It was strange how much harder the decision to leave became as the actual parting moment drew closer. Mokuba lay the plane ticket on the table, scowled at the deadline that was approaching, and scowled deeper when he stared at the familiar walls. Swallowing hard, Mokuba folded his arms in frustration. It was a simple flight, and being a Kaiba, he had more than enough money to fly back here if he was unhappy, if it didn't work out...

It was more uncertainty, more tormented nagging of his own thoughts that seemed to do little more than wind himself in an endless noose composed of loss and grief and time. Grimly, Mokuba folded another shirt and dumped it into the open suitcase,
the activity not providing any of the distraction he so craved at the moment. Had it only been three months since Seto's death? Had it been that long?

Mokuba's head was throbbing now. Grief, he knew now, had no deadline in ending. Time was a funny thing, too. When Seto was alive, it seemed to speed by so bitterly fast, until it took him away and Mokuba was left alone with the ending, and the aftermath. Time seemed to be frozen within the walls of the mansion, as well. that aching loss still felt raw and unending, an amputation of his soul that still bled.

Three months. Technically, three months and four days, but Mokuba saw little point in counting the exact moments. Though he was far more free with his emotions than Seto could ever be, Mokuba's easy smile cloaked a core of Kaiba steel when needed.
Many had commented on how 'brave' the last Kaiba was when he put on a stoic, polite smile for the press conference, plastered on like a slab of iron over a broken bone. Nailed on like a mask. He was tall enough and far enough from the cameras to hide the trembling of his hands, and the tears in his eyes as he bowed his head, let the dark hair fall like a curtain, and slowly, read the prepared statement under the glare of lights and camera flashes....

"It is my unfortunate duty to announce to you all that Seto Kaiba, President of KaibaCorps, died at his home after a long illness. He was thirty-three. Production of KaibaCorps will not be affected by this very tragic event. Please respect the privacy of his loved ones during this painful time, and let them grive without undue interferance. Thank you."

With that, Mokuba abruptly turned on his heel, and ignored the whining roar of invasive press hounds, the bright flashes of light, the demands for answers he didn't have. He didn't look back at the reporters, paid no heed to the fire he left in his wake, said nothing more than a polite thank you to Roland as he was escorted into the black limo and swept far away from that horrendous moment. Roland had hastily shut the door behind him as he ducked in behind Mokuba. Mokuba's lips quaked in amusement as Roland snarled at the clogged street, and the pounding of fists on the windows.

"Blood-sucking parasites have no respect. Drive!" He barked the order to the limo driver, and only eased when he felt the car slowly negotioting the way through the throngs of the crowd. Seeing Mokuba's withered, white trembling, he turned back to the younger man, and shook his head, apologetically. "My apologies, Mr. Kaiba."

Mokuba's lips tightened in fleeting anger, and then resignation, as he looked back at the throngs of parasites behind them.

"I could never understand why Seto was in such a foul mood after a press conference, until now, Roland. He must have felt like he was being eaten alive." Mokuba blanched as soon as the words left his mouth. Rolland only sighed, and grimaced at the flashing cameras before he turned back to Mokuba.

"Are you alright, Mr. Kaiba?" The concern was comforting, but Mokuba honestly didn't have the patience for long reassurances at the moment.

Mokuba shrugged, tiredly. "I don't know if I'll ever be 'alright,' Roland, but at least *that* part is over with, thank God.
I'd like to head home, please."

That conference had been only four days after Seto's funeral. Seto had the foresight to insure that his service was as private and healing and sheltered as well as he could. The actual ceremony had been brief, but appropriate. It had been a teary blur to Mokuba, words droning on, drowning in his ears, while he sat in the first row and stared down at his brother's corpse.
For the life of him, the emptiness around him, Mokuba could not make it compute that the corpse in the casket and that aching, glaring absense of his brother meant that Seto had died. He knew it, he knew it more deeply than words could say. He just...couldn't feel it. Indeed, he felt nothing but raw, numb torpor. Ice freezing over the pain. Bewildered acceptance of reality before the world and the terrible denial ended, and the endless reasons and whys doing nothing to heal him.

That press conference was the only bit of torture Mokuba forced upon himself. By then, he knew that speculation and rumors had blossomed just like the cancer that had claimed his brother. He seldom watched television, hardly read the papers, and mostly kept himself shielded away in the mansion, only venturing out at the greatest need, and then, only for a few moments.

Days, moments, memories. Mokuba drifted like a ghost over the abyss of the life he and Seto used to have. Sheltered by the walls, remembering the pain, saying the good-byes and still not knowing how to let any of it go. He lingered, needlessly over so many photographs, the memories replaying in his torpid mind like an endless loop. He heard Seto's voice, he remembered Seto's pain, sacrifice, and felt himself miserably inadequate to live with that as well.

He ate what he could choke down, he drank what was necessary, and he lived feeling like he was spent and raw and over with, though he was only 25.

Another troubled night of twisting in the sheets, and wrestling for the sleep he could not find. Mokuba slid his blurred eyes open to stare at the uninteresting ceiling, popped a bitter fist into the fluff of his pillow, before he curled up again, and yanked the quilts over his head.

Sighing, Mokuba sat up and rubbed his eyes and slid out of bed, flinched at the cold floor beneath his feet. With a grunt, he donned socks, and a robe, before he rose out of the bed. He knew he wasn't going to get any sleep tonight, anyway.

The hallway was lit by the accent lights, cheery against the black abysmal sky outside, the rug soft beneith him as he wearily trudged down the familiar path he had taken so many times during the last year. Strange how it seemed so long, and endless, though it only took him a few seconds to halt and hesitate, just as he always did before entering this place..again.

The door to Seto's room. The door knob felt cold and uninviting to his shaking fingers, the shadows seemed hungry and waiting, and the strange groan of the wood seemed loud as gunfire in the silence as Mokuba took a shaking breath and opened it, forced himself to step in.

It was the room that Seto had lived and died in, unchanged except for the occasional cleaning. It was here that Mokuba found the most solace and the most hurt. It was here that Mokuba felt the closest to Seto, and if he closed his eyes and indulged in the longing long enough, could pretend that his big brother was coming back.

The furnishings were comfortable, and inviting, nothing like the bloated, austere tastes of Gozaburo, or the brickabrack that Mokuba favored. No, here it was completely Seto. The small fire place that flooded the room with warmth and light. The overstuffed indigo chair where Seto had huddled to muse by the flames as he scribbled out his musings in the leather bound journal that was still resting on the side table. The bed, with its velour blankets, in shades of cerilian and navy, and that huge quilt that Seto had wrapped himself in more times that Mokuba cared to remember.

Seto's journal. The leather was soft beneith Mokuba's fingers as he ran his fingers over the cover, and bit his lip to keep back the tears. In time, he had promised himself to read the thing from cover to cover. Seto himself had told him he had taken to journal writing to give him 'a written record of my words when I'm no longer here." Mokuba seldom ventured to read it, found it unbearable during the first weeks. The agony was raw and far too fresh for him to do more than hold it in his shaking hands, and weep. Mokuba had tried, of course. But Seto's elegant, swirling script had always blurred too much to be read, and the words just hurt too much. That was a month ago. Now, with nothing but time and emptiness, Mokuba's longing had swung back and forth between wanting nothing more than to wrap himself in whatever bit Seto left him for the comfort and the forgetting of his absence. On those days, he would clutch the journal to him, wile away the hours pouring over pictures, letting the memories come back unabated. Other days, he found himself feeling trapped as an animal in a cage, the silence strangling, and the walls closing in. On those strange days, he'd just zip up his jacket, pack his cell phone, and drive away from the grounds, not having a direction, not having any reason other than he had to get away. It was enough to blast the music, to feel the roar of the engine, to see the sky shifting through the tinted windows, and the mansion disapear for a few hours of distraction.

It was a strange existance, alternating between hunted recluse and unobtrusive ghost as he wondered the halls or Domino City with equally aimless direction, in either path.

And now, after three months of doing little more than wallow, however justified, Mokuba awoke with bright realization and disgust with himself for doing absolutely nothing. He tossed the sheets away, grunted as he rose, shook off sleep like an old hound. Seto would probably be ashamed of him catering to so much pain and doing nothing about it...or maybe his brother would have understood and let him understood him better than anybody, and never hated his younger sibling for his own volitility that was in such contrast to Seto's iron will and restraint. Mokuba smirked at the thought, and realized with a bit of a start that he had thought of Seto without that animalistic instinct to claw down the sky itself and bring Seto back.

It would have been useless, and cruel, even if he could. To force Seto's bright, fierce spirit back into that broken wreck of a body, to inflict so much more pain, and snatch him out of was perverse.

It was a breaking moment of clarity, when he held that journal in his trembling hands and settled himself into Seto's chair, carefully turning the pages, forced himself to read the same words again. It was a dull ache, and not an overwhelming agony for the first time in God only knew how long.