Title: Sixteen (Going on Seventeen)
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: 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: After four years of high school, Mokuba and Noa have earned more than just a diploma.
Status: 7/7
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

Setup for this particular fic:

* * *

Valediction

Sixteen (Going on Seventeen) Series

* * *

Seto had never been much of a movie or television watcher. But he’d seen enough in passing to assume that he knew everything about high school. Graduation was either a happy event with people singing and dancing with carefree abandon, or something a little more solemn and boring, with throngs of teens in matching robes moving about like a marching band.

What he hadn’t expected was something more like an outdoor concert or play, with the "actors" – the grads – loosely lined up in pairs, snapping photos of one another and yelling greetings to nearby acquaintances, waiting to be released onto the field like cattle in a stockyard. The friends and family attending weren’t all that much better; they were a noisy bunch too, packed into the bleachers, lined up shoulder to shoulder along the fence ringing the stadium, as they eagerly awaited the start of the ceremony.

Knowing that Seto didn’t like crowds, Yugi had advised that they group up elsewhere. And so they had ended up on a sparsely populated little knoll that overlooked the far end of the stadium, under a large pine tree. Sugoroku had brought a heavy blanket for them to sit on, as if they were having a family picnic. Well, more like a semi-dysfunctional family picnic…

"It’s bad business practice to close the shop for the day," Seto was muttering. "You should’ve left the Mutt at home to guard the house."

Sugoroku just gave Seto a tolerant smile. He knew the brunette didn’t actually mean that… he was, as always, thinking about how things were going at his own company. Besides, it was hard to take anything he was saying seriously when he was bouncing Jou’s two-year-old daughter Hitomi on his lap while trying to check text messages over her head.

Of course Jou couldn’t help but bark back, "Shut up, it’s not like you’re at work neither."

Seto held up his phone and smirked.

The blonde snorted. The second the ceremony began, he was pretty sure that that phone would get turned off. "’Sides, it’s nice to get a break once in a while. Bein’ at the shop isn’t bad, ‘specially since it lets me take care of my little girl, but lifting furniture and heavy boxes…" He gave a slight shake of his head. Although he was pretty strong, being a mover was hard work. "Yeah, it’s nice havin' the day off," Jou repeated. He glanced at the man standing off to the side of the group. "Bet it’s nice for ya too, right?"

Isono slowly nodded. "I’m honored to be attending Mokuba and Noa’s graduation."

Jou couldn’t help but snicker. Even though Isono was there as a… what was he, a family friend? - he sounded so formal, as if he were still on duty. Jou wondered if he ever loosened up. Or maybe he was so unused to having an afternoon off, being always at his boss’ beck and call, that he didn’t know any other way to act.

Yami looked over at Jou, then at Isono, and grinned. His thoughts were similar to Jou’s: to this day, he didn’t know Isono’s schedule as it seemed the man was always working. But it wouldn’t have been right to go without him or to make him attend to his duties through such an event. He really thought of Isono as part of the extended family, like a patient uncle or something… quietly watching over them while keeping enough of a distance that Seto didn’t mind it.

Of course, if any issues did arise, Isono would be back on duty, regardless of the occasion… or his attire. The man was currently dressed in a dark blue polo shirt with the company logo stitched on it, the sort of thing that got handed out at company events, and carefully pressed khakis. Yami wondered if he’d bought them specifically for the occasion, since he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the chief of security in anything but a suit.

Seto was acting like Isono was still on the clock though, or maybe even like he’d never seen him before in his life. The two of them hadn’t exchanged so much as a greeting. Yet they didn’t seem at all bothered by it, even if it made everyone around them feel obligated to make up for the silence between them.

"I’m sure the boys will be very happy that you came," Sugoroku said to him, feeling the need to say something since Seto wouldn’t.

Isono simply nodded again.

Before anyone could try and get the conversation rolling once more, the speakers crackled and a woman’s voice announced the start of the ceremony. Everyone turned their attention to the field as the familiar melody of "Pomp and Circumstance" began playing…

"Oh good, it’s starting!" Yugi sprang up and ran to the fence, straining to see all the way across the stadium as the grads began their slow march onto the field. He couldn’t make out Mokuba or Noa amongst the sea of robes and mortarboards but it was pretty safe to assume they were the pair heading the line.

"Man, it feels like it was just last week when it was our turn down there, right Yugi?" Jou said with a smile as he joined his friend by the railings. It really felt like that, and yet years had passed and he’d grown so much. Hitomi got up and ran over to him, wanting a boost so she could see what was going on, and he picked his daughter up and hugged her to his chest.

Yugi grinned at them. "Mmhmm."

"Before you know it, little Hitomi will be down there too. Kids grow up so fast," Sugoroku said with a chuckle and a sigh.

"Bleah, don’t say that. No way am I ready!" Jou laughed as everyone else joined him and Yugi. Then he glanced over and Seto’s expression caught his attention. Now that the taller duelist didn’t have a phone to hide behind, he looked a little… off. Jou thought about it. He wouldn’t normally feel sorry for Seto no matter the situation, but he couldn’t imagine being in his position right now. Yes, Jou had watched his sister graduate three years earlier, but that wasn’t the same - he’d never thought of himself as her guardian or anything like that. He hadn't been the one raising her.

Although Seto felt Jou staring at him, he didn’t bother to meet his gaze. "I’m still amazed they let you graduate," Seto said, but his tone was so mild it barely registered as an insult.

"We can’t all be dropouts," Jou replied dryly. "But hey, look at it this way. You finally made it to graduation."

Jou expected Seto to get fired up, to make a snappy comeback and get in the last word as he always did, but the brunette didn’t say anything for a good minute. Then he finally turned and gave the blonde a look. "Why are you here anyways?"

"What’s wrong with me wanting to see your brothers graduate?"

Seto ground his teeth a little, inexplicably irritated. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but at the same time, didn’t Jounouchi have other things he needed to do? Like the rest of the gang... they’d be celebrating with them on Friday night. After all, even the guests of honor wouldn’t be available later this evening… they were planning on attending the Grad Night party along with the rest of the students.

"They’re my friends too, ya know. I didn’t just do it for a day off. I wanted to come," Jou told him sincerely.

The young CEO looked back out at the field. The graduates were quickly filling in the seats, like dominos falling into place along a track. Other than that, there wasn’t much else going on yet.

Maybe it wasn’t Jou at all. Seto had felt a nagging sense of unease all day… no, all week, but he’d thought if he’d kept it at a distance, it’d just fade away on it’s own. He thought about Jou’s earlier jibe. He’d heard it all before of course, about how he hadn’t managed to finish high school, but for some reason it stung more than usual.

Just as graduation wasn’t what he’d thought it’d be, being a high school student hadn’t conformed to his expectations either. He didn’t even remember what had motivated him to try it in the first place…Yami had called it fate, that they were destined to have met. He supposed he could accept that, if pressed to pick a reason. It was better than thinking that he had snapped after overhearing one too many nasty comments made behind his back at Kaiba Corp.

He remembered that his first impressions hadn't been good. The curriculum had been lacking, moreso than he’d expected. He remembered thinking that he’d been more qualified to teach the classes than most of the teachers! And the student body hadn’t been much better, just a hodgepodge of random kids stuffed into classrooms for several hours of the day, like wild animals in a pen. The bullies had tried to pick on him the first few days, thinking he’d be an easy target as a soft bellied, rich brat, but Seto had put them in their place quickly. He’d put the other kids in their place too; he hadn’t wanted to be their lunch buddy, their study partner, their teammate. After that, everyone had left him alone - even the teachers – and he’d thought that was just fine.

But… he’d been left with the strange feeling that he was missing out on something, though he hadn’t been able to figure it out no matter how much he’d tried to analyze it. Surely it couldn’t have been stupid things like school dances or football games, hallway gossip or lunches in the cafeteria. He hadn’t the interest or time for such frivolities. But before he’d found the answer, well, he’d ended up at the Kame Game Shop and had that first, disastrous duel against Yami. After that, revenge had taken over his every thought, spreading through his mind like cancer. School had no place in his life after that.

… Why on Earth then, had he wanted to see Noa and Mokuba in school? Certainly they’d have gotten just as good an education… no, far better, from private tutors. And on top of that, why had they asked to go to Domino High, knowing the level of mediocrity there?

The loudspeakers crackled again, then screeched. Like a lot of other people, Seto looked up at it in annoyance, wrinkling his nose slightly. But at least it had gotten his attention at an opportune moment. A district representative was asking for everyone’s attention for the start of the ceremony. And beside him was Mokuba, ready to take the mike and address the grads as their class salutatorian.

Listening to the confidence in his little brother’s voice once he began speaking, the brunette relaxed a little. Mokuba was a talented speaker and had a charisma that made people want to listen to him, even if all he was doing was spouting random, rose-tinted thoughts about the great times they’d had in high school. Seto remembered Mokuba saying that he and Noa had decided to work together on their speeches to avoid overlapping subjects… apparently Mokuba had settled on good memories as his topic.

Seto glanced over at the other young men standing next to him. Jou was grinning like an idiot, as if he understood everything Mokuba was talking about, as if he too had gone to prom and been crowned king, or seen his grades top the lists posted outside the classrooms. And Yugi had a fond, wistful smile on his face, which seemed an odd reaction considering he’d been bullied and teased during his years in school. Even Yami, who had only "attended" high school because Yugi had carried the Puzzle everywhere with him, was nodding along like Mokuba had uncovered some of his long lost memories.

Seto shut his eyes a moment. The elder Kaiba still didn’t think he’d missed that much. But he had to admit, Mokuba managed to make high school sound like the most awesome, most fun thing a teenager could go through. It almost made him feel a little nostalgic for the things he’d never known.

The teens had been asked to keep their speeches fairly short, around 10 minutes between the two of them, so before Seto knew it, Mokuba was wrapping up. Seto joined in clapping for his brother, then laughed along with the crowd as one of Mokuba’s classmates called out a last minute love confession to him. Used to the attention, Mokuba didn’t bat an eyelash at all; he just gave the girl a smile and a wave, then introduced Noa as the green-haired teen stepped up to the podium for the valediction.

Noa waited until the laughter died down, then launched his speech, "The Road to the Future," a not-so-subtle nod to Seto’s direction in life. And while he didn’t have the same charm as Mokuba – he didn’t care about catering to the crowd; he was a little too blunt with his wording – everyone still gave him their full attention. He was well spoken and had an air of authority about him, sounding far more mature than his age would indicate. It was appropriate then that Noa started off talking about college and continued education, since he, Mokuba and many of their classmates were headed down that route. But once again Seto found his thoughts drifting a little…

Considering how badly his high school career had gone, Seto had never considered enrolling in college. He just hadn’t seen the point in bothering when he'd been getting by just fine with out it; he hadn’t had the time to spare. Maybe that’s why he’d had problems getting his brothers to commit to going…

When he had first brought it up, Mokuba had been less than enthused. Apparently he had planned to immediately jump into his role as Vice President of Kaiba Corp., full time, the day after he graduated. College hadn’t been in his plans at all. But Yami had gently urged him to reconsider… Mokuba would have all the time in the world to be Vice President. He’d only get one chance to step out into the world as a young adult, to take the path his big brother hadn’t had the luxury of taking.

Noa hadn’t been so set in his plans. He had only said that he’d wanted to go where Mokuba went. But when Yami had pulled him aside, Noa admitted that he was confused about what he’d want for himself. He’d wanted very much to prove himself at Kaiba Corp., but at the same time he’d wanted to prove himself scholastically as well.

So Yami had asked the teens to take a little time to consider their options, then called for a family meeting a few days later. The four of them had sat down at that time and discussed the possibilities, from not going at all, to local colleges and universities, to world-renowned institutions like Cambridge and Yale. Mokuba had made it clear then – he had no intention of moving out… he’d promised years ago that he’d never leave, if that was what his big brother wanted. Seto had wanted to let him out of that promise, if that was what was holding him back, but Yami had stopped him, though he’d never given more explanation than, "The promise wasn’t made only for your sake."

In the end, they’d settled on a compromise that they could all live with: Mokuba and Noa would apply to Domino University. It wasn’t quite the world ranked university Seto had been hoping for, but at least the school had decent business and information technology programs. And a part-time schedule would enable the teens to make steady progress towards their degrees while allowing them to put in a good number of hours at Kaiba Corp., as they wished.

Seto sighed. Even with the added burden of school, they had wanted to follow in his footsteps. He could only hope he’d sufficiently cleared the path before them.

Sometimes he wondered if he’d done enough to move past the person he had been. But then Yami’s arm slipped around his waist and his automatically moved to mimic the gesture, and he permitted himself a small smile. He was grateful for the reminder; the person he’d been would’ve never let anyone get that close, especially someone like Yami, who’d both infuriated and attracted him from the instant they met. And suddenly he was grateful too for his few months at Domino High School, for having made that meeting possible.

It seemed that they’d barely begun leaning into each other when Noa started winding down his speech; he had to keep the body of it a bit shorter to fit in his closing, a heartfelt thanks to each member of his family for taking him in, supporting him, caring about him. Seto’s smile grew a little as the crowd sent Noa off with a nice round of applause, and then he took another glance around. Everyone in the immediate area that hadn’t yet gotten to the railing was now moving towards it, and there was a heightened sense of anticipation that he hadn’t felt earlier.

With the student speeches over, Principal Takenaka stepped up to the podium to preside over the actual graduation. The grads stood up on cue, nearly bouncing from their seats in excitement, and then on command from the principal, they all moved their tassels from right to left on their caps. Before the principal had even finished congratulating them and presenting them to the crowd, a few students were letting loose with hoots and hollers. It was infectious… within seconds it seemed the entire mass of former high school students were screaming and hugging and throwing their caps in the air. A beach ball and half dozen paper airplanes seemed to materialize out of nowhere, joining the mortarboards on their short-lived flights.

"It’s that simple huh?" Seto found himself asking no one in particular as they watched the pricipal dismiss the graduates and wish them well one last time. For some reason he’d thought the entire thing would be more drawn out. But at least the celebratory atmosphere fit his expectations.

"Uh, yeah. It’s *just* high school, right?" Jou drawled with a roll of the eyes.

Once again, Seto didn’t snap back with the final word. Instead he turned his attention back to the field, squinting a little, as he tried to make out which of the robed teens were his brothers. But it didn’t take too much searching to find them… While many of the graduates remained on the field with their classmates, celebrating, Mokuba and Noa had steadily made their way through the crowd, sprinkling quick, temporary goodbyes as they went. And they were now heading up the ramp at the back of the stadium to join up with their family and friends, reclaimed caps in hand. Mokuba was already shaking his hair loose from his ponytail, though Noa opted to keep his shorter tail in check, neat as always.

Seto didn’t know what to say to them exactly. He needed time to think. But to his relief he didn’t have to find the words right away. Yugi and Jou were the first to rush towards them, yelling their congratulations as soon as the pair reached the top of the ramp. Sugoroku and Isono also stepped forward, but were a little more reserved, waiting with proud smiles and congratulatory handshakes. Isono had to add a bow too of course, respectful as always. Then Yami hugged both teens to him and told them their speeches were excellent; he told them they did well, that he was so proud of them and loved them. And then, finally, he released them to Seto.

The brunette nodded slowly at both teens standing before him, then he opened his arms to them. A firm hug and a quiet, "Good job, both of you," was sufficient; there wasn’t anything more to say that hadn’t already been said, and they both understood how he felt anyhow.

Noa was the first to straighten up and pull away, though he lingered long enough to keep it from being awkward. He looked really pleased with himself, and pretty relaxed. Mokuba’s expression, when he’d stepped back as well, was a little more hard to define. He was happy of course, but his eyes were a little shiny, as if he might’ve cried if Seto had drawn things out and made a bigger deal of it.

"So what’s the plan, man?" Jou asked once it looked like they were done with the family bonding bit. He only knew that they weren’t getting together to celebrate with Yugi-tachi, at least, not yet. Not until Friday rolled around and everyone was available.

Noa gave him his typical half smirk, half smile, then said to Yami and Seto, "Don’t wait up, we probably won’t be home tonight."

"Oh? Staying for the Grad Night party?" Yugi asked. He vaguely remembered attending his. He and his friends had stayed up and had fun until they all pretty much fell asleep on the floor near the Fine Arts wing. By the time the chaperones for the night had gone around and woken everyone up, it was already dawn. They’d helped one another to Sugoroku’s station wagon, which Yugi had borrowed for the night, and headed to their respective homes for some real, restful sleep.

Noa gave a half shrug. "Figured we might as well make an appearance. It’d look bad if the student council president and secretary, slash winter formal prince and prom king, slash valedictorian and salutatorian, didn’t make it to the party."

"Gosh, we get it already," said Jou, rolling his eyes. Yes yes, Noa and Mokuba were overachievers. And Noa especially didn’t mind reminding everyone of that. "You’re worse than your brother."

Noa’s grin widened.

"Well, I’m really happy everyone came, and we don’t mean to say hi and run, but we kinda have to get going…" Mokuba suddenly said.

"Already?" Sugoroku asked. He tried to get a glimpse of Seto’s reaction but the breeze had blown Seto’s bangs over his eyes.

Some of the other graduates were starting to wander in their direction, waving and hailing Mokuba and Noa. The younger Kaibas waved back. "Yeah. Grad Night won’t start until after dinner, but we volunteered to help do some set up," Mokuba explained. "It was a last minute thing."

"Our class vice president messed up on planning," Noa added. Under his breath he muttered, "I knew I should’ve done it myself."

Yami smiled and nodded. "All right, have a good time then. Call us if you need anything of course."

"We will," Mokuba promised. Then he looked at his brother and waited for Seto to give him the go ahead to leave, in case there was anything he wanted to talk about before they left.

Seto just nodded. He still couldn’t say anything. He was suddenly having a hard time keeping his thoughts straight. Noa was already 18; Mokuba would match that in less than a month…

Mokuba quickly turned to his classmates and told them he’d be along in just a minute, laughing as they began tugging Noa away instead, then turned back to Seto. The elder Kaiba had looked a little distracted moments earlier, but now he had his game face back on. Which might’ve been normal if he were at work, but at a graduation… Mokuba’s eyes lingered on his brother’s face a minute, trying to tease out what he might’ve been hiding, if anything, but the other teens were already getting antsy.

"Go on, Mokuba," Seto finally said. He had put his arm back around Yami’s shoulders, but kept his grip loose and relaxed. It appeared that he was already working through whatever was on his mind, though Yami kept looking up at him as if he weren’t completely convinced of that yet.

Mokuba gave a nod, but didn’t move away just yet. He reached out to lightly touch Seto’s wrist, and whispered, "Thanks, Nii-sama."

"Mokuba, come on already!" Noa called out. He was already heading back towards the school with the other volunteers who had come to fetch them.

"Yeah, I’m coming!" Mokuba yelled back. He quickly flashed Seto his brightest smile, though his eyes were starting to feel a little watery again. But he held himself together, took a moment to tell Yugi and everyone else, "And again, thank you all for coming! Really… you guys are all awesome," before running after Noa and blending back in to the sea of graduates.

* * *

~ OWARI ~

Author’s Notes:

October 7, 2011