A/N: This is my entry for the second round of the Yugioh fanfiction contest, season 9.75. I was worried when I saw this pairing on my list, and by that I mean, I said, "Who the heck is Siegfried von Schroeder?" I've read the manga, but I've only seen part of the anime, after all. So! In preparation to write this, I watched the Grand Prix arc, and now I'm really glad axisshipping was given to me. Siegfried is an interesting character, and Leon is just precious.
This story takes place in the canon universe, with two important changes. One is obvious enough; the second is that Siegfried and Seto never met at the dinner party shown in the anime.
Nezumi Means Rat
It's warm here, Seto thought, rooted to his spot in front of the fireplace. It's warm and cozy, and the rest of the orphanage is drafty. If the door doesn't close soon, everyone will get sick. He already felt a little feverish as he stared straight across the room at the group gathered in the doorway. A mother and a father, a little boy and then- "Mokuba," he whispered. The mother took Mokuba's hand, but he looked over his shoulder at Seto with wide eyes and tried to pull away. Seto shook his head, fixing his younger brother with a stern look. Even when Mokuba started to tear up, Seto didn't go to him. He thought if he tried to move, he'd collapse, or worse, succeed in getting to Mokuba and convincing the family not to take him away. The door closed on Mokuba's cries.
"Mokuba," he whispered. The mother took Mokuba's hand, but he looked over his shoulder at Seto with wide eyes and tried to pull away. Seto shook his head, fixing his younger brother with a stern look. Even when Mokuba started to tear up, Seto didn't go to him. He thought if he tried to move, he'd collapse, or worse, succeed in getting to Mokuba and convincing the family not to take him away.
The door closed on Mokuba's cries.It's for the best, Seto told himself. The family only wanted to adopt one child. They were a good family; they would give Mokuba a life of opportunities. Seto could sacrifice his personal feelings for Mokuba's sake. He could swallow back his own tears as he dimly noticed there was no warmth from the fireplace anymore. Maybe it had never been the source of warmth for him.
"Where should we go now, Mokuba?"
Mokuba wiped a drop of sweat from his forehead. This was possibly the hottest summer he'd ever experienced, which sounded impressive until he reminded himself that he was just eleven. His brother Leon noticed his discomfort and offered him a spare tie for his hair.
He thanked him and pulled his hair up in a similar fashion. "Um, let's see. Why don't we eat at that restaurant Siegfried brought us to before? I'm getting hungry. We've been dueling all day." He pointed at their shiny new trophies, the proof of their accomplishments in yet another tournament. Leon had gotten first, of course, but Mokuba had done well with a fourth-place finish.
"Okay. Let's go!"
They fit their trophies into a backpack, which Leon donned as they walked down the sidewalk. Mokuba noticed that he was getting stares again and he inwardly sighed. He'd lived in Germany for six years, but visually he'd always be a foreigner. Especially in smaller cities like this one, he was reminded of how much he stood out.
"And I have a normal hair color," he muttered under his breath, thinking of Leon's maroon hair and worse, Siegfried's pink locks. "It's not fair."
They were almost to the restaurant when Mokuba spotted a gaming store. Leon saw it as well, and they exchanged a glance that said food could wait. They rushed inside and started leafing through packets of cards.
Mokuba settled on a few booster packs from the newest Duel Monsters line. Halfway to the cash register with Leon, he froze, staring at the television hooked up behind the counter and facing the store. A tournament was being broadcast live from the States.
Leon followed his gaze. "Oh! It's Pegasus!"
Pegasus was indeed in the center of the screen, making some announcement about the the competitors' qualifications. Mokuba wasn't looking at him, though. Towards the side of the screen sat a brunette with cold blue eyes. He appeared bored with whatever Pegasus was rambling on about, but he had the grace not to yawn or check his watch, unlike some of the other people sitting around him. "Nii-sama?" Mokuba whispered uncertainly.
Leon blinked, confused with the sudden use of Japanese; Mokuba rarely spoke his native language. "What's wrong?"
A commercial came on and the man that had captivated Mokuba's attention was gone. He looked down at the packs in his hand and set them back on the shelf. "You know, I don't think I want these, and I'm not very hungry. Can we just go home?"
Leon looked concerned about Mokuba's abrupt shift in attitude but he complied. "Sure. I'll call our ride."
Mokuba felt anxious the entire trip back to the von Schroeder mansion. The chance that he'd just seen his blood brother, the one he'd left behind in a Japanese orphanage years ago, was laughably small. He tried to squash his hopes that it really had been, but for some reason he couldn't stop clinging to the possibility. Why would his brother have been on television with Pegasus, though?
In order to find out, he headed for the computer in their vast library, waving Leon off when he was asked again if he was okay. He typed the name of the tournament he'd seen broadcast into a search engine and pulled up a news article about it. Thankfully he'd learned enough English to understand most of it, but nothing seemed relevant until he reached the list of sponsors. There was a picture of all the sponsors' representatives and there was that blue-eyed man again. Unfortunately, only companies were listed, not personal names. Mokuba searched through all of them and struck gold with KaibaCorp.
The CEO of KaibaCorp is sixteen-year-old prodigy Kaiba Seto…
"Seto!" Mokuba shouted, leaning close to the monitor as though that would bring him nearer to his brother. He ran a finger over the name. "Kaiba… So, you got adopted too." That made him glad, but at the same time it tore at his heart to think of how many years he'd spent apart from his beloved older brother. They'd lived their own lives, completely separate from one another. Mokuba wasn't fazed at how successful his brother had become, though. Even if his memories of Seto were hazy and much fewer than he'd like, he knew Seto was brilliant and could do anything. Mokuba eagerly read through article after article about KaibaCorp, though his knowledge of written Japanese was rudimentary at best. He had to keep sending articles through translation sites that loaded frustratingly slow.
He spent the rest of the afternoon in the library, feeling happier and happier with each word he read about Seto.
Siegfried always treated dinner as a formal occasion: suit pressed, hair meticulously combed, fresh cologne on. Usually the only others at the table were his mother, father, and two younger brothers, but that didn't stop him from looking his best.
His eyes flickered over Mokuba and Leon as he took his place at the table. He knew they'd competed in a tournament that day under the surname Wilson, but Mokuba was acting like he had an even bigger secret. He went from chewing absentmindedly to jiggling his legs with impatience. Leon seemed perplexed as well with Mokuba's behavior, so Siegfried decided to simply ask what he was thinking.
"Did something happen today, Mokuba?"
"Not really. Just…" Mokuba broke off, trying to look innocent.
"Come on, tell us," begged Leon.
Mokuba hesitated before agreeing. "Alright. I saw my brother today. You know- Seto." Suddenly he was beaming. "Did you know he's the best duelist in Japan? And he's the CEO of a huge business? And he invented most of their technology?"
Siegfried felt something dark spreading in him as Mokuba bubbled over with excitement. He told himself he was jumping to conclusions, or that maybe Mokuba was. "That's great news. What company is he CEO of?"
"KaibaCorp. His last name's Kaiba now."
"Impossible," Siegfried said. "I've met Kaiba." His expression soured at the memory of being one minute too late to striking a deal with Pegasus and having the glory stolen from him by Kaiba Seto.
Mr. von Schroeder spoke up. "Are you sure, Mokuba? How could you have found that out?" Siegfried remembered when Mokuba had been adopted and how their father been adamant only one child was brought into the family to keep Leon company. How unkind of fate to make the older brother of the child they'd chosen end up ruling over the von Schroeder's greatest foe in the gaming industry.
"I saw him on TV and recognized him. It's definitely him. And his name's Seto!" Mokuba glanced down at the table, then back up with renewed determination. "Can I meet him? Can I go see him?"
Siegfried was the one to answer him. "I'm sure that could be arranged." He traced the rim of his wine glass as a plan began forming in his head. He nodded at their parents. "Allow me to take care of this. A business trip to Japan was coming up soon as it is. I'll simply schedule it sooner and take Mokuba with me."
"Can I come too?" Leon quickly asked, earning a nod from Siegfried.
Two weeks later, everything was prepared, and Siegfried boarded the plane with high hopes for the future of the Schroeder's family business.
There were three times Seto considered finding Mokuba. Rather, these three times he almost made use of his knowledge of his younger brother's location. Getting information about where the von Schroeders lived had been easy enough, as the family was prominent in the international gaming industry.
When he first had the urge to see Mokuba, he'd lived with the cruel Kaiba Gozaburo for a year. No other part of his life had been so devoid of happiness. At least at the orphanage, he'd had Mokuba to disguise the shadows of his life. Seto'd become so tempted to run away to Mokuba, but he'd feared what might have happened if Gozaburo became aware of Mokuba's existence. Seto would not allow Mokuba to be hurt because of his own weakness, so he'd stayed.
The second time was when Gozaburo had committed suicide and Seto became KaibaCorp's CEO. It had been a hollow victory without anyone to celebrate with, but Seto knew he couldn't just run off to Germany and take his little brother back. Not now, when his hands were covered with blood. It had been a suicide, but Seto had been the driving force that reveled in his stepfather's death.
The third time was right after KaibaCorp teamed up with Industrial Illusions. He could have hopped on one of his many jets and flown to Germany any time he wanted, but something held him back. Too many years had passed, he told himself. Mokuba had two brothers he'd spent more of his life with. He wouldn't want to see Seto, and believing that, Seto kept his distance and settled for making tributes.
He put Mokuba in an MMO, making sure the design matched what Mokuba looked like at his present age according to photographs of the von Schroeders taken from afar by paparazzi. He used monster cards he imagined would be Mokuba's favorites when testing out his new holographic technology. And every day, he wore a necklace with a tiny picture in it of a smiling Mokuba sitting by him at the orphanage.
That slip of paper, faded with age, was all Seto had of Mokuba, so he convinced himself that it was enough.
Siegfried admired his reflection one final time before his meeting. His suit was the pleasant shade of blooming roses, his eyes the rich color of their healthy stems. His look didn't lack the thorns of his favorite plant, either; he kept his expression sharp, ready to pierce through Seto's guard and get what he wanted.
A guard escorted Siegfried to one of KaibaCorp's many meeting rooms. This one was small, ideal for private meetings with few present. Seto was sitting at the head of the table typing away when Siegfried entered. He sat across from Seto and pulled out his own laptop when it became clear Seto was intent on finishing his own business before talking with his visitor. Rather than complain, Siegfried typed in several commands, smiling a bit when Seto's eyes narrowed at his computer. He couldn't see it, but Siegfried knew his screen had just blacked out from his swift virtual attack. It was enough to get Seto's attention.
"You said you had urgent business to discuss with me, Mr. von Schroeder, about KaibaCorp's Duel Monsters technology. I have more important business with people clearer about what they need, so let's hurry this up."
"Perhaps my message was somewhat misleading." Siegfried spoke without any rush, knowing that he was in control of this encounter. "I am here about the Duel Monsters technology, but I don't believe your company's work will be associated with Duel Monsters much longer."
Seto looked at him with a mixture of disdain and apathy. "I'm sure you have fascinating insight on my company's relationship to Industrial Illusions. Go on, enlighten me."
Siegfried curled long white fingers under his chin and returned Seto's look with a smile. "What I'm saying is that you'll renounce the contract with Industrial Illusions and stop working with the Duel Monsters card game. Would you like to know why?" Seto looked two seconds away from packing up his briefcase and leaving, so Siegfried continued with the magic word. "Because of Mokuba."
The shock on Seto's face was truly enjoyable. "You know Mokuba was adopted into my family, correct? By a stroke of luck, or perhaps it was fate, he saw your picture and recognized you recently. How amazing, that my company's Asian rival is led by Mokuba's own brother."
Seto breathed in sharply. "Nezumi."
Siegfried ignored what was certainly an insult. "Now, I'm willing to reunite you with Mokuba and make sure you're free to visit him as often as you'd like if you'll terminate your connection to Industrial Illusions. And don't worry about where Duel Monsters will go without you. The Schroeders have technology Pegasus can use."
"You'll agree, I'm sure, because otherwise I'll make it so you and Mokuba never cross paths. Do you doubt I can do that?" Siegfried stood and gathered up his things. "You have my number. Let me know of your decision as soon as possible." He left Seto sitting stunned in his own meeting room.
"He said he'll see me? He really said that?" Mokuba repeated the question over and over, half-anxious and half-exuberant. "This is great!" He beamed at Leon, who was riding with them to the spot designated for his reunion with his long-lost brother. Leon smiled back, simply happy to see Mokuba so happy.
"You'll have the day together, and then we'll see about future plans," Siegfried said from the passenger seat.
"Future plans…" Mokuba dreamed of spending day after day with Seto, but he had to fight back insecurities that his older brother wouldn't want that as well. Maybe they'd been apart for years, but they were family, and Mokuba still loved Seto.
The car stopped in front of a glass skyscraper. Mokuba looked up in awe at the bold K and C painted on the sparkling surface. His heart pounded as he mentally prepared himself. Leon gave him a reassuring hug before he hopped out of the car. Before he could close the door behind him, he heard Siegfried say, "Wait, Mokuba."
"What is it?" Mokuba asked, feeling like he was fighting the pull of a magnet by staying outside of the building longer than necessary.
"What does nezumi mean?"
Mokuba blinked in surprise. "Um, it means rat."
"I see. We'll be back this evening."
Mokuba stepped back and the car pulled away. He breathed in deeply and entered KaibaCorp's main building. A receptionist smiled at him. "Hello, Mokuba-san," she said in Japanese. Mokuba switched back to his native tongue and listened in on the various conversations as he was led through the building by the friendly receptionist. Everyone was talking about intricate computer processes or promising business deals. They all sounded intelligent, just like Mokuba remembered Seto being.
They stopped in front of what looked like the main office, which gave him hope. His brother considered this meeting important enough to have in the central room of the building. The receptionist bowed after unlocking the door, and after Mokuba stepped inside the door automatically closed.
Mokuba scanned the room. It had various computers and seats, including a black armchair facing floor-length windows. There sat the man he'd thought of incessantly for the past two weeks. "Nii-sama!" he cried, running to Seto and engulfing him in a hug. Tears brimmed in his eyes. "I missed you so much." Arms hesitantly wrapped around him, but only for a moment. Then, they pushed him up and away. With Seto sitting, they were eye-level, and for a moment they just stared at each other.
Mokuba was feeling so much at once. His brother looked better than their malnourished orphanage days, but his eyes seemed darker, less lively. He knew it had to be tiresome to take care of an entire company and decided to take his mind off work for the day. "Seto, will you play a game with me?" Games of any kind had always been their bonding activity of choice, after all. He pulled his Duel Monsters deck from his pocket and held it aloft. "Look, I play the game you make technology for! Isn't that great?"
The afternoon passed in a flurry of card games and Mokuba's excited chattering. Seto won every duel, of course, using his fearsome Blue Eyes White Dragons. Mokuba couldn't wait to brag to Leon and Siegfried about how powerful a duelist his brother was.
At the same time, he was a little worried about how much of the conversation had depended on him. He'd always been more of a talker than Seto, but Seto had never been this quiet. It made him wonder if his brother really was glad to see him again, or if Mokuba was just bothering him. If that were the case, Mokuba would be crushed, so to keep those thoughts from consuming him he'd just talked more.
Dusk came, and the receptionist arrived to let Mokuba know his ride was waiting. He panicked. "Can I come back tomorrow?" he pleaded. After several moments were his brother sat silent and immobile, he got a nod. "Okay, I'll see you then," he said and hugged Seto once more.
Siegfried accompanied Mokuba personally to see Seto the next morning. It appeared his plan had worked; if Seto wanted to spend time with Mokuba, he knew the stipulations. So when Seto opened his office door and let them in, Siegfried knew he'd won.
He only watched for a moment as Mokuba pounced on his brother, already talking about what they could do that day. When Siegfried turned around to leave, figuring the business aspect of their deal could be taken care of that evening, he was stopped by a short sentence from Seto. "No. You can't stay here."
At first he thought Seto was telling him to leave, but when he turned around to scoff that he'd already been on his way, he realized Seto was looking at Mokuba. He closed his eyes and said, "You should go." Then he walked to the end of the room and sat in his chair facing the window.
Pain and disbelief danced across Mokuba's face. He took a few tentative steps toward his older brother. "Nii-sama…" He didn't get an answer, even when he reached Seto and was speaking right to his face. "Nii-sama!"
Before Mokuba became more upset, Siegfried gently took his wrist and led him from the room. "I'll speak with Kaiba," he promised outside the doorway. "Just go to the lobby and call Leon." Mokuba looked torn, but Siegfried gave him a firm push in the right direction and reentered Seto's office alone.
"Why are you still here?" Seto said icily. Siegfried claimed the chair next to him and joined him in gazing out the window.
"Why did you tell Mokuba to go?" He tilted his head, viewing Seto from the corner of his eye. "That's not what you actually wanted."
Seto scoffed, "You don't know what you're talking about, and you aren't welcome here."
"What are you thinking, Kaiba? Are you really choosing your company over your relationship with Mokuba?" He waited and waited, but Seto seemed content to sit in silence the rest of the day. Siegfried sighed and showed himself out of the office.
He didn't exit the building, though. He wasn't satisfied with how things had turned out, and he could tell Seto felt the same way. They could both still get what they wanted if Siegfried could figure out why he'd rejected Mokuba. A sliver of guilt pierced Siegfried's heart when he thought of how devastated Mokuba'd looked. He hadn't thought getting Mokuba involved in this would end up hurting him.
Maybe he really was a rat.
Siegfried stole into an unoccupied room and hooked his laptop up to KaibaCorp's network. It was a simple matter to slip by the firewall and poke around for information. He scoured recent files to see if Industrial Illusions had sent anything in the past few hours that could have changed Seto's mind, but found nothing.
He expanded his search and the goddess of destiny smiled on him. Several results specific to Mokuba popped up when he searched for "Kaiba Mokuba" instead of "Mokuba von Schroeder." He found designs of a character resembling Mokuba in KaibaCorp's new MMORPG. He saw impressive donations made in Mokuba's name to various children's charities, and discovered that one of Seto's passwords was a number-based variation of Mokuba's name.
It was obvious Seto loved his brother. So why had he pushed him away?
"Are you finished poking around my company's confidential files?" a voice asked from the doorway. Siegfried almost had to admire how quietly Seto could enter a room.
Siegfried said, "Tell me the truth, Kaiba. Why did you turn Mokuba away? You really hurt him."
"And you're the one using him to bargain. It makes me sick." Siegfried noticed Seto ball his hand at his side. "But it doesn't matter. Leave Japan, go back to living happily in Germany. Don't bother me or KaibaCorp again."
"Kaiba…" Siegfried was amazed at how many emotions were colliding within Seto, and yet he showed so few on the surface. Only someone as perceptive as himself would even realize the storm raging within the younger man. "You love Mokuba. I think we can treat that as fact. You don't have to shut him out of your life."
"It's for the best," Seto snapped. "We're not family anymore. He doesn't belong here."
"Really?" Siegfried sighed and pointed to the necklace Seto was wearing. "Intuition tells me you have a picture of Mokuba on that necklace. Like older brother, like younger brother. Mokuba wears a picture of you nearly every day. He simply hasn't these past few days out of fear you would find out and think he was being too overbearing in his feelings."
"Hmmph. You don't actually care about what's best for him, you only want to destroy my company and build yours up."
Siegfried narrowed his eyes. "I care about both of my brothers. I wouldn't turn one away in tears because I thought they didn't belong with me."
His tone left no room for argument. Siegfried packed up his laptop and walked by Seto. "When you change your mind, we'll be waiting."
"But- he said-"
"He's something of a fool." Siegfried gestured again to the files he'd saved from KaibaCorp's network. "Look. You've been pivotal in all his projects."
Leon chimed in, "You must matter a lot to him, Mokuba. This shows he's always been thinking of you."
Mokuba looked from his adopted brothers to the computer screen. The evidence all said Seto cared about him, but he couldn't stop himself from factoring in the rejection he'd experienced the previous day. "I don't know…"
"Then we'll make him apologize. Come." Siegfried stood and led the way to their car. "It's time to visit KaibaCorp again." He'd told Seto he would wait for him to change his mind, but decided that was pointless when it was so clear how much he wanted to see Mokuba again.
The drive there was tense, the wait for Seto to appear after he'd been paged more so. To calm himself down, Mokuba pointed out the different parts of the building to Leon, who was excited to see some of the technology significant to his beloved Duel Monsters in its developmental stages.
Finally, Seto showed up, glaring at Siegfried. Mokuba stayed beside Leon and Siegfried, unsure of what to do. Siegfried put a hand on Leon's shoulder and said, "We'll wait here in the lobby for you two." Seto gave Siegfried one last scathing look before striding outside, Mokuba following on his heels.
They ended up on a bench behind the building. There was no one else around, and the high steel fences told Mokuba they were still on KaibaCorp's property. He clutched his necklace in one hand, thankful that Seto was the first to speak. "Why did you want to see me again?"
"What do you mean? Of course I wanted to! You're my brother."
"You were only five when we were adopted. How can you…"
"That doesn't matter! I thought about you every day, and I decided to study in Japan in college and try to find you. I'm just glad I didn't have to wait." He paused. "Did you not want me to find you?"
Seto turned to him. "Mokuba, I-" He saw the necklace gripped in his younger brother's fingers. It was the right size and shape to hold the other half of the photo the hung around his own neck. He couldn't keep up his stoic attitude when he saw Mokuba's wide, imploring eyes. He pulled Mokuba into a tight hug; it was the first hug he'd had since Mokuba had been adopted, yet it still felt so natural to have his younger brother close. "I'm sorry. I was wrong," he admitted. Normally such words would never willingly leave his mouth, but the calming effect Mokuba had on him even now proved this was still the little brother he loved. "I'm glad you found me."
"Nii-sama…" The atmosphere that had been clouded with doubt and loneliness now shone with warmth. They talked freely of the years they'd spent apart, both omitting some of the less palatable details. They might have talked into the night, but Siegfried and Leon appeared and interrupted them.
"Mokuba," Siegfried said, "why don't you show Leon around a bit more? I have a few matters of business to discuss with Kaiba, and then we'll come find you."
"Are you two going to work together? That would be great!" The frosty silence that met his ears after the question made him decide not to push the issue. He and Leon left the courtyard.
"You're still planning on using him to get a business deal," Seto accused.
"No." Siegfried took Mokuba's spot on the bench. "Not quite. Forget about breaking your contract with Industrial Illusions. I have something else in mind." As he talked, he liked the sound of his own plan more and more. "I was furious when your technology, so similar to mine, made your company a forerunner in the gaming industry. But maybe I shouldn't be angry. We have a lot in common, you see, and we share an area of expertise."
"You're suggesting that we work together."
"Exactly. I've several ideas that would improve the Solid Vision technology KaibaCorp is known for. You may not believe me now," he said, cutting off what would certainly have been a rebuttal, "but you'll see soon enough. Since you're going to be spending a lot of time with Mokuba in the future, our paths can't help but cross again. It would be a pity not to take advantage of our mutual interests and intelligence."
Seto clearly didn't trust his motives, but Siegfried didn't mind. Fate was fickle; when she'd first showed her hand, Siegfried had thought Mokuba was the key to his company's success with Industrial Illusions. Now he saw Mokuba had simply set the chain in motion, and it was Kaiba Seto that would prove to be an asset.
"Shall we shake on it?" Siegfried asked.
Seto refused his extended hand. "You'll have to impress me before the von Schroeders have a chance of partnering with KaibaCorp," he warned.
"Is that supposed to make me feel challenged? I've already seen your idea of a challenge in the form of pathetic firewalls." Siegfried didn't expect an answer as Seto rose to leave. But after Seto took a few steps, he stopped.
"You have no idea what a Kaiba challenge can look like yet… Nezumi."
Siegfried smiled to himself as he watched Seto get farther and farther away, the wind tugging at his trenchcoat until it bellowed out like a sail. Seto was cocky enough. Siegfried looked forward to changing the disdainful smirk on his to a look of grudging admiration.
He was sure it wouldn't take long.