Conceptualized/First Written: 12/17/04
Completed/Final Edit: 12/26/04 – Happy Holidays, everyone!, 6/9/07
Don’t Forget! If you’d like to know what I have to say to your reviews, check out the official WDKY page and click on ‘Review Replies.’ Alternatively, you can check my LiveJournal and go to my Memories/Azurite’s Fanfiction section. I’ll eventually add a Review Replies section as well, so if you see that, check there! Oh, and please check out the Official WDKY Page’s “Research” page, among the others offered… it’s all at Darkness Rising— I’ll be updating it shortly, complete with all new info, did-you-know-thats, and tons more!
I know some of you have been disappointed with the last two short chapters, but that trend should end now— chapters 14-16, I can guarantee you will be longer! This whole fic is already planned out though, so please stop whining about the length of the chapters…
Many, many thanks to Mamono, Atlantis and Guardian Kysra, my betas for this chapter. Once again, I couldn’t have done it without you, ladies!
“Prepared is my middle name,” Eric Gardner used to tell his daughter.
Shortly after the death of Téa’s parents, she’d found it hard to believe that he’d been right— after all, her parents died while trying to set things right.
But unlike her parents, Téa learned from the mistake that cost her parents their lives— and she came to her meeting prepared.
Prepared meant that she’d changed clothes before she’d left school; she’d traded her uniform for a striped pink collared blouse, and a black pencil skirt with a bright pink ribbon lining the hem. She’d tied her hair up with a pink bow, taking it out only when she spotted the black limousine that brought her to the not-so-favorable position she was in now. She ran right past Seto, and he hadn’t recognized her in the slightest.
Now, of course, she wished he had— and he’d stopped her from getting into this mess.
But no matter— she was prepared in more ways than one. Regardless of whatever the Big Five claimed they could offer her, Téa didn’t plan to take them up— she just wanted to bring them down, for all that they’d done. Whether she was an associate or hostage, she’d made a vow…
Now, she carefully sawed away at her duct-tape bonds, keeping her wrists bound tightly behind the office chair she sat in. She knew there was a strong chance that something like this would happen, so she carefully hid a sharpened nail file under her sleeve, bound to her arm with two thin elastic hair ties. Though she’d set off the metal detector when she’d been brought inside the building, she chalked it up to the zipper on her blouse— and she refused to take it off, lest the special police escorting her miss out on their ‘target’ and neglect to bring her to Crump.
Téa had every right to be snappish— Crump himself said the Big Five needed her. What they meant was that if they didn’t get her on their payroll, she’d inevitably lead the police right to them, and that meant the end of their little operation, and their quest for vengeance against Seto.
‘Besides,’ Téa thought uncomfortably, shifting in her skirt, ‘being female also means once a month I have an excuse to be irritable that can’t be stripped away by anyone! Those stupid suits don’t have any idea how gross it feels to be sitting in this skirt and hose when I’m…’
Best not to finish that thought, though. It was bad enough she was taped up and stuck in this clammy room with a bunch of stuffed shirt, cocky businessmen— but to be on her period, too? Things just weren’t going in her favor today.
‘Go on, Crump. I dare you to set me off. Say something stupid, and I’ll swing this chair at the side of your head.’
But that was just her hormones talking— hormones mixed with rage.
“I warned you girl, not to tell anyone of our rendezvous… but you are simply too stubborn for your own good, aren’t you?”
“I didn’t tell anyone!” Téa snapped, struggling. Crump and his friends laughed, unaware that several centimeters of tape snapped while Téa sawed away at them while she shifted.
“Then how, pray tell, did Mr. Seto Kaiba himself know to leave the school so abruptly and start a fervent search to find you? He’s called you— three times, now. What will he think when his precious girlfriend doesn’t answer?” Crump tossed Téa’s pink cell phone up in the air, catching it in his clammy, odorous palm.
“I told you—”
“Regardless of what you say, we know you aren’t telling the truth, so save your breath, girl,” one of the other suits barked. “We’ve had people watching you from the moment you left school this afternoon, and we kept them watching Mr. Kaiba and his little ‘friends,’ to ensure you’d held up your end of the bargain. Now that we know you haven’t you will pay the price.”
Téa blanched. She wasn’t working fast enough— no matter how much faith or confidence she had, no matter how much speed, agility, or strength— there were still more of them than there were of her. They could do what they wanted, and it would be futile to resist…
‘Damn it! Like hell I’m going to give up that easily!’ It wasn’t in her nature. Mood swings could come and go, but she had to stick to her original plan. There was just no way she’d become bait for the dastardly Big Five.
‘I can take care of myself!’ Well, Téa told herself that earlier, before agreeing to let Mokuba be part of her plan, or before coming up with the idea to disguise herself and actually meet with the Big Five. In the here and now, she wasn’t so sure. But… there was no going back. No doubting herself now, because there was no other path. She couldn’t go through life expecting Yami to come bursting through the door to save the day —or as it was nowadays, Seto.
Which brought the question back to the fore— how did Seto find out? Truthfully, Téa knew he’d probably find out— but not so soon. She hadn’t really prepared for the contingency that he’d care about her presence so abruptly…
‘Mokuba probably told him. I guess we were all lying when we promised not to keep secrets. But when it really matters, maybe it’s okay to reveal them after all…’
There was more to it than that, though. If she’d told Seto about all this beforehand, there was a possibility she would have just found out what the Big Five knew, and then the criminals would be in jail. Maybe she wouldn’t be bound, uncomfortable, sticky, and sweaty in a high-rise office building in the middle of the city. Maybe…
“Mr. Kaiba will receive a call from us soon enough. But if he tries a single more trick, that fool teenager will find himself with a certain girl’s murder on his hands—”
“You framed him for my parents’ murder! Doesn’t your cruelty ever stop?!”
Crump looked genuinely surprised, but that expression quickly melted away into one of demonic glee and pleasure. “Framed? I haven’t the slightest clue what you’re speaking of. Besides… I heard the true criminal was caught.”
“Blackmailing Theodore into working for you—”
Crump’s eyes narrowed; it was apparent Téa knew more than they thought.
“You know the police are after you —all five of you, and probably all of your SUITS, too,” Téa hissed, jutting her chin out at Crump’s accomplices, who were sitting coolly and watching the exchange between accountant and teenage spitfire.
“And you know that unless Mr. Kaiba meets our demands, you will be joining your parents shortly. There is no chance of us letting you walk free with the knowledge you hold. We will not be caught—”
“So you admit it then? You did have my parents killed!” Téa shrieked, tears falling down her face. Damn it— she didn’t mean to cry. But… she just kept remembering her parents’ car, burnt black from the inside out, shattered glass piercing every inch of her mother and father’s skin. She remembered the sickening swirl of flashing red and blue lights, and the acidic taste of vomit as she threw up over the guardrail on the freeway.
She remembered running fingers over melted plastic, and the rough texture of a serrated grenade, marked with the Kaiba Corp logo.
She remembered the heartache… the pain… and the tears.
Blinded by all these memories, she didn’t notice Crump standing before her with a pair of scissors until he was right before her.
“Oh, quit your pointless fussing,” Crump sneered, a lecherous grin spreading across his fat lips. He hooked one of the scissor blades in the opening of Téa’s zipper pull, tugging it down centimeter by centimeter. With every bit of skin that got exposed, Téa felt more and more dirtied, more and more infuriated.
Frozen from the hairs on her head to the nails on her toes, only one thought rang clear in her mind: ‘Seto… save me.’
“Hold on a second, Kaiba!” Tristan hollered before Kaiba could get a step closer to his car.
“Yeah, freeze, Moneybags! Téa might be your girlfriend, but she’s our friend, too! And you’re gonna rush off and— do what? Do you even know where she is?”
Kaiba turned around slowly, finding himself facing the whole motley crew once more— Tristan, Duke, and Joey eyeing him angrily, while Yugi stood by Mokuba, both of their gazes averted. Seto fixed his gaze on his little brother, wondering where or when it was that he’d gone so wrong— that his own brother couldn’t trust him anymore, especially with matters that —to him, anyway— dealt so apparently with the life and death of their loved ones.
Mokuba had to know what a sensitive subject that was, and yet…
“You were lying to her too! There’s plenty of secrets you haven’t even come close to telling Téa, even if you guys are going out!”
Much as Seto Kaiba hated to admit fault in anything, his brother was right.
There was plenty he hadn’t yet told Téa— and honestly, didn’t know if he ever would. Things about his past that no papers or ghosts could tell her… things about the way he felt…
Things that, in all honesty, Kaiba kept locked away deep within him— secrets that not even Mokuba knew of.
They ate away at his insides —‘At what bit of a soul I might have,’ Kaiba thought, scoffing— slowly, but surely.
“You said Crump was the one that called,” Kaiba stated, addressing his brother, though he couldn’t bring himself to look at him. Even if he did, he knew Mokuba wouldn’t meet his gaze. “I know where Crump will be.”
“And where Crump is, Téa will be as well?” Yugi put in quietly. He knew just as well as Kaiba that there was a strong possibility that Crump was merely the one who’d called— and one of the other Big Five, or any number of their ’employees’ had taken Téa to some undisclosed, unknown location in the middle of nowhere.
But Seto Kaiba wasn’t the type to stand by and wait for anything —good or bad— to happen. He had to take action now.
Joey muttered ‘Only fools are positive,’ under his breath, earning a sharp stare from Kaiba, but the CEO said nothing in response.
Tristan hesitated a second before reaching into his pockets and pulling out a set of keys. “Here,” he tossed them to Kaiba, who caught them easily. “You’ll get there faster than any limousine, anyway. And since you already know how to drive one…”
Kaiba didn’t need to ask Taylor how he’d found out that he drove a motorcycle in the first place; the pencil-headed boy had likely known for some time now, and this particular instant wasn’t exactly suitable for asking questions.
The motorcycle in question was parked not far from the limousine, where Kaiba’s personal chauffeur still awaited direction regarding what to do or where to go.
Kaiba took one step in the direction of the motorcycle before freezing again, this time half-glancing over his shoulder. He stared hard at a person in particular, even though the boy in question still wouldn’t meet his gaze.
The spike-haired boy’s head shot up, his eyes wide, though full of concern for his missing friend. He didn’t have a chance to say “Yes?” and query Kaiba on what he wanted; as always, brash Seto Kaiba charged right on and said what needed to be said.
“Take Mokuba home. Your friends can wait for Téa and I to return later, and—” Kaiba jerked his head in Tristan’s direction, “I’ll bring the bike back there, as well.”
“Big Brother, but—!” Mokuba protested, but Yugi already realized the sense in Kaiba’s ‘orders,’ and started tugging the younger boy along, ducking into the limousine after Duke opened the door.
“Forget it, Kaiba!” Joey hollered, stepping forward, shaking his fist at Kaiba. “I ain’t waitin’ for you to be the hero when you’re goin’ in all cocky like always. Like it or not, you just got yourself a sidekick, so you can forget about goin’ after those stinkin’ Big Five alone! You ain’t the only one with a score to settle with ’em, you know!” Joey looked ready to pounce on Kaiba if he so much as uttered the word ‘no.’ Not in the mood to argue or put up with Joey’s antics, Kaiba turned on his heel and walked away— rather reluctantly. Normally he felt the need to strike Wheeler with a few choice barbs, just to get him to shut up.
Tristan, the last person to get in the limo, looked at Joey and Kaiba unsurely, then sighed to himself and got in the car.
“How do you propose you ‘tag along,’ Wheeler?” Kaiba asked scathingly. The truth was, he was only trying to make a point— motorcycles weren’t exactly built for two gu—
“Look, I don’t have a fancy license, but I stand by the fact that I’m going whether you want me to or not. So hop the hell on and start this sucker up, okay?”
Kaiba’s response was to swing a long leg over the saddle and flick the ignition on. He revved the engine twice to test it, and then smirked at Joey over his shoulder.
“If I were you, I’d hang on.” He didn’t even give Joey the chance to blink in query before he sped off, forcing Joey to tumble forward and grab onto Kaiba’s waist like it were his lifeline. Well, it sort of was.
Duke suppressed a snort, watching from the limo, which pulled away from the curb after a minute and went in the opposite direction of Kaiba and Joey on the motorcycle.
Yugi stared down the road, up until the car turned the corner. He wanted to be the one to burst in and save the day, to help Téa and have her fall gratefully into his arms, and—
Well, it just wasn’t his place anymore. Maybe it never had been.
‘Kaiba… good luck. But I hope you won’t need it.’
Téa Gardner didn’t want to need to be saved. It was just… she’d been a bit too brash this time. A bit too stubborn for her own good. And now her well-intentioned plan had landed her in the hot seat— literally. But until Crump backed away from her and put those scissors down —and who said he even would?— she couldn’t risk slicing the last bit of tape that held her in place.
He’d managed to get her blouse halfway opened, exposing Téa’s lacy camisole. He snickered under his breath, nodding to his companions as he backed away, savoring the state of weakness Téa appeared to be in. Tear-stained, undressed, bound… And then he spoke once more.
“It was nothing personal.”
If anyone ever thought to compare Téa Gardner’s personality to a state of weather, up until a few months past, or during particular incidents, they most undoubtedly would have picked ‘sunny.’ Other words to describe her included ‘warm, bubbly, cheery, pleasant, and nice.’ But at that particular instant, only seconds after Crump spoke, Téa Gardner took on an entirely new facet— perhaps due in part to her recent ‘intimate’ relations with Seto Kaiba. In truth, in that moment, she could be described as nothing less than icy. The very world around her —the air she breathed, and the look in her eyes— froze to an excruciatingly cold temperature, but Crump remained blissfully ignorant and unaware. And if the suits surrounding him noticed, not a single one of them made any sort of signal to her or Crump.
The final three threads binding her now-sticky wrists to the chair broke quietly, and without really thinking, Téa wriggled her hands free. Acting entirely on autopilot, she grasped the spine of the chair with still-clammy hands, hefting the light chair into her arms and swinging it hard and fast, straight into the stomachs of two nearby suits.
“Nothing personal?” Téa seethed, ignoring as the two men went flying into the table, knocked unconscious by the force of their heads slamming against cold glass. “Say it again! I DARE YOU!”
She’d never been angrier in her life —or more wildly out of control. This wasn’t the way she planned things… but it didn’t matter anymore. Crump’s words had been the straw that figuratively broke Téa’s back— or rather, her sanity. She couldn’t stand it anymore, knowing that criminals like him —shameless, pathetic humans like him— would go about walking in the free world, happy, well-fed, and spoiled.
“You are a tiny, pathetic brat,” Crump chuckled, the three remaining suits beside him agreeing mutely. “Do what you will— you will not leave this office alive.”
“Keep laughing, bastard,” Téa hissed. “But I warn you: it’s never wise to piss a girl off when she’s on her damn PERIOD!” This time, Téa took the chair and shoved it from where she stood, unexpectedly barreling it right into Crump and knocking the wind out of him. Before the other three suits could advance on her, she snatched one of the other chairs the now-unconscious suits once sat in, and hefted it up— slamming the blunt end of the wheels into one of their rib cages— and doing the same to the final duo, her actions lightning-quick.
Two down, and two out for the count— the latest duo struggling with labored breathing and fractured ribs. The other suit clutched his chest and then tried to hold onto one of the chairs for support, only to have it abruptly wheel away from him. He went slamming into the floor with a loud thump, and didn’t move after that.
Only Crump was left. Fat and winded as he was, he could do nothing but stare at Téa in mute astonishment.
“Do what you will,” Crump repeated in that raspy voice of his, “you won’t succeed. You, your fool boyfriend, or his idiot brother! They are both disgusting, pitiful excuses for humans, as are you and your tittering group of friends!”
“Shut up,” Téa warned him in a low voice.
Forget the chairs. Forget bruising her knuckles or dirtying her skin. As rage boiled up in her blood, there was nothing more that Téa wanted to do right now than sock Crump right in the face…
“You sure this is the place?” Joey hollered, running after Kaiba as fast as his legs could carry him.
The two of them sped through Domino into downtown, where all the high-rise financial office buildings were. Joey only knew because he’d made deliveries there for his job— but it wasn’t as though he recognized any of the places, or thought them the headquarters of a gang of evil masterminds.
But then again, the Big Five had tried to defeat them in a virtual dueling environment and failed miserably— they certainly weren’t masterminds.
Evil, yeah. Criminals, sure. But masterminds?
Kaiba didn’t bother responding to Joey; he took one quick scan of the interior of the white, wide open lobby and spotted the stairwell. The building used to house Crump Financial, but since a warrant had been issued for the Big Five’s arrest, Kaiba hadn’t wasted any time closing down their subsidiaries and branches of his own company— shifting the employees to other divisions of Kaiba Corp., after submitting each and every one of them to thorough background checks.
The police already conducted searches of every one of the Big Five’s office headquarters and branch offices, leaving the buildings abandoned and for sale… but not completely locked down or out, especially to people who wanted a place “right before everyone’s eyes” in which to hide.
It made sense that Crump returned here —Kaiba was sure of it, the feeling rooted deep inside him. ‘Everything lost is always in the last place you look,’ or something like that. Of course it was— why keep searching for something after you’d found it? Crump, like the other Big Five, doubtless stayed hidden while the police searched his buildings— and then returned there, knowing that the police wouldn’t.
Joey was heaving before he even reached the door. “Can’t we just take the elevator?” he panted out, clutching the door with a trembling arm.
“Would you take the damn elevator if Valentine were the one with those slimebags?”
Joey froze in the doorway, his expression melting into one of fierce determination. Kaiba be damned— even though he was probably aware that Joey hadn’t yet resolved things with Mai, he knew just what to say about her to make that fierce overprotectiveness come over him again. Just like at Battle City, when Malik had stolen her very mind…
Glad Kaiba hadn’t added a rude remark about panting like a dog, Joey slammed the door to the stairwell shut, bounding after Kaiba as he took the stairs two-by-two.
“You killed my parents. You destroyed my entire life. You tried to kill my friends, and you tried to hurt my new family. For that, you deserve to die.” Téa kept advancing on Crump, forcing him to back closer and closer to the panel of windows on the far side of the room, facing the busy downtown streets— some twenty floors below.
“Are you going to throw me out the window, like your precious boyfriend did to his father?” Crump wiped the corner of his mouth, leaking saliva due to the way he was breathing so hard. He still couldn’t catch his breath…
Téa stilled, but only for an instant. She’d tried to forget about the more recent painful times— encounters with ghosts, and harsh words exchanged with the man she loved over his darkened past.
“Gozaburo wasn’t Seto’s father,” Téa stated evenly, “and he didn’t push him. Gozaburo jumped.” This she knew for a fact— she’d faced Gozaburo Kaiba’s malicious spirit, after all, and nearly died trying to discover the truth about what kept him tied to the mortal plane.
Crump scowled at this reminder, likely having idealized Gozaburo as some sort of hero, with Seto as the ungrateful, villainous son who’d destroyed an old man’s dream.
If there weren’t already so much blood on Crump’s hands, a Téa of ages past might have pleaded with him, to find it in his heart to forgive Seto and Mokuba, to turn himself in. But he was beyond forgiveness, and at least somewhere in Téa’s fragmented thoughts, he didn’t deserve justice, either.
She was only a few meters from Crump now, her gaze focused and determined. They’d underestimated her in every single way, and now she was really going to bring them down.
“I think it’s time I finished what my parents started, Crump,” Téa hissed scathingly.
But before she could take another step, a hand snaked around her ankle and yanked down on her hard, sending her crashing to the ground. The full weight of a very angry, disgruntled lackey suddenly impressed itself on Téa, and that fear that once welled in her earlier returned full force.
Kaiba flung open the thick double doors on the uppermost floor of Crump Financial with a loud bang— but the reverberations didn’t make a single impression on anyone or anything present. He surveyed the place with narrowed, steel-blue eyes, discovering but one thing: the place was empty.
Joey emerged from the stairwell a moment later, heaving in great gulps of air while resting his palms on bent knees. It didn’t take him long to realize that the top floor was just as empty as the lobby, and every other silent, ghostly floor they’d passed since.
“He’s hiding in here somewhere, I’m sure of it.”
Joey rolled his eyes. Many things irritated Joey, but one of the things at the top of his list were people that just couldn’t be wrong, even with the truth right in front of their faces. ‘Pompous ass,’ Joey gritted. But Kaiba knew the Big Five better than anyone else… and if he was wrong, then where were they to start looking for Téa? They had no other clues to go on.
“Olly olly oxen free! Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Joey called in a singsong, cupping a hand by his mouth. When no answer came, Joey fixed Kaiba with a bemused stare, complete with raised eyebrow. Kaiba did not look amused.
“That’s not what I meant, you chimp.” Kaiba glanced around the office one more time. A moderate reception area, with a dapple-gray counter where the receptionist used to sit. A pseudo-wood board in the rear of the desk still read in gold-spackled letters ‘Crump Financial.’ The F was oddly tilted, as if…
Kaiba moved toward the sign, examining the letter with careful scrutiny. After a moment, he had it.
“Wheeler, step back. Over by that plant.” Joey was busy tugging on the doors; no luck, every single one of them was locked. If Téa was up here, there had to be another way to get to her. But where?
It was funny Kaiba hadn’t noticed it before; if everything else in the office had been cleared out, why not the potted fern? The same applied to the letters still left on the reception area sign. They were concealing something.
“Don’t you tell me what to do, you—”
“WHEELER! I’m trying to save Téa, if you don’t mind. Either be a good ‘sidekick’ like you said you’d be and shut up and do what I say, or tuck your tail between your legs and get out of here!” Kaiba snapped.
Joey shut up promptly, though he grumbled all the way to the plant. He didn’t understand why Kaiba was ordering him to stand there in the first place…
“Brr… weird. Why’s it so cold right here?” Joey muttered.
“What did you say?” Kaiba snapped.
“No,” Kaiba tried again, changing the angered tone of his voice somewhat, “I meant, could you repeat what you just said,” a pause, “please?”
Joey stared at Kaiba, baffled, and carefully repeated his words: “Uh, weird. Why’s it so cold, right here?”
“Bingo!” Kaiba snapped his fingers and shoved down on the F hard— he was rewarded with an instant clicking sound, and then a gust of wind startled Joey from his position beside the plant— and instead he leaped into it, clutching the fern for dear life.
Kaiba smirked and moved toward the newly revealed doorway, aware of the ticking sound echoing in its depths; the door was on a timer, which meant if he didn’t go through now, it’d be a long while before he could get through again.
‘So… Gozaburo wasn’t the only one with secret passageways,’ Kaiba thought grimly stepping into the darkness without hesitation. ‘We’ll see what else you’re hiding, you snakes.’
It was next to impossible to see in the blackness, so Kaiba pulled out his always-present cell phone, using its LCD screen as a flashlight. It served its purpose well enough; with it, Kaiba was able to see exactly where he was going and when they were approaching a new wall or door. Once they reached the first door with an odd puzzle acting as the key to its unlocking, Kaiba glanced briefly at his phone once more— December 10th. Merely two days since Téa’s birthday, only two nights they’d spent in each others’ arms, and this had to happen.
Wouldn’t they ever get a moment of peace?
Joey trailed after him, the two of them encountering more and more riddles— each of them on a timer of sorts. The length of time required for each entry puzzle grew shorter and shorter, leaving Kaiba wondering how the Big Five put up with going through these passages if it was all so much trouble. The slightest amount of doubt crept into his mind; what if this was yet another one of their elaborate traps?
No, but it couldn’t be. The Big Five were snakes, the lot of them— devious, cunning… but in these most recent years, lazy. There had to be an easier way to get through these halls; Kaiba just didn’t know what it was.
The minutes ticked on, the incessant beeping of the concealed timer slowly growing faster, and wearing away on Kaiba’s nerves, his fingers constantly slipping and the synapses in his brain firing all too fast. Everything was blurred and hazy, and none of the patterns made any sense… he just needed to find her, to get to Téa before…
“You know,” Joey began casually, the first time he’d spoken since he and Kaiba entered the secret passageway, “brains are good and all, but every now and then, brawn has its advantages.” He shot a cocky grin at Kaiba and then rammed his shoulder into the final doorway. To Kaiba’s astonishment, the doorway shuddered.
Joey looked at him, still smirking as he leaned on the doorway. “On three?”
Kaiba couldn’t refrain from the sly smile that crept up his lips. “One—”
“Two—” Joey returned his gaze to the door, his expression deadly serious as he stiffened his muscles and readied for a brute attack. That was always something the two of them had in common, even if they never saw it: they were ‘beatdown’ kind of guys, enjoying the direct approach above all else. Right now, they couldn’t get any more direct than they already were… because they were officially out of time.
“You sniveling, double-crossing—”
Before the man pinning her down could finish, Téa curled her tongue in her mouth and did something that Joey would have been proud of —though undoubtedly astonished that she’d copied. She hacked back a mouthful of saliva and spit right into the lackey’s exposed eye. Temporarily blinded, Téa used the chance to wriggle downward in an attempt to escape, but the man sensed her movements and pressed down on her once more. Barely able to move, let alone breathe, Téa knew she had only one choice now…
Though it pained her to do so, she rubbed her wrist against the rough carpeting, sliding the nail file concealed by her sleeves up into her palm…
With one quick movement, she snapped her arm from its sleeve and stabbed down —hard— on the heavyset man’s hand. He bellowed in pain, rolling over and off her. Téa heaved, catching her breath and sliding her arm back into its proper sleeve, unwilling to give Crump any more of a free show than he’d already gotten. The man she’d stabbed clutched his hand for a few moments, staring wide-eyed and pale. Then, his eyes rolled back in his head at the sight of his own blood, and he passed out entirely, joining his companions on the floor.
“Oh right, where —were— we?” Téa bit out venomously, throwing her own version of a sneer at Crump.
“N-Now listen—” Now alone and unguarded, Crump obviously thought twice about Téa being his hostage. It seemed now that the roles were reversed, and this agile young beauty, daughter of the genius duo that had very nearly brought down the Big Five’s entire organization had more than proved her worth.
Crump immediately started to look around for some way to escape or defend himself, but all the chairs were scattered about the room, Téa’s nail file, now bloodied after being embedded in one of his suits’ hands, lay useless on the floor a good two meters away. All that was left was him, Téa, and a glass window leading out to the street kilometers below.
Crump tripped and fell backward on the floor right as Téa closed the space between them; she favored him with a cold stare and grabbed him by the tie around his throat, forcing him up while he struggled for air.
“Oh, Crump?” Téa chuckled, a sickening sense of sweetness in her voice. She didn’t hear the secret door in the wall across the room open, nor did she feel the gust of cold air. She didn’t even hear the shrill beeping of the automatically-timed door lock, slamming shut as quickly as it opened, or the astonished gasps of Kaiba and Joey as they entered the room at last.
“This? Nothing personal.” And with that, Téa sent a tightly-clenched fist straight toward Crump’s pudgy face, an audible snap signaling that she’d broken his nose. Crump gagged for a moment, one of his hands clutching at his tie, his throat, and then at his chest. Then, he collapsed bonelessly on the floor. Téa dropped his tie, releasing his dead weight, and took a deep breath.
Kaiba and Joey stood across from her, their eyes wide with astonishment. Even more surprising, though, was the fact that it was Kaiba’s mouth hanging open as he noticed the indisposed special police scattered across the floor— one of them passed out with a bloody hand, and the others unconscious, with two of them clutching their chests in agony.
It was Joey who spoke first, his voice almost indignant: “Those were my moves!”
Téa finally noticed the boys’ presence, but she didn’t say anything as her eyes finally took in some light, and brightened back to their usual hue.
“Téa, are you— are you all ri—” Kaiba began hesitantly, but Téa just marched right past him, her cheeks red and streaked with tears.
“I’m fine! Just DANDY!” she hollered, zipping up her shirt. Kaiba and Joey caught only a momentary flash of her camisole, Kaiba’s cheeks reddening briefly before his body caught up with his mind and he made to dash after Téa, about to follow her out the normal doorway— one of the doors leading into a hallway connected to the main floor, locked from within.
Kaiba exchanged a glance with Joey, who only shrugged.
“Want I should call the cops?” Joey asked. Kaiba only nodded, heading out of the room at a quick trot.
“Hey, Domino Police? Yeah, I’m up on the top floor of Crump Financial— there’s some most-wanted guys beat up here I think ya gonna wanna arrest.”
“I just want to go home.”
Téa sounded utterly exhausted, and rightfully so; she’d just beaten six full-grown men to the ground, and now, with police sirens wailing in the distance, she knew that justice would be served— at last. There was no way that Crump and his men could escape now.
‘One down, four to go. Just… not now.’
“Uh yeah… about that,” Joey began unsurely. He gestured to Tristan’s motorcycle. It had been hard enough keeping hold of Kaiba during their wild bike ride —and technically, even with the older boy legitimately licensed, they’d still done something very illegal by not wearing helmets. They couldn’t exactly hope for an encore of that performance and take Téa home. “How we gonna do this?”
Kaiba looked to Téa and back again; he didn’t want to leave her, but of the three of them, he was the only one who could ride the bike back to the mansion, where he promised he’d return the bike to Tristan. He wasn’t about to leave the bike in the middle of downtown, either— he wanted to avoid any confrontations with the police after that whole framing scandal… Not to mention the fact that he owed Tristan.
Seto Kaiba hated being in anyone’s debt.
Joey scratched behind his ear, and looked at Téa, who was leaning tiredly on Seto. Seto seemed to be contemplating a course of action. Joey finally swallowed and mumbled out an idea. “You just take her home, okay? I’ll uh… grab a bus or something and meet you back at the mansion in a couple of hours, huh? Just take care of her, okay?”
“Wheeler—” Kaiba began, a protest forming on his lips. But why was he objecting? Wheeler: leaving. Wasn’t that supposed to be a good thing? Alone with Téa, time to talk, time to make sure she was safe, and healthy, and…
“Joey, don’t,” Téa whispered hoarsely. “Seto, just call one of the chauffeurs. Joey and I will take the limo, and you can ride back alongside us.”
Well… it was probably the best idea. It meant that if Seto was seen roaring down the streets of Domino without his helmet on, the fine would be less— after all, he wouldn’t be endangering Téa while he was at it. And lately, any situations revolving around him inadvertently endangered her too, and Seto had more than enough of that.
Joey was astonished by how easily Kaiba acquiesced, but said nothing; for the most part, they’d worked well together today, even though in the end, it had been Téa who did the most work out of all of them. They still had a lot to talk to her about, that was for sure.
Téa’s spirits seemed to have brightened tenfold during her ride back home to the mansion, though Kaiba couldn’t begin to fathom why. Obviously she and Wheeler had spoken of something in the car that he wasn’t going to be privy to; the two of them only smiled and grinned at him, with Téa muttering something incomprehensible under her breath. He didn’t even think to associate it with what Mokuba had told him earlier —something about that bet he’d won when he ‘lost’ his duel with Téa some months ago.
Yugi, Duke, Tristan and Mokuba all welcomed Téa back warmly, glad to know she was safe— though Yugi, amazingly astute for someone who tended to be toward the bottom of the class rankings, noticed Téa’s bruised wrists and neck, and the smatterings of blood on her slightly-opened blouse.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Téa? You don’t want to just sit down and rest, and let us take care of everything?”
Kaiba frowned; though the whole school pretty much knew that he and Téa were a couple now, that certainly didn’t mean her friends could invite themselves into his home and do whatever they pleased. But…
“No, it’s all right, really, Yugi. Thank you. I just… I want to rest a bit, and grab something to eat.” Téa grinned, “I didn’t eat lunch, actually.”
Yugi bobbed his head in silent agreement, along with Duke and Tristan, he started to head out the front gate, offering only a slight wave in greeting and thanks to Kaiba.
“Joey, aren’t you coming?”
“Joey and I have got to talk some more, guys,” Téa called back to them. “Don’t worry, we’ll give you the full report later on!”
Yugi seemed baffled, glancing at Kaiba to see what his reaction to all this was. But Kaiba had schooled his face into remaining perfectly expressionless— only letting his frustration and confusion show when his back was turned to Yugi and his other pals. Well, it wasn’t as if he could put up much of a fight— he had to admit, ‘sidekick’ Joey had helped him save Téa.
Well… sort of. Téa hadn’t really needed saving.
So what was going on here?
Night fell on Domino at long last, and after a heated argument between Kaiba and Téa regarding Mokuba’s won bet (during which the aforementioned child and Joey sat back and watched, amusement playing across their faces), Kaiba finally agreed to let Mokuba go through with his ‘condition’ for winning: having Joey stay over for an entire week.
Joey didn’t seem to mind this arrangement at all; it meant he’d not only get to stay in the most posh mansion in all of Domino, but he’d get free meals, daily hot showers, guaranteed clean clothing, and access to the most high-tech equipment Japan had to offer. Plus, he would get to spend time with Téa and Mokuba— while he terrorized Seto.
Still, the timing wasn’t right just yet. Joey knew that if he stayed away from his father for that long, when he finally went home, he’d be in for a sound beating and then some. He weakly promised Téa and Mokuba that he’d get back to them with an exact date when he could stay, but he couldn’t promise anything just yet. Doubt and fear flitted past Téa’s eyes; only she knew what Joey’s father was like, from a brief visit to his run-down apartment a very long time ago.
Mokuba finally went to sleep, pleased that he’d gotten his way, while the trio of teenagers remained awake. Seto agreed to order some take-out— pizza of Joey’s choice, much to the blond’s delight. While Seto quietly cut up his slice, Joey shoveled whole pieces into his mouth, as Téa looked on with a wide grin.
She took a short sip of her canned iced tea before turning to Joey. “Have you patched things up with Mai yet?”
Seto wanted to smirk, but he caught a reprimanding stare from Téa before his lips could even curl. He sulked in his chair, keeping silent.
Joey sank down in his own chair, heedless of his posture or his becoming hangdog expression. “Nah. I mean, after what happened—”
“What did happen, Joey? I don’t get it— why’d you blow up at her at my party?” She looked a little hurt, remembering how Joey had accused Mai of lying to him, and then they’d yelled out on the patio for a good five minutes. Then, Mai came in alone, gave Téa her present, and left without looking back once. Téa hadn’t seen her since.
“Look, I kinda knew in my gut that Kaiba was the one you were goin’ out with, okay? I jus’… didn’t want to accept it. It didn’t feel right! But Mai kept on tellin’ me, over and over, ‘what are you talkin’ about, she hates him, she’d never live with him, she’d never lie to you’…” Joey trailed off, staring hard at his hands, clenched on his lap.
“She was trying to protect me,” Téa whispered softly. “I— I didn’t think you guys could handle knowing. That— that was before I even knew how I felt. So much has happened since then, Joey—”
“I know!” he yelled. He glanced up, seeing startled expressions on both Seto and Téa’s faces. His voice dropped a level, “I know. It’s not what she said though— it’s the fact that she lied to me. You know, I’ve always known there’s a difference between omitting the truth and lying. She outright lied to me, when she could have… well, done what you did, and just kinda dodged the truth!”
Téa’s cheeks abruptly turned a pink hue; “You actually think I did the right thing?”
“In the grand scheme a’things, yeah! I just… man, if I can’t trust her when I’m worried about my own friends, what can I trust her with? Téa, I already told her I—”
Joey stopped, as if suddenly realizing that the stoic statue sitting beside him was, in fact, alive. Seto only blinked owlishly at Joey, obviously curious and wanting him to continue. He didn’t know why— it wasn’t as though Wheeler’s personal life fascinated him any, but if the mutt was going to be here a week, there was probably no avoiding it. Better get used to hearing it all now… But Joey only clammed up, pursed his lips together and dropped his head into his folded arms.
“You love her, don’t you?” Téa blurted, her voice tinged with desperation. Wasn’t that what they all wanted in the end —to be wanted and adored— loved?
Seto sat, listening to all of this silently. He still couldn’t tell Téa that he loved her, because part of himself doubted that it was really true. And especially after today, Seto Kaiba refused to be dishonest to someone he cared about when it would only put them in danger.
Joey nodded glumly, and proceeded to bang his head on the table many times. Seto abruptly growled under his breath, and Téa squeaked in surprise, hauling Joey up out of his chair.
“Joey!” she hissed angrily, “you’ll wake up Mokuba!” She quieted a bit and then spoke again, sitting on the arm of the nearby couch, “Look, you’ve got to know something—”
“I don’t need to know nothin’ about it, Téa! She… she can lie to me so easily, but then, she’s all lettin’ me get all close to her, and we did— I mean, we got to this point where I thought I could trust her, and I thought maybe she’d come around and tell me how she felt, but no! All she’s doin’ is lyin’!”
“Joey, will you listen to me for once? Geez, you men, you’re so hotheaded!” Téa sighed in exasperation. “Remember that week where I was… living elsewhere?”
“With Mai, you mean?” Joey put in blandly. “When Moneybags here was bein’ a jerk to you after you’d hauled him outta jail?”
“Wheeler…” Seto growled under his breath, but again Téa shot him a look. This one, however, was almost pleading, and filled with exhaustion. She simply didn’t want to deal with the two boys getting into a testosterone brawl right now… and Seto had to respect that, after everything she’d been through and done for him.
“Yes. Look, while I was there, I learned a lot about Mai that you might not even know. You’ve uh… stayed over at her place before, right? ” Téa asked, though her odd choice of emphasis only made things all the more apparent for Seto, the outsider. “I don’t think you’ve really looked around.”
Téa’s voice quieted as she remembered Mai’s saddening story. “Did you know she used to dance, like me?” Before Joey could answer —though if the surprised look on his face were any indication, Téa already knew what he would have said— she continued. “Matter of fact, she even used to go to Domino High. It was her old uniform that I wore that first day I came back, and it was why it was a bit too… small for me,” Téa laughed nonchalantly. “She probably did all her growing once she finished high school— either that or she shrunk that uniform in the wash. Anyway, Mai had a best friend she was very close to— but who betrayed her for Mai’s first love.”
“Wh— I don’t get it.”
Seto too, seemed to lack understanding, like Joey, he sat enraptured.
“Mai was in love with a man at her school. And yes, I said man. He was a teacher at the time, but a very young one. Since Mai was a third year, she hoped they could be together after she graduated, but things didn’t work out like that. All the signs that seemed to point that this man was falling for Mai turned out to be misdirected— he was already involved with her best friend, and neither of them had told her, even though they’d all worked together to form DPAC.”
“Your dancing school?” Seto put in abruptly, his eyebrows knit together.
Téa nodded, “That’s right. Mai, Fran, and Vincent were the original founding members— but Mai found out about Fran and Vincent’s little ‘affair’ on DPAC’s debut night, and she ran off. She didn’t speak to them after that, and vowed not to have anything to do with dance or back-stabbing guys again. Can you see why she’s a little bit reluctant to open herself up to you, Joey?” Téa finished.
In her own personal way, Téa could relate. Her first real ‘heavy’ love had been Yami —and that crush had caused a mess of confusion, desire, and anxiety. Shortly after Battle City, Téa spent many days alone, thinking about what she could do for this boy pharaoh in her best friend’s body. And it was then that it hit her— it wasn’t her best friend that she loved at all, but the pharaoh within him. The pharaoh who was incorporeal except for when he took over Yugi’s body, the pharaoh who was naught but a spirit. Dead.
Day by day, her love ebbed away upon realizing this, upon coming to the conclusion that she could never have Yami and hurt Yugi in that way. She didn’t love Yugi, after all —not that way.
She wanted to block out any future chance of that sort of painful love ever happening again— but how? People didn’t simply shut themselves away from the outside world and all possible influences, least of all people like Téa — an adventure-seeker. So she’d gone on living her life until the death of her parents… and in the course of a few weeks, her whole life —and heart— changed forever.
Someday, she was sure Joey would get through to Mai, in the same way Kaiba had unwittingly gotten through to her. Somehow, Mai would realize that Joey’s intentions were pure and that after all this time, he really did love her, simple as that.
Joey finally got around to admitting everything —about his suspicions about Kaiba and Téa from the get-go, and the signs that neither of them realized had been there. Likewise, he spoke of Mai and how much he cared for her— going back to their first meeting at Duelist Kingdom, again in the Big Five’s hacked virtual world, and again in Battle City. Back then, Mai had very nearly lost her life, and it was then that Joey realized how much she meant to him.
After the ‘RPG Incident,’ a simple walk home had turned into a first kiss, while Kaiba finally resolving his differences with Téa that one night at DV8 had led to Joey’s first time with Mai.
“She didn’t make you sleep on the couch?” Téa uttered, shock written in her eyes.
Joey flushed to the roots of his hair, “Téa, how much clearer are ya gonna make me say it?”
“She made me sleep on the couch!” Téa protested, although Kaiba, fully understanding of Joey’s implications, smothered his laughter.
“Joey,” Téa finally restarted later on, after her friend had spilled his guts about everything, “I wasn’t supposed to tell you about Fran, or Vincent, or any of that stuff. And I don’t like bringing it up at school, where Chieko is, or around Serenity. Both of them are in DPAC with me, and both of them know, admire, and respect Mai and… I really don’t want that to change. But if you love her like you say you do, then…” Téa pressed her hand to Joey’s, twining their fingers together.
Kaiba spotted this gentle gesture, a spark of jealousy flaring in the back of his mind. He remembered Joey admitting that in their first year, he’d harbored a deep —though temporary— crush on Téa. But… Joey had just spouted about how in love he was with Mai. And Seto knew that Téa loved him wholeheartedly. So why was he feeling jealous and overprotective, when it was plain there was no reason to be?
But maybe not. Seto was simply not sure how he felt, and even if he had the slightest inkling, he wouldn’t go gushing it in front of Wheeler. Not in a hundred million years.
“Both of you need each other, Joey,” Téa whispered softly. “I know it. I can see it in both of your eyes. Believe me, I know what it’s like to suffer like that, loving someone so much and not being able to say it. Instead, you get into arguments and fights, and…” she glanced lovingly at Seto, “that never helps matters. But if you say that you love someone…” Téa’s hand slipped away from Joey’s as she looked at Seto, walking toward him without blinking, her lips curving into a sweet smile, “then their whole world just might change.”
Seto stood rigid, his thoughts still torn between deciding what he felt for Téa —why he was jealous of her relationship with Joey, Yugi, and even Tristan and Duke— and the implications Téa made while speaking to Joey. He didn’t hug Téa back: for some reason his arms felt like leaden weights, stiff at his sides. Long ago, he’d grudgingly admitted that Joey was a decent duelist, and that meant Seto had to deal with him in one particular manner: never revealing any weaknesses, always treating him like the potential rival he was.
And if for just one minute, Joey saw him let his guard down and reveal any feeling— it would all be over.
Joey sighed loudly and dramatically. “Téa, I have yet to prove you wrong at anything, don’t I?”
Téa smiled and nuzzled Seto with a soft yawn, heedless that he wasn’t really holding her back, “Probably. Oh… I’m sorry, I’m just so tired…”
“Yeah, you would be, after puttin’ all those moves I taught ya to good use. Nice work today, Téa.”
“Thanks—” Téa grinned cockily as she stepped away from Kaiba, a hand on her hip. She raised an eyebrow at Joey, smirking in a certain way. Joey mimicked her stance and raised his hand —Kaiba was about to move forward and stop Joey, if he thought he was going to do anything to Téa— but instead, the two of them bumped hips and high-fived each other in an elaborate fashion— slap, turn, click, fists connect, and then clap! Téa and Joey laughed after the whole process was over, leaving a stupefied Kaiba blinking in their wake.
Joey headed toward the door, offering a jaunty wave to the couple as he walked out. “Thanks for dinner tonight, Kaiba! And uh… yeah, thanks.” It looked like there may have been more Joey wanted to say —maybe a thank you for something more than dinner— but the words didn’t come. Joey closed the door with a click, and dashed away into the night.
“I’m… heading to bed,” Téa murmured sleepily, heading upstairs. Seto still gazed out one of the windows beside the door, staring at the moonlit front yard, and the wrought iron gate that separated the Kaiba mansion from the rest of the neighborhood— no, the rest of the world.
Seto allowed himself a private smirk as he watched Téa disappear into his bedroom —the bedroom they’d shared for two nights now— but his mind wasn’t actually on her— it was on Wheeler.
Seto had a different sort of relationship with Mokuba. And an altogether different one with Téa. Brothers. Lovers.
All that was left was… friends.
After today, was that what he and Joey were?
‘Me and the mutt? Preposterous.’
But Seto Kaiba was smiling as he flicked the lights off and finally went to bed that cool December night.
Keep your eyes peeled for more chapters coming soon (and I do mean soon)!
Happy Kwanrisdanukahulevus, or whatever you might celebrate!
Check my LJ or Darkness Rising’s Official WDKY Page for Review Replies, and my FFnet image for a sneaky (albeit small— though not my fault!) spoiler profile image for the next chapter!
Hugs, kisses, and many thanks to you and yours throughout the coming new year!