Version: 5.0 – Minor fixes
Conceptualized/First Written: 10/15/03
Edits: 8/15/04, 11/23/04, 12/4/05, 3/23/08
Rated PG13 for angst and such…
Disclaimer: I don’t own Yu-Gi-Oh. This story is for fun, not for profit. Not for my profit, anyway.
RECAP: Téa’s parents died. She didn’t have a place to call home— until Seto Kaiba, of all people, offered her a job. Too good to be true? Maybe. She’s just moved in, and her job’s just getting started…
“Miss Gardner? May I speak to you outside for a moment?”
Téa glanced up at her third period teacher, tired blue eyes gazing wonderingly at her teacher’s brown ones. She rose slowly to her feet, not noticing the curious gazes of Yugi, Joey, Tristan— and Seto Kaiba.
Outside the classroom, Téa was surprised to see not one, but all seven of her teachers out there, each of them wearing a mask of concern on their normally expressionless faces.
“Miss Gardner,” Ms. Ninomiya, Téa’s Japanese Literature teacher began, twisting the ring on the forefinger of her right hand, “We hate to bring this up, but…” she trailed off, catching the eye of Mr. Kinomoto, Téa’s World History teacher.
“Well, Miss Gardner, we’ve noticed a severe drop in the quality of your work since… since, well, your parents passed away.” He too, looked uncomfortable discussing such a sensitive topic, especially with the way it appeared that he and six other teachers were ganging up on a defenseless student.
Téa’s science teacher, Mr. Takahashi, took the reigns now and spoke, “And it’s not as if that’s not a plausible excuse. I think most of us can understand the grief of losing loved ones…” Takahashi glanced at his fellow teachers, who all nodded solemnly. Téa’s eyes were downcast, but her lips moved slightly, though no words passed through them.
“What we’re suggesting,” Mr. Eba, Téa’s English teacher took over, “Is that you perhaps take a week off or so from school… maybe to just let things sink in.”
“Yes, there’s no reason why you should over-stress yourself by having to focus on school every single day, when you obviously still need time to mourn, to heal,” Ms. Misao, Téa’s gym teacher, added in, nodding as she spoke.
Mrs. Higurashi, Téa’s Home Economics teacher, smiled at Téa, even though the girl’s eyes were lowered to the floor as though she were being reprimanded.
“This is not a suspension, Téa. It’s something your other teachers and I have discussed at great length with one another, and with the deans. And we ARE going to give you your work for the next two weeks right now. But we want you to take it at your own pace, and to call one of your classmates if you need to. But rest,” Téa’s math teacher, Mr. Furuhata, added.
“Yes, stay at home.” The teachers all nodded in agreement, “Heal.”
“I am SO bored.” Téa flopped backwards on the couch, staring up, up, up— and, no matter how hard Téa squinted, she couldn’t tell if there were tiles on the ceiling or not.
She didn’t want to focus on two weeks’ worth of schoolwork at the moment —she had left school shortly before the lunch period, hardly offering an explanation to her friends other than that she was going home and resting for a while.
But she wasn’t much in the mood for questions, either. And she was getting tired of everyone’s apologies. Perhaps being alone was the best thing.
‘Who knows, maybe Kaiba’s got something going on with that solitude-policy of his.’
Funny that she would ever find something GOOD about Kaiba’s voluntary-isolationist attitude.
It wasn’t long before Téa grew bored even with resting, and so she sprung to her feet. In the past week or so since she’d been staying at the Kaiba mansion -including the week when she hadn’t been allowed to stay in her own house- she’d slept on the couch, and barely explored the place. Kaiba wasn’t supposed to be home until after 5:30, and Mokuba… well, being in elementary school, he’d probably get off around 2:30, and be home shortly thereafter. But there were HOURS until then. It was only 12:26.
‘Okay then, time to explore.’
Téa started to look around. She was in the vast Kaiba mansion, on an enormous estate, property of the youngest and richest young man in Domino City —maybe even all of Tokyo?— and she hadn’t even begun to explore.
Téa already knew about the living area— the place she’d made her own room of sorts for the past several days. She kept her satchel by the couch, but left her duffle bag with her extra changes of clothing in the ground floor bathroom closet— a bathroom that Mokuba had been courteous enough to show her, after he saw Téa make yet another trip all the way upstairs just to use the bathroom.
‘What else is on the ground level that I don’t even know about?’ Téa wondered to herself, stepping into the kitchen. The fridge was on her right upon entering through the swinging door, while a series of cabinets lined the wall, and a small countertop underneath the far right counters held a toaster and a shiny waffle iron.
‘Somehow Kaiba doesn’t strike me as much of a cook though… Huh. For all I know he’s an Iron Chef in disguise.’
The kitchen was large, but there wasn’t anything of particular interest to Téa there— even the refrigerator, with its built-in ice maker —and was that a TV?— was bare of any magnets or decorations.
‘Back at my old house, the fridge was always covered in stuff— appointment notices, pictures, drawings, and even my high school entrance exams— even though they were two years old!’ The thought saddened Téa some, remembering her old house and how sentimental her parents could be —were, Téa corrected herself— but now…
There was no wall separating the tiled kitchen from the carpeted room with two couches, a large bookshelf, and a large television, surrounded by all the latest gaming consoles, and even a Duel Disk II, though there was no deck inside.
‘An entertainment room, I guess, for lack of a better name.’ Téa thought to herself, shifting her gaze to the opening in the wall. There was a short hallway with the entrance to the laundry room and the garage (Téa assumed) to her right, with a doorway to the ground floor bathroom just before that. Kaiba’s office was connected to the bathroom, as it lay on the opposite side of the wall, with its door on Téa’s right, as she approached the front door.
She stood, looking all around her, taking in the huge space and the decorations— which Kaiba and Mokuba probably didn’t think twice about, as they saw them every day.
‘I bet this mirror here costs more than a year’s worth of school lunches,’ Téa thought, facing a four-foot tall mirror hung high above Téa’s head— all the way down to her knees. It was decorated with decorative moldings— robed women, flowers, and vases, all painted a rich gold color, so as not to detract from the simplicity the mirror brought to the marble entryway.
‘That’s funny. Something seems off…’ Téa ran her fingers over the mirror, brushing the tips against a carved woman and the water vase she was holding at an angle, letting the carved stream of water pour down half the length of the mirror.
The base of the carved base protruded out, and when Téa’s finger ran over the bottom, she felt a strange bump. Without realizing, she’d pushed the bump —a button!— in, and there was a sudden clicking sound.
‘Uh oh… what have I done now?’ Téa took a step backwards— nothing seemed to be happening, and nothing seemed out of place about the mirror— it was still in one piece and still reflected Téa’s form.
“Ah, Miss Gardner,” an unfamiliar voice, tinged with a British accent, spoke, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Huh… what…? Who’s there? What’s going on?!” Téa demanded, looking around her in fear. Still, no one was there.
Suddenly the clicking sound from behind the mirror stopped, and there was silence for a brief second— before the mirror slid up on the wall, revealing a dark, stone staircase going up— to places unknown.
“If you’ll just come up the stairs, Miss Gardner, I’ll be glad to explain everything.”
Téa wasn’t so quick to trust an unfamiliar voice —but then again, she WAS in Kaiba’s mansion, and wasn’t this place one of the most secure homes in the country?
‘Short of living in a bank vault, I mean…’ Téa glanced up at the stairs hesitantly, the only light defining one step from another a dim bluish-white light from the walls.
Swallowing her doubts and fears, Téa stepped forward into the darkness, and up the stairs.
“Uh… hello?” Téa had reached the platform at the top of the stairs— which was just more stone lit by thin rows of bluish-white light lining the walls.
“Third door on your right, Miss Gardner.”
Téa glanced up towards the ceiling and saw the dark outline of a speaker. It only made sense— there was no way someone could have projected their voice that far. But downstairs, Téa hadn’t seen any speakers…
‘I think Kaiba’s hiding a lot more than I thought, if he’s got himself a secret floor!’ Téa thought to herself.
Téa reached the third room, and opened the heavy steel door with some trepidation.
“Ah, Miss Gardner, you’ve arrived.” The same voice that had spoken to her over the speakers was now right in front of her— and belonging to a thin, older gentleman with a ring of white hair around his head. He had a bushy mustache of the same color, beneath which was a sincere smile.
“I am Charles, head of security here at the Kaiba estate. Welcome.”
“Ah… thanks,” Téa sweatdropped, surprised by the massive amount of technology she was surrounded by. Charles sat in a black leather chair with wheels, so he could spin around and look at any of the monitors on the other three walls of the small room. Panels in front of Charles were lined with various buttons and switches, some of them labeled. But Téa had no idea what any of them did.
All she knew was that each monitor showed a place in the house— some of them rooms Téa hadn’t even seen.
“I’d introduce myself,” Téa began, looking somewhat sheepish, especially in awe of all the technology this ‘Charles’ had at his fingertips. “But you already seem to know my name, so…”
“Ah yes. Well, Master Kaiba informed me of your arrival to the household, and suggested I put you at ease by familiarizing you with the security of the estate.”
“Oh…” Téa’s attention was captured by one of the monitors, displaying what looked like… ‘That can’t be a dance studio…’ Téa squinted to get a closer look, but the screen flickered for a moment and showed a different room.
“Here’s a map of the estate,” Charles spoke up, handing Téa what looked like a Palm Pilot.
“Wow, what is this thing?”
“One of Kaiba Corp’s latest products— the KC100, a versatile, mobile, personal information storage system. These particular models are used for security, but this model you have only contains the house mapping programming.”
“I see…” Téa stared at the device a moment, and pushed the tiny gray button beside the silver Kaiba Corp Logo. Instantly, a three dimensional model of the house appeared, turning and zooming in until it showed the hallway in which the security room was positioned.
“Those two dots are us. The device functions as a sort of Global Positioning System, even though no maps besides those of the Kaiba mansion have been downloaded. All the same, the KC100 is linked to the Kaiba Corporation network, and can interface with any compatible products, be they entertainment players, gaming consoles, or even the grocery ordering system on the kitchen refrigerator.”
Téa’s eyes went wide, “Grocery ordering system!? That’s what the TV on the fridge is for!?”
“Well,” Charles chuckled slightly at how wide Téa’s sky blue eyes were, “It’s not as if Master Kaiba has time to buy his own food.”
“No…” Téa said quietly, staring at the model once more. She fumbled with the directional keypad to rotate and find out what the other rooms in the mysterious mezzanine hallway were. “I guess not.”
‘Kaiba’s not like other guys… not like any other people. I mean, besides all the riches and technology separating him from your average Joey, he’s also got his own company to run. And he’s the only one looking after his brother… well, until now. Until me.’
“Feel free to tour the house, Miss Gardner. At 4:00, I retire to my own household around the opposite side of the estate, with the rest of the servants. If you have any questions, just find the white intercom panels placed throughout the house, and enter code ‘541.’ You can reach me immediately that way.”
“Oh, okay… Uhm, hey, can I ask you something, Mr… Charles?”
“Charles will be fine, Miss Gardner. What do you want to know?”
“Uhm… well, I was wondering… what happened to Kaiba’s dad? I mean, that is, uh…” Téa was well aware that Mokuba and Seto Kaiba’s mother had died —that was what Mokuba had told her, anyway— but she didn’t know anything about their father. Only that he didn’t appear to be around anymore. Still, the curiosity was burning her from the inside out, and she wondered just what other dark secrets Seto Kaiba was hiding behind his complacent mask.
The gentlemanly smile that had been on Charles’ face faded. “While I have been in the employ of the Kaiba family for many years, it is not my place to discuss such matters. Such questions are best left to Master Kaiba himself.”
“Oh, sorry….” Téa began, turning. She felt somewhat guilty for having asked such a question when really it wasn’t any of her business, but she couldn’t shake the strange feeling that she knew less about Seto Kaiba than she should— for someone who was not only in his employ, but also considered him a friend…
“Miss Gardner?” Charles spoke up, even as Téa’s hand was on the doorknob. The young brunette turned to face the elderly security chief once more.
“Master Kaiba is a very, shall we say, personal young man. Perhaps questions regarding his past are best left between those… not in his employ.”
With that, Charles left Téa to her own thoughts, turning back to the security monitors.
‘Just what was he implying, anyway? Not only did he say that Kaiba’s dad was in his past, so I guess he really did die… or something. But then, Charles said something about asking Kaiba himself, only “questions regarding his past are best left between those not in his employ.” Was he referring to me?’
There wasn’t any other explanation, really. Surely Charles knew that Kaiba had employed her— why else would he have felt it necessary to know all about the security of the house? Ordinary guests probably didn’t get such briefings.
Téa glanced down at the KC100 in her hand, wondering where to go.
On her way back to the mirror-door, she passed by a strange room with a steel door much like that of the security room— only, the window was much smaller. Standing up on her tiptoes, she glanced inside, but couldn’t make anything out, as the entire room was dark.
However, to her left was one of the white intercoms Charles had spoken about. Though she wasn’t all that far from the security room, for some reason, Téa didn’t feel up to seeing Charles again— and the silent reprimand in his eyes.
‘After all, who am I to pry into Kaiba’s personal life? I’m not family, and I guess I can’t really consider him a friend, not if he doesn’t feel the same way about me… all I am to him is an employee.’ Or so Téa’s train of thought insisted. She did remember Kaiba’s recent strain of unusually kind gestures, including the very generous gesture of allowing an orphaned Téa Gardner to move into his home. And Téa still didn’t know, even a week later, just why he’d been so nice, but she hoped it was because he was starting to open up to her, and maybe even think of her as a friend.
‘We might have been through hell and back with all the duels and battles we’ve seen, and Joey and Tristan might hate him, but I… I can’t. Especially after what he’s done for me lately.’
Téa rid her mind of such thoughts of Seto Kaiba by quickly keying in the code Charles had told her. 5-4-1.
“Yes, Miss Gardner?”
“Uhm…” Téa started, hesitantly, pressing her finger to the “Talk” button, “I’m standing in front of this room, but it’s not displaying on the map. I’m just curious as to what’s going on. Maybe the map isn’t downloaded right or something?” Téa was no technological genius, but she knew some terminology, especially after all this time watching Kaiba come up with new Duel systems every other month, it seemed.
There was a moment of silence as Charles, on the other end of the line and not far down the hall, clicked a few buttons on his panel to bring up a camera view of where Téa was standing.
“You are in front of the panic room, Miss Gardner.”
“The pa— WHAT?”
“It is purposely left unmarked on the map for security reasons. In case of an emergency, the panic room is a place for residents and guests of the household to take shelter.”
“Sounds like something out of a movie, if you ask me…” Téa mumbled under her breath.
“I’m sorry, Miss Gardner?”
Téa looked at the intercom, startled, realizing she’d kept her finger on the button while she’d muttered.
“Uhm, nothing! Thanks… for clearing that up for me! I’ll uh, be going now!”
Téa broke into a veritable run, taking the steps back downstairs two at a time, barely waiting for the mirror mechanism to complete its cycle before she dashed out of the darkened mezzanine passageway.
Téa looked around the ground floor once more, finding everything quiet. She glanced down at the map, staring at the key.
“‘Press up and the button to see second floor,'” Téa read, doing just that. The house rotated as Téa moved towards the staircase and upstairs.
‘Didn’t Kaiba say something this morning about picking a room? Maybe I’ll do that now.’
It would be nice not to have to sleep on the couch anymore. And as for all her boxes of things? Who knew where Kaiba had the movers stash them? He hadn’t said much to her about rooms or her things otherwise, so Téa had to take it upon herself to find out everything— on her own.
But no problem — she was more than willing at that moment.
Téa climbed the marble staircase slowly, staring around her in awe as her perspective changed. The plush, white carpeted living area and its furniture seemed to shrink, as the overhead chandeliers grew in size, sparkling with the afternoon sun streaming through the ceiling-to-floor windows.
When she reached the top floor, it branched out in two directions — left and right, though to her left, there was only one door, leading to the pristine white room Téa knew as the bathroom. Cattycorner to that room, a door leading to what Téa suspected was a closet.
But the rest of the length of the place was a mystery.
‘I suppose one of those rooms is Mokuba’s, since there don’t appear to be any bedrooms on the ground floor,’ Téa chuckled to herself, remembering how Kaiba never seemed to sleep, ‘Though maybe Kaiba’s office doubles as a bedroom? I never do see him go up to bed…’
Of course, a just a likely explanation could have been that Kaiba went to bed long after Téa fell asleep on the couch. Though she wasn’t falling asleep too easily those past few days….
Oddly enough, none of the rooms seemed to be marked on the KC100— not like the other rooms on the ground floor. Before, when Téa had been within a few meters of the entrance of a room, a small box appeared on the display, informing the girl of what the room was. Nothing had appeared while Téa had been in the dark mezzanine, and nothing appeared now.
‘I guess it only makes sense, though… you can’t exactly program a bedroom, now can you? That is what all of these rooms are… I think.’
The young brunette pushed open the door to the room on the farthest end of the hall, making to start there and work her way across and down back to the stairs. She supposed she would find a suitable room soon enough, especially since the hall was so wide, and the rooms so large.
The first one was dark, with heavy drapery preventing any sunlight from peeking into the wood-furnished room. A king-sized bed was covered in plastic tarps, allowing the burgundy comforter to show through. A mahogany desk with nothing on its polished surface gleamed in the dim hall light, in the right corner of the room near the tall window.
The room had a rather foreboding feeling about it, one that Téa didn’t like at all. She glanced around, realizing that, while the room was furnished, it didn’t appear to have been recently lived in. She closed the door on the cold, dark place, and moved on.
Two rooms later, Téa found herself in a room that, unlike the other two, wasn’t covered in plastic tarps, or blocking every ray of sunlight coming from the windows.
Rather, this one had pumpkin orange curtains parted as far as they could go, letting every ray of sunshine stream into the room. The wooden floor was polished, shining in the sunlight, as was the desk and the bed frame— which was noticeably smaller.
‘Reminds me of that last room I was in….’ Téa thought to herself, recalling the aquamarine-themed room that, like the first burgundy room, was old, dusty, and chilling to the soul. Its bed had been smaller than the one in the burgundy room, and Téa wasn’t sure just why. Surely a dead and dust-covered room like that couldn’t have been Mokuba’s…. This room, on the other hand, had a much warmer, friendlier atmosphere about it. When Téa spied some Duel Monsters figurines spread out on the floor, she immediately realized whose room she was in.
‘Mokuba’s! Who knew the kid was this neat?’ Then Téa decided to walk around the room a little, and caught sight of the other side of the bed.
She gulped reflexively when she saw the mound of toys, papers, and stuffed animals almost bursting from underneath the opposite side of Mokuba’s bed. No wonder he had it looking so neat— when anyone entered, they wouldn’t think that such a mess was awaiting them on the other side of the bed.
Téa chuckled, smiling, and bathed in the warm sunlight for a while before exiting the room.
The next room seemed to be a polar opposite of Mokuba’s room, however: instead of orange curtains and a warm atmosphere, the room was accented in a royal navy blue, and with the heavy curtains closed all the way, all was dark.
Téa brushed her hands along the wooden wall until she found a light switch, flicking it on, and inhaling sharply when she saw the room in its entirety.
Larger than Mokuba’s, of course, it had a king-sized bed, —not covered in dusty plastic tarps— along with a large desk, an armoire, and a door leading to what had to be a walk-in closet.
‘This is so my room.’ Téa smiled to herself, and promptly flopped down on the bed, tossing the KC100 on a nearby end-table. She got up a moment later and flicked out the light, exhaustion creeping through her bones as she crawled back to the bed.
Sure, the room was cold and dark, but that could be easily remedied if need be. But right now, sleep was so inviting…
Seto Kaiba was not happy.
Of course, school had gone as routinely as possible— everything so simple and mundane it didn’t even matter anymore. But of course, Téa had to be haunting his thoughts, what with her sudden disappearance.
He’d overheard Yugi and his friends chattering away about it at lunch. No doubt, she would be at home —his home!— resting, but for how long? When would she return to school?
‘And why does that even matter to me?’ Kaiba wondered, picking at his lunch. He suddenly wasn’t very hungry anymore, and tossed the sandwich into the trash, later returning to yet another set of boring classes.
Of course, none of that was what made Seto Kaiba unhappy. No, it was something else entirely.
He’d gotten an ’emergency call’ from work —that is to say, the Kaiba Corp offices— shortly after leaving school. He’d planned to go into the offices to begin with, just to check up on things and make sure everything was running smoothly— but he hadn’t expected to get confronted by a whole slew of angry-looking women from the public relations department.
“Mr. Kaiba,” one of them, Ms. Kodaku began, her arms crossed over her chest, “Are you aware of what today’s date is?”
Kaiba stared at the woman blandly, and sighed, “August 19th.”
“And do you know what happens at the END of the week?” Another woman, this one Kaiba’s own secretary, chimed in, tapping her heel on the floor.
He was silent a moment, trying to come up with whatever event or appointment held such great importance on the 24th of August.
“MR. KAIBA!” they all chorused together impatiently, causing the young CEO to get even more irritated, this time because a headache was coming on.
“WHAT? What is so important about the 24th?! It’s a Saturday! It’s not anyone’s birthday, it’s not a national holiday, I’m not meeting with the CEOs or delegates of any companies or countries, so WHAT IS IT?”
The group of women seemed slightly taken aback that the normally calm and collected Seto Kaiba snapping at them, but they didn’t seem too upset about it. Seto Kaiba wouldn’t stand for having such weak-minded individuals in his company if that were the case.
“The 50th Anniversary of this company, Mr. Kaiba. And this is a VERY big event. Unlike our previous Anniversary Balls, we celebrate your latest product design, the success of the Battle City tournament, and a complete turnaround of the company’s image in the public eye.”
‘Success? They weren’t AT the Battle City tournament,’ Kaiba thought to himself, irked at the older woman’s words. Still, he continued to listen. ‘And a “complete turnaround”? It’s not like I hear people on the street praising Kaiba Corp. In fact, the few people that know I run the company don’t seem to like me very much…’
Unbidden, an image of Yugi, Joey, and Tristan came to mind. Kaiba grimaced mentally, and then realized that, set apart from his mental vision of his not-quite-friends was none other than Téa Gardner. She had never outwardly expressed a dislike for him, and now…?
‘I don’t even have a clue as to what she thinks of me,’ Kaiba mused.
“Mr. Kaiba, are you listening?”
“Yes? What? What now?” Kaiba suddenly looked up at the women, who, to his surprise, appeared to be smirking.
“So then, you have agreed?”
Kaiba’s eyes narrowed. “To what?”
The women sighed in exasperation, “The 50th Anniversary Ball, Mr. Kaiba! It is a very important event, and not only will your attendance be expected —no, assumed— but you MUST be accompanied by a female escort!”
Seto Kaiba sighed. So, he was pretty much forced to come to what was going to be another stupid Anniversary Ball. Since he’d taken over the company when he turned 16, he’d gone to every one of them— of course the 48th and 49th Anniversaries weren’t ever such a big deal.
And no one had ever required him to have a date before.
Not like now. Now he couldn’t just come with Mokuba, as he always had before, representing the Kaiba family as the heir and CEO. No, now he needed to have a “female escort.”
His secretary’s words had dripped with the venom of promise— if Seto Kaiba didn’t find himself a suitable date before the Ball the coming Saturday, then they would rope him with a REAL female escort. And while Kaiba had never actually exploited the services of such women, he knew well enough that he had no mind to spend an entire evening —sure to be publicized in every major Japanese newspaper and on every television program— with a stranger.
‘But what other choice do I have? It’s not like I know any girls well enough to…’ Kaiba’s thoughts stopped in their tracks. ‘Well, I do know one…’
Seto Kaiba made his way through his house, wondering where Téa and Mokuba were. It was after 5:30, and he didn’t see either of them on the ground floor.
Hopefully, Téa was doing her job, and Mokuba was getting help on his homework. At that particular moment, Kaiba wanted nothing more than to tromp upstairs and take a long nap. Sleep would undoubtedly clear his head— especially of those ridiculous thoughts he’d had a short time ago—
‘Bah! Me take Téa to the Ball? She’d probably laugh in my face if I even asked.’
Well, he doubted she’d really do that, but still… something inside him wasn’t too keen on asking her. Maybe it was his gut instinct insisting she still needed time to herself… or maybe it was something else telling him he’d better NOT cross the line between employer and employee— or at best, two friends on rocky ground.
So sleep sounded like a very good idea— to clear these muddled thoughts from his head, and to get some rest— after all, he hadn’t slept much in the past couple of days.
Seto Kaiba was already beginning to yawn when he reached the second floor, pushing open the door. He blinked, awakening a fraction when he realized the door had been ajar.
The lights weren’t on, but someone —one of the maids?— had opened the window, and the last rays of sunshine were shining in, revealing a lump on the bed.
‘I know the maids always make my bed,’ Kaiba thought to himself. But he hadn’t even slept in it the past few days, and it had been made the last time he checked— so what…?
‘Huh. Maybe Mokuba snuck in here? But why not sleep in his own room?’
Kaiba didn’t bother to turn on the lights as he approached his bed, brushing aside the blankets.
His eyes went wide when he realized the form was not that of his little brother —or even a boy!— but that of Téa Gardner.
She was sound asleep, and when Kaiba moved the blanket aside, she murmured in her sleep.
The young CEO stepped backwards a moment, wondering what to do. Téa had certainly made herself at home —in his own bed, no less— but she sure couldn’t stay there. Still, she was sound asleep, and a little voice in Kaiba’s mind insisted that he be a gentleman and let her stay that way, until she awoke of her own accord.
He stared at Téa’s form for a moment, contemplating a course of action, watching as she curled up and snuggled deeper into his sheets.
‘Well I can’t let her sleep here all night…’
And so, Seto Kaiba made up his mind. After a few quick moments to come up with a plan, he leaned towards Téa and carefully -and swiftly- scooped her into his arms, intending to take her to one of the vacant rooms nearby so she could get some sleep.
What he didn’t expect was for Téa, in the midst of her sleep, to confuse HIM with his bed, and snuggle closer to him.
“Mm, this bed is nice…” she murmured, clutching Seto’s white school shirt.
Seto Kaiba froze in place, glad that his arms didn’t suddenly slack from the surprise. He’d had Mokuba cuddle up to him before, but that was distinctly different from this. He didn’t exactly know how or why, it just was.
“So warm…” Téa murmured.
Seto Kaiba, having never experienced a girl snuggling up to him in such a manner, didn’t know how to react. So his mind froze, and his body acted involuntarily— quickly heating up a few degrees and sending all the blood in his head right to his cheeks. Luckily, Téa wasn’t awake to see his face redden so— and no one else was around.
He quickly made his way out of his room, glancing down the hall to see which room would be the most appropriate. The one diagonal to his own— two doors down on the opposite side of the hall— would do. It was one of the three vacant guest rooms that Kaiba allowed for use— while his own and Mokuba’s rooms, of course, were restricted, as were the two rooms at the end of the hall. Few knew just why the burgundy and aquamarine rooms were off-limits, but most knew better than to ask. Kaiba was about to walk to the room and deposit Téa quickly on the bed— when he nearly tripped into someone.
Mokuba realized who he’d bumped into in the darkness, and looked up— and realized that his brother’s arms were full— of Téa! Eyes wide and mouth hanging open in mute astonishment, Mokuba continued to block Seto’s way into the vacant room.
“Oh, stop looking at me like that, Mokuba,” Seto finally murmured quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping girl in his arms. “She must have wanted a room to take a nap in, and decided to pick mine.” His tone was exasperated, even as he stared at his younger sibling— as if there could have been any OTHER explanation for why he was leaving his room with Téa in his arms!
“Riiiiight,” Mokuba nodded, his voice thick with sarcasm. He plastered a grin on his face as he moved out of the way, opening the door to the guest room Seto was heading toward.
“So this is going to be Big Sister Téa’s room?” Mokuba asked, once Seto had Téa placed comfortably on the bed— and no longer affixed to his shirt.
“I guess so. I hope she doesn’t mind. If she likes it, we’ll help her move her things in tomorrow, okay?”
“Sounds good… but Big Brother?”
“What?” Seto Kaiba was more than tired now, and he had the feeling that Mokuba wasn’t done teasing him yet.
“Next time Big Sister Téa’s sleeping in your bed, I wouldn’t complain.”
When Téa awoke, it was after 8:30— or so read the digital clock on the end-table beside her bed.
“Huh? That isn’t mine…” Téa murmured sleepily, rubbing the tiredness out of her eyes. She rolled to one side, suddenly realizing that she was no longer on the couch downstairs— in fact, wasn’t in the room she had been before, as the room was on the other side of the wall!
“Wha…?” She got up and stretched some, feeling a little bit more rested, but having no more peace of mind than she had last week.
The room was dark, the curtains closed, but Téa could make out the silhouette of her end-table, on which a clock was perched, along with a clean wooden desk, a wardrobe, and two posts protruding from the foot of her bed, holding up a rolled-up bed curtain.
‘A four-post bed? Have I suddenly turned into a princess and arrived in a castle?’
No, not a castle, Téa reminded herself, but the Kaiba mansion. She remembered her teachers telling her to take some time off, and with a brief explanation to her friends, Téa had left school and promptly returned “home” — to the Kaiba place.
But she didn’t remember falling asleep in that room.
‘Oh well… I guess it doesn’t matter much…’
On cue, Téa’s stomach grumbled.
‘That matters. Time to get food.’
“Hey, you’re awake.” A voice greeted Téa as she stumbled into the kitchen, nearly knocking her head on an open kitchen cabinet.
The girl rubbed her eyes, and saw Seto Kaiba and Mokuba both seated at the kitchen table, boxes of Chinese food surrounding them. Mokuba held up a box of what appeared to be beef with snow peas, and grinned in his usual impish manner.
Téa settled herself down at the table a moment later, grabbing one of the paper plates in the middle of the table, along with some chopsticks and a can of cola.
“We always order takeout,” Mokuba explained, noticing Téa’s curious gaze as she looked at the slew of boxes.
“It’s either that or microwave dinners,” Mokuba grimaced as he said this, expressing his extreme dislike of the frozen foods.
“Not a fan of the frozen chicken, are you?” Téa asked, taking a bite of her beef.
“YUCK! I’ve had so much frozen food, macaroni, and JELL-O in the past month, I’m going to turn INTO a frozen dinner!”
Seto smirked, finishing the last of his own plate, started a good twenty minutes before Téa had arrived, still looking sleepy.
“That’d be a transformation I’d pay to see.”
Mokuba stuck his tongue out at his older brother, who only kept eating, the smirk staying put on his face. Téa was tempted to smile at herself, especially at the uncharacteristic display of sibling antics between Mokuba and Seto —when normally both boys acted much older than their age.
“It’s all your fault, Big Brother! You never make dinner!” At this, Téa raised her eyes to Seto, who shrugged.
“You suck at cooking though, so I guess I’d better not jinx myself into getting food poisoning…” Mokuba added slyly, grinning as he stuffed a fortune cookie into his mouth.
“Hey!” Seto frowned, his expression indignant, “I can make breakfast…”
Mokuba only stared back at his brother blandly. “Cereal doesn’t count.”
At this, Téa burst into laughter, catching the attention of the two boys.
“Takeout’s a nice treat every now and then, Kaiba, but come on! Mokuba’s a growing boy, and takeout and frozen dinner will only get him so far.”
“Yeah Seto!” Mokuba chimed in, “You’re going to stunt my growth!”
“Your growth is already stunted, midget.”
“Hey!” The banter between the two boys continued, and Téa couldn’t help but smile. Seto Kaiba, in his own home, was vastly different from the young man she’d first encountered when Yugi had dueled him prior to Duelist Kingdom. And even throughout then… and even Battle City… he always appeared to be cold, unfeeling, humorless…
‘I guess you never can judge a book by its cover. Seto Kaiba sure isn’t who he seems.’ Téa remembered the secret passageway —and Charles’ words about the late Kaiba patriarch— but wisely refrained from bringing the subject up.
“Well,” Téa interrupted what had evolved into a staring contest between the two brothers, “unlike someone else here,” she smirked, nudging Seto in the arm, “I can cook. So how about next week I start some lessons for you?”
Seto Kaiba raised an eyebrow, not expecting this.
“I thought Mokuba was the only one supposed to be getting lessons around here,” he quipped, resting his chin in the palm of his left hand.
“Isn’t one of your policies to learn everything about your opponent?” Téa smiled, remembering how Kaiba had analyzed every entrant in the Battle City tournament to determine their capability of dueling.
“Aaand, before you say I’m not an opponent or a duelist or whatever, you better watch our, or I might challenge you to an Iron Chef Duel!” Téa grinned, proud of her word selection— she knew Kaiba would respond with at least a LITTLE enthusiasm— at least, where the words ‘challenge’ and ‘duel’ were involved.
“You’re on,” Kaiba shot back. “Next week.”
Téa laughed, as did Mokuba. “This oughta be fun.”
“Are you sure you’re going to be all right… alone, I mean?” Kaiba asked for the umpteenth time before he left the house the following morning for school.
Téa had informed him shortly before returning to bed of what her teachers had told her. She didn’t ask Kaiba to tell her friends, knowing what an awkward situation that could become, and hoped Kaiba would know not to say anything to them regardless.
‘The last thing I need right now is Joey finding out I’m living with Kaiba.’ Téa grimaced.
“I’ll be fine, Kaiba. Thanks… for asking.” Maybe it was too much to hope that he actually cared— but what other reason could he be asking for? Seto Kaiba turned in the doorway, almost hesitating, before walking down the stone pathway to where the limo waited, just outside the front gate.
“Don’t forget to eat right, Mokuba!” Téa called. The young boy turned and smiled, waving enthusiastically back at Téa.
“I will! And you’ll help me with my homework when I get home, right?”
“You got it!”
“And we’ll move your stuff into the room.” Kaiba added, waving to Kaiba as well— though his wave was rather stiff and jerky. An odd smile quirked the corners of his lips, which made Téa smile even wider herself.
“Have a good day at school, guys!”
Téa watched the two Kaiba brothers get into the limo, waiting until the sleek black vehicle was out of sight before turning around and heading into the house.
“Now what am I going to do?”
Téa wiped the thin sheen of sweat that had formed on her brow with her sleeve, rising to her feet. Her knees and elbows ached, but that was to be expected after moving boxes and boxes of stuff.
Kaiba had told her the previous night where her stuff was stashed— and just as immediately had told her not to do any of the moving herself, that he and Mokuba would take care of it as soon as they got home.
And while Téa appreciated their kindness, in her eyes, Kaiba had already done so much for her… the least she could do was move her own stuff. It was embarrassing enough when Mokuba had reminded Téa that she hadn’t woken up in the room she’d fallen asleep in.
“Yeah, that’s because you were sleeping in Big Brother’s room!”
Téa stared at Seto, who nodded slowly, though he kept his eyes fixated on whatever was on the fortune from his cookie. Téa thought she was imagining things —sleepiness was probably still clouding her vision— but was Seto Kaiba BLUSHING?
‘No way, he can’t be,’ Téa thought to herself, snatching her own fortune cookie.
“Ehhe… sorry about that..” Téa muttered, averting her own eyes from Kaiba’s. How embarrassing!
She quickly broke open her cookie and read the fortune inside: “You will experience an unexpected loss, but will recover in due time.”
‘Well isn’t that the truth.’ Téa thought to herself. ‘Unexpected loss all right… I lost my parents…!’ Téa stifled a sniffle, and crunched the rest of her fortune cookie away, shoving the fortune into her pocket before Mokuba or Seto could ask about it.
So now Téa had moved as much as she could carry into her new room, a purple-themed room Téa had dubbed ‘The Violet Room.’ It was beautiful, with its deep, cherry wood accents and mahogany flooring, along with lavender-colored, filmy bed curtains stretching from each of the four posts making up Téa’s new canopy bed.
Like the other rooms, Téa’s room had a wardrobe, a desk, and two endtables, along with a huge, empty walk-in closet. She wasn’t that far from the second floor hallway bathroom, though the bedroom she’d initially hoped for —Seto Kaiba’s!, Téa remembered with a blush— had its own bathroom. Well of course it did, it was the master bedroom!
It wasn’t as if Téa was complaining. No, that much luxury was rather hard to complain about…
Still, now Téa wasn’t in the mood for any more heavy lifting.
‘Rather, I’m in the mood for some heavy eating. All this food has got me starved!’
Téa remembered her first experience in the kitchen— getting lost looking in all the cabinets, and finally finding a bowl of cereal to tide her over. But Téa’s hunger at that particular moment wasn’t about to be quelled with a mere bowl of Lucky Charms.
No, she needed to MAKE something.
Hunger pulled Téa to the door of the high-tech refrigerator, but it was curiosity that caused her to press the screen on its door.
Suddenly, the LCD screen flared to life, displaying a menu of various options— “Inventory,” “Order More,” “Recipes,” “Food TV,” “Settings…”
“Recipes? Hey…!” With all the unused foodstuffs Kaiba undoubtedly had at his fingertips, Téa could surely whip up something delicious in no time.
After a few moments of figuring out how to work the touch-screen, Téa successfully navigated to a virtual COMPENDIUM of delicious recipes, one of which on the list practically SANG out to Téa.
“‘Chicken Scallopini Al Pomodoro!'” Téa read off the display, grinning —and almost drooling, too— as she eyed the display.
“If that doesn’t sound elegant, I don’t know what does.”
Téa stared at the screen a minute longer, trying to figure out how to scroll down the page so she might see the list of ingredients.
In the corner, she saw a blinking speaker icon, with a tiny microphone next to it. A small line of text below the icon read ‘Voice Recognition Active.’
‘Voice- wha? Huh… I know Kaiba’s high tech, but does that mean he has a talking fridge, too…?’
Feeling foolish, but not knowing what else to do, Téa stood up and addressed the fridge.
“Uhm… list of ingredients? Please?”
# Chicken Scallopini Al Pomodoro. Ingredients List. #
The voice was pleasant and not at all computerized, sounding rather like those hostesses of the cooking shows on TV. Téa smiled as she headed towards the counter, carefully listening to the ingredients the computer-fridge listed.
# 3 pounds frying chicken pieces, skinned and boned
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour … #
Téa had no idea whether Kaiba had any chicken, but was too afraid to open the fridge and possibly interrupt the list, and maybe even lose the recipe before she even got started.
# 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 pound fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons burgundy wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
List complete. Read inventory of needed items? #
Téa blinked at the fridge in wonder. ‘So it’s psychic, too! Cool! I could definitely get used to this!’
Like Mokuba, Téa wasn’t too fond of frozen dinners and the like, and cooking just happened to be one of her past-times. It wasn’t something she’d gotten from either of her parents, either— both of them were usually too busy to work. There had been the rare occasion when Mrs. Gardner found time to make a special dinner, but that was only once a month— so it wasn’t as if Téa could vouch for her mother’s “world-class” cooking.
As for herself, Téa had always scored the highest marks in her Home Economics class, and, back when she’d been working at Burger World, she’d always been praised as the best dessert chef…
‘Ugh, never mind, I’d rather not remember what happened there. And I don’t think making cookies qualifies me as any sort of a ‘dessert chef,’ as everyone back there said… Then again, if you live and work for diner food, it’s not as if you know the difference.’
“Uh, yes. I mean affirmative… er, okay?” Téa mumbled, looking sheepish. She was just grateful the fridge didn’t have eyes. Or a real brain, for that matter.
# Missing ingredients – chicken. Marinade Sauce. Flour. Green Onions. List Complete. Place order to Domino Market? #
“Yes… but let me modify the quantity of the items first…” Téa walked up to the fridge and read the list of needed items over.
‘Waitasec, that Burgundy wine isn’t on here. You mean to tell me Kaiba’s got a wine stash somewhere around here?’ Of course, such a thing wouldn’t surprise Téa— much. While Seto Kaiba didn’t strike her as much of a wine connoisseur as Pegasus, he was, of course, rich, and probably entertained a decent amount of important business-people. And didn’t rich business-people always drink wine?
‘Like I would know.’
Téa made a mental note to look for that later on, and continued to modify the order.
“I can’t believe Kaiba doesn’t have flour! What kind of a house is he running here?”
# Query not recognized. Please restate. #
Téa blinked and smiled at the fridge, tapping buttons on the touch-screen to increase the quantities of the ingredients to what she would need, based on the amount of servings she planned.
“Not talking to you, Fridge, but thanks for asking.”
After increasing the amount of flour to ten pounds, and the amount of chicken and tomatoes to 5 pounds each, Téa grinned and placed the order.
# Thank You. Your order will arrive within 2 hours. #
“Perfect. Now all I need is to figure out how the rest of this kitchen works.” Téa glanced around, searching for the basic utensils any cook would need in her kitchen.
“Of course Kaiba wouldn’t have a ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron around here anywhere…”
Téa dashed upstairs, smiling to herself all the while. This was the best plan she’d ever had— ever.
Mokuba Kaiba hadn’t had a good day at school. For starters, he’d been teased again, and Mokuba’s threats that his big brother wouldn’t stand for it were slowly wearing thin— he couldn’t hide behind his brother forever, especially when he didn’t even GO to Mokuba’s school.
‘I’m supposed to be able to stand up for myself anyway, like a real man!’ Sadness showed on the young Kaiba boy’s face, even as he dropped his backpack at his feet and took off his shoes in the entryway.
‘And Big Sister Téa sure wouldn’t like it if I kept on letting those dumb guys bully me… She wouldn’t like it if she saw this, either.’ Mokuba stared regretfully at his crumpled math test in his left hand —marked at the top with a large 20 percent in red marker.
Glaring angrily at the test as if the paper were responsible for his failure, Mokuba stuffed the offending sheet into his pocket, balling it up and stuffing it down as far as it would go.
He could just forget about it for now… he was sure that if he just saw Big Sister Téa’s face, he could be happy about that day.
Mokuba heard some clattering in the kitchen, and before long, a delicious smell wafted his way…
“Hey, what’s that smell?” Téa turned to the source of the voice, smiling as she spotted Mokuba rounding the corner between Kaiba’s office and the ground floor bathroom.
“Hey Mokuba! How was school today?” Téa smiled, wiping the flour from her apron. She still had some smudged along her face —along with some marinade sauce, though she couldn’t begin to fathom how it had gotten there in the first place.
She immediately noticed Mokuba’s pasted-on smile drop to the floor and vanish entirely— the boy looked crestfallen. Just as quickly, he covered it up, wearing a sheepish smile and scratching behind his head, “Oh, you know, boring as usual…”
Téa made a ‘tsching’ sound with her tongue in cheek, walking towards the kitchen table and beckoning Mokuba to sit down.
“Come on… if something’s happened, I want you to tell me, okay? I mean, what else am I here for, anyway? Aren’t I supposed to be ‘Big Sister Téa?'” She smiled at the younger boy, who, after a moment’s hesitation, pulled his crumpled test from his pocket.
Téa’s eyes went wide as she spotted the low mark— poor Mokuba. And being the younger brother of the wealthiest, most intelligent young man in the country had to put a lot of pressure on you. Mokuba was probably always expected to perform like his brother.
Well, Téa was no stranger to low grades or tutoring— after all, Joey, Yugi, and Tristan had ALL come to her for help when their midterms had come close earlier in the year, and together, they’d all passed— with Cs or better! Téa, of course, knew better than to gloat about her A-, but she was glad her friends wouldn’t get held back and have to pay an extra year’s tuition.
‘That’s right. Joey and I have always worked hard for our tuition money… Joey for his high school tuition, and me for my dream of dance school. If either of us failed, it would set us back by a lot. Since I haven’t been working lately, it’s been a worry of mine… but I never put much thought into it, since Mom and Dad always paid my way through school. I knew they wouldn’t agree to me dancing, but I’d always hoped I’d convince them somehow. Now I’ll have to depend on myself!’
Then again, the feeling of independence was no stranger to Téa either. She was used to having to look for part-time jobs in secret— secret from her parents, from her friends, from school… all so she could one day fund her dream of becoming a dancer.
‘I— I won’t put that on hold. I’ll still find a way… to pay for everything. To pay Kaiba back for all he’s done, and… somehow…’ Somehow, someway, Téa still hoped to go to New York…
“Well, yeah… I guess…” Mokuba trailed off, reluctantly meeting Téa’s gaze. Despite everything —everything that had happened to her— she still managed to smile. Liking what he saw, Mokuba timidly smiled back.
“Okay Teach, what do I need to know to bring this lousy score up?”
“All right, so we’re looking at long division here…”
“Hey, that’s the timer, I have to get dinner prepped and ready, okay?”
Mokuba slowly got up from the table, his mind muddled with math problems, but his senses were close to overload from the delicious smell.
“Can I help?” he asked, almost shyly, approaching Téa. She smiled down at him in an apologetic manner.
“Well you still have homework to finish, so why don’t you work on the rest of it and…” Téa thought for a moment, tapping her finger to her chin, “Why don’t you and I make cookies this weekend?”
“All right!” Mokuba cheered and snatched his homework, practically running out of the room. “Cookies and dinner, cookies and dinner!”
Téa chuckled to herself and went back to cooking, putting on her apron and taking out her oven mitts.
After she’d gotten everything prepared —’everything’ being the chicken, a salad, and a special dessert she was keeping frozen— Téa took a second to dash into the bathroom nearby.
‘Ugh, I look like someone marinated ME!’ She quickly washed her hands and straightened out her hair, but the mirror didn’t lie— she looked like a mess.
Téa eyed her nearly prepared dinner— all she had to do was get some chilled bottles of cider from the fridge, finish setting the table…
It was 5:18.
‘I can do all that and get dressed before Kaiba comes home.’
And so, Téa rushed upstairs, taking the steps two at a time, hurrying into her bedroom to find something clean and appropriate to wear for dinner. She still hadn’t sorted any of her clothes into the wardrobe, let alone the ‘giganimous’ walk-in closet, but she would— soon.
‘But right now I’m a little rushed, and— and…’ Téa wormed her way through a French-cuffed red blouse that had the appearance of silk, but the cost of cotton.
‘Of course,’ Téa thought to herself proudly. Ever the thrifty shopper, when she spotted a nice knockoff, she went for it. And this mock-silk blouse was just the ticket she needed to look nice on short notice— especially since it didn’t wrinkle.
Téa struggled into a slimming black skirt, and then darted back downstairs, finishing up the table settings just as the front door opened and she disappeared into the kitchen again.
Mokuba appeared from the stairway just as Seto Kaiba walked in, the younger boy grinning as he displayed his completed homework. It had taken him a while, but he’d done it! All by himself!
“Look Big Brother! I finished my really hard long division homework! All by myself! See?” Seto smirked as he glanced over the paper in his younger brother’s scrawl.
“Good job, Mokuba. You got them all right.”
“I did? I mean, of course I DID! YESS! THAAAANK YOOOOOU Big Sister Téa!” Mokuba crowed, springing back upstairs to return his homework to his desk before dinner.
‘Téa. Where is she— no, more importantly, WHAT is that smell?’ It smelled absolutely delicious, tantalizing even, and the smell was wafting from—
“OUT!” Téa’s sharp voice reprimanded Seto before he could even set one foot into the kitchen completely. The swinging door snubbed him on the nose before he could blink, and he rubbed it, glaring at the wooden door accusingly.
“Well sorry for wanting to go into my OWN kitchen, Miss Iron Chef,” he mumbled in a nasally voice. Through the door, Téa giggled, then called out in a singsong voice, “Dinner will be served in a moment…” she paused, “Master Kaiba!”
Seto did a double-take towards the door, and even though Téa couldn’t see him through it, he rolled his eyes.
Only a few moments later, Mokuba urged Seto to simply take a seat outside at the dining room table, instead of pacing back and forth near the swinging door— which was just asking for said door to hit him again.
All the waiting was making Seto more than edgy— or maybe it was just the scent of the food. Had Téa really gone all out and made THEM dinner?
Seto Kaiba pulled at the collar of his school shirt —a nervous gesture?
‘Not so sure I deserve this… exactly…’
But before his guilty train of thought could continue, it was promptly derailed by the dining car. Téa pushed her way through the door into the dining area, bearing a pair of large, covered platters on each hand. She set them down on the table, warning each of the boys not to open them before she returned with the glasses and the cider.
When she finally sat down, she nodded to both of the boys— Mokuba, who was practically drooling on his seat, plucked the cover off the plates first, and almost cried out of sheer happiness.
“Chicken Scallopini Al Pomodoro, if you want to be picky about it,” Téa grinned, unfolding her napkin and lying it across her lap in a triangle.
“Wow… this is… wow.” Seto was impressed —and he’d seen many finely prepared dinners before, having been to countless business dinners, and witnessing all the exaggerated finery of the Kaiba Corp balls. But no one —NO ONE— had ever cooked HIM dinner personally before.
And he hadn’t even asked her to.
“What’s all this for, anyway?” he asked, lifting his utensils before moving to serve Téa.
“Hey hey, don’t serve me first…”
“But you’re the lady…” Seto protested, manners demanding that he be courteous. He would never admit it out loud, but some of the things that the Unnamed Tyrant taught him was actually GOOD for something— and the manners were among said ‘things.’
“I’m also the cook. Now serve your little brother.” Mokuba’s mouth was close to hanging open as he watched ‘Big Sister Téa’ practically ORDER his big brother around— and Seto do just what she said! He was more than a little amazed, but wisely kept his mouth shut.
“My mom,” Téa began, referring back to Kaiba’s question of ‘what all this is for,’ “used to go all out and make one, big, special dinner each month. She wasn’t a fantastic cook or anything, since she was always working and all… but Dad and I always looked forward to that one day.” Téa looked regretfully at her plate, hiding the tears that threatened to fall, “The day they died… was supposed to be the big dinner day. But I didn’t go home on time, and… well, never mind.”
Téa swallowed, quickly wiping her tears, and pasted on a smile. Seto and Mokuba glanced at her, unsure, but continued to eat.
Dinner was delicious, though quiet, except for the brief bursts of conversation during which Téa mentioned meeting Charles, Kaiba skimmed the details of that day’s classes for Téa, and Mokuba talked about how Téa had made long division “as easy as pie.”
“Speaking of pie,” Téa rose to her feet, a smile playing on her lips, “Well, dessert, anyway, I have a surprise for you two.”
She disappeared into the kitchen a moment, and Mokuba looked to his elder brother with stars in his eyes.
“REAL DESSERT!” He whispered, “NOT JELLO!”
Indeed it was real dessert— and coincidentally, Mokuba’s favorite.
“Are you sure you want to give this to him? I think something in the marinade made him hyper enough.” Seto remarked, thumbing towards his overexcited little brother.
“Hah, and here I thought it was the cider. Well, one little bit won’t hurt him, right? Besides, we get our fair share too.” She grinned at Mokuba and passed Seto a custard cup first, and then the smaller boy, before carefully scooping the confection into each.
Téa had finished clearing the table and rinsing the plates, loading them into the dishwasher, before heading out to the kitchen and the living area again.
Kaiba, for some odd reason, was still seated where he’d eaten dinner, at the head of the polished —and now clean— wooden table. He glanced towards Téa when she walked in, dusting off her skirt and smiling.
“Well, I’m full. How about you?”
“…Yeah. Dinner was delicious, Téa. Thank you.”
Téa blinked. ‘He— he called me Téa. Not “Gardner” or even “Miss Gardner…”‘
“Listen, uhm, there was… something I kind of wanted to ask,” Kaiba quickly averted his eyes from Téa, not sure that he’d be able to look her in the eye. But this was important— VERY IMPORTANT, the women at work had stressed— and the week was quickly getting shorter…
“Yeah? What about? Oh, about the groceries, I had to order some from the Market… I hope you don’t mind…” Téa glanced nervously back towards the closed kitchen door, her stare penetrating the wood so she could glare at the fridge.
‘Stupid Fridge, tempting me with all its high tech goodness!’
Still, she smiled, knowing that both Kaiba and Mokuba had enjoyed her from-scratch dinner. Even if it had been a quiet dinner, it was still… fun.
‘And for a while there, it felt like I had a family.’
“T-That’s all right… we probably needed a lot, anyway…” Kaiba trailed off. How was he supposed to do this, anyway? It wasn’t as if he’d asked girls OUT before! And for some reason, this wasn’t like… like a one-night business arrangement. It wasn’t like dealing with girls from school, female teachers, or even the rare female duelist!
Somehow— somehow Téa changed everything.
“Listen,” he just charged straight on, “Kaiba Corp’s having its big 50th Anniversary Ball this Saturday, and while Mokuba and I always go, this year it’s supposed to be a bigger deal than ever, and the people in PR really think I should come with a date, so I’m wondering, if maybe you wouldn’t mind coming with me this Saturday night?”
He swallowed, taking a deep breath before he turned to face Téa.
She looked more than a little bewildered, but then her startled expression melted into a smile— one which only served to befuddle Seto Kaiba even more.
“Well, that’s not really in my job description, is it?”
“Uhm… call it a personal favor?” Seto Kaiba was not one to be easily swayed by emotions —his or anyone else’s, for that matter— nor was he the type to prattle on endlessly, babbling off run-on sentences. Yet he had just done both of those things in the course of five minutes. In other words, he was acting very unlike himself.
“Hah, that’s a good one. Seto Kaiba owing ME one.” Téa smirked, but she could see in Seto’s eyes that he was serious.
‘A ball, huh? I guess it can’t be all that bad. And it’s not like he really WOULD owe me one… not after all he’s done for me…’ Téa couldn’t begin to fathom how she would pay Kaiba back for all he’d done for her. And she hadn’t even gotten a real paycheck yet! As if living in the Kaiba mansion wasn’t compensation enough…!
“No problem,” She smiled, snapping Kaiba —who thought Téa’s remark meant a negative— back to reality.
“Really? I mean, you’ll go?”
“Yeah sure. I’m not sure I have anything to wear to such a formal event,” She grinned, motioning to her current state of dress, “But I’m sure I can figure something out between now and Saturday night.”
And, in an odd role-reversal, Téa was the one rewarded with a rare Seto Kaiba smile— a truly genuine one, that few people, if any, were ever allowed to see.
This part was intended to cover the ball too… but it got too long. So there’s going to be a sort of Chapter 3A, but not really, because I’m going to call it Chapter 4… >_> Anyway, my whole system is all screwy now.
But on the bright side, it looks like I have this plot almost entirely figured out! Almost! Hopefully I’ll continue to get encouraging feedback from all you fantastic readers so I’ll keep writing and entertaining you!
CONTEST 1: In the first scene, the seven teachers’ names I used were made up— but were references to OTHER characters from OTHER series— or a series manga-ka. Can you name them? If someone gets all seven, er, I’ll… uh, come up with some sorta prize!
CONTEST 2: Okay this isn’t so much a contest as a question from me to you. What other male anime or manga characters (namely leads) does Seto Kaiba remind you of? I’ve already got a few in mind, but I want to know what -or more accurately, who— you think, and why. So tell me why “Character A is like Seto Kaiba because…” And tell me what anime or manga they’re from!