“I shouldn’t be telling you this.”
Root stared at Councilwoman Vinyáya, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He had traveled back to Haven overnight, in the hopes of overhearing information on the Council’s decision. And now he had.
“A couple of the fairies in the science department have ascertained that the Magic Mud Men might not respond to the mind-wiping technology,” Vinyáya said in an undertone. “The ones with real power, anyway.”
“Which ones might not respond?” Root demanded, also in a low voice.
“Seto Kaiba and Ryou Bakura probably not. Yugi Mutou definitely not.”
“What about the other two?”
Vinyáya hesitated for a moment. “Ishizu and Marik are the wild cards. There are some who postulate that none of the Mud Men will respond.”
“But that doesn’t make sense!” Root growled, his face going beet-red. “No Mud Man in human history has been immune to a mind- wipe!”
Vinyáya shrugged. “Foaly researched the power of the Millennium Items a little more. Apparently, one of the powers that have been attributed to them is resistance to magic, especially mind control.”
“Foaly mentioned something to that effect,” Root ground out between clenched teeth. “But how certain is it?”
“More than the majority of the Council is willing to risk.” When Root’s face reddened still further, she put up her hands in a defensive gesture. “Relax, Commander. I’m on your side.”
“Relax. Sure.” Root took a couple of deep (and highly ineffectual) breaths. “Okay, I’m calm. What did the Council decide?”
“We can’t risk an attack on the People, Root,” she said quietly.
“There’s that pesky “we,” Councilwoman.”
“Control yourself, Commander,” Vinyáya said sternly. “Brug has suggested the use of a bio-bomb.”
“A bio-bomb?” Root’s head was spinning. There was no way to protect Yugi and Pharaoh against that. Even if he was still willing to destroy his career and alienate the People by trying.
“There are other options on the table of course,” Vinyáya said in a matter-of-fact tone. “The use of a LEP squad is always a possibility, but given your…spirited defense of the Mud Men earlier, The Ferret has been circulating doubts about your…ability to do this particular job.”
Root raised his eyebrows. “The Ferret?”
Vinyáya looked slightly embarrassed. “Councilman Vox.”
They both chuckled. It helped relieve the tension. But the tone quickly became serious again. Root pulled out a cigar and lit it, inhaling deeply in an attempt to steady his head. Vinyáya wrinkled her nose, but made no other comment.
“I, along with Hagen, have been advocating attempting the mind-wipe procedure first, before further action is taken,” she continued. “But I’m afraid the others, Vox and Brug especially, are determined to strike quickly. Bakura discovering our existence has just made things worse. He’s…not entirely stable.”
“He’s the incarnation of an ancient Egyptian tomb robber,” Root said almost absently. After his distinct lack of knowledge at the last Council meeting, he had wrung every last bit of information about the Mud Men from Foaly that the centaur had gathered. With only a small use of unnecessary violence.
“So I’ve heard.”
“I think the bio-bomb is the most likely,” Vinyáya said after a while. “Clean, contained, with no unnecessary officers involved. What I need is time to convince the Council that either the Mud Men are not a threat, or that we should at least attempt the mind-wipe procedure first.”
“Time?” Root asked, fighting hard to keep his tone neutral.
Vinyáya met his eyes. “Time.”
Slowly, a smile spread across Root’s craggy face. In her own way, Vinyáya was giving him permission to keep his promise.
“It will be dangerous,” Vinyáya said seriously. “If Vox and Brug send a bio-bomb, you might not be able to stop it.”
Root shrugged. “You’ll get your time.”
She looked at him intently. Then she smiled. “I know I will. Good luck.”
Without another word, Root left the room. He would have to hurry if he wanted to get back to Domino City that day. He had Mud Men to look after.
“A bio-bomb?” Yugi was sitting by his window again, his school backpack lying forgotten by his feet. The boy looked tired to Holly, like he hadn’t slept very much last night. His violet eyes were dull. “What is that?”
“Basically,” Holly said, “It’s an explosive that’s designed to only destroy biological matter. It doesn’t affect buildings or…anything else, actually.”
Yugi smiled wryly. “The perfect weapon. Nice and tidy.” He thought about that for a moment, then said, “What can I do about it?”
“We,”Holly corrected firmly. “Are going to talk to Artemis Fowl. He’s the only Mu…human that I’ve ever met that’s managed to escape a blue rinse. The commander and I are going to protect you, Yugi.”
“Thanks,” Yugi said tiredly. He managed a wane smile. “I really appreciate it, Captain Short.”
Holly smiled back. “Holly.”
The boy’s smile became a little more genuine. “Thanks…Holly.”
It looks like you’re finally getting those nightmares, Holly thought, feeling her heart clench. Was the Puzzle worth it, Yugi?
“Always,” Yugi said with a yawn, bending down to pick up his backpack.
Holly was thunderstruck. “What?”
The boy looked back at her, violet eyes wide. “You didn’t say that out loud?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, looking flustered. “I sometimes…well, sometimes I can…I don’t know…pick up on really strong thoughts. Feelings, really. I don’t see words, just get impressions.” He looked positively contrite. “I’m really sorry. I…I can’t always control it.”
Careful Yugi… the Pharaoh warned.
“Pharaoh can,” Yugi added hastily.
“You can read minds?” Holly demanded.
He shook his head. “Not really. Like I said, it’s only impressions. You were feeling sorry for me, and there was kind of a…I don’t know…questioning to the feeling, like you were wondering if the Puzzle was worth it.” He sighed. “I’m not explaining this well.”
“No, it’s fine. I understand,” Holly assured him quickly, though she was more than a little unnerved.
Yugi sighed again. “It’s kind of a new thing.”
Holly was intrigued. “You mean Pharaoh’s power is getting stronger somehow?”
“Well, I think we’re getting closer to discovering his true name,” Yugi said matter-of-factly. “So, I guess it might be.”
Holly frowned. Root had said something about Pharaoh not knowing his true name, but how would that correspond to his magic? Unless…
“Yugi, can you access the Pharaoh’s full powers?” she asked.
“We share everything,” Yugi replied evasively.
“That’s not what I asked,” Holly said, staring straight into his face. “What aren’t you telling me?”
With a golden glow, the Pharaoh took over the body. Those supremely confident violet eyes bored into Holly’s own. “Quite a bit, I imagine, Captain. But I’m not simply going to trust you with my secrets. Not until I have a bit more proof that I can trust you at all.”
Holly glared, her temper piqued. “The commander and I are protecting you, against orders from our own people!” she snapped. “How is that not proof that you can trust us?”
Pharaoh’s gaze softened ever so slightly. “Be patient. I appreciate what you’re doing for us. Just be patient.”
Holly hmmphed, slightly mollified.
Pharaoh seemed about to say something else, but just at that moment, Yugi’s grandpa called up the stairs, “Yugi! You’re going to be late for school!”
Without a single change in his expression, without bothering to relinquish the body, Pharaoh called back in Yugi’s voice, “I’m coming, Grandpa!” He picked up his backpack from the floor and started towards the door.
“That’s not a good idea,” Holly said. “With Root not back yet, I might not be able to monitor you properly.”
“I think I’ll be safe enough,” Yugi said cheerfully. Holly had missed the moment of transformation. Apparently, it didn’t require the use of flashy golden light. “From what I understand, the Council won’t want to bio-bomb a public place. Too many innocents would get hurt.” His smile faded slightly. “Besides, my friends are there. I need to make sure they’ll be okay.”
Holly wanted to scold him. But for what? Caring about others? With a sigh, she shielded and followed Yugi out the door.
Bakura was scheming.
The idea of fairies was fascinating, especially since Yugi didn’t seem to mean the ones that could be summoned using a Duel Disk. Or the little flying creatures that Bakura had seen little girls pretending to be with frilly pink dresses and lacy wands. Those always made the thief either want to puke or send someone to the Shadow Realm, depending on his mood.
Was that the source of magic I felt last night? he wondered, forcing himself to greet Joey, Tristan, and Tea in a friendly tone, instead of ripping their souls out and feeding on them, which, while extremely entertaining, was not so good when pretending to be a harmless high school student.
The first bell rang, and Bakura was startled to realize that Yugi was not there. A pity. The pharaoh’s host was easy to fool, and was therefore likely to let slip some information that Bakura could use. Kaiba was there though, leaning back in his seat, looking bored.
The Thief King eyed him speculatively. Kaiba was an enigma, not a member of Yugi’s pep squad, but friendly enough when it suited him, though it rarely did. He had a manipulative streak to match Bakura’s own, and his cold façade masked a keen intelligence. If he hadn’t been the reincarnation of that thrice-damned priest, Bakura might actually have liked him.
But Kaiba kept his own council. It was unlikely that he would be willing to talk to Bakura about the subject of a private meeting. Still…
As Bakura approached, Kaiba looked up. His outward expression did not change, but the Thief King could feel him tensing, no longer bored. His blue eyes were wary, but not particularly hostile.
“Hello, Kaiba,” Bakura chirped in his host’s annoyingly chipper voice. “Where’s Yugi?”
“Ask the Geek Squad,” Kaiba said coldly.
Bakura mimed a nervous glance in the Geek Squad’s direction. They too were waiting for Yugi. “In all honesty, they scare me.”
The corner of Kaiba’s mouth twitched. “You surprise me, Bakura. I wouldn’t have thought you were scared of anything.”
Bakura managed not to snort. Ryou was frightened of everything; it sickened Bakura’s stomach. Spiders, the dark, motorcycles…wait. Was Kaiba making a subtle reference to him? The memory of Kaiba’s voice floated up to the forefront of Bakura’s mind.
“Spare me the lecture, Yugi.” A pause. “Pharaoh.”
Kaiba believes in magic, the thief reminded himself. He surveyed the other boy again through new eyes. And gasped. Magic roiled beneath the surface of Kaiba’s skin. It was wild, uncontrolled, but frighteningly strong. Bakura was appalled. He had never viewed Kaiba with magic in mind, not since he had reassured himself that Kaiba did not have Seth’s abilities.
When did Kaiba get hold of magic?
Bakura forced himself to breathe. Kaiba didn’t know how to use his power; his magic had none of the precision Seth’s power had once had, for all it was as strong. Kaiba’s eyes narrowed under the scrutiny, and Bakura forced a laugh.
“That’s flattering. But not true, I’m afraid.”
Kaiba did not smile at the joke. “What do you want?” he asked. Yes, the king of small talk, that was Kaiba.
“Nothing,” Bakura said as airily as possible, and was saved from further conversation by the arrival of Yugi. The boy was panting, hands on knees; he had clearly run all the way from the game shop. He was sweating. Bakura could see a faint heat smudge in the air at the tiny boy’s shoulder. Yugi caught his breath, then came over to Kaiba’s desk.
“Hey, Kaiba,” he said cheerfully. Bakura winced. If Ryou’s voice was annoying, Yugi’s was downright nausea-inducing. “I was wondering if you wanted to spend the night at my house tonight.”
Kaiba raised an eyebrow. Bakura could feel his scorn. “I’ve got better things to do, Yugi, then sit around with your pals and exchange friendship stories.”
Yugi’s face became a little bit more solemn. “There’s someone I really want you to meet.”
Kaiba was silent for a moment. Then Yugi said, “Mokuba should come too. You know, safety in numbers and all that.” He said it in a joking tone, but Bakura could hear the tension underneath.
“I’ll let you know,” Kaiba said finally.
Yugi smiled. “I hope you can make it.”
“Can I come too?” Bakura asked. He could easily guess whoit was that Yugi wanted Kaiba to meet.
Yugi hesitated, then smiled. “Sure, Bakura,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”
“Great!” Bakura said, giving him a big (and totally fake) smile. “I’m looking forward to it.” Inside, he was gloating. He’s so trusting. And so stupid!
Kaiba eyed Yugi thoughtfully. He remembered the transformation he had seen Bakura undergo a few days before all too well. Did Yugi not know about Bakura’s other side? Was he really so naïve? Then he caught Yugi’s grim expression as Bakura turned away, and realized, He knows all too well.
But then, why invite him, especially to meet with a fairy representative? Kaiba was intrigued.
“Yugi,” he called, as the other boy turned to go back to his seat. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Yugi gave him a wide smile. His violet eyes showed his relief. “Grandpa and I’ll be glad to have you. Is eight alright?”
Kaiba nodded. He’d have to leave work early, but… “Fine.”
“You invited the Tomb Robber to spend the night?!”
Root’s face was an ample reminder of why his officers had secretly nicknamed him “Beetroot.” Yugi was mildly surprised he didn’t go into cardiac arrest right then and there. It was nearly eight, and the fairy commander, when he had returned, had not been too pleased with the turn of events. Mulch, who was handcuffed to Yugi’s desk far from any valuables was watching the whole argument with a wide toothy smile.
“I had to. Bakura’s a friend, and I don’t want him to get hurt,” Yugi said.
“Bakura’s a murdering psychopath!” Root yelled, though he kept his voice a little lower this time. “Confirming his suspicions about the People is not a good idea.”
“Believe me,” Yugi said, leaning forward slightly, his violet eyes narrowing. His sweet, gentle face had turned harsh. “If it was just the spirit of the Ring, I would cheerfully let him be bio-bombed. In fact, I’d probably help the People to do it.” The two fairies watched with wide eyes. “But it’s not. Ryou Bakura is still in there, and he should not have to die because of the monster sharing his body!”
“I’m impressed, Yugi,” came a drawling voice from the direction of the bedroom door. They all turned to see Bakura sidle in, dropping a duffle bag casually on the floor as he did. “I didn’t think you had it in you.” He smirked at the two fairy officers, who were watching him warily, their hands straying near their holstered Neutrinos. His angular face adopted a sweet expression.
“Ryou Bakura,” he said in a soft, slightly accented voice. “A pleasure to meet you both.”
They nodded to him. Neither introduced themselves.
Bakura smirked again, and his eyes fell on Mulch. The dwarf shrank back against the desk, trying to make himself as small as possible. He gave a feeble little wave.
“Hi,” he said weakly.
Bakura’s eyes narrowed. “I remember you. You were the one who attempted to steal my Millennium Ring.” His hand went to the golden Item hung around his neck. “We have some unfinished business, you and I.”
Root snorted. “Normally, I’d wish you luck and tell you to have fun,” he said. “But I don’t much like you, Tomb Robber, and so I’m afraid you’ll have to restrain yourself.”
Bakura looked at him with a sneer, but apparently decided that whatever he wanted to do to the dwarf wasn’t worth causing trouble this early in the game. Instead, he turned his gaze back on Mulch and said, “What’s your name, Hairy?”
The dwarf drew himself up indignantly. “Mulch Diggums. Fairy dwarf and expert at breaking and entering.”
Bakura’s eyes lit up a little at that. “Really? Your luck doesn’t seem very good at the moment.” He nodded at the handcuffs.
Mulch bared his teeth in a grotesque grin. “A minor setback. I bet I could teach you a thing or two.”
Bakura smirked. “I doubt that.” But he went and sat down at Yugi’s desk next to the dwarf, where they immediately started whispering to each other. There was a lot of evil laughter and an occasional “You didn’t!” and “This one time…” Root was relieved that the thief was distracted, at least for the moment. Tonight was going to be hard enough without his interference.
Moments later, there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Yugi stood just as Kaiba swept into the room in a billow of white trench-coat. He was carrying a small duffle bag in one hand and his omnipresent silver briefcase in the other. He dropped the bag onto the floor next to Bakura’s and turned his piercing blue gaze on the fairies. Root had to admit he cut an impressive figure. Even the ridiculous coat looked somehow regal.
“I am Seto Kaiba,” he said without preamble. “Who are you?”
Root drew himself up, extremely conscious of how short he was compared to the human teenager. “I am LEP Commander Julius Root, and this is Captain Holly Short.” He cast a dismissive glance in Mulch’s direction. The dwarf was still engaged in conversation with Bakura, who had glanced up only briefly when Kaiba had entered the room. “And that’s Mulch Diggums.”
“Kaiba,” Yugi said. His voice had become Pharaoh’s deep baritone. “Where is Mokuba?”
“I saw no reason to expose my brother to a potentially dangerous situation,” Kaiba answered coolly. He glanced at the fairies again. “I came for information.”
“I fear the situation is even more dangerous than you think, Kaiba,” Pharaoh said grimly, and proceeded to explain the Council’s decision, and the possibility of a bio-bomb.
Holly spoke up when he had finished. “Fortunately, Artemis Fowl, the only human to have survived a blue rinse, is in town, and may be able to help us.”
Kaiba stiffened. “I had heard Fowl was in Domino City,” he said. “But I will not seek help from him.”
“Then I’ll go see him tomorrow,” the Pharaoh said sternly. “If he can help us escape the bio-bomb, then we can protect not only ourselves, but our loved ones as well.” He stared at Kaiba pointedly. “If it will keep Mokuba safe, will you disdain Fowl’s help?”
Kaiba’s shoulders sagged in defeat. His brother is his weak link, Root realized. He glanced in Bakura’s direction and saw that the Tomb Robber was watching Kaiba as well, a small smirk playing about his lips.
“Fine,” Kaiba snapped. “But I will not interact with him at all.”
“How do you know Artemis Fowl?” the Pharaoh asked, eyes narrowed.
“Business,” Kaiba said curtly. His tone made it very clear that he was not willing to expand upon the subject. Pharaoh did not press him.
“Root,” he said instead. “Is there any way to destroy the bio-bomb once it is within range of its target?”
Root shrugged. “Not to my knowledge. Not unless you can somehow divert it or suck it into a black hole.”
Bakura smirked. “Then I shouldn’t have a problem.”
Holly wondered what he meant by that, but Root ignored him. “For now, we’ll stay together, and Holly and I will provide as much advance warning of the bio-bomb as possible. Tomorrow, we will find somewhere else to stay.”
“Because now we’re practically shouting ‘We’re all together. Bio-bomb us!’” Bakura said.
“The bio-bomb won’t be launched this quickly,” Holly said. “The Council will want to gather more information first. Plus it has to be transported across the ocean. It’s strictly a short-range missile.”
“Oh yes,” Mulch said. “That’s a great deal of comfort.”
“Shut up, Convict, unless you want to spend the rest of the night handcuffed in the back of the shuttle!” Root roared.
“Yugi,” came the voice of Yugi’s grandpa from just outside the bedroom door. “Who’s that in there with you?”
The fairies were shielded and Mulch concealed behind a sheet of cam-foil by the time the door had fully opened. Pharaoh was gone, to be replaced by a smiling Yugi. He gestured towards Bakura, who had adopted his most innocent appearance. “Grandpa, you remember Bakura, right?” he said.
The old man nodded. “It’s good to see you again, Bakura,” he said graciously.
Bakura nodded earnestly. “A pleasure to see you again, sir.” Looking at him, it was hard to believe that this same boy took great pleasure in causing pain and stealing souls; he looked like the most mild-mannered of teenagers.
Yugi gestured at Kaiba with another smile. “And I know you know Kaiba.”
Solomon Mutou’s smile chilled considerably. “Of course. Welcome.”
“I’ve invited them to stay the night,” Yugi added, a trifle anxiously.
Kaiba nodded stiffly. “Thank you for allowing us to stay the night in your home, Mr. Mutou.”
The old man thawed a little at Kaiba’s polite words and clearly decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “The pleasure is mine.”
He turned towards the door. “If you boys need anything, just ask.”
“Thanks Grandpa,” Yugi said brightly, sidling along behind his grandfather and starting to push the door closed.
Mr. Mutou frowned. “And try to be a little more quiet. I can hear you from downstairs.”
“We will, Grandpa,” Yugi said. As the old man left the room, Yugi shut the door with a sigh of relief. Root and Holly reappeared, folding the cam-foil as they did.
“Let that be a lesson to you,” Bakura told them snidely. “Yugi’s grandpa has a tendency to appear at the most inconvenient times.” Then, more quietly, but still audible to the entire room. “Meddling, senile old fool.”
Yugi kicked him. Hard, right between the legs. As Bakura doubled over with a curse and a groan of pain, Yugi turned to the rest of the group and said serenely, “Anyone up for a game of cards?”
They played cards – Pharaoh won – and talked until nearly midnight. Bakura didn’t cause trouble. Maybe he admired Yugi’s sudden rash of bravery, or maybe he was just saving his revenge for a more opportune moment. Either way, the evening passed quite pleasantly until it was time to get ready for bed.
Yami, Ryou said suddenly. Bakura started; his host had been quiet all night. Let me take over. I’ll get us ready for bed, brush our teeth and all that.
Bakura was suspicious. Why are you being so accommodating all of the sudden?
Ryou shrugged. I know how much you hate taking care of the mundane stuff, Bakura. I don’t mind it.
Secretly, Bakura was relieved. He did hate performing menial tasks and physical upkeep. There was some small advantage in keeping his host’s soul active, if controlled. Very well, Landlord. The brief freedom would keep Ryou content and quiet, letting Bakura focus his attention on more pressing things. He yawned and entered his soul room.
He awoke late that night, once again in control of the body. He was lying on something soft, the bed presumably, and his head was resting comfortably on something warm.
He turned his head idly to the side. On the floor next to the bed, he could see Kaiba lying in his sleeping bag. The other boy was asleep, and Bakura thought that he looked surprisingly innocent and sweet while sleeping. Mulch was snoring in the corner, huddled under some blankets Yugi had thoughtfully found for him. Holly was dozing in a chair, and Root was standing at the window, staring at the stars.
Then Bakura’s brain snapped abruptly into focus. Wait! Then what…?
He glanced to the other side and almost puked. The source of warmth he had been snuggled up to just a moment before was Pharaoh! Bakura’s head had been lying on the other man’s shoulder, and Bakura was horrified to realize that his arm had been cuddling the pharaoh’s waist. The thief looked down at himself. When getting ready for bed, Ryou had “forgotten” to put on the pajama shirt, only bothering with the pants. The true impact of the situation hit Bakura with full force.
He was lying, semi-naked, in bed with Pharaoh! Who, apparently, also slept in just pajama bottoms.
Bakura let out a yelp of horror and scrambled away as fast as he could. In his haste, he fell out of bed, landing on Kaiba with a startled oof! The others were awake in moments. Holly jumped up, her hand going to her belt, and Kaiba shoved Bakura away with a muttered curse. “Get off me!”
Bakura backed up as far as he could. Pharaoh was awake too by this time, and was sitting up in bed rubbing his eyes. “What’s going on?” he asked sleepily. Root was laughing.
“Noticed, did you?” he said to Bakura.
Bakura could hear Ryou chuckling inside his soul room. I am going to kill him for this, he thought. I don’t care about the consequences. I am going to kill him.
Ryou just started laughing all the harder. Apparently, he had decided to throw caution to the winds. Oh, Bakura. You should have seen your face!
Usually, Kaiba was much better at responding to his mail. He got very little anyway, receiving most of his communications through email or faxes. He preferred to conduct any other communication through face-to-face interaction, because it allowed him to get the measure of the other person, as well as use his legendary powers of intimidation to their best effect. So he didn’t get many letters at all, except for bills and ads, which hardly counted.
He hadn’t gone to sleep again after the bed incident had smoothed over and Bakura had been soothed. (Okay, he had been physically prevented from throttling Pharaoh and had been stunned into unconsciousness by Holly’s buzz baton when he refused to surrender quietly). Kaiba was a light sleeper, and if woken up, usually spent the remainder of the night working on his computer.
He tried that for a time, but found that he was too restless to concentrate. He couldn’t stop thinking about Mokuba. Having heard about the bio-bomb, he was now worried that his little brother would not be safe at home alone with only the servants to watch over him. So, despite Root’s noisy protests, he packed up his bag, neatly rolled up the sleeping bag that Yugi had lent him, and let himself out the front door.
The roads were nearly empty. It was, after all, nearly three in the morning. He drove in silence, thinking on what he knew and trying to come up with a way to escape a bio-bomb. If Fowl could do it, he’d be damned if Seto Kaiba couldn’t do it too.
He let himself in, walking silently through the main hall and up the stairs to the second floor. He checked on Mokuba, who was sleeping peacefully. With a feeling of immeasurable relief, he retreated to his office in the hopes that, with his brother just next door, he would be able to concentrate on his work for the remainder of the night.
Therefore, it was extremely late when he finally got around to the tiny pile of mail that Roland had thoughtfully placed in the center of his desk.
He picked up a long white envelope, glanced at the name with distaste, then slit the letter open. He began to read.
The letter dropped from Kaiba’s limp hand onto the floor. He stared at it, willing himself to bend down and retrieve it, but he couldn’t move. His blue eyes, normally keen and penetrating, were blank. Staring.
“Seto?” Mokuba’s voice came from the doorway just behind him. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Mokuba,” he croaked out. He stooped and picked up the letter, tucking it inside his jacket. “Just a little sleep-deprived.”
Mokuba padded across the carpeted floor of Seto’s office barefoot and wrapped his arms tightly around his brother from behind. “Well no wonder. It’s four in the morning and you’re still awake. I thought you were spending the night at Yugi’s.”
Abruptly, Kaiba turned in Mokuba’s hug and knelt down so he could look his little brother in the face.
“I love you, Mokuba. You know that, right?”
Mokuba put his hand against Seto’s forehead. “Are you alright, Seto?” he asked again. His voice was worried. “You’re acting kind of strange.”
“Hugging you is strange?” Seto stood. His laugh was bitter. “Maybe I’m really the monster they say I am.”
Mokuba hugged him as tightly around the waist as he could. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. I love you too, Seto. You’re a good man,” he cracked a smile, “Behind the grumpiness. No matter what anyone else says.”
Seto smiled too and ruffled Mokuba’s unruly black hair. “Speaking of grumpiness, what are you doing up at four in the morning?”
Mokuba grinned his most mischievous grin. “Somebody’s got to keep an eye on you.” He tugged on his big brother’s hand. “C’mon Seto. As long as you’re here, you need to at least try and go back to sleep.”
Seto let himself be dragged a few feet before stopping and bending down. He hugged Mokuba tightly, his face buried in the boy’s shoulder. They stood there for a long time, the Kaiba brothers, seeking comfort and support from one another.
With his arms wound tightly around his brother, half-crouching in his office, Kaiba could almost forget the terrible words that were burned in his mind, the words that topped the letter now tucked into his breast pocket.
Dear Mr. Kaiba:
In light of alleged criminal activity that has recently come to our attention, the Board of Child Services would like to review your guardianship of Mokuba Kaiba to discuss whether or not it should be repealed…