Before I begin, let me give a special thanks to dirtyghettokids for inspiring this piece.
Her story, "Arrogance," brought to light a simple fact: in the many years I've written the Kaiba brothers, I've never once pushed the clock forward. I've never written a story set in a time when Seto and Mokuba are both adults, on more or less equal footing in terms of maturity. After reading this story (wherein Mokuba is about 15), I thought I should expand my repertoire and give it a try. It's out of my comfort zone, but that's part of the point. I've always thought that the relationship between my favorite fictional siblings as adults would be bittersweet at best, and that's part of the reason I never tried it. It's probably also the reason I chose such a...well, macabre backbone on which to set this piece. Nonetheless, I like how it's turned out. I hope you do, too.
Thanks a million, dirtyghettokids. You've taught me something.
And everyone, go read, "Arrogance." You won't regret it.
For the first time in the untold years he'd studied this face—burned it into his memory and kept it safe and secure in what remained of his heart—he saw his father in it.
Not the father they both remembered; no. That face was buried and desecrated and if he had his way, no one would ever see it again. It was the father only he remembered that he saw in that lined, grieving face now. And it scared the holy hell out of him.
He was a Kaiba. And Kaibas don't get scared. That was the Golden Rule, and it never did him any good when he forgot it; in fact, it inevitably led to the worst mistakes of his life. Everything wrong he'd ever done, every misstep he'd ever taken, had come from forgetting that rule: Kaibas don't get scared.
But he'd been a Kaiba for so long, and it was growing tiresome. He supposed that had something to do with the increasing number of slips over the past few years.
That didn't matter right now. What mattered is that his brother was grieving, and it was in a way that only the father whose ghost was in his face could have understood. He, himself, understood most things. Far better than the vast majority of the circus troupe people called his peers. But he didn't understand this.
"It was…it was just a stupid…fucking intersection!" Mokuba Kaiba growled, holding his head in his hands and trying to bury his tears in anger. "What kind of garbage is that? What the hell did she do to deserve this?"
Seto Kaiba didn't answer. His brother didn't want him to answer. He just wanted his brother to listen. He wanted, needed, his brother to understand. And Seto was patient. More patient than he would ever be with anyone else.
"It would've been one thing if it'd been illness or something," the younger Kaiba continued, pulling at his tie and wrenching it off in a spasm of fury. "I could've prepared for that. I could've prepared the kids for that. But this? What the fuck do I do with this?"
And now Seto realized that Mokuba wasn't looking for solace. He wasn't looking for the quiet reassurance of a friend or even a brother. He was reverting back to the way things had been so many years ago. He was looking for answers, and coming for them the only way he knew how.
Seto wondered how long it had been since he had worn the mantle of, "Niisama," and felt a sudden sick disgust rise up in him at the same precise moment that the bloom of relief and…happiness spread through his entire body. He wanted to vomit. He wanted to scream. He wanted to cry.
But he didn't do any of those things.
He kept his voice steady and his face untouchable, and he said, "…Move. Act. Find what solace you can, in whatever form you have. Remember what you have to do, remember why you're here. Remember what she would expect you to do…and do it."
The words didn't feel like his. They tumbled out of his head and onto his tongue, and the absurd visual metaphor of a gumball machine popped up in his mind, and he had to wonder what color, what flavor, this advice would turn out to be.
Mokuba looked at him. "And how…how do I get rid of…the hole?" He gestured to his chest, and his eyes squinted, hard and steely like Seto's own but filled with the torrential flood of emotion he'd always had. Tears sprang from that grey-violet gleam, and Seto felt a spasm of agony that defied understanding. "How do I…how do I move? Niisama…how do I…not die?"
There it was.
And Mokuba was crying now. Falling against his brother as if his body couldn't support him anymore, and he let out a keening wail that sounded like blinding white lightning. Seto put an arm around the younger man's shaking, heaving shoulders, and remembered: Kaibas don't get scared.
"You live because they need you to live," Seto said, haunted. "When you feel like you have nothing to sustain you, when you feel like suicide isn't even a choice anymore, it's a biological necessity…when you feel like your heart will explode and your mind will melt for the fire eating you alive…you live for no better reason than that they need you to live."
Mokuba kept sobbing, kept screaming in grief and fury, and Seto tightened his grip on him. If Mokuba couldn't keep hold of himself, then Seto would keep hold of him. That was his job, after all. It was the only job that had ever mattered to him.
When he finally remembered the iron in his blood, the steel in his spine, Mokuba quieted. And when he spoke, his voice was quiet, low, deep and gravelly like his brother's. It was clear. "…You've felt this before…haven't you?"
Seto looked out at the Kaiba Estate, at his own home, his empty home, from the porch of his brother's mansion. And he said, "…No. Our father felt it. Our father was crippled by it. And our father was killed by it. He left his children for the kind of comfort you can only find under a headstone, left them to scratch and claw their way through the world."
"...You made it."
"We made it." He could hear his father in Mokuba's voice now, and sudden anger cleared his vision. The haze of confused disgust left him, and there was nothing but the job. Niisama's job. He pulled away from his brother's crumpled, disheveled form and stood up.
Mokuba was tall now. Only an inch shorter than Seto himself. But right now he looked tiny. His slacks were dull and faded, his shirt half-buttoned. One shoe was untied, and the jacket was ripped. He was pitiful, and all of a sudden it made Seto Kaiba furious to look at him.
Mokuba stared up at his brother, grey-violet eyes wide and big and glistening, like they'd been when he was four years old and asking to sleep with Nii'tama because the bad monsters couldn't get him there, and Seto wanted to slap him.
He said, instead, "You will listen to me, Mokuba. I will take no argument, I will tolerate no excuses. You will listen to me. Is that clear?"
Mokuba was twenty-two years old, but all of a sudden he was a boy again, snapping to attention because Niisama was mad, and you did not ignore Niisama when he was mad. The tears cleared from those eyes, and his breath stopped hiccupping.
"Don't you dare fall off the tightrope now," Seto said, his voice like a whip-crack. "If you've ever respected me, if you've ever listened to a single word I've said to you, you will not stumble now. Our father was weak. Pathetic. Oh, he worked sixteen hours a day at two jobs, and he was a damned good worker. But he was weak just the same. He stumbled home at eleven at night looking like a crippled horse, dragging his feet and hunched over like the weight of the air above his head was just too much to bear. And he collapsed. He said six words to me in a given month, maybe three to you."
Seto seethed. "I need you to answer something, Mokuba. In all the years you've known me, in all the time I've worked sixteen-hour days and come home after midnight, have I once dragged my feet? Did I once stumble past your bedroom in a fatigued stupor without a word?"
The younger Kaiba didn't speak. He only shook his head.
Seto's cobalt eyes blazed. "I did not go through that just to see you crumble. I did not raise you to succumb to weakness. If you and Amaya had still been living alone in this house, you can be damned sure that I would be stupid and tell you to cry it out. I would hold you like you were five years old and I would stroke your hair and tell you everything will be all right, Niisama will fix everything. But you weren't alone in this house, and you aren't alone now." Each word sent Mokuba staggering, and he looked like he could barely sit up straight anymore. The more Seto spoke, the more every pent-up emotion he'd ever choked down came rising up his throat like acid, too furious to be held anymore. That pleasure he'd felt at being Niisama again was incinerated, and replaced by white-hot rage. "You don't have time to pity yourself. You don't have time to be selfish. You are not our father, you are not a Yagami. Your blood comes from the woman who suffered and died to bring you into the world with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, and you will not disgrace her memory! Do you hear me?"
And he did.
The cold steel of a Kaiba entered Mokuba's eyes. His body straightened. With quick, sharp, confident movements, he tied his shoe, straightened and buttoned his shirt. He retrieved and replaced his tie, buttoned his jacket, and stood. Smoothly, without fear. He looked at his brother.
"…Yes, Niisama. I hear you."
And in the same flash that had brought it out, anger was replaced by horror, and Seto felt his legs threatening to give out.
What the hell is the matter with you? a voice entered his mind that sounded oddly like the boy he'd once been. The boy who had changed this man's diapers, who had hugged this man and kissed his forehead every day before school, who had taught this man to walk, to talk, to live.
His wife was just murdered, you idiot! Run down like a dog in the street! He's still grieving over something you'll never understand, he comes to you for comfort and help, and you shovel this shit onto him?
But he realized that it was too late now.
He could no more apologize than he could turn back time and stop himself.
He nodded, pushing the loathsome, hate-blackened voice down and burying it, and he said, "Good. Yuki is out of school in fifteen minutes, and Seiji's playdate will be over in twenty-five. Go."
Mokuba nodded, and the ghost of a smile rose on his lips.
As he strode away, Seto turned back and gave the closest thing to an apology that he could ever muster: "Remember this, Mokuba. I will always be your Niisama. To the day I die, if you call for me, I will be there. But you can't afford to be my little brother anymore, any more than I could afford to be my mother's son. You're a father now. Act like one."
"I know, Niisama."
"I'm proud of you, Mokuba. I love you."
"…I know, Niisama."
Seto nodded, satisfied. "Get out of here." Mokuba nodded, straightened his jacket, and walked away. His strides were long, quick. He was gone before Seto fully realized it. The elder Kaiba looked down at the watch on his left wrist, and sighed. He pulled a phone out of one pocket.
"…Let me handle the rest," he murmured, and couldn't help but hate himself.
"So pleased that you decided to grace me with a visit."
Roland Ackerman had liked Amaya Kaiba. He had liked her a great deal. She'd been fiery, confident; when she entered a room, no eye could ignore her for long. Her voice had brought life to the Kaiba Estate like none other ever had.
Even Seto, who never smiled for anything anymore, had approved of her. They'd come to an agreement almost immediately. He could still remember what she'd said to him, that first time Mokuba had brought her home, when he'd looked her straight in the eye and said, "What makes you think you're good enough for my brother?"
Amaya had said, without batting an eyelash. "I'm still trying to decide if he's good enough for me, thank you very much." And she'd bowed. "Yoroshiku-onegaishimasu, Kaiba-sama."
And Seto had laughed.
And when she'd given birth to the first child of the Kaiba family since Mokuba had grown out of the Earrings-and-Skateboards phase of his adolescence, she had insisted that Seto be the first to hold little Yuki, before even her father.
Mokuba had agreed without a thought.
Roland could still remember how his employer had looked, holding his infant niece in his arms, listening to his brother tell him that it was only fitting; it was only because of Niisama that this tiny miracle was even here.
Seto had been the first to hold Seiji, too.
Roland had wondered at first whether or not the eldest Kaiba would shut down and collapse in on himself when his brother started growing into his own life. It had been a very real fear, and he still didn't quite understand what had happened to prevent it. But when it became clear that Mokuba had no intentions of ever keeping his brother out of his life, he thought that Seto had…calmed. He'd begun to smile more. Amaya made both Kaiba brothers happy; somehow, someway, she'd brought out the best in them both.
When Roland thought of what life was going to be like, now that she was gone; now that her beloved husband, her doting brother-in-law, and her painfully young children would have to live without her, a fury unlike anything welled up in him.
And that, he thought, was why he was here.
He didn't know who Jeremiah Altschul was, and in all honesty didn't care. All he knew was that this level of arrogance in Domino City just didn't work. JA Tools & Engineering was a rising empire, that much was irrefutable, but the sniveling little insect thought himself on a level with the most powerful family in the northern hemisphere, and the insult was keenly felt by every member of the Kaiba dynasty.
This was the rodent responsible for the silence that permeated the estate where Roland had made his living since his nineteenth birthday, forty-four years ago; this was the parasite who thought he could commit cold-blooded murder in Seto Kaiba's city without a care in the world.
"…So, you're not even going to admit it," Roland said.
"Admit what?" Altschul asked innocently.
"Playing stupid doesn't work here," Roland replied scathingly. "Not with us."
He had the gall to look exasperated. Some part of Roland was pleased. "Ah, yes. Power by proxy. You think because your boss had power and influence in his heyday that you have it, too. A fascinating fallacy. Listen, Ackerman. It is Ackerman, isn't it?"
Altschul leaned forward. "Mokuba Kaiba is soft. He's not convinced of anything, because he likes to give people the…benefit of the doubt. It's almost cute. The Kaiba family used to be ruthless, I'll give you that. But Gozaburo is dead, and Seto's given up. So really…what game do you think you're playing?"
He found a smile. "How you made it as far as you have while being such an abject idiot is beyond me. The people you've wrangled into working for you must be geniuses."
"Seto Kaiba didn't receive power and influence from his position. He brought it to the position. And if you think he's lost any amount of loyalty and respect from this city by allowing his brother to step up as the head of the company, if you think he's given up anything, then you're just as stupid as you look."
Altschul was angry now. He could see it. "I think you need to leave, Ackerman."
"You're probably right," Roland said.
He drew a silenced pistol from his jacket and leveled it just between Altschul's eyes.
"The police will be here any minute."
The Japanese phrase, "Yoroshiku-onegaishimasu," for the uninitiated, can be treated in this instance as meaning something like: "Please treat me kindly," or, "Pleased to meet you."
As befitting its inspiration, a major theme of this particular piece is arrogance. Vengeance is another, love yet another. But perhaps the theme of the story is survival. As those who have read my other works know, I theorize that the Kaibas' biological mother (Yuki) died mere hours after giving birth to Mokuba, and that this loss sent their father (Kohaku) into a self-destructive spiral that ended in suicide. It is Seto's intention to ensure his brother does not fall into that trap, no matter the cost.
Some extra info: Seto is 30 years old in this piece, and Mokuba (as mentioned in the narrative) is 22. Roland (Isano, if you prefer) is 63 or so; Mokuba's children are 4 (Yuki) and 2 (Seiji) respectively.
I hope that you enjoyed this, sad as it might be, and always remember: never cross a Kaiba.