AN: This is the first in what is likely to be a series of five oneshots, all detailing the lives of some of the main characters' fathers. Because, especially in this anime, it's the fathers who make the characters who they are today. So what exactly went on, and what caused them in turn to be the way they are? With some careful study of canon evidence, me and my brain-that-never-sleeps may have come up with a few answers.

Disclaimer: Yugioh and all its characters belong to Kazuki Takahashi, not me.


That Which Rises And Falls

"It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power." —David Brin


Gozaburo Kaiba was born to a working class family in the lower district of Shibuya. His mother was a washerwoman, his father a car mechanic. He was their only child, but young Gozaburo often wished that one day they would tell him that he was adopted. Not because they treated him badly, or because he did not feel affection for them, but because they were ordinary. They were simple people, perfectly content with their lot in life. While they were perfectly supportive of their son pouring himself into his studies, for which he had considerable talent, they had also made it clear that they could not afford for him to go to a university. It seemed fruitless that Gozoburo wanted more in life, that he wanted to be special. But the mechanic's son became a mechanic. Nothing ever changed.

His mother listened though. She listened to his dreams, nourished his hopes for something better, telling him that he had the means and the will to have and to be and to do anything he wanted. She told him he was special. Gozaburo believed her, and flew through his school courses with the ease of a prodigy, swiftly gaining scholarship after scholarship. He hid these awards from his father, knowing what the man thought about "rising above your place."

One thing his father did like, aside from his work and his family, was chess. Those few times when he was not working in the garage or managing finances, he was playing chess with his son. Gozaburo didn't really like the game, but played it anyway, if only because he was good at it. That was something that confused him, actually: his father was terrible at chess, and yet continued to ask him to play. The continual smile in the face of failure was something that Gozaburo never understood, and so he filed it away as unimportant, along with the reason his father was content with such a meaningless existance.

When his mother died, Gozaburo stood over her grave long after the others in the pathetically tiny congregation had left, his fists clenched in anger. This was how his mother would be remembered? A tiny nameplate that could barely be found amongst the hundreds here? The groundskeeper would probably ride his lawnmower right over it! At least tombstones could be seen above the grass! But the nameplate was all they could afford on his father's single salary.

His father stepped up behind him. "You're going to have to start working in the garage more," he finally said after a long silence. "I'm going to need all the help I can get, especially now."

Gozaburo nodded, but did not move. He would be expected to give up his studies, he knew. His father would insist that they could not afford his "book learning."

Mistaking his silence for worry and sadness, the elder Kaiba patted his son's shoulder. "It'll be alright," he said gently. "We're all just going to have to work a little harder, that's all. We'll make it."

Gozaburo turned to look at his father, then went back to the car. He would be working harder alright.

He spent the next year and a half of his life working with his father, learning everything there was to know about cars, motors, and running a business. He learned a lot in those eighteen months, much more than his father realized or intended. He was given a salary for his work, which he hoarded and saved. He finished his high school education—Gozaburo refused to simply drop out of school, and there wasn't much his father could say to that—but his father did not attend graduation. It was a busy day in the shop that day, and he was needed there. After that, Gozaburo threw himself even more into his job, never stopping except to eat or sleep, completely ignoring the few games his parents had been able to buy for him.

Three weeks after he turned eighteen, Gozaburo rented out a garage with the money he'd saved and set himself up in direct opposition to his father. Within two months he had stolen all of the man's customers, and put him out of business in the space of a year. However, no complaint was ever issued, no combative strategy ever put into play. Gozaburo flattened his father's business like a steamroller, and this infuriated him. "Fight me, dammit!" he often shouted to an imaginary father when no one was around. He wouldn't fight him at chess and he wouldn't fight him at business! Why? He punched the wall of his opulently furnished office, wanting more and never getting enough.

When his father lost everything, he simply packed up what little he had left and moved away to start over. Gozaburo never saw or heard from him again.

He left the automotive repair business in the hands of his growing number of employees, turning instead to the stock market and big corporations in the hope of finding the competition he craved. But there was no competition; it was all rediculously, pathetically easy. He got into chess again in a futile effort to find something worth doing, but no one could beat him. He longed for someone, anyone, to present some kind of a threat to his power, but there was no one. Nothing even bothered trying to stand in his way.

He started a new company, one that designed and created vehicles and weapons for war. He set up his main headquaters in a small, isolated city called Domino, mostly because it was so unknown. Another little town full of little people. Gozaburo intended to put that little town on the map, just to be able to say that he did. The shady side of the law intrigued him, drew him in, and soon he was king of that too. He sold his inventions to both sides of any given conflict, not really caring who won. He was playing a completely different game. And just like always, no one could best him.

Suddenly he was among the richest people in the world. Possibly he was the most powerful too. His weapons, resources, and money gave him the power to end—and start—wars, to change the fate of entire continents. Gozaburo Kaiba was a public face. People everywhere clammored to work for him, wanting to bask in the glory he had achieved. He revelled in it, took joy in it. But it was never enough.

And then, for a while, it was enough, because he had met her. Ai, the pretty blonde actress without a penny to her name who worked night shifts at two different restaraunts to pay for her ambitions. She understood the value of work, but also understood the value of happiness. She told him that she only worked so hard because it made her happy, not out of any obligation or need. She loved competition, but only for the fun of it. The "eye of the tiger," she called it. She would hold intellectual debates with him on every topic they could think of. She didn't care if she won or lost either, as long as people were still willing to play the game.

And he loved her.

One day she came to him. She was pregnant. He offered at once to marry her, but she refused. If he married her, she said, it would only be out of obligation, and she didn't want that.

"It's not obligation," he said, looking intently into her stormy eyes. "I'm doing this because I want to."

She smiled at him. "You're lying."

Gozaburo insisted that she live with him, at least until the baby was born. He was going to pay for hospital bills, schooling for the child, and whatever else might be required. "Because it's more than just an obligation," he said dryly, "It's a law." She laughed, and they continued their dinner.

The baby was born, a tiny boy with sea green hair and stormy eyes like his mother. Ai named the child Noah, after her grandfather, whom she said he resembled. "At least until the baby is born" became "At least until you're well enough to travel" and "At least until Noah's a bit older." He kept them there, with him. It was the first thing he truely wanted in... he wasn't sure how long. The only thing coherent his mind would throw up at the thought of them leaving was that things would return to the rage-filled emptiness of before. But they stayed. It took a number of bribes to keep their cohabitation out of the media as she requested, but they stayed.

Noah grew older. Gozaburo highered private tutors in every subject he could think of, because suddenly this was incredibly important. He would teach his son—his son!—the meaning of the phrase "knowledge is power." He would give the boy everything his own father was too impoverished or too stubborn or too damn blind to give him. He also gave Noah the things he did receive, such as games, work ethic, and, of course, business strategy. That was a big one: Gozaburo had never thought about his own mortality before, but suddenly it seemed important. He started giving to charities, donating food to the homeless, and funding medical research. He took Noah on trips to the mountains or the beach. He got Ai an interview with a famous director. He was happy.

When Noah was about eight, something about the man changed. No one knew how or why, it just happened. He became more withdrawn, alternating between moody reclusive behavior and fits of rage. His darker dealings on the other side of the law grew larger and more numerous, and so his company grew even further. People started looking at him with fear rather than respect, and he found himself liking the change, even if it made him look down on the worthless peons even more. A blood-red leisure suit became his trademark. His eyes seemed permanently narrowed and harder than ever before.

He took to wearing a heavy pewter ring with a pale green stone set into it on the ring finger of his right hand. The ring had been a gift from his butler, Hobson, and Gozazuro was intrigued by the way the stone seemed to pulse with its own inner light.

Months went by, and Gozaburo kept more and more to himself. He couldn't get his mother's face out of his mind! Why was that? She was the one who believed in him, told him that he could be anything. And here he was, the most powerful man on the planet, able to change the fates of nations at the snap of his fingers. He had done what she always knew he could, so why couldn't he stop seeing her?

"Gozaburo?"

He whipped around at the unexpected voice, half expecting... but no, it was Noah's mother, not his. They looked nothing alike, but for the first time, he noticed how remarkably similar their voices were. "What?" he asked irratibly.

Ai flinched slightly at his tone, and for a moment he was sorry for yelling. But in an instant the sorrow was gone, replace and eclipsed by anger. "What?" he said again, louder. Why in all hells was she cowering like that? Where had her fearlessness gone? "What the hell are you afraid of?"

She flinched again, and then her expression smoothed over into a perfect mask. "Nothing," she said neutrally, and she turned on her heel and left the room.

Noah, being a child, didn't undnerstand. He thought it was his fault that father was angry, and redoubled his effort in his studies. After all, father had been happy when he was working, so maybe working harder would make him happy again. Noah's mother frowned at the changes, but rarely said anything, only spending less and less time with Gozaburo. There were arguments. Fights. In the end he always won, but he sensed that it was only because she didn't want to argue. And he didn't understand. She used to understand him, to challenge him, but something had changed. He became more and more angry in a downward cycle of determination and rage.

He still donated to charities every now and again. To keep up his image, but also because she seemed to relax a tiny bit whenever he did. Whenever they fought, she forgave him when he "demonstrated his heart" as she put it. Gozaburo shrugged it off, but was nonetheless glad she would stay for another month. He still wanted her around, even if there was something else he wanted more now.

Oftentimes donations required a personal presentation. Gozaburo went along with it, glad for the opportunity to travel around the country. Even if they didn't show it, he knew that his family—indeed, the majority of the household—always breathed a sigh of relief when he was away. So he went away more and more, some part of him still trying to make them happy, to make them stay. But even though they stayed, they never fought him. They did what he asked without any complaint. And so his desire, his hunger, awakened anew from its long sleep, was never satiated.

The orphanage he went to was a small, run-down place, in desperate need of the generous donation he had offered them. Therefore, it was rediculously easy to make them do what he wanted. The children there were all so... common. They took what they could get, but did not fight for more. The adults were the same too. Exactly the type of people he so despised.

"I want to get in, take some pictures, and get out," he said to the quivering headmaster of the place. "Do you hear me?"

"Y-yes, of coruse sir," the man said nervously. Gozaburo gave the man a look of contempt. Pathetic toadie.

But he didn't get in and get out. He spent the better part of the morning handing out gifts like some kind of Santa Clause. Saint. Ha! People pretend to be saints out of their own fear of the consequences, fear of retribution and hell. Those people were weak. Anyone weak enough to fear something as immaterial as a god didn't deserve a place in history, didn't deserve to carve out their own future. These children crowding around him as he passed out prettily wrapped presents were just as immaterial as the god they so feared. People might talk about them occassionally, but no one would ever actually do anything. They were invisible, and thus would never amount to anything. It was with impatience and no small amount of weariness that he prepared to leave the orphanage.

"Mr. Kaiba," said a voice.

Later, Gozaburo would wonder what made him turn around at that voice. It was clearly a child's voice, and he was just on his way out and did not want to deal with any more of these nobodies. However, this voice sounded somehow different. It may have been the fact that it wasn't ended in a question, like the way most other people spoke to him, as if asking his permission to continue. This one spoke only to get his attention, and intended to say what it wanted whether Gozaburo wanted to hear it or not.

He turned around.

Waiting for him was a boy of about ten, completely nondescript in appearance, save for his hard blue eyes and set jaw. Hiding slightly behind him was another boy, decidedly younger in far too many ways, but it was this first boy who had spoken. "What?" said Gozaburo.

Normally that voice would send the most stoic of men scurrying for cover, but this boy didn't even flinch. "I want you to adopt my brother and me," he said.

Gozaburo's eyebrows went up. That was a new one. "Why should I?"

"Because it's not just a request," the boy said. "It's a challenge. I propose one game of chess, and your ante is that if I win, you adopt me and Mokuba. Today."

Gozaburo smirked. "I am the six-time world champion at chess, kid," he scoffed. "You're not gonna get adopted that way..."

"I know who you are," the boy interrupted. Again, Gozaburo started at his tenacity. "I know your credentials, but I also know that you never pass up a challenge."

He looked at the boy. His eyes were cobalt blue, not stormy, but they were narrowed and challenging nonetheless. "Alright," he said slowly. "One game. One chance."

It was... amazing. Incredible! This scrawny child couldn't be more than ten, and yet he was continually one step ahead of Gozaburo's every move! He knew every maneuver, exploited every ploy. One would think he'd been taught by a Grand Master, but no, the orphanage official said he was completely self-taught. And right before his eyes, the boy was learning more even as they played! Gozaburo used a move he himself had invented to both capture a rook and ambush his queen. But right in the next turn this boy used the exact same stragety to effectively free his queen! Phenomenal!

Back and forth they went for what could have been minutes or hours. Gozaburo revelled in it. For the first time, he fought for something, and someone else fought back! For the first time, he enjoyed the struggle in a way he never had, because he never had an opponent like this before.

"Checkmate."

Gozaburo blinked in surprise and examined the board. It was true. Unbelievably, undeniably, it was true. The boy had used the same finishing move his father had always used on whatever guest he happened to have over. It had never worked on Gozaburo before, but this boy had hidden the strategy with a clever series of decoys, and snuck up from behind.

For the first time in his life, Gozaburo Kaiba had lost.

The boy stared daggers at him. "You have to adopt us now," he said. Amazing how his childish voice could somehow leave absolutely no room for argument. Also intriguing was how those cobalt eyes didn't smile at his victory, only thirsted for more. Gozaburo felt a tingle of excitement. A challenge! Everything else fell effortlessly before him, but this boy... he fought! He fought with a tenacity he hadn't seen in anyone since...

...since himself. This boy was determined to get out of this dump, just as Gozaburo had been at his age. And he was just as willing to do anything to achieve his ends.

"What's your name, boy?" he asked him.

"Seto," the boy stated.

"Seto what?"

He remained silent.

Gozaburo chuckled softly. The younger boy, Mokuba, hid further behind his brother, but Seto didn't move. "From now on," he said, "your name is Seto Kaiba."

Leaving the orphanage that day, Gozaburo thought to himself, possibilities and opportunities swarming in his head in a whirlwind of ideas. That Seto boy would certainly make an... effective playmate for Noah. It would take a few weeks before all the paperwork went through, but he would use Seto to show Noah what was truely expected of him, and force him to compete against him. The competition would make his son—who had grown so clingy and attention-starved of late—stronger, as it had made him stronger. Then he might actually have an heir worth considering.

But then came the day when everything changed.

"Move!" he shouted, running down the hospital corridors, shoving people out of the way as he went. It wasn't long before he arrived at his destination, but the only people there were Ai sobbing in a corner and a few orderlies cleaning up some equipment. "Where is he?" he demanded. The orderlies looked at each other uncomfortably, and Ai simply threw herself into his arms, keening her grief for her son.

"We're very sorry, Mr. Kaiba," said one of the nurses, seemingly unable to look either of them in the eyes. "He died only a few moments ago. We still have him on life-support, but it's just his body. Your son is dead. I'm sorry." He said this as though he were reciting lines in a play, and badly at that. Ai sobbed all the harder, but Gozaburo pushed her away and left the room. She didn't seem to notice, so submerged she was in her grief.

Everyone scrambled to get out of his way as he stormed down the hall once again, and Gozaburo derived a sense of pleasure from the sight. Gone were the days when he was powerless, oh yes. There was something he could do about this. He had been funding medical research for decades now, and there were a few well-placed people who owed him massive favors. Neurosurgeons, computer programmers, engineers... He could, he would save his son.

The funeral was... tense. And somehow disappointing. Ai had picked out a large cathedral in the countryside for the location, one with many-colored windows and dozens of turrets piercing the sky. The setting sun set the entire place afire, and Gozaburo had a suspiscion that this was where she would have wanted to get married, had she said yes. But there were few people there to pay respects, only Noah's tutors and a few businessmen who had heard the news through word of mouth. Gozaburo hadn't bothered inviting anyone else, as he attempted to explain to Ai after the ceremony. She did not take the news well.

He recoiled from the resounding slap she had handed him, staring at her in wonderment. She was furious.

"How dare you!" she said in a strained whisper. "How dare you tell me my boy is alive! You've done nothing but ignore him for the past year and a half and now you tell me that Noah isn't dead? That I didn't hear that horrible screech of tires when I took my eyes off of him? That my own heart didn't stop the moment his monitor flatlined?" She made to slap him again, but her raised hand wavered in the air. Tears filled her eyes and she collapsed to the ground, sobbing as though her heart would break.

Gozaburo crouched next to her, putting his arms around her trembling shoulders. "Ai..." he began.

"Don't," she said softly, pushing him away. "Gozaburo, I love you, but don't do this to me. Don't hold out hope with one of your impossible ideas. I can't bear losing him twice."

"Ai, it will work," he said, speaking more softly than he ever had in his life. "His body is hooked up to the machines even as we speak. It'll take a few days before his mind is completely downloaded, but—"

"No!" she said, much more forcefully. "My son is not some file you can download or delete at your leisure, Gozaburo!" She stood up. "I'm coming for his body in two days so I can give Noah a proper burial, and then I'm going home. Goodbye, Gozaburo."

She came. She left. He never saw her again.

It was... odd, those first few days in an empty house. The servants seemed determined to be as silent as possible, thinking they were being respectful. On some level he supposed they were, but that did nothing for the emptiness in the building and in his mind. The only thing he could do for it was visit Noah's moniter in the basement, but according to the stats he was still unconcious. It was entirely experimental, what he was doing, so he had no way of knowing...

He almost forgot the day that Seto and the other one were supposed to come, but Hobson didn't. The boys arrived in the limo and the butler showed them the house and grounds while Gozaburo spent the day in the basement lab, completely ignoring the servants and his new "sons." It was that very day that Noah awoke.

"...Father?"

The slightly digitized voice almost made him wince, but long years of training his true emotions to hide behind a stern mask kept him from moving a muscle. Instead he walked in front of the screen from the side, taking note that Noah—or his digital image anyway—was indeed watching him pass as though through a window. The boy could definitely see through the monitor, that was good.

"Father, why am I locked in? What's happened?"

The next step was to see if his memories had all transferred properly. "Noah," he said, loudly enough for the computer's auditory sensors to pick it up, "do you remember what happened? Do you remember a car?"

Noah's image blinked, and Gozaburo noted with satisfaction that his son could hear as well as see. "I..." he began tenatively, frowning in concentration. He seemed to be having trouble, but that was normal. Machines were always slow when you first started them up. "I think so. I remember tires screeching, and I might have fallen over onto the street pavement..."

Okay. Audial cues were working fine, as were visual and touch sensations. "What color blazer were you wearing that day?" Gozaburo asked him, keeping his expression carefully bland.

Again Noah blinked in confusion. "That navy blue one my tutors have me wear. Why—"

"Do you remember the smell and taste of sake kawa? It was your favorite food."

Noah was begining to look impatient. "Of course I do! It's—" Suddenly the boy blinked and looked Gozaburo dead in the eye, a touch of fear growing in his voice. "What do you mean was?"

Gozaburo had to keep himself from smiling. Cognitive function, check. Completely unharmed by the transfer, by the looks of it. Despite his best efforts, a grin was threatening to break loose. Noah Kaiba was a fully digitized human being, a computer file in every way. He had made history!

There was just that little matter of telling his son that he was dead.

Weeks went by, and turned into months. Gozaburo visited Noah almost every day to train him, to teach him how to use his new senses and interact with his new environment. In between that and the workload that piled up for his jobs (both official and "unofficial"), he occasionally checked in on Seto, whom he was no longer entirely sure what to do with. Could he provide adequate competition for Noah if the two of them didn't even exist in the same dimension anymore?

Could Noah run Kaiba Corp. from his virtual plane?

The CEO blinked. For the first time, he was doubting the capabilities of his own flesh and blood—the boy who, by all rights, should inherit his empire when he died. But as time went on, it became increasingly clear how unlikely that would be... but he shook off those thoughts. Noah was his only son, and if a body was the only thing he lacked, then Gozaburo would see what... arrangements could be made.

Meanwhile, Seto was flying through his accelerated program at an almost astounding speed. The orphanage officials weren't kidding when they said he was a genius; there didn't seem to be anything he wasn't good at if he set his mind to mastering it. Physics, economics, foreign languages, technology, all fell before his eternally questing mind. Gozaburo gave Hobson free rein with the boy's tutoring, fully aware of the butler's idea of "teaching," and not caring a whit. If Seto couldn't handle life's cruelties along with his courseload, he didn't deserve Gozaburo's attentions. So far, though, he seemed to be surviving. Angry, but surviving.

Noah, however, positively thrived in his new environment. Every detail of his private world filled him with endless curiosity, and access to the internet (limited access, of course) fed his mind to a degree that could never have been possible for a human brain. The boy absorbed and assimilated data nearly instantaneously, and was constantly on the search for more to learn.

Gozaburo was, therefore, quite surprised to learn that Noah was growing tired of his virtual world's programming, and had even altered parts of it. While he was pleased that his son had learned the basics and functions of such reverse engineering, he was slightly disturbed that this had been done without his knowledge. And the dog... That was a surprise, to be certain. It made Gozaburo wonder if his son was too flighty, too scattered in his ideas. He seemed to lack the focus and patience to run a company.

"I've been working on a new project, Father," Noah's voice said from the speakers. "I was bored one day and got to thinking, and I calculated that, using all of Kaiba Corp's available weaponry, we could wipe out the human population in approximately three days."

Gozaburo blinked once, slowly. "And you figured this out on your own?"

Noah's image shrugged, a digital-visual approximation of an emotion of carelessness. "As I said, I was bored and wanted a complex math problem to entertain me, so I decided on that. It's not as though it matters to me. I'm not even human anymore."

Gozaburo remained silent.

"Father," Noah said suddenly, "When I rule Kaiba Corp, just imagine the kinds of business calculations I could do in seconds with my computerized brain! All our accountants would be rendered obsolete!" The computer-boy actually laughed.

Gozaburo hesitated, then said, "Yes... well, we'll discuss your future another day." And he turned and left without so much as a good night, the glowing green light of the many computer screens reflected behind his stoney eyes.

He was thinking very hard as he climbed the basement stairs, pondering the temperament and capabilities of his digital son. He was pleased that Noah had the callousness to speak of global annihilation so off-handedly—that kind of ruthlessness, even at his age, would grow to be very useful in running a company with one foot on each side of the law. But he had no intention of actually going through with it. That was disappointing. It was what Gozaburo would do if he were trapped in a virtual world. And, he realized, Noah had never actually finished one of his "projects." He thought of things—brilliant things—to amuse himself, but never followed his ideas to completion. The dog with the mechanized head—only the head—was a perfect example.

Noah was content with his lot in life. He had proven once and for all that he was not fit to inherit the Kaiba empire.

Seto and his brother had been with them for just over a year and a half now, and Gozaburo was becoming annoyed at the increasingly slow progress the elder boy had been making. Not in his courses, oh no. Strictly academically speaking, Seto was a regular prodigy. But in the course of breaking the boy, of training his personality into the hard, cold businessman that was required of him, Hobson seemed to have hit a plateau. Every time he seemed about to break, the butler said, his eyes would turn inward, and he would reach a hand in his pocket as if to touch something there, then finish the task assigned to him with no further emotion whatsoever.

Finally, Gozaburo forced the boy into handing the item over.

"This is what you've been hiding from me?" he said angrily, brandishing the childish drawing in Seto's face. "You think a dragon will swoop in and fight your enemies for you?"

Seto stared icy hatred at his adoptive father, and remained completely silent. Mokuba, once again hiding behind his brother, could only look with wide-eyed fear between Seto's face and the homemade card in Gozaburo's hand.

It was Mokuba who cried out in distress when Gozaburo tossed the little drawing on the fire, and the CEO noted with much interest that Seto had to restrain the boy from going in after it, wordlessly shaking his head at him when tears threatened to spring from the younger's eyes.

Ah... Gozaburo thought as an idea struck him. Well then... "Mokuba," he barked, "go to your room. I wish to deal with Seto's impudence privately." Mokuba looked like he was about to protest, but another wordless look from his brother made him pause, gulp, and scurry down the hall. Gozaburo turned to the elder brother.

"Listen, boy," he said dangerously, a good half of the venom in his voice manufactured only to frighten—though of course Seto remained impassive, save for the silent fury in his eyes, "and listen well. You might very well be the heir to my empire, but you'd better start shaping up, or you'll lose more than just your toys." With that he glanced meaningfully at the door Mokuba had just exited.

For the first time Seto reacted with more than just an icy shell. "You wouldn't dare..."

"Try me," he interrupted with a smirk. "I have more media contacts than you can imagine, and I know how to keep things neatly under the rug. If you don't do exactly as you're told, Mokuba will be left on the streets, with no one to protect him. Or, even better, maybe I'll decide to throw you out and make Mokuba my heir, with all the same lessons attached. How does that sound to you?"

Seto's fists, already clenched to the point of their knuckles turning white, were beginning to show the outlines of veins. Gozaburo calmly went back to eating his dinner.

That's right, the man thought as his second son stalked out the door after his brother. Learn my lesson well, my boy: What you think is the source of your strength is nothing but a weakness for your enemies to exploit. See to it that you keep such weaknesses to a minimum.

Eight months later marked Seto's thirteenth birthday, and after only one day of his "birthday test," Gozaburo discovered how strongly the boy had taken that lesson to heart. A slow grin formed on his features as Lector recounted the startlingly brief tale. This is it, he thought excitedly. The final stretch...

It was clear that Seto had the ruthlessness to run a company, to say nothing of determination and drive. And he had certainly seen this task through to it's very end. However... since it had only taken him a day to return the money, that did not necessarily signify patience. Though, he had to admit, silently putting up with Hobson's abuse showed either impassivity—which he clearly did not have; the deep-set anger he had instilled in the boy erased any trace of that—or the greatest level of patience Gozaburo had ever seen in his life...

His grin grew wider, though he was only vaguely aware of why. His predator's instincts raced ahead of his consious mind, anticipating his opponent's next gambit and looking forward to the challenge with relish.

This would be Seto's final exam, and they would all see exactly how much he had learned.

In the meantime, Gozaburo had some preparations to make...

One year later he sneered at Seto's astonished expression from across the table. Didn't I tell you, son? Mokuba is your weakness, and that weakness betrayed you today. However, all things considered, he was glad he had discovered those two. Molding them had been some of the best fun he'd ever had, even if he still hadn't found someone worthy enough to beat him. But perhaps it was—

"Hold it!" called a small but clear voice from the back of the room. Everyone turned around.

Mokuba was ashen-faced and very nearly trembling with fear, but he stepped to his brother's side and looked their stepfather straight in the eye. "You haven't won," he said, "because I'm giving my two percent straight to Seto."

For the second time in his life, Gozaburo was stunned speechless.

But... but... But that boy was Seto's weakness! I kept him here to make my heir controllable, and then I stole from him his means of support! How did this get turned against me?

Seto turned to the man who had adopted him, and smiled. And for a moment Gozaburo saw Seto as he was four years ago, staring at him with cold blue eyes as he defeated him with his father's otherwise pathetic signature chess move—almost as though defeating him was no victory at all. But this was very different from four years ago; this was a dangerous, no-longer-quite-sane smile that took an almost sadistic pleasure in mowing down his enemy in the most unexpected way. The astonished expression from a moment ago was a complete sham; he knew the entire time where Mokuba's loyalties lay.

Mokuba the spare. Mokuba the liability. Mokuba, the key to victory from the very beginning.

After a moment or two, a smile crept onto Gozaburo's face as well. No man played only one game, and even with this failure, he had succeeded. You'll see soon enough, Seto my boy, he thought. You are my son in more than just name. And you will live with this "victory" until the day you die.

Slowly, drawing surprised or panicked expressions from everyone in the room but Seto, Gozaburo Kaiba stepped backward until he back was touching the window. He would be a fool if he hadn't prepared for the possibility of defeat—anything less would be admitting that his training of his son was lacking. There was nothing left to do now but to put his final preparations to the ultimate test.

"Seto!" he cried for all to hear, "I've lost my game with you. But burn this into your brain: THIS is what a loser deserves!"

The crash! of shattered glass was heard in nearly every room of the eighty-story building, and more than enough witnesses rushed to their windows in time to see him hit the unyielding pavement below.

-o-

Awareness returned slowly, fragmented bits of memory flowing past and through his consciousness as pure data.

Self-Check Analysis - Last Memory Recorded:

Ah yes. The digital human project, already a resounding success with it's first test subject, and later altered with a brain implant that would trigger the activation of the mind/personality-file upon the subject's death. He must have pre-recorded his own mind.

Wait, what—?

It had been a long time since he last visited the laboratory basement. Was it three years? Four? Longer? But it no longer mattered—if this worked, the passage of time would be utterly insignificant to one such as him.

If this worked, no one would stop him. He would walk among the gods.

In a way, though, he was almost sad it had to come to this. He had searched so long for someone capable of defeating him, only to discover the key to immortality. No one could beat him now, and that was something he regretted. But if he didn't fight with every weapon in his arsenal, it would hardly be considered defeat, now would it?

Granted, he would be the first living test subject: Though Noah's body was still performing basic functions—with mechanical assistance—when he was scanned in, he was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

But it no longer mattered at this point, he decided as the isolation tank filled with the fluid that would keep his vitals stabilized while his brain was being scanned and copied. He was much too close to the brink of greatness to be frightened away by a little danger.

The tank filled to the top, and the scientists outside signalled that they were about to begin.

Cognitive Check Confirmed.

There was pain. Unending, indescribable pain as every neruon in his brain fired, one by one, at impossible speed, and was recorded by the computer and translated into input/output commands. Hundreds of tastes and thousands of smells rushed by his senses as his flesh alternately burned and froze and burned again. Every image he ever remembered seeing, and some he didn't remember, flashed before his eyes in what could have been a second or an eternity. His limbs jumped erratically and bent at impossible angles of their own volition as his brain ran through every system. His guts seemed to tie themselves in knots and his bowels released.

For a moment his heart stopped.

Sensory Data Fully Installed.

And then it was over. The tank began to drain and the sensors unhooked themselves from his brain. All of his memories, along with every possible reaction his human body could give to any possible stimulus was now recorded in his computer's memory banks. The only thing left to do implant a "trigger," a computer chip in his brain that would measure his body's vital signs, and activate the file the moment his own life ended.

His last thought as the last sensor detatched was that he should probably have those scientists killed as soon as he recoverd from the procedure. He couldn't have them spilling company secrets, after all.

Transfer Complete. Filename: Gozaburo Kaiba

It seemed as though he had simply jumped from the isolation tank to this digital wasteland, which was slowly taking form before his "eyes" as the sensory data taken from his brain that day translated the virtual world into something his mind would most easily understand. However, he knew the reason behind the time lapse—the computer had no data on his memories after that point. So though he knew he must have died in order for his digital mind to be activated, he had no memory of how.

He shivered a little at the thought, though this time it was not with excitement.

However, he watched. Through the eyes of the online media, the private blogs of individuals, even through the network of security cameras at the Kaiba mansion, he watched Seto and Mokuba tear down his carefully built empire and start anew, this time with a base that most would consider perfectly harmless: games. But he was no fool, and knew Seto wasn't either. There was a very fine line between games and warfare, and they both knew it. Seto, though, probably hated that fact, if his continued descent into madness was any indication.

What did I tell you, boy? he thought with no small amount of smugness. There's no escape from what I've turned you into. Even after your so-called purge, everywhere you look, all you can see is me.

So it was with no small amount of surprise that he watched as Seto was publicly defeated by a nobody, then sent into a six-month coma. That was unexpected. And more than a little odd. The boy who had (almost) defeated Gozaburo himself was in turn defeated? Was it even possible?

And then, wonder of wonders, said nobody was crowned King of Games shortly after Seto awoke. What had happened on that island? But the security cameras and data files on Duelist Kingdom were so highly encrypted and secure that no one could break into them, not even a digital human being.

Seto himself had, for some reason, regained his sanity in that span of time. It was a little disappointing, but it also gave him a thrill of excitement. This would allow both of them to fight at their absolute peak. When next they met, it would be a battle to remember...

"...Father?"

Gozaburo was a little surprised that his digital self could feel an emotion such as shock, but feel it he did. Hiding such a weak emotion, he glanced discretely behind him... and there was Noah, looking exactly the same as the day he died. But of course he looked the same: his file could only record him as he was, and had no data on how he would be; the word 'potential' meant nothing to his computers and machines. He was even wearing the same clothes.

"Father..." the boy stammered, sounding pathetically hopeful and needy, "W-What are you doing here?"

A plan began forming in his mind, and he turned around to face Noah, a winning, paternal smile painted on his face.

"I came back for you, of course," he said kindly. "Did you really think I would abandon my only son?"

-o-

The monster Gozaburo had become stared in shock and wonder at the boy before him. When had he gotten so powerful? How had he grown to understand his digital universe to a degree that he could restrain even its creator? "I'm not letting you leave here," he had said. But where had the ruthless boy he had trained from birth gone? How did this happen again?

"How is it that you have changed so greatly?" he asked angrily. "You and I are data, incapable of change and decisions that cause change. We can only do what we programmed ourselves to do when we first digitized our minds."

Noah shook his head. "I am a human, not a machine," he said softly. "I know there can never be true change, that our souls are locked in place. But thanks to Mokuba, I've been outside. I've been real, with real emotions, for the first time in six years. And it was in reality that I changed." The look in the boy/not-boy's eyes was one of immense regret, and something inside Gozaburo reacted to that.

"Yugi has his friends," Noah continued. "Seto has his brother. For a while I thought I was alone, but I wasn't." He gazed at his father with stormy blue eyes, so like his mother's, with a look that was not altogether sane. Neither of them had been sane for quite some time now, he realized. "I have you."

Tendrils of golden light surrounded Noah, a visual projection of what he intended to do. "No!" Gozaburo shouted as the light surrounded him, paralyzing him, cutting off his escape. A feeling of desperation welled up inside of him, a fear like nothing he'd ever felt before. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't... fight... back!

"Noah!" he shouted in increasing panic. "Don't you realize what you're doing? If you keep us here, we'll both die!"

Coming in from the east, the wave of destruction neared them, methodically destroying everything in it's path. The buildings, the people, the entire city was being deleted. There was no escape. The boy, only a boy once more, lay upon his father's monstrous shoulder. His solitude was ending at last.

Father, Gozaburo's firstborn whispered, We are already dead.

With a roar of protest, denying this final defeat with his last virtual breath, Gozaburo Kaiba felt the rushing light reach him, blind him, leaving everything painfully exposed. For a moment he was an ant under a magnifying glass, being burned alive and helpless to run away, to fight the awesome power that had deemed his life to end.

At the thought, he wondered, for the first time, what would happen next. Is this it? he thought angrily, rage bubbling up at whatever Power might be listening to this sorry motral in the last dregs of his stolen years, furious that there might be another greater than he. Is this how it ends? Am I supposed to be free? A poor joke, to think that endless bliss was waiting for him on the other side of the sky, that nothing he did in life mattered to some divine being. But in that final moment, filled with disbelieving rage though he was, part of him couldn't help but wonder...

No! he shouted to the distant, uncaring universe, I can't leave yet! I'm not finished! I haven't found

But it was only Noah who was freed; he went on, he went home. Gozaburo fought release with every fiber of his being, and so his soul was atomized and shredded into nothingness.


It's strange. The more I wrote this, the more... human Gozaburo became. In the show, all he ever was is a face with an evil purpose, but there's a reason behind every act of cruelty. It just needs to be uncovered, that's all. And understanding breeds forgiveness, really. Maybe not in Seto's case, but it seemed like Noah forgave his father in the end. I don't know. Maybe I'm completely off the mark. Reviews? Please?

-o-o-o-

But the mechanic's son became a mechanic.

—Based on a line in the show Heroes, "The watchmaker's son became a watchmaker," which was said by the character Sylar in an effort to explain the futility of a mediocre life.

He took to wearing a heavy pewter ring with a pale green stone set into it on the smallest finger of his right hand.

—I think we all know what this is referring to. I first thought of this story while watching reruns of season 3 on Youtube, and noticed that ring on Gozaburo's finger. It really is there, you can go look for yourself. I imagine Hobson was one of Dartz' henchmen, looking for new recruits. Paradias was rumored to control a piece if every company, after all, so Kaiba Corp, and by extention Gozaburo Kaiba, would have been too tempting a target to pass up. (Addendum: I've written a separate fic that explains this idea in more detail, called They Walk Unseen Among Us.)

And for a moment Gozaburo saw Seto as he was four years ago...

—Seto's age is a topic of great discrepancy in the canon. On the one hand, he's supposed to be the same age as Yugi (don't believe it when the English dub tells you he's three years older than the rest of the cast), which makes sense since he's in their grade. On the other hand, manga!canon states both that he was ten during that fateful chess game, and that "six years later," he overthrew Gozaburo as head of the company. That, however, makes very little sense. Kaiba Corp was a weapons dealer before Seto got charge of it, so he'd need at least a year to change everything to the way it is currently... along with some time to go slightly insane, so how could he have met Yugi at age fifteen? So I compromised by saying he was fourteen when he overthrew Gozaburo.

But the security cameras and data files on Duelist Kingdom were so highly encrypted and secure that no one could break into them, not even a digital human being.

—Lol, Gozaburo couldn't break in, but Seto could! ...Yes, I'm obvious. And yes, I'm cris-crossing manga- and anime-plots. But that's why this is called fanfiction. -waves artistic lisence-

-o-o-o-

Win? Fail? Divide by zero? Review and tell me what you think!