Inspiration is a fickle thing, and sometimes it's interesting to reflect on what kind of scenes will cause a story to pop up in my head. This one was actually inspired by another anime. Bleach, to be specific. I'm watching the entire series over again, basking in the nostalgia and whatnot, and those of you who've watched this anime or read this manga might remember the sentiment held by Tatsuki in regards to Orihime; "The rule is: anyone who makes Orihime cry gets their ass whipped by me!"

That idea stuck in my head for a little while, until coming out as this little series of scenes. Thing is, it's a bit more complicated with Seto and Mokuba than it is for Tatsuki and 'Hime, isn't it?

It's still a good rule.

Year Three.

"What are you doing over here?"

They had no names. As far as he was concerned, they had no faces. They almost had no voices. It was a chore to remember them all. They milled through the place like sixteen-year-olds at the DMV, one after another after another, some pleasant enough but all too stupid or distracted or altogether irritating to be taken seriously.

And they called him the child.

If the fresh meat was bad enough, though, it was nothing compared to the rotten; those bodies that had been left to sit and fester long enough to qualify as fossils with legs, and it was one of those that approached him now. She was an ancient woman, a veritable guardian angel to the younger children and a hell-risen harpy to the teenagers. He was just old enough for her to think that he didn't need a guardian, but not quite old enough to become a target, and so she was neutral with him. For the most part.

Seto Yagami decided that it could have been worse.

He turned to face the old witch with the same deadpan, I'm-just-doing-my-job expression that she was wearing, and he said, "I'd like to be alone right now." This was usually enough to send most of the workers away; it was just the excuse they were waiting to hear.

Not the witch.

"Your brother is looking for you."

This was nothing new, Seto thought woodenly. Mokuba was always looking for him, even when he was standing right in front of him. He was three years old, and had the attention span of a hyper goldfish. Sometimes it was tiring, sometimes it was annoying, but Seto tried to forget those things. Small children needed a lot of attention, and Mokuba was certainly small enough. He was positively tiny, and many people were surprised that he wasn't still waddling around in diapers. When he spoke, a lot of the people who came to find potential adoptees would have looked right at home in a freak show. Evidently Mokuba was still supposed to be babbling nonsensically in that way adults tended to find irresistibly adorable.

"I'd rather not face him right now," Seto said.

"I'm not so sure it matters what you want, Seto," replied the witch, sharply, as if she had any place criticizing him. "Your brother wants to see you. He's nearly inconsolable. Come with me, please."

Seto scowled. "It's not my job to give my brother everything he wants," he said, just as sharply, "especially if he's causing a scene. It's my job to give him what he needs."

The witch scoffed. "Your job is to do as you are told, Seto. It's our job to give your brother what he needs."

"Is that right?" Seto snapped, blue eyes catching fire. "You should try doing it sometime."

"Don't take that tone with me, young ma—"

"My mother used to scold me like that," Seto interrupted. "You are not my mother. You are not my caretaker. The only reason I'm still here, the only reason anybody around this trash-heap even tolerates me anymore, is because it isn't legal for me to leave. I decide what my brother needs, and I decide what he gets, and if the only answer you have to that is that I can't, then I'm done listening to you. If you're so defensive about your job, do it. Care for the children who need you. I don't."

The witch stared at him, mouth agape.

She stalked off without another word.

". . . Wow, Yagami. Not bad." One of the older children, about fourteen or so, was watching Seto. He had a group of friends with him, and all of them looked impressed. Part of Seto resented that look, but another part, a hidden part, swelled with pride.

He wanted to snap at them to mind their own damned business.

But instead, he simply nodded to them, and walked away. He heard them talking amongst themselves. ". . . Not as bad as I thought . . ." one of them said. "Yeah, that was pretty good," said another. "Never seen the witch look like that. That was frickin' awesome."

Seto Yagami felt a tiny smile rise on his lips.

A small voice cried out a few minutes later, wet with tears: "Nii'tama!"

And it vanished almost immediately.

". . . Coming, Mokie."

It crossed his mind that the only semblance of approval he'd ever gotten from his peers had risen from making his baby brother cry.

Year Six.

"That's enough."

He wasn't the kind of man used to being reprimanded or countermanded. He whirled around to face the doorway with a murderous look on his squinty little face, and Seto Kaiba glared right back at him.

". . . Excuse me, Seto-sama?" Daimon said sharply.

"You heard me, servant," Seto snapped. "That's enough. Get out. Now."

The embittered troll in the tuxedo actually laughed. "I'm afraid you're going to have to adjust that attitude of yours if you expect me to respect your requests, Seto-sama. Rid this room of your presence before I get angry."

He turned around and raised the switch again.

Seto's arm snapped out snake-like and wrenched the damnable instrument from the old man's grip, breaking two fingers in the process. Daimon grunted in sudden pain and crumpled to his knees. Seto glared down at him like a malevolent god.

Like a Kaiba.

". . . I don't expect you to respect me, Daimon," he said. "I expect you to obey me."

There was satisfaction. To see the man who had tormented him, who had beaten him into shape, who had forced him to go days on days without any more than fifteen minutes of sleep at a time, the man whose switch he now held in hand—that had been lain across his bare skin so many times—looking up at him from his knees.

But the satisfaction was muted, overshadowed and overpowered, by raw fury.

For perhaps the first time, Daimon saw the monster he and Master Kaiba had built. It terrified him. He scrambled to his feet, bowed hastily, and rushed from the room as though escaping some natural disaster. In some ways, that's precisely what he was doing.

The fire in Seto Kaiba's eyes dimmed down to a slow simmer.

Mokuba, dressed as he almost always was in his khaki pants and cream-colored sweater, was rubbing an apparently stinging hand. He looked up, tears still welling in his eyes, and put on a smile. "Niisama," he said, subdued but relieved.

"Mokuba," Seto replied, adjusting the jacket of his stark-white suit. "Are you hurt?"

"No, Niisama," Mokuba replied. "Thank you, Niisama."

The embers glowed anew. Seto wanted to comfort his still-tiny sibling. He wanted it very badly. But he said only, "Continue with your studies, Mokuba. I have a meeting."

"Yes, Niisama," came the mechanical reply as he turned away.

Year Seven.

"Hold still, kid," Seto Kaiba said, as he worked at the lock holding his brother in a cell. It was quick work, simple work, and it was unlocked in seconds. But before he could step inside and deal with the chains holding Mokuba to the wall, he saw the boy's eyes go wide, and he whirled. His hand met the cold grasp of the gun at his hip.

A golden gleam flashed in the dank air, and a man he hated waited for him.

"And lo a voice from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" Pegasus Crawford's visible brown eye twinkled. A wide grin spread on his face. "Welcome, Kaiba-boy. We wondered if you would attend my little tournament. I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see you."

"Nor I," Seto snarled.

His body would not move.

Torches flickered and popped, shadows danced to a tune sung in hell, and his body refused to move. Crawford's face was laughing, even when his voice did not. He said, lilting and mocking, "I must commend you. To think, the lengths you would go to rescue your family."

Seto's eyes narrowed. "I take it you didn't anticipate my coming here."

"Oh, no," Crawford held up a hand as if shooing away the very idea. "I read you quite well. I very much expected your arrival. You did not disappoint. Why, you even made it past Saruwatari. That's impressive, Kaiba-boy."

Seto bit back a laugh.

"Your mistake was thinking I would dance on your strings, Crawford," he said, scowling.

"No," said Crawford, his grin widening, "my mistake was thinking you placed your brother above your pride."

The world lit with wild gold fire, and Mokuba's tears shone suspended in the air as his soulless body crumpled to the stone floor.

Year Nine.

"Are you sure you won't reconsider, Seto-sama?"

Seto Kaiba glared at the slight figure standing in the doorway as if willing it to disappear. "I've made my decision, Yoshimi. The answer is no. If you need me to repeat myself again, perhaps I would be better off finding someone else to manage the house. Someone better versed in human language."

Akiko Yoshimi wasn't what you would call an assertive person, by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, she found courage today, and did not back down. Her face was stolid, unmoving, and Seto's eyebrows raised in slight surprise. "Seto-sama, I understand that you have made a decision. What I'm having trouble with is why. Bocchan isn't in trouble, is he?"

Seto sighed. "No, Yoshimi, he is not. This is not a punishment."

"Isn't it? Seto-sama, this is important to him. He was so excited for weeks, since the day you announced plans to start this new tournament. He even prepared a cover letter for you. I'm not sure what you think this is about, Seto-sama, but to him . . . to Bocchan, this is a chance to prove himself. To the directors, to human resources . . . to you."

Seto's glare lessened. "Yoshimi . . . an event of this scale is unprecedented. It's the largest project this company has undertaken in the past fifteen years."

"And the vice-president should be a part of it."

"Damn it, Yoshimi! You know as well as any of us that Mokuba isn't old enough to act as vice-president. The position will be his, I have made sure of it, and I have absolutely no problem with giving it to him . . . in ten years."

"Seto-sama, whether he's active in his position as vice-president doesn't change the way he feels about it. He's been working so hard to prepare for this project, it's . . . it's heartbreaking. Seto-sama, I'm begging you. Reconsider."

Seto was unused to this kind of resistance. More to the point, he was unused to Akiko being so forward, so adamant, about anything. He had been so sure, so convinced, that he had made the right decision, and the head of the Kaiba Corporation was not a man known to second-guess his decisions once they were made.

Nonetheless, he was guessing now.

". . . This isn't about the job. If it were, there would be no argument. It would be his. I'm not so blind that I haven't noticed the kind of time and effort he's put into this." Seto lifted a manila folder that had been sitting on his desk for the past week. "It puts most of us to shame. I don't want to do this. But I cannot allow it. I'm sorry, Yoshimi, but this discussion is over."

"I . . . I guess it is," Akiko murmured, sighing and shaking her head as she turned away. She put her hand on the door, but before closing it, she added: "You know how much Bocchan looks up to you, don't you?"

Seto blinked. "Of course I do."

She turned to look at him, and that look was disappointed. "You're more than his brother, Seto-sama. You're more than his guardian, more even than his father. You're his hero. And I've always thought it was an unspoken rule . . . but I guess I was wrong."

". . . Unspoken rule." Seto repeated quietly.

"Your hero shouldn't ever make you cry."

Year Nine.

Mokuba Kaiba was strong.

He was brave, he was smart, he was charming. He was loyal.

And he didn't cry.

It was a rule. He decided it was a rule when he was about six years old, after he and Niisama had been adopted into the Kaiba family, and Niisama had been named the heir to the Kaiba Corporation. Mokuba didn't remember what it was, but he thought it had something to do with their father. Their real father.

He'd been bawling. The staff couldn't calm him down, even Daimon with his cursing and his shouting and his threatening couldn't make it stop. He, in fact, only made it worse. It got so bad that eventually, Niisama came in. Gozaburo was with him.

"What . . . is this?" Gozaburo asked in his quiet rumble.

"I'll handle it," Niisama said, in his Kaiba voice.

"See that you do, Seto. Daimon! With me. I think we may need to discuss your effectiveness. You seem to be slipping in your old age."

Daimon shot Mokuba a withering glare. "Of course, Kaiba-sama."

Niisama grabbed Daimon by the shoulder as he made to leave, and leaned in close. Mokuba could hear him, though, when he whispered, ". . . Punish him for your ineptitude, and we will discuss a more permanent state of termination. Am I clear?"

Daimon went stiff, and his eyes widened slightly.

". . . Of course, Seto-sama."

Gozaburo was smirking.

So was Niisama.

And Mokuba just kept on sobbing. This wasn't right. It was all wrong, and he didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit, and he wanted to go back home. Not to the orphanage, that wasn't home. He wanted real home, just like he wanted real father, and he wanted the Niisama that smiled.

When everyone had left the room, except Niisama, he shut the door.

Mokuba dared to look up at him.

. . . Niisama was smiling.

"Way to go, kid," he said, and he wasn't using his Kaiba voice anymore. It was Niisama's voice. "Keep this up and we'll have him fired before August." He sat down on Mokuba's bed and gestured for Mokuba to join him.

He did.

"It's been a while, hasn't it, Mokuba?" Niisama asked. "Since we've been a team."

Suddenly Mokuba was smiling, too.

And Niisama kept going on for a while about how Mokuba was so important to him, that they were a team, that nothing could ever beat them as long as they were together. Mokuba couldn't remember the specifics anymore, hard as he tried sometimes. The one thing that always stuck out in Mokuba's mind when he thought back on that day wasn't the words, but the smile on Niisama's face. How tired, how stressed, how hurt it was.

And Mokuba decided that he would never cry again.

It made Niisama hurt too much.

Today, he broke his own rule. He couldn't help it. He just couldn't. He'd tried—oh, how he'd tried—but once the floodgates opened, he just . . . couldn't stop himself. He threw himself on his bed and sobbed, and the worst part about it was, he didn't really know why.

He tried to tell himself it wasn't a big deal.

He tried to tell himself that it didn't mean anything.

He tried to tell himself that Niisama was boss.

He couldn't hear any of it.

All he could hear was, Absolutely not, echoing in his ears over and over and over again.

Eventually it stopped. Just . . . stopped. Like he'd run out of tears. It was then that he felt a sudden weight on his bed, and a sudden hand on his back. He didn't move. He didn't speak. He didn't dare.

What he heard next wasn't the voice of Kaiba-shachou, chief executive officer of the Kaiba Corporation. It wasn't the voice of Seto-sama, who went to school meetings and signed his report cards and set his curfew.

He heard his Niisama's voice.

". . . Hey, kiddo."

"N . . . N-Niisama . . . I . . . I . . ."

"Shhh . . . don't talk, little one. Just listen. Okay? Can you do that for me?"

Mokuba still didn't remove his head from his pillow, but he nodded, "Yes, Niisama."

There was a moment of silence as Niisama collected himself.

"I'm not perfect," he said. "I don't think I'm perfect, either. Sometimes I think I'm almost hopelessly flawed. I hate mistakes, but I make them just as often as anyone else. The only major difference, I think, is that I can admit to myself when I've made one."

Mokuba finally found the willpower to sit up. He wiped his face, and turned to look at his brother. Niisama was staring at a poster Mokuba had put on his closet door, and he was holding something in his hands, which were dangling between his knees.

"Today, I've made a mistake," Niisama said, and he turned to look Mokuba in the eye. The young Kaiba expected to see the same kind of look he'd seen on that day when he'd gotten Daimon fired, but he didn't. Niisama didn't look tired. He didn't look hurt.

He looked . . . he looked . . .

Niisama drew in a breath. "I'm sorry, Mokuba. I did you a grave disservice today. Forgive me?"

Mokuba could only nod, dumbstruck.

Niisama's smile widened.

He held up his hand, and a little metal whistle hung from it. He presented it to Mokuba. "Battle City is going to be a warzone. Every general needs a strong, capable officer at their right hand. What do you say, Mokuba? Would you be willing to join me on the battlefield? Keep the enemy in line?"

Mokuba took the whistle, but he couldn't keep a grip on it for long. He stared, unable to figure out what to say. His eyes found a hidden stash of new tears, and he nearly cried again. He bit the inside of his cheek and drew in a deep, steadying breath of his own.

". . . Yes, sir!"

He saluted.

Niisama's smile split into a full grin, and he pulled Mokuba into a one-armed hug.

"That's my boy."

Year Eleven.

Mokuba Kaiba drove a knuckle into his right eye, cursing the moisture he found there, and glared hatefully at the man in front of him. "You don't know anything! You keep talking like I'm supposed to listen to you, but all I hear is the same bunch of mindless crap you're always spewing!"

Joey Wheeler laughed. "Yeah, 'n all I'm hearin' from you is the same rose-colored garbage! Like he's so motherfucking perfect we should all just drop to our knees 'n goddamn worship him! Sorry to break it to ya, kid, but your brother's no fuckin' saint."

"Oh, but you are?" Mokuba screamed. "What kind of idiot do you think I am? You almost ran him over with that stupid motorcycle, but he's the bad guy? Again?"

"Hey, I told you I was—"

"Yeah, and you sounded so sincere!"

"I'm fuckin' late, I don't have time for this shit," Joey muttered, and started walking. Mokuba stepped in front of him and pushed him back.

"Where do you think you're—"

Joey grabbed Mokuba by the shoulder and tossed him aside. The black-haired boy landed flat on his backside, and the lance of pain that shot up his spine was enough to make the tears of frustration he was barely holding back gush out in a sudden torrent.

"I'm late. Go back to your fuckin' mansion."

He started walking again.

He stopped again.

Seto Kaiba was standing in his path, and in spite of the near-collision that had almost knocked his head from his shoulders, not even a single hair was out of place. His face was untouched by any emotion, his eyes bright but neutral.

"I wouldn't be interested in an apology, even if you were inclined to give an honest one," he said. "Nothing happened for which an apology would be necessary. It would take more than idiotic driving to injure me. I would be inclined to let you on your way, and pretend this entire debacle never happened. Except . . ."

"Except what?" Joey snarled.

Seto's right hand curled into a fist and cracked against the blond's face, sending him sailing. He crumpled on the sidewalk and groaned. Joey shook his head and looked up, his face a picture in surprised pain, as if he were realizing for the first time that the stuck-up rich boy could fight.

Seto's hands were in the pockets of his slacks again, and he stared down at Joey Wheeler as if waiting for a sacrifice in his name.

He said:

". . . No one escapes punishment for making my brother cry."