Chapter 1: Tragedy
It should have been raining, they all thought it, though none of them said so aloud. It had rained hard the night before, but this morning had dawned a bright, clear day, and the cheerful sunlight was a slap in the face to their grief.
None of them had been invited to the wake, but they came anyway, to offer their condolences, wanted or not, and to mourn. None of them had been contacted the day it had happened, either; they had heard about it over the television and in the paper. First that there had been a hit-and-run in Domino early that morning, and the victim had been a child, a terrible misfortune to spice the morning talk shows. Then the victim's name had been released, and that was famous enough that the reporters not already paying attention rose to the occasion. By evening it was all over the city.
For Yugi and his friends, it was more than an abstract tragedy. Yugi had cried when he had heard, and the next day at school they were all mute and shaken, not wanting to talk about it and not able to think of anything else to talk about. They were still young, even after everything they had been through, and for all the close calls none of them had actually lost a friend before. Anzu had wept in school that day.
She was crying now, a little, and silently, tears bright in her eyes as they walked together through the gates of the Kaiba estate under that shining sun.
Mokuba had been part of their circle, for all his age, had talked with them and played with them and stood alongside them during some of the crazier, more intense moments of their lives. They hadn't seen much of him lately; he and his brother had only recently returned from America. It still seemed unbelievable, that now they wouldn't ever see him again.
None of them had seen Kaiba Seto, either, save on the news. He appeared there often enough, though in the recent days it had only been archive photos, Battle City publicity shots and clips from the opening of the first American Kaiba Land. Kaiba Corporation's CEO had spent the last two days holed up in his mansion or his office, barricaded from the public eye by servants and assistants. Attempting to call him had proven useless, though Yugi had tried anyway.
If this was what it took to see Kaiba in person, they would have all rather gone without meeting him ever again. Though none of them said that today, either.
At the door the seven of them were greeted and ushered inside, walked down the high-ceilinged corridor to where the ceremonial hall had been prepared, with the altar at one end. Others had already arrived, mostly older men and their wives, business associates paying their formal respects.
They all glanced at Kaiba as they entered, then looked away. As his brother's only relative, Kaiba Seto sat as chief mourner, austerely elegant all in black, sitting straight and tall and spider-thin. None of them looked directly at his face, as if afraid meeting those blue eyes might blind.
He sat beside the altar, flowers scrupulously arranged around the framed photograph, and the closed white coffin. Anzu caught an almost inaudible sob when she saw it, how small that coffin was, too small. Too young.
They walked forward in pairs. First Jounouchi and Shizuka, Shizuka with her eyes red and damp and Jounouchi with his arm around his sister's shoulders, a tight, sheltering hold. Difficult to say if it was because she needed that comfort, or he did, facing this as an older brother himself, the reminder of what treasure he himself had to lose.
Honda walked beside Anzu, and Otogi and Bakura had fallen into step behind them, a silent honor guard. Otogi had not known Mokuba as well as the rest of them, but enough to come today, to pay his respects, and to honor his friends' grief. Bakura was pale and silent, as he had been for the past two days; whatever he thought today, looking at that altar, it stayed in his head unspoken, as his other thoughts had.
Anzu reached to take Honda's hand, needing the reassurance of a friend, offering her own reassurance. He took it, squeezed back, as she brushed at her eyes with her other hand, her makeup smearing.
Honda's own cheeks were wet. Even standing before the coffin, seeing the face in the photograph, there was something unreal, being here, knowing that a boy who had once saved his life would soon be only ashes in a graveyard. Cosmically unfair, that a bright, wild kid like Mokuba would never get the chance to grow up. That their friend would grin at them cockily only in photographs now, never again in real life, would never again laugh, or boast to them about how his brother would be sure to win...
As Anzu sat before the altar, Honda glanced at Kaiba, sitting like a statue; he hadn't even turned his head in their direction when they had entered. Honda looked away again before getting more than a glimpse at Kaiba's face, the stern set of his features. No tears, of course. Not on Kaiba Seto's cheeks.
Anzu rose, and Honda knelt to pay his own respects, burned the incense and bowed to pray.
Yugi, last in their informal procession, looked to be the only one walking alone, to all but his own tear-blurred eyes. He could see his other self pacing beside him, grim and quiet, his head bowed. The pharaoh was far older, and knew death better than any of them, but this was still painful for him, he who valued his friendships so highly. He had made promises to Mokuba before, and while he had fulfilled those vows, there was still a sense that he had failed, a lingering guilt that he hadn't been able to protect a soul close to his.
Yugi had no room for that guilt in his own heart, just grief, for his loss, for the loss of his friends. And Kaiba's loss most of all. He knew why he nor any of his friends dared look at Kaiba. They all knew how he had cared for his brother. Just thinking about the anguish that must be in Kaiba's heart now made Yugi's own ache. To witness the physical shape of that suffering would hurt that much more, though he felt like a terrible coward, for not having the strength to face it.
When he knelt at the altar, his other self knelt beside him, an invisible gesture, but heartfelt, and Yugi heard the soft murmur of his prayer, though the words were foreign, ancient and unfamiliar. Yugi spoke his own silently, and left tears in offering, fallen on his folded hands.
When he looked up, he saw his other self had stood, was looking over his bent head. Looking at Kaiba, directly, without hesitation, and frowning, his angled eyes pensive.
Yugi stood and turned to look as well, to see what about Kaiba had so struck the pharaoh, but then Jounouchi came between them, the first of their group to dare approach and properly offer condolences. What he said was too low to hear, and Kaiba's answer also was quiet, but from Jounouchi's expression as he fell back, it hadn't been anything too awful. Perhaps too polite; Jounouchi looked more surprised than insulted, as if he had expected more from Kaiba's usually acid tongue.
Passing Jounouchi, Yugi walked over to Kaiba himself, emboldened by the invisible support at his side. Apprehensively he raised his eyes to Kaiba's face, and immediately saw what had caught his other self's attention.
That Kaiba's blue eyes were dry and showed no trace of tears, that didn't surprise him; that Kaiba's bearing was rigidly correct, that his suit was perfectly pressed and not a hair was out of place, that was all as might be expected of Kaiba, who understood the value of image and knew how to present the best one. That visibly he showed no sign of grief was so like Kaiba, who lived and dueled with the same absolute control, refusing to show anything he thought might be weakness. Even to them, who knew what his brother had meant to him, who grieved with him for Mokuba even if they couldn't completely share his pain.
But Yugi had, with his other self, dueled with Kaiba multiple times. He understood how Kaiba played, his strength, his genius tactics, and had learned to see through his strategies. Not completely, because Kaiba always had one more trick to play. But enough to know that Kaiba's brilliance was not just the cold, calculating precision of his extraordinary intelligence, but as much the fierce pride and fire of his heart.
Of that heart now, however, Yugi could see no sign. Somewhere inside Kaiba it must be bleeding, torn, broken, but not a trace of that pain showed in his eyes, in his expression. Instead he was so impassively composed that he almost seemed bored, as if he were using that iron control to resist checking his watch and seeing when this endurance trial would be over. That impression of impatience was heightened when he met Yugi's eyes, and his own narrowed, almost in frustration, it seemed to Yugi.
Yugi thought he might understand. Kaiba didn't comprehend sympathy, would prefer their hatred or apathy to what he could only see as pity. To Kaiba, an emotional display would only demean his brother's memory, not honor him. But still, that he could have risked life and soul for Mokuba before, and yet now not even flinch before his coffin...
"He should at least have remorse for his failure," the pharaoh said, that sharp censure unheard by anyone but Yugi.
Yugi cast a reproving look at his other self, but he was still watching Kaiba, still frowning. And it was true, if Kaiba only would show something, if not grief, than regret, or rage--some proof that he cared, that this mattered to him as more than a social obligation. Unless that really was all his little brother had been, an obligation, a responsibility now ended.
Yugi could not believe that. "Kaiba-kun." He wasn't sure what to say; the standard phrases all seemed so inadequate. Mokuba had been his friend, but Kaiba's brother, and the only family he had. In the end all he could manage was simply, "I'm sorry..."
"Yugi," Kaiba began, emotionlessly, without the usual challenge, but as he looked at Yugi, he seemed for a moment to be taken aback, a brief flash of--something, crossing his face, too quick for Yugi to identify the feeling. Then Kaiba stood, abruptly unfolding to his full height, gaze focused somewhere above Yugi's head. "Excuse me," he said, turned and departed through a side door, closing it behind him with a click.
Yugi looked to his friends, and saw his own concerns mirrored in their faces. If Kaiba needed to be alone for a moment, to collect himself--they understood, but at the same time, they weren't sure if they should let him be, not now. As his friend, though they had never exactly called Kaiba that.
Except for Yugi's other self, who had. Yugi could feel the pharaoh's unease, stronger now than before. He had vanished from sight to return to inside Yugi's heart, murmured now from within, There's something wrong, aibou.
"I think we should find Kaiba-kun," Yugi said aloud to his friends, quietly, and they nodded and followed him through the door after Kaiba.
Chapter 2: Concern
The corridor beyond the door lead to multiple rooms. They split up to check them all, and Jounouchi was the first to poke his head through the right door. A moment later Shizuka's cry, though soft enough not to be heard back in the main hall, brought the rest of them running. "Onii-chan, please!"
They burst into the small study, Honda and Otogi leading. The heavy curtains had been drawn, so the only light came from the hall behind them, spilling over Jounouchi, who had one fist grasping the collar of Kaiba's suit jacket and the other drawn back, about to slam into the taller boy's face.
"Jounouchi!" Honda jumped in and wrestled his friend back. Kaiba didn't step away, just straightened his lapels and stared down at the two of them with as little consideration as he might show a restrained, frothing dog.
"You son of a bitch," Jounouchi snarled, mad enough to be rabid after all. "It's your own brother's wake. If you can't show any real feeling, then at least show some decency!"
"Jounouchi-kun," Yugi said, raising his hands to placate.
"That was why he left in such a damn hurry--to answer that! He must have had it on manner mode. Polite as any guy on the subway!" Jounouchi spat, pointing to the corner. Kaiba's cell phone lay on the floor, its casing cracked apart, spilling the battery and wired circuitry onto the polished boards. The wall above was pocked where Jounouchi had thrown the phone into the plaster.
"Maybe it was a call from relatives?" Anzu suggested tentatively, but Jounouchi shook his head.
"He was saying something about proceeding as planned when I came in--it was a goddamn business deal. Couldn't quit being a CEO and be a human being for even one day, could you, Kaiba? Even for Mokuba!"
"It was an important call, it couldn't wait. Never having held a real job, you'd hardly understand, Jounouchi," Kaiba said, calmly, as ever unaffected by the shock on all their faces.
"He was your brother." Jounouchi felt tears burning, didn't bother wiping them away. They felt like a victory in the face of Kaiba's bone-dry eyes. Something he could unequivocally do better. "You bastard, can't you even care?"
Kaiba looked at him, at all of them, laser blue gaze sweeping over them like a security system scan. "None of you were invited here today. I don't have any obligation to put on a performance for you. You've given your condolences; I accept them. There's no reason for you to stay, unless one of you wants to issue a dueling challenge?" and he glanced at Jounouchi, then Yugi, a faint, provoking smirk curling the corners of his mouth.
"We'll go." The water shining on Anzu's face didn't sound in her voice, which was firm and steady for all the unreserved feeling in it. "We're sorry, Kaiba-kun. For Mokuba-kun, and for you." She turned and walked out of the room without looking back. The rest of them proceeded after her. Yugi was last, and he did hesitate at the doorway, cast a quick glance behind him.
Kaiba stood in darkness in the center of the room, watching them depart but making no move to follow, his arms crossed and his back straight, as adamantly proud a figure as ever. Yet there was something wrong, Yugi thought, looking at him, and it took him a second to place it.
Kaiba had always stood apart from the rest of their group. But Kaiba had never stood alone, because Mokuba had always been beside him.
Yugi swallowed. Kaiba's eyes fell to him, and for a moment he thought he saw a flicker in them again, that unidentifiable feeling behind the cool blue. Then Yugi turned away and joined his friends, leaving the mansion under the same sunlight that had ushered them in.
Over the course of the following week, conversation between Yugi and his friends gradually started returning to normal, but there were still pauses, gaps of silence when casual talk skirted too close to darker areas. Even their old standby of talking Duel Monsters was awkward, because it was hard to discuss the cards for too long without bringing up one of the tournaments, and hard to discuss the tournaments without coming to Kaiba, sooner or later. And that was too uncomfortable, too sore a hurt, for any of them to mention willingly. Easier to talk around it than to think about Kaiba alone in that dark room, not crying.
Though Jounouchi finally broached it openly, coming to school one morning late, and so pissed off that he earned himself a detention by swearing back at the teacher's reprimand. At lunch he explained, his fists clenching on the tabletop. "So it was seven days yesterday, since the funeral. I went by his grave this morning. Mokuba's grave. And there wasn't anything there. Not a single damn offering, not even incense ash. Like there'd been no services at all."
"Kaiba-kun must be very busy lately," Anzu said softly. "I stopped by his house a couple evenings ago, but he wasn't back from the office yet, and the maid said he's hardly been home at all."
"Because his damn corporation is more important than anything. He doesn't care." Jounouchi gritted his teeth. "That bastard--I should've hit him after all. Mokuba was a good kid. He deserved a better brother than that."
To which none of them had a good answer.
A couple days after that, however, it became more difficult not to bring up the matter, because the entire school was buzzing about Kaiba. His name was plastered all over the news again, though this time the catastrophe was of a wholly different nature.
"I guess he has been busy," Jounouchi remarked the next day, though that admission wasn't said with any trace of forgiveness, and none of them thought it should be. That Kaiba's behavior might make more sense still didn't justify it. But even if they didn't talk about it, they couldn't help but feel a touch of concern that Kaiba's world seemed to be shaking apart around him, all at once.
"Kaiba Corporation going under?" screamed the current headlines, and the subheads underneath read, "Latest accounts show Domino's most successful business on the verge of bankruptcy; MainBrain Entertainment Inc. making a bid for corporate buyout, while KC President Kaiba Seto (age 18) faces possible charges of fraud."
"You're thinking about Kaiba-kun," Yugi said to his other self that night. He was already in pajamas, sitting in bed playing a handheld game. Now he put it aside to focus on concerns that were not exactly his own, but would keep him up all the same.
The pharaoh was a translucent shade sitting beside him on the bed, his nonexistent weight making no depression on the mattress. "I'm sorry, aibou."
Yugi shook his head. "No, I've been thinking about him a lot, too. Him and Mokuba-kun..." He kept his voice down, so as not to worry his mother and grandfather with his apparent talking to himself. "It's not fair."
"As has been often observed before, life isn't fair," his other self said, seriously.
"Life, or death. Mokuba-kun was so young. It feels like he should have been saved, somehow." That wasn't just his own thought, he knew, but his other self's. Yugi didn't know how else to deal with that nebulous guilt save to put it into words. "Even if there wasn't any way to save him, it feels like there should have been. It should be against the rules for someone like Mokuba-kun, for any kid, to die like that, all of a sudden, for no reason. But there was nothing anyone could have done."
Yugi drew up his knees, wrapped his arms around them, unconsciously like a little kid himself. "Do you think Kaiba-kun has been thinking like that, too?" If anyone could understand what Kaiba was thinking now, it would be the pharaoh, who had the same pride as his greatest rival, and other ties Yugi didn't fully comprehend. "Whatever's happening with his company, this bankruptcy problem, I'm sure he can handle it. Kaiba-kun won't let something like that beat him.
"But with Mokuba-kun, he couldn't do anything at all. He wasn't there, it wasn't his fault, but he can't do anything about it now. Maybe he doesn't know what to do now." For Kaiba, who put his faith in nothing but his own will and had come so far with that strength, to have lost so much and have no way of winning it back, the futility must be tearing at him. Tearing him apart. He had woken from a coma before, pulled himself from the shadow world, when Mokuba had needed him; would anything be strong enough to pull him from this failure?
His other self didn't share that fear, however. Instead the pharaoh said, "Kaiba will be searching for the one responsible. The man who killed his brother."
"You mean, the driver of the car that hit Mokuba?" Yugi asked. "But it was an accident, it had to be. Maybe the driver was drunk, he might not even have known what he did--"
"Maybe," his other self said darkly. "But intentional or not, he's still guilty, all the same." In the darkness the faint glow of the third eye flickered on his forehead. "An honorable man, having caused such a terrible accident, would admit to his crime, accept his punishment. That he has not..."
"What are you saying?" Yugi heard his voice rise, brought it down to a whisper again. "That it wasn't an accident? That it was--on purpose," and he felt sick to his stomach, just saying it, "that someone murdered Mokuba?"
"I'm sorry, aibou," his other self said, sincerely, but Yugi knew the apology was for upsetting him, not for making the accusation. "I don't pretend to understand the world of money that Kaiba works in. But I know ruthlessness, and what ruthless men will do. The way Kaiba duels, it's because he was taught to fight in that world. Though Kaiba has, I'm sure, far more honor than any of his opponents. And with that honor, he'd never forgive the man who so insufferably trespassed his soul."
"The police must be investigating the accident," Yugi said, "but the news reports said there weren't any witnesses..."
His other self shrugged. The pharaoh didn't consider modern law to be an especially adequate or meaningful system of rules. "Kaiba will seek and take his own justice."
"Revenge," Yugi said, and his other self nodded, not really appreciating the difference. "But, Kaiba-kun..." If vengeance had been occupying Kaiba at the wake, not the threat to his company after all--that would be easier to accept than Kaiba's seeming indifference to his own brother's death. But shouldn't they have seen some sign of it? If that kind of rage were driving him--Kaiba had never been one to conceal his anger before.
Yugi thought of the flicker of unidentifiable emotion he had glimpsed in Kaiba's eyes. But that hadn't been either as hot or as cold as his rage should be. If anything it might have been--not guilt, but something like it. A sort of anxiety, but too subdued to really tell. And ultimately that was what had been so wrong. Not just that Kaiba had seemed to feel no grief. But that he had seemed to feel practically nothing at all.
In Duelist Kingdom, Yugi recalled, Kaiba had seemed at first to be the same as he had been before, the same arrogance, the malice of his insults. But there had been something visible beneath the surface when they had dueled, something different and powerful, and Yugi's other self had noticed that difference, had realized that Kaiba had been as completely changed then, as he had seemed unaffected now.
Yugi didn't need to say any of those thoughts aloud; either his other self was sharing them, or had the same thoughts himself, if indeed there was any difference. The pharaoh answered Yugi's unspoken question, "No. I looked at him and saw nothing, either. To have sealed his feelings so completely--I wouldn't have thought Kaiba capable of it. Even when his heart had fallen to his own evil, he still was able to feel, as twisted as the emotions were."
"You're worried about him," Yugi said.
The pharaoh's answer came in his silence. "I am, too," Yugi said. To be hurting so much that one would choose instead to feel nothing at all...Kaiba was too smart to damage himself like that. Wasn't he? How could a true duelist continue to fight with no heart at all? "Let's go see Kaiba-kun tomorrow," he said.
"All right, aibou," his other self agreed, and Yugi could tell he was relieved, for all it barely sounded in his voice.
Chapter 3: Logic
Yugi cut his afternoon classes, leaving school at lunch to take the bus across town to the KC tower. Navigating Kaiba Corporation headquarters was something of a game in itself, not truly a maze, but a series of puzzle traps in the form of receptionists and security. He slipped past both with a combination attack, partly his own skills of making himself invisible, too small and weak to bother noticing, honed by years of being a bully target; and partly by imitating the utter confidence of his other self, striding so surely that no one dared question his presence.
He soon made it to the final boss, the secretary sitting guard before Kaiba's office. Gulping, Yugi approached the desk. The fiercely attractive woman behind it stared down at him across its broad silver surface. "May I help you?"
"Mutou Yugi...er, from the Kame Game Shop," Yugi said. "I have an appointment?"
She hit precisely one key on her computer. "I don't show any scheduled."
"Oh, that's strange. I'm sorry for the trouble, but could you call Kaiba-kun--er, the president, and ask him? It's important."
She stared at him with pitch black eyes for a long moment, then hit another button. "President Kaiba?"
"I said I am not to be disturbed," a disembodied voice sounded over the speaker.
Yugi winced. Definitely Kaiba; no one else could manage that particular belittling bite. The receptionist didn't flinch, however. "There's a Mutou Yugi-san here to see you."
"Yugi?" Kaiba said, possibly with some surprise. "Hmm. Which one?"
"Never mind. One's as bad as the other. Send him in."
"You can see the president now," the secretary told Yugi, and clicked a final key that opened the doors behind her. Yugi ducked his head in thanks, touched the puzzle around his neck for reassurance, and entered the office.
Kaiba was sitting at the big desk before the window, working at a laptop with stacks of printouts scattered in precarious towers around him. He looked up when Yugi entered, long enough to take in his tentative stance and the lack of gold streaks in his hair. Hmphed like the pharaoh's absence wasn't necessarily unexpected, and reached for one of the stacks, but he didn't pick it up the pages right away, waiting, his fingers rustling the papers under them impatiently. It was the only sound in the office once the door had closed, so high up that the city's traffic noise couldn't reach the windows.
Yugi came forward until he was standing directly before the desk. Kaiba looked much as he had the week before. Still wearing black, the dark clothes exaggerating his pale complexion. And still expressionless, mouth set in an even line and blue eyes hard.
Composed as ever, though his eyes might have been a little bloodshot. Not from crying, however. On Yugi's closer inspection, Kaiba didn't look in pain, but he did look exhausted, dark patches under his eyes and his face wan, more than just the contrasting effect of his black shirt. He had been working hard. Too hard, maybe, and perhaps that didn't excuse him from forgetting things immeasurably more important than his business, but Yugi couldn't help but feel a stab of sympathy. Kaiba had so much to deal with now. And if his other self were right about what else was occupying him...
"'So what do you want?" Kaiba broke the silence.
Yugi started. "I just wanted to see you, Kaiba-kun. To see how you were doing with...everything. I'm sorry to disturb your work, I was hoping to catch you on your lunch break."
"I don't have time for lunch breaks," Kaiba said, and showed atypical restraint by not adding, 'or time for you, either,' though it was clearly spelled out in his eyes.
"Well, when you stop to eat--you can't risk spilling food on your laptop, right?"
"I said, I don't have time for that," Kaiba said, dismissively. He picked up the top sheet off the closest stack of papers, scanned down the columns of figures. Circled a line in red and put the pen down again, looking back at Yugi. "If you're here to say something, say it. I'm listening."
"Aren't you going to eat anything?" Yugi asked, dismayed.
"Of course, I have a dinner meeting at a restaurant with three of my top investors tonight."
"...Oh," Yugi said. "I guess they must be pretty upset right now."
"One would suppose, yes," Kaiba said, dryly.
And that was entirely wrong, that cold composure which might be even amusement. Not that it was surprising that Kaiba could be so calm about impending bankruptcy. Yugi didn't have to ask to know he had a plan to save Kaiba Corporation, would handle that dilemma somehow. Kaiba was far too brilliant to lose something he had worked so hard for.
But that he could be so calm at all. That he could be so indifferent, as if he didn't care.
"Kaiba-kun," Yugi burst out, unable to help himself, "have the police found the guy yet? The driver in the accident?"
"The driver?" Kaiba blinked, assimilating the question and taking a second to place it. "No idea. The police have abandoned the inquiry, I believe. Without any witnesses there's not enough to go on, especially since it appears to have been no more than a terrible accident."
"But you could make them pursue it, couldn't you?" Yugi pressed. "You could demand it, or you could hire someone else to investigate--"
"I could," Kaiba said.
But he hadn't. He didn't care. "If it wasn't just an accident," Yugi said, softly, tentatively.
"Do you know something that implies it was otherwise? What are you suggesting, Yugi?" Kaiba asked, his voice derisively quiet. Indifferent. When Yugi didn't answer, he shrugged, turned back to his computer and began to type.
But there was a chime as he leaned forward, the faint ting of metal hitting metal, and Yugi noticed what had been hidden under Kaiba's coat before, that where the usual locket hung, now were two. Identical flat metal cards stamped with the imprint of Duel Monsters, but one was on a shorter string, hanging half a length above the other.
Yugi had never known exactly what those charms symbolized, but since Duelist Kingdom and always afterwards, he had never seen either Kaiba or Mokuba without theirs. To see them both on Kaiba alone--his heart clenched, but at the same time that neither had been thrown away was proof that all had not been forgotten after all, no matter what cold face Kaiba wore. In his heart he felt his other self's satisfaction at that realization, tempered by his own despair.
"Kaiba-kun, you're not alone."
"No." Kaiba's blue eyes flicked up from the laptop to Yugi, and he sighed. "Unfortunately, I can see I'm not."
"We loved Mokuba-kun, too," Yugi said, gathering himself. "He was friends with all of us. With him gone it will never be the same. Will it," and he glanced at Kaiba, but Kaiba was looking back at the screen again, hands flying over the keyboard.
Yugi clasped his hands over the puzzle, bowed his head and swallowed the lump in his throat, his eyes stinging. "I know it's different for you. I don't have a brother or a sister myself, so I can't really understand what it must be like, to lose one. To lose him like that--people keep saying how horrible it is, but there couldn't be a good way, could there? I don't see how it would hurt any less, however it happened..."
He trailed off, realizing he was speaking into a sudden silence. Kaiba had stopped typing, though his gaze remained fixed on the screen.
"He wanted me to tell you," Kaiba said, almost under his breath. "If not any of the others, then you at least."
Kaiba only shook his head, dismissively, and resumed his frenetic typing.
"Kaiba-kun," Yugi said, "you don't have to do this. I know you don't think of us as your friends, but we do understand, at least a little. If there's any way we could help, anything we could do, we would. We will. You don't have to be alone. Mokuba-kun is dead, but you're--"
Kaiba stood, shoving back his chair so abruptly that it squeaked across the floor to crash against the window sill behind him. His pallid complexion had gone a shade paler, so his blue eyes stood out all the brighter, and for an instant Yugi thought he saw in them a flicker of furious denial.
When Kaiba opened his mouth Yugi expected it would be to tell him to shut up, but then his lips twisted into the old familiar smirk. "Pleasant sentiments," Kaiba said, in a flat, cruelly polite drawl. "Now, if you would leave--the receptionist can assist if you get lost finding the elevator."
"Maybe later I can see about coddling your circle of idiots, but I'm too busy for this now. There's a lot of work that needs to be done as soon as possible, yesterday, preferably, and I have to handle most of it myself. In case you've forgotten, Kaiba Corporation is presently short a vice president."
He had gone too far. The puzzle flashed, and the pharaoh straightened to face him, gold streaking his spiked hair and his eyes angry. "I challenge you, Kaiba Seto. Now. Duel for the right to busy yourself with this work that's so damned important to you."
A slight widening of Kaiba's eyes was his only acknowledgment of the change. He shook his head, the usual arrogance in his smirk. "Do I look like a man who has time for a card game?"
"You look like a man who has run out of time for anything else. Quit this pointless occupation for the moment. You're no coward. Running away doesn't suit you."
"Losing everything I've worked for doesn't suit me, either. Whatever you're so stuck on isn't worth my trouble."
Yugi's jaw clenched at the coldness of those words, of his tone. Even listening as closely as he was, neither he nor his gentler self inside could hear anything in Kaiba's voice but angry irritation. No grief, none of the loss weighing so heavy on them, that should be so unknowably greater in him. No real feeling at all. "You can't mean that."
Kaiba arched an eyebrow. "Am I usually in the habit of saying anything I don't mean?"
"Kaiba," the pharaoh said, and his voice softened a little, painfully. "I shattered your soul once, to remind you it was there. I could again." It might have been a threat, so uncompromising was his tone. But it wasn't.
And Kaiba heard the offer for what it was, his temper subsided as he looked at Yugi across the paper-covered expanse of his desk. "You might not believe it," he said, "but I appreciate the gesture. However unnecessary."
He met Yugi's intent gaze a moment longer, not quite in challenge. Looking into those blue eyes, the pharaoh felt the same momentary vertigo he had experienced facing Kaiba at Duelist Kingdom, the realization that there was something more there than the obvious, some extra level he didn't understand. Then it had been the fire of Kaiba's determination to save his little brother.
But Mokuba was gone now, and that fire--should be burning him, should be marking him somehow, no matter how coldly he tried to bury it. Looking into his face should be like looking into a mirror; Yugi should see at least a trace of his grief reflected, no matter how far Kaiba tried to ignore or bury his feelings. Kaiba was no monster, whatever impression he liked to make.
That's not Kaiba, his other self insisted, passionately, crying out inside him.
But the pharaoh had met Kaiba too many times, in duels and in truces, to mistake him. No imposter could hope to match the steel in those blue eyes, the pride in his voice, proof of strength that in another, lesser man would be only arrogance. This was Kaiba Seto.
"Now that that's settled," Kaiba said, "if you could see both your selves out, I have work to do. Two representatives from MainBrain Entertainment will be here in half an hour, and I need to ready my rejection of their latest offer."
This was Kaiba Seto, unbowed and unbroken, and while Yugi never would want to see him defeated, what price had he paid for this victory? Guilt twisted his gut. He should have come sooner, shouldn't have underestimated his rival. He wouldn't have thought Kaiba capable of this, not in so short a time. To have so completely cauterized his wound, seared out his own heart to stop the bleeding--Kaiba might still be standing, but he would never truly duel again; that admirable strength was meaningless now. His genius, his talent, his money and power that had built this tower they stood in now, all of that meant nothing, empty outlines, with the power of spirit that should fill them gone.
No, said his other self within his heart. But it wasn't the same painful denial as before. No longer upset, but oddly thoughtful. He's not broken. He should be, but he's not. He's whole.
"Aibou..." But his partner was right, as always. He had seen Kaiba lost before, almost beyond redemption. This man before him bore little resemblance to the twisted boy he had faced in the terrible duel at Death-T. That Kaiba wouldn't be wearing those two lockets over his heart; he would have thrown everything away. What Kaiba destroyed, he annihilated completely and utterly. He wouldn't keep remnants. Sentimentality was a foreign concept to a man living entirely for the future.
This wasn't Kaiba broken; this was something else wrong. Something else entirely. And Kaiba was watching him, blue eyes intent, cross, impatient...
Not pained, not angry. But waiting. He had yet to turn back to his papers and computer, however important they were. If Yugi didn't know better, he would have thought Kaiba was holding his breath.
Even after so long existing with his other self, it still was sometimes impossible for Yugi to know which one of them had a thought first, or if perhaps there were instances when they realized but a single thought, between two spirits. They were both gifted gamers, both adept at solving riddles, at putting pieces together. This was a logic puzzle, a path of reasoning that would end at a sole conclusion, and they followed it together, as but one mind, while Kaiba watched.
If his brother's death would irrevocably damage the true Kaiba, then, were this truly Kaiba, he should be broken; so if he was not, but was indeed Kaiba...
"My god," Yugi whispered, unable to help his growing smile. How it could be, he had no idea, but even before he said it aloud, he saw its confirmation in Kaiba's look of apprehensive resignation. "Mokuba-kun's alive!"
Chapter 4: Elucidation
As a teacher, Takeuchi Yasuko made an effort not to play favorites among her students. It was difficult, however, when dealing with a boy as bright and gifted as young Katsuya-kun. He had been the last sign-up, and she was glad he had made the deadline. At thirteen he was one of the younger students in the program, but after only a week he had already impressed her.
MainBrain Co.'s Junior Elite program accepted applications from any high or junior high school student, but the advanced entrance exam ensured that only children with an exceptional degree of computer expertise made the cut. Classes totaled only about thirty, from all around the province. The fees for the month-long intensive session were nominal, and the company was good about providing scholarships for any kid who passed, even covering the boarding expenses. The courses were taught at MainBrain Entertainment headquarter's own computer labs, using their state-of-the-art equipment.
Some of the company execs protested devoting their mainframe's processing power to teaching kids, but it benefited MainBrain in the long run; a good third of the students were later recruited as employees, sometimes right out of high school. Yasuko already planned on recommending Katsuya for that accelerated track. Post-secondary education would be unnecessary for a kid with his innate talent for electronics and programming. Instinct told her he was one of the best she had seen in her four years teaching the Junior Elite program.
Though the boy's scores might not reflect that at the end of the month. He was young enough to be undirected, was distracted easily. She also suspected from the way he didn't always volunteer answers that Katsuya was toning down his brilliance a bit, so as not to provoke jealousy in the class. Not only was he an intelligent boy, but a likeable one as well, cheerful and friendly. The first couple days, Yasuko had been amused to see him eating with the sixteen and seventeen year olds, thinking he was trying to advance his reputation among his peers by making friends with the high schoolers. But after a week's observation she had decided it wasn't merely social maneuvering; the boy got along with them well enough that he must be used to hanging out with older kids. He likely had a big brother or sister and was included in their circle of friends. Certainly he was bright enough to keep up with the more mature children.
Even now, Katsuya was talking with Junko, the shy sixteen-year-old sitting next to him, the girl's sleek black-haired head ducked down to the level of Katsuya's bleached blond tangle. Yasuko heard him whisper as he pointed to Junko's screen. The teacher coughed. "Katsuya-kun, this project is supposed to be an individual, not a team, effort."
Junko and Katsuya both pulled apart, Junko murmuring an ashamed apology, while Katsuya grinned at the teacher, unabashed, and rubbed his nose. "Sorry, Takeuchi-sensei. Junko-san was just helping me figure out the error in my code here. I think I've got it now."
Or rather, you were helping her figure out her error, Yasuko corrected in her head, but couldn't help but smile at the kind fib.
After the class, however, going over the assignments during the lunchbreak, she frowned. Sighed and went down to the lounge where the students were hanging out before the last class of the afternoon. "Katsuya-kun, can I speak with you?"
He bounced over and cheerfully followed her to the lab, took a seat next to her and idly kicked his legs while she called up his morning's work on her terminal. "Katsuya-kun, you didn't complete the assignment."
"But it compiled all right, didn't it--"
"Your code itself is fine," Yasuko said, "but the assignment was two-part--your program can translate the algorithm, but it doesn't reverse the translation."
The boy's bright gray eyes widened in surprise. "Oh, no! I forgot!"
The teacher sighed. "I went over the instructions three times in class, yesterday and today. If you didn't understand, you should have said something then."
"But I did," Katsuya said earnestly, his vibrant smile gone. "I just forgot. I'm sorry."
"I'm afraid I can't give a passing grade on this assignment," Yasuko said, regretfully. "Your afternoon teamwork has been excellent, so you might not be dropped out of the course yet, but--"
"Oh, Takeuchi-sensei, please!" Katsuya's gray eyes were watery with tears. "Let me try again! I know I can do it, I just forgot to!"
"This isn't a simple fix," Yasuko said. "You'd have to rewrite the whole program. And we're starting a new group project tomorrow morning--"
"Can I work on it tonight, then? I can walk back to the dorm myself later, if I can work on it tonight and tomorrow evening, I can do it!"
Yasuko considered. "Well, the lab isn't scheduled for anything else this week anyway. But I have an appointment tonight, so you'd be alone, I wouldn't be able to help you--"
"Oh, please, Takeuchi-sensei, I know I can do it. I'll try and write the best program ever."
As a teacher, faced with the dedication to learning shining in those big, sincere eyes, she couldn't help but smile. "I'm sure you will, Katsuya-kun." He would probably work better alone in the lab, without friends to distract him. And she had no doubt he could do it. Junko's assignment had been perfectly executed. "I'll have security reprogram your pass so you'll have mainframe access this evening and tomorrow night. But don't stay up too late, Katsuya-kun. I'm going to want to see you before class tomorrow morning, so I can check on your progress."
He bobbed his tousled head agreeably, tears gone. "Thank you, Takeuchi-sensei!"
"You're welcome, Katsuya-kun," Yasuko said, wanting to thank him instead--students such as him were what made teaching worthwhile. "Be sure to try your best."
"I will!" the boy said, cheerful once more, grinning at her so brightly that she missed the incisive gleam of triumph in his gray eyes.
Yugi had switched back, from the royal duelist to his more pacific self, Kaiba noted. Not that this was an advantage. Compared to his punk-streaked, challenging alter ego, this Yugi was the more dangerous of the two. The shadow side valued winning above nearly all else, a proud ambition Kaiba completely understood. The other Yugi put other things first. It made him unpredictable.
And either Yugi had the disconcerting ability to see through him as if he were made of glass. Kaiba had known the truth would come out from the moment his secretary had let him know Yugi was outside his office. He was frankly surprised it had taken this long; he had half been expecting Yugi to march in and ask right off the bat. But strong feeling interfered with logical reasoning, Kaiba supposed.
Really, it was unavoidably touching, the way all of them had reacted. He hadn't expected it; he and his brother weren't actually part of their circle, after all. Though Mokuba had guessed, and Kaiba felt a slight qualm that he hadn't made more of an effort to do as his brother had asked and tell Yugi the truth. Not that he had had much of a chance. Nor had it been necessary, obviously.
"So where is Mokuba-kun?" Yugi asked, looking about the office like he expected Mokuba to pop out from under Kaiba's desk or somesuch.
In for a penny, in for a pound, wasn't that how the English expression went? He had lost all chance to deny it a good twenty-five seconds ago. Best to just explain and get Yugi out of the way as soon as possible. At least he could be certain his office wasn't bugged; he had verified that first thing this morning. "Mokuba," Kaiba said, double-checking his watch, "is currently attending an advanced computer curriculum at MainBrain Entertainment, Inc."
"He's what?" Yugi blinked, and then frowned, a flicker of the other's sharp eyes in his round gentle ones, though he didn't completely change. "Wait, isn't MainBrain the company that's trying to buy KaibaCorp now?"
"Attempting a takeover, yes," Kaiba said. "Which is why he's enrolled under a pseudonym." What pseudonym, he didn't know, though Mokuba had assured him he would recognize it. But he hadn't tried to inquire about the class roster. If it got back to MainBrain's execs that he was interested in their unimpressive little program, that would pique their interest in it as well.
Mokuba's face was nowhere near as recognized as his own. People, especially important businessmen, didn't pay attention to children. He and his brother both had learned to use that to their advantage. But if MainBrain's board started scrutinizing too carefully...
"Kaiba-kun," Yugi asked, watching him closely enough that Kaiba was sure he was prising all manner of secrets from the silence, "just what happened to Mokuba-kun? The accident, the funeral, the grave--they were all..."
"Faked," Kaiba said, irritably, not liking the way it sounded, bare truth though it might be. Too much like cheating, but the stakes were too high. Sometimes the only way to wring a win from a losing game is to change the rules. The pharaoh, who set his own rules, would understand. But it still grated to say it. "There was no accident. The police and hospital reports were falsified."
He'd passed enough money into the right hands to get the documents properly signed and approved, under the pretext of keeping the matter out of the public eye, not admitting he had leaked the story to the media himself. Naturally there were no witnesses; if anyone tried to verify the story, they would locate no doctor who had actually examined the body. But neither was there anyone who could explain the truth, save him and his brother, and they were counting on MainBrain not to look into the affair too closely. Just a child, just a child's death.
"But why did you do it?"
Kaiba sighed, pushed his laptop aside and leaned back in his chair, resisting the urge to rub his temples. After the migraine that had been throbbing behind his eyes continuously for the past week, he would have thought he'd be used to headaches by now. "Two months ago I noticed something amiss in KaibaCorp's accounts. When we looked into it farther, it became obvious it was deliberate--very subtle, very delicate financial adjustments. We assumed it was an embezzlement case at first, but it turned out the aim wasn't skimming a little profit. It was outright corporate sabotage, designed to crash KaibaCorp."
"The bankruptcy," Yugi said. "Then it was deliberately set up by someone? And the stuff about your taxes that's been in the papers?"
"If I were going to commit tax fraud," Kaiba said, a touch insulted, "it wouldn't be anywhere near as damn clumsy as those charges. The tax code is riddled with enough loopholes that I could get away with everything they accuse perfectly legally, if I wanted. Though it's useless trying to explain that to those boneheaded federal investigators."
Yugi winced. "Kaiba-kun..."
"The trouble is, even having enough evidence to prove the deception, I have no one to accuse. Whoever's behind the electronic sabotage is highly placed in Kaiba Corporation, maybe several people, and I haven't been able to identify them yet. They're damn good at covering their tracks. But we did figure out who was backing them."
"This MainBrain company."
"MainBrain Entertainment, Inc." Kaiba nodded. It hadn't been a difficult deduction. They were a subsidiary of a larger company that had once been one of Kaiba Corporation's biggest competitors in defense contracts; and they had made a move on KaibaCorp before, less than a month after he had become CEO. MainBrain's executive board was as ruthless as Gozaburo had been, and now that Kaiba Corporation was turning its largest profits yet in the gaming industry, they were even more eager for the prize. However they could get it.
"The financial games they've been playing would require a lot of computer power to calculate properly. If there's any hard evidence of what MainBrain's people have been doing, it would be on their own systems. But MainBrain's internal mainframe is highly restricted; it's a closed network, can't be hacked from the outside. The only way to get access is from a terminal on site, and you'd still have to crack their system once inside. I could hardly walk in and do it myself; they'd recognize me even under an assumed name. But any other of KaibaCorp's computer experts might be the hacker who's sold out to MainBrain to begin with."
Yugi's eyes widened. "You needed someone you could trust," he said. "So you sent Mokuba-kun."
"I sent him?" Kaiba said, and shook his head. "This was Mokuba's plan. I agreed to it because it was the best we had. He had an easy in because of his age. MainBrain runs a program for kid hackers, the entrance exam isn't anything special."
"But you didn't want them to suspect who he really was," Yugi said. "And they wouldn't suspect someone dead..."
He didn't really understand, though, Kaiba could tell from his furrowed brow. Yugi was always easy to read, always allowed himself to be read, as if he had never had anything to hide. What Kaiba saw there now was confusion, not why they had done it, but the drastic lengths to which they had gone. Brilliant duelist though Yugi might be, Kaiba had to remind himself that his rival knew next to nothing about his other major game, the vicious strategies and schemes of the business world.
"They can't suspect Mokuba," Kaiba said. "If they discover who he is--they'd have little legal recourse; any accusation they'd make, I could return, with the evidence Mokuba is gathering. So they'd have to resort to other measures to stop him."
That threat Yugi got, and quicker than Kaiba thought he would. He blanched. "But Mokuba-kun is just a kid!"
"Why would that matter? You were the one asking about the hit and run before, weren't you?" Kaiba pointed out. "That accident never really happened. But the attempt the week before it was no accident. The target was me, not my brother, and it failed, obviously; I saw the car coming. But I don't doubt who hired that driver; the timing was too fortuitous. Everything was set up in KaibaCorp's accounts. It would have been the perfect scenario, the CEO dies, and then the truth of his company's finances comes to light. My death would have been passed off as an honorable suicide, and MainBrain would walk away with KaibaCorp in their pocket.
"Instead we gave them a different situation to take advantage of--loss of the vice president, tragic death in the family. I'd be under such great stress, and it's well known I'm terribly young to handle the pressure of running this company anyway," and Kaiba smirked. "So now they're moving in, hoping I'll break soon. Slavering wolves stalking outside at my door, blind to the dragon in their own den."
"But if they realized you faked his death, they might see the trap before it's sprung," Yugi said.
"I don't know who in Kaiba Corporation is on their payroll," Kaiba said. "Or who in my household might be. There's a good chance the mansion is bugged. I designed this office and its security systems personally, but outside it I can't be sure I'm not observed."
"You couldn't tell us the truth," Yugi murmured. "That's why you didn't tell us about the accident, or want us at the wake."
"I don't think you or your friends would deliberately betray Mokuba," Kaiba said. "But none of you have ever shown any experience with or aptitude for keeping your mouths shut."
"Well, that," Yugi agreed, "but even if you couldn't tell us the truth, you didn't want to lie to us. Not when you knew it would hurt us. You didn't want us to be depressed for no reason, when you had no way of stopping it."
Kaiba stared at his rival across his desk, and wondered, as he had often had occasion to do before, how exhausting Yugi found it, to be forever searching for the good side of anything and anyone.
"So how is Mokuba-kun doing?" Yugi asked, and Kaiba saw his gaze drop, glanced down at himself and realized his rival was looking at the two lockets he was wearing around his neck. "Are you in touch? How's it going, his--mission?"
Kaiba reached to the necklaces without thinking, realized what he was doing and straightened his collar instead, concealing the lockets under his coat. No need to explain that Mokuba couldn't have risked taking such an obvious identifying mark with him; Yugi could figure that much out on his own. No need to explain that Mokuba had asked him to ensure his locket was kept in a safe place, where it wouldn't be lost; Yugi wasn't asking anyway. "I heard from him a little over a week ago," Kaiba said. "On the day the program started, after his first class. There weren't any complications with his enrollment. Since he hasn't contacted me since, I assume nothing else has come up yet."
"Over a week ago..." Yugi rocked back on his heels like he was balancing on a ship's moving deck. "The call you took at the wake. That was Mokuba-kun!"
"It was poor timing," Kaiba admitted. "But he wasn't sure if he'd get another chance."
Yugi, unexpectedly, laughed, then cut it short, his ears going red. "I'm sorry, Kaiba-kun. I just--we were so worried then, the way you were acting..."
"It surprised you," Kaiba said. "You were expecting a more appropriate exhibition."
"Now I'm more surprised that you didn't punch out Jounouchi-kun. Did you even get a chance to say good-bye?"
"What I could say was limited, knowing it might be overhead. And Mokuba couldn't have stayed on for much longer as it were," Kaiba said, shrugging. His laptop chimed an alert, and he tapped a key to bring it out of standby, checked the clock in the corner of the screen.
"I should go, shouldn't I," Yugi said. "You've got that appointment with people from MainBrain, right? Um, good luck with that...I guess you know what to say to them to make them leave you alone for a little while longer."
He took a couple paces towards the door, then stopped and turned back, and there was a momentary flash of the other in his eyes, catching the gold gleam off the puzzle around his neck. "Kaiba-kun. Thank you for telling me."
"Yugi." Kaiba met that intent gaze, somewhere between one and the other. "What I told you--"
"I won't tell anyone," Yugi said immediately. "My friends..." His face twisted in almost physical pain at the thought of that betrayal, but with resolution, too. "I'll find some way to make them feel better, but I won't risk Mokuba-kun's life. I swear." He hesitated. "That's the other reason why you did it, isn't it, Kaiba-kun? If they're willing to go so far against you--Mokuba-kun is safest with them thinking he's dead. He's not a target that way."
Kaiba didn't say anything, though he wondered how much his face was giving away. Years of carefully constructed walls that might as well have been plate glass windows, for all his rival seemed to notice. Damn the man. Both of him.
Yugi ducked his head as if to avoid that unspoken curse, started for the door again. Only to stop before he opened it, looking back again. "Kaiba-kun?"
Kaiba had pulled his laptop back before him, hoping to finish at least a couple emails before the MainBrain representatives arrived. In-depth background checks on a few key employees had turned up certain factors of interest, but not all vices could be exploited by blackmailers... He looked over the top of the screen at Yugi, who was just barely tall enough to meet his eyes from the entryway.
"Do you have many meetings tomorrow?" Yugi asked. "When would be a good time for me to come by?"
Not if; when. Kaiba sighed. "Go talk to my secretary. Tell her it's about the next Kaiba Land dueling tournament. And make sure the appointment's scheduled in my office. Evening or night would be probably be best."
Yugi nodded understanding, only to continue standing there by the door, watching him work for a moment before remarking, "You are going home to sleep, Kaiba-kun?"
"Don't worry, I'll be here late enough to see you, if you're planning to sneak out past your bedtime."
"You are sleeping, right, Kaiba-kun?" Yugi asked, sounding oddly distressed.
Kaiba frowned. "What does that have to do with anything? The MainBrain representatives will be here shortly, it'd be better if they didn't run into you." He believed Yugi would keep the secret, but deception wasn't one of his rival's practiced tactics; avoidance would be the surer approach.
But Yugi kept standing there for another moment, his gentle eyes watching Kaiba type, one hand resting on his puzzle, the other on the door's handle. Quietly he said, "It must be difficult for you now, working alone without Mokuba-kun."
Yugi didn't sound pitying; Kaiba was learning to hear the difference between humiliating pity and simple sympathy, and Yugi's soft statement was little more than honesty. He answered with the same. "Yes, it is."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Kaiba-kun," Yugi said, and finally departed.
Chapter 5: Suspicion
At 10:28 PM, a boy passed through the security checkpoint exiting MainBrain Entertainment headquarters. The guards on duty watched him carefully swipe the pass hanging on the chain around his neck, and chuckled. He was all but bouncing on his toes with a kid's attentive excitement at assuming the responsibilities of an adult. "You must be Honda Katsuya," the one of the security men said.
The boy stretched up to try to see their monitors over the counter. "Did my card tell you that?"
"No, Takeuchi-sensei did. But your card verified it," and he turned his monitor to show the boy, pointing to his name glowing in white pixels.
"This place is so cool!" the kid giggled.
"How'd your project go?" the other guard inquired. "Did you finish it?"
"Almost!" the boy replied. "It's going pretty good. I think I should get it done tomorrow night. Will you guys be here then, too?"
"Should be," the first guard said, he and his partner both smiling. "Are you going to wait for the bus?"
The kid shrugged. "Nah, I can just walk back. It's only a few blocks."
"Okay. We'll call ahead to the dorm, so they'll know to expect you. See you tomorrow, Katsuya-kun. Good luck with your project!"
"Thanks, see you!" the boy said, and waved goodbye as he stepped through the double doors leading outside. Once on the street, he took a deep breath of the warm summer night air, stretched and started down the sidewalk, cheerfully skipping over the cracks.
It had gone pretty good. It had gone very good. Excellently, even. Laughing, he broke into a run, throwing out his arms and delighting in the wind against his face, dodging around the taller, older, slower pedestrians in the well-lit streets.
A block away he slowed to a walk, did a little spinning step in place and scanned the people around him. No one that he had seen in front of the MainBrain building, and no one out of breath, as they would be had they been chasing after his silly dash. It wasn't very likely that he would be followed anyway, but better safe than sorry. Assured that he was alone, he ducked into a nearly empty convenience store, went to the deserted bread aisle in the back and took out his cell phone, dialing with his thumb without looking at the keys.
After two rings his call was picked up. "Yes?" The single word was coldly snapped, the voice speaking it curt, hardly courteous, barely civil.
It made his good day perfect, to hear it. "Hi, Nii-sama!"
"Mokuba." His brother managed to cram half a dozen questions into just his name, the primary ones being, 'are you all right?' and 'have there been any problems?', followed by 'how difficult is their system?' and 'have you found anything yet?' and then, buried deep enough that he could hear them only thanks to long practice, 'have you missed me?' and 'when are you coming back?'
That it was his name, however, and not another more innocuous phrase, meant that his brother was positive no one would overhear him. Mokuba frowned. "Nii-sama, why are you still at the office? It's almost eleven at night!"
"It's barely half past ten," his brother said. "And I've been sifting through some interesting data on various of our employees, though I'm not sure how much of it pertains to the present situation. What do you have?"
"Paydirt," Mokuba said. "I had a couple hours alone in the lab tonight, that was more than enough time to hack in. No wonder they don't put their system online, it's like an open window. These guys should've hired you to program their security routines. Or Pegasus, at least."
"You got the files?"
"Yeah, I think so. It might take a couple days to decrypt them all, but what I could make out is pretty bad. And I copied everything." He fingered the capped metal prong of the USB key drive in his pocket.
"Will you be coming back, then? Should I send someone over to sign the release to remove you from the course?"
"Not yet," Mokuba said, though he couldn't help but grin at the carefully suppressed note of hopefulness in his brother's tone. "I got it set up so I'll have more time in the lab tomorrow--I'm supposed to be working privately on a project." Which he had figured out how to program correctly within the first hour of getting the assignment, and then broken down the steps into pieces, including reasonable errors, so he could show the teacher his incomplete work. "With more time I should be able to pull some names, I didn't have a chance tonight to track what IDs had accessed the files."
"Are you sure?" his brother asked. "If your entry tonight was detected--"
"It probably was, but it's okay, Nii-sama. They won't trace it to me. No one here will figure it out, not by tomorrow--the lab's pretty open, anyone in the building could have used that terminal, and I'm way below the radar. Besides, they like me." He smirked. "They think I'm a cute kid."
"Foolish of them," his brother said, dry, but laced with a certain proud satisfaction. "If you're sure there's no chance, however..."
"I'll be okay, really. How're you doing, Nii-sama?"
"You're sure you are, Nii-sama?"
"Naturally," his brother said. "I'm hardly in any danger here. They think their scheme is succeeding, they won't risk trying something else with me."
"My...the...the funeral and everything? That went okay? I'm sorry for calling during the wake, you told me it was going to be that day, but I couldn't get away at another time. You hung up really fast, no one overhead, right?"
"It's all right, Mokuba. There were no problems." His brother paused for a moment, finally said, "None to speak of."
Not having much time, he let it pass for now. "And you haven't been working too hard?"
"Only as hard as I need to. How's the class?"
"Boring. You wouldn't believe how simple the code they're teaching us is. Though considering their firewalls, they probably think it's pretty advanced. The teacher's nice, though." Mokuba glanced around the conbini--a few teens had come in, but they were all gathered around the manga and magazine rack, chattering noisily--and checked his watch. "Nii-sama, I have to go, if I'm too late getting back to the dorm it'll be suspicious. And you have to go home and go to bed."
"You work better when you're rested. More efficient, you know."
"Nii-sama! Please go home? It's lonely in the dorm, I'll sleep better if I know you're sleeping, too."
"That makes no sense."
His brother sighed. "All right. I'll be in bed in an hour."
"Forty-five minutes. It's not that long a drive." Mokuba looked over the store shelves, switched his hand holding the phone while he picked up a packet of curry bread and two melon pan. "And, Nii-sama? Thanks for keeping my locket safe. I saw part of your press conference." Some of the other students had been watching it on TV during break. As one of the richest teens in the world, as well as one of the most accomplished, Kaiba Seto was not so minor a celebrity in young gamer and geek circles. Mokuba had made an effort not to pay too close attention to the broadcast, but he hadn't missed the quick flash of the two lockets when his brother had stood up to leave. Which had been the point, he knew, since his brother had known he would be watching.
His brother was silent now. And if he were much later getting back to the dorm, they might send someone looking for him, and Mokuba couldn't afford to draw any more attention to himself. But his fingers didn't want to let go of the phone. "I miss you, Nii-sama."
"I miss you, too, Mokuba," his brother said, immediately, like he had been waiting to say it.
"Good night," Mokuba said, and hung up quickly, before he heard his brother's reply. He returned the phone to his pocket and brought his breads to the register. Just a hungry kid, picking up a midnight snack on his way home. No one looked at him twice as he bought his food and headed back to the dorm, the cell phone softly jangling against the USB drive in his pocket.
At 11:56 PM, a phone rang in a dark bedroom. The man in the bed snarled incoherently, reached over the naked woman sleeping beside him and extracted the trilling cellular from the pocket of his discarded pants. "This had better be good."
"No, sir," replied the nervous voice on the other end. "We registered an illicit access in our network, earlier tonight."
"That could've waited until tomorrow." He stifled a yawn. "What was accessed?"
"The KC data, sir. All the files."
The man sat bolt upright. "Who hacked in?"
"We don't know. It looked like there was a download, sir, but we're not sure where to. Somewhere on site, obviously, but there were forty-six terminals in operation at the time and we haven't been able to trace the one where the access occurred."
"What do you mean, you haven't been able to trace it? What the hell are we paying you for?"
"I'm sorry, sir. The guy was good, he covered his tracks almost perfectly. We're lucky the access was even flagged."
"You said he got all of it?"
"Looks like, sir. Though if he doesn't know that, it's possible he might try again--should we wait and see if we can catch him then?"
"No," the man said. "If that information gets into the right hands, we stand to lose a lot more than just the deal--this can't wait. We're going to have to take action immediately. I'll handle it." He hung up, muttered, "That son of a bitch Kaiba managed to get someone into headquarters this quickly? Unbelievable."
The woman in the bed beside him rolled over, sleepily mumbled, "What's that?"
"Nothing, baby. Go back to sleep," he told her, caressing her shoulder, then went out to the hall with his phone and dialed another number. "It's me," he said. "Do it..."
The next morning, Jounouchi waved as Yugi entered the classroom. "Hey, morning, Yugi."
"Good morning, Jounouchi-kun," Yugi answered with a smile. Jounouchi was surprised to see it wasn't the expression he had worn for the last week, the brittle false cheer of pretending everything was okay even though it wasn't, so his friends wouldn't worry. This was Yugi's real smile again, that true, open smile he had missed, badly.
Jounouchi grinned back, his own heart lightening a little to see that sincere gladness. Everything had been too damn depressing lately. He was tired of thinking about it. He'd talked with Shizuka on the phone the night before, but it wasn't the same as seeing her in person. He had been considering asking Honda to take him over to see her on his bike. Honda, he knew, would never pass up the chance to visit Shizuka; but it would be worth putting up with his friend's stupid flirting to see his little sister. He hadn't since she had come for the wake, and that--Jounouchi didn't want to think about.
Besides, Honda might cheer Shizuka up. She had sounded down. Like everyone else. So it was damn good to see someone who wasn't. Something finally going right. "How're things, Yugi?" Jounouchi asked, as Yugi took a seat at his desk and got out his textbook. "Did you manage to see Kaiba yesterday?"
Then he instantly regretted asking, because Yugi's smile broke up, slid off his face as he dropped his head to stare down at his desk. "Yes," he said.
Idiot, Jounouchi cursed himself. Like seeing Kaiba could have helped. The day Kaiba cheered anyone up would be the day the world ended. Maybe his other self in the puzzle had given Yugi a pep talk; the pharaoh's confident attitude had raised his spirits before.
"Forget it," Jounouchi said. They never had been Kaiba's friends; Kaiba didn't want their friendship anyway, or their sympathy, or their pity or whatever the hell he thought it was. If Yugi still wanted to try reaching out to him, then Jounouchi would support him, like a best friend should, but he wasn't going to waste any more of his own time or thoughts on the stone-hearted son of a bitch. "Let's just forget about that bastard Kaiba today." Forget about his bankrupt company, forget about his damn attitude, forget about that grave without any flowers. This was going to be a good day. It was about time they had one.
"Jounouchi-kun," Yugi began, the mildest of mild rebukes in his tone, but before he got any farther, a couple of the other boys from their class burst through the door.
"Hey, everybody," they called out, loudly enough to get the room's attention, and then ruined Jounouchi's hopes for the day by going on, in a state of high excitement, "did you hear what just happened to Kaiba?"
Mokuba was on his best behavior in class the next morning, and made sure he was obvious about it, sitting up straight and listening attentively. Takeuchi-sensei noticed, gave him an approving nod and an encouraging smile. Meeting with him before class, she had been full of praise for the progress he had made last night. He felt a little embarrassed about it. She was very kind, and it wasn't her fault the curriculum was so simple; he was sure she was smart enough to teach much more advanced stuff. She had definitely realized he wasn't working up to his potential; he just hoped he had her convinced that his reasons were innocent.
So he was putting visible effort into being a good student now, sitting in the front row and trying his best as she would expect, concentrating on class and ignoring the whispers of the two fifteen-year-old boys beside him. They had hacked a TV broadcast and were playing it muted in one corner of their screen. While most of the class was surreptitiously leaning at odd angles in their seats trying to watch, Honda Katsuya didn't avert his eyes from the projector in front displaying the current lesson. He didn't waver, even when Takeuchi-sensei quietly came around the desks to stand behind the truant boys, announcing herself by observing, "Hm, that doesn't look like any GL rendering engine that I'm familiar with."
The two boys started guiltily, and the rest of the class's eyes were suddenly riveted to the front projector screen they should have been looking at all along. "But, look, teacher," one of the boys tried to excuse himself, "we weren't goofing off, this is breaking news."
Takeuchi-sensei watched the broadcast for a few seconds, and Mokuba saw her shake her head out of the corner of his eye, as she sighed, "Yes, I'd heard. That poor boy." Sympathy for whatever she was seeing undermined her scolding. Mokuba wasn't the only one who could use that soft heart to his advantage.
Not that his fellow classmates were necessarily smart enough to. "I bet he really did it!" the other boy said.
"Don't say such things," Takeuchi-sensei said. "This must be some kind of terrible mistake. He's only a couple years older than you, and after all that's happened to him--to lose his brother like that, and all the trouble with his company, and now this--"
"Huh?" Mokuba twisted around, shoved back in his chair so he could get a better angle to see the monitor.
"No, he totally could've done it," the boy was going on, "my cousin's best friend played in Battle City, he dueled with Kaiba, and he said the guy's solid ice--
The newscaster's bland face was overwritten with bold colored text. Mokuba blinked twice to make sure he was reading it correctly. Then that banner was replaced by the image of his brother, pixelated on the little screen, his completely calm face lit by flashes from cameras and police strobes, as he was lead out of the KC building's front entrance.
Mokuba jumped as a hand touched his shoulder. He suddenly realized he was standing up, with his chair knocked over behind him, and that Takeuchi-sensei had called his fake name at least a couple times already. Now she was looking down at him in concern, along with the rest of the class.
"Is something the matter, Katsuya-kun?"
Way to not blow your cover, genius. "Uh...I don't feel too good..." Mokuba said, completely honestly. He swallowed and tore his eyes from the screen, mind churning furiously, while those damning words flickered across the broadcast again.
Kaiba Seto arrested under suspicion of homicide! Anonymous tip implicates adolescent CEO in his younger brother's recent death...
Chapter 6: Responsibility
"Kaiba-san, how do you answer allegations that you owned the vehicle involved in your brother's fatal accident a couple weeks ago?"
"Kaiba-san, when were you informed of the anonymous tip the police received last night?"
"According to our information, you have not visited your brother's grave since the burial, do you have any comment?"
"The tip might have been from the driver himself, are you aware of his identity?"
"As an emancipated minor, you can be tried as an adult, how do you feel about this?"
It was lunch break, and most of the student population of Domino High was gathered around Hanasaki's handheld TV, watching the footage from that morning of Kaiba Seto being escorted into a police cruiser, the cops and suits surrounding him buffeted by a typhoon of clamoring journalists.
"Your brother was only thirteen years old, but he owned a significant share of Kaiba Corporation assets, did he not?"
"Were you and your brother possibly at odds in the last few months over KaibaCorp's financial difficulties? Were you in agreement about the way to rectify those troubles?"
"Is it true that in his capacity as Vice President, Kaiba Mokuba had been secretly negotiating a partnership with MainBrain Entertainment?"
"No comment," Kaiba's people answered to all of it, while Kaiba himself said nothing at all.
Everyone watched the screen closely. There was something about the unmoved calm of Kaiba's expression, the sure force in his long strides, that had them all braced for a spectacular snapping. Like it might be the calm before a storm that would level the police as well as the media, while Kaiba made his hysterical escape, shrieking with mad laughter--but then he got into the squad car, sitting docilely as the door was closed over him and the auto pulled into the street.
That was enough for Honda, more than he wanted to see. He withdrew from the crowd, his friends doing the same without any need for spoken agreement between them. The four of them made their way to a table at the other end of the cafeteria, far from the babbling throng of students, though for a moment they didn't take advantage of that quiet to say anything, just met each other's eyes, finding the same dismay in all of them.
"Uh, sorry about the detention, Anzu," Honda said at last.
Anzu shrugged and gave him three-quarters of a smile. "No, it was my fault, I started talking to you."
His grades were going to be so low this semester, Honda thought, completely irrelevantly. He'd been working pretty hard to get them up, but for the last week he'd had a hard time paying attention in class. And today he didn't remember anything a single teacher had said to him all morning, including instructions, direct questions, and that detention notice, which, thinking back, he couldn't recall which instructor had given him.
Really, it wasn't fair. He and Anzu were the ones who had gotten in trouble only because Jounouchi wasn't talking at all--he hadn't said anything to any of them since this morning, which was highly uncharacteristic; and had spent all four periods frowning at empty space looking like he was thinking hard, which was at least as uncharacteristic. And Yugi hadn't been talking to them, but Honda was sure that he had been talking. Yugi was just lucky, since no teacher could actually catch him conversing with his invisible badass other self.
He might still be having that conversation, judging by the way he was now staring down at the golden puzzle around his neck. Then Jounouchi brought his fist down on the table, rattling it hard enough to jar their elbows off it. "That jerk Kaiba."
"Jounouchi, you can't think that Kaiba-kun actually..." Anzu began.
Jounouchi shook his head. "No. Kaiba's an asshole, but he's not--he wouldn't--Mokuba was his brother. Even if he didn't get that broken up about it--it's Kaiba. Maybe the guy doesn't have real feelings, but that doesn't mean he'd... No, there's no way. Not now."
"No, he wouldn't," Honda agreed. "It's got to be someone framing him. But what can we do about it?"
"Maybe we can talk to the police?" Anzu asked. "As, I don't know, character witnesses? We can't give Kaiba-kun an alibi, but even if we don't know what actually--" she swallowed, "--what actually happened to Mokuba-kun, there has to be some way we can convince them he's innocent."
"Could we talk to Kaiba's lawyers?" Honda suggested. "He's got to have good ones with his money, right? Maybe they know more about how Mokuba died, too. If Kaiba was looking into it himself..."
"Ah, damn," Jounouchi said, quietly. "What if Kaiba was looking into? And he found something out, and that's why he's getting set up now? Like that it wasn't an accident after all, so the guys who did it have to make sure the police won't listen to him. Yugi, did Kaiba say anything like that to you yesterday? --Yugi?"
Yugi looked up with a start. "Yes, um, sorry?"
"What'd you talk about with Kaiba yesterday? Did he mention anything about...this?"
"Uh, no." Yugi shook his head, not quite fast enough to hide his odd expression, which Honda almost thought was guilty, for some reason. "He didn't."
The three of them glanced at each other, a sick feeling forming in the pit of Honda's stomach. That Yugi, usually the quickest to stand up for Kaiba, wasn't contributing any defense at all... "Yugi," Anzu asked tentatively. "Did Kaiba-kun say something else? You don't think that he...might've actually...?"
"Oh!" Yugi's eyes went even bigger than usual, and he shook his head harder. "No, no, Kaiba-kun would never hurt--would never have hurt Mokuba-kun. You're right, he's got to be being framed. Maybe..." He trailed off, unaccountably blushing at the ears. But the assured denial in his voice eased Honda's apprehension.
"Yugi--" he started to ask, only to be interrupted by a teacher approaching their table, motioning at him. "Honda-kun," the man said to him, "You just got a call. You need to go pick up your cousin."
"He's fallen sick at school and needs a ride home, apparently you're the only family member available. The school's pretty far, so you're dismissed from your next class to handle this."
He handed Honda a sheet of paper with directions. The Junior Elite Program...Honda didn't recognize the address, but it was downtown. "I guess Johji needs a lift. I'll see you after school," he told his friends, waved and headed out to his bike.
Early afternoon, without rush hour traffic to deal with, he made it in half an hour on his motorcycle. The directions didn't lead to a school, however, but a skyscraper complex. Honda double-checked the address, then the logo on the building. MainBrain Entertainment, Inc. Why did that sound so familiar?
He shrugged and entered through the double doors, was stopped at the security desk immediately inside. "Do you have an appointment?"
"I'm Honda Hiroto, I'm here to pick up my kid cousin. Is there a school or something here?"
The man checked a list and nodded. "Ah, you're here for Honda Katsuya. Right through there, take the elevator down one floor."
"Honda Katsuya...?" But Honda followed the instructions. A woman met him by the elevator, with a conservative bobbed cut and a not too casual, not too formal skirt and blouse that marked her instantly as a teacher, confirmed when she introduced herself as Takeuchi Yasuko, "Katsuya-kun's instructor."
"I'm sorry to call you from your own classes, Honda-kun, but Katsuya-kun told me how his parents are working, and you live closest. Usually we wouldn't send a boy home just because he's feeling a little ill," Takeuchi-sensei explained, as she lead Honda down the halls. "We have an excellent nursing staff and are equipped to handle most emergencies. But in this case, Katsuya-kun was very upset and really wanting to go home. I don't think he's truly sick, I think he just pushed himself a little too hard yesterday--he's a very bright boy, you know, and he's probably used to having an easier time meeting expectations in his regular school. I'm hoping seeing a familiar face will calm him down. This program is very important for his future, I'm sure his parents have told you. Maybe if you take him out for a break for a few hours, he'll feel better and can come back to the dorms tonight."
"Um, maybe," Honda said, and would have gone on to mention that he thought there might be a case of mistaken identity--Honda was a common enough name, after all--when Takeuchi-sensei opened a door labeled "Medical Office." He caught a glimpse of silver counters and a nurse in white, and a boy sitting in a chair. A blond kid who was definitely much older than his sister's bratty toddler Johji. A kid who looked up at his entrance, leapt up and dashed across the room to fling himself into Honda's arms, crying, "Cousin Hiroto!"
Honda stared down at the head of tousled bleached hair pressed to his chest and had a momentary extremely disturbed thought that this was Jounouchi Katsuya, somehow shrunk into a kid. Then it occurred to him that he had been hanging around way too many people with magical ancient Egyptian artifacts if he were even considering the possibility. Especially since he had just been with a perfectly ordinary Jounouchi half an hour ago.
But he didn't have a cousin Katsuya...
"Please don't screw this up, Honda," the kid mumbled into his chest, and Honda blinked, disbelieving. That voice had sounded like--but that couldn't be. Even magic couldn't raise the dead--
The kid tilted up his head, familiar bright gray eyes peering up at Honda's face through the cropped blond bangs. Maybe he had just gone crazy. "Moku--"
"Cousin Hiroto, please take me home," the kid whined, loud enough for Takeuchi-sensei to hear, a pitiful sick little boy whimper that was almost flawless in execution. It certainly fooled the teacher, judging by her sympathetic expression. The teacher couldn't feel the way the Mokuba's hand had locked around Honda's wrist, a warning squeeze tight enough to grind the bones.
"Of course. Let's go, Katsu-kun," Honda said through a frozen smile. He put his arm around the boy's shoulders, and together they took the elevator up and walked out of the building, around to his motorcycle parked at the front of the garage. Even once they were out of view of the glass doors, he kept his arm around the kid, fingers gripping his jacket's hood.
But Mokuba didn't try to make a run for it. "Thanks for the save, Honda," he whispered with a quick grin as they reached the bike.
"No prob--" Honda started to say automatically, then forgot to resist the urge to crouch and grab Mokuba by the shoulders. Totally solid, real. Alive. Honda gave him a shake. "You're--not dead!"
"Yeah, obviously--you mean you didn't know? Yugi hasn't told you by now?"
"No, he never--wait, Yugi--"
"I don't feel well, can we talk after we've ridden, Cousin Hiroto?" Mokuba asked, more warningly than whining, as he climbed onto the bike. Seeing the anxious way the kid was glancing around, as if checking for anyone who might overhear, Honda didn't argue, just got onto the motorcycle in front of Mokuba and drove them out of the garage.
Six blocks away he veered off into a short alley, took off his helmet as Mokuba slid off the bike, peering around. Honda watched him verify that they were alone, then asked him, "So Yugi knows?"
Mokuba frowned. "He should. But I thought he'd have told you by now, I didn't think he'd keep it secret this long."
"He hasn't said anything. Well, except today in school, he's been out of it. But we thought maybe Kaiba said something..." Honda stiffened. "Kaiba! Your brother, have you told him--" Then he smacked his forehead. Of course Kaiba knew. Mokuba would never do that to his brother, and Kaiba... "Geeze, no wonder Kaiba was acting like such an asshole. I mean, more than usual. It was all a set-up!"
Mokuba nodded. "I didn't want to trick you--I was sort of hoping you guys wouldn't have to know about it at all, but we had to make it public, so..."
"What are you and Kaiba doing?" Honda asked. "Why are you going to school here? And Kaiba getting arrested this morning, is that part of your scheme, too?"
The last of Mokuba's cheer vanished. "Not ours, no. But I got a good idea whose it is. Which is why I had to get out of there now. Even though you guys weren't supposed to get involved in this--I'm really sorry to call on you out of nowhere like that, Honda, but I needed a ride."
"And a name--Honda Katsuya?"
Mokuba had the grace to blush, at least. "Yeah, sorry about that, too. I wanted a name that could be recognized, without anyone actually recognizing it."
"Now, could you drop me off at the KC building? It should be on your way back to school."
"Hey, I can't just drop you off and split," Honda protested.
"Why not? What's the problem?"
"You haven't even told me what's going on!"
"Because it doesn't have anything to do with you," Mokuba said, puzzled. "Look, I'll pay you back for the gas money later, I promise. Heck, I can buy you a new bike, if you want."
"This isn't about that. What are you going to do? Should I take you to the police station, so you can show them you're still alive--"
"No," Mokuba said. "Not yet."
"So then how are you going to get Kaiba out of jail?"
"You're not?" Honda stared at the kid, trying to think what the look on his face reminded him of. It wasn't a look he had seen Mokuba get before. His brother, maybe--that was it; it was a Kaiba expression, cold calculation, the look that made you wonder if the guy actually had emotions, or just occasional violent chemical reactions. But Mokuba had always been the normal one. Jounouchi had once claimed he was as big a jerk as his brother, but Honda had never known him as anything but a bright, friendly kid, wearing his big heart on his sleeve, the polar opposite of Kaiba's callous attitude.
Maybe Mokuba had spent too much time with his brother lately. Or maybe he was just growing up, but it was a weird feeling, that half an hour ago Honda had thought this boy was dead, had believed he would never see him again; and now Mokuba was standing before him, only he wasn't quite the kid Honda remembered. That kid wouldn't have such a cold face, not when he was talking about his big brother. "Mokuba, Kaiba's been arrested for a crime he didn't commit, and even if he tells them you're still alive, if he can't prove it--"
"Nii-sama's not going to tell them that," Mokuba said. "He's not going to say anything, to his lawyers or anyone else."
"But that could make him look guilty--"
"I know," Mokuba said. "And I could prove he's not, but for now, Nii-sama's going to keep my cover. It's what we have to do, to protect Kaiba Corporation." He crossed his arms over his chest, hugging himself, and like that the cold mask was transparent, the anxious boy underneath showing through, though his expression stayed calm. "Nii-sama will be okay, he can manage. If it were me in jail, Nii-sama would still be concentrating on Kaiba Corporation, since that's the important thing now. So I have to, too."
"Right," Honda said, privately doubting the truth of that. Glacial son of a bitch though Kaiba might be, he was awfully single-minded about some things. At Duelist Kingdom he hadn't given a damn about Pegasus's threat to Kaiba Corporation, not when the greater threat was to his little brother. "So what are we going to do?"
"If you take me to KaibaCorp," Mokuba said, "I can get up to Nii-sama's office without anyone seeing me. There's a couple private ways."
"Great, so what do me and the others do?"
Mokuba shook his head. "We don't need your help."
Definitely too much time with his brother. "So it's none of our business? You just called me this once, and now I'm useless?" Honda said angrily. "Maybe I'm no mastermind like your brother, but I can handle myself in a bad situation. We've dealt with plenty of crazy stuff before; whatever you're getting into now, maybe it's dangerous, but there's not even magic involved this time, right? We know what we're doing, I think we've proved that enough."
But Mokuba waved his hands, objected, "It's not that, Honda," sounding sincerely taken aback by Honda's insulted tone. "This isn't your business; this doesn't have anything to do with you," he explained. "You've all gotten involved in enough of our problems already. A lot of the dangerous stuff you've been through, it was because of us, because of my brother and me. This time it doesn't even have anything to do with Duel Monsters. You guys shouldn't have to be dragged into this, it's not your problem. We can deal with it ourselves."
"Maybe you can," Honda said, "but wouldn't it be easier with help?"
"But you don't have to!"
"We wouldn't help because we have to. We want to." Honda leaned on his motorcycle, studied Mokuba's almost outraged expression. He didn't have his brother's cool down totally yet. He was still a kid, after all, and there was no way Honda was just going to leave him stuck in this situation all by himself. Even if he was a Kaiba, and probably ten times smarter than Honda anyway. "We all went to your wake, you know. Yugi and all of us. Kaiba didn't invite us, but we came anyway. Anzu cried, and she wasn't the only one. We've all been really broken up, thinking you were dead."
"I'm really sorry," Mokuba said, looking down at the pavement and swallowing.
"It's okay. You had your reasons, right? But something like that--it makes you think about things. That wake wasn't real, and I can't tell you how great it is, knowing that it wasn't. I don't want it to become real, not if there's any way we can help it."
Mokuba raised his head again, his eyes wide, almost shocked. "Honda..." he said, and swallowed again. "This isn't that dangerous, really. And I'm not a little kid, I can handle it myself. Kaiba Corporation is my responsibility--"
"And you're ours," Honda told him. "You're our friend. And Kaiba is...uh...not our enemy. Anymore. Okay, think of it like this. One day, one of us might really need the help of a super-rich mega-corporation. And when that happens, you're going to convince your brother to get KaibaCorp to help us."
"But I'd do that for you guys anyway," Mokuba protested.
"Exactly," Honda said. "So, deal?"
Mokuba rocked on his heels, blinking back a glitter at the corner of his eyes, and then grinned at Honda and held out his hand. "Deal!"
Honda took the kid's hand and shook, grinning back. "So let's go save your company, and your big brother."
"Yes!" Mokuba hopped back up on the bike, eager to get moving again, with his brother and Kaiba Corporation waiting for him.
And Honda had a half-hour long motorcycle ride to figure out how to explain that he had just volunteered all of them to help Kaiba, in such a way that Jounouchi wouldn't strangle him for it.
Chapter 7: Interrogation
"So what do you think?" Lieutenant Detective Ishiyama asked of his partner.
"I think..." Detective Tsukimoto frowned at the senior officer over his latest cup of coffee. "I think the son of a bitch is guilty. Hell, he could've been driving the car himself. Blood probably rinses right off that white coat."
"He is one cool character," Ishiyama said. "Especially for a kid."
"Kid? That's no kid."
"Of course he is. He's eight years younger than you, and you're still a kid."
"But that guy's not human. He's a machine. Or a demon."
They had interrogated Kaiba Seto for close to an hour this morning, to no avail. He had agreed to talk to them without the presence of his lawyer. It quickly became clear why he had agreed, because he intended to answer no questions whatsoever. He merely sat at the table with his arms folded and his chin raised, gazing down his nose at them, and anything they asked was met with a low, calm, "I choose not to answer," pronounced with hardly a variation in phrase or intonation in fifty minutes.
"The license plates reported were registered in his name. If he did it himself," Tsukimoto said now, setting his coffee down on his desk, "it'd explain why they never made any headway finding the driver. And he wouldn't have to worry about paying anyone to stay quiet."
"But if it were premeditated," Ishiyama asked, "then why didn't he give himself an alibi for the morning of his brother's death?"
"He has to have one. He's just waiting to clear it with his lawyers."
"Then why agree to talk to us first?"
"Because he wanted... I don't know. He's hiding something."
"I agree," the older detective said. "The question is what."
"If he's innocent, why not just say so?"
"If he's guilty, why not do the same?" Ishiyama returned. "If he was involved in the accident somehow, his best bet would be to come clean. Make it clear it was just an accident. He's too savvy not to know how to manipulate the media in his favor, and it's been enough days that the scandal would be manageable."
"But it wasn't an accident," Tsukimoto said. "It was murder. And he thought he'd gotten away with it, and now he's in shock because we dumb cops are onto him, even though he's supposed to be a genius."
"So he was in shock, just now?" Ishiyama remarked, looking down at his desk thoughtfully.
"Well..." Tsukimoto shook his head. "There's something up with him. I've seen him before--I mean, on the news and such."
"Oh, yes, you play that game, don't you? Duel Masters, isn't it?"
"Monsters--I mean, not me. My nephew. My nephew plays Duel Monsters," Tsukimoto hastily corrected. "And I, uh, took him around town during Battle City--anyway, Kaiba had a reputation for major attitude. He hasn't played in any tournaments since he got back from America, but before, what I saw of him, he wasn't that...monotone."
"Attitude, eh?" Ishiyama said. His chair creaked under his stocky weight as he leaned back. "Well, he was doing his best to piss us off. A smart gamer changes his tactics depending on who he's playing against. Or what his goal is."
"His goal," Tsukimoto said, "is to keep us from finding out that he murdered his little brother in cold blood, over some damn business deal gone sour."
"Reasonable enough." Ishiyama nodded noncommittally.
Tsukimoto eyed his partner, having experience with that particular unperturbed tone. "What's that paper that you keep looking at, Ishiyama-san?"
"Just a print-out," Ishiyama replied. "The list of Kaiba Seto's personal effects from the search when he was brought in this morning. Nothing incriminating, so he got to keep everything, except for the cell phone and the knife, naturally."
"Man in his position, I'm surprised there was only one. Though he's got self defense training, I'd imagine."
"So what else was on him?"
"Not much. Not even a ten thousand yen note in his wallet; guess the rich buy on credit these days. Watch, a deck of cards--Duel Monsters. And a couple pieces of jewelry." Ishiyama tapped his fingers on the desk through the sheet of paper, then pushed back his chair and stood. "Tsukimoto, let's go talk to Kaiba-san again."
Tsukimoto got up from his desk hastily as well, hurrying out of the bullpen to catch up with his partner's short quick strides. "You think he'll be any more ready to answer questions after stewing for the last couple hours?"
"Probably not," Ishiyama said, shrugging. "But I'm not planning on asking many this time. Just want to talk to him."
Kaiba was lying down on the cot that had been set up in the interrogation room, but when they entered he stood up immediately, not so much as wiping the sleep from his eyes. He didn't need to; he was instantly alert, smoothing his hair perfect with one quick stroke. Like opening the door had switched the robot on. "I hope we didn't disturb your nap, Kaiba-san," Ishiyama said.
"You did," Kaiba replied, in the same inflectionless tone as before.
Tsukimoto looked around the room, his lip curling. Not usually intended for holding prisoners, it was roomier than the regular, non-private jail cells, and its air conditioning was better than his own flat's. "You enjoying the honeymoon suite?" Giving a possible murderer the gold star treatment, just because the guy was considered a low escape risk, and more importantly was loaded...
"I appreciate the quiet," Kaiba said. "To what do I owe this visit? Did you uncover incriminating new evidence in the last," he checked his watch, "two and a half hours? Unexpectedly efficient work, if so."
"No, nothing yet," Ishiyama said, entirely too cheerfully. He probably meant it, too, Tsukimoto thought. Ishiyama was of the opinion that good cop/bad cop played better when it wasn't just an act. "You did manage to convince my partner here of your guilt, though."
"Is that so." Kaiba didn't so much as raise an eyebrow, much less glance at Tsukimoto. The stone bastard wasn't going to crack with these kind of games.
"I'm afraid I need a little more convincing, though," Ishiyama said easily, taking a seat at the table. "If you don't mind. Sit down, make yourself comfortable. Want a smoke? No? I'll forgo mine, then. This won't take long, I just want to talk."
"To talk?" Kaiba repeated. There, that was what ticked off Tsukimoto the most, the glitter in those blue eyes that mocked them, even if his tone never altered. Moreso because the asshole must be doing it on purpose. Kaiba was playing with them. Like this was all just a game--killing a brother was probably no worse to him than discarding a card from his hand. The rich bastard, sure he was so above them that he could enjoy himself.
But money couldn't buy his freedom if they got hard evidence, and every criminal screws up somewhere. "We can hold you for forty-eight hours before your lawyer's allowed to negotiate bail," Tsukimoto reminded, challengingly. They would get something by then. There had to be something.
"Until then," Kaiba said, without a flicker in his confident glare as he seated himself at the table, "what sort of idle conversation were you hoping for?"
"How about we discuss your late father?" Tsukimoto snapped, not sitting down himself. "And the unusual circumstances of his death two years ago?"
"Unusual?" Kaiba almost might have been hiding a smile. "It'd have been more unusual otherwise. To my understanding, few people have ever survived a fall of eighty-six stories onto concrete."
"And you were there when he--suicided. Allegedly suicided."
Kaiba nodded. "I was."
"You were trying to take control of KaibaCorp at the time, weren't you? And after Kaiba Gozaburo's death, you were immediately promoted to CEO--"
"Correction," Kaiba rapped out. "I had already taken control of the company by the time of his death."
Success--Tsukimoto had scored some level of emotion from the robot. Though smug satisfaction wasn't exactly what he had been aiming for.
Still, he used the opening as best he could. "And these days MainBrain Entertainment's been trying to take the company from you, isn't that right? Were they using your little brother to do that? Was he their pawn?" The thirteen-year-old Kaiba Mokuba had been vice president of KaibaCorp; they had already verified it had been an official position, not a stunt, ridiculous as it was.
Then again, an eighteen-year-old CEO sounded pretty ridiculous in itself, until you met the son of a bitch. Tsukimoto had studied psychology; sociopaths are born, not bred, and those blue eyes had probably been just as chill when this kid had been thirteen. "Why'd you do it this time, Kaiba? Was it for your company? Or had you just gotten tired of taking care of a brat kid?"
Kaiba had flipped an internal switch; the satisfaction was gone, like that, ice freezing over again. But before he could issue his monotone refusal to answer, Ishiyama raised a hand. "Easy there, Tsukimoto-kun. We're not here to interrogate Kaiba-san again. Just to talk."
"Go ahead, then," Kaiba said.
Ishiyama leaned back in his chair. "You know, the problem I'm having with this is personal, for me. See, I have a little brother myself."
"Do you," Kaiba said, in a voice that was so far beyond bored it might have been spoken by a block of wood.
"Yeah." Ishiyama nodded, undaunted. "Three years younger, and when we were growing up we fought like cats and dogs, you better believe. He hated my guts because I was the boring good son, and I hated his because he always got us into hot water. Heck, that's half the reason I became a cop--I got to know all the police in the area when we were teenagers, they were always coming by to bring Takeshi home.
"Truth is, though, as big a pain as he was back then, as much as we ever argued, I still would've done anything for him. No matter what kind of trouble he got into, I'd always bail him out, because he was my brother. How could I be called aniki, and not protect my little brother?"
"A beautifully moving sentiment," Kaiba remarked, his tone such that Tsukimoto's fist itched to be punched into their suspect's jaw.
"My brother's fine these days," Ishiyama continued, ignoring that derision. "Growing up straightened him out, and we've both got families now, kids of our own. But he's still my brother. And even now, if something happened to him--I don't know what I'd do. I had nightmares about it, way back when we were teens, about getting a call, or seeing him get himself killed in front of me. My brother's blood would be on my hands and I would know that I was too late, that I'd lost him. That I'd failed him.
"I'm a cop, but if my brother died--if my brother were killed--I'm a cop, but I'm a brother first. Could I let the law handle it? Could I just stand back and hope justice prevailed? I wear the badge, but I don't know if I'd have that much faith in it. Not if it were my own flesh and blood at stake."
Tsukimoto opened his mouth, closed it again. Ishiyama's expression was relaxed, but there was, under the calm spell of his words, a conviction that could only be truth, unmistakably honest sentiment. "I know this much, at least," the older detective said. "If there were a son of a bitch responsible, then I'd get them. Whether or not the law allowed it. I wouldn't stop until I found them. If someone killed my brother, then I'd make them pay. Even if it cost me my job; even knowing it wouldn't change anything, or stop my guilt. Even though it wouldn't bring my brother back. That's the kind of man I am."
The detective let that hang for a silent moment, then rapped out, so abruptly that Tsukimoto jumped, "Kaiba-san, were you there when your brother died?"
Kaiba's gaze didn't waver. "I choose not to answer that."
Same monotone as before, same cool glare.
Except he had moved for an instant, a twitch of the shoulder, when Ishiyama had snapped the question. Tsukimoto leaned back in his chair, enough to see Kaiba's fist on his knee. His clenched fist, where his hand had been open before. Suddenly clenched, and tight enough that his whole arm was stiff to keep it from shaking.
"The time of the accident, that was pretty early in the morning for a kid to be up, especially a boy who didn't attend regular school," Ishiyama remarked, calm once more, like he hadn't noticed anything, though Tsukimoto knew his partner never missed so much as a single blink of a suspect's eyes. "Do you happen to know why your brother was out on the street then?"
"We covered this already," Kaiba said, answering the detective's calm with equally measured composure. "Check your records."
"Ah, yes, you wouldn't say." Ishiyama shrugged. "So we're to assume you either don't know, or you do know and are concealing it, because you set your brother up.
"Or was it a different plan? Your brother was, in effect, your business partner, was he not? Never mind, you don't need to answer. But given the...financial difficulties KaibaCorp's been having lately, you must have been trying to work out arrangements with the other companies that have been giving you trouble. And as vice president, your brother would have been responsible for some of those arrangements. Now, the news has been suggesting that you had a disagreement over that, but I was wondering, what if you were in agreement? What if maybe you had a plan together?
"But maybe, Kaiba-san, you underestimated your opponent. Just once, you thought you were ahead of them, when really they were ahead of you. You thought it was safe--you thought you could protect your brother, so you sent Mokuba to handle what needed to be done. And by the time you realized you'd made a mistake, it was too late--"
The interjection was so short and sudden that Tsukimoto almost could believe he had imagined it. Especially since Kaiba shut his mouth immediately after, the mask of his face as implacable as before. But his jaw was clenched, as if sealing it now could take back that momentary slip.
"Did you go with him that morning?" Ishiyama asked quietly. "Were you following from a distance--close enough to see the accident; or was it all over by the time you got there? Someone had to call the ambulance, Kaiba-san, and it wasn't the driver. It wasn't the man who killed your brother."
"Are you so sure?" Kaiba's clenched fist had relaxed, hand resting open on his knee. He met Ishiyama's intent look, blue eyes flashing, though his voice was restored to the even drawl. The detective had gotten under his skin enough to piss him off, but he wasn't going to let it show again. "I could have been behind the wheel myself. I have an American driver's license, you can check the records, if it hasn't occurred to you to do so yet."
Tsukimoto bristled, then forced himself to take a breath when Kaiba's eyes flicked to him, lips twitching in a hint of satisfied smirk at his reaction. The detective bit his tongue on his retort, not wanting to break whatever rapport his partner had established.
"Yes, we looked into that," Ishiyama said. "And the vehicle that was reported to us is registered to you, though that car's not in your garage, and you refused to admit before if you knew where it is at present. I don't suppose you'd like to change that statement now."
"You suppose correctly."
"In that case... Oh, there is one more thing," Ishiyama remarked, almost casually. "You haven't visited your brother's grave since the funeral, according to our reports. No services, no prayers, none of the expected rights."
"I'm atheist, not a practicing Buddhist," Kaiba said, just as casually, downright bored.
"Yes, I noticed that. And as the only surviving member of your family I suppose you wouldn't have obligations to relatives. Have you really not gone at all? --No, you don't need to say," he said, raising his hand when Kaiba opened his mouth, ready to 'choose not to answer.' "My fault, I keep asking questions when I said I wouldn't. Curiosity's a hazard of this line of work, my apologies. It's a mite odd, though, don't you think? A murderer trying to cover his tracks should put on a better show than that. I'd expect better of a genius gamemaster."
"I've been extremely busy, what with my company's current circumstances," Kaiba said, still uninterested. "Perhaps it slipped my mind."
"Perhaps." Ishiyama regarded him a moment longer, then pushed back his chair and stood. "Well, Kaiba-san, we won't disturb you any longer. I'm sure there's other avenues of investigation that would be more worth our while, right?"
Kaiba didn't answer, staring back at him steadily. Whether the look in his ice blue eyes was challenging or defensive, Tsukimoto couldn't tell, but that glare followed them out of the interrogation room, and he could still feel its chill behind him after the door had clapped shut.
His partner stopped at the cigarette machine halfway down the hall, shook his head as he dug in his pocket for change. "I pushed too hard," Ishiyama said ruefully. "Almost got through to him, and then I lost it." He sighed. "Even so. That boy might be cold-blooded as a crocodile in Antarctica, but he didn't kill his little brother."
"No," Tsukimoto conceded slowly, thinking of the momentary flash in those blue eyes, that might have been anger, but was more like desperation. Accused point-blank of murder, he hadn't flinched, but the accusation of failure had caused genuine guilt. "So you think one of KaibaCorp's rival companies was responsible for Kaiba Mokuba's death, and now they're framing Kaiba Seto to get him completely out the way? And Kaiba's not talking because he wants to get them himself. You think he knows who actually did it?"
"He doesn't know for sure," Ishiyama said. "He wasn't looking you in the eyes there. If Kaiba knew for certain who killed his brother, we'd have another homicide on our hands by now. Or half a dozen. The question isn't if he'd kill his brother; it's how far would he go for him."
"Obviously not far enough," Tsukimoto pointed out. "The kid's still dead."
"And there's the quandary."
"But if he didn't do it, and he's not concealing the identity of who did so he gets the first shot--why else would he be baiting us like this?"
"He was encouraging me, wasn't he. Though he was distracted." Ishiyama frowned. "I wouldn't have gotten to him so easily if there weren't something on his mind."
"Well, he's out of touch with his company as it's going under, and he has been arrested for fratricide. Bound to throw anyone off their game."
"Maybe. But he didn't have to agree to see us without his lawyers. He didn't want to talk to us...but he did want us to be talking to him," Ishiyama said, tapping his fingers against the vending machine's glowing glass front. "He's trying to buy time."
"Time for what?"
"That is the question," Ishiyama said. Without putting any money in the machine, he turned and started striding down the hall again, his partner at his heels. "I want to look at the autopsy report on Kaiba Mokuba again. And we should go over to the hospital and have a talk with the doctor who issued it."
"You think maybe it wasn't the accident that killed the kid after all?"
"Maybe," Ishiyama replied. "Kaiba Seto is hiding something, all right. And we're going to find what it is."
Chapter 8: Weight
Mokuba hadn't honestly given much thought to Yugi, Honda, and his other friends, for the past month. The couple weeks before he had...left, there had been so much planning, so many things to get ready, and he and his brother had been working as hard as they could, tracking the damage and undoing what they could without alerting the hacker saboteur that they were onto him. Then, since Mokuba had joined the Junior Elite program, he had spent most of his time in class, putting on the innocent kid front to insinuate himself with teachers and students; and any free time had been occupied with figuring out how he was going to accomplish his mission.
He had been trying not to think too hard about what was going on back at Kaiba Corporation and his home. It was already weird as anything to read about his own death in the papers, far weirder than getting used to responding to a different name, or adjusting to the hair in his eyes being shorter and blond instead of black.
He had wondered how his brother was dealing with it. Of course Seto would be pulling off the deception perfectly. But Mokuba couldn't help but think about what it would be like if he were the one having to pretend his brother was dead. It had been difficult, those long months he had spent a couple years ago, when Seto had been in the coma and he had been telling everyone his brother was fine and his brother was coming back, having to sound sure even though he really hadn't been. This was the opposite situation, but still it must be odd for his brother, to be saying Mokuba was gone, while knowing for sure he wasn't, but not being able to see him, or hear from him hardly at all. Mokuba might as well be a ghost.
His big brother trusted him, Mokuba knew, and Seto couldn't check up on the class anyway; that would be too suspicious. But he probably was still a little worried. Mokuba knew he would be, in the reverse situation. Actually he was worried anyway. He missed his brother. And when Seto was busy, like he had to be now, he tended to forget about certain important things like eating and sleeping, even when Mokuba was there to remind him about them. He had looked so tired in the couple press conferences, and while that did enhance the proper image of a mourning brother, Mokuba could see for himself that those dark circles under his eyes weren't just an act.
Since this morning, when he had seen the clip on the news of his brother's arrest, Mokuba hadn't been able to think about anything else but the rigid look on his brother's face, and how his brother was going to be in jail, behind bars, and it was his fault--until he finally had to just stop thinking about it at all. That was a strategy learned from his brother, such a long time ago, when they still used to play chess together. He would try to make complicated sacrifice traps like his brother did, but would get so caught up in his plotting that he would forget about where the other pieces were, and would always end up losing his queen before his trap was complete. So his brother had taught him how to break a plan into steps, and then focus on the turn you were on, making sure it went perfectly, not dwelling on what mistakes you might have made before or what moves came next.
The first step this morning had been getting out of class; complaints about a bad stomachache had managed that easily enough. Getting the nurse to call "Cousin Hiroto" had been harder; if Takeuchi-sensei hadn't agreed to it, Mokuba would still be in the medical office now. He wasn't quite sure why she had agreed, because he was almost positive she knew he was faking it, but he could figure it out later. Depending on how things went, he might or might not see the teacher again.
But then Honda had showed up, and Mokuba--had been expecting him to be a little pissed about the whole thing, though hopefully glad to see him, too. But he hadn't been prepared for the look in Honda's eyes when he had shook him, and the way Honda had almost choked up when he mentioned the wake. His wake. They had all gone to pay respects, because they had actually believed he was dead.
Mokuba had wanted Yugi to be told. In truth he thought Yugi might not even need to be told; Yugi was very clever, and one of the only people Mokuba knew besides himself who actually dared look at his brother, enough to see the things most people missed. But if Yugi had known, Yugi would have told his friends, and Honda had been too shocked, when he had first recognized Mokuba. Like he was seeing a ghost.
It was an uncomfortable feeling, that people who actually knew him had truly thought him dead. Different than just seeing it on the news. Like it almost made it real, a little, that they had believed it; news reports could be faked, but their feelings had been genuine. And he felt guilty, because they were his friends, and he had made them cry for no reason. Except he had a reason, an important one, but it didn't have anything to do with them. Except Honda insisted that it did after all.
Honda took him to the Kame Game Shop, to Yugi's house. Yugi and his friends were already home from school, gathered in the living room before the TV and talking noisily over it, but they went quiet when Honda walked in and said, "You'll never guess..." and stepped aside to let Mokuba enter.
And Yugi and Anzu jumped up right away and rushed over, and Anzu knelt down to put her arms around him, saying, "Oh, Mokuba-kun!" and dashing tears from her eyes. "You're really okay! Yugi was just telling us..."
"He was?" Honda asked, and Yugi blushed and said, "Well, since I saw the address you were going to, and I didn't think you actually had a cousin, I thought it might be him."
He turned to Mokuba, smiled. "I'm glad you're okay, Mokuba-kun. I was worried."
"Yeah," Jounouchi said, "you never know what kind of trouble a dead guy could get into." He quirked a grin at Mokuba. "Though you seem like a pretty lively corpse. But what the heck happened to your hair?" He reached out to ruffle the bleached yellow locks.
Mokuba ducked and batted his hand away. "Like yours is any better!"
"Yup. Definitely a Kaiba," Jounouchi said, making a face at his friends. Then he shrugged, turned away, and Mokuba only just heard him mutter, "Good to see you, brat," as he brought one hand up to wipe his eyes, like he had gotten something in them.
"So what are we going to do about Kaiba-kun?" Yugi asked, and Mokuba and Honda both began to explain.
As he talked, Mokuba couldn't help but keep glancing around at all of their faces. They all were watching him, even when Honda was speaking, keeping their eyes trained on him like they were half-afraid he might vanish if they turned away. Like a ghost.
It wasn't just that incredulity which was so disconcerting, however. It was the open smiles on all their faces. How happy they looked, even Jounouchi, for all he called Mokuba a brat, for all he was now complaining about having to "bail out Kaiba's dumb ass again". He was grinning as he said it, making it a joke.
Grinning, like Mokuba just being here, being alive, was the best thing that had happened to them all day. They were hardly even angry with him, though it had been all his doing anyway, his fault that they had thought he was gone to begin with. They were holding no grudge about the lie, because they were so happy it had only been a lie.
Mokuba remembered when Jounouchi had fallen in his Battle City duel against Malik, that moment when he hadn't been breathing and Mokuba had felt a weight on his chest like his own breath might stop. All Jounouchi's friends had gathered around his fallen figure, and by the looks on their faces, the tones of their cries, Mokuba had known they had felt that same weight crushing them. It hadn't really gone away until was Jounouchi awake and walking again, and Mokuba remembered how relieved, how happy he had been to see him, to know he would be okay.
But he hadn't realized it would be anything like that, not for him. Jounouchi was Yugi's best friend, such close friends with all of them. Mokuba had been their enemy once, and he was still the brother of Yugi's greatest rival and Jounouchi's sworn adversary. But that hardly seemed to matter to them.
As far back as Mokuba could remember, it had always been just him and his brother, and no one else. He understood a little better now, why his brother always pushed Yugi and his friends away so abrasively, always made sure there was such distance between him and them. It was a grueling, almost frightening thing, the weight of so many others caring. Even though it didn't seem to bother them, most of the time. Like they were so used to the burden that they didn't notice it any more, used to having so many people around them who they cared about, who cared about them.
Only Mokuba didn't think his brother's efforts to keep them back had worked, quite, even if he usually never failed at anything. But Yugi was the one man his brother ever lost to, it was true. And Yugi now was gladly saying that of course they would help out Kaiba-kun. As if Seto were no different than any of his friends. "What should we do, Mokuba-kun?"
They all were still looking at him, but differently now. Expectantly. Mokuba was used to getting similar looks at Kaiba Corporation, people waiting for him to tell them what to do. But these looks were subtly different. They weren't employees, they were friends; and they weren't awaiting orders, but asking how they could help. Even when it didn't have anything to do with them. Even if they could get hurt, or worse. Just because he needed them.
He knew why his brother hated it so. It was almost unbearable, accepting the burden of that trust, that loyalty, when he might not be strong enough to return it.
But his brother was in jail. Mokuba took a deep breath. "Yugi, you have an online computer, right? I'll need to access my brother's files, he's been working on figuring out who's the plant in KaibaCorp, and I need to know what he's found. Though I'll need the file's password from him--I can't go to the police to see him myself, but maybe one of you can. And this evening I'll have to go back to MainBrain, there's a little more data I need to pull..."
Almost unbearable. But he was a Kaiba. And to protect Kaiba Corporation, for the sake of his brother, he would do whatever he had to do.
Chapter 9: Visit
Kaiba Seto was not in a good mood. Alone in his cell, without access to a computer or telephone, it should have been the perfect opportunity to catch up on days of missed sleep, but he found himself too--frustrated to lay down again. It was only with an effort of will that he wasn't actively pacing the confines of the room.
He might have told himself he was angry with the police, most particularly that pair of detectives, but they had, after all, only been doing their jobs. Really he was most irritated with himself, for slipping like that in front of them. They hadn't missed it. Especially not the older one. He didn't look anything like Gozaburo, short and squat and scruffy with his gray-peppered hair and rumpled suit, but he had Gozaburo's black eyes, watching so closely, measuring, evaluating. Gozaburo's eyes, but Yugi's voice, all kind understanding words. It made Kaiba's skin crawl. But he shouldn't have let it get to him.
Couldn't afford to. The moment the truth went public concerning Mokuba's untimely and ultimately unreal demise, MainBrain would be onto his brother. If they weren't already.
They hadn't been as of last night, at least, Kaiba reminded himself yet again. Setting him up like this was obviously a desperation tactic. They must have figured out that their security had been breached, and unable to find the source of the leak on their end, they opted to put him out of reach of it instead. But they would be looking very closely at all possible points of access. Not to mention, if they were investigating his brother's death in order to frame him, the discrepancies there might come to light.
If the police didn't figure it out first. That detective's instincts had been buzzing. One doesn't come out on top of either the gaming world or the business world by underestimating one's opponents, and Kaiba could tell the man wasn't stupid. Cunning, at least. He'd known what to say, too well. Pushing his buttons, and Kaiba had let the detective play him. He hadn't had much choice. If they were talking to him, then at least they weren't talking with the hospital about the death certificate, and why there hadn't been a body.
But he hadn't liked the comprehending look in the detective's eyes, or even worse the compassion in his voice. Not at all.
Mokuba couldn't so much as call him. No phones, no computer, not even a television. The newspapers he had been given had pages removed; he wasn't allowed to read articles pertaining to the case. By the time he would know anything was wrong, it could be too late.
This had been Mokuba's plan, his game. His little brother was as capable as he was. He knew what he was doing; Mokuba understood the dangers, would anticipate MainBrain's tactics. Unless he was too distracted by this current dilemma.
They both should have seen this one coming. They should have had a contingency plan. In retrospect his framing was an obvious move.
Mokuba could handle it. Should. Had to.
At the knock at the door, Kaiba very nearly snapped, 'Go away,' as he would were he in his own office. He barely bit it back in time. The cop didn't wait for his acknowledgment, just peered through the window to verify Kaiba was on the other side of the room, not about to jump him, then unlocked the door. It wasn't either of the detectives, but a uniformed officer, who told him, "Kaiba-san, you have a visitor."
The officer nodded. "If you'll come with me."
He had already met with his lawyers, long enough to tell them to let him handle this, implying that everything was under his control. They would be there when he needed them; right now they were just another potential threat, should one of them have sold out to MainBrain.
But who else would come to see him? Not anyone else from the company; he hadn't asked for anyone. And even if Mokuba had connived to get out of the class, he wouldn't come here. Disguised or not, it would still be risky. Unless he had decided to abandon any further incursions at MainBrain headquarters. That would be the safest option, the preferred...
No; had Mokuba given up the plan entirely, he would have already come to the police, and they would have no reason to continue holding Kaiba. But if not his brother...
"It's technically past visiting hours," the officer remarked as they walked down the hall. "You won't have long. Still, it was nice of your girlfriend to come."
Kaiba stopped mid-stride, much like he had walked into an invisible brick wall. "My. What."
"In here, Kaiba-san." The policeman opened a door and indicated for him to enter. "There will be an officer present for your conversation. You have ten minutes."
The aforementioned officer stood silent watch in the corner, and there were three pairs of chairs on either side of the glass and mesh partition, but only one was occupied, on the opposite side from Kaiba, and that was the only person he had eyes for. Disbelief warred with a weary resignation. Really, he ought to have known. They never could keep their noses out of anything.
Still, as he took the seat opposite, and Mazaki Anzu waved at him cheerfully from behind the glass, Kaiba couldn't help but feel that he had inadvertently stepped into the shoes of someone with a life even more trying than his own. "What. Are you. Doing here."
She made a pout. Even as an act it still set his teeth on edge. "Is that any way to talk to your girlfriend, Kaiba-kun? I came all this way and they still almost wouldn't let me in to see you. But I told them how worried I am about these ridiculous charges..."
"Do you have any idea what kind of field day the tabloids will have with this?" Kaiba hissed, glancing at the listening officer. He didn't look like he had a camera on him, but digital equipment came very small these days.
"I know," Anzu said, dropping the stupid smile for a moment to look him straight in the eye. "I also know you didn't kill your brother." There was too much certainty in her voice for him to misconstrue that statement. So Yugi had told them after all. Kaiba wasn't especially surprised. "And I had to see you."
Or rather Yugi's gang had decided that one of their number did, and thanks to her gender she had the most convenient excuse. It was true that Yugi trying the same ploy would have added quite a bit more fuel to the potential paparazzi fire. But it would take some effort to keep this visit from spreading too far. Unless he and Mokuba just went back to America for a year as soon as this was over.
"I mean," and Anzu donned her simper again, outrageously batting her eyes, "I've hardly seen you at all lately, Kaiba-kun, you've been cooped up in your office day in and day out. How long has it been since we've had a proper date?"
Definitely back to America. A couple of years at least.
As a rule, Kaiba did not believe in paranormal phenomenon; he tended to think that most would-be telepaths were more psychotic than psychic. Nevertheless, as Anzu prattled on, he glared through the partition and attempted very hard to transmit a mental message, namely, Get to the fucking point. Obviously Yugi and his friends had concocted some harebrained scheme or another; she was hardly putting her whole minimal reputation on the line to make a social call.
Either he was mildly telepathic after all, or else the glare finally penetrated--they were all entirely too used to him; hardened businessmen quailed far faster under that look than Yugi's gang. But she leaned forward, lowered her voice--hopefully not enough to seem suspicious--and said, "Oh, there's one more thing. Uh, you know that kid Yugi used to play CapMon chess against?"
Capsule Monster chess. No doubt Yugi had played the game a number of times--it had been quite a popular fad a couple years ago--but Kaiba only personally knew one of his opponents.
He sat up straight in the metal chair. "Yes, I remember him."
Anzu, watching him closely, nodded either in confirmation or reassurance, he wasn't sure which, and said, "We hadn't heard from him a while, you know how we were wondering what happened to him?" To her credit she managed to keep resentment mostly out of her voice when she stressed the last phrase. "Well, he called us today, out of the blue, wanting to visit. He's at Yugi's place with the others now."
The knot in Kaiba's belly that had been twisted there since his arrest this morning loosened, his held breath expelled in a silent rush of air. Mokuba was out of the program, away from MainBrain. Presumably with the information he had downloaded last night, and without having been caught With Yugi. Safe.
He didn't let any of that show, just said, in a tone he hoped sounded bored, "I see. They're having a good time?"
"Yeah, it's great to see him again." That at least was honestly meant; it showed in her eyes. "So the reason I mentioned it, they've been playing that new CapMon computer game. The one you have on your computer, you know? And you told me about a cheat code in it--you know, the one that showed the stats of all the monsters. But I couldn't remember what it was. Could you give it to me, so I could tell them? They really want it to play."
Kaiba leaned back fractionally in his chair, regarded her. Anzu was biting her lip nervously; by her expression, she was attempting to will comprehension to him by sheer concentration.
He wondered if this were Yugi's ruse, or if she had come up with it on her own. It wasn't hard to follow. He didn't have any such game on his computer. What he did have were all the data he had been compiling on possible suspects among KaibaCorp employees. Mokuba would be able to access his computer remotely, but without his personal password it would take him a while to hack into the files. Time they didn't have.
"Yes, I remember that code," Kaiba said. He glanced at the guard, who was listening disinterestedly. Couldn't be helped. Better to have it seen by one man than recorded on the audio tapes; he didn't know who else might be listening outside this room. "Do you have a pencil and paper?" he asked.
The officer nodded, gave him a pencil and the back of a citation sheet. He wrote down the password with the guard watching over his shoulder, then pushed the scrap of paper through the window's partition to Anzu.
She took it, glanced down and read it, and he recalled she was studying advanced English when her eyebrows shot up. Looking up at him, she mouthed silently, "'Kurib0hsux'?"
He arched a brow back at her. "Would you have guessed it?"
"I'll give it to them," Anzu told him, folding the paper and slipping it into her purse.
"You only have a couple minutes left," the policeman warned, as he retreated back to his corner.
Clearing his throat, Kaiba attempted to soften his tone appropriately. His interest, at least, he didn't have to fake. "So what are you doing tonight? Do your friends have any plans, Yugi and the--others?"
Anzu blinked. "Umm...that is..." He could almost see the mechanism of her mind working behind her eyes. Fortunately that was a fairly efficient processor; she quickly blurted out, "Not much, but... Honda is bringing Yugi's friend to his...class. He's in, uh, this special cram school..."
Kaiba stiffened, hoping he was misinterpreting. "He can't skip this evening?"
"No..." Anzu's expression was tight but she did a decent job of keeping her voice even. "He said he's got something he needs to pick up there tonight." She hesitated. "Yugi was trying to talk him out of it, but...they've probably left already."
No misinterpretation. Damn it.
If Mokuba went back to MainBrain tonight, he would get the rest of the data. Of that Kaiba had no doubts. But if they got him while he was doing so, it would all be for nothing. Even if his brother managed to transmit the data before he was caught, it wouldn't do any good, with Kaiba in jail.
He wasn't supposed to be here. This snag wasn't figured into their plans. He was supposed to be in his office in the KC tower. Not more than thirty minutes from MainBrain's headquarters--ten by helicopter, should Mokuba activate the emergency signal in his cell phone.
Mokuba knew what had happened. He would take precautions. They both had understood what was at stake when he had proposed this plot. MainBrain's gambit could bring down KaibaCorp. But MainBrain was putting a lot on the line for that chance; they stood to lose as much, should their schemes be exposed. Thus they would take steps to prevent that. Would go as far as they had to.
Kaiba had successfully put the details of their plan's commencement out of mind for the past couple weeks, occupied as he was with his own investigation. Now, unprovoked and unwanted, the wake bubbled to the forefront of his thoughts: the shrine, the coffin, memories vivid in his mind's eye, like a vision, some dark premonition in reverse.
But that coffin had been empty, and mentally he forced the memory aside, as he had when speaking to the detectives. A false performance of ritual had no influence on reality; he refused to be haunted by any such superstitious inanity. They had only done what was necessary.
Perhaps it had been too risky from the start. Even if the only way to stop MainBrain. Even if Kaiba could refute these murder charges and manage to save Kaiba Corporation, it would all be for nothing anyway, if Mokuba...
"Kaiba-kun?" Anzu broke into his brown study, sounding concerned, as he supposed a proper girlfriend should under the circumstances.
He unclenched his fists, not recalling when he had closed them. Took a breath and said, "It's nothing," automatically. None of their business. She shouldn't be here at all.
Ignoring that dismissal, Anzu leaned forward in her chair, raised one hand to the glass like an actress going for the Oscar. "Is there anything you'd like me to tell everybody, Kaiba-kun? When they get back?"
He looked at her. "Just tell them"--him, but she already understood that his 'everybody' referred to but one individual--"tell them...I'm counting on them."
Momentary surprise crossed her face, and she nodded. "I will." Her smile to him was strangely genuine, and she didn't seem to expect it to be returned.
Then she pursed her lips and blew him a kiss through the glass. "And I'll give them this," and she patted her purse with the paper, "and I'll be back to see you soon as I can, Kaiba-kun, please don't miss me too terribly!"
"I'll endeavor not to," Kaiba answered through teeth gritted to keep himself from grimacing.
The cop coughed politely. "Miss, I'm afraid your time is about up."
Anzu nodded, stood and touched the glass again, gazing at him through it. "I hope this gets worked out soon. We'll all worried about you, Kaiba-kun." And that, strangely enough, seemed honestly meant as well.
Without meaning to he found himself thinking of the wake again, how they had come without invitation, with their cloying, unwanted and unnecessary compassion. But they were helping Mokuba now, were even accompanying him back to MainBrain, if he had been following her properly. And Mokuba had been right to go to them, right to have asked him to tell Yugi. They wouldn't be useless; in past crises Yugi and his friends had been surprisingly effective. Even had succeeded where he had failed.
Though this wasn't their game now. He didn't want their help, capable though they might have proved to be. But desperate times...
"You," he called, standing from his chair as Anzu began to walk away. She turned back, looking startled that he would address her at all. He nodded to her gravely. "I'll owe you," he said.
She gave him a little smile, gestured a thumbs up to acknowledge that debt. Though for some inexplicable reason she was also shaking her head, as if he had said something unintentionally, tragically humorous, as the police officer escorted him from the room.
Chapter 10: Decoy
The guards at the front entrance cheerfully waved Mokuba through. Other than them, he encountered no one until he reached the computer lab. One of his erstwhile fellow students was finishing up his homework as he entered; they exchanged a couple words' greetings, and he was gone by the time Mokuba had logged in.
Optimal; the fewer who witnessed him in person, the better. Even so, the system administrators would be on their guard; he didn't give them more than two hours to figure it out, and that probably was overestimating their incompetency. Worst case scenario, they had traced yesterday's access to the lab and had it under surveillance now, ready to grab him the moment he made a move. But logging onto any other terminal would put up a red flag. No, he had to trust that he had effectively covered his tracks, and that grade school students weren't seriously considered when analyzing potential security breaches.
Still, Mokuba's mouth was dry as he logged on, slipped the USB drive into the slot and started up a terminal shell to get to work in earnest. He had left a backdoor for himself in the administrator's module yesterday--two, actually; the obvious one they would have caught, and hopefully they hadn't looked in the right place for his other worm. They hadn't deleted it, at any rate, and it didn't take him long to slip into the system.
His brother had once asked him if the computer jobs were his favorite part of their work. Mokuba had told him no. Because it was true--really, he didn't have a favorite job; he liked all of his vice-president duties, enjoyed that level of trust granted to him, and the satisfaction of accomplishment in whatever he did. And also because if his brother thought that Mokuba would prefer it, he would put Mokuba in charge of all of Kaiba Corp's electronic security issues. Which he might not be good enough to handle yet, and besides, his brother enjoyed hacking as much as he did; it would hardly be fair for Mokuba to have all the fun.
But he loved the challenges of the cyber work, he couldn't deny that. And right now, he was the best man for the job--the only man for it, even if his brother hadn't been arrested.
He tried not to think about the cell phone in his pocket. They had been apart for the last few weeks, but he had always known Seto was only a call away. The distance between them was so much greater now, even if the police jail was no farther from here than the KC Tower. But it wasn't doing his brother any good to waste time thinking about that.
MainBrain's network security team had left electronic ambushes for him, naturally, booby-trapped false data labeled as the files he had pulled before, but it had been a rush job. Just skimming the modified directory lists he noted the discrepancies in files sizes and numbers. The real data had been renamed but not actually deleted from the disk. Clumsy, but then they had had less than twenty-four hours. He quickly located the needed information and started a back-up protocol, downloading the copy directly to his drive, currently renamed as a server proxy, an obvious but effective disguise.
Not everything Mokuba knew about hacking had been learned from his brother. Seto had taught him a lot, but Mokuba had started fooling around with computers on his own years ago, one of the ways he had entertained himself during the long hours after school, when his brother was still busy in his own endless lessons. No one had encouraged him, but no one had stopped him, either. They might have, had they discovered how easily he had cracked the house network. As it was, he had been allowed to upgrade the personal computer in his room to the most state-of-the-art possible, on the pretext of wanting a good game system. Gozaburo's philosophies to the contrary, Mokuba had been allowed whatever games he wanted, as they kept him quiet and out of the way. As long as he didn't share them with his brother, who had no time for such frivolities.
He had played a lot of games, and not just to keep up appearances, but it wasn't the same, playing alone. He had spent more time investigating the KaibaCorp network, figuring out ways to exchange messages with his brother during any lesson he was online, until Seto had at last told him to stop--"I'm too busy for that," he had said, which might have also meant, "If Gozaburo found out we'd be punished." By that point they had meant the same thing to his brother anyway.
His brother was the best hacker Mokuba knew, but Mokuba worked differently than him. While Seto tended to view hacking (like most things) as a game, a competition between himself and the programmer whose code he sought to crack, Mokuba liked to think of it as an art. There were guidelines it was better to follow, but no fixed rules, no ultimate wrong or right answer, as long as he got results.
There wasn't a system written that his brother couldn't smash his way into, with the algorithms he had written and the processing power of KaibaCorp's network. But that wasn't always necessary--the key wasn't always to break through a system's defenses, but to get around them without even being noticed. Finding the loopholes and backdoors, the cracks in firewalls and the commands that didn't require passwords. Not working against the programmer, but rather working with the computer, convincing it to share its secrets with you, give you its data as if it had been programmed to do so all along.
It was almost too easy, how quickly MainBrain's servers opened to his probing, yielding what he wanted. Mokuba smiled to himself as he watched the download progress, numbers flickering by.
Then he frowned, hit a key to stop the process. That was a new cluster of files since yesterday. He typed a command to open one in a secure shell, scanned the document in disbelief. He had known this must exist somewhere, but they wouldn't have been so dumb as to put that data in a linked directory, would they? Knowing that the main files were compromised?
Mokuba thanked all the gods he didn't believe in for the existence of stupid people, and copied the whole directory onto his key drive. Electronic evidence wouldn't be as convincing as a paper trail in court, but then, a suit against MainBrain was more feasible than a criminal case, and besides, if there were any hardcopy evidence, this would be a good starting point for finding it.
No sooner had the copying finished when one of his other windows began to flash. Mokuba swore. They had been faster than he had predicted to notice the access; though they hadn't traced his terminal yet, it wouldn't take them long. He wasted no time withdrawing from the system, not needing to take care hiding himself when they already knew he was there, just closing down everything. Yanking out the key drive and stashing it in his jacket's pocket, he manually switched off the box, then flipped on the terminal next to it, hopefully buying himself a little confusion. And now time to withdraw in person.
He was almost to the lab door when it began to open. Mokuba froze. There should have been no way to trace his terminal this quickly--unless he had missed some signal--but if they had made an educated guess, sent a couple guards to investigate...being just a kid, he would have the advantage of surprise, if nothing else, and he braced himself--
Mokuba blinked. "Takeuchi-sensei?"
The teacher didn't return his look, checking over his shoulder as she stood in the doorway, not quite blocking his way. "So you came back tonight to work on your project?"
"Yeah," he said, struggling to remember what his cheerful voice should sound like. No reason for him to be nervous, he was just a diligent student--"I'm almost done with the assignment, actually, I was going to head back to the dorms soon. Though I'll have a lot to make up after missing today, huh. I'm really sorry for flaking out like that..."
"That's all right," the teacher said. She sounded distracted, glancing around the empty lab as she spoke to him. "Katsuya-kun, did you notice anyone else in here, last night or tonight?"
"You mean in the lab with me?" Mokuba asked, and hoped she wouldn't hear how fast his heart was pounding. It was beating in his ears so loudly he couldn't see how she would miss it. "There might've been a couple guys, I wasn't paying attention. Why?"
"This afternoon I was called into the office of one of the vice presidents," Takeuchi said, finally looking at him. "He wanted to know if I had any students this session who might have the expertise to crack the mainframe's security. I told him I had several, and he wanted their names and files immediately. I'm not sure why it was the vice president asking; if there had been some kind of cyber-attack, the network security team should be handling it. But I gave him your name, Katsuya-kun."
Mokuba couldn't tell if she sounded guilty about that, or accusing. He swallowed, pulled a grin. "You really think I'm good enough to hack the mainframe? Cool!" Pointing to the computer he had just turned on, he said, "Hey, Takeuchi-sensei, since you're here, could you maybe go over what assignments I missed today, if you've got time? I'll be right back, I just got to go. To the bathroom, I mean," and he squirmed appropriately.
But the teacher didn't sit at the computer, remained standing in the doorway, though she didn't make a move to stop him, either. "Katsuya-kun," she began, as he sidled past her into the hall, "are you sure you saw someone else here--"
The tramping of running feet in the adjacent hallway interrupted her focus. They both glanced down the corridor as a blond head stuck around the corner and looked around.
A familiar blond head. Mokuba stared. Behind him, Takeuchi said, "Excuse me, who are you? I've never--"
"Whoops," Jounouchi said, quite deliberately looking at her instead of Mokuba. "Sorry, my bad, I'll just be going--"
"Wait!" Mokuba said, seizing the offered opportunity by sprinting forward and taking hold of Jounouchi's sleeve. "Takeuchi-sensei, he's the guy I saw in the lab today!"
"Let go, kid!" Jounouchi shoved him off with just slightly less force than he actually would have needed. Mokuba let go, stumbled back at the precise angle to fall into Takeuchi as she rushed forward, knocking the teacher to the floor. Jounouchi flashed Mokuba a wicked grin, then took off back down the hall.
Not a moment too soon. As Mokuba climbed back to his feet, apologizing to his teacher and trying (ineffectually, given his height) to help her up, the doorway at the other end of the corridor burst open, and four of the gray-uniformed security guards rushed up. At least two, Mokuba noted, had their hands under their jackets, concealing shapes that were too small and not blocky enough to be tasers. Illegal handguns.
"We have a report of a possible intruder," the man in the lead said, looking between Mokuba and the teacher with his eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Yes..." Takeuchi brushed her hair out of her eyes, glanced over the four guards herself and hesitated barely long enough to catch her breath before nodding. "He went that way," she said, pointing in the appropriate direction.
"Thank you, Takeuchi-san," the guard said, and he and his men headed off down the hall at a jog.
The teacher turned to Mokuba. "Katsuya-kun, have you ever seen that young man here before?"
"Never before tonight," Mokuba said, honestly enough. He hadn't ever expected to see Jounouchi here, either. Couldn't even guess how he had gotten inside to be a decoy. "But he came into the lab earlier--I thought he might, uh, be an intern?"
"No," Takeuchi said, "he's not, to my knowledge--I don't think he was supposed to be here at all. I wonder how he got in here..." She smiled at Mokuba, relief evident in her expression. "Katsuya-kun, I want you to stay here in the lab while I go take care of something. I'll be right back, okay?"
"Okay," Mokuba said obediently. No need to ask what she had to take care of so urgently. The guard had known her name, and for them to have appeared so quickly--they hadn't been following Jounouchi; they must have been on standby, waiting for a signal from her. If he had tried to run, they would have been on him like that.
Judging by the upset twisting her expression now, Takeuchi-sensei had noticed the guards' guns as well, and that had been an unexpected element for her. "I'm sorry for all this, Katsuya-kun," she said, patting him reassuringly on the shoulder, then left, the lab door clapping shut behind her.
Mokuba waited until the rapid clicking of her heels on the floor faded, then tried the door handle, and was unsurprised to find it locked. Trusting the teacher might be, but not stupid.
Not that it mattered to him anyway. Clambering on top of the file cabinet in the corner, he took his miniature screwdriver out of his pocket, quickly opened the air vent in the ceiling and climbed into the ventilation duct, closing it behind him.
There were advantages to still being a half-grown kid; he had plenty of room in the shaft to crawl. Having memorized the architectural plans for the building before ever stepping foot in it, Mokuba easily navigated through the narrow metal tunnels. At the third juncture he paused to peer out the grill to the hallway below. There was no one in the hallway, but he could hear shouting and boots tramping farther down. He listened, but none of the voices sounding like Jounouchi.
The lights were still on as normal, but on the door locks and fire alarms, small amber diodes were blinking. Hardly noticeable unless you were paying attention, but Mokuba knew what that alert signaled. The building had been locked down, with all external exits would be closed to anyone not authorized.
Which was hardly a problem for Mokuba, even if his own ID permissions had likely been cancelled by now. Reaching into his pocket, he closed his fingers around the ID card he had unclipped from Takeuchi's jacket when he had bumped into her. She likely had already discovered its absence, but he should have enough time. There was an unguarded exit to the rear parking lot only five meters down the hall. His way was clear now, with everyone pursuing Jounouchi, and Takeuchi's card would get him through the doors. Once outside, Mokuba would be safe, with the stolen data.
But Jounouchi would still be inside, with no way out, until the guards captured him.
It wouldn't take much questioning for them to realize that Jounouchi wasn't their hacker. That he was just a nobody kid, and maybe they would just throw him out. Wouldn't even bother pressing charges for trespassing, likely; they wouldn't want to bring the police into this if they could help it.
Unless they thought Jounouchi might know something, suspected he might be working for Kaiba Corporation. Then they might want to question him farther. Or else simply ensure that he wouldn't be reporting back to anyone, just in case.
Jounouchi was as old as his brother, old enough to take care of himself. He had understood that Mokuba had a job to do. His brother was depending on him, and there would be no way to help Seto, if MainBrain caught Mokuba now. And it wasn't as if Mokuba had asked for Jounouchi's help. He hadn't even known Jounouchi was here until five minutes ago.
The way was clear now, but guards could come at any second; this was his best chance to get out of here.
A chance he wouldn't have had, if Jounouchi hadn't shown up like that and thrown off Takeuchi's suspicions.
He hadn't asked Jounouchi to come.
The guns he had seen under the guards' jackets probably shot tranquilizer darts anyway.
Mokuba hesitated for all of three-quarters of a second, before turning and scrambling back through the ventilation shaft, away from the exit, towards the raised voices of the security guards.
Chapter 11: Escape
"Well, that was a waste of a day," Detective Tsukimoto sighed, tossing aside his coast as he sunk down into his seat and checked his watch. A formality; he already knew it was way past quitting time, but he wouldn't be clocking out for a while yet, if his senior partner's preoccupation was any clue.
"Hmm, you think so?" His partner flipped back through his notebook--paper, no palm pilot; Ishiyama distrusted any technology smaller than a full desktop computer, and wouldn't own so much as a mobile phone if the department hadn't made it mandatory--and scribbled a few words in the margin.
"We should've stuck to questioning Kaiba. That was a barrel of laughs. And it's not like we got anything better for visiting the hospital or anywhere else." Tsukimoto watched his partner across their desk. "You still so sure the guy's innocent?"
"Mm-hmm," Ishiyama confirmed, still rereading the day's notes.
"You don't think it's suspicious that the doctor who signed his little brother's death certificate just went on a month-long cruise to Hawaii?"
Ishiyama glanced up. "And I don't doubt that if we investigated that special deluxe grand prize cruise, we'd find that Kaiba Corp sponsored it. Not to mention, we still haven't located the car involved in the hit-and-run. We have the registration, signed to Kaiba Seto personally, and the anonymous eyewitness who gave us the license number. But no vehicle."
"You can't blame them for wanting to stay anonymous, testifying against a powerhouse like Kaiba Corp." Tsukimoto stretched and eyed the bullpen's coffeemaker, wishing it was percolating on their desk rather than so many long steps across the room. "So you don't find any of that the least bit suspicious?"
"Oh, it's extremely suspicious," Ishiyama agreed, entirely too cheerfully for the late hour. "It's just not clear what that suspicion is. Kaiba's hiding something from us, obviously--probably plenty, given his line of work--but as far as Kaiba Mokuba's death goes--"
He was interrupted by the trill of a celphone. Tsukimoto pulled out his mobile, answered, "Yes, hello?"
"Detective Tsukimoto?" said a bright female voice that he recognized as Toshie's from the night shift. "I'm trying to reach Detective Ishiyama, but he seems to have turned off his phone."
"He's with me," Tsukimoto said. "What's going on?"
"I have a message that Ishiyama-san wanted to be told right away if something came up in regards to a particular location..."
Tsukimoto listened to the message, thanked Toshie and hung up, then turned to his partner. "Okay, how the heck did you know?"
"Was that Toshie?" Ishiyama inquired.
"Yes! How'd you know? She said you left a message this morning--how'd you know what'd be happening at MainBrain Inc.'s headquarters tonight?"
Ishiyama stood up. "So something did happen there?"
"Just happened--is happening, sounds like--"
"Then we should get over there," Ishiyama said, hurrying towards the bullpen exit. Tsukimoto sighed, shrugged back into his coat and followed.
Luck favors idiots, fortunately. Between him and Jounouchi, Mokuba didn't know who should be more favored, but either way he breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the single pair of footsteps pounding toward him, not boots, but the unmistakable squeak of rubber-soled sneakers on tile floor.
Then caught that same breath back sharply, as a stranger's voice commanded, "Stop there!" Jounouchi's footsteps stumbled to a halt. In the cramped maintenance tunnel, Mokuba sidled forward on hands and knees, careful not to rattle the ceiling tiles as he crossed over them. Peering down through the narrow gap between the florescent lights, he saw Jounouchi, standing in the corridor with a sheepish look on his face, and two of MainBrain's security guards facing him. Mokuba was at the wrong angle to see what was in their hands, but the way Jounouchi's arms were held up in the air gave him a good idea.
"What are you doing here?" one of the guards demanded. "Show your ID pass."
Mokuba crawled a little farther down the shaft. "My pass?" he heard Jounouchi say. "Oh, yeah, just a sec, I, uh, I must've misplaced it..."
Mokuba hooked his fingers under the foam-fronted ceiling tile, lifted it a couple centimeters and peeked out. The two guards were directly beneath him, so that all he could see was the tops of their heads, cropped black hair shiny under the hard light, and the pistol in the hand of the man on the right. "What's your name?" that guard was demanding. "What division are you with?"
Mokuba raised the tile higher, enough that he could see Jounouchi's face as he answered, "My name is, uh, Katsuya. Honda Katsuya. I'm a student here..." His gaze flicked nervously from guard to guard to gun, and then up, and his eyes widened fractionally as they met Mokuba's.
Mokuba nodded to him, meaningfully, just as the guard began to say, "You're going to have to come with us--"
Jounouchi rocked back, setting his stance, then winked at Mokuba and said, "Sorry, already got plans tonight," as he launched himself forward.
"Sto--!" The guard didn't get any further, because Mokuba landed on his head then, feet-first, sending him sprawling on the waxed floor and knocking the pistol out of his hand. It went off with a deafening bang (definitely not a tranquilizer gun), but Jounouchi easily ducked the wide shot, and came up fighting, slamming the other man back into the wall with a roundhouse kick, followed up with a punch to the solar plexus.
"Nice moves," Mokuba panted. He had been right; Jounouchi could definitely take care of himself. He picked himself up off the floor, rubbing his wrist, which he had twisted in the fall. "Come on!"
"Just a sec," Jounouchi said, crouching over Mokuba's landing pad and ripping the holster and key ring from the guard's belt, having assured he wouldn't object with a swift blow to the head. He retrieved the pistol where it had slid across the floor, shoved it into the holster as he stood. "Now where to?"
"Over here." His original exit route was cut off; he could hear more guards down the corridor blocking the way. An awful lot of guards; either the security was more complete than MainBrain's public records stated, or they had hired extra for tonight. And that gunshot would be bringing them all running.
Mokuba lead them in the least-predictable direction, back the way Jounouchi had come, towards the lab. They barely dodged another pair of guards, dove through a door and plunged down a small staircase to the subbasement. Climbing back up another flight and through another door brought them to a narrow, short corridor. There was a fire exit at the other end, which would lead to a side alley, but no doors in between.
Mokuba ran forward, pulling out the teacher's ID as he did and swiping the stolen card through the door's electronic lock panel.
The diodes on the panel stayed red. He tried the handle, but it wouldn't budge. Takeuchi must have reported her card missing already. "Dammit!" Mokuba slammed his fist against the door, which failed to help his sore wrist any, nor their situation.
There must be a way to crack the lock somehow, maybe short-circuit it, but he didn't have the tools, or any time. Footsteps in the adjacent halls were converging on them. The whole building was wired with cameras; doubtless they had been easy to track. And with the exit locked, they were stuck in a dead end, with the staircase their only way out.
His big brother wouldn't have gotten himself trapped like this. But then his brother would have escaped at the first opportunity--and it didn't do any good to think like that, not now. He wasn't Seto, but there wasn't anything he could do about that. All he could do was his best and that had to be enough. He wasn't going to fail, not when his brother was counting on him, and now Jounouchi, too.
"Try this one," Jounouchi said, tossing him the ID card he had relieved from the guard.
Mokuba slid the card through, twice for good measure, but the light didn't change. "They're not letting anyone out of the building, until they catch us."
He and Jounouchi looked behind them. Boots stamping up the metal stairs were echoing through the corridor. The flimsy bolt on the door to the stairwell wouldn't hold against a good kick, much less a bullet.
Mokuba's eyes darted to the ventilation grill set in the wall, but it was barely big enough for him to squeeze through. Jounouchi wouldn't have a chance of making it. Other than that vent, there was nothing in the hall, no benches or even a trashcan to block the coming guards. Nothing here but the two closed doors and the two of them. He might as well have locked them in a prison cell.
"All right," Jounouchi said, drawing the gun from the borrowed holster and starting for the door. "I'll keep 'em busy; Mokuba, you go through the vent, find another way out."
"Your brother needs you," Jounouchi said, like Mokuba ever would have forgotten. "Go on, get out of here, I'll hold 'em off," and he gestured with the pistol. Punk he might be, but Jounouchi didn't know how to hold a gun, aiming it sideways like an actor in a cheap cop show. "You can bail me out later. Hey, maybe they'll give me a cell next to Kaiba's."
"If they think you're the hacker, they're not going to risk having you arrested..." Mokuba said, thinking as hard as he could, desperately. There was no such thing as a no-win situation, not for a Kaiba; there had to be a way out here, for both of them. But the guards were almost at the top of the stairs, and the exit's deadbolt's electronics were sealed. The fire door itself was reinforced steel, impossible to batter down--
The fire door. There must be something else in the hall after all; the building was modern enough that safety regulations would require it. Mokuba surveyed the walls, spotted his target. "Jounouchi, you grabbed the guy's keys, right?"
"Yeah, but that door doesn't have a keyhole, does it?" But Jounouchi took the jangling ring out of his pocket.
Mokuba snatched it from his hands and shot over to the red box mounted on the wall. Safety first, even during a security lockdown. The second key slid into the slot, and he grinned in manic victory, turned it to open the panel and hit all the buttons inside.
The lights overhead flickered and dimmed to amber as a piercing, whooping fire alarm began to sound, accompanied by flashing strobes. The fire door's bolt automatically popped open with a click. "Come on!" Mokuba shouted over the fire alarm, and Jounouchi let go of the stairwell door handle he had been holding shut and sprinted after him, as sprinklers lowered from the ceiling and began spraying the corridor.
He heard a gunshot behind him, and shouted curses as the charging guards slipped on the wet tile floor. Then they were through the fire door and outside in the night, running down the dark alley. Safer--the guards wouldn't fire outside, not with illegal weapons--but not home-free--
A motorcycle, tires squealing, pulled in front of them, cutting them off from the street. The rider was all in black, face obscured by his helmet's visor. Jounouchi shoved Mokuba out of the way, shakily raised the gun.
"Wait!" Mokuba grabbed his elbow.
"Get on!" Honda shouted to them through the helmet.
"Whoops--sorry, man!" Jounouchi tossed the pistol aside, bodily picked Mokuba up by the collar and swung him onto the bike, then vaulted onto the seat behind him, grabbing Honda's shoulders. "Go!"
Honda released the brake and they peeled out of the driveway, clearing the speed bump with a hop. Already the sirens of the approaching fire truck were sounding over the hubbub of traffic. Honda wove a dangerous path through the cars jammed in the streets, ran a red and took them down a quiet side street, finally stopping in a convenient store's parking lot.
"All right!" Jounouchi crowed triumphantly, and slapped Honda five, then raised his hand to Mokuba's. "'How's that for some moves!"
Mokuba stared at him, not returning the gesture. "How did you get in there? In fact, what are you even doing here? You didn't come with us!"
"Took the bus," Jounouchi said. "I figured Honda would be staying outside with the getaway vehicle," and he patted the motorcycle, "so if you needed a distraction, I'd be it. And with all the guards they had gathering in front there, it looked like you might need one. Honda told me where the school part of the building was, and this janitor outside for his smoke break was nice enough to let a drunk kid in to use the bathroom. I figured he'd report me if I took off, but since I wanted to be noticed anyway, no sweat."
At Mokuba's look he grinned. "Hey, you and Kaiba ain't got the monopoly on being sneaks!"
"I..." Mokuba couldn't look him in the eyes any longer. It had been far too close. "I didn't know they'd have guns," he said quietly. He had faced such threats before, but they shouldn't have to. Not for him.
"Guns?" Honda said. "Real guns? So that thing you pointed at me..."
"No sweat," Jounouchi said again. "None of us got shot, it's all good."
"You got what you went in for, right?" Honda asked.
Mokuba patted his jacket pocket. The key drive was still safely zipped inside. He nodded. "I got it."
"Then it's all good," Honda echoed Jounouchi. "So, back to KaibaCorp HQ now?"
"Yeah," Mokuba said, checking his watch. It had felt like forever inside, but it wasn't even 9 PM. Not that he was planning on getting to bed tonight anyway. He was too keyed up for sleep, even if he hadn't had so much to do.
Jounouchi got off the motorcycle. "I'll take a bus back to Yugi's. Anzu should be back by now, hopefully she got what you needed out of Kaiba."
"Here," Mokuba said, taking out his wallet and handing Jounouchi a couple bills. "Catch a cab back, it'll be faster. I'll send a car over to the game shop to pick you up. And..." He looked between the two of them. "Thank you," he said. There wasn't anything else he could say.
Just words, not any real repayment. But the way they grinned at him, that simple gratitude might be plated in 24-karat gold. "No problem," Jounouchi said, and waved a cheerful see-you-later as he headed down the street.
Chapter 12: Reasoning
Kaiba Mokuba was every bit as much a Kaiba as his big brother. If Yugi had ever doubted it, the proof was before him now.
Shortly after Jounouchi had returned from his errand (which apparently had been a lot more interesting than he had implied it would be when he had left), a luxury sedan had arrived at the game shop to bring him, Yugi, and Anzu to the KC Tower. They were taken around to a private back entrance in the parking lot, and ushered into a private elevator which whisked them direct to the top floor, whereupon Honda met up with them and lead them to Kaiba's office.
And since they had arrived, Mokuba had been hard at work, intent but collected, methodically going over all the data he and his brother had gathered in the past weeks. The narrowed set of his eyes was as familiar to Yugi as the cards of his own deck; he had faced that same intense will in too many duels to ever forget it.
Though it was strange to him, to see that look in Mokuba's gray eyes, instead of Kaiba's blue. Yugi and his friends had seen this side of Mokuba before, mostly when he had been managing various KaibaCorp tournaments, but never for very long. When he was with them, Mokuba usually acted--not exactly like the kid he was; Yugi was familiar with grade-schoolers from working at the game shop, and Mokuba was about as much like those kids as Kaiba was like a normal teenager--but still a child, at least, in the shameless way he would boast about his big brother and cheer him on, in how he would talk and laugh with all of them. So much smaller than his brother, so much younger, not just in years but in everything. Kaiba always seemed older than them somehow, but Mokuba for all his gifts and intelligence was still a child.
Which was exactly the impression Mokuba made an effort to cultivate, Yugi realized, watching him now. He looked the part, worn jeans and scuffed sneakers, round cheeks and the new tousled yellow hair; but this Mokuba was hardly more a child than his big brother, all the same.
Oh, the cheerful, playful boy wasn't an act, not like Kaiba's fake smiles when they first had known him, before Death-T. Mokuba's child-side was real enough, but it wasn't the whole story. This, now, was the brother who Kaiba relied on, responsible and driven and terrifyingly competent. A businessman--the vice president of a corporation employing some two thousand people, and he bore the weight of that responsibility proudly and strong. Like a Kaiba.
Yugi saw that discipline falter only once this night. When they first arrived, Mokuba was alone in the executive office, sitting on the couch working at his laptop. He greeted them gratefully, but before they could ask any questions the office door opened again and Isono entered. The Kaibas' primary assistant walked right past Yugi and his friends as if they weren't even there, and halted before the couch.
"Mokuba-sama?" he asked, staring questioningly at the bowed, bleached blond head.
Mokuba glanced up, started to say, "Oh, good, that was fast, Isono--"
Only to be interrupted by Isono grabbing his arms, almost knocking his laptop off the table. "Mokuba-sama! It's really you! You're really alive!"
Mokuba blinked. "Um, yes, Isono, that would be how I could call you to ask you to come here--"
"I couldn't believe my ears! There's been rumors, of course, especially with Seto-sama being the way he's been, but there always are, with accidents. No one took them seriously, it didn't seem possible--Seto-sama will be quite relieved to see you, I assume he already knows, but--oh, Mokuba-sama, it's so good to have you back! And not dead!"
"It'd be kind of disgusting, if I were," Mokuba remarked, but his expression was more uncertain than sardonic as he patted the man on the arm. "Yeah, it's really me. Alive. I'm, um, sorry..."
"Of course not, sir. I'm sure there were reasons," Isono said, pushing up his glasses enough to wipe his eyes and blowing his nose on a plaid handkerchief.
Mokuba stared up at his employee, and for that one moment he looked his age, young and helplessly confused. "I--I'm really sorry, Isono."
"Please don't be, Mokuba-sama," Isono requested, respectfully, then let go of his vice president's arms and straightened up, tugging the creases out of his black suit. "Now, there must be a lot to do. What did you call me for?"
Mokuba likewise sat up straighter. "No one saw you coming up here, right? No one should have seen me, either; I'm still publicly dead, barring those rumors you mentioned, so I'll need you to make my calls--" And like that he became Vice President Kaiba again.
Strange to witness that change, almost like looking at two separate individuals. "Stranger than it looks to our friends, when it's me dueling instead of you?" his other self pointed out, when Yugi remarked on it. But this wasn't the same. The pharaoh was a different person than he was, a different soul. Mokuba was the same person, and yet...not.
He wasn't the only one who had noticed, either. Yugi caught the looks Honda kept shooting Mokuba's way while Jounouchi related their MainBrain escapades, and Anzu was also watching the boy, brow creased like she was trying to solve a riddle. Mokuba himself didn't pay much attention to any of them, not even to contribute to Jounouchi and Honda's story, being too absorbed with his computer work.
He was polite enough to wait for Jounouchi to finish speaking before he asked, "Anzu? You did get in to see Nii-sama in jail, right?"
"Oh! Yes, of course, I saw him. I should have told you sooner," Anzu said, contrite.
Mokuba waved off the apology. "It's okay, I wanted to check out what I downloaded before I looked at Nii-sama's files anyway. But you got the code from him?"
"Yes, Kaiba-kun didn't hesitate, he gave me the code immediately."
"Of course, Nii-sama knows I need it. I wouldn't have a chance of cracking his computer; he wrote all his own security protocols."
"I've got it right here." Anzu took a slip of paper out of her purse, sat down on the couch next to the boy. "He's worried about you, Mokuba-kun."
Mokuba dropped his head, short bleached bangs hiding his eyes, his tone momentarily depressed. "But Nii-sama should know I can handle this, I've helped him with enough things like this before."
"He's not worried that you wouldn't be able to do it," Anzu told him. "He's worried about you, that something might happen to you. He got upset when I told him that you were going back to MainBrain tonight. But, Mokuba-kun, he wasn't afraid that you were going to fail. I think he was scared that you'd do it, but get caught. But he told me to tell you that he was counting on you."
"He did?" Mokuba's blond head came up. "Nii-sama said that?"
"Well, of course he did!" Mokuba exclaimed. "He always can count on me!" He plucked the slip of paper from Anzu's offering hands, read the password once, then crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it to Isono without looking. "Please burn that right now, Isono."
"Yes, Mokuba-sama," Isono said, and went to Kaiba's desk to fetch an ashtray.
"So," Jounouchi said, leaning over the back of the couch, "if you're not going to be sneaking into MainBrain anymore, why not show everyone you're not murdered after all, and get Kaiba out of jail?"
Mokuba was already typing rapidly on his computer. "Sorry," he said, distracted, "I really got to work on this. And it's getting late. You guys have been a big help, but there's not much you can do now, so why don't you just go home? Isono, have the driver take them back."
Jounouchi rolled his eyes. "We're not useful anymore, so we're dismissed? Typical. Seen one Kaiba, seen 'em all."
Mokuba looked up at that with a guilty start. "Sorry," he said again, more meaningfully. "I appreciate all your help, really I do. But there's a lot to do now, I have to decrypt the files from MainBrain, and go through everything my brother put together on who could've betrayed us, and I don't know how you can help with any of that. But you've already helped me and Nii-sama so much--thank you. Really, really, thank you."
"Aww, forget it." Jounouchi was staring down at his sneakers.
"You're welcome," Anzu accepted the gratitude for all of them. "But, Mokuba-kun, are you really going to work on all that tonight? Like you said, it is getting late; can't you go to bed now and wait until tomorrow?"
"No," Mokuba replied, and the determination in his voice showed in his eyes, turning them steel-gray. "I can't. My brother's in jail--I can't wait, I have to figure this out as soon as possible."
"Oh." Anzu nodded. "We should leave you alone so you can concentrate, I guess." But she looked at the boy's small form hunched over the computer with an unhappy expression, and Honda didn't look any more pleased.
Yugi stepped forward. "Is it okay if I stay?" he asked. "I might be able to help somehow--I'm not great with computers, but decrypting is like code-breaking, and I have played with a lot of codes."
"I guess you can stay," Mokuba allowed.
Anzu looked relieved. "Good--then, good night, Yugi, Mokuba-kun."
"'Night, kid," Honda said, reaching over the couch to ruffle Mokuba's hair, then Yugi's. "'Night, Yugi. Try to get my 'cousin' here to get some sleep?"
Mokuba rolled his eyes; Yugi nodded agreement, and echoed the farewells. "Good night, everyone," Mokuba told them, and Isono saw the three of them out to the elevator.
Once they were gone, the pharaoh turned to Mokuba, asked without preamble, "Mokuba, as Jounouchi-kun asked, why aren't you publicly announcing that you're alive to clear Kaiba's name?"
Mokuba looked down, avoiding that sharp gaze. Yugi might have chided his other self; the boy didn't need any more stress now. But he was just as curious. Mokuba's devotion to his brother was a constant, sure as the rules of any game; for him to be so unconcerned about Kaiba's situation...
Only he wasn't; that much was obvious in the way he bit his lip, still not meeting their eyes. "It's important that MainBrain doesn't find out yet that KaibaCorp's vice president is around. They'll know by now that their data was stolen, but if Nii-sama's still in jail, out of contact, then they'll think KaibaCorp won't be able to do anything with the data. They'll think they have the time to fix things; they'll think they're winning. And when people think they've already won, they get overconfident, they make mistakes." He glanced up at Yugi through his bangs, a sly look. "You know that, Yugi. You and my brother, I've watched you duel."
Which was about the closest Yugi had ever heard Mokuba come to admitting his brother's faults in strategy. And it was a sound tactic, though Yugi couldn't help but think there was something more to it that Mokuba wasn't mentioning.
And wasn't going to, either, Yugi suspected, even if asked. So instead he inquired, "How can I help you with the decrypting, Mokuba-kun?"
"I'll let you know," Mokuba told him. "Thanks, Yugi."
That gratitude was premature; several hours later, past midnight, Yugi still hadn't done much. The computer work far exceeded his basic understanding of programming, and his other self had even less familiarity or comfort with electronics. Mokuba cracked the files himself, spending most of the hours hunched over his laptop with his fingers flying over the keyboard, and the rest of the time devouring chocolate at an impressive rate. He appeared to have candy bars and snack bags stashed in every drawer and cabinet in the office.
The only reason Yugi didn't feel completely useless was that Mokuba talked to him as he worked. Sometimes just blowing off steam, complaining about the slowness of his processor or the incompetency of the encryption--Yugi picked up that Mokuba was unimpressed with his opponent's proficiency. On occasion Mokuba wanted his opinion, asking him whether he thought MainBrain would try that or this, or what Yugi would do when presented with a particular problem.
Yugi answered as well as he was able, sensing that what he said wasn't nearly as important as what was said to him. Mokuba was using him as a sounding board, a way to keep himself on track; and also as a distraction when he got too impatient, talking instead of fidgeting or whacking his too-slow computer. Yugi wondered if this was how Mokuba worked with Kaiba, wondered how many long nights of mutual work and discussion the brothers might have shared. Mokuba did it so naturally that Yugi thought the pattern must be familiar to him, though he had a hard time imagining Kaiba like this, chatting so easily and carelessly.
Or maybe Kaiba just let Mokuba talk while they worked, let Mokuba fill up the silence in the big lonely office before it drove them both mad. Kaiba had admitted how hard it was, working without his brother, and perhaps that was because of more than simply the doubled workload. Yugi wondered if Mokuba had any idea. The boy knew his brother was counting on him to solve this problem, was immensely proud of that trust, but maybe Mokuba didn't realize that Kaiba was even more counting on him to come through it whole and unharmed.
Kaiba wouldn't care overly much if MainBrain took over KaibaCorp, Yugi suspected, as long as Mokuba was okay. He would be furious, but in the end he would undoubtedly find a way to get the company back, with his brother's help.
But if they got Mokuba, too--if the ruse they had played became reality, if ever there were a real version of the false funeral Yugi and his friends had attended before--Yugi didn't know if Kaiba would be able to work again, after that. If he would be able to recover his company, or anything else; if he would even care, with the one he cared about more than anything gone.
Yugi wondered if he ought to tell Mokuba any of that--it was something the boy ought to understand, should realize already, but...
Before Yugi had decided whether to say anything, Mokuba shoved back his computer and spat a few foreign words that Yugi didn't know, and which he strongly suspected a kid of Mokuba's age shouldn't know either. "What's wrong?"
"Everything!" Mokuba cried. "I've decrypted most of it, it's all here, everything they've been doing to our accounts, the worms they infected our system with to make the changes. Except there's no names."
"But there's proof, right? That KaibaCorp really isn't bankrupt, and that MainBrain did it?"
"There's proof--not any evidence we could give to the police, because of how we got it, but enough stuff to prove we're solvent and sue them, easy. But we still don't know who in Kaiba Corporation is the saboteur, and until I figure that out, none of this does us any good. We can't let him get away, we don't know what he knows, or if he's done more damage that we haven't found."
"But you have Kaiba-kun's files, too--wasn't that what he was looking into, who's been doing it?"
"Yeah. Nii-sama had it narrowed down to eight of our programmers and accountants. They all had the opportunity and high enough access to be able to make the necessary changes in our system. Nii-sama was going to run some tests, changing their accesses, trying to get proof, but then he was arrested, and I don't have time to test them now."
"There should be some way to figure it out," Yugi said.
"There's got to be," Mokuba said. He flopped back on the couch, brought up his balled fists to rub his eyes. "I got all this data, I know exactly how he did it. But I've gone over all of Nii-sama's notes, and any of the eight of them could've done it. They wouldn't even have to be that good, the instructions are all laid out in these files, someone at MainBrain wrote the hacks for them. All the saboteur had to do was keep track of the current accounts and upload the worms at the right time. And we don't even know why they're doing it, whether MainBrain's paying them, or whether they've got a grudge against KaibaCorp or what. MainBrain's files don't list bribes or blackmail or anything about the saboteur personally. All of Nii-sama's suspects have possible motives; he thought any of them would have done it, under the right circumstances. And if we go after the wrong person, then the real saboteur might catch on."
"But the real villain must give himself away somehow," Yugi's other self maintained, an unseen presence at Yugi's side. The pharaoh was following Mokuba's explanation as intently as them, his incomprehension of the computer systems compensated by his eternal determination to win the game. "To be as dishonorable as to betray his employer, and not even by his own cunning--letting others plot, and merely taking their orders, he's weak-spirited, pathetic. And the weak always defeat themselves."
Yugi blinked, turned to him. "What did you say, other me? About taking orders?"
"They did, isn't that what Mokuba said? That everything is recorded in those files, all the orders that were given, the precise instructions."
"That's it!" Yugi gasped.
"What?" Mokuba looked back and forth between Yugi and the rest of the office, trying to see the pharaoh's invisible figure. "Did the other you figure something out?"
"I think so," Yugi said. "Mokuba-kun, you said the files you took from MainBrain's mainframe had instructions and programs for the saboteur, didn't you?"
"Yeah..." Mokuba nodded slowly.
"But isn't the reason you had to break into MainBrain's headquarters because their computer system's not online? So the saboteur couldn't have accessed it from here at KaibaCorp, he had to have some other way of getting the instructions."
"Right," Mokuba nodded again, frowning, then sat up. "So someone at Mainbrain had to send everything to him. And the saboteur would've needed the most current account numbers for MainBrain's worms to work, so he must have been online with someone at MainBrain who could access their mainframe as he uploaded them." Then he sighed, a frustrated noise, his shoulders sinking. "But that doesn't help, Yugi. Even if the worms and instructions were directly emailed to the saboteur--KaibaCorp doesn't monitor the content of its staff's internet use or emails. Nii-sama always says that he values his privacy, and there's no reason our employees shouldn't rightfully value theirs. We don't even log visited IPs by account; all we keep track of is personal bandwidth statistics."
"But you wouldn't need the content," Yugi said. "Not if you have peoples' bandwidth statistics--that'd be how much they downloaded, and when, right?"
"Yugi," Mokuba said, jumping to his feet, gray eyes wide, "you're brilliant! You're as smart as Nii-sama! If I compare the times the MainBrain data was accessed and the sizes of the files, with the times and sizes of files downloaded by the accounts of the eight suspects--"
"Then the match should be the saboteur," Yugi said. "At least I think it would be."
"Yes!" Mokuba pumped his fist, threw himself down on the couch before his laptop and resumed typing. "It'll take a while to pull the account data from our servers and run the comparisons," he said over his shoulder as he worked. "We probably won't get a name until morning--you should go home, Yugi, you're looking tired."
Yugi shifted on his feet, not totally comfortable with this dismissal, even as he tried to hide a yawn. "Mokuba-kun, once you know who it is, what are you going to do?"
He knew Mokuba well enough to know that he must already have this next step worked out--a Kaiba was never without a plan. But Mokuba still hesitated, before saying, "I'm going to meet with him personally, and give him a chance to turn himself in."
"But..." Yugi wondered if it were just too late at night for him to be making sense of things, or whether that was really as crazy as it sounded. Mokuba had always been the sane one, compared to his brother... "Mokuba-kun, wouldn't it be safer just to have whoever it is arrested? If you talk to them personally first, then they might get a chance to tell MainBrain that you're alive..." Yugi stopped, because Mokuba was nodding patiently, like he had already thought all this through.
Yugi's other self beside him murmured, "Yes, and that's what he wants."
"He wants--you want MainBrain to know, Mokuba-kun? But..." Then Yugi finished thinking it through himself, saw it suddenly, as clearly as he might predict an opponent's play in a duel. And Mokuba's expression was all too familiar, the same daring, dangerous look Kaiba got when placing a card face down on his field. "You want them to find out you're alive. There's a trap set for them, and you--you're putting yourself in it as bait."
Mokuba wasn't nodding anymore. But he wasn't denying it, either, and Yugi recognized too well the steel in his gray eyes. His brother's eyes, for all their different hue, and Yugi realized what Mokuba had not been saying before, what he had left out of his answer hours ago. "That's the real reason why you're not publicly announcing you're alive. Why you're letting the police continue to hold Kaiba-kun. So that MainBrain targets you, instead of him. Mokuba-kun..."
"Yugi," Mokuba said, "did Nii-sama tell you whose plan this was?" He didn't let Yugi answer, though he had already been told; faced Yugi, fearless as when he had confronted Yugi in Duelist Kingdom, challenging him to save his brother. "From the beginning, it was mine. My solution. And my brother's counting on me to see it through to the end. That doesn't just mean saving KaibaCorp--it means making sure MainBrain never tries anything again, and making sure that no other company is tempted to. We're taking them down."
He said it quietly, but so certainly it wasn't even a threat, but a promise of retribution. As impossible to dissuade as an attacking Blue Eyes, and as confident of victory. But Yugi couldn't help but recall Kaiba a couple days ago, working alone in this office, and think that he might be failing him somehow. He had sworn to Kaiba not to risk his little brother's life, and if he were responsible for identifying the saboteur, responsible for putting this plan into effect..."Mokuba-kun, if I go home now, will you promise to call me as soon as you know who it is? I might still be able to help."
Mokuba hesitated. Kaiba would have immediately and angrily refused, but it hadn't been so long ago that Mokuba had come to Yugi when he needed help, and Yugi and his other self had never failed him. He didn't fear debt to friends as his brother did. "Please," Yugi requested.
At last Mokuba nodded. "All right, I'll give you a call tomorrow when I have it worked out."
"Thank you." He would have another chance to talk Mokuba out of it tomorrow. Still, Yugi tried one more time tonight. "Mokuba-kun, what's to prevent them from going after Kaiba-kun in jail? If MainBrain doesn't know you're alive yet, and believes your brother is still a threat..."
Mokuba blanched, but held his ground. "If they go after him," he said, "then Nii-sama will handle it." Though there was fear in his eyes now, where there had been none before. But his resolution never wavered, and Yugi knew then that there would be no stopping him, tonight or tomorrow.
A Kaiba indeed. "I'm sure Kaiba-kun can handle anything," Yugi said, meaning it, and was answered by Mokuba's smile, his first all that long night.
Chapter 13: Deal
And four years later, I wrote the rest...
"Nakata Mitsuhiro, in Programming," Mokuba said into the intercom. "It's nine, he should have come into work by now. Bring him up to me."
"Yes, sir," Isono on the other end of the line replied. "Right away."
Mokuba took his finger off the speaker button and looked around the empty office. After Yugi had gone home, he had dismissed Isono, and spent the night in the office alone. Leaving would have risked someone accidentally seeing him, and he had wanted to be there when the numbers were done crunching. He had slept on the couch for a few hours, like he often did when he and his brother pulled an all-nighter, using the pillow and blankets stashed in a file cabinet for that purpose.
He hoped his brother was getting at least as much rest in jail. Maybe he should have sent over an extra pillow to the police station—not that an extra pillow helped his brother sleep at the best of times, and besides it was moot anyway. This would all be over tonight. Tonight his brother would be coming home, one way or another.
Mokuba rubbed his eyes. After staying up most of the night, it felt like there were grains of salt scraping under his lids. All the typing hadn't been good for his twisted wrist, either; he flexed it as he tapped the laptop's touchpad to bring the screen back to life, calling up the personnel file from his brother's private directory, to read over one more time.
Of the eight suspects, only Nakata Mitsuhiro's data aligned with that stolen from MainBrain's system, his account on no less than four occasions showing downloads of identical sizes to files simultaneously accessed at MainBrain. Nakata had been with Kaiba Corporation for going on three years, one of Seto's first hires after the company's conversion. He was a top-notch developer with an excellent record, and with no prior connection to KaibaCorp he had no reason to hate Kaiba Seto. Nor did he have any criminal record, not so much as a speeding ticket.
What he did have were a sister and a brother-in-law both employed by MainBrain Entertainment.
At the knock on the office door, Mokuba pushed aside the laptop, requested, "Send him in, please, Isono."
Mokuba had met all of KaibaCorp's two thousand employees at least once—it was important to know who was working for you, and as his brother barely bothered to remember the names of men he had met a dozen times, Mokuba made a point of memorizing all the personnel he could. He vaguely recalled meeting Nakata, a stoop-shouldered, soft-spoken man.
His shoulders were still stooped and his voice still soft, but Nakata looked more tired and anxious than Mokuba remembered, accentuated by the bags under his eyes and a nervous tic in his jaw. Both became more pronounced as he entered the office and saw who sat behind the desk. "M-Mokuba-sama?"
Mokuba flipped him an easy grin. "Yeah, the reports of my death were greatly exaggerated. Sit down."
Nakata obeyed, collapsing into the chair before the desk.
"I've got a lot to do, and it's too early in the morning to beat around the bush, so I'm going to be blunt," Mokuba said, folding his hands on the desktop and doing his best impression of his brother at his most dominating cool. "I know what you've done to KaibaCorp's accounts, and I know that MainBrain hired you to do it."
"What? I..." The man swallowed. "I don't—"
"Don't try to lie, I've got more than enough proof. All I want to know is why you did it. You were a good man, you did great work for us. Were we not paying you enough?"
Some men would have gotten angry, or scared. Nakata just sank in on himself, staring down at his hands in his lap. "It wasn't the money," he mumbled. "I've already anonymously donated all of it to the company charity collections. I told them I didn't want any of it, but..." His voice and head both dropped lower still. "When they came to me, I told them I didn't want anything to do with it. But then they said—my sister and her husband, they both work for MainBrain. And they have two kids, and her husband's parents...they couldn't afford to lose their jobs now. The men said it'd be easy, that I wouldn't have a chance of getting caught..."
"They lied," Mokuba said flatly, though he couldn't help a twinge of compassion. If someone offered him a deal for his brother's well-being—he would do worse. A lot worse, for that price. "You're just a tool to them; they never cared if you got caught. But I'm going to offer you a deal, Nakata."
"A deal?" Nakata's expression warred between the wariness of a man who had already been offered too many deals, and hope.
Mokuba felt another twinge of guilt. The man was only a pawn, and was smart enough to see it, but he didn't know how to get himself off the board. "If you turn yourself in to the police and testify against MainBrain, then I'll make sure that your sister and brother-in-law don't go unemployed. Kaiba Corporation will hire them, I'll give you my word."
"I..." Nakata swallowed again, convulsively.
Mokuba raised one hand. "How about you take some time to think about it? I'll give you until tonight for you to get everything in order and do the honorable thing."
"Until tonight..." Nakata's wan face didn't regain any color, but he nodded, shakily stood. "All right."
"You can go," Mokuba told him. "Oh, and by the way, please don't mention to anybody that you've seen me. I don't want to deal with any questions until after everything is resolved."
"O-okay," the man agreed, and made his way out of the office. He didn't quite clutch the wall for support, though he looked like he wanted to.
As soon as he had left, Isono reentered. "Mokuba-sama...are you sure it makes sense to give him a chance? If he decides not to take your offer, he could just run away, or..."
Isono hadn't heard his conversation with Yugi yesterday. Mokuba didn't especially feel like explaining himself again; fortunately, with Isono, he didn't have to. "Don't worry, Isono, I know what I'm doing. Nakata's not going to take the offer—he knows it's not worth anything, if KaibaCorp goes under. Which it isn't going to, but he doesn't know that. And he's not going to run, either, not with his sister and brother-in-law to worry about. What he is going to do—we'll have to wait and see, right?"
It wasn't a long wait. Scarcely three hours later, Nakata called back.
Yugi had returned by then, and taken a seat in the office to wait patiently. Mokuba didn't have time to entertain him, being occupied with various corporate operations that had been sliding, between his absence and his brother's incarceration. Even during his "death," his brother had seen to it that none of Mokuba's codes or security clearances had been revoked, so while he couldn't be a physical presence around the building, he could still busy himself on the company servers. A ghost in the machine, as it were.
Isono had given Nakata the CEO's direct extension; Mokuba answered personally when the phone rang, putting it on the speaker for Yugi and Isono's benefit. "So what have you decided?"
"Mokuba-sama, I..." Nakata on the other end of the line was obviously gathering himself. "What I did was wrong. I want to make amends for it. But..." He trailed off again. Mokuba waited, idly wondering if the man were trying to come up with an appropriate lie himself, or whether someone was prompting him. Nakata finally went on, "I have data on my personal computer, copies of the worms that they had me insert into the KaibaCorp systems. I don't want to send the files to you electronically, it wouldn't be secure, but I could give you the data in person. But I can't come to the KC Tower now; I think I'm being followed, if MainBrain sees me go back, they might suspect..."
"Where do you want to meet?" Mokuba prodded, knowing he was rushing things and not caring. His brother never hesitated in anything he did; why should he?
Nakata audibly swallowed. "Could you come the Sunrise Cinema this evening? After the last shows start, around ten o'clock? We could meet in the lowest level of the parking garage. Though if you came with many of your people, it might draw attention..."
"Would you feel better if I came by myself?"
Nakata sounded miserable. "Yes, Mokuba-sama, thank you for understanding."
"There's not many people I could bring anyway," Mokuba breezily assured him. "No one knows I'm alive, right? I'll be there."
"I'll expect you, then," Nakata said, and hung up, abruptly enough that someone at the other end might have done it for him. Or else the weight of his own guilt had cut the connection short.
Poor bastard. Mokuba knew that his brother wouldn't have a shred of sympathy for the man, but while Seto wouldn't countenance betrayal under pretty much any circumstances, Mokuba was through hard trial more forgiving of that sin. And he didn't envy Nakata's position.
"Mokuba-sama," Isono said, standing before his desk, "you can't possibly mean to go there tonight."
"You just heard me tell him I was coming, didn't you?"
"But it's obviously a trap," Isono said, sounding not a little desperate himself.
"Obviously," Mokuba said. "And a trap's no fun if no one springs it. We don't want to disappoint MainBrain."
"Do you think someone from MainBrain will be there, Mokuba-kun?" Yugi asked. Standing beside Isono, he was dwarfed by the man's average height, but he didn't look intimidated, just concerned.
"I hope someone will be," Mokuba said. "At least one or two of their hires. Getting Nakata will be something, but it'll be even better if I can testify against someone officially on MainBrain's payroll."
"Mokuba-sama," Isono protested, "you can't possibly mean to encourage them to attempt some illegal action against your person—"
"I'm not." Mokuba grinned wickedly. "I don't think they'll need any encouragement."
"But, Mokuba-sama..." Isono gaped at him in pale-faced dismay.
"It's all right, Isono," Mokuba assured him. "I'm not planning on letting them get away with anything. And won't it make a great headline: 'MainBrain Ent. sponsors attack on child'."
"Attack," Isono repeated faintly. "Mokuba-sama, does Seto-sama know—"
"Nii-sama trusts me to take care of this," Mokuba said, raising his voice over his employee's and wishing he had his brother's baritone; the squawk of his breaking adolescent timbre was nowhere near as convincing.
But Isono still bowed his head in reluctant deference. "Yes, Mokuba-sama. At least you won't actually be going alone, will you? I'll be accompanying you?"
"Not all the way," Mokuba began to say, "I said I'd go by myself—"
Yugi interrupted. "He won't be alone." He stepped forward. "I'll be with him."
Mokuba looked at him sharply, though he didn't need to; the tone was enough for him to tell who was speaking. It had been Yugi waiting all this morning, but now the pharaoh was standing there, showing little of his other self's patience. He met Mokuba's study with that bold, direct stare that always reminded Mokuba of his big brother. "You can tell Nakata that I'm a school friend, who came with you to avoid drawing suspicion. Two kids out at night would stand out less than a boy alone."
It was logical. And Yugi could certainly pass as a classmate of his; they were the same height. Even if he were recognized, it would hardly be surprising that KaibaCorp's vice president knew the Duel King personally.
Besides, Mokuba didn't know how to refuse the offer. Yugi wasn't an employee like Isono whom he could order around, and even his brother had little success in convincing Yugi to do anything he didn't want to. So Mokuba just said, "Okay, Yugi, you can come with me tonight. Isono, make sure there's a bulletproof vest available for him."
The pharaoh didn't so much as blink. "Yes, Mokuba-sama," Isono said, resigned.
Isono wasn't looking any happier about the plan come nightfall. He kept making suggestions about inconspicuous bodyguards and armored cars, which Mokuba shot down. Mere minutes of searching business records had turned up the reason for the location—MainBrain Ent. co-owned one of the subsidiaries running the Sunrise Cinema. They'd have access to the building's security system; they could keep a lid on whatever happened on the premises.
The trap was obvious enough that Mokuba felt a little insulted. They wouldn't try to pull something like this on his brother. But then, he wasn't Kaiba Seto, just a dumb kid. And MainBrain could just keep thinking that, right up until their company came crashing down around their ears.
At nine o'clock, Mokuba was going over the recording equipment with Yugi one last time when Yugi's cell phone rang. Yugi answered it, then frowned, lowered the phone and said, "Mokuba-kun? I think it's for you...?"
His brother would have called Mokuba's personal phone, so it must be one of Yugi's friends. Mokuba accepted the phone, asked, "Yeah?"
But the female voice which answered wasn't Anzu. "Katsuya-kun? It's Takeuchi Yasuko."
"Takeuchi-sensei?" Mokuba said, startled into responding before he could help himself. "But—how did you know..."
"The boy Honda, who you called your cousin—I called him, and he gave me this number." His erstwhile teacher spoke quickly, her voice high and shaky. Fear—it was a familiar pitch, to Mokuba's ears.
She worked with MainBrain, he reminded himself. Maybe they were laying a secondary trap—they might have more respect for him after all. Mokuba let his own voice go high to match her tension. It wasn't hard; he was nervous enough anyway. "Takeuchi-sensei, what's wrong?"
"I'll probably get in trouble for this," Takeuchi said, and if it was an act then she was a great actress; she sounded truly horrified. "But I had to tell you—I was called into the office today. They wanted to know more about you, everything I knew. And while I was waiting to talk to them, I overheard them...they're going to do something to Kaiba Seto. Tonight."
Mokuba almost dropped the phone. He looked up and met Yugi's eyes; Yugi reached out and grasped his shoulder without saying anything.
His brother could take care of himself. He was strong, stronger than Kaiba Gozaburo had been, a hell of a lot stronger than any of the bastards at MainBrain Ent., whatever they were plotting. Mokuba swallowed, made himself speak. "But why are you telling me this, Takeuchi-sensei? I don't—"
"Because I thought you'd want to help your big brother."
He did lose his grip on the phone this time. Yugi picked it up off the floor and handed it back to him, and Mokuba said into it, "You—know? Who I am?"
"With the questions they asked, and after what you did—I made an educated guess," Takeuchi said. "And I checked photos online to be sure. You haven't grown that much since Battle City. But I didn't tell them. I think they already know, though..."
"Did they say what they're going to do? To Kaiba Seto—to my brother?"
"I didn't hear that much, but...Katsuya-kun—I mean, Mokuba-kun—they mentioned bribing a police office. And I thought they said something about suicide. Or murder..."
Chapter 14: Attempt
As far as Detective Tsukimoto was concerned, their shift should have ended several hours ago. However, as the senior partner, Ishiyama decided when their work day was over. And despite having spent all morning and afternoon perusing business reports of KaibaCorp and MainBrain Entertainment, and despite MainBrain's insistence that the previous night's fire alarm had been a false alarm or a prank, nothing requiring police attention after all, the lieutenant detective was still not satisfied.
So both detectives were still at the police station when the call came in that evening—an anonymous caller who refused to give their name. Maybe the same informant who had implicated Kaiba Seto in his brother's murder, and Ishiyama immediately had the front desk to transfer the call. He put the phone on speaker, said, "This is Lieutenant Detective Ishiyama, how can I help you?"
"You're the detective in charge of the Kaiba case?" Not the original caller, Tsukimoto noted—the tipster before had been a man, but this was a woman's voice.
"Yes," Ishiyama said.
"Who else is there?" the caller asked. "I want at least two people to hear this."
Something in the cadence, and the language—not a woman, a boy. An adolescent, not quite a man's voice yet, but a man's attitude. Tsukimoto leaned over the phone. "I'm Detective Tsukimoto," he said, "also on the case. Go ahead."
"Kaiba Seto is in danger," the boy said. "Someone at the police station will make an attempt on his life, tonight."
"What?" Tsukimoto said, startled, staring across the desk at his partner.
Ishiyama, for his part, looked perturbed but not astonished, his dark eyes fixed on the phone, as if he could see through it to the person on the other end of the line. "How do you come by this information?"
"Check my sources later," their mysterious informant said. "If you want to have a case, then go save Nii—I mean, go save your suspect!"
"Who are you—" Tsukimoto demanded, but got only a dial-tone's hum in reply; the caller had hung up. Tsukimoto frowned at his partner. "What are we supposed to do with that?"
Ishiyama was already standing. "Like the kid said," he said, "let's make sure our suspect survives to the trial."
By day, Suzuki Yukihiro was a lowly records clerk at the evidence office of the Domino ward police department. By night, Suzuki was a flashy high roller in districts where most police officers didn't dare venture. He'd left behind pachinko parlors in his teens for the thrill of high-stakes mah-jongg, poker, and game bets; he'd been well on his way to retiring at thirty, if not for a recent run of bad luck that had left him in debt five million yen to some very unsavory individuals. To say nothing of his girlfriend's credit card bills, which would make even the yakuza wince in sympathy.
So when a guy approached him one evening in his favorite gambling den and proposed to recoup all his losses in return for a few favors, Suzuki had jumped at the chance. He hadn't regretted it since. Most of the requests had been simple enough, "accidentally" misfiling a random piece of evidence here, altering the dates on a record there. Nothing he could even lose his job over.
This favor, now, was rather bigger. But his contact had given him an advance larger than anything he'd gotten before, with the promise of five times that to come, which would get Suzuki completely out of the hole and then some—which he needed; his new girlfriend wasn't spending any less than the last one.
And besides, Suzuki had no love lost for Kaiba Seto. Even if the asshole hadn't been implicated in several homicides, Kaiba's failure at the Battle City tournament had been the start of Suzuki's losing streak. So he'd agreed with only a momentary hesitation.
Getting hold of a firearm wasn't hard; six handguns had been confiscated from an illegal arms deal the week before, and since Suzuki was the only clerk on the night shift, no one was around to witness him forge the lead detective's signature to check out one of the guns, with a silencer.
Kaiba Seto was being held in a private room, in deference to his social standing. The guard on the night shift was a buddy of Suzuki's, and a dedicated sports fan; he was watching an overseas soccer match, and didn't take his eyes off his cell phone's screen long enough to say hello, just waved vaguely at Suzuki's greeting as he came behind the desk.
Suzuki's palms were sweating as he examined the monitors surveying the holding cells. Kaiba's room showed the suspect asleep on a futon, laid out on the floor beside the metal folding table and chairs. Nonchalantly leaning back, Suzuki deliberately bumped his elbow on the controls, pausing the video—the static image was nearly indistinguishable from the video of the sleeping suspect, and with luck the guard would never notice the recording had stopped.
As he headed down the hall to Kaiba's holding cell, Suzuki took the gun out of his pocket. The pistol felt somehow heavier in his hand than it had in the evidence bag. He'd never actually fired a gun before—police clerks weren't required to put in any time on the firing range—but he'd watched enough American TV to know how to use one.
When he reached the room, Suzuki pulled the wire that lead to the camera, then took a deep breath, unlocked the door and stepped inside. "Get up," he ordered, aiming the gun with its silencer at the futon.
Kaiba was standing before Suzuki had kicked shut the door behind him, an angular shadow in black shirt and slacks. He must not have really been asleep, to be up that fast, and he wasn't blinking from the light, either, his blue eyes locked onto Suzuki, flicking from the pistol, to his badge, to his face. "You're not here in the capacity of a clerk, I take it," he said.
The CEO's cool tone was obnoxiously confident. "Put up your hands," Suzuki snapped, "and don't try anything." He tightened his grip on the gun to steady his hand, his finger hovering over the trigger. With the table between them, Kaiba was too far away to try anything, but it didn't hurt to be careful.
Kaiba obediently raised his hands in the air, moving slowly, not cautiously but casually, like he couldn't be bothered to hurry. "Whatever MainBrain's paying you, I can offer you double," he said, sounding bored.
"Hah!" Suzuki laughed rudely. "Like you have anything to offer anyway—your company's going bankrupt, or haven't you heard?" And didn't it serve the bastard right, to die broke and alone, like Suzuki might have, just for making the mistake of betting on this gangly kid's inadequate dueling power.
Kaiba still looked bored. "If you think MainBrain's going to have any funds left to pay you off with, after this, you're even stupider than you look." He glanced at the gun again. "Or should I assume that's a given? It's hardly going to be convincing that I shot myself, with no gun on my person. Or will the story be that I was killed in an escape attempt, by a mere clerk?"
"Neither," Suzuki said. From under his jacket he withdrew a length of electrical cord and tossed it across the table to Kaiba. "Put that around your neck."
Kaiba picked up the cord, stretched the noose tied at one end between his hands. "And I'm, what, supposed to have ripped this from the walls with my bare hands?"
"It could have been left in here by mistake," Suzuki said, repeating the tale his contact had spun. They'd thought out everything. "Or else smuggled to you. Either way, once it gets out that KaibaCorp's CEO suicided from the shame of murdering his own brother..."
Kaiba's blue eyes flashed for an instant, catching the light weirdly as they narrowed.
"Put the cord around your neck," Suzuki ordered, steeling his voice as he gestured with the gun. "Then climb up on the table and tie the cord over the light fixture."
Kaiba slipped the cord's loose loop over his head, draping over the two card-shaped lockets he was wearing. "If you were more intelligent," he said, arrogant as ever even with a noose around his neck, "you might have the wit to grasp what a monumental mistake you're making. Your employers are going to lose everything, and you with them."
"You're the one mistaken, asshole," Suzuki replied, sneering. "If you're counting on your brother to clear your name, or your company's—know that he's going to be taken care of by tomorrow. You won't have long to wait for him in hell."
Kaiba's face remained an implacable mask, but his eyes flashed again, as if there were a hidden fire banked behind them, blue flames hot enough to incinerate Suzuki where he stood. But there was nothing he could do; Suzuki had a pistol, and Kaiba Seto was just a kid who played card games. "Get up on the table," Suzuki commanded. When Kaiba didn't move, he snarled, "This is a gun, not a toy. Do it, now."
Noose dangling around his neck, Kaiba put his hands flat on the metal tabletop, brought up one leg to set the toe of his boot on the table's edge. But before he climbed up, he raised his head to look at Suzuki, blue eyes glittering through his brown bangs. "Do you know the difference between a toy gun and a real one?" he asked.
"Do I look like I'm in the mood for a riddle?" Suzuki snapped.
"Toy guns don't have safeties," Kaiba said, and brought his boot and both hands down hard on the very edge of the table. Under that blow, the tabletop pivoted around the frame of the legs like a seesaw, the opposite side of the table flipping up with the force of a piston. The rising corner of the metal tabletop smashed into Suzuki's chin, knocking him back. As he fell, his finger tightened reflexively around the pistol's trigger, but it didn't fire, and then his head hit the door's steel frame.
Skull throbbing, the clerk lay sprawled in a daze on the floor, unable to stop Kaiba from prying the gun from his hands. Kaiba wrapped the loop of the electric cord around Suzuki's wrists, drew it tight enough to pinch and yanked him up sitting by it.
"Since you're evidently inexperienced, let me instruct you," Kaiba said, squatting next to him and brandishing the pistol. "This is the safety. It's turned off like this," and he pulled back the catch. "Now the firing pin is unblocked, and the trigger can be pulled." He hefted the gun, then set the barrel to Suzuki's forehead. The metal was cold and hard, digging into his skin. "Now," Kaiba said, cool as ever, for all that his blue eyes were blazing, "tell me what you know about my brother."
Tsukimoto had to jog to catch up with his partner, making it to the main desk in time to hear Ishiyama ask the nightshift guard, "Who's in with Kaiba-san?"
"No-no one, sir," the guard stammered.
"Then why is the video feed to his room paused?" Ishiyama demanded.
"Maybe it's a glitch," Tsukimoto said, and reached over the desk to make the video resume. But as soon as he hit the key to make it play, the screen blurred with static. "No feed," he said grimly, "the connection's cut," which meant that their mystery informant might have been onto something after all...
"Tsukimoto-kun," Ishiyama said, and Tsukimoto had been working with his partner long enough to know better than to ignore that particular calmly urgent tone. He looked up from the screen.
To see Kaiba Seto standing in the doorway, with one arm locked around the throat of a uniformed policeman, and a gun in his other hand, held to the man's temple. His hostage was standing stock-still, frozen in panic. Tsukimoto recognized him as one of the records clerks, not a beat cop, not trained for anything like this. Though what had he been doing in the holding cells, to get jumped? And where the hell had Kaiba gotten the gun? Kaiba had supposedly been in danger, according to the call; he wasn't supposed to be the danger.
As they hadn't been on patrol, the detectives weren't armed themselves, but that didn't stop Ishiyama from taking action. Before Tsukimoto could say anything to stop his partner, the lieutenant detective stepped out from behind the desk, his empty hands raised before him, nonthreateningly. "Kaiba-san," he said calmly, "what are you doing?"
"Leaving," Kaiba answered, as calmly as the detective. In Tsukimoto's experience, hostage-takers usually were desperate, as terrified as their hostages, but the gun in Kaiba's hand was so level and steady that a crystal wineglass could've been balanced on it. "Get me a police car." He nudged his hostage, shoving him a step forward.
"You know I can't do that, Kaiba-san," Ishiyama said, sounding almost regretful.
"Yes, you can," Kaiba replied, "if you don't want to see this trash die before your eyes." He tightened his arm around the clerk's neck, so the man made a choked whimper.
"You aren't going to shoot him," Ishiyama said. "You aren't a murderer."
Kaiba might have smiled, the way his lips tightened, pulled back over his teeth. "You're mistaken there," he said, and Tsukimoto didn't doubt him. Kid or not, Kaiba Seto was a cold-blooded bastard, and probably psychotic to boot. He had his finger on the trigger; the gun was no idle threat.
But Ishiyama was still addressing him like he was a rational human being. "Kaiba-san, if you'll return to your cell, we can summon a judge to arrange bail."
"No time. Get me that car, now."
"Where do you want to go? Back to Kaiba Corporation? Or MainBrain? What's so urgent you'd risk adding to your sentence?"
"It's got nothing to do with you," Kaiba said, forcing his hostage to advance a few more paces. "Get out of my way."
"He made an attempt on your life, didn't he," Ishiyama said, nodding toward Kaiba's hostage with his hands still raised. "This man went to your cell to try to kill you. Is that the gun he brought?"
Kaiba didn't move and his expression didn't falter, uncanny blue eyes as unblinking as a serpent's. But the clerk he was holding went even paler, and that gray-faced dismay was as good a confession as Tsukimoto had ever witnessed.
"Are you the only one he threatened?" Ishiyama asked. "Or did he threaten someone else, too?"
Kaiba neither blinked nor paled, but his eyes widened minutely.
Ishiyama took a step towards him. "Kaiba Mokuba is alive, Kaiba-san," he said, not at all a question, but a clear statement, a reassurance. "I believe we spoke with him on the phone only a few minutes ago—he's the one who told us you were in danger."
"What?" Kaiba said, flatly but evidently shaken, insofar as his psychotic confidence could be shaken.
The night shift guard, however, unfamiliar with the kid, took his faltering as an opportunity. He had sidled out from behind his desk and drawn his baton; now he charged at Kaiba, head down like a linebacker in an American Football game.
"No!" Tsukimoto reached to stop him, too late—Kaiba's finger was still on the trigger, and if he reacted without thinking—
Kaiba didn't, though; he moved as certainly as if he'd been expecting the attack all along, bringing up the gun and simultaneously swinging his body around, as he released his chokehold on the clerk, to shove the man at the charging guard. They crashed together and fell over in a jumble of limbs and groans, as Kaiba lunged forward.
Unlike the pathetic clerk, Ishiyama was an experienced fighter; Tsukimoto had once seen him take on two yakuza thugs barehanded. But he didn't get out of Kaiba's way now, kept his arms at his sides and didn't resist as Kaiba grabbed him by the collar and put the gun to his head, taking a new hostage as casually as if he were trading cards.
Tsukimoto swore. "Kaiba-san," Ishiyama said, turning his head to look his captor in the eye, "the gun's unnecessary—I'm on your side."
Kaiba snorted, rude and disbelieving, as he looked over the shorter detective's shoulder to scan the rest of the room. His gaze passed over the clerk and the guard, still sprawled on the floor, and locked onto Tsukimoto. Tsukimoto hastily raised his hands as Ishiyama had done, not daring to provoke the lunatic, not when Kaiba had his partner's life in the palm of his hand. "Listen to him," the detective said apprehensively. "He's telling the truth; we're not your enemies."
"If you're on my side, then help me," Kaiba said, daring, like it was a taunt, though the edge underlying his tone made it dangerous.
"Tsukimoto-kun," Ishiyama said, "go requisition a squad car. Drive it around to the back entrance. And tell no one why. No need to call extra attention to this."
"What?" Tsukimoto stared at his partner, but Ishiyama's face was unreadable, as inscrutable as Kaiba's own. If this were a code for a secret plan, then Tsukimoto was missing the message.
"Now, please," Ishiyama requested, with the polite authority of a senior partner, unperturbed by the gun against his head. "And hurry."
"Yes, sir," Tsukimoto said helplessly, and headed down to the garage to help break their prime suspect out of custody.
Chapter 15: Acceleration
Isono drove them to the Sunrise Cinema complex, but Mokuba insisted that his employee stay parked on the upper level, while he and Yugi went down to the bottom level to meet with Nakata Mitsuhiro. Isono obeyed, if reluctantly; Yugi didn't know the man well, but he was clearly unhappy with the order. Maybe he was nervous about what Kaiba would say, though Yugi thought it was more than that. He cared about Mokuba.
Isono cared about Kaiba, too; he'd been the one anxiously asking if Mokuba were going to do anything more to help his boss than phone an anonymous tip into the police, while Mokuba just said, confidently, that it wasn't a concern, that no stupid wannabe killer was going to get the drop on his big brother. "Are you sure, Mokuba-kun?" Yugi had pressed. "We could go to the police station first..."
"There's no time," Mokuba said. "Nii-sama will be all right."
"Kaiba can handle himself," Yugi's other self asserted, with the same absolute confidence. Yugi wondered sometimes who had more faith in Kaiba, his devoted little brother or his number one rival. Though it wasn't undeserved; really, it was hard to imagine anything being too much for Kaiba Seto to handle.
Though when it came down to that, Kaiba Mokuba was nearly as resilient. Mokuba was still shorter than Yugi, if only just, but Yugi had to jog to keep up with the boy as he headed for the garage elevators; Mokuba was used to walking fast enough to keep up with his brother's long strides. The bulletproof vest Yugi had been given was heavier than it looked, and bunched uncomfortable under his arms, though it fit better than he would have expected. It must have been specially tailored for someone his size—or Mokuba's size. And Mokuba wore his own like it was just another shirt.
"Mokuba-kun," Yugi asked, as the elevator descended, "do you really think we'll need the vests?"
"Better safe than sorry," Mokuba said. "But probably not, no."
"That's good," Yugi murmured, relieved.
"I doubt they'll try shooting us," Mokuba went on. "Guns are hard to cover up. Knifing would be better—make it look like we were in a gang or something."
"...Oh," said Yugi, and reconsidered asking any more questions.
The bottom level of the garage was commuter parking, and almost entirely deserted; ten P.M. was late enough that all but the most overworked salarymen had gone home to their families. Under the low lights, the massive concrete pillars which supported the upper floors cast black shadows on the bare pavement, patches of darkness deep enough to hide a person.
"Nakata?" Mokuba called, not loudly, but it echoed through the empty cavern of the garage.
"Mokuba-sama?" A few aisles into the lot, a man stepped out from behind one of the support pillars—Nakata, Yugi assumed. He was thin and worn and his suit was rumpled, but his face looked gentle; he didn't look like a criminal or traitor. But then, he was being blackmailed; he hadn't gone against the Kaibas or their company by choice.
"No," Yugi's other self contradicted in his mind's ear. "Not by desire, but he had a choice." It was an old argument, and one Yugi couldn't respond to now, not when he had to stay alert. As Mokuba approached his employee—ex-employee, rather—Yugi looked around the garage, watching and listening for anyone who might try to attack them.
Nakata, meanwhile, was looking at him. "Is that...Mutou Yugi?"
"He's a friend," Mokuba said. "Two kids wandering around at night are less suspicious than one, right?
"You can ask him for an autograph later, if you want. He won't mind. Did you bring the files?" Mokuba asked, and it was strange how much and how little he sounded like his brother—he had Kaiba's certainty, but in his still-young voice it came across more like boldness than arrogance. More than that, there was a kindness to it, which only ever was heard in Kaiba's voice when he was talking to Mokuba himself. Mokuba, Yugi thought, felt the same sympathy for Nakata that Yugi himself did.
Nakata didn't seem reassured, however. "Here, Mokuba-sama," he said, but his voice was unsteady, as was his hand, as he took a little computer drive out of his pocket and held it out to Mokuba. "Everything you need should be on there."
Mokuba took it. "Thank you," he said, sounding sincere, not Kaiba-like at all.
Nakata looked from him, to Yugi, then bowed his head as he began retreating backwards, step by step. "Mokuba-sama," he said, and his voice was shaking even more, "I'm sorry..."
Two aisles over, a car engine roared to life as high-beam headlights flashed on, blinding in the dimness. Yugi squinted into the light, made out a large, dark vehicle—a Jeep, or maybe an American SUV. It had been parked mostly behind a column; he hadn't realized it had passengers.
Tires squealed as the car swerved around the pillar, then accelerated—straight toward them. Straight toward Mokuba, standing in the middle of the aisle, and with no cover—he had begun moving the moment the car started, following Nakata's retreat, but he was square in its path, and while he might be fast on his feet there was no way he could outrun a car.
"Mokuba-kun!" Yugi shouted, sprinting toward him—he wasn't sure what he could do; a bullet-proof vest wouldn't offer much protection against getting run over, and it wasn't as if a vehicle that big would even slow down if it hit him, and besides he was too far away. But there had to be something, some way to keep the counterfeit nightmare from becoming reality—but he wasn't fast enough.
Mokuba tripped as he ran, fell to his hands and knees on the pavement. He was silhouetted in the bright headlights as the car bore down on him, a small defenseless figure, and the car's engine roared like a hungry tiger. Yugi wanted to look away, but wouldn't; he owed him that much—
So he saw it when Mokuba dropped his head and rolled aside, at the very last instant, when the car's tires were scarcely meters away. Far too near for the car to turn in time to clip him; near enough that the driver probably didn't even see where he'd gone. Mokuba somersaulted onto his feet and took off, sneakers pounding on the pavement, dashing for the shelter of the nearest pillar. He made it before the vehicle had turned, ducking into the shadows, out of the car's line of sight.
Yugi skidded to a stop, not daring to join Mokuba—he was in the wrong position; the driver would see him if he tried. He dodged behind the pillar closest to him, back pressed to the solid safety of the concrete, and tried to think. His cell phone was no use; being underground there was no reception, no way to call the police, or anyone else for help. And he couldn't see exactly where the car was, though he could hear its growling motor, and see the beams of its headlights sweeping over the pavement, like the gaze of a stalking predator.
"Aibou." The pharaoh was beside him, fierce countenance dark with concern. He was standing out in the open, but outside of Yugi's body, the car could not hurt him, nor its driver see him when the headlights shone through his translucent form.
Yugi jumped as a shout resounded through the garage, thin and unintelligible as it echoed off the concrete. It wasn't angry enough to be a threat—"Mokuba-kun?" Yugi asked, only mouthing it; his other self didn't need a voice to hear him.
The pharaoh shook his head. "Nakata," he said, pointing across the lot. "What's he doing?"
Yugi sidled over to peek around the other side of the column. The Kaiba Corporation employee was waving his arms wildly as he ran forward. "Stop!" he cried desperately over the roaring engine. "Don't do this, please!" He was heading toward the car, or else to Mokuba, and though Yugi didn't think he was trying to help the driver with his murderous purpose, he might lead them to Mokuba accidentally.
There had to be a way to stop him, to distract the deadly black vehicle. Yugi frantically looked around the nearly empty garage—there were a couple of cars parked in the adjacent aisle, but no one inside them, and no guarantee anyone would be coming back to them anytime soon. He felt in his pockets under the bulletproof vest, but there was nothing useful, only his wallet, his deck, his mobile phone—
Maybe not useless after all; there was more than one way to call for help. Yugi pulled out the cell phone and swung his arm around like a baseball player winding up for a pitch. He'd never been much good at any sports, but with a weird ball like this it was more like a carnival game anyway, and those he could play.
"Aibou, what—" his other self started to ask, as Yugi released the phone, flinging it across the garage. He muttered an apology as the mobile smashed into the window of a silver sedan, an expensive foreign luxury car.
The glass didn't crack, but the car's alarm went off, headlights flashing and horn honking. The black vehicle's brakes squealed as it spun to investigate the alert.
"It's distracted—go, now!" Yugi's other self said, having quickly apprehended the situation, and Yugi put his head down and ran, keeping perpendicular to the car's route and hopefully in the driver's blind spot, as he sprinted toward Mokuba's hiding place.
According to his mental map he was about halfway there when his other self cried warning. Yugi looked back over his shoulder as he ran, saw the car's headlights sweeping toward him, like an all-too-real game of Prison Spotlight. He darted diagonally, not sure if he had been spotted or not, and turned back in time to glimpse movement in the shadows before him. Yugi skidded and tripped, but before he could fall, small hands grabbed his jacket and dragged him aside, into the space between another column and a little blue Toyota.
In the dimness, Yugi could make out a pale swatch of bleached hair. "Mokuba-kun," he whispered, relieved, as they hunkered behind the car, keeping low, below the level of its windows. His other self took position beside him.
"Thanks for the distraction," Mokuba whispered back. Like Yugi, he was panting for breath, but he didn't appear hurt.
Off to their left, there were a pair of muffled, percussive thuds, and the car alarm suddenly ceased howling.
"Silenced shots," Mokuba whispered. "Guess we might need the vests after all." He shook his bleached blond head. "Sorry about this, Yugi. I really thought they'd try a mugging, not another car accident. These guys have no creativity."
Yugi's other self snorted; that complaint was so very Kaiba's. Yugi himself didn't find it nearly as funny. "Mokuba-kun, they're trying to kill you...!" He had understood that they were bait; but it was still a terrible thing to have to face. Not just that he was in the middle of it, but that anyone would deliberately try to murder someone, to kill a boy, for the sake of business, only for money. Kaiba at his very worst, years past, still hadn't been so monstrous.
"Yeah," Mokuba said, "and if the police would just get here to see it..."
"Isono was going to call them," Mokuba said. "But they should be here by now, if something stopped him—"
"Aibou, the car!" Yugi's other self warned, and Yugi nudged Mokuba to move back behind the Toyota, in time to avoid the sweep of the prowling car's headlights.
They were out of the shadows now, under the dull garage lights. Crouching behind the trunk and leaning against the bumper, Yugi felt exposed; if the car but turned another aisle it might spot them. "Mokuba-kun, if the police aren't coming..."
"Well, I have this," Mokuba said, pulling a stun-gun out from under his vest. "But it's not going to help with the bad guys in that car. What are we going to do..." With his shoulders hunched and his head ducked, he looked for a moment like simply a panicked, scared kid. Then he swallowed and straightened up again, eyes narrowing in a way that wasn't childlike at all. Yugi knew that glare; it was Kaiba's glare, implacable and defiant. "Yugi, we have to get you out of here," Mokuba said. "If I distract the car, then you can run for it. You're not their target anyway. There's a stairwell in the north corner; if you can make it up, you'll be safe."
"But what if I can't get help in time?" Yugi said. "I can't just leave you here—"
"Yes, you can." Mokuba gripped his wrist, surprisingly strong for his age. "You've seen enough—even if it's not enough for a conviction in court, it won't be necessary, not if it's you. Gamers anywhere will listen to you, if you say MainBrain did it—just your word will be enough to ruin them."
"Mokuba-kun?" Yugi said, shocked, staring at Mokuba, as was his other self.
"You'll be an eyewitness." Mokuba's young face was set, and Yugi recognized that expression as well as his other self did. Too well. Fierce and tenacious and frighteningly reckless, it reminded him of Duelist Kingdom, of Kaiba standing atop the castle's parapet, threating to walk off its edge. Kaiba played to win, first above all, and if he had to, if he were in too great a danger of losing, then he would change the rules, change the game itself.
"So this was why he agreed for us to come," Yugi's other self said grimly, and Yugi knew he was right—his other self always was, when it came to Kaiba. To both Kaibas.
"You'll do it, right, Yugi?" Mokuba asked, starting to crawl away without waiting for an answer.
"The plan is sound," his other self said. "The stairwell's close enough for us to make it, if he provides a distraction."
"No!" Yugi said, and thought he might have channeled a little of his other self by the way Mokuba started, his gray eyes widening in surprise. Yugi grabbed his arm to keep him from moving, said firmly, "I'm not going to leave you to them, Mokuba-kun."
"But, Yugi," Mokuba protested, with a distress that wasn't like his brother, "it's my fault you're even here; if you get hurt, or..."
"And what about you, Mokuba-kun?" Yugi demanded. "I'm not going to tell your brother what happened here, not without you there with me." Honestly, he didn't know how he could ever find the words, if he were standing before Kaiba without Mokuba. Even the pharaoh might not have the courage for that. Yugi glanced at his other self as he continued, "It was our choice to come, when we knew it was dangerous—same as you chose. So whatever happens, it should happen to us, not you alone. That's only right."
"Yes." The pharaoh nodded his approval. Mokuba still looked startled, as if he hadn't planned for this at all, as if he'd expected Yugi to abandon him without a second thought.
"So we'll have to come up with another plan," Yugi said resolutely. "Something—other than you—to distract them with, so we can both escape."
"Distraction..." Mokuba blinked, then felt in his pockets again. "Actually, I might have something..."
"Faster," Kaiba said.
Detective Tsukimoto had never liked backseat drivers. Especially when they were armed, and he was not. Ishiyama had managed to convince Kaiba that he didn't need to literally hold the gun to their heads as they drove, but the kid refused to relinquish the pistol.
He hadn't let go of it to make his calls—he'd confiscated Tsukimoto's cell phone when he and Ishiyama got in the cruiser, then had dialed one-handed with the gun in the other, his frown getting deeper with each number he tried. Kaiba hadn't gotten an answer until the fourth call, and that hadn't cheered him up any. Tsukimoto hadn't been able to make out what the girl on the other end of the line had said, but her answering mumble had sounded worried when Kaiba mentioned that he hadn't been able to reach either Mokuba or Yugi.
"Mokuba?" Tsukimoto had muttered, shooting an inquiring glance at his partner riding shotgun. It would be very odd indeed if Kaiba had been trying to call his little brother after murdering him. Unless their suspect had completely lost it, of course, which was far from out of the question. Ishiyama had just nodded, unsurprised.
Kaiba had ended the call a moment later and said, without preamble or courtesy, as if Tsukimoto were his limo chauffeur, "Go to the Sunrise Cinema complex, now."
"Now wait a minute—" Tsukimoto had started to argue, but Ishiyama interrupted from the passenger seat, "Take us there, Tsukimoto-kun," and Tsukimoto reluctantly obeyed his senior partner.
It was late enough that the streets were mostly clear, so they didn't bother with the siren. They'd broken enough regulations already; Tsukimoto was already dreading the paperwork. It wasn't good enough for Kaiba, however, who snapped for them to speed up every time Tsukimoto applied the brake.
At a red light, the detective studied their passenger in the rearview mirror. Kaiba was sitting rigidly with his arms folded, the pistol resting in the crook of his elbow and his fingers curled around it. He was staring grimly out the front windshield, leaning forward slightly, as if he could so will the car faster, like a jockey on a responsive steed.
Tsukimoto cleared his throat, asked, "So Kaiba Mokuba, your brother—you knew he wasn't dead?"
"All along, I'm guessing," Ishiyama said. "It was your plan from the start, wasn't it, Kaiba-san? The accident report, the falsified autopsy records. You were impressively thorough."
"Yes," Kaiba said, accepting the compliment with neither courtesy nor modesty.
"Why didn't you just tell us you were innocent? That there wasn't any crime?" Tsukimoto exploded. "Saved us the effort of a pointless homicide investigation—you wasted government time and money in your stupid game, not to mention ruined your reputation. The tabloids aren't going to forget this, even if there's no trial in the end—why the hell did you do it?"
In the rearview mirror, Kaiba's blue eyes flashed, reflecting catlike the headlights of a passing car. "I don't expect simple government employees to understand."
"You were protecting your brother," Ishiyama said. "That much is obvious. Though I do wonder what he was up to, that needed such extreme measures..."
Kaiba didn't answer. Tsukimoto glanced at him in the mirror but couldn't read the kid's poker face. Well, he was a card game master. "Is that true? You were doing it for your brother?"
"That's where we're going now, isn't it," Ishiyama said. "To help him."
Kaiba set his jaw. "Yes," he said, gratingly, like the truth of his innocence was a harder confession than all his misleading deceptions under interrogation. "So go faster."
Before they were all indirectly guilty of the crime Kaiba had been accused of. Ishiyama looked at Tsukimoto, meaningfully, then reached to the dashboard to switch on the siren. He didn't have to say anything; Tsukimoto already had pushed the pedal to the floor.
Chapter 16: Trap
"Duck!" Yugi's other self ordered. Crouched behind the little Toyota's minimal shelter, Yugi ducked his head to avoid the sweep of headlights through the windshield, as the black SUV hunting them turned down the next aisle.
Beside him, Mokuba nudged his shoulder, whispering, "Do you have your deck, Yugi?"
"Yes," Yugi said, one hand going automatically to the deck safe in his pocket. "But I don't think they want to duel, Mokuba-kun..."
"So don't give them a choice," Mokuba said, taking a small device out from under his jacket. It was around the same size as his stun-gun, with flat slots at one end, and widening into a cone at the other, with a round lens like some bizarre kind of camera. "It's a prototype of the next generation compact Duel Disk," Mokuba explained, "one of the things MainBrain wants from Kaiba Corporation. I thought I might use it to bargain with them—but I think you can use it better now."
He handed it to Yugi, who accepted the device with perplexity, looping its strap around his wrist. "But if we're not playing them—"
"Since it's a prototype, it's not on the main Duel system yet," Mokuba said. "You won't need to engage in a match to activate it; just insert your cards, and it will project the holographs—"
"The car's turning back," Yugi's other self interrupted urgently, from his lookout position out in the aisle.
Having an invisible other self definitely came in handy. "They're coming back around, Mokuba-kun," Yugi said, and Mokuba nodded. On hands and knees they scrambled to crawl around to the side of the Toyota, keeping the smaller automobile between them and the black vehicle.
Focused as he was on that threat, Yugi didn't notice the man standing three aisles over until it was too late. As soon as Nakata spotted them, he gestured wildly. "Mokuba-sama!" their erstwhile betrayer shouted.
Mokuba muttered a foreign word that Yugi guessed he was better off not knowing, and motioned for his ex-employee to go the other way, or at least to stay down, but Nakata didn't pay attention. He started jogging towards them, calling out, "Mokuba-sama, I'm sorry!", frantic and distraught, and heedless of the car at the other end of the aisle, the growl of its engine rising as it accelerated.
Yugi realized the murderous vehicle's target, just as Mokuba cursed again, and started running—not away, but towards Nakata. Yugi pelted after him, his other self crying warning behind him.
Mokuba crashed into Nakata an instant before the car did, knocking both of them aside as the vehicle zoomed by with inches to spare. While they struggled to their feet, scraped and bruised from hitting the pavement, the car's brakes screamed as it spun around, like a bull turning for another charge.
Before Yugi could act, his other self had taken control of his body. He didn't stop running, but changed direction, angling to intersect with the car rather than with Mokuba. As he sprinted, he groped in his pocket for his deck, drew the top card and slammed it into the first slot on the compact Duel Disk hanging off his wrist.
The mounted knight which galloped from the disk's holograph lens was awesome to behold, larger than life and glowing like hellfire in the lot's dimness—Gaia on his violet steed, wielding his heavy lance. The horse's hooves thundered on the pavement as the knight charged. Yugi, watching from beside himself, wondered if there might be a bit of magic in its invocation. He couldn't be sure—Kaiba Corporation's holographic projections always were impressive. But then, Yugi wouldn't be surprised if Kaiba might give his creations a touch of a shadow magic, even without a Millennium Item.
At any rate, with such a monster bearing down on them, it was no wonder that the car swerved aside, brakes screeching. The pharaoh nimbly dodged around both car and knight, to reach Mokuba and Nakata.
Nakata was kneeling on the pavement, babbling hysterically. "Mokuba-sama, I swear, I didn't know—they said they wanted to talk—to talk to you. I thought, maybe they might use you for ransom, but I never—"
Mokuba slapped the man across the face. "Later!" he snapped. "We've got other problems now—get up!"
Nakata gulped and started to climb to his feet, only to whimper involuntarily when he put his left foot down, tripping and falling back to his knees. "My leg—I can't—"
"That's no good!" Mokuba cried, sounding furious. "You're their target, too, now they're done with you—we all have to get out of here!"
"Mokuba," the pharaoh said in warning, and both Mokuba and Yugi looked to where the holographic knight of the cards was once more charging the car. This time Gaia's lance clipped the SUV as it swerved—and of course passed harmlessly through its black side, no damage done but for a rippling of the image as it encountered solid mass.
Which meant that the driver of the car now knew there was no real danger. "What do we do?" Yugi asked his other self desperately, just as Mokuba said, with terrible resolution, "Yugi, get out of here—run for it, now."
Mokuba began to move, braced to sprint in the opposite direction of the stairwell's safety, but the pharaoh grabbed his arm and yanked him back, not gently. "No," Yugi's other self said, fierce enough to be angry, but he was smiling slightly, a savage smile that Yugi knew well.
Mokuba did, too. He stopped trying to pull away, lowered his arm and nodded, unafraid. For all he knew better than nearly anyone what Yugi's other self was capable of.
The pharaoh stepped forward, in front of Mokuba. He dropped the Duel Disk to let it dangle from his wrist, while he flipped through the cards of his deck and drew three. Down at the other end of the aisle, the knight on his horse vanished, and the car turned. Its headlights sweeping over the pharaoh, sparking a glitter of scarlet in his angled violet eyes, as he slid the first card into the disk and raised his arm.
No monster emerged from its lens, and Yugi at first thought something had gone wrong with his other self's plan—but the pharaoh was still smiling, and Yugi saw the car suddenly veer off to the left. Not like it was dodging anything, but changing course.
And there, one aisle over, stood Mokuba, square in the path of the accelerating vehicle. He was outlined in the car's headlights, wide-eyed and stock-still, as if in shock to be trapped—
Trapped—Yugi realized it all at once, looked back and saw Mokuba, the real Mokuba, still standing beside them, safe, while the car hurtled toward the identical illusion cast by the pharaoh's mirror trap card.
Mokuba's triumphant smirk matched that of Yugi's other self, as he pushed the other two cards into their slots. The pharaoh timed it perfectly; a second before the car passed through the mirror image of Mokuba, his chosen monster popped into being.
Or monsters, rather, one Kuriboh multiplied by the spell card into a swarm, a flock, a growing cloud of squeaking balls of fur which surrounded both the illusionary Mokuba and the black car. The driver would know right away that they were only holographs—but that didn't matter, not when the projections were thicker than fog, blotting out all visibility.
An instant later, Yugi jumped at the near-deafening crunch of metal and glass, loud even over the car alarm, which had started wailing again, noisier than ever—
No, not an alarm, Yugi realized; that was a siren, and strobe lights were flashing blue and white over the pharaoh's intent face. The police had finally arrived, a black and white cruiser pulling into the garage behind them.
His other self lowered the Duel Disk, and the holographic Kuriboh cloud disappeared, leaving behind the solid reality of the black car. Solid, but now harmless; it had crashed headlong into one of the concrete columns, hood crumpled like a stepped-on soda can and tinted windshield shattered.
The driver—but no sooner had Yugi begun to worry when both the driver's and passenger's side doors banged open, kicked out from the inside. The two men who emerged looked dazed, unsteadily staggering away from the wreck. The passenger had blood running down the side of his face, shining like black ink in the blue strobes of the cruiser.
But the light also shone on the metal in their hands—guns; they both were armed, and Mokuba gasped as the man with the blood on his face turned towards him, raising his sidearm, oblivious to the police, determined yet to carry out his evil mission—
Before Yugi or his other self could do anything, a figure brushed between them—a tall figure, moving with long, furious strides that made the white tails of his coat billow like dragon wings behind him. He stormed forward like he didn't even see the gun, or the bloody man holding it, not until the would-be assassin lunged for him—then he adroitly sidestepped the charge, grabbed the man's wrist and wrenched down and over in one sharp motion, flipping his assailant onto his back on the pavement as he kicked the gun aside.
"Kaiba!" snarled the other man, the driver, and he too raised his pistol—but Kaiba was charging him then, silent and unstoppable. He slammed into the bigger man like a runaway locomotive, driving him backwards, until the man's shoulders smashed against the crashed SUV's rear windshield. The glass, already cracked by the crash, shattered, rounded shards raining down on them, Kaiba and his quarry both.
The driver's gun slipped from his fingers and clattered on the pavement. But Kaiba had a pistol of his own, its muzzle thrust up under the man's chin as Kaiba gripped his lapels with his other hand, shoving the man back against the car, so his head knocked against the top of the empty windshield frame.
In the flashing indigo of the police strobe lights, Kaiba's eyes were incandescent, but his face was set in a calmness beyond mere fury, a deadly cool. "You," he said, his voice too flat for any feeling to escape. "Were you the driver before as well? In that tired attempt on my life last month?"
Yugi had come forward with his other self and Mokuba, close enough to see the man shudder as he stared into Kaiba's eyes, then hoarsely croak, "Y-yes, I was."
"And you were hired by MainBrain Entertainment, then and now."
Hearing footsteps, Yugi looked back to see two other men hurrying over from the police car. Policemen, probably, detectives by their suits. "Kaiba-san," one of them called, an older man with graying hair.
Kaiba didn't spare them a glance, his eyes fixed on the driver like a serpent mesmerizing a rat. "Tell me," he said, still terrifyingly calm. "We won't need your testimony, not with your colleague in custody, and your car's registration—to say nothing of the reigning Duel King's eyewitness account. You tried to kill me; you tried to kill my little brother. So," and he tilted up the gun a centimeter, so its muzzle dug into the pouchy flesh under the man's jaw, "why should I allow you to leave this place alive?"
"Kaiba," the reigning Duel King in question said, warningly.
"Kaiba-san," the police detective said, "please, put the gun down. I don't want to have to arrest you again."
But Kaiba didn't move, barely even breathing; he might have been made of stone, his blue glare diamond-hard, and his finger stayed locked over the trigger of the gun.
Not until Mokuba said, quietly, "Nii-sama, please don't—save our lawyers the paperwork. They're already busy enough cleaning up the financial mess."
Then Kaiba let go a long exhalation, let go of the man's lapels to let him slide to the pavement, as he stepped back, lowering the pistol as he took his finger off the trigger.
Mokuba grinned, said, "Thanks, Nii-sama!" like his brother had done him a personal favor.
Kaiba looked back to the gray-haired police detective. "You heard his confession, didn't you?" he demanded, and his tone had the same old casual arrogance Yugi was used to. "Arrest them, now."
"We're not at your beck and call," the younger policeman started to say, in a manner that reminded Yugi of Jounouchi.
But the older detective just said, "So we will, Kaiba-san," and headed for the men lying on the ground by their crashed car, unclipping a pair of handcuffs from his belt.
Kaiba nodded, then turned from them and strode over to Mokuba, subjecting his brother to an intense blue-eyed study. "Mokuba. Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm fine. We're all fine—well, except for him," and Mokuba pointed his thumb back at Nakata, still kneeling on the pavement.
Kaiba barely glanced at the man. "So it was Nakata."
"Not because he wanted to—they were threatening his family, Nii-sama. His sister and her husband and kids."
"K-Kaiba-sama!" Nakata curled over into a prostrate bow. "I'm sorry, I didn't—I never intended to hurt you or your brother..."
"He did try to help us," Yugi remarked, though of course only his other self could hear him. But the pharaoh spoke for him. "Winners can afford to be merciful, Kaiba."
Kaiba folded his arms as he stared down at his rival. "What are you doing here, Yugi?"
"Because I wanted him to come," Mokuba interjected. "And he volunteered. Nii-sama, if he hadn't been here..."
Watching Kaiba's face, Yugi clearly saw the flicker of expression which crossed his features, fleeting though it was. It was hard to recognize; fear was such a strange thing to see on Kaiba's face, even for a moment, as strange as it looked on his other self. Then Kaiba said, stiffly, "It seems I owe you once again, Yugi."
The police officers had handcuffed the driver and passenger of the black SUV, and brought them to the cruiser, locking them in the backseat. Now the gray-haired detective came over to them to ask, "Kaiba-san, will you be pressing charges against this man?" He indicated Nakata.
Nakata stared up at Kaiba tremulously. Kaiba's gaze passed over him once more; then Kaiba Corporation's president shook his head. "No. The company which owns his loyalty and livelihood will soon be gone; that will be punishment enough. Just call him an ambulance, and then you can survey the crime scene."
Nakata swallowed. "Th-thank you, Kaiba-sama."
"Now wait just a minute!" the Jounouchi-like detective protested. "You're still under arrest, Kaiba—"
"For what crime?" Kaiba asked, so coolly superior that it was outrageously rude, as only Kaiba could manage. "The homicide of my younger brother?"
"I'm not quite dead after all, turns out," Mokuba added for extra effect, cheeky urchin grin and all.
"Giving false testimony in a police investigation," the detective snapped, undeterred. "Not to mention assault on police officers, jail-breaking, seizing a police vehicle—"
"Nii-sama?" Mokuba asked, his eyes widening.
"Do you have a warrant for the new charges?" Kaiba inquired.
"We don't need one! Until your little brother here is officially pronounced living, the original arrest still stands—you're coming with us, Kaiba."
"Tsukimoto-kun," the older policeman intervened, "forget it."
"We wouldn't have been able to hold him much longer anyway; his lawyers would have negotiated bail by this time tonight as it was. They'll be filing their appeal retroactively, I'm sure. And as Kaiba-san is still technically a minor, the other charges won't stick. We have better things to do with our time than pursue this."
"So we're just going to let him get away with this?" Tsukimoto said angrily.
Ishiyama shrugged. "Such is the privilege of wealth and power. Besides, there's no room for him in the front of the cruiser, and do you really want him in the backseat with those other men for the whole ride back to the station?" Leaving his partner shaking his head, the senior detective faced Kaiba, said, "Now, Kaiba-san, if I could have the gun back? I suspect it's evidence in another case."
Kaiba handed over the pistol. "Thank you," Detective Ishiyama told him politely, then went on, calm and direct, "If ever you're in the interrogation room again, Kaiba-san, I won't hold back."
"Understood." Kaiba almost might have smiled.
"And take care of your little brother," the detective said. "Now, though, we're going to have to question him about what happened here, and his friend, too." He looked down at Yugi. "You are—?"
"Mutou Yugi," his junior partner supplied. "The Duel King, right?"
"Yes," his other self confirmed, ignoring Yugi's embarrassed blush. If he were going to publically testify against MainBrain the way Mokuba had wanted him to—and it was a good idea; Yugi hated the thought of any kids unknowingly buying stuff from a company willing to go so far for profit—then Yugi decided that he would get his other self to do most of it. As an ex-pharaoh, his other self was largely unfazed by hero-worship, or any other kind of worship, for that matter.
"Nii-sama," Mokuba said suddenly, forestalling the detectives' questions. "I almost forgot—Isono! He should be up on the top level, he was supposed to call the police, but if he didn't then something must have happened to him—"
"I'll find him," Kaiba said.
Mokuba nodded, mostly reassured, though when Kaiba turned away, he looked forlorn for a moment, taking a step forward before he stopped himself. He wanted to follow his brother, Yugi thought, walking at his side like he always did. Even though they'd spent the last few weeks apart, by their own schemes; even after all he'd accomplished on his own, that was still where he most wanted to be.
But then, even after those weeks, it was still strange to see Kaiba walk away without Mokuba following him, as if he wasn't quite himself, wasn't quite complete.
"Be careful, Nii-sama," Mokuba said.
Kaiba paused for a step. "Of course," he said, then turned back, only enough to toss something to his brother.
Mokuba had raised his hands and snatched it out of the air before Yugi even saw what it was—one of their card-shaped lockets, twirling at the end of its string.
Kaiba was already to the garage's elevator, and Mokuba didn't bother calling thanks to his brother. But he was grinning, and Yugi smiled as well as Mokuba slipped the string on around his neck, so the locket hung over his heart where it always did, everything finally back where it belonged.
Chapter 17: Epilogue: Back
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
To Mokuba's relief, Isono's situation did not prove to be too dire; he had been jumped, deprived of his mobile phone, and locked in the trunk of their car. For this offense he apologized profusely, while Mokuba assured him it was fine and everything had turned out okay. Judging by Isono's relieved gratitude, Mokuba guessed that his brother had not been quite so forgiving. Mokuba didn't call his brother on that, though; it had been a long day.
And not over yet. It was past midnight by the time he and Yugi finished giving their witness statements to the police. To Mokuba's consternation, he was still in the middle of his account when Seto returned with Isono, so that his brother ended up hearing most of it. Which was embarrassing, given how ineffectual his planning had proved; not to mention by the end of it Seto was looking like he seriously regretted surrendering the gun.
After they were done, Isono picked them up in their company car. They gave Yugi a ride, too; it was the least they could do, after his help. He was still in the guise of his darker self, sitting opposite Seto and watching him silently; Seto folded his arms and watched him back. It kind of seemed like they were having a staring contest, though his brother was otherwise preoccupied, querying Mokuba about MainBrain's cyberhacking and their progress undoing their financial trickery. Mokuba answered as best he could and asked his own questions in turn—he'd missed a lot of the day-to-day business of running Kaiba Corporation while undercover, and hadn't yet had time to catch up with everything. And now they had press conferences to plan, and the product launch for the new Duel Disk, and the police were going to want to talk to their lawyers about why Seto wasn't still in jail.
Plus there was Mokuba's whole return from the dead thing—the paperwork alone from that was bound to be a disaster, even with the provisions they'd taken. Still, it was good to be back where he belonged.
Mokuba didn't realize how hard he was grinning until he caught his brother looking at him with an odd, almost puzzled expression. "Ah, it's nothing, Nii-sama," he answered the unasked question. "I'm just excited—we did it! MainBrain's going down, and we saved Kaiba Corporation!"
And even his brother had no choice but to smile in satisfaction at that.
They were planning to just drop Yugi off, but when they reached the Kame Game Shop the lights were still on upstairs, despite the late hour. Yugi, back to his lighter self (Mokuba wondered who had won the stare-off) invited them both inside, and it was late enough that Seto took too long to come up with an excuse not to. So he and Mokuba followed Yugi in, where they were jumped by Yugi's friends, anxious and eager to hear how everything had gone down.
They wanted to know that Yugi was all right, of course—but they all asked Mokuba, too, and Anzu even looked at his brother and said, "Kaiba-kun, it's good to see you out of jail," and she sounded like she meant it.
Yugi got bottles of tea for everyone, and handed the last one to Seto like it was ordinary for him to be sharing drinks with his rival. He started to tell about the evening, while everybody flopped on the couch and floor to listen—except for Mokuba's brother, who stayed standing off by the doorway with his arms crossed, looking bored but listening all the same. As they talked, he glanced at Mokuba a few times with that same weird quizzical look, as if he were trying to figure something out; but he didn't try to stop Mokuba from chiming in to explain details that Yugi didn't know.
Jounouchi especially was outraged to not have been invited along. "I could've shown those homicidal assholes a thing or two! No one tries to run over my friends!"
"It's all right, Jounouchi-kun," Yugi told him. "We managed—thanks to Mokuba-kun and his prototype, of course."
So then Mokuba had to take out the new Duel Disk, and they each had their turn—with only a single Disk they couldn't actually duel, but it showed off his brother's latest holographic creations. Even though the prototype's monsters were all sized for tournament display, so most of them ended up only partway fitting in the room, with their heads or legs vanishing into the ceiling or floor.
Jounouchi and Honda found this hysterical and started going through their decks to find the most ridiculously sized monsters, while Anzu took the opportunity to ask, "Mokuba-kun, Kaiba-kun, your plan is over, right? Mokuba-kun will be going back to work and school as usual?"
"Yeah," Mokuba said, "tomorrow I'm miraculously resurrected. Without a magic spell, even."
"Good," Anzu said, smiling. "Then we can tell Shizuka-chan and Bakura and Otogi—they'll be so glad to hear you're okay after all."
"Don't tell me they were at the wake, too?" Mokuba asked, dismayed.
"Of course they were. We all wanted to show we cared. You'd go to any of our wakes, wouldn't you?"
Mokuba frowned, glancing over at his brother by the door. "Well, yeah, we would, but...I'm sorry for the trouble, really; I wish we could've told you it wasn't real..."
Before Anzu could answer, Jounouchi stepped forward. "Okay, Kaiba," he said challengingly, "how about you show us what you've got," and he tossed over the Duel Disk prototype.
Seto caught it in one hand, glaring narrow-eyed at Jounouchi. Then with a twist of his lips which Mokuba knew was hiding a smirk, he slid the Disk's strap around his wrist, pulled out his deck and selected his cards—four cards, Mokuba was at the right angle to count, and he didn't need to see their fronts to know which ones they would be.
So he was prepared when his brother slid in the cards, and Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon appeared in the room, all three heads with their mouths gaping in a mighty, if mostly silent, roar. His brother had reset the Disk so that the holograph appeared crouched, almost fitting under the roof, and its rightmost head was close and large enough to have bitten Jounouchi in two, had it been a real dragon.
Jounouchi automatically leapt back, stumbling into Honda, and Anzu made a little gasp, and Mokuba beamed with pride, that even knowing it was an holograph, and even having seen the Blue-Eyes so many times before, his brother's dragons could still impress them.
Yugi, naturally, had been expecting it; he walked up to the Blue-Eyes and leaned close to examine its namesake cobalt eyes and shimmering white scales, though he didn't touch it—neither did Mokuba's brother, if he could help it; they both liked preserving the illusion. "These really are amazing, Kaiba-kun," Yugi said. "Even better graphics than the old Duel Disks."
"So can I count on the Duel King's product endorsement?" Seto asked, not quite acerbic enough to be joking—he wasn't, Mokuba knew; Yugi's support could boost sales by a good nine percent, according to their projections.
"Well, that depends, Kaiba-kun—how much will you pay for my endorsement?" Yugi said, and then as Mokuba and his friends stared at him, he grinned, to show that he was teasing.
Mokuba's brother snorted, then turned off the Duel Disk, so the projection of the Blue-Eyes vanished. "Now that the special advance showing is over, we'll be leaving. Mokuba?"
"Coming, Nii-sama," Mokuba said, getting up from the couch and yawning as he did. It was going on two A.M. and he really shouldn't sleep in too late tomorrow; his brother would be needing his help. It would be better if he could get Seto to sleep in, too, but that would be asking too much of him, not with all they had to do.
"Hey, Kaiba—Kaibas—wait!" Jounouchi scrambled to get in front of Mokuba and his brother, blocking their way.
Seto glared down at him. "What? Shall I summon another holograph to scare you off?"
Jounouchi planted his hands on his hips pugnaciously. "Hey, I think you can afford some manners for the guys who helped save your company!"
"Nii-sama, we do owe them," Mokuba admitted. He had sort of been hoping he could avoid mentioning to his brother how much he had ended up relying on Yugi and the others—but no, that wasn't fair to them. "I couldn't have made it without their help. Jounouchi's, and everyone else's."
His brother quietly sighed. "All right, then. What do you want, bonkotsu?"
For once Jounouchi let the insult slide. "We want to be let in on your next crazy plan!" he demanded. "If another psycho's after you, or you or Mokuba are gonna be faking your deaths again—we want to know. You say it's none of our business, it's got nothing to do with us, but we're always getting dragged into this stuff anyway—next time, ask us, give us a chance to actually volunteer!"
Mokuba couldn't remember Jounouchi ever rendering his brother speechless before, but now he was staring at Jounouchi, without opening his mouth or blinking.
If it was another contest then Jounouchi lost quickly; he dropped his gaze and looked away, sticking his hands in his pockets as he muttered, "Well, it would save us all some time, right? And it's not like we're going to refuse, in the end..."
"Everyone..." Mokuba looked at Jounouchi, looked at Yugi and Anzu and Honda behind him. They all met his eyes, and Yugi nodded at him, smiling still.
"That's how we all feel, Mokuba-kun, Kaiba-kun. After all, you'd help us, right? That's what friends do."
"Friends," Mokuba repeated. He glanced up at his brother, but Seto was looking at the others, his brow furrowed, as if he were working out a particularly convoluted dueling strategy.
"All right," Mokuba said. "Next time, we'll ask. Promise!" and he grinned back when they all grinned at him. Honda gave him a thumbs' up, and Anzu gave him a hug, and his brother didn't say anything to contradict him, which was probably as close as he could get to approving of this new tactic.
Yugi walked with them down to the car, so he could close the game shop up behind them. As Mokuba rapped on the window to wake up Isono, napping in the driver's seat, Yugi said, "Kaiba-kun, could I talk with you a second?"
This late at night—or early in the morning—it was getting chilly, so Mokuba waited in the car. A few minutes later, his brother got in and instructed Isono to take them home—back to the mansion, not Kaiba Corporation, to Mokuba's relief. "I can't wait to see my bed again!" he said. With everything he'd had to do, he hadn't actually had the time to go back there.
His brother only nodded, looking more preoccupied than before. "What'd Yugi want to talk about, Nii-sama?" Mokuba asked. "The endorsement deal?" Yugi might have been joking, but it was a serious proposition. Mokuba wondered if the pharaoh knew anything about business. Really, Mokuba would expect him to be as good at that game as his brother.
Seto only shook his head now, though. "No, not that."
"Oh." Mokuba stretched and leaned back against the seat, rubbing his eyes—he was tired enough that the lids felt scratchy again, even after a bottle of tea. "Well, we should give him some kind of contract—not anything too public, obviously, especially since he's won championship titles in Kaiba Corporation-sponsored events, but it wouldn't hurt to—"
"Mokuba," his brother said, like he'd hardly been listening.
Mokuba blinked and looked over at his brother, sitting next to him on the other end of the bench seat. "Yes, Nii-sama?"
His brother was looking at him, a certain sharp look—not puzzled; not quite angry, either. Mokuba remembered too vividly what his brother's anger was like, but he hadn't seen it in a while, and didn't now. But his brother wasn't content, either. "Yugi told me your strategy," he said. "Bringing him with you so he might be an eyewitness to MainBrain's attempt on your life."
"Well, I thought, since he is the Duel King..."
"That tactic was sound," his brother said. "But not the rest of it."
Mokuba winced. "I know it wasn't that well thought-out, Nii-sama, but I didn't have much time to plan—and then, things went wrong, with Isono and such, so we got stuck with the contingency plan, but—"
"Plan better," his brother said sternly.
"I'm sorry I put on a bad showing for us, but it worked, in the end," Mokuba said earnestly. "No matter what, I would've done it—I would've saved Kaiba Corporation." His brother needed Kaiba Corporation, for the sake of his dream; Mokuba would never let him down. His brother had to know that. "You can count on me, Nii-sama; I know what's important. I'll always protect Kaiba Corporation—"
"No," his brother said, and he was almost angry then, his blue eyes burning like they did when he dueled Yugi. "No," he repeated, more quietly, but his eyes were still hot. "That's not what's most important. The company—yes, we need it. But some things matter more."
More than his brother's dream? Mokuba frowned. "Like what?"
His brother folded his arms, turned away, gazing forward as he leaned back against the seat. "Losing," he said softly.
That lesson, Mokuba thought his brother had unlearned a while ago. "Nii-sama...you will beat Yugi someday. Maybe with the new Duel Disk system you can have a rematch..."
"Not that." His brother shut his eyes, opened them again—he was probably as tired as Mokuba was, Mokuba thought. "The funeral was troublesome," Seto said, straightforwardly, as if it weren't a complete non sequitur. "Making all the arrangements, enduring all that worthless sympathy—I'm not doing it again. I refuse."
"Well, no," Mokuba agreed, "it would be a hard ruse to pull off a second time anyway—"
"No," his brother said. "That isn't what I mean."
"But..." Maybe it was because he was so tired, that Mokuba only got it then. "Oh," he said. "Oh. I..."
"Promise me," his brother said. "That I won't have to do that again."
"But, Nii-sama—Kaiba Corporation—"
"If we lose Kaiba Corporation, then we get it back," his brother said, and made it as simple as that, just by saying it. "That's what you do when you lose. As long as you make sure you hold onto what can't be won back."
"Okay," Mokuba said. "Then I promise."
His brother nodded, satisfied. "Good."
"I'm making a lot of promises tonight," Mokuba remarked. "Which reminds me, I, um, might have told Honda that we'd buy him a new motorcycle..."
"That would be less annoying then going to them for help, just because we said we would," his brother said, sourly.
"Yeah, but we told them we would. And if they want to help us..."
His brother hmphed. Mokuba grinned—if his brother really minded, he wouldn't complain so openly, and with no purpose.
Kaiba Corporation was saved, Yugi and his friends were there for them whether his brother liked it or not, and they were going home. Mokuba contentedly snuggled back against the seat, his shoulder propped against the car door, thinking he might get a start on the night's sleep. They'd have to be up in a matter of hours anyway, if they wanted to be into the office before noon...
His brother didn't say anything, but Mokuba suddenly felt the prickle of his regard. He opened his eyes to see his brother studying him again, not angrily now, but that same oddly perplexed look he'd noticed before. "What is it, Nii-sama?"
"It's nothing," his brother said, too quickly.
Curiosity was better than coffee. Mokuba sat up. "No, really, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," his brother repeated. "Except...your hair...?"
"Oh! Yeah..." After a couple of weeks, it had stopped registering to Mokuba that the bangs falling in his eyes were blond instead of black, and he no longer felt like something was missing whenever he turned his head. Though it still was strange to run his hand over his head and have his hair end after only a few centimeters. "I needed the disguise, though."
"Yes," his brother said. He reached out, carefully combed his fingers through the cropped fringes on the side of Mokuba's head.
"It'll grow back," Mokuba said. "But I should dye it black anyway, so I can be recognized again." He already got taken as various employees' sons more than he liked, even if his brother was always quick to set people straight.
"Yes," his brother agreed. "It's important for everyone to understand that you're back."
Though he hadn't had much chance to think about it, it was still weird when he did, that there had been a funeral and everything. His brother arrested, even. "They really thought I was gone..."
"Only because they don't know you," his brother said, and he sounded as triumphant as any world competition champion.
The boy loitering outside the office building was one of the last people Takeuchi Yasuko expected to see. While she was always happy to meet up with her former students again, in this case she hadn't thought she'd ever get the chance. "Kazuya-kun—I mean, Mokuba-kun! It's good to see you."
"Hi, Takeuchi-sensei," the boy said, grinning. In the month since she last had seen him, he had dyed his hair black, and it was more mussed than he had kept it while in her class. He looked much more like the boy in the pictures she had seen in articles about Kaiba Corporation. His gray eyes and his smile were the same, though, big and bright and mischievous—moreso, even, now that she knew the scale of his mischief. "So what are you doing here?"
"I have a job interview," Yasuko told him, then considered the coincidence of their meeting and added, "...but you knew that already, perhaps?"
"You'd be wasted as a secretary, Takeuchi-san," Mokuba said, winking at her. "With your skills, you should be in programming. Or teaching. Or both."
"I don't know about that," Yasuko said. "If I couldn't even tell when one of my students was faking their ability with computers..."
"Hey, I wasn't faking anything! I wrote all those programs myself!"
"Yes, but you could have been teaching that class, Mokuba-kun."
The boy shrugged. "Well, yeah. But you still were a good teacher."
Yasuko had to smile at that. "Thank you." Now if only that could pay off—after quitting her last job, finding a new one was proving difficult. Admittedly her resignation had shown uncannily good timing, since she had left MainBrain Entertainment mere days before the company's stock crashed harder than a piano pushed off the top floor of a high rise. Even if it hadn't, she couldn't have regretted leaving them, not after having heard and seen what she did.
It had been an incredible relief to turn on the TV the day after she quit and see Kaiba Seto giving a press conference, with his little brother standing beside him. If anything had happened to either of them, she didn't know how she could have handled the guilt. As it was, she had no regrets. Even her concerns about her closer colleagues at MainBrain were mostly assuaged when Kaiba Corporation hired the best of them, and provided references for the rest—MainBrain Ent. itself had been taken over and liquidated with a thorough hostility that shocked even long-time market watchers, but only those in the top echelons really suffered for it.
Other companies, competitors or not, would think twice before trying to take on Kaiba Corporation. And this bright-eyed boy before her had no small part in that, Yasuko knew. "I'm glad you and your brother's company is doing well," she told Mokuba.
"Yeah," Mokuba said. "About that—Kaiba Corporation is starting a new program, special classes for kids who want to design computer games and things. I've got control of the project, and I need a good director. You wouldn't happen to have a resume on you, would you?"
Yasuko stared at him. "Actually," Mokuba continued, "if you've got the time, my brother's around, we could do the interview now..."
Yasuko looked down at her skirt and jacket—neatly pressed, but not formal enough for an interview with a hundred-billion-yen company CEO, and she would've worn her best shoes if she'd expected—
But she was already following Mokuba down to the limousine waiting on the curb, and the tall young man standing beside it, in a white suit. "Takeuchi-san," he said, extending his hand to her. He wasn't smiling, and his eyes were the same blue as his tie, not Mokuba's warm gray. "Thank you for taking care of my brother," he said, crisply formal, but she noticed that he said "brother" the same way Mokuba did, as if the word had its own particular meaning.
She glanced down at Mokuba. Her former student grinned again, nodding at her encouragingly. He was standing at his brother's side like he'd never been anywhere else—the two of them, just kids, but strong enough together to take on an entire corporation and beat them down. And they wanted her on their side.
"You're welcome, Kaiba-san," Yasuko said, and shook Kaiba Seto's hand.
Thanks to everyone who's read this story, whether you were there from the start and followed it all the way to the end (wow, that would be perseverance!) or whether you've just found it now. I hope it entertained! This is likely not my last YGO story - I love the Kaiba brothers too much to ever entirely let them go - but it's probably the longest I'm likely to post, and it feels so good to have finally reached the end.
Any comments you feel like giving will be especially cherished, but you have my gratitude regardless for lending me your time to read.