Title: The Cost of Doing Business
Pairing(s): Yami + Seto, Noa + Mokuba, Jou + Mai, Yugi + Anzu, Malik + Ryou, Rafael + Valon + Amelda
Disclaimer: Magic 8 Ball is a product of Mattel, Inc. Virus Buster Serge is the creation of Masami Obari. Yu-Gi-Oh! is the creation of Kazuki Takahashi. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.
Summary: Fathers, brothers, lovers… understanding all three is the key to restoring a broken relationship.
Status: 11 / ?
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/
* * *
The Cost of Doing Business
Ch. 11: Behold Change or Die II
* * *
Upon arriving home after having presided over a pair of hastily scheduled meetings, Mokuba spotted something that he didn’t expect to see: the tail end of a white Porsche, barely visible from the main driveway, parked over by the kitchen door.
Normally that wouldn’t have been anything unusual; Yami regularly parked there whenever he had groceries to bring in. But of course Yami wouldn’t have been out and about with Seto ill as he was, especially since Mokuba hadn’t been available to sit with him. But still…
No one else would’ve thought to park there. It was Yami’s spot, and it wasn’t even a proper driveway anyhow, simply a paved walkway just wide enough to provide vehicle access through to the pool area, for maintenance. And no one else would’ve been driving Yami’s car either; the former Pharaoh was as possessive of it as Seto was of his favorite vehicles.
Confused, Mokuba hurried into the house and headed up the stairs to Seto’s room. Although he could think of a few reasons why Yami might’ve left the house, none of them seemed good enough. But he tried not to jump to conclusions… Seto believed in Yami. He loved him. So Mokuba put his faith in that too.
Still, he couldn’t deny feeling relieved when he finally reached the master suite and threw the doors open to an unexpected sight: Noa dozing in Seto’s bed, slumped against some propped up pillows, with Seto’s arm slung over his legs. They were so haphazardly positioned, it was as if exhaustion had claimed them both in mid sentence, but at the same time, there was something so natural and right about the way they held onto each other, as if there had never been problems between them at all.
"Welcome home," said a soft voice from behind Mokuba’s shoulder.
The teen turned to see Yami standing a few feet away, over by the wall. He hadn’t heard the crimson-eyed man walk in, so he must’ve been watching the scene from the sitting room. "Did… you plan for this to happen?" Mokuba mouthed, gesturing at Noa and Seto. "… Your car was…"
Yami cocked his head slightly as he mulled over what Mokuba was asking, then he motioned for the teen to follow him out of the room. Once in the hallway, Yami leaned against the wall before responding. "I didn’t plan anything. Seto had been ready to talk to Noa, without interference. So I left."
"Oh. I see…" Mokuba hadn’t really given that possibility much thought, but it made sense. Even though Seto wasn’t normally a talkative person and was still sick to boot, of course he would’ve wanted to deal with Noa on his own, in his own way.
"It looks like they’ve managed to come to some sort of understanding. I’m glad. It’s been long overdue."
"… Ah. Yeah." Mokuba fidgeted a little. For some reason, the whole situation was making feel slightly awkward, like he’d been left out of the loop. He wondered what Seto and Noa had talked about. Did Noa understand now? Did he accept Seto for who he was? Mokuba had to know… after all, Seto wasn’t the only one who had a rift to mend with the green-haired teen. "I guess there’s things I need to sort out with Noa too. But… I’m not sure what I should do…"
"Start by looking into your own heart, and clearing your mind of unprofitable things like doubt and expectations."
"Wha… what’s that supposed to mean?" Sometimes, talking to Yami seemed to be the equivalent of shaking a Magic 8 Ball for answers. Reply hazy, try again.
"What I mean is, don’t make up with him simply because he’s made nice with Seto. Noa’s a part of our family; he’s someone that matters, someone who deserves to be treated with honesty and consideration. So you need to think carefully about your feelings, Noa’s feelings, and what it is you want or need to say, or else you’ll just perpetuate this vicious cycle." Yami shrugged. "Just make sure you’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons, that’s all," he finished gently as he watched a whole range of emotions flit across Mokuba’s face: confusion, anger, distress, weariness.
The youngest Kaiba finally settled on an expression that bordered on hopeful. He was thinking about the peaceful expressions on Seto and Noa’s faces as they dozed next to one another. If they had managed to settle things… "I’ll try. I don’t know if I can promise anything though…"
Yami gave him a slight smile. "Don’t promise. Just do your best. That’s what counts."
Mokuba looked away for a moment, then curled his toes into the carpet before looking back over, although his gaze remained somewhat distant. "The right reasons… You said something like that a few days ago…"
"Yes. Except this time we’re talking about you and Noa, not you and me."
"… ‘I should forgive because I want to, and not because of Seto.’ That applies to Noa, too."
"Yes," Yami answered, although he realized by that point that Mokuba was no longer addressing him anymore.
Mokuba nodded to himself, then turned back towards the door leading to Seto’s room. He took a few steps towards it, then paused to look back over his shoulder for a brief second, as if suddenly aware that things weren’t settled on this front either. But his mind was focused elsewhere at the moment… and he knew Yami would wait. Without another word, he opened the door and disappeared into Seto’s room.
* * *
Noa awoke to the awkward realization that he was being watched. At first he wasn’t sure if it was just in his mind, the side effect of waking up in an uncomfortable position in an unexpected place, but then he noticed Mokuba sitting on the far right side of the bed, still in the slacks and dress shirt he had worn to Kaiba Corp. The younger teen was stroking Seto’s hair but his sharp gaze was fixed on Noa, and there was a strange, distracted look on his face.
Well, this is a little uncomfortable, Noa thought to himself as Mokuba continued to silently stare at him. Then again, the whole situation was weird. Seto was still asleep, wedged between them on the large mattress like some lumpy pillow. His arm lay across Noa’s lap and his fingers loosely clutched at Noa’s pant leg. It had to look strange to anyone who knew them, especially considering that he and Seto hadn’t been speaking to each other for almost a week.
Noa wondered how to best explain things. "I don’t remember nodding off…" the older teen finally mumbled, not knowing what else to offer but the truth. "Have you been home long?"
Mokuba took a quick glance at the clock, then shrugged. Only a half-hour had passed since his conversation with Yami, but he’d been so engrossed in thought that it seemed that only a few minutes had passed.
"How did your meeting go?" Noa prodded.
The black-haired teen shrugged again before answering. "I got sucked into two of them. They were okay though."
"That’s it, huh?"
"Oh." The dry response was a bit of a disappointment. Noa tried to approach things from a different angle. "Well… maybe I could sit with you next time and keep you company. ‘Cause um… guess what?"
"I’m… Nii-sama offered me a position at Kaiba Corp," Noa said, wishing he sounded more confident about it. His eyes searched Mokuba’s face for a reaction as he continued on to explain, "I’m going to be a V.P., like you."
Mokuba blinked, as if coming out of a daze, finally rewarding Noa with the spark of interest that he’d been hoping for. "Really?"
"... How’d you manage that?"
Noa was taken aback by the insinuation that he had done something to manipulate things in his favor. Instead of congratulating him, Mokuba was questioning him, as if he couldn’t believe that Seto would willingly offer Noa his trust. Frustrated, he blurted out, "You’re not going to forgive me, are you? Even though I didn’t do anything to you. Even though I already apologized to Seto. Isn’t that what you wanted? I don’t know what else you expect from me."
"… Wha...?" Mokuba had no clue why the conversation had taken such a sudden turn for the worse. He’d thought that things were finally improving, and had even been thinking of how he and Noa could patch things up, but maybe he’d been too optimistic. It was very upsetting, and he couldn’t help but spit back, "Why are you being all pissy all of a sudden? All I wanted to know was what happened."
"You seem suspicious, like I did something…"
"Well, can you blame me for being surprised? Last I checked, you weren’t even willing to be in the same room as Seto, and now everything’s magically better?"
"‘Magically better?’ You think it was that simple? Hell… I thought you’d be happy that we made up. But you’re not!"
"That’s because I don’t want you guys doing it for me. That doesn’t count."
"Well how am I supposed to know that if you’re just going to assume things instead of explaining them??"
"I…" Noa suddenly shook his head. How had they gone from a docile conversation about Kaiba Corp. to snarling at each other like wild dogs? "If you trust us – if you believe in me at all – then shouldn’t my word be good enough?"
Mokuba roughly ran a hand through his hair. "I don’t know. I don’t know what to think anymore," he groaned, sounding very young and very confused.
Noa wasn’t sure what to say in response to that – what would be the point, if Mokuba had lost faith in him? – but then he felt a slight movement to the right of his leg. He looked down for a moment, then back over at the black-haired teen before letting loose a sigh. For the moment, Seto was still asleep, but if they kept going at it like they’d been doing, he’d probably wake up, and Noa didn’t want it to turn into a three-way dance, especially since Seto had looked like he’d really needed the rest. "Maybe we should take this outside. Yami’s home, so he can sit with Seto," he suggested in a lowered voice, sounding much more composed than he felt.
A look of concern drifted across Mokuba’s face as he also glanced down at Seto. "Ah, yeah. You’re right." He slid off the mattress and walked around to the other side of the bed, all the while watching the way Noa carefully handled his brother, suddenly feeling a sense of shame for having doubted the older teen.
Noa had said that they’d made up, and had been offended that his words hadn't been enough to convince Mokuba of his intentions. That normally would have been enough, but under the circumstances… It was a good thing that actions spoke louder than words, for Mokuba could see that something had changed. For starters, Noa hadn’t asked for help, hadn’t said anything about it being Mokuba’s job to take care of Seto. And too, there was that newfound confidence and care in his movements. Noa was working slowly, trying not to disturb Seto any more than he had to, carefully prying the brunette’s fingers off his pants before grabbing an extra pillow and guiding Seto’s arm over it, so that he’d be able to continue sleeping in the same position. Then after he had pushed himself off the bed, he turned to adjust and smooth down the blankets around the sick man as well. Mokuba almost expected him to cap it off with a pat on the head like Seto was a child or something – that was how gentle Noa was being.
Dumbfounded over what he had just witnessed, Mokuba mutely followed Noa out of the room, silently accompanying him as they looked for Yami. They didn’t have to go very far: Yami was in the second floor office, half-hanging out the door with his computer on his lap, as if he’d been expecting them to come and fetch him. Without even waiting to hear their request, he inclined his head at the pair, then quickly shut down his laptop, pushed his chair back into the office, and headed off in the direction of Seto’s room.
Noa gestured at the now vacant room. "I guess this’ll do."
Mokuba nodded, heading in and seating himself at the small conference table. He hoped that that’d be good luck since that was the same table where their last family feud had been resolved, although considering things really hadn’t been fixed at all, maybe it was a bad omen instead?
He waited until Noa sat down on the chair to his right, then turned and awkwardly said, "It was stupid… us fighting, I mean. I had gone in because I wanted to talk, and instead…"
"It doesn’t matter. I lost my temper too."
Mokuba grunted and let the matter drop. They had both messed up; since they both admitted to that, there was no point in dwelling on it further. Besides, that wasn’t the foremost thing on his mind. "You really did make up with him, didn’t you?"
Noa took a deep breath. "I apologized. He did too – twice, even. He really surprised me. He was much more patient than I thought he’d be. It was like... this was the first time he really saw me. I liked that. And it was probably the first time we were able to speak freely to each other too."
A slight smile touched Mokuba’s lips. "I’m glad to hear that."
"I really am sorry, you know." When the younger Kaiba gave him a questioning look, Noa added, "For a lot of stuff. Like what I did in the virtual world. I was wrong to blame Seto for what my father did. And I shouldn’t have involved you, either. But I was desperate to get out of there. I just wanted my life back the way it was."
"That’s old news. And I’ve never held that against you. I mean… I understand why that happened," Mokuba assured him.
"Yeah, but I never said it…" He shrugged, knowing that he had a lot more to say. But he had wanted to get that out of his system before delving into the much bigger issue that loomed over them. "And I apologize for arguing with you and upsetting you when you were already stressed out. I said a lot of things that I shouldn’t have because I was scared, and I didn’t understand… Maybe I didn’t want to understand." Noa sighed deeply, then went on, more quietly than before. "But at the same time, I can’t change who I am, not even for you. I’m still my father’s son. And despite everything that’s happened, I just can’t bring myself to hate him."
"Even though he used you?"
Noa looked down to study the surface of the tabletop. He traced a finger across it, as if to mar the faint reflection of his face in the polished wood. "What about Death-T?" he finally asked. "And yet you still love Seto."
"It’s not the same."
"It’s still a sort of betrayal Mokuba, no matter how you look at it. I know the reasoning behind it is different… but the results…"
"But the reasons are what matters. Even at Death-T, I know Nii-sama was only thinking of protecting me. When did Gozaburo ever think of anyone but himself?"
"You’re wrong. He loved me when I was younger. I have memories of all the things we did together; I was happy. And he was beside himself when I died. Shouldn’t that count for something?"
"That’s not the Gozaburo I grew up with."
"I guess not. But like, I didn’t grow up with Seto either. That’s why you can’t expect me to think the way you do," Noa pointed out. "I didn’t have a big brother while I was growing up. Maybe that’s why I underestimated the strength of your bond. Maybe that’s why I was jealous of it too – your absolute faith in him, your unconditional love for him. I never saw any room for me in the equation… To me, I had to be your one and only or else I’d be nothing to you at all."
"But you know that’s not true! I thought you understood that. We’ve talked about it before. Look at Yami, or Seto. They can accept…"
"But I’m not Seto! You have to stop expecting me to be like him."
"I didn’t mean it like that!" Mokuba yelled back, but even as the words exited his mouth, he felt himself shifting in his seat, suddenly aware of just how awkward and immature he was. It had always been a bit of a joke that Noa reminded people of Seto, but was there some truth to that? Had that been his assumption too? If that was the case, then of course he could never live up to that… only Seto could be Seto. Noa could only be… himself. Mokuba thought back to Yami’s challenge. Could he accept Noa for who he was?
In the meantime, Noa had begun nervously rubbing at his forehead at the stifling silence. He had to get a hold of himself before he made things worse that they already were. "Sorry. I *know* I’m being unreasonable. Part of me does understand all the stuff you mentioned. But it’s something I still struggle with. And it scares me that you can’t accept that. That no matter how much I try to change, it won’t ever be enough," he finally ended up saying.
"No… I’m being unreasonable too," Mokuba slowly admitted. "People aren’t stagnant; they do change. But we should do it because we want to improve ourselves, not because someone is forcing us to. I don’t want you to change because you’re afraid of losing me. What kind of boyfriend would that make me then?"
Noa lifted his head. "Boyfriend?"
"Well, I know it was kinda touch and go for a while, but we didn’t actually break up, right?" the younger teen mumbled.
"No, but… I wasn’t sure…"
"I do love you for who you are, imperfections and all. Because that’s what makes you you, and not someone else. I love a lot of stuff about you: you’re caring, loyal, smart… you have a great sense of humor. And I love that you get jealous if anyone even looks in my direction. Like you totally don’t realize, you’re cute as hell yourself."
Noa just stared at Mokuba. His face felt warm. "Uh, thanks…" he finally managed to squeak, not knowing what else to say.
"And… I accept your apologies and want you to accept mine." Mokuba reached out for Noa’s hand, lacing their fingers together as he said, "I’m really sorry for getting mad at you. I shouldn’t have. Seto hurt you, and all I did was make excuses for him. I just couldn’t stand that you were defending Yami and angry with Seto, that you didn’t see things from my point of view. I made it seem like you didn’t matter, and that’s not true at all! But… what’s done is done. I can’t take it back. All I can do is apologize, and hope you’ll forgive me, and try to be better in the future."
The green-haired teen smiled thinly. "If you can look past my faults, then I suppose I can forgive yours too."
Noa’s smile broadened. It was a relief to be on good terms again. "So I guess you’ve forgiven Yami too then? You two must've already talked..."
"Mmm, well… admittedly, I’ve been a little too distracted thinking about us to think about Yami," Mokuba confessed. "I know he didn’t really have a choice – he did what he had to - but still…" He shut his eyes. "I don’t ever want to see anything like that again."
"But you’re not mad at him still, are you?"
Mokuba cocked his head. "… I guess not. I’ll talk to him later, I promise. But for now… I just wanna spend some time with you. It’s kinda scary that we’ve been living together for this long, and yet there’s so much we’ve never talked about. Like all that stuff with Nii-sama… I just assumed you knew."
Noa nodded. "So can I ask you something then?" he queried in a subdued tone. Even though Mokuba had pretty much thrown open the floodgates so to speak, he still felt like he was intruding. But that was something he had to get over… he didn’t want to have to tiptoe around things anymore, like some thief in the night. He wanted to know everything about his family, both the good and the bad.
"Well, uh, you know about my father… but how’d you end up with Seto? Er, I mean… I know your parents passed away, but you had also said something about no one else wanting you. I just find that hard to imagine…" Noa sighed. He didn’t think he was wording things very well. "I guess I’m just trying to understand why you’re so close to Seto."
Mokuba tried to figure out how to best explain things, then decided he’d just start from the top. "Hmm, well… you know about as much as I do about my mom, I think. Seto’s never talked about her much – I don’t think he remembers her all that well himself – but I’d like to think that she took good care of him. As far as my dad, well, he wasn’t around much… not that I was old enough to remember him either. But even when he was alive, Nii-sama said he wasn’t home very often; he worked long hours and traveled a lot on business. And when he was home, he was too tired to care for us, I guess. We got shuffled off to relatives, neighbors, daycare. We must’ve been a huge burden, though Seto bore the brunt of it. He had to be responsible for me as well as himself…"
Mokuba sighed, then continued on. "I always hated that. I wanted to help him… I didn’t want to be a burden on him. And of course it only got worse when our father passed away. Our aunt and uncle took us in after that, but they never really wanted us at all; they thought we were bad luck ‘cause everyone seemed to be dropping dead around us, so as soon as they spent our inheritance, they dumped us at the orphanage."
"After that, it really was just the two of us. I thought that we’d be at the orphanage forever because no one wanted kids that were already half grown, especially a pair of them. It wasn’t terrible living there I guess, but I was so little at the time, I didn’t understand what it meant to be unwanted…" Mokuba scratched at his chin. "Well, I guess that’s not exactly right… Seto wanted me. And he tried his best to remind me of that. He’d play with me and smile and tell me things were going to be okay because at least we had each other, but I think in reality he was under a lot of stress, worrying about our future and the possibility that eventually we’d get forced apart."
"And then one day, your father showed up. Nii-sama saw him as our ticket out of there… and well, you know how things went from there…" Mokuba trailed off as he tried to bite back the bile rising in his throat. He’d never see Gozaburo through Noa’s eyes, nor would he ever want to. Noa could only see the caring father from his childhood; his vision blurred when faced with evidence that proved that Gozaburo had been a monster to everyone else. And he was practically blind to the fact that that same "caring father" discarded him just as callously as Mokuba’s relatives had. That was part of accepting Noa too, perhaps the hardest part. But at least it was also something the black-haired teen could understand, though he knew better than to voice any of it. It would only hurt Noa to be reminded of the truth, and he didn’t want to cause his boyfriend any more pain...
And then his mind made an odd jump. Wasn’t he sort of doing the same thing with Yami? It was probably even worse in his case, since at least Noa was looking for the positives in Gozaburo whereas Mokuba was looking for the complete opposite in Yami. He had forgotten all the good things Yami had done… the happiness he had brought to Seto’s life. Instead, Mokuba had become so fixated on the entity Yami had been in the past that he had ended up blinding himself to reality. He had refused to consider any argument – even Seto’s – that Yami had done the only thing he could have done under the circumstances. But the truth was, Noa had been in real danger. And Seto wouldn’t have forgiven himself if he had harmed him. Yami understood that. He hadn’t been trying to hurt or punish Seto at all. But that power he had… it was frightening. Mokuba had seen the extent of the damage the former Pharaoh could do; he used to have nightmares about it. And it hadn’t helped that Yami had said that he’d use it again if he had to. Could he accept that possibility? Could he accept that aspect of Yami too?
Meanwhile, Noa was silent as well, though his thoughts were on a completely different matter. He was processing the information Mokuba had just revealed. He had known bits and pieces of it already, but this was the first time that he’d been given a framework to stick them on. Even without the minute details, it was a good start… already it gave him a better of understanding of why Mokuba was so attached to his big brother. Mokuba didn’t remember his parents… his first memories were of Seto. He’d been the one constant through his little brother’s life and considering how tumultuous that life had been, it was only natural that Mokuba would’ve ended up clinging to him. But for once Noa didn’t feel jealous. He was grateful that Seto had not only protected Mokuba, but had given him the stability that he needed to grow into the bright, fiercely loyal teen that Noa loved.
"Thanks. That really helped," the green-haired teen finally announced. "Hearing that makes me really thankful that you have someone like Seto in your life."
Mokuba blinked, suddenly jerked from his thoughts. But he recovered quickly. "We," he swiftly corrected as he caught the tail end of Noa’s statement. "You can count on him too you know."
He was rewarded with a smile. "And you. And Yami."
Noa cocked an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Yeah. I know I still haven’t apologized, but… I think I’m finally ready to. Not because I have to, but because I want to." Mokuba’s exhaling sigh was colored with both relief and nervous anticipation. He stood up. "Coming with?"
"Right now?" Noa asked, even as he rose to his feet as well.
"Yup. I’ve kept him waiting long enough, don’t you think?"
In response, Noa grinned proudly as he sidled up to his boyfriend and slung his arm around his waist, making his approval crystal clear as the pair exited the room, shoulder to shoulder.
* * *
July 19, 2008