not know was that he had actually suffered a heart attack from the shock and that had been what had killed him.
Siegfried clenched a fist. "I see that you haven't changed a bit, Father, not even after destroying yourself," he said coldly. He hated listening to Aloysius berate him like this. It felt as if no time had passed at all, even though it had been six years since his father's suicide. And it was largely because of the way that Aloysius put him down that Siegfried had become so unwilling to let anyone see beyond the obnoxious facade he had crafted. He could not bear to let anyone see that he was weak.
This comment earned him a harsh slap. "It was you who drove me to it!" the older man declared. "If you had not been such an incompetent heir, it wouldn't have happened!" He narrowed his eyes. "Leonhard could have handled the company better than you did!"
Siegfried narrowed his eyes as well, reaching up to touch his raw cheek. Then it was true. What he had blamed himself for throughout the years had been completely true. He was responsible for his father's death, and it had not been foolish to believe it was so. "Leonhard most likely would not have wanted the company to stay a weapons manufacturer either," he pointed out. "And he could never be ruthless enough to be a businessman. That would destroy him!"
"You weren't ruthless enough, either!" the elder von Schroider retorted. "You ruined the company!" He reached out, grabbing hold of Siegfried's long, flowing hair. "And look at this! I told you that long hair was not becoming for a businessman, but as soon as you got control of the company you started growing it out!" He growled. "This is an abomination!" He shook the locks, glaring as if he hoped he could cut them off just by his angry expression.
Siegfried pried the man's fingers away. "I believe my hair is my own, to do with as I please," he said coldly. "And as for ruining the company . . . I've done my best to keep it alive! If I had truly failed, then it would be gone right now!" But he could not deny that his father's words pierced his soul. It was his fault that his father had killed himself. If he had simply left the company alone and allowed it to continue being a weapons manufacturer, then it would have gone in a different direction from KaibaCorp. Of course, with the ironies of life and Siegfried's bad luck, he wondered if KaibaCorp then would have stayed a weapons company as well. But he would never know now. He trembled.
His father stepped forward again, pushing him roughly to the floor. "You were always weak," he hissed. "You had potential, but it was wasted. Maybe you should have done what your mother wanted and become a pretty boy socialite! Your heart was never strong enough for the life of a corporate executive officer! You were always pathetic, even resorting to wanting to ruin KaibaCorp when you knew you couldn't win! I never wanted that. You fool, didn't you realize how that would damage SchroiderCorp's reputation? You were supposed to prove yourself better than Seto Kaiba, not weaker!"
Siegfried stared up at him, at a complete loss for words. In that moment, it was suddenly dawning on him what the dark secret was behind his hateful feelings toward Seto Kaiba. It was true that he was tired of being in Seto Kaiba's shadow. He was tired of how his father had always pushed him to be better than Seto Kaiba. And he had wanted so desperately to prove that he was, indeed, better because he had hoped that then he would gain his father's approval and even, perhaps, his love.
Even after his father's suicide, the man had still haunted Siegfried. He would hear the cruel taunts in his mind, and feel his father watching him, and know that he would never escape. Perhaps it was partially because he had always sensed the man's presence that his obsession with being better than Seto Kaiba had intensified. He was still striving for something that he would never have. And he had finally realized this as well.
"I'm sorry, Father," he said quietly, slowly getting up. "I was never able to be what you wanted."
"You most certainly never were!" the older man agreed, stepping away and beginning to walk around him meticulously. "Why are you even still alive? What do you have to live for? You should know by now that the company will never outshine KaibaCorp." He stared into Siegfried's sea green eyes until his son could no longer bear it and looked away. "KaibaCorp ruined us years ago, before you even took control of the family business! But you tried to delay the inevitable, and like a fool I actually had some form of faith in you. Of course I soon found that it was ill placed. You should put yourself out of your misery. Give up and slink away, as those do who are defeated."
Siegfried clenched his fists. "You are always trying to convince me to kill myself," he said finally. "Why?" Often, during times when he felt especially depressed and unhappy with the way things were going, he would feel certain that he could hear his father's voice in a whisper, telling him how hopeless it was and that he should relinquish his life. He would always have a terrible time silencing the voice, but he had always wondered if he truly heard it, or if it was merely something that his imagination was making up.
"So that you will stop mortifying the company and the family name! You won't be around to do any more damage!" Aloysius von Schroider looked at him with disgust.
Siegfried's eyes flashed in disbelief and incredulity. "Oh? Is that what you believed would happen when you destroyed yourself—that you would not do any more damage?" He stepped closer. "Do you know how badly SchroiderCorp's reputation suffered when you committed suicide? That was part of why the stocks went down! It wasn't all just because of me!" He was tired of being blamed for all of it. Recently it seemed that he was being blamed every time something went wrong at either his company or KaibaCorp. That had been another reason as to why he had simply snapped when Seto had barged in and had demanded to know if Siegfried had tampered with the results of the patients' tests. It seemed to Siegfried that everyone was always trying to make him out to be much worse than he actually was. He would not have done something so immature and cruel. He did not think he even would have done it before the events of the Grand Prix, which had changed him in the end.
Aloysius slapped him again. "You're not to talk back to me!" he hissed. "You're still just a boy to me—a foolish, thoughtless, idiotic clown!"
This time Siegfried reached out and gripped the man's wrist. He had suffered enough of this humiliation. He would not let his father rule him any longer. Aloysius was dead. Siegfried was still alive, and he intended to stay that way. "Actually, Father, whether you are willing to accept it or not, I am an adult. I have made mistakes, but so have you. I am not as ridiculous as you believe me to be." He glared back into the flashing eyes. "And I am not so foolish as to kill myself. Even if there was not the company to think of, I have a much more important reason to stay alive—a reason that you never thought of."
Aloysius frowned. "What are you talking about?" he wanted to know.
"I have a younger brother who needs me," Siegfried answered firmly. "You never considered how your family would react if you perished, but I have thought many times about what might happen to Leonhard if I could not be there for him. If I can at all help it, I could never hurt him in such a way."
His father looked unimpressed. "I did think of how my family would react," he said, ignoring Siegfried's other remarks. "Specifically, you. I knew you would blame yourself, because of your soft heart! But I had hoped it would give you motivation to make the company better, and not for you to decide to do something so foolish as to try destroying KaibaCorp!"
Again Siegfried stared at him. He had always wondered if such a thing could be true, but he had always forced himself not to think it. Surely not even his father could be such a cold-hearted man. His heart raced wildly and he swallowed hard, feeling slightly dizzy. Aloysius had deliberately killed himself to get at his son. Siegfried could scarcely comprehend. "Then . . ." he began, but could not finish.
"Yes," Aloysius responded coldly. "My death was a failure because of you! And yet for other reasons I don't regret what I did. I didn't have to suffer in the flesh the full humiliation of what you did to the company and to the Schroider name." He glared at his son, who was shaking again and looked overwhelmed. "But I've still had to watch every single thing you've done. Maybe that has been my punishment for ending my own life. I've always been here, observing you throughout everything."
Siegfried took a deep breath, trying to get his emotions under control. Then it had not been his imagination! He truly had heard his father speaking to him at times. The man had been tormenting him all through the years, wanting him to end his own life and telling him what a terrible failure he was. And though some part of Siegfried's heart had loved his father, it was obvious that Aloysius hated him.
Suddenly he felt himself falling through the floor. He gave a cry of stunned surprise and tried desperately to reach up for the edge, but he could not. He could hear his father's voice echoing around him, "Goodbye, son! And don't come back."
Leonhard watched his brother with tear-filled eyes. Siegfried had not flatlined or stopped breathing since he had miraculously revived in his office, but he had been delirious for some time now. Leonhard could barely stand to see him like that. Mostly he seemed to stay asleep, mumbling various things about their father, but occasionally he opened his eyes and yelled, reaching out desperately. The most recent time that it had happened, he had cried out in a frantic way for Leonhard and had not been able to be consoled, even when Leonhard had taken hold of his hand and had gently spoke to him, brushing the man's bangs away from his eyes.
"I'm so sorry, Elder Brother," the child whispered now, trembling with sadness and confusion. "This shouldn't have happened. I don't even understand why it happened!"
The note's contents still chilled him. He had talked to the police about what it said, and they had immediately set out looking for the culprit, but so far they had not had any luck. Leonhard wondered if the person would go after anyone else. The officer he had talked to had said that he had heard of similar strange incidents happening in San Francisco and in Domino City, which worried the boy greatly. He knew people in both locations. Some of them could be in danger.
He turned slightly, booting up the laptop that was sitting on a nearby table. While he was watching over Siegfried and waiting for him to regain consciousness, he was trying to find out information on the other attacks. The policeman had not wanted to tell him anything about the other victims, but he said that the other attacks had occurred within a few hours of each other, so he did not see how the same person could be responsible for all of them. Leonhard decided that there was probably an accomplice. It was likely that all of the attacks were connected, after all. It would be too much of a coincidence otherwise.
Siegfried stirred, sitting up and finding that he was in another dark area with a spotlight. Or perhaps it was the same one that he had just left. In this bizarre dream world, anything seemed possible.
Slowly he raised a hand to his head. His father was gone now, which he was glad of. Something had just seemed . . . off the entire time they had been conversing. Certainly his father had been harsh, and often had said cruel things, but Siegfried never remembered him as being completely without remorse. Usually after an outburst, Aloysius would come to Siegfried and gruffly tell him that he wanted his son to grow up bitter and strong, and that was why he would say certain things to him. Siegfried still hated it when his father would take his anger and stress out on him—something that had happened all the more frequently after the man had started to go mad—but he had still cared about his father. Could he really accept that Aloysius had killed himself to purposely devastate Siegfried? He swallowed hard. Maybe all of this was the work of his own, ill mind. Perhaps he was following in his father's footsteps and going mad as well.
It actually felt like someone was here, watching him. He looked around wildly, not pleased. "Who is here?" he demanded. "Father?"
His own voice answered him. "No," came the laughing tones, "it's not. But you know me too, Siegfried von Schroider. After all, that is my name as well! I am you! And I am here to reminisce about Mother."
Siegfried felt a chill run up his spine. Again he cast his gaze around the area, but he could not see anyone. "That's ridiculous!" he cried. "This has to be a trick. You are lying." He clenched his fists. "You cannot be me!"
"You always think about how you failed Father," was the mocking reply in his voice, "but what about Mother? Did you fail her too?" There was a pause, followed by another laugh. "Oh no . . . you can't. You didn't fail her, after all. She wanted you to be skilled in social graces, to learn how to treat women well, and to be the life of any fancy party! And you can do all of that, can't you? Your problem is that you can't run the family business!"
Siegfried shook with anger. "Be quiet!" he yelled in vain. "You don't have any idea what you are talking about!" Oh yes, he had been able to do what his mother had wanted of him. He had become her precious social puppet, her way to being able to achieve her own little niche of fame. And he loathed her for it.
She had sometimes been harsh with Siegfried and with the servants, ordering them around mercilessly. And whenever Siegfried had protested, she had thrown crying fits and insisted that he did not appreciate what she did for him. He had not been able to say no when she had acted like that. After all, she was his mother and—as with his father—there was a certain bond that he had not been able to sever, even if he sometimes wanted to. Sometimes she had been kind to him, and he had clung to the memories of those times whenever she had acted nasty.
Of course he would not even exist if she had not brought him into the world. But there had been times when he had wondered if he should have been. It did not actually seem as though he had managed to accomplish anything of worth in his life. When his mind strayed to such thoughts, he always tried to quickly push them away. His father had first expressed those ideas years before, and Siegfried supposed that the seeds had been planted then. It was painful, to wonder if he truly did have a purpose and feeling as though he did not. He did have a purpose, he knew—as he had told his father, he had to be there for Leonhard. He could not let the child continue to grow up all alone.
"Mother loved roses, didn't she?"
Siegfried looked up again at the taunting voice, hatred in his sea green eyes. Yes, she had loved roses. They were her favorite flower, and she always made certain that a special array of dyed blue roses were kept in the front parlor. Siegfried would never forget coming in and seeing them there in a vase. When she had later become ill, the maids had taken to keeping the flowers in her room instead of in the parlor, where she would no longer be able to enjoy them.
"Isn't that why you keep roses around even now—to remember her by?"
"Nein! No!" Siegfried retorted, even though he knew it was partially true. He shuddered subconsciously, remembering the day he had entered the castle after a hard day at the office only to find blue roses scattered all over the floor and his mother Ingrid crumpled at the foot of the stairs. He had ran to her, confused, and found that she had passed out and that she had a fever. When the doctor had been called, he had informed Siegfried that the flu she had been battling had developed into pneumonia. Siegfried had been alarmed.
He gazed in disbelief as the shadows around him glowed and then began to depict scenes from his past. He saw the first social event Ingrid had taken him to, where he had been bored out of his mind. (That had been before he had learned how to tap into buildings' computers and toy with them.) He had been teased about his pink hair by another businessman's child, the insufferable Aldabella Friederich—and her father had even made a rude remark or two when no one else had been around. Ingrid had not even said anything in Siegfried's defense, telling him later that he had to endure whatever was thrown at him.
That was only a minor event, but Ingrid had applied the same philosophy to everything else. She had known that Aloysius had been working Siegfried too hard, even before he had begun the boy's "official" business training when Siegfried had turned thirteen, but she never said anything against it. Siegfried had sometimes wished she would, especially during times when he felt as though he was being forced to grow up all too soon or when he was so terribly exhausted that he had not known how he would ever manage to keep going, but she had been too afraid. At least that was how he saw it. Maybe she had known that she would not have had any success, but it annoyed him that she had never even tried at all.
And you ignored Leonhard, Mother, just as Father did, Siegfried thought bitterly, watching more of his memories play out. He saw himself carrying a stack of books while Leonhard ran after him, longing to be able to share time with him again. Then Ingrid had appeared at the door of the study, scolding Leonhard for "bothering" his brother. Siegfried had been angry, but he had not been allowed to reply—and it had been all he could do to keep the books from colliding to the floor.
If I had said something at that point, it would have been against what you and Father were doing, Siegfried mused now, gazing at the images of the disheartened Leonhard and of Ingrid turning away looking upset. If it bothered you to berate your own child in that way, Mother, why did you always do it? Why did you always ignore him unless you were going to scold him again? Why did you always allow me to be so overworked that I didn't even have the time or energy to be with him?
Unconsciously he was clenching a fist. To see these images from the past made him very angry, and seeing the sorrow in Ingrid's eyes only made it worse. He felt disgusted and confused, his mind in a muddle of emotions. He could not comprehend why Ingrid had helped add to the family's misery when she could have tried to change it. And even if she could not have changed Aloysius's mind, that had not been an excuse for ignoring poor Leonhard.
You were just like Father! Siegfried thought hatefully. You didn't see any worth in Leonhard, just as Father didn't! He was never worth any of your time or your soft, kind words. And you took me to your social parties because you knew that if you were there with the family heir, it would look all the better for you! You could try to make it appear that you were a wonderful, caring mother—but you were not! You never were! You were selfish and cowardly, and I am ashamed that you were my mother.
And then, just as in the past, he felt a prick of guilt for his words. The scene before him now showed a time when he—at age fifteen—had finally had enough and had screamed some of those very things at her. Her response had initially looked as though she would explode in anger, but then she had whirled around, crying softly as she had collapsed onto the couch. Her words from the past echoed around Siegfried now, and his eyes narrowed.
"You're always so ungrateful for everything I do!" her image wailed. "I can't help what your father does. He's raising you the way he feels best. He doesn't think you should have any distractions." She looked up, tears chasing each other down her faced as she looked absolutely forlorn.
"Oh, so my brother—your son!—is a distraction?" Siegfried's image retorted, and Siegfried of the present silently said the words along with him. Now, viewing the scene as an outsider, he could see the fury in his eyes. He would not doubt if that same fury was in his eyes again now.
"No!" Ingrid said emphatically, as if desperate to make Siegfried understand something that she did not understand herself. "But it's . . . it's better this way, Siegfried. When you take over the business, you won't be able to be with Leonhard anyway. You should both get used to it now." She gripped the back of the couch tightly, it almost looking as though it would split open under her wild yet shaking hold.
"For the love of Heaven, Leonhard is a child!" Siegfried screamed. "He is only six years old, and you and Father both ignore and avoid him like the plague!"
Again Ingrid looked stricken, and then she looked away, her shoulders still shaking as she sobbed. "It isn't that simple!" she insisted. "None of this is simple, Siegfried. Please, you must try to understand, your father . . ."
"Enough about my father! You're always hiding behind him, using him as your excuse!" Siegfried stepped back, looking put-out and feeling ready to leave this sorry scene behind him. The Siegfried who was watching the scene felt the same way. He did not need to see this again. He saw it plenty of times as it was, playing out in his mind.
Ingrid reached for him frantically. "Siegfried, you can't leave me! How can you talk back to your mother this way?" She trembled, and he gazed at her, his eyes flickering with the previous emotions and an added one as well—guilt. "I gave birth to you, I raised you, I've taught you the proper way to behave in society, and all I ever hear from you is your anger, your bitterness, and your hatred!"
"You are a coward, Mother!" Siegfried snapped then, turning to leave. But he froze as he felt her grab at the back of his jacket.
"Siegfried, please . . . don't leave me. . . ." Her voice shook, a bit of fear creeping into it now.
Slowly Siegfried turned back to face her. He gazed at her in silence for a long time and then gently brushed her tears away with his fingers. "I'm sorry, Mother," he said softly. "I'm still angry with you, but . . . I'm sorry, as well."
Siegfried watched as the scene faded, glowering at both of the figures. "She was a coward," he uttered quietly in the darkness, "but I was foolish. I should not have relented so many times, allowing her to have her way. I always stayed firm to what I believed and was angry with her because of how she handled matters, and yet I was weak in my own way." He clenched a fist. "Whenever she would cry . . . I would feel so ashamed for speaking harshly to her." And yet . . . did she ever even appreciate how I would give in and apologize, honestly feeling sorry, or how I tried to help take care of her when she grew ill? It wasn't true that the only things she ever received from me were anger, bitterness, and hatred. But that seemed to be all that she could see.
"You can't be angry and yet love the offender at the same time?" his doppelganger purred, hiding within the shadows. "You were in turmoil, Siegfried von Schroider. And you're only human. You love both of our parents, in spite of how you disagree with the ways both of them behaved. They are the only parents you have, after all, and you feel certain ties to both of them. That's normal. It doesn't make you weak."
"Then what does it make me?" Siegfried asked acidly.
"An obnoxious businessman with a beating heart," was the reply, and Siegfried was almost certain that his counterpart was smirking. "You can try to make it look as though you don't care, but the truth is that you care very much, don't you. And you long for Father's approval so badly. You want his acceptance, even though you know he can't give it to you now. But here is an interesting question. What do you want of Mother?"
Siegfried let the query sink in, pondering over it in his mind. "I wanted her to recognize that I am more than a showpiece for her to display," he said quietly. "I wanted her to treat me the way the mother should treat her child. And . . . I wanted her to pay attention to Leonhard." He clenched a fist. "She never did. He has never known love from either of our parents, though I can't say that I have, either." It bothered him at times, but he tried not to dwell on it as much as he had when he had been younger. He had accepted that he would never know the love that many other children received, and occasionally he wondered what it would be like, but he had the love of his younger brother—and that was good enough for him.
"Maybe," the other him mused, "it was your own fault. You were too submissive, too quiet. Then, when you finally had enough and would speak out, it would be a shock to them and it would only make them angry. And your heart is too soft. It's broken easily, is it not? You can't stand the rejection and the lack of understanding you received from your parents, and you decided to distance yourself from everyone by putting up an obnoxious front. After all, you were always told to be strong, to be the best, to never let up, and for anyone to see how lost and alone you feel would be a sin."
"Be quiet!" Siegfried yelled. He had gone through quite enough of this. He was tired of this strange world and he wanted to be let out. He wanted to go back home to Leonhard and to not have to watch these painful memories be dredged up again. They were past and gone, and he wanted them to be buried.
There was a soft laugh from the shadows. "But you see, I am you," was the answer. "I'm not actually talking at all. It's you. It's your own heart and soul, and your pain, that's talking. This is everything you believe about yourself. You can hide it away, you can try to lock it up and throw away the key, but it won't work. You can never throw the key far enough away, because as a boomerang, it will always return to you. Your past, filled with so much confusion and sorrow, can never be locked away. You take it out and examine it every day, wondering exactly what you did wrong and how to fix it. And you can never find the answer."
Siegfried fell to his knees. He knew that it was true. All of it was true. And, once he admitted this to himself, the scene started to fade. Suddenly he became aware of his brother calling to him. When he tried, he was able to force his eyes open. The light that greeted him was dazzling, and he had to blink repeatedly to attempt to focus.
"Elder brother!" Leonhard exclaimed in ecstasy, leaning over the bed into his brother's line of vision. Siegfried could see that the child was feeling pure joy over his awakening, and he tried to smile weakly. Leonhard clasped the man's hand firmly, holding it between his own as happy tears came to his eyes.
"I thought you would never wake up," he said softly, his voice cracking. "I was so afraid of losing you. . . ." The doctor had believed that Siegfried would recover if he could just regain consciousness, and now he had. Leonhard could see that his brother was alert, too, even though he was still weakened and weary. Siegfried was smiling at him, his eyes gentle and kind. Everything was going to be alright now. Leonhard was certain of it, and he said a silent prayer of gratitude.
Siegfried did not have the strength to speak at this point, but his eyes said all that needed to be said. Leonhard would not lose him, not tonight. He would get better. He slowly let his eyes close again, smiling softly as he felt Leonhard give him a gentle hug.
Now he fell to musing silently to himself. He had been lost in the labyrinth of his mind that entire time, he realized, and he had not truly seen his father. He had seen what his fears were about his father, and he still did not know the truth surrounding Aloysius's death. But perhaps, that was better than discovering that his fears were actually true. He did not know if he could bear to truly discover that.
He wondered what had happened to the man who had tried to kill him, and if he would be caught. The would-be murderer had been a disturbed fanatic, believing that it was his duty and privilege to kill those whom he felt deserved death. But Siegfried had not died. He wondered why, remembering bits and pieces of his out-of-body experience and of seeing Brunnhilde as he drifted back into a thankfully peaceful sleep. Perhaps he would never know why. Of course, it did not truly matter. All that mattered was that he had, indeed, been given another chance.