This whole mini-arc is just me exploring various character dynamics. To be sure, I haven't the faintest idea exactly how I'm going to wrap it up, but I'm going to get my money's worth of the experiment, so to speak, before I do.

I guess I'm just saying: this arc may conclude a bit more shortly than I would like, given the nature of this project. B.E.V.E. is supposed to be a oneshot collection, after all. So eventually I want to get back to that.

But in the meantime, there's some … fun stuff going on.

And by fun, I mean controversial. You have been warned.


1.


Mokuba didn't want to admit to himself just how much his opinion of Kaiba shifted—yet again—as soon as he watched the man handle a gun. He shifted his jacket and pulled a pistol from a shoulder holster, studied it for a while. What precisely he was checking for, Mokuba couldn't guess. But after a while, Kaiba was apparently satisfied, because he nodded to himself and slipped it back into place.

Familiarity with a weapon wasn't something you could fake. Not to the level that Kaiba so obviously had, and not with someone like Mokuba watching him. Everything from the way he held himself when he carried it in his hand, to the model of his pistol, to the expression on his face as he'd inspected it, all painted a very specific picture.

Kaiba did not carry a firearm for the fun of it.

"I half-expected you to duel your way through this," Mokuba offered, hoping that his tone was at least a little bit lighter. It was as close to an olive branch as he felt capable of offering at this stage in their . . . relationship.

"I tried that the first time," Kaiba murmured, obviously lost in his own head. "It took too long, and carried too many risks." He slipped a hand into an inside pocket of his jacket and removed a dueling deck. "These cards hold power," he said, sounding like he didn't really want to admit it, "and there's no question that Dartz and his cronies know full well how to harness it. But I'm not interested in playing by their rules. Not this time."

He pocketed the cards again. Turning his full attention to Mokuba, he said: "One of the . . . musketeers is particularly gifted with disguises. Keep a sharp eye on everyone around you. If anyone does anything out of the ordinary, don't discount it. Mark it. Prepare yourself."

Mokuba smirked. "It will be hard, pretending to be paranoid, but I'm sure I'll manage."

Kaiba offered a smirk of his own. "I'm sure you will." Then it disappeared, and he grunted. "Speaking of paranoia . . ."

He turned to Mokie. "Come here, kid."

Mokie did as asked, dutifully, but he looked confused and more than a little concerned. "Niisama? What's up? You look like you wanna throw up."

Kaiba drew in a heavy breath, and knelt down. Lifting up the leg of his slacks to reveal a second pistol—this one compact and built specifically to be concealed—he pulled it out and gave it a once-over. Satisfied, he held it out. "Do you remember what you've been taught?" he asked.

Mokie, staring at the gun in his brother's hand, nodded shakily. "Yes, Niisama."

"Do not point this at anything, literally anything, that you do not intend to kill."

Mokie made a point of lifting his gaze to lock onto his brother's. ". . . Yes, Niisama."

Kaiba nodded as Mokie took hold of the gun, mimicked his brother's various inspections, and tucked it inside the waistband of his jeans. "I would have preferred to have a holster for you," Kaiba muttered, "but I hadn't expected to have to do this today. Be. Careful."

"Yes, Niisama."

Mokuba sighed heavily. Ten thousand different alarms were going off in his head, but he silenced them. "I'm sure we can outfit him properly," he said, causing Kaiba to stand up and turn. "I'd ask if you're absolutely sure it's necessary to . . . arm him. But I'm going to venture a wild guess and say you'd have avoided this entirely if it weren't." He paused. "And no, Seto, before you ask. This doesn't mean you're getting a weapon. You haven't been trained."

"Oh, and he has?" Seto pouted, glaring at Mokie; the older boy, for his part, didn't respond. He looked entirely too distracted by entirely too many thoughts.

"Yes," Mokuba and Kaiba said at the same time.

"How do you know?" Seto demanded of his brother.

Mokuba smiled, a little sadly. "Only someone who's been made intimately familiar with a gun looks that miserable about carrying one."


2.


By the way they acted, it was clear that Yugi and his company hadn't ever been invited into these Kaibas' home before. Kaiba took note of this in the same way he'd taken note of practically everything since this whole experiment had started: silently.

Noa was staying near Mokie; in fact, he was practically fused to his brother's side. Seto alternated between hovering near his own sibling, and every once in a while venturing over to the other boys. He seemed fascinated by Noa in particular. Mokuba didn't specifically discourage his young charge's curiosity, but it was clear that he was still unnerved.

Kaiba, upon receiving the laptop computer he'd requested as soon as he entered the building, immediately sat down and set to work.

"His name is Alister," Kaiba said, as Mokuba sat down. Mokuba, for his part, closed his mouth against the question he'd been about to ask. "He's convinced of two things, and that conviction is your worst enemy. One: he's convinced that Gozaburo Kaiba was responsible for his brother's death. He wasn't, by the way. Two: he's convinced that the two of you are equally responsible." He glanced over. "I trust you're getting the picture here."

Mokuba grimaced. "He's batshit."

"Basically. The other two are less of a problem," he muttered, "but not by much. They're all short-sighted, nihilistic zealots, and Dartz has his hooks in them." So he continued, offering up everything he could remember about his own experiences with the Doma Organization and its various bouts of fuckery.

All the while, his fingers flew across the keyboard of the computer in front of him, though it was impossible for anyone else to tell what he was checking. Truth be told, even Kaiba wouldn't have been able to properly articulate what he was doing. Well, he would have, but it wouldn't have been useful to anyone else.

Everything wasn't a very useful answer when asked what you were looking for.

"Hey, Niisama." Kaiba looked up. Mokie plucked up a little box from an end table by the front door, and waggled it around. "Check this out."

It was a game, and Kaiba could see a Kaiba-Corp logo emblazoned in the corner of it; a Kaiba-Corp logo, but certainly not his own. He quirked an eyebrow. The game was called Trials III: The Last Train to Tomorrow, a title that meant absolutely nothing to him.

"Huh."

"Um." Yugi put up a hand. "If I could . . . ask a question."

Kaiba made a quiet, inquisitive sound in his throat.

"If these . . . if this Doma Organization has so much power, and that power is . . . magical. Um. How are you going to . . . how are we going to . . . make a difference?"

Kaiba smirked. "The same way you always do. By the skin of your teeth. Don't mistake me. Defeating these people wasn't easy back home. It won't be easy here." He snapped the laptop shut and stood up. "I trust you've fought tooth and nail to make it where you are." He turned to glance at Mokuba. "Correct?"

"I assume you're talking about Crawford. And Ishtar."

Kaiba gave a slight nod. "Exactly."

"Then yes. Yes, we have."

"Prepare yourselves to do it again. It's that simple. Fight. Endure. Live."

He turned back to the others. They were all looking at him with something like awe, which might have confused him if not for the fact that sheer desensitization had rendered him more than a little numb to the effects of magic. These people were used to Seto Kaiba the precocious heir.

Not Seto Kaiba the iron-wrought guardian.

Joey crossed his arms. "Oi. Got a question myself, there, Tall Seto."

Kaiba smirked. "I'm listening."

"You had training? Like our Kaiba? Like. You been tempered?"

Kaiba turned his gaze back toward Mokuba, looked him up and down. His stance. His face. His presence.

". . . Not quite."

Mokuba frowned. "What do you mean, not quite?"

"Which of the two of you did Gozaburo want."

Mokuba didn't flinch, but his eyes flared. He said, through clenched teeth: "Seto."

Kaiba grimaced. Mokie spoke up: "He never cared about me. He wanted Niisama. He took me because it was the only way to get him."

Mokuba drew in a breath. "Hm."

"He trained you to protect. To guard. He trained you to be a shield. His prized heir was too young to mold, so at least he would be unsullied. Untouched. Because of you. He prepared you to fight, to bite, to claw and scratch . . . and die, if you had to."

"Pretty much." Mokuba raised an eyebrow. "What did he prepare you for?"

". . . To burn down the world."