Title: The Cost of Doing Business
Author: bnomiko
Rating: PG-13
Pairing(s): Yami + Seto, Noa + Mokuba, Jou + Mai, Yugi + Anzu, Malik + Ryou, Rafael + Valon + Amelda
Spoilers: none
Warnings: swearing
Disclaimer: 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: Seto opens up. Noa breaks down. And Mokuba tries to deal with crap at Kaiba Corp.
Status: 9 / ?
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

The Cost of Doing Business

Ch. 9: Another Boy Missing

* * *

Seto had always thought that dredging up the past wouldn’t do him any good. Dwelling on it could only make him bitter, talking about it wouldn’t change a thing. And he had never been a talkative person anyway.

…Yet once he had accepted Yami’s challenge, he couldn’t seem to stop himself.

For the past two days, he’d been rambling at Yami about anything he could think of, sometimes literally falling asleep mid-sentence. He was still quite ill; his throat felt raw and sore and he had difficulty catching his breath at times. But he had ignored his aches and pains and kept going, letting his momentum carry him as his thoughts tumbled out like debris caught in an avalanche.

It hadn’t been easy at first, of course. Seto’s instincts had always told him to shut down and shut up, to put up walls, to push away anyone that tried to get too close. So even though he loved Yami, even though he believed in him, some small part of him had remained hesitant and cautious, and he hadn’t been able to shake those feelings and open up no matter how hard he’d tried.

His uncertainty had made him start doubting what he was trying to do. He’d begun wondering if it was a bad idea… but that had only ended up making him bitter. Being indecisive had always made him feel vulnerable, and there was nothing he hated more than being reminded of his own weaknesses.

Instantly his anger had risen up and asserted itself, raging to the forefront like a tidal wave. He had resented that Yami made him revisit all the useless crap he’d gone through when all he had wanted was to leave it behind him. He hated the negative emotions that had gotten stirred up. And he hated that Yami had just sat there quietly the entire time, accepting it all – hesitation and anger alike – with understanding in his eyes.

When he’d seen that look on Yami’s face, he had become even more enraged. How could Yami be so calm, so accepting? Didn’t he understand how difficult this was for him? Or – worse yet – was he pitying him? Seto had almost wanted to slap him, just to wipe that look off his face. Instead, he had done the next best thing, spitting out the most horrible, wretched memories he could recall, daring Yami to disbelieve him, trying to shake him until he broke… while an even more desperate part of him had clung to the hope that Yami had really meant what he’d said. That he really wanted to know and was willing to listen, no matter what Seto had to say. No matter how Seto was saying it.

It was that realization that had finally doused the flame of Seto’s anger, leaving him feeling numb and exhausted. It had been draining, riding that roller coaster of emotions, clinging on for dear life while it had whipped him around, but Yami had stayed with him as best he could, moderating his moods and grounding him so that he would have something stable to hold on to. Seto had been warmed by his lover’s faith in him… and immediately became remorseful for how erratically he had behaved. But before he’d gotten the chance to brood over it as he usually did, Yami had led his thoughts in a different direction, applauding his efforts while gently encouraging him to continue talking.

Despite Yami’s reassurance, Seto had still remained uncertain whether or not he could live up to his lover’s expectations. Revealing so much of himself had felt… foreign, even after having shared a link with Yami for over a year. But Seto wasn’t a quitter either, and he certainly wasn’t going to give his demons the satisfaction of seeing him falter. If Yami believed in him, then he’d find a way to rise beyond his doubts and meet his boyfriend’s expectations. So buoyed by his own determination, and by Yami’s continued faith in him, Seto had forged on, following the unseen road that lay beneath his feet, until gradually, the words came out more easily. Until it didn’t feel so strange anymore.

Now he was lying beside Yami, breathless and spent. He couldn’t think of anything else to say for the moment. His head hurt and he needed a break. He pressed his forehead against the side of Yami’s neck, trying to quell the pulsating ache that had lodged itself behind his eyes. He wasn’t that tired… at least, he didn’t think he was, but Yami was idly plucking at strands of his hair, and Seto could feel his breaths slowing and deepening.

He could have fought against it. He was almost tempted to. But it seemed to be taking some of the pain away, so perhaps it was wise to rest, at least for a little while.

Just when he was about to drift off, he heard an adolescent voice whispering something over his head, and felt Yami’s throat vibrate as he responded in a low voice. Seto grimaced unconsciously, pushing harder against Yami’s neck as if that would stop the chatter, but by that point he was awake enough to recognize whom the other voice belonged to. And he was never too tired to respond when needed. So with some effort, he rolled over onto his back, opened his eyes, and looked up at Mokuba. "Mm?"

"Nii… sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you," Mokuba said, feeling a bit guilty. He had just come in to bring Yami some printouts; he should’ve kept his mouth shut, but he couldn’t help himself… he just had to ask how Seto was doing since he hadn’t really had a chance to talk to him in the past few days. Not that he hadn’t been around – he would never, EVER be too busy for that – but when he had realized that Seto was cautiously baring his soul to Yami, he hadn’t wanted to risk interrupting for fear of breaking that spell. When did Seto ever want to talk about the past? Never. And yet, Yami had done it, had somehow gotten him to open the door to his past and willingly step through.

Although Mokuba was a little disappointed that he hadn’t been the one that Seto had chosen to turn to when he'd always been willing to listen, he kinda understood… He was the kid brother. He would always be the kid brother. It didn’t matter that he’d lived through everything that Seto had; Seto needed someone that was more of… an equal? No, maybe that wasn’t the right word for it… He needed someone who was his match, his rival… someone who didn’t want nor need protection from anything, even from Seto himself.

Besides, Seto had always clung to the hope that his little brother had been young and innocent enough to have gotten through their upbringing relatively unscathed. He had sacrificed himself for that ideal, risking his own body, mind and soul to provide Mokuba with a home, a childhood, and whatever happiness he could.

Mokuba understood that. He’d been playing along his whole life. He certainly didn’t want to shatter that illusion now, if ever. So it was much easier to just go along with it. And at least Yami seemed to be doing a good job listening since Seto hadn’t been able to shut up around him, though he was starting to struggle now, having to fight just to stay awake in order to respond to Mokuba’s comment.

"It’s okay. I didn’t want to sleep anyway," Seto lied, capping it off with a yawn. At least his body was honest.

Mokuba indulged his brother with a small smile, more than willing to humor him for the moment. "I know."

"It’s boring." As if to drive home his point, Seto sat up slightly, ignoring his headache, and snagged the top sheet off the stack of papers that Yami had placed on the bed. "So what are we doing here?" he asked even as he began reading the printout.

Yami sat up and exchanged looks with Mokuba. Neither one of them wanted Seto to get worked up over Kaiba Corp. matters, but it was too late to pretend like he hadn’t seen anything. So Yami had to tell him, "I’m playing corporate ping pong with Kaiba Corp. Marketing and Product Development."

Seto cocked an eyebrow. He had known that Noa had been helping out, but now Yami was having to pitch in too? "Are they listening to you?" Seto asked in curiosity. He’d given Yami some minor tasks in the past, but hadn’t ever asked him to perform in any official capacity. Not because he didn’t trust Yami’s judgement – because he most certainly did – but he hadn’t thought that that would be something Yami would be interested in. And he was unsure of how his employees would respond to Yami’s involvement in turn.

"They’re… ‘taking my suggestions under advisement,’" the crimson-eyed man said, shrugging a shoulder. "At least they haven’t completely blown me off."

"I’ll have a talk with the department heads about that, Yami," Mokuba volunteered, wondering why it hadn’t occurred to him to ask Yami if he needed help with anything. Well, he had been a bit buried with his own work assignments, and his main focus had been Seto anyhow, and… he just hadn’t thought about it. But Yami deserved his assistance considering all that he'd done to help Seto; it was what had redeemed him in Mokuba’s eyes. "I didn’t realize it was a problem. I figured… Well, I’ll get it straightened out somehow."

Seto glanced at his brother, a little surprised to see him being so agreeable. Yami had mentioned that things between him and Mokuba had improved, but the brunette was glad to see proof of it firsthand. "Thank you."

"No prob." Mokuba gave his brother a lopsided grin, grateful that Seto was giving him the chance to resolve the problem on his own instead of jumping up and trying to fix everything like he normally would. True, he was sick, but even that wouldn’t stop Seto from interfering if he deemed it necessary. That realization built up Mokuba's confidence, and made him eager to prove himself to his big brother. "I better get back to work. Kaiba Corp. doesn’t run itself."


"And I’m glad you’re feeling a bit better, Nii-sama," Mokuba added with a smile before stepping back towards the door. He meant that in more ways than one.

Seto’s eyes softened as he nodded, giving Mokuba the go ahead to leave. "I’m glad that the two of you made up," he commented after Mokuba shut the door behind him.

"We’re not at a hundred percent yet. But… we’re working on it. He’s a good kid," Yami said.

Seto nodded again, accepting that response. It was unrealistic to think that the rift could be closed so quickly. But they still seemed to be patching things up awfully fast, and that made him worry. "I hope he’s not doing this for me, because he wants to please me," he continued, still staring at the closed door. "I told him how I feel about you. Maybe it was a mistake…"

"You were honest with him, and with your feelings. That’s not a mistake."

"I should’ve told him sooner."

"I think… on some level, he already knew. But it is different hearing it," Yami agreed, as he considered the conversation he’d had with Mokuba two days earlier. "A couple of days ago, I told him how I felt about him too. I probably should’ve done it sooner as well. Maybe he already knew; maybe he didn’t. But I shouldn’t have assumed… He needed to hear it."

"Thank you," Seto said simply, unable to think of anything more suitable to say. But he was warmed by Yami’s revelation. Just like his little brother, he had already known in his heart that Yami cared about Mokuba and yet, it was good to hear it.


Feeling more at ease, Seto slowly wrapped an arm around the ex-spirit’s shoulders and leaned against him a little. It still amazed him sometimes that he had managed to land himself a lover who was his perfect match, in every aspect of his life. Even the life he led outside of his home…

"So now you’re working for me too?" Seto ended up asking with amusement in his voice.

The shorter duelist responded with a sheepish smile. "I figured I’d help with some of less technical stuff that the boys hadn’t gotten to, that’s all. Mokuba and Noa are far more qualified to handle everything else."

Seto paused, then in a slightly softer tone, inquired, "You sure you really don’t mind?"

"I have no aspirations to become an employee. But of course I don’t mind pitching in. I like seeing the process behind your products, and being a part of it."

The young CEO nodded slowly, letting Yami’s words sink in, before flopping back on the bed with a sigh. "Noa’s been helping out too…" he mused after another moment of silent pondering. "But he’s not… I’ve never…"

"I think he’d do well at Kaiba Corp. But the real question remains: do you trust him?"

"I… want to."


"Dunno." Seto shut his eyes and threw his arm over his face. "I should, right? That’s what you’d want me to say."

"It doesn’t matter what I think, nor what Mokuba thinks. This is between you and Noa."

"But it does matter…" Seto began muttering under his breath, then he peeked at Yami, slightly perplexed. "You genuinely like him, don’t you? I mean, you trust him and everything…"



"Why not?"

"Yami!" Seto hissed, exasperated.

"Well… for one thing, he reminds me of you."

Seto’s arm shifted back down over his eyes. He was getting really tired. "I don’t know why people always say that. Just because we sorta look similar…"

"I’m not talking about physical characteristics. He’s just…" Yami began, then he paused for a minute. Noa was 15 now, the same age Seto had been when Yami had first dueled him over Sugoroku’s stolen dragon. And like Seto, Noa had once been an adversary too. Maybe that’s why Seto stubbornly remained in denial about the similarities between him and Noa, because he didn’t want to see the negative traits they shared and the mistakes that lay behind them. Maybe he was afraid that that would make him hate the green-haired teen. It made sense, especially considering the difficult time Seto had facing his own past. If he couldn’t forgive himself for what he’d done, how could he ever forgive Noa?

And too, there was the entire matter of Gozaburo, whose specter still hung over the Kaibas like a curse. Even without the details Seto had revealed over the past few days, Yami had known that Gozaburo was and would remain a sore subject for the young CEO. Noa’s mere presence had to be a constant reminder of the role his father had played in Seto’s life.

But it was doing Noa a disservice to focus on just the negative. As important as it was to acknowledge those things – because ignoring them wasn’t going to make them go away – Noa was no longer the brat he’d been in the virtual world. He had changed a lot and become someone that Yami not only cared for, but thought very highly of. He was smart and tenacious. And a survivor, considering the situation his father had dumped him in. He was unwaveringly loyal too, to those that had earned it… He loved Mokuba more than anything. The teen was, after all, a Kaiba through and through.

But there was no point in bringing up any of that if Seto wasn’t ready for it. Yami didn’t want to be pushy… forcing a confrontation wouldn’t help anyone. Seto had to decide for himself what he wanted to do…

Suddenly remembering that he had trailed off rather abruptly, Yami tried to think of what he ought to say, but before he got out a single word he realized he didn't have to explain a thing. Seto had already drifted off to sleep.

He sighed, then began gathering up the papers that lay on the bed like a pile of loosely racked leaves. After shifting himself so that his hip and leg comfortably lay against Seto’s side, he began to slowly flip through the sheaf of printouts. Like Mokuba had said, Kaiba Corp. didn’t run itself. If he couldn’t do more to help Seto with Noa, he could at least do this much for him.

* * *

"Seto’s feeling better."

That was all Mokuba had to say once he’d gotten back to the second floor office that he and Noa had taken over.

Noa lifted his head from his work, nodding out of courtesy more than anything else, knowing that Mokuba wasn’t looking for conversation anyhow. Ever since that last big blow up they had, they’d barely spoken to each other, save the necessary discussing of work related matters.

But that didn’t mean Noa was ignoring Mokuba either. On the contrary, he was aware of every movement the black-haired teen made and every emotion that flitted across his face, as if those things could somehow compensate for the lack of conversation. Even now, Noa was watching out of the corner of his eye as his boyfriend plopped himself down on the executive’s chair behind the desk, and kept his ears pricked as Mokuba got on the phone with someone over at Kaiba Corp.

Interestingly enough, the conversation was about Yami. Mokuba was tersely informing whoever he was speaking to that they were expected to follow whatever instructions Yami had given them. Yes, he knew they were confused by Yami’s involvement: he wasn’t an employee, he didn’t have experience. He was "only" Seto’s boyfriend. And Seto hadn’t authorized him to make any decisions. But Mokuba was Vice President of Kaiba Corp., and while he understood their concerns, he disagreed with their assessment of Yami’s abilities. He reminded them that Yami was a gamer and a duelist; he understood KC products and their end users. And he knew firsthand about distribution and target markets too, thanks to his time at the Kame Game Shop. So Mokuba couldn’t possibly imagine what objection a loyal Kaiba Corp. employee would have to Yami lending his expertise to such an important project, but of course if they doubted him, they could always try their luck explaining themselves to Seto instead…

As Mokuba wrapped up that call and moved on to another one, Noa tried to turn his attention back to the lines he’d been coding, but his mind remained on the things that Mokuba had said. Despite Yami’s lack of experience, it sounded like he was going to be allowed to take control of the graphics and marketing stuff he’d been looking at. So that meant Mokuba was vouching for Yami now… and since he’d just come back from checking in on Seto, Seto must’ve given his blessing for Yami to be involved too. Well, good for Yami. But that left Noa as the only one who didn’t officially have a role in the company that bore his family name.

The older teen drummed his fingers for a moment. At least the employees weren’t aware of what was going on behind the scenes – he couldn’t imagine how much more of a headache he’d be dealing with if the programming team decided that they didn’t want to work with him because he had no standing in the company. But he was acutely aware now of how tenuous his position was…

"You are useless to me now."

Noa froze. What the hell? Those had been his father’s words to him back in the virtual world, but this time, Seto’s voice was the one whispering them into his ear. But after furtively glancing around, Noa realized that Seto wasn’t even in the room; the door was still closed and Mokuba was still on the phone, showing no sign of having heard anything at all.

"Seto is to blame. Hate him if you have to."

Noa shook his head hard, trying to clear it. Was he going mad? Why was he thinking about his father at a time like this? He couldn’t afford to lose himself in the past if he wanted to successfully prove that he deserved a future at Kaiba Corp. But… what if it doesn’t matter anyways?

His fingers stilled. He had always believed that if he tried hard enough, that if he proved to Seto that he was just as capable as he was, that Seto would eventually concede that he’d earned a position at Kaiba Corp. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if Seto’s distrust of him was so great that he would never get over it? What was he supposed to do then? Swallow his pride and go crawling back to apologize to the man who’d taken over the life that he was supposed to have? Beg forgiveness for having wronged him years ago, just to get into his good graces? Pretend that it didn’t matter that Seto had attacked him without provocation, that it didn’t hurt to know that he would always be the outcast of the "family," that Mokuba would always love Seto more than he could ever care about him…

"Nii-sama and I are a team, and we always will be. He always said we never needed anyone else, because… you just can’t rely on other people."

Noa looked back at the monitor before him, Mokuba’s words echoing in his ears as he stared at the endless lines of game code swimming before his eyes. The MMORPG he’d been working on, "Legends of Duel Monsters," was Kaiba Corp.’s next great product… How easy would it be to simply start deleting lines or entire files, master copies as well as backups, undoing thousands upon thousands of hours of planning and work? It’d almost be like blowing up the virtual world all over again…

There was a sudden pain in his hand, and Noa winced. He looked down, a little surprised to see that his hands were clenched so tightly that his nails were digging into his palm. Forcing himself to relax, he surveyed the damage. Thankfully there was no broken skin, but still…

He was angry, and yet couldn’t let it out. Hurt and frightened, and yet everyone was too busy coddling and fawning over Seto to notice his pain. He felt like he was drowning, like he was being smothered, like he was being crushed under a heavy weight…

What was wrong with him? Why wasn’t he good enough for Mokuba, for Seto… for his father? He knew everyone would say he ought to be grateful that he’d gotten another shot at life, that he shouldn’t rock the boat, but he couldn’t be content with being just an afterthought.

Maybe he was asking for too much. Maybe... He sat back, closing his eyes, feeling tired and disheartened. He didn’t know what to do anymore…

"God damn it!" Mokuba suddenly yelled, causing Noa to practically fall out of his seat. He had almost forgotten that the younger Kaiba was in the room with him.

"Wha… what?"

Mokuba’s eyes met Noa’s for a moment, then retreated back to the phone he had just slammed down. "Sorry. Didn’t meant to startle you."

Meaning it’s none of my business. "Mm."

"I need to take a trip down to corporate," Mokuba said, his voice tight. He began shutting down his laptop without expanding on what was going on, then walked out of the room for a minute. When he came back he had a tie and dress shirt slung over one shoulder and Seto’s briefcase in the other hand. "I hope Seto doesn’t have any ‘surprises’ in here," Mokuba muttered to himself as he placed his computer inside, along with some papers and data discs.


"I’ll be back soon. I’m just going to an executive’s meeting."

A meeting? Of course he wasn’t invited. "Ah."

"I already told Yami too, so you don’t have to worry about that," the black-haired teen told Noa, who was beginning to wonder if Yami would explain things to him if he asked. He’d probably be willing to do that much, provided that Mokuba or Seto hadn’t instructed him against it.

"All right."

Oblivious to Noa’s discomfort, Mokuba flashed a quick half smile, grateful that the other teen wasn’t wasting his time with a bunch of questions or wondering if he could handle things himself. He’d had enough of people second-guessing him, thinking that he was too young to make decisions in Seto’s stead, arguing that he shouldn’t be putting Noa and Yami in charge of their respective projects. If it took an appearance to settle things, to assure all the executives that the company was being as well cared for as their bedridden CEO, then that was exactly what he’d do.

After calling up the security station to have a car and driver ready and waiting, Mokuba hefted the briefcase, nodded at Noa, and then disappeared out the door. Noa watched him go without comment, then saved what he’d been working on before starting up a test copy of the MMORPG. He told himself that he was just checking over his work, but truth be told… he just felt the urge to kill something, and wasn’t that what video games were good for?

* * *

Not again…!

That was Seto’s first fuzzy thought when his vision and mind cleared enough for him to recognize where he was. Goddamn virtual world! I thought we had escaped, or was that just an illusion? Shit…

But after a quick look around, he realized… it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be…

A dream, then?

Oh, it looked just like he remembered: Yami and his clump of followers were standing before him with Noa a short distance away. The sky had darkened into a viscous blackened violet, twisting and morphing to form a likeness of Gozaburo’s visage that loomed over them – the virtual world’s malevolent deity. The air was heavy and thick. He could still feel the way the dust tickled his nostrils each time the virtual wind blew.

But despite all of that, he was pretty certain… it was just a dream. Because a half step behind him stood a teenaged version of himself, clad in the black, silver and white outfit he had donned for Battle City, and by his copy stood an even younger Mokuba, half shielded by the flared fabric of the other Seto’s coat.

Just to make absolutely sure that he was correct in his hypothesis, Seto experimentally flipped off his double, his hand inches away from the other’s face. As expected, there was no reaction at all. He took it a step further and tried to poke the other Seto, and his hand just passed right through. Hn. I guess I’m conveniently invisible then. Wacky dream.

It felt weird to be there and yet not there, able to see everything going on while being unable to interact. But he wasn’t going to complain; at least he didn’t have to worry about dealing with Gozaburo this time.

"I’m so happy to see you, Chichue! I’ve been so lonely."

It was higher pitched than what he’d become accustomed to, but he still readily recognized it as Noa’s voice. Seto turned his head slightly to look at the boy. Noa looked even younger than he had remembered… or had he really been that small back then? He was barely any taller than Mokuba had been at the time.

"You are useless to me now," came Gozaburo’s cold reply, and Seto watched as Noa’s eyes widened in shock.

Strange. He didn’t remember noticing that little detail before. Then again, back then, he’d been singularly focused on Gozaburo, thinking only of the threat the old bastard posed to him and Mokuba. He had barely cared about anyone else at that time, even Yami – so he certainly hadn’t spared a thought for Noa or how he might have felt.

Wondering what else he might’ve missed in his zeal to confront his adoptive father, Seto took a quick look around. Yugi-tachi were all just blinking at Gozaburo’s giant likeness in disbelief. His doppelganger was staring at the man with an intense, unwavering focus. And Mokuba…

Mokuba’s gaze was fixed on Noa. He was giving him a look that was part understanding, part concern, which seemed a little strange considering that just a short time prior, Noa had been manipulating the black-haired boy. And when the younger Kaiba broke free of his brainwashing, Noa had turned both Seto and Mokuba into stone statues. If anything, Mokuba should’ve been looking at Noa with distrust or fear, but he wasn’t. Why?

Seto shook his head, a little surprised and disappointed in himself. He hadn’t exactly noticed Mokuba’s reaction back then either…

At least he remembered the rest of what transpired though. He had challenged Gozaburo to reveal his intentions, knowing that the man would stupidly do so to his own detriment. Gozaburo had always liked listening to himself talk.

And just like he remembered, the crazy old fool immediately began blathering about all sorts of crap: Noa’s death, how he had wanted to turn Seto into a "container" to house Noa’s mind, how Seto had stolen Kaiba Corp. away from him, necessitating a change of plans…

"No way. I was just… being used?" Noa asked in a small voice. Seto spared him another glance as his mind pointed out that that was another utterance he had somehow missed.

"Things have changed. Seto is to blame. Hate him if you have to," Gozaburo suggested.

Noa blinked, then suddenly turned and looked right at Seto, as if he could somehow see him. Maybe he could, even if it was just for a moment. Even though he hadn't expected that, Seto met the boy’s anguished gaze straight on – dream or not, he wasn’t going to back down to anyone. Besides, Gozaburo was wrong. It was his own damn fault that things ended up as they did.

A sudden strong gust of wind kicked up a cloud of dust, forcing the brunette to look away as his vision blurred. He instinctively rubbed at his eyes, trying to clear them. He could hear Gozaburo’s mocking laughter surrounding him, and felt his blood pressure rising from the sound, but when he was finally able to open his eyes again, the bastard was gone. In fact, the entire dusty field they’d been dueling on was gone. There was nothing but stone all around him and the dream versions of Yami and the others.

A cave?

Ah, that’s right, Noa had led them to some sort of cave after their encounter with Gozaburo. They’d been looking for an exit and Noa had said there was some sort of terminal in there that he could try. The green-haired boy was already standing before it, half-muttering to himself like a madman.

"I need to get a body. I’m going back to the real world to run Kaiba Corp with Seto. No, I can’t just follow my father’s instructions. My father doesn’t need me any more," he rambled. He wasn’t making a lot of sense. Probably still in shock over Gozaburo’s betrayal, now that Seto thought about it.

Several voices began rapidly firing questions at Noa, wanting to know about the possibility of other exits, panicking over the prospect of being trapped there forever. Seto couldn’t help but wonder why Jou and Anzu and Honda had even bothered asking when it had been obvious to him even then that Noa wasn’t planning on telling them the truth, or was too crazy to give them a straight answer. He had thought that talking to the kid was a waste of time. He had been partially correct.

Seto looked back at Mokuba, who had that same sad look on his face as before. He obviously felt badly for Noa. But the brunette’s younger doppelganger was a bit less sympathetic, snarling at the kid, assuring him that he wasn’t as easily fooled as the Mutt.

"My father has locked the program. I can’t create an exit here. … Heh… hahaha… why don’t we give up? Why don’t we all stay here, just like my father said? It’s not that bad being here, once you get used to it…"

Mokuba suddenly broke away from the other Seto’s side and ran forward. Seto instinctively moved out of the way as his little brother barreled by to grab Noa by the shoulders, shaking him as the green-haired boy laughed madly. "How can you say that? Gozaburo’s abandoned you too."

Noa’s laughter died down. "It hurts, Mokuba," he plaintively replied in a moment of honesty, his voice low.

Mokuba jumped back as if he’d been burned. "Nii-sama!" he gasped, but it wasn’t directed at Seto or his copy, but at Noa instead. Then the boy shook his head as if even he couldn’t believe that he had just said that.

Seto watched the exchange, astounded. He didn’t remember hearing that part of the conversation before. Was he imagining things, or had he actually heard it back then, and simply not cared?

"Why are you looking at me like that, Mokuba?" Noa went on to ask.

Still looking confused – pained, even – Mokuba abruptly snapped, "It’s nothing," and turned away, but Seto could see clearly… it was still bothering him.

The young CEO frowned as the scene blurred and faded away, leaving him unexpectedly standing in the familiar confines of his corporate office. He wandered to the window and looked out at the dream conjured city far below.

He had always denied it, or at best, waved it off as a joke, but had Mokuba really seen something of him in Noa? Did he still feel that way?

Seto didn’t regret how poorly he had regarded Noa back then – after all, the kid did betray them a short time while later, just as he had predicted – but was he still clinging on to that same image of Noa? Untrustworthy… selfish… Gozaburo’s brat. True, Noa did end up helping them in the end, and while Seto recognized that fact, it hadn’t been enough to change his mind about him – the kid had probably done it just to get revenge on his father or something. And so once they had escaped the undersea fortress, Seto didn’t spare him much thought. Noa had been more of an inconvenience than anything… Seto had refused to acknowledge him beyond that, lest he give the boy’s memory any power over him.

Of course, he hadn’t expected to see Noa again after that, so it had been easy enough to forget about him at first. Seto still had no clue why Mokuba had grabbed the hard drive that Noa had copied himself onto, and was at even more of a loss to explain how Shadi’s stupid magic had ended up affecting the item when all he'd been there to do was to mess with the Puzzle. But regardless of the… inexplicability of it all, he had dealt with the situation the best he could.

Since he and Mokuba had been the closest thing to relatives that Noa had had – and Seto hadn’t wanted the kid out of his sight anyway – it had made sense for him to take custody of Noa back then. He had figured if things didn’t work out, he always had the option to keep the brat under lock and key or something. But, amazingly, Noa had behaved himself… most of the time. Well enough at least to not get him locked away. And then Yami had come along, and Seto had sorta forgotten about Noa again, until the entire incident at prom had come up.

Mokuba liked – well, more than liked – Noa. Yami liked him too. Seto had thought that it would be enough to simply share their feelings, and thus had never bothered examining his own. But now he had to admit… he was wrong. The uncertainty, the ambiguity they were dealing with now…

He suddenly threw his head back and laughed at himself. Was he really trying to solve his problems… while dreaming? Wait, he was sick too, wasn’t he? Even better… maybe he was just losing his mind. Or perhaps just his inhibitions.

But… Yami had been right. This was between him and Noa. Just as he couldn’t expect Yami and Mokuba to magically get along by using him as a buffer, he was being unfair in expecting them to moderate things between Noa and himself.

He just had to figure out the best way to handle it. He needed to talk to Noa, though he supposed the kid… the teen, was still leery of him. Perhaps Yami would be useful in setting something up…

That decided, Seto pushed away from the window he’d been standing at, then with a smirk, turned and headed for his desk. Since he was already busy problem solving, he figured he ought to take advantage of the fact that he had somehow dreamt himself into his office and get some work done while he was there. At least Yami couldn’t yell at him for it… after all, he was technically resting. Just like the doctor had ordered.

* * *


Author’s Notes:

May 16, 2008