"Spare me your measly excuses. Either you get me the prototype by tomorrow or you lose your job."
The balding, weak-chinned man before him quivered, as was right for any one in his position to do before the wrath of Seto Kaiba.
"But, sir, tomorrow's Christmas." He sounded weak and, to the irate CEO, somewhat ball-less.
"All the more reason that I should have it done. I don't want to worry about your sorry overdue excuse for a controller for my gaming system to clog up my already busy season. Do you have any idea what Christmas is for companies like ours?"
"It's hell. Every little brat out there wants a video game system and every cheapskate parent is going to be calling in expecting us to expect every little problem their spoiled child comes up with in their new present."
"But, sir, couldn't that just be left to the administration?"
"You'd think, wouldn't you? But that's not all, there's last minute sales to watch, stocks to upkeep, systems to fine tune-"
"What does my prototype have to do with-"
"It's added stress, you nimrod, and don't interrupt me." Seto turned on his heel to step back behind his desk, which he slapped with the palm of his hand, making the other man jump. "Prototype on my desk by ten a.m, Mr. Whitaker, or you're just adding your next paycheck to cleaning up your dismal resume."
The man's balding head gleamed in Kaiba's office light. "Yes, sir. Of course, sir."
Mr. Whitaker didn't need any encouragement. He scurried out like a mouse running from a ravenous cat. Seto stared at the closed door for a long moment before pinching the bridge of his nose and plopping back into his office chair with a sigh. The idiots just never stopped coming. You'd think humanity would figure it out after all this time that neutering the especially challenged would only improve life for the rest of them. Hitler was on to something with that whole 'pure race' stuff. If only he hadn't gone all holocaust people might have actually considered what he had to say.
Rubbing his eyes against the growing headache, he moved on to his next assignment for the day. Numbers and request forms passed by his eyes, and he went through them mechanically, trying to ignore the throb in his head. Through the western, glass wall of his office, he barely noticed the sun setting before his secretary came in to excuse herself for the night. He glanced at the time. 5:46.
"It's not quite 8." he said. "Your shift is not yet over."
The secretary didn't even bother to turn around when she said, "It's Christmas Eve, Mr. Kaiba. I have a date with my fiance."
He frowned. "I did not excuse you."
"Then you're going to have to, because I've been planning this for weeks."
"Then you should have informed me."
"I did." she glanced at him over her shoulder. "You declined, sir. Told me you didn't pay me to waste my time playing romance."
"Ah," that sounded like him.
"And if you have any problem with it, then I'm afraid I'm going to have to quit."
Kaiba gritted his teeth, but stopped quickly when he felt the tensed jaw muscles aggravate the throb in his head. He couldn't have that. It had taken him years to find a secretary of her competence, and she knew it. If this wasn't the first time, he would have fired her anyways for using that against him to get what she wanted. He would not be controlled.
But this was the first time.
"Fine." He turned back to his monitor.
"I'll see you on Monday, sir. Merry Christmas."
With that, she walked out, and Seto was left to glare at his numbers. Some time later, when the frost dusted city outside gleamed with lights, he gave up on trying to ignore the now blooming migraine and got up to hunt down some aspirin. When he came back to his desk, a cup of coffee in one hand and an aspirin in the other, he found his eighteen year old brother spinning himself around in his chair. In appearances, Mokuba had transformed over the years from a baby faced child to a nearly perfect dark haired, softer, more hipster version of Seto. On the other hand, besides the deepening crease in between his eyebrows, Seto hadn't changed at all.
"Don't you have some deadline to get to?"
"Finals were last week, Seto, and since you forgot to ask, I aced them."
Seto sighed, more wearily this time. "I'm sorry. Things always get hectic around this season. It's hell."
"So hire someone else to do it." his brother stopped his turning with a designer shoe, his lips pursed and his eyes narrowed in a classic Kaiba glare. "When are you going to listen to me when I say you can't do everything? You're job's eating you alive, and you're letting it."
"It wouldn't be if I weren't surrounded by idiots."
"People aren't as stupid as you think."
"I beg to differ." Seto popped the aspirin and put the coffee to his lips. "What are you doing here anyways?"
"What I do every time I'm here nowadays: convince you to get your workaholic ass back home."
"I don't appreciate your language."
Mokuba snorted. "I'm not ten anymore. I'm also inviting Kristy over for Christmas dinner tomorrow, and I want you to meet her."
Seto didn't even have to think. "No."
"No dinner, and no girlfriend."
His little brother bristled. "Why not? It's my house too."
"Because you go through girls like Wheeler goes through life points in a duel with me, not to mention she's more than likely a gold digger who'll pilfer my house for all its worth."
Mokuba growled deep in his throat. "She's for real this time."
"You haven't changed at all."
Seto raised an eyebrow. "Changed from what?"
But Mokuba just shook his head, running a hand through his bangs and slicked back, long hair. "Fine, big brother. Can we still have dinner? It is Christmas, after all."
"Yes. But I have work tomorrow, so it will have to be late."
His jaw dropped. "Work? Gawd, Seto, not even trash collector's work on Christmas."
"And trash collector's also don't have a multi-billion dollar fortune to call their own, do they?"
"Lot of good it's doing you." Mokuba kicked himself up from his chair. Before Seto could stop him, his brother leaned over and snapped his laptop closed. At the look on his big brother's face, Mokuba smirked. "I'm not budging on this one. You're coming home with me right now or I'm sticking your fingers in warm water while you're asleep again."
And since his brother just so happened to live under the same roof as him still and knew where he slept, Seto clenched his jaw tight and poured the rest of his coffee down the sink in the corner of his office. If the boy would just move out already...
Down in the parking lot, Mokuba had already called up the chauffeur and a limo idled in the parking lot. He jabbered about college and his studies with something reminiscent to the hyperactivity he had when he was younger, and Seto listened idly. The chatter wasn't good for his headache. He couldn't very well tell his brother to shut up, though.
Something with a mallet started banging against the back of his eyes. He winced.
Mokuba blinked at him. "Huh?"
"Shut up. Please. I have a headache."
"Oh, sorry." And even though he was suppose to be a legal adult now, full grown man and all that stuff, Seto didn't miss the hurt in his eyes.
Then the mallet started hitting harder and he found it hard to care. Sure, he loved his brother, but gah, the pain. And he still had things he needed to finish before he could turn in for the night. Damn this holiday season. Damn those greedy bastards that made his life a pain so they could satisfy their stupid kids, their stupid gaming addictions—which he didn't mind, he did make a living off of it after all. Just not all at once, all on a single day! Who made up this stupid holiday anyways? Certainly not Jesus. Seto had read the Bible, and not once did that man say to spend superfluous amounts of money getting people junk they didn't need.
And no, he didn't feel like really answering that question. He just wanted someone to beat over the head with an actual mallet so they could feel the pain their accursed holiday was now giving him.
He didn't realize they had reached home until Mokuba was opening up the door from the garage and dropping his backpack unceremoniously on the mudroom counter. Groaning at the pain making his eyes water, Seto plopped down on a bench and went to tearing off his shoes.
"I'll get you some aspirin." said Mokuba.
Before Seto could tell him he had already taken some, and that it just had yet to kick in, Mokuba was out and Seto found himself alone in the polished pine lined mudroom. He turned back to reach his other shoe. Then he stood, took off his trench coat, and turned to a peg on the wall. The maids could come back and take care of it for him.
Wait. Something wasn't right with that coat hanger. Where before was a dark bronze peg, there was now a sculpted face of a severe man with thick eyebrows and a sharp mustache. His blood ran cold. What sick bastard had broke into his house and replaced one of his coat hangers with a miniature death mask of his dead step father? Did they suppose to scare him? Unnerve him?
But even as Seto made to reach for his cell phone to call security, the eyes of the bronze Gozaburo face moved into a snarl. And then it unmistakably, impossibly, spoke.
That voice opened doors in Seto's soul he had had closed for more than a decade, and their opening froze him in place like they had when he was a child. His heart sped to a raucous pound and cold sweat beaded out over his skin.
He jumped. Mokuba had his head poked into the mudroom, frowning.
"You okay? You look a little freaked out."
Blinking hard, Seto looked back to the peg to find nothing by an ordinary coat hanger. He inwardly cursed. Damn migraine was making him hallucinate now! That's all he needed. Maybe it had been a good thing that Mokuba forced him to come home.
"I'm fine. Just got a little light headed for a minute."
"That headache must be bad. Do you want me to call the doctor?"
"I'll be fine."
"You don't look fine."
At that tone, Mokuba dropped the subject like fire and made like snow on a summer's day.
After a few more doses of pain killer, his headache finally started to dull enough for him to snap open his laptop (ignoring the glares of his brother), and finish a few more calculations concerning some reports of the market between different consoles and gameplay. By the time he looked up again, Mokuba had already head to bed and he was left alone to his living room, since, for once, he hadn't bothered to hole himself in his office. He figured it had been a strategic move on his part to keep his brother from nagging him.
Yawning, he head up to get ready for bed. He felt exhausted, which wasn't new. It was part of his state of being that he never really paid much attention to. The toothpaste was his favorite cinnamon mint, the covers had already been turned down for him on his bed, and his silky pajamas made a sort of light show of static when he slipped in between the sheets. But just as he reached up to turn off the light on his bedside table, movement in the corner of his eye made him stop. It hadn't been much more than a shadow, but he turned to check anyways.
His stomach jumped into his lungs.
There, in a corner, stood a figure, hidden by the shadows of his dimly lit room. The shape of the man's shoulder's and his height was frighteningly familiar.
"Who are you?" Seto threw back the covers. "To hell with that, get out of my house!"
"Your house? Presumptuous and spoiled, as usual."
He couldn't breathe. His breath had frozen in his lungs. He tried to catch his horror before it could show, but he could already feel his face contorting and his mouth opening to scream. The black figure puffed out a single, dry chuckle.
"What kind of look is that for your beloved father?"
And with the sound of chains tinkling behind him, Gozaburo Kaiba stepped out from his shadows and into the light of Seto's small bedside lamp.