Shadow: Gift-fic one-shot for Hikari Daeron, 'cos it's her birthday. And she listens to me ranting, and rants with me, and is a good friend. That, and I love her to bits, so… (laughs) a great big happy birthday, sweetie, and I'll most likely be talking your ear off about something or other via email. (grins)

Disclaimer: As ever, I own zilch.

Notes: I always found Seto's past history fascinating. His time with Gozaburo is carefully glossed over – in the most part – in the anime, as well as Gozaburo's end. (How does one as notable as Kaiba Gozaburo just up and 'disappear' exactly?) In the manga, Gozaburo jumps out of the window in his office when Kaiba takes over his company and confronts him, and it's insinuated that Seto may have had more to do with it then simply telling Gozaburo KaibaCorp no longer belonged to him. I basically took that plot, and ran with it.

Oh, italics are memories/past events. Bold…I'll leave up to you to decide. (grins)


Speaking with Ghosts

"This company is mine."

The CEO's office at KaibaCorp had a new window. Seto took the time to admire it from his position in the middle of said office, liking the way the noon sun outside glinted off the carefully tinted glass. His suit, pristine white, reflected the warm glow in the room, making it appear as if he himself were glowing as well.

"What on earth are you talking about, you impudent brat?"

Seto could remember this room, barely a fortnight ago, with the wind howling and pulling papers out of the large hole in the window. Jagged glass had been littered everywhere, and it crunched underfoot. It had been cold…so cold, this high up in the clouds, and the weather outside had been bleak enough to start with. KaibaCorp Tower was the highest building in Domino, and rain slanting in from outside had dampened the office carpet. But still it had been so quiet…

Too long, too long – eight years now, isn't it?

A folder thrown on the polished wood desk. "You gave me two-percent of the shares of this company yesterday father,and a year in which to pay you back ten times the current stock price for them. I've done that – it only took a day."

"How?" Gozaburo's voice was harsh. "How have you done such a thing, boy?" There was the riffle of papers, as he went through the folder.

Then had been the babble of noise. The faint sound of screams could be heard from the ground, outside, so many floors below, and the door behind him flying open, smashing into the wall and sending bits of plaster to join the mess already ruining the carpet. The people, grabbing his arms, pulling him away from the shattered window he stood beside, asking was he okay? What had happened? Where was Gozaburo Kaiba-sama? Where was Kaiba?

How their faces had drained of colour when Seto had pointed to the window…

"I bought forty-nine percent of KaibaCorp." Seto's reply was calm. "I only needed another twenty percent to add to the two you gave me to meet your challenge – but I took that a step further. As you can see, I now own forty-nine percent of this company. Added to the two you signed to me…well.Need I spell it out for you, oh father mine?"

"You little – you're lying!" Papers slammed once more into the desk, and the CEO's chair screeched as Gozaburo got to his feet.

"I assure you, Kaiba-sama, I am not." Clear blue eyes were infuriatinglyunaffected. "I own fifty-one percent of KaibaCorp – father,this company is mine."

Eight years to spoil, and for my soul to rot.

There had been an inquest of course. A man could not plummet to his death off the top of a company building without some sort of response, least of all such a notable man as Kaiba Gozaburo. The fact Seto had been alone in the room with his adoptive father when Gozaburo had fallen came under scrutiny. Had Seto had anything to do with the fall? The boy had inherited so much upon his guardian's death, after all. It was…convenient there had been no witnesses save Seto to the events before Gozaburo's death – and just why did the KaibaCorp's CEO's office not contain any cameras?

The stoic sixteen-year-old they were interrogating composedly replied his adoptive father had valued his privacy.

And the possible reasons for Gozaburo's 'suicide'? Why would such a successful man be driven to kill himself by flinging himself out of the office window?

Seto did not know, he had said – his adoptive father had always been an odd, obsessive man. It was safest not to explore Kaiba Gozaburo's many eccentricities.

Quietly, his investigators had agreed…though many were still suspicious of this strange, blue-eyed youth who spoke little and expressed less. There had been rumours, so many rumours surrounding the Kaiba family for such a long time, and now…now there was just this impassive brunet boy and his little brother, and a lingering question –

"Did you do it?"

Seto glanced up at the detective from under half-lowered lids, expression neutral. "I beg your pardon, officer? Did I do what?" The teen's words were polite, but his tone was cool.

"You're an intelligent young man, Kaiba-san; you know what I'm asking." The detective studied the youth's face opposite him, searching for…something, some sign of…innocence? Guilt? Anything!!! "Did you push your adoptive father, Kaiba Gozaburo, out of that window?"

Long lashes flickered just slightly, blue eyes raising themselves to lay an unsettling gaze on the man questioning them. "Detective…" Seto Kaiba leaned forward on the table dividing interviewer and interviewee, resting his chin upon his hands, "what possible reason would I have to murder the man who adopted my brother and I?"

Seto breathed on the window, drawing pictures in the fog his breath left on the cool glass with a finger. The world he drew was of his own making, as was the world that he now lived in. KaibaCorp was his. The mansion, the company…everything Gozaburo had ever possessed was his. Money was not an issue in this new world, and Mokuba was his. Some had tried to contest his right to care for his brother, but hard cash and subtle threats had silenced them all.

I don't want to be like you.

The detective sighed. No-one could glean anything from Kaiba Seto – he was too much like the man who had taken him for his own.

"Kaiba-san…you may leave now – thankyou for your time."

"It was no problem, detective." The sixteen year-old rose gracefully from his chair, shaking the hand his interviewer extended to him and turning to go. He was a tall boy, for his age, but he was so very fluid – refined.

The officer bit his lip, before calling: "…Kaiba-san?"

Seto paused, one hand resting on the doorknob of the interrogation room while he glanced back at the man who had been questioning him. "Yes, detective? Do you require something more of me?"

"It's just…your adoptive father's company. What…what are you going to do with it?"

"…Run it, of course." The slightest note of condescension had slipped into Seto's voice. "I am the CEO, officer."

You could see the clouds from up here, the deep blue of the never-ending sky…

"But…you're just barely past sixteen!" Surprise. "How in the name of sweet Kami-sama do you expect to run such a high-profile company and attend to the studies of a boy your age?"

The faintest of…smiles touched the corners of KaibaCorp's new Chief Executive. "…I am not so much a boy, officer, in state of mind."

"Your reports say you are a genius-"

"And yet you doubt both them and I?"

Awkward silence fell for a short time, and the detective stuttered, embarrassed.

"I- well – no, but it's still-"

"Perhaps you should wait awhile the officer, and see what I can really do." Seto had turned away again, opening the room's door. "I assure you – it's quite a lot."

His hand fell, and the curving lines he'd drawn upon the cool glass stood clearly for a few moments, bold, and then slowly faded away. The sleek dragon that he knew if he breathed upon it would come to life once more, as all things seemed to come to life under his fingertips, metal and glass and wire making visions into tangible reality.

Gozaburo had admired that skill. Seto had caught the reluctant emotion lurking once in the corner of the corner of his adoptive father's eye, a speck so tiny that even the merest flicker of lashes banished it, any feeling that could have been mistaken for warmth lost behind a glossy professional veneer that a young boy kept slipping off, upsetting, and earning rebuttal.

Though…as much as Seto had disappointed the man who took him in, enraged him with his 'slowness' and 'stubbornness', Gozaburo had wanted him – needed him – for his gift.

You slapped me when I told you once, and I never spoke of it again. But you caught it, didn't you, in the burning of my eyes?

Gozaburo couldn't take a dream and make it – a Kaiba's only dream was to destroy the dreams of others, to crush them with weapons of blood, and death, and war. Kaibas did not lose, and so…Gozaburo had Seto, the genius child, to design for him, to craft prototypes for him, hiding the grim facts of what he was actually making under the sugar-spun illusion of that it was all for a 'game'. And when the genius child had finally worked it out –

"You're using my designs to kill people!"

"And what of it?" Gozaburo's voice was cool as he looked down at his eldest adopted son, casually grinding the remains of a cigar in his ashtray.

"You – but…you can't….!" Seto was horrified. He'd thought…wasn't Gozaburo going to even attempt to deny his accusations? "Those weapons will kill thousands of people!!"

"That's what weapons are designed to do, boy."

He'd been so angry. So hurt. It…truly sunk in then, the monster that Gozaburo truly was. And so Seto had refused to design anything more for his adopted father, unwilling to hurt others, unwilling to design things to kill. Who was he, to craft items that would end another's lives? He was just a boy, admittedly a smart one, and he should have figured it out before then, he should have, and now he had so much blood on his hands and –

I think that unsettled you, that still I had so much will you couldn't control. All you had was a thin leash, and even that would snap if you dared pull on it too often. And you did, Kaiba-sama, just one time too many.

You should never have brought him into this.

Gozaburo threatened Mokuba. The man didn't really care for his little brother, Seto knew; the only reason Gozaburo had adopted Mokuba in the first place was because it had been part of the deal with the chess match. And even then…Gozaburo would've backed out of the deal if he could've, adopted neither boy – but then he'd seen just how brilliant Seto was, and how the boy would be perfect to groom as an heir. Mokuba was simply part of the package – until Gozaburo figured out how much Seto cared for his younger brother, that was.

"Well then, boy? Will you design what I tell you to or not?"

Seto himself had been beaten by his adoptive father, punched, slapped, and once pushed down a flight of stairs so that the doctor had had to be called out to the house and he'd been treated for a broken arm. But…Mokuba had been left alone. The only time Mokuba was dragged into things was when Seto disappointed Gozaburo, enraged him, and then Mokuba was threatened unless Seto did as he was told at once.

Seto caved every time.

Seto swallowed, seeing the malicious gleam in his guardian's eyes. The man would have no qualms in fulfilling his threats… "I…I will."

"Good." Gozaburo sneered triumphantly, flinging a folder at the brunet. "Here's the brief for your next design – I expect it finished by tonight."

"Yes, Kaiba-sama."

This was our battle, our fight – how dare you have brought Mokuba into this?! I tried so hard to pretend I never loved him so you'd let him be…

Something died inside then. Seto was going to design things to kill innocents – intentionally. Yet…Mokuba was an innocent too. It was either going to be his brother that suffered, or faceless others. Thousands of others, hundreds of thousands perhaps, and still-

"Seto, look after your little brother."

And still his mother's word rang in his head and his heart and he just couldn't do anything that would hurt Mokuba, that would result in Mokuba being hurt, not even if the whole world died and it was just Mokuba and him, him and Mokuba and the big, empty world full of bleeding, dying people who he'd killed with his inventions. And it didn't matter that he had not been able to sleep in those few brief hours Gozaburo had allowed him because he was terrified of corpses chasing him in his dreams; it didn't matter the dead still chased him now, years and years later; it didn't matter because Mokuba was safe, Mokuba was smiling, and Mokuba didn't know that his big brother had been a murderer before he'd even turned thirteen.

It's your own fault.

Seto had been trained well. Gozaburo had moulded him perfectly, and forcing him to kill had been the final step. Seto…lost his smile. Mokuba noticed it first, and it had worried the black-haired boy, especially when Seto's visits to see him started tailing off, when the affection in his nii-san's voice slowly and inexorably faded away. Seto became cold, and hard, and Mokuba was then no longer 'Mokie' to his onii-sama.

Gozaburo had watched the transformation with a smile. Seto was the model heir, and not even Mokuba could hold the youth back then. Cool, calculating and indifferent Seto was groomed to perfection; he was the ideal Kaiba, and the Kaiba motto was imprinted on his soul: Kaibas did not lose. Losing equalled death.

You deserve to have your glory taken from you.

But Gozaburo had forgotten Seto's temper. Arctic rage so cold it burned had blazed in Seto's heart. His role had been thrust upon him, and the murders of countless people. He hated Gozaburo, hated the man with a fiery, stinging passion, and he had decided then – Gozaburo would pay. When presented with the opportunity he'd taken it, and so he'd faced down his adoptive father with the knowledge everything Kaiba Gozaburo had ever cared about – his company and his wealth – then belonged to him.

Seto sighed, finally stepping away from the window in his office and moving across to sit in the chair behind the office desk. Ghosts lingered in the air, their voices clamouring to be heard in his mind. Perhaps…he'd told a lie before. Gozaburo had made a weapon himself – by adopting Seto, forcing the brunet into such a rigorous training, deliberately mutilating the boy's soul with harsh words and even harsher actions, by forcing Seto to kill… Gozaburo had created a weapon out of Seto, and Seto had stricken hard and deep and taken everything in a killing blow. Gozaburo had been taken down by the very weapon he'd crafted, by the rage and the hate he'd cultivated in a genius orphan boy.

I did it; I did it; I did it – and you deserve everything you got.

Seto could still remember Gozaburo's face when he'd laid the cold, hard facts out in front of him, when he'd flung the file detailing his takeover in front of his adoptive father and watched -

"You little – you're lying!" papers slammed once more into the desk, and the CEO's chair screeched as Gozaburo got to his feet.

"I assure you, Kaiba-sama, I am not." Clear blue eyes were infuriatinglyunaffected. "I own fifty-one percent of KaibaCorp – father,this company is mine."

Why had he confronted Gozaburo alone? Because he'd wanted to. Seto had wanted to watch his abuser's downfall and treasure it to himself – he wanted to share the memory with no-one. This was his life, and his alone – and he was alone, wasn't he? Everything…he could control it all himself, and he'd do so – and he'd show his father himself, and remember it.

The file was in front of you, my victory clear – but…you raised your hand. You were still Mokuba's guardian and mine and you dared threaten him again…

The window was behind you, and it was so very tempting.

The feelings swirling inside of him when he'd faced Gozaburo, barely two weeks ago, were impossible to recall. He could remember the spite, and the anger, and the triumph. He'd wanted to hurt Gozaburo, hurt the man so badly it had ached within him, longed to wrap his hands around the CEO's fat throat and squeeze until something cracked. But he was a Kaiba, and he had to be content with destroying him utterly, and why on earth would he strangle his oppressor and find himself locked away? That would not be good for Mokuba. Sweet satisfaction had seized him as the truth slowly sunk into Gozaburo's brain, and…a peace when he had stood there amongst the glass, looking down at the ground so very far below where the man's body lay, his heart filled with malice, and with jubilation.

Broken glass looks like rain…

"Did you do it?"

Seto glanced up at the detective from under half-lowered lids, expression neutral. "I beg your pardon, officer? Did I do what?" The teen's words were polite, but his tone was cool.

"You're an intelligent young man, Kaiba-san; you know what I'm asking." The detective studied the youth's face opposite him, searching for…something, some sign of…innocence? Guilt? Anything!!! "Did you push your adoptive father, Kaiba Gozaburo, out of that window?"

Long lashes flickered just slightly, blue eyes raising themselves to lay an unsettling gaze on the man questioning them. "Detective…" Seto Kaiba leaned forward on the table dividing interviewer and interviewee, resting his chin upon his hands, "what possible reason would I have to murder the man who adopted my brother and I?"

And you fell such a long way.

Seto was a handsome, cool youth. He was sixteen, and was already pushing six foot. Every part the stunning intellectual he impressed many with his elegant looks and dignified manner, not to mention his exceptional intelligence. Many admired him for his appearance and his skills, many more feared him for his name and his position. Many more still cowered away from him due to his icy temper, and biting tongue.

Did you go 'splat' at the bottom? You looked rather small from the top.

"Kaiba-sama?" A tentative secretary knocked on the door to the office, quivering slightly when her employer's infamous blue gaze settled upon her in all its frosty indifference. "Kaiba-sama, there's a call for you on line one. It's from Eagle Corporation. They want to discuss -"

"Tell them I will phone them later should I so feel the need, Takada-san." Seto's tone was dismissive. "Otherwise I do not wish to hear from them again. KaibaCorp is under no obligations to keep manufacturing weapons simply so Eagle Corporation will also stay in business – and you may inform whichever half-wit on the line it is you're talking with this time of that. Now go, I have work to do."

"Hai, Kaiba-sama." The secretary left quickly, and the door shut behind her with a quiet click.

The insubordinates were pathetically traumatised. I saw how they looked at me – hm, did I scare your workers, father dearest?

Kaiba-sama. That had been Gozaburo's name once – his title as head of Kaiba Corporation. Now it was Seto's…Seto? But…who called him 'Seto' anymore? From the day he'd taken KaibaCorp he'd become simply 'Kaiba-sama', or 'Kaiba' to the slightly braver (and ones noticeably not under his direct employ). Even Mokuba no longer called him 'Seto' – to Mokuba he was 'onii-sama', and that was respectfully that.

'Seto' had vanished. Seto had been a kind boy, a loving boy, and Mokie's big brother. Seto would never have met Gozaburo Kaiba, as Seto still had parents who loved him and cared for him. 'Kaiba', on the other hand…

Kaiba was a young man who the Japanese police were quite capable of suspecting for murdering his adoptive father in cold blood.

I don't care; I was brought up to be cold. But then…I'm preaching to the choir, aren't I?

But…there was no evidence to say Kaiba did it. There was no evidence to say he didn't do it either, but that was easily overlooked when someone as rich as Kaiba Seto now was brought in his attorney. After all, hadn't Kaiba just taken over the corporation from Gozaburo? Such an act could easily unbalance an already instable man's mentality – and Kaiba Gozaburo was not known for his outstanding sanity and humanity where others were concerned. And Kaiba…

Nobody knows; nobody will ever know just what happened in those years – those eight years – you were the father of Mokuba and I. I'm certainly not speaking of them, and I always kept Mokuba carefully hidden in the dark.

I just wish -

Kaiba still stubbornly maintained Gozaburo had jumped, driven mad by the loss of his company. Gozaburo jumped out of that window, unable to stand the thought of being beaten. Gozaburo jumped, and there were no witnesses to say otherwise. Kaiba was untouchable where the law was concerned, and those against him hated him for it - but who could tell the truth when faced with a boy with shields so high as Kaiba? Soulless eyes were impossible to read, and stone hearts were so strong they were impossible to shatter.

Listen to myself - wishes are for losers. I won't lose, not ever again – not ever, not ever, not ever again because I -

"Your reports say you are a genius-"

He was. Kaiba Seto was a genius…but he was so much more than that too. He was a teenager, a young man who no-one could read, who few dared to face, and no court in the world could convict of something he denied doing. He was the guardian of his younger brother, onii-sama to Mokuba, CEO of a international multibillion-dollar corporation which he was single-handedly converting from a crafter of weapons of war to what he knew was going to become the world's largest and most popular gaming corporation. He was a youth with blood on his hands and the voices of ghosts whispering in his ear, and a dark past shadowing every step he took. He was loved by few, hated and loathed and feared by many. He was an idealist perhaps, intent on redeeming himself through the creation of dreams. But…most notably of all, he was a Kaiba – the Kaiba – and Kaibas did not lose. Losing equalled death, as death was all a loser truly deserved.

I just can't.

Look what had happened with Gozaburo.