Dr. Takada had served as the Kaiba family physician for as long as Seto and Mokuba had had the name. He had been hired for, among numerous other qualifications in medicine and discretion, his experience with pediatrics. Such experience included dealing with the parents and guardians of sick children, so the doctor understood how fraught such situations could be, was familiar with the anger and panic and guilt and all the other ways worry could manifest. So usually a house call to attend to a sick child was a matter of some delicacy.
Summons to the Kaiba mansion had always been another matter, however, and today was no different; Kaiba Seto's face was unreadable as ever, as he asked, "Your diagnosis?"
Such impassivity was only what the doctor expected. Kaiba Gozaburo had always seemed a cold man, jealously guarding his privacy even from his personal physician, and his heir was all the more so. Takada sometimes thought that Kaiba Seto had been at his most communicative when he had been suffering from catatonic schizophrenia (or whatever it had been; a dozen different experts in physiology, psychiatry, and neurology from around the world had failed to reach any conclusions before Seto-sama's unexpected revival.) At least when he had been comatose it had been easy to monitor his vitals and take blood samples.
But generally Seto-sama had all the expression of a sheer rock face—one might occasionally detect the rumblings of anger in time to avoid the avalanche, but that was the extent of his emotional demonstration. And today there wasn't even that much. So Takada didn't bother with any gentle reassurances, simply answered, "Mokuba-sama appears to have a common cold, perhaps picked up from his schoolmates..."
"Mokuba doesn't attend a regular school," Seto-sama said.
"Ah, of course." He had forgotten that after the younger Kaiba had graduated elementary school, Seto-sama had hired private tutors to handle his education. It made sense, considering Mokuba-sama's schedule as KaibaCorp's vice president, and his far above average intelligence; on the other hand, a boy could use the socializing and community values instilled in a standard educational environment.
Takada had told Gozaburo the same thing about Seto's education, and had never been heeded; he hadn't bothered bringing it up with Seto-sama. "If not at school, then maybe his friends—he does go out sometimes, doesn't he?"
"Yes, to arcades and the like," Seto-sama said, so flatly that Takada couldn't determine if he was disapproving or merely stating a fact. That, at least, was a change; Gozaburo had never allowed Seto to go to any arcades. But then the younger Kaibas had vastly different opinions about games than their patriarch.
"Well, then," the doctor said, "he probably caught one of the viruses that's been going around. There's been a few nasty bugs. It could be the flu, but based on his symptoms now there's no reason to assume it is."
A mother or father might panic a little if he brought up the flu, ask questions, want to be sure. Seto-sama only nodded, asked briskly, "The treatment?"
If there were anything odd about dealing with a guardian only five years older than his charge, Takada no longer noticed. It had been years since he had thought of Seto-sama as a child; he had all but forgotten the clever, defiant, terrified boy he had met those years back, when Kaiba Gozaburo had summoned him to tend to the fever of his newly adopted son. Seto-sama had been sick so many times, that first year—"Is he sleeping enough, Kaiba-sama? Is he eating enough? It's important for a growing child to get proper rest and nutrition—perhaps he's having difficulty adjusting to his new life..."
"He's adapting," Gozaburo had assured the doctor. He might have been the brothers' legal guardian, but Takada couldn't once recall the man appearing genuinely concerned when his heir was taken ill. Angry, or frustrated by the interruption of his studies, that was as close as he came. "The boy's strong. Or he will be."
Gozaburo had been right; Takada wasn't summoned to the mansion nearly as often, after that first year. And usually for Seto-sama; Mokuba-sama hadn't needed much of his attention. He gave both boys annual physicals, but otherwise only saw Mokuba-sama on the few occasions when a servant called him over to look at a sprained wrist or cut forehead, the usual war wounds of a kid playing hard outdoors.
That Seto-sama never suffered such injuries was maybe of greater concern, and the injuries he did bear, Takada did not often consider. One didn't, not when working for a man with the influence of Kaiba Gozaburo. Some questions were improper even in the privacy of his own mind; and if they happened to haunt him some late insomniac nights, well, an extra dose of saké taken before bed silenced all but the noisiest.
Since Gozaburo's death and Seto's awakening from the coma, Dr. Takada had not been summoned for any such treatments; there was no guilt in accepting his retainer salary now. And if Seto-sama lacked a true parent's devotion, he at least listened attentively now as the doctor instructed, "Standard treatment for a virus—plenty of rest, see that he stays in bed. Herbal teas and ginger with honey for his cough. A cold compress if his fever bothers him—I could give him something for it, but it's better that he sweat it out for now. Keep an eye on his temperature, though; if it gets above 39 I want to be called back right away."
Seto-sama nodded again. "Understood. And how will I know when he's ready for work again?"
Dr. Takada blinked. "You mean...when will he be well?"
"Or close enough," Seto-sama said. "When will it be feasible for him to return to the office?"
"Well, ideally he should take it easy until he's fully over the symptoms—children bounce back quickly, but if they strain themselves they can easily relapse. And your business is a stressful environment..." Even putting aside the hassles of running an international entertainment industry, the Kaibas had a tendency to get involved in all manner of wild things. Mokuba-sama had been abducted on at least three occasions that Takada was aware of. "At the very least, I'd recommend that he not be allowed back to school—or the office, rather—until his fever has entirely subsided, and hopefully that cough as well."
"All right. If that's all your advice, then you may go, Doctor."
Takada had worked for the Kaibas too long to expect thanks, but that was a curt dismissal even for Seto-sama. He glanced at the young man, observing the squared, rigid shoulders, and the dark smudges under his piercing blue eyes. Perhaps Seto-sama was feeling some hint of anxiety after all, through the tight clampdown of emotion he maintained.
"Seto-sama," the doctor said tentatively, sorting through all the platitudes he usually offered parents, and settling on, "It wasn't your fault, you know; children will get sick, no matter how much care you take."
"So, you're saying that it doesn't matter how hard I work my brother, when he's bound to succumb to some common infection anyway?"
"No, that's not..."
In the six months following his foster father's death, and before the coma, Seto-sama would sometimes exhibit a kind of manic glee—not happiness, unhealthier than that. It had disturbed Takada...no, it had frightened him, though he might hate to admit it; but it had been frightening, that smile that was not a child's smile, but neither an adult's. Scarcely human, a devil's grin, and however much Takada had told himself it was a psychological reaction to the boy losing his foster father, his second father, so tragically, he'd never quite managed to convince himself that it wasn't something worse.
Since Seto-sama had awoken, Takada hadn't seen that smile. And didn't now, but all the same there was something in Seto-sama's blue eyes, anger perhaps, or frustration. Like he used to see in Gozaburo, and for a moment the doctor considered defying the dismissal, staying on for the night.
But he had other patients, and the Kaiba household had servants who would care for Mokuba-sama—all the staff were fond of the younger master, Takada knew. He would leave instructions with them on the way out; that was the best he could do.
"Remember," Takada said, "please call me if his fever rises," and he departed.
"So what did Takada-sensei say, Nii-sama?"
Seto closed the door behind him and turned back to his brother. Mokuba was ensconced in the middle of his four-poster bed, sitting propped up by the collection of pillows he liked to keep piled at the head. Most of them were printed with Duel Monsters and other fantastical creatures. With his cheeks flushed pink with the fever and his black hair more tangled than ever, Mokuba almost could pass for another toy, camouflaged in the pile.
"It's likely only a common cold," Seto reported. "Not too serious; viruses like it have been going around."
"See, I told you," Mokuba said. He coughed, then stopped himself. "No big deal."
"No," Seto agreed, "but you're to stay in bed until your fever's down. I'll have tea and supper brought up to us."
"Us? But Nii-sama, you have to get ready for tomorrow's R&D meeting; you should go back to the office..."
"No point, it's already mid-afternoon. It would waste more time to go back to the office for only a few hours. I have my laptop; I can work from the study." The study was next to Mokuba's bedroom; the adjoining door was usually kept locked, but Seto crossed to it now and opened the latch.
"You didn't have to come back home with me," Mokuba mumbled. His cheeks were redder than before, more from feeling than the fever. "I told you I was okay."
"So you said, but you weren't," Seto said, a little sharper than he intended. He'd thought something was wrong all morning, by the way Mokuba was dragging his feet, lagging behind when they had visited the product tests. And when he'd heard Mokuba cough, he'd asked, but his little brother had insisted he just had something in his throat, that he felt fine. Mokuba hadn't said anything else about it as they went over the specs for the latest satellite system upgrades, hadn't given any sign that he was lying until lunchtime, when he got up from the couch and promptly fell over.
He would've collapsed on the floor if Seto had been a second slower moving to catch him. He had been out of it for a moment, too, blinking confusedly when Seto said his name, and when some long-buried instinct motivated Seto to put the back of his hand to his brother's forehead, it was damp and warmer than it should be, even to Seto's cool hands.
So when Mokuba had gotten hold of himself, stood up and said he was okay, that he'd just been dizzy, that it wasn't anything, Seto had ignored him, called for the car to be brought around to take them back to the mansion, and for the doctor to be summoned. As he should have done that morning, the first time he'd noticed something was amiss.
It wasn't his fault, the doctor had said; children get sick, nothing to be done about it. But most children weren't the vice president of a multi-billion-yen corporation, with all the responsibility and stresses of that duty.
And most children, too, had parents, had a mother and a father watching out for them, taking care of them when they fell ill, coddling them. Mokuba had only him. Seto had promised long ago that he would be the father Mokuba needed—a promise he'd forget, if he could; he hadn't understood when he made it, what it entailed, the obligation and the devotion. He wouldn't have promised if he'd known; he didn't make promises he couldn't keep. Only that one, and that because he'd been too young and ignorant to understand, to realize then what was beyond him.
He'd broken that promise already, too completely to ever make up for it. But still, Mokuba had no one else, so Seto had to do what he could, as poor as his efforts might be.
"Nii-sama," Mokuba broke into his thoughts, "if you got me my laptop, I could keep going over those specs—"
"No," Seto said. "No work until you're better."
"But Nii-sama, it's hardly work—you know I love messing with the satellite system," Mokuba said, grinning as he said it. The fever made his gray eyes even brighter, glittering like the faceted beads of his Blue-Eyes plushie.
"You're on sick leave," Seto said. "You shouldn't have access to Kaiba Corporation systems." Not that a simple blocking protocol could stop his brother's hacking, but the principle still applied. "Besides, people don't think as clearly when overtired or ill. And it would be a waste of resources to have to have your work checked over." He'd learned that lesson himself, much as he tried to disregard it; his brother often enough was the one to enforce it.
Though apparently Mokuba found his logic less tolerable when applied against him. He hunkered down among his pillows, mouth folded in a pout. "But Nii-sama..."
"You can play games," Seto suggested. "Whatever system you want, I'll have it brought up from the video room. Or if you'd like cards, or a board game?"
Mokuba sat up again, face brightening. "Will you play with me, Nii-sama? After you're done prepping for the meeting, I mean. Card games or video games, anything you want."
Seto could have refused, or suggested watching a movie or reading a book instead. But Mokuba looked so hopeful, his eyes so big and wide in his fever-flushed face. And Seto had endured enough illnesses himself to known how damn boring it could get, sitting and doing nothing, waiting for one's recalcitrant immune system to get in gear.
And it was something he could do, after his failures before. "All right," he agreed. "After supper, we'll play something together."
Mokuba knew better than to ask for a chessboard. His brother would willingly play video games with him—fighting games, sports games, first-person shooters; at one time Kaiba Seto had held the top scores in all of them, across Japan, but he never got on any of the arcade boards anymore. For the last few years, Duel Monsters was the only game he played competitively, and nowadays even his deck got dusty.
But with Mokuba he was willing to risk his reputation—and Mokuba made sure it was a risk. He'd never been able to beat his big brother at any game when they were little, and his brother of course had never forsaken either his pride or Mokuba's to let him win. But Seto now didn't have much time to practice, and Mokuba's reflexes were catching up. He could match his brother in an arcade fighter or a virtual car race—Mokuba didn't quite win fifty percent of the time, but close to.
More than winning, even, Mokuba liked how he could be lining up a shot on his brother's avatar, or opening the throttle on his virtual vehicle, and he would glance over and see his brother gripping the controller tightly as he stared at the TV, whole body canted forward with the tension of his focus. He wouldn't be smiling, not really, his lips pressed together in concentration. But it was still different than how he used to play before, when he had racked up those top scores. Back then Seto used to sit upright, stock-still but for his eyes tracking the screen and the isolated gestures of his hands, utterly efficient, like all the games were just another task, to be accomplished as soon as possible.
Of course they had been, then; he'd needed the cachet of being Japan's top gamer to establish himself as Kaiba Corporation's rightful president, with Gozaburo recently dead and the board nervous about a CEO not old enough to drive. That didn't mean he couldn't have enjoyed himself, though. But there'd been little enough that Seto had enjoyed then, about games or anything else.
It was different now. And even better since Battle City, since Alcatraz had sunk into the sea and they'd flown away from its ruins. Now Mokuba could ask his brother which game he wanted to play, and Seto would actually think about it, rather than just tell him to choose. And when Mokuba selected his favorite fighting character, he'd dare to say, "I'm going to kick your ass!" and occasionally his brother would shoot back, "You can try," and it'd feel like they were ordinary kids, like they were ordinary brothers.
Mokuba had started suggesting other games lately. Card games—not Duel Monsters; it was no fun to get completely crushed, and it would take a fair bit of collecting yet before he had a deck strong enough to take on Seto's. But cribbage or gin rummy, or two-player Napoleon. And board games, too—he'd mostly quit Capsule Monsters, and Seto had never cared for it anyway; but checkers, or shogi, or even go, though Mokuba always lost. Still, there was something uniquely satisfying about picking up a piece in your hand and setting it down again on the board, different from shuffling cards or pressing buttons on a controller.
Never Western chess, though. As far as Mokuba knew, the last time his brother had touched a chess piece was the board he'd set up in Death-T. Mokuba didn't know what had happened to that board. For all he knew it was gathering dust in the corner of a Kaiba Land storage closet, king forever checked but never mated.
"Mokuba?" his brother interrupted his wandering thoughts. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Fine, Nii-sama," Mokuba said, ducking the hand his brother reached toward his forehead. There wasn't any need; his fever didn't feel any higher, and it wasn't like he was that sick anyway. His brother had no reason to look at him like that, with his mouth drawn tight with worry. Mokuba looked down at the wooden board, balanced on a pillow between them, and set down one of his black pieces. "Your turn."
His brother placed a white piece, quickly enough that he'd had it planned, which meant he'd known where Mokuba was going to play, which meant he was probably losing this match of Gomoku, too. Well, he wasn't playing very well; it was hard to concentrate, with his nose all stuffy and his head feeling even stuffier, like his brain had been packed with cotton balls. Being sick sucked.
"It's your turn," his brother reminded, then went on, studying him with sharp blue eyes, "or maybe we should stop—you ought to sleep. The doctor recommended rest."
"I'm not—" Mokuba started to say, but then he spoiled the protest by coughing. He made himself stop as soon as he could, swallowing the itchy tickling in his throat, but his brother's mouth was even tighter afterwards.
"Okay," Mokuba gave in, sighing. "I'll go to bed now. But we have to play again tomorrow—I'll beat you, three out of five!"
"All right," his brother agreed, not smiling, but his shoulders relaxed slightly.
"After the R&D meeting, of course," Mokuba added. "I'll need notes from that..." The satellite programming team would be reporting on the latest interface modifications, which was one of his projects. When he was better he'd need to meet with them again.
"I'll have my secretary write up a report for you," his brother promised, getting up from the bed and picking up the board, carefully so as not to disarray the pieces. "Do you want anything before you sleep? More tea? Medicine?"
"No, I'm okay." Mokuba pounded down his pillow to a good thickness, then burrowed under the covers. One advantage of spending the day in bed, he didn't need to change into pajamas. "Good night, Nii-sama."
"Good night, Mokuba," his brother said quietly. He set the board down on the bureau, and turned off the lights as he left the bedroom.
"It's your turn," his brother said.
Mokuba blinked and rubbed his eyes, but the board's black-lined grid was still blurry, like he was looking at it through a heat haze. Only the heat wasn't from the board, but in his eyes, in his head, sweat dripping down his forehead and stinging in his eyes.
He looked down at his hand, the one black piece he held. It was the final piece he could place; this was his last turn. When he looked at the blurry board, though, he couldn't figure out where it should go. No matter where he set it down, it wouldn't do any good.
"It's your turn," his brother repeated, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms over his chest. He was wearing white, not a suit or his duster, but the creased and pressed uniform. The bluish lights of the monitors surrounding them glinted on the filigree pattern worked into his collar.
"Are you going to play or not?" said his brother.
"I'm playing," Mokuba said, only when he tried to move his hand, it was too heavy to lift, like the little black stone resting in the middle of his palm weighed more than a mountain.
"Mokuba! I don't have all day to play with you," his brother snapped irritably.
"S-sorry, Nii-sama," Mokuba said, gulping. His furred collar tickled his neck. It was too hot to be wearing the coat, but it was too heavy to take off, not when his arms were so weak. "I don't feel well..."
"Then maybe we should stop," his brother said. "Not that it makes any difference—a loser is a loser, sick or well."
"No!" The sharp prickling in the corners of his eyes felt like tears, but couldn't be; only losers cried. "I'm not a loser, Nii-sama! I'll show you!" and Mokuba closed his fist over the too-heavy piece in his hand and forced his arm to move, gritting his teeth as he dragged it up over the board. There had to be a way to win this game, to prove himself to his brother.
When he opened his fingers, the piece fell onto the board with a thump that felt like it shook the floor, that Mokuba felt resound through his chest like a drum beat, though his brother didn't move. For a moment, looking at the still-fuzzy board, Mokuba actually thought he had done it somehow—four pieces aligned, and the next turn he would make a complete line, and win—
But then his brother smiled, cold and cruelly triumphant, his eyes ice-blue and empty, clear through with nothing behind them. He lifted his hand, effortless and precise, reached out and set down a white stone, completing his line. "I win," he said, as precisely as he had placed that final piece.
Of course he had won. His brother never lost, could never lose; why had Mokuba ever thought to play against him? "N-nii-sama," he tried to say, "I—I don't—"
But his brother didn't hear him; his brother wasn't listening, and was too far away anyway, not sitting across from Mokuba after all, but watching on the monitors above, cold smile and colder eyes filling the screen. "You know the rules," his brother said, inexorable in his victory. "Only the winner leaves—the loser faces a penalty game."
Through the speakers, Mokuba only just heard the button his brother pressed, the distant faint click of the world ending.
Then the monsters came, materializing from the air in blinding flashes of light and choking puffs of smoke. Thick, fleshy coils curled around his body, his arms, his throat, immobilizing him; jagged scales scraped his skin as hot fetid breath washed over his face, yellowed fangs dripping scalding acid on his cheeks as he struggled and flailed.
The monsters were shrieking, roaring, howling with bloodthirsty triumph, and Mokuba could barely hear his own reedy scream over them, for all that he felt it tear his throat like talons. "Nii-sama...Help!!"
"Mokuba!" A voice, calling his name, and a hand reached out to him, through the darkness—not his brother's hand; Mokuba knew it, even if he didn't want to admit it, that his brother would not lift a hand to save him. That his brother's hand had instead come down to send him into this nightmare—as a loser deserved, and there was no such thing as mercy in the world of games, any more than there was friendship, or brotherhood, and if he were a true gamer he would not be so weak as to take that hand reaching out to him. He should instead close his eyes and accept the penalty, let the monsters drag him down into their madness. As he deserved.
"Mokuba!" Except he could not ignore that voice. "Mokuba, wake up!" and it should have been Yugi's voice. He remembered the other Yugi, shouting, "Take my hand!" But this cry was different, not forceful but desperate. A command he could have refused, but not this anxious appeal.
Mokuba opened his eyes, and for a confused moment had no idea where he was. Where the white walls and roaring crowds of the Death-T arena should be, there were only quiet shadows, the comfort of familiar darkness. His head still hurt, and his throat, too, and he was shivering even though he felt sweat slipping down his neck. But he wasn't cold; he was in a warm embrace, held safe and close in gentle arms.
"Mokuba?" his brother asked, so quiet it hardly even counted as a whisper. "Are you awake?"
He felt his brother's chest move as he exhaled, a long relieved breath. The arms around him didn't loosen, though, and Mokuba turned in them, to try to see his brother's face in the dark. "Nii-sama, why..."
"You were having a nightmare," his brother said. "I didn't know what else to do—but when you had bad dreams when you were little, they'd go away if I held you..."
Mokuba only barely remembered that—the dorm at the orphanage, padding down the rows of beds looking for his brother's, trying not to make any noise as he cried, so he wouldn't wake anybody else. Until he'd hear his brother whispering through the darkness, "Mokuba, over here"—his brother always was awake to call to him; somehow he'd always known when Mokuba's dreams were bad.
That had stopped when they came to the Kaiba mansion. Mokuba knew where his brother's bedroom was, but he wasn't allowed to go there, and his brother made him leave if he snuck in anyway.
Now, his brother made to get up, to leave to let him sleep, but Mokuba shook his head, wrapped his arms around his brother's torso and pulled him close again, like he was one of his toy pillows. Like Mokuba was three again and not thirteen—but he was sick, feeling as weak and helpless as when he was little and scared to be alone. And his dreams were worse now anyway than the ones he used to have. "No, stay. Please?"
"All right," his brother agreed, and settled again on the bed, stretching out his long legs on top of the covers, keeping his arms around Mokuba. Like he used to, like his brother could shield him, keep him safe from the dark.
If not worse things. Though now those seemed further away than they usually did after a nightmare.
His brother's hand brushing his forehead was cool and soothing; Mokuba didn't try to shake it off, though he kind of wished he had when his brother said, frowning, Mokuba could tell by his tone, "You're still too warm...maybe I should get the thermometer."
"I'm okay, Nii-sama," Mokuba told him. "I don't feel any worse. Honest."
"But that dream was hard on you. You took a while to wake up from it."
"It's all right," Mokuba said, "it wasn't as bad as some of them..."
That was careless of him, and he wished he'd managed to keep his stupid mouth shut even before he felt his brother tense, a shudder like he'd been hit with an electric current. His brother's voice was calm when he spoke—too calm, the rigid composure of words forced through a locked jaw. "You have those nightmares often?"
Mokuba ducked his head, rather than risk seeing his brother's eyes through the shadows. "Not often," he tried to assert, "only once in a while, and anyway they're not that..."
"You were crying for me," his brother said, his tone frozen like ice, hard but brittle. "In your sleep—you cried for me to help you."
"It's okay, Nii-sama," Mokuba blurted, getting out the words as fast as he could, hopefully faster than his brother could think, "I'm sick, it was the fever, and you were here anyway so that's all right—maybe you should check my temperature, I'm not feeling—"
It was too late, though. "But I wasn't there," his brother said, and by the remoteness of his calm Mokuba knew that he'd understood too well, knew that he remembered, however much Mokuba might wish he couldn't. Might wish that neither of them had that memory at all. "Or—I was there, wasn't I. I was watching—I—"
"No!" Mokuba burst out before his brother could say it. His brother tried to move away, tried to get up from the bed, but Mokuba latched his arms around his waist and held on, as tightly as if there were monsters in the dark trying to pull him into their shadows. "No, don't—don't go away, Nii-sama."
His brother froze at that, statue-still for a moment; then slowly his arms came up to hold Mokuba back, not tightly but carefully, so cautiously, like you might hug a paper crane. "No," his brother said, "I won't leave you," and though he didn't say 'again,' Mokuba heard it anyway.
"I know," he said. "I know you won't, Nii-sama."
"Mokuba," his brother said, quietly, but not quietly enough, not so quiet that Mokuba could pretend he didn't hear it, "Mokuba, I'm sorry..."
Mokuba squeezed shut his eyes, swallowed. "It's not your fault I got a cold," he said desperately.
"Not that," his brother said.
"It wasn't you, Nii-sama, not really, it wasn't—"
"Yes, it was," his brother replied. Softly, yet with that resolution which would stand up to a god, which would defy fate itself. "It was always me, and that I wouldn't do it now doesn't mean that I didn't, before. It doesn't change what I did to you."
His brother's voice was soft, but the beat of his heart was loud, thudding in Mokuba's ear—strong, for all that it had been shattered. Broken into countless pieces and painstakingly put back together, for his sake. So that his brother could come back to him, even after what he had done. "Do you want me to forgive you, Nii-sama?"
"No," his brother said immediately, so abrupt he sounded angry. "No, I don't want that. I only want you to know that I regret it. That I wish—that I would give anything not to be that man who tried to...tried to hurt you."
"No! Don't make that wish," Mokuba told him. "If you weren't that man, then you wouldn't be my brother. And my brother's the one I want with me, more than anybody else. Whatever happened before, it's just the past, right? The future's where we're going—that's what matters."
"The future, yes," his brother said; that was all, but his arms around Mokuba were a silent promise, that this was where he wanted to be, too.
It was warm, and the fever's chill was passing. Mokuba breathed slowly, in time with the rise and fall of his brother's chest, letting that rhythm lull him back to sleep. He wasn't afraid of the darkness behind his eyelids; the nightmares wouldn't matter, not when they were only a vanished past, ghosts casting meaningless shadows. Being sick, too, that was only temporary; he'd be better soon. And his brother would be there, as he used to be and was now. His brother had left him once, but not again. This was their true future.
"I'm glad the past's the past," Mokuba mumbled. "Even if sometimes I miss the brother I used to play chess with. But he's still here, too, isn't he...he promised to stay with me, and maybe I'll meet him again someday..."
His brother might have replied, but Mokuba didn't hear what he said; he had already drifted off into a deep and dreamless sleep.
When Dr. Takada dropped by the Kaiba mansion two days later, he was glad to find his patient much improved, energy restored and cough gone, with a stuffy nose the only major symptom to persist. The doctor recommended a face mask as a courtesy to those Mokuba-sama might meet with, and suggested that he relax at home for at least another day, though that advice was offered more out of principle than because Takada expected it would be followed. He hadn't missed the laptop in the younger Kaiba's bedroom; it might only be for games, but he wouldn't bet on it. Mokuba-sama's parting words to him were, "Tell Nii-sama I'm well enough to go back to work, I don't want to miss the system update tomorrow!"
Takada passed on this message to the elder Kaiba, along with his professional opinion, "He's doing well, but it'll be best if he takes it easy, to let his immune system recover."
Seto-sama nodded in a manner that Takada knew from experience meant he was acknowledging what he had heard, while not intending to listen to any of it. Familiar with both Kaibas and teenagers, Takada didn't bother pressing the point. He did note that Seto-sama was looking improved himself, the tension in his shoulders diffused. If his little brother's illness had kept him up nights, fretting like a worried parent, then it didn't show in his imperturbable composure. "If that's all, then I'll be going," the doctor began.
But Seto-sama stopped him with a raised hand. "There is one thing."
"Do you play chess?"
Dr. Takada blinked. "Western-style chess, you mean? As a matter of fact, I do—not seriously, though; I was nowhere near your foster father's level." Or Seto-sama's own, from what Takada had heard—though that might only have been rumor. Gozaburo had never entered his adopted son into any competitions, and Seto himself was interested in modern games, video games and card duels.
"So you have a chess set, then?" Seto-sama asked.
"I do, yes..."
"Would it be all right if I borrowed it sometime?"
"You want to borrow my chess set?"
"If it's an imposition—"
"No." The doctor shook his head. "I don't play much these days, I'd hardly notice it was gone—but why, Seto-sama? Surely you must have inherited many sets—and of higher quality than mine, it's only a shabby wooden set, and old, my father's, actually..."
"There are chess sets in this house," Seto-sama said, as unreadably calm as ever. "But it's not the same to play on a collector's model. The feel of a game, a board or a piece, is different, when it's been played with, picked up many times...when it's been enjoyed, rather than only used."
It occurred to Takada that for all the affluence of the Kaiba mansion, the servants and the wide grounds and all the many toys in all the many rooms, Seto-sama and Mokuba-sama had not been born to any of it. That Seto might have one time played on a shabby wooden chess set himself, long before he was Kaiba Gozaburo's heir.
The doctor nodded. "All right, Seto-sama, I can bring over the chess set tonight."
"Any time you're free is fine; you don't have to take the trouble," Seto-sama said, somewhat awkwardly; consideration of other's priorities did not come easily to him.
"No, it's fine," Takada said. Really, even tonight was too late; he should have done this long before. Years ago. But as a doctor he knew that any care was better late than never. "I'll see you tonight, then."
"Thank you, Takada-sensei," Seto-sama said, and the doctor thought that it might be the first time he'd ever heard a Kaiba sound like he meant it.