What Doesn’t Kill You
Chapter 16: Decisions, Decisions
A Yu-Gi-Oh Fanfiction
By: Azurite – azurite AT seventh-star DOT net
Site: seventh-star DOT net
Conceptualized/First Written: 12/21/04 (Ow. I know. Ow.)
Completed/Final Edit: 4/23/05
Don’t Forget! If you’d like to know what I have to say to your reviews, check out the ‘Review Replies.’
Ladies and Gents you all remember this delish little (hah) fic is rated R. That means if you can’t handle the heat, get the heck out of the fireplace. This chapter is rated R not because of violence (like Chapter 10 or 14) but because of sexual situations. You are hereby forewarned. ^_^
Mamono, thank you for putting up with my insanity. You’re a saint.
“It is choice, not chance, that determines your destiny,” Malik mumbled under his breath. He paced about the almost-finished exhibit within the Domino Museum, completely on edge.
It was a quote from Jean Nidetch that Malik picked up a while ago— during his first trip to Japan. It was supposed to emphasize that his role in this whole ‘destiny’ thing was just as important as the key players— Kaiba, Yugi… and Téa.
But getting so deeply involved in their lives was never part of Malik’s plan. He wasn’t even sure he could pull it off.
And so he was faced with a difficult decision: throw away everything his life had ever stood for and run away— live his own life, somewhere else far from Duel Monsters and ancient Egyptian relics, or stay, and be committed to his duty…
But if he did that, he wouldn’t be able to tell them.
They would all suffer, and…
Malik cast two lavender eyes up toward the massive stone tablets, on which the ancient prophecies were inscribed. Most of them, anyway. There was still no clue as to what the third tablet used to say, even though Isis remained in Egypt, still searching the ruins for clues.
All he knew was that nothing good could come of future events— how else did an epic duel end? People dead, their sanity bent beyond recognition— or gone altogether. Great threats were approaching, and though Malik knew it, he couldn’t tell them.
It wasn’t as if he really had any choice.
Truly, choices and chance had nothing to do with the destiny of the Pharaoh, his once-priest, and…
“I’ll make sure they see it through,” Malik whispered under his breath. Unknown interference or no, that was his duty. His destiny. His choice.
“…continued showers are expected to last throughout the holiday weekend…”
“Oh, great,” Téa groaned, turning off the television. She scowled at the now-blank screen as if it had something to do with the rain pounding on the windows.
Rain— not snow, but rain.
“Eighteen years I’ve been on this great green Earth, and not once have I seen snow. Isn’t that against some cosmic rule or something?”
“Who’re you talking to?” Mokuba appeared from around the corner, a package of cookies in hand. He munched on one while staring up at Téa, an eyebrow raised in query.
“Oh, no one,” Téa sighed dejectedly. “I’m just mad at the world for messing up my Christmas yet again.”
“Huh? But it’s not even Christmas Eve yet!” Mokuba blurted, accidentally spewing cookie crumbs everywhere. Téa couldn’t help but chuckle at the mess Mokuba made, so she bent down and wiped the corners of the younger boy’s mouth off, picking the few crumbs in his hair out.
Mokuba smiled somewhat hesitantly at Téa when she was done, daring to speak despite Téa’s uncharacteristic sense of pessimism.
“What did the world do?”
“It rained on my Christmas,” Téa muttered darkly as she stood. She took a glance out the window— endless streams of rain poured down the glass, the entire outside world covered in a gray haze. You couldn’t even see as far out as the main gate. Even the front gardens were covered in a thick, cold fog.
“Better than snow,” Mokuba responded, licking the cream filling out of his cookie.
Téa wailed loudly, “No, it’s not! I wanted snow! I’ve always wanted snow! I think I could suffer below-freezing weather for a few days if it meant I could have a White Christmas!”
Mokuba peered at Téa with a surprised expression on his own face. “You’ve never seen snow?”
“Not once,” Téa sighed, flopping down on the couch once more. As a result of the bad weather, there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. Normally this time of year, she would go out ice-skating with the guys, or maybe drag them along on a shopping spree. It was all just one big excuse to give into commercialization, but Téa loved it all the same.
But now, with the endless rain…
“Why don’t you go to Sapporo? They have the snow festival…” Mokuba asked. “Seto and I went there one year and we saw this HUUUUGE igloo made all out of ice, and they had all these reindeer ice sculptures and—”
Téa’s expression slowly became more hang-dog until she at last dropped her head into her hands, trembling as though she were crying.
Mokuba, afraid he’d really upset Téa by bragging about Hokkaido’s annual winter festival, stopped talking, unsure whether to approach Téa and try to offer some semblance of comfort, or just back off and let her be.
He opted for the first one, because he couldn’t stand seeing Téa upset— especially if it was his own fault.
“Uh, Téa… I’m— I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
Téa abruptly lifted her face and sighed. “I wasn’t crying Mokuba, if that’s what you were thinking.”
Mokuba exhaled deeply, glad that his fears had been allayed. It was one thing to feel guilty for making a girl cry— it was a whole other platter of fish when that girl happened to be your older brother’s live-in girlfriend! Mokuba had no desire to see Seto’s reaction if he found out Mokuba made Téa cry…
“I’m just… bummed, is all,” Téa mumbled. She tried to smile, but it was a crooked smile, twitching at the corners and revealing timidity in her eyes.
“Well…” Mokuba tried a different tactic. “You’ve gotta have hope! You never know— the rain just might let up and it’ll snow!”
Téa wanted to laugh— here was Mokuba who, when she first met him, hadn’t an ounce of hope in his own body. He resorted to theft and sneaky behavior in an attempt to get his brother’s dueling deck back… and in the process, he got himself captured by Pegasus. All of that and then some brought Seto out of a coma and all the way to Duelist Kingdom for some cutthroat strategies to get to Pegasus and win back his brother’s soul.
Now he was the one in her role— the role of the cheerleader, who gave pep-talks and reminded people to have hope, to have faith.
“That’d be nice, Mokuba but… well, I guess I’ll keep on dreaming of sugar plum fairies until Santa comes my way, hm?”
“Santa!?” Mokuba exclaimed loudly. “Snow’s one thing, Téa, but Santa!?”
Téa blinked in surprise. “You mean you—”
“Don’t believe in him? Of course not! I’ve known the truth since I was six!”
Téa blinked, utterly shell-shocked. The one child she knew and was close to didn’t believe in Santa Claus? True, Mokuba was nearly 13, but…
“Come on, Téa— when you think about it, it’s a totally silly thing to believe in. Some fat guy manages to make it around the world in one night, go down everyone’s chimneys —and by the way, not everyone has chimneys— and leave them presents, out of the kindness of his heart? Yeah, right. ‘Sides, the whole holiday’s over-commercialized… I only like it ’cause I get to spend time with Big Brother, and usually the food’s better. Oh, and the movies are pretty cool.”
‘What a cynic!’ Téa thought to herself, surprised. Well, that killed most of her Christmas ideas— at least, where Mokuba was concerned.
“I guess you’re right…” Téa mumbled, scratching behind her ear. She didn’t dare say that she’d believed in Santa until she was fourteen.
She doubted Seto had ever believed in Santa, and that was probably why Mokuba had found out at such an early age. Then again, they’d both lived such a rough life, losing their parents at very young ages, and then living in an orphanage…
How could you possibly have faith in a person like Santa when things like that happened to you?
‘How can I have faith in anything this Christmas when I’ve lost so much?’
It was already turning out to be a disastrous Christmas.
Téa was sitting in the kitchen, thumbing through a magazine when the phone rang.
And again, and again…
‘Well, if Seto’s not going to answer it, then I might as well…’
Téa had only answered the house phone once —when Crump had called— and look where that had gotten her. Now, it seemed awkward for her to answer the phone while living in the same household as the Kaiba brothers— when she had no relation to them whatsoever. What was she supposed to say,anyway ‘Kaiba and Gardner household?’ No, that sounded far too…
A blush covered Téa’s cheeks just as she picked up the phone.
“Hello, Kaiba residence!”
She sighed deeply. It was Yugi.
“Yugi! Gosh, I’m surprised— how did you get this number?” She knew it wasn’t listed in the school directory, and as far as she knew, she’d neglected to give it out to her friends— even after her birthday just a few short weeks ago, when they’d found out the truth.
‘Yugi’s known for a while, actually, but…’
“It took a couple of hours,” Yugi admitted with a short laugh. “But you didn’t answer your cell phone the first few times I called, so—”
“I’m sorry!” Téa exclaimed, dropping her head shamefully. “I’ve got it charging upstairs in—” she stopped. She was about to say ‘our bedroom,’ but then Yugi would know she and Seto were sleeping together, and if he knew that, then he might assume—
‘Augh! Bad Téa!’
“In my room,” Téa finished lamely. She hoped Yugi couldn’t detect the embarrassment in her voice. It was just good he couldn’t see how red her face was!
“Uh, anyway,” Yugi rushed, “I was wondering if you’d like to go to the museum later tonight.” He paused for a moment. “Malik said you can bring Kaiba.”
“Huh? What’s at the museum?” She knew to ask, simply because previous excursions to the museum usually resulted in something going wrong.
“Well, it’s funny you ask that,” Yugi started, immediately signaling Téa’s defenses. “Malik invited all of us to some advance screening of his exhibit at the museum. You know, the permanent one…”
He meant the one with the tablet that clearly indicates Yugi was the reincarnation —or at least the host— of a 3,000-plus year old pharaoh. The one that indicated Seto was his ultimate rival, and that the Dark Magician and the Blue-Eyes White Dragon were meant to face each other in epic battle…
A destiny that had no end. The third tablet that supposedly told the end of the tale was damaged beyond all recognition.
That was all Téa knew of the exhibit— at least, the one she had seen prior to Battle City. She hadn’t gone back to the museum since then. And that first time, she’d gone with Yami Yugi, so Yugi hadn’t really seen anything…
“Oh… really…” She couldn’t think of anything more to say. Did she really want to deal with Malik? Did Yugi really want her to invite Kaiba, when they both knew he placed no stock whatsoever in ‘Ancient Egyptian fairy tales’ and the idea that he was some reincarnated priest from the past? It didn’t matter if the Millennium Rod had called out to him during Isis’s duel with him back in Battle City. It didn’t matter how much he resembled the priest in the picture.
He wouldn’t want to go…
‘But my friends will be there,’ Téa reassured herself. Even though she’d agreed to start over with Malik, and not assume he was out to take over her mind or destroy the world, it was still strange being around him. The moment Yugi told her about Malik’s invitation, Téa was immediately suspicious. Surely the Tombkeeper had some ulterior motive… right?
Besides… Egypt was still so fascinating to Téa, though she didn’t express her interest in it all that often. Thinking about it too often would mean thinking about Yami, thinking about how if he was a pharaoh out to discover his past, then at one point, he’d have to return to that past— and even if she was no longer in love with him, it was an idea Téa didn’t like thinking about too much. But with Seto in the equation, it made things even worse.
The two most important men in her life, reincarnated from the ancient past? And what was her role in all that?
“All right. What time?”
Yugi put the phone on the cradle softly, long after the dial tone signaled that Téa hung up.
“Yug’?” Joey poked his head into the room, not having heard a word of the phone calls from the past ten minutes. “What’s up?”
The smaller boy remained silent, his hands still on the phone.
To go… or not to go? To anyone else, it wouldn’t seem like such a tough decision, but…
“I’m sorry! I’ve got it charging up in—”
Téa abruptly trailed off, but Yugi had the sickening feeling it had nothing to do with something interrupting her. It was the kind of pause you made when you suddenly realized you were saying something you weren’t supposed to, to someone who wasn’t supposed to hear.
Hadn’t he decided not to do this to himself? Hadn’t he decided not to mourn? Wasn’t it his choice to move on, and treasure Téa as a friend, rather than as…
‘I still love her!’
The feeling wouldn’t —couldn’t!— go away so easily. He could pretend —he could choose to ignore the palpitations of his heart and the clamminess of his hands— or he could choose to give into it, and possibly lose himself to the jealousy and heartache that came so easily these days.
“Nothing. It was just some people calling about cards— hey, you wanna watch a movie tonight?”
“You still want to go?” Seto queried. The rain had only let up recently, lightening to a drizzle. But it was still dark and cold outside— and visitinga museum after-hours, late at night didn’t seem all that appealing.
But Téa seemed oddly insistent. Seto briefly wondered why she even wanted him there, but it occurred to him he wouldn’t want her going alone anyway— not if she’d be left alone with Malik. Regardless of what the Egyptian had said during rehearsals of the play, Seto still didn’t trust him— not one bit.
“Yeah, I— I don’t know, I just want to see why Malik wants us there. Why would he invite all of us specially there, before the exhibit officially opened? Why not try to get a few hundred yen out of us by asking us to come when the exhibit opened formally?”
So she was suspicious of him too. Seto couldn’t help but smirk— Téa was picking up some of his better traits.
“Fine. Hopefully Mokuba won’t mind being alone for a while…”
“I already asked him,” Téa smiled lightly. “He said he didn’t want to go. He’s absorbed in some new game you’ve got him playing.”
Kaiba smirked once more, allowing his smile to become visible. “A console version of Capsule Monsters. Mokuba was the reigning champion before it lost popularity.”
“Well then…” Téa sucked in a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
“Welcome,” Malik greeted Seto and Téa as soon as they stepped out of the elevator. Seto seemed just a bit startled— but he quickly masked his surprise by donning a cool expression. Téa stepped forward hesitantly, noting that Malik stood alone in the wide, marblehalls of the Domino Museum.
“Where is everyone else?” Téa asked, just a bit wary. She knew that Yugi and the others were invited— Yugi, after all, was the one that had told her about the whole thing.
“Yugi’s grandfather called just a bit earlier— they all decided to stay in, in lieu of the weather,” Malik explained. He was still suspicious about that excuse— but he knew better than to counter an old man, let alone one affiliated with the Pharaoh. Yugi’s grandfather probably had a closer connection to the whole ‘destiny’ plot than anyone could fathom.
Téa scowled. Count on Yugi to let a little thing like rain to stop him. Actually, no, that didn’t sound like Yugi at all— but Joey and Tristan probably helped convince him. They probably still didn’t trust Malik, no matter how well-intentioned the Egyptian seemed. He could extend as many invitations as he had fingers and toes, but Joey and Tristan —especially Joey— would never like or trust Malik. At least, not as far as they could see.
Well, there was nothing she could do about it now. She sighed deeply and glanced at Seto— but he was staring up at the ceiling. There didn’t appear to be anything of interest there, which meant he was purposefully ignoring her— or Malik. More than likely, the latter, but Téa didn’t like being ignored, either. Why had Seto insisted he come anyway, if he didn’t believe in any ‘Egyptian hocus-pocus?’ He could have as much of it shoved into his face as he wanted, and even encounter ghosts and dark halves of long-dead pharaohs, but…
‘Some things never change.’
“Right this way,” Malik smiled oddly, his arm gestured down toward a dimly-lit corridor.
It wasn’t long before they reached an opening— but the room they entered was pitch black. Téa could barely make out Malik’s face as he smiled at her— the shadows playing off his face in such a way that a spark of doubt illuminatedher mind, suddenly giving her pause.
Maybe Malik had just honed his acting skills all this time, and she and Kaiba were walking right into a trap.
“You’re the first members of the public to see this new exhibit in its entirety,” Malik explained, his hand sliding along the righthand wall. His fingers found a lightswitch panel, and he slowly pushed up a dimmer that brightened the room.
“Oh, wow…” Téa breathed in awe, stepping forward.
The room was massive, seeming to stretch on forever. She’d never seen so many Egyptian artifacts in her life— and she’d been to plenty of museums on the subject since she first met the enigmatic Pharaoh trapped in Yugi’s puzzle!
To the left, row upon row of cabinets, filled with everything from canopic jars to slate platters used for cosmetics. At their ends, mannequins stood in towering glass cases, decorated with ancient clothing, headdresses, and jewelry of all sizes, shapes, and colors. The only thing noticeably missing were mummies. Rather, the exhibit promised something of a much more original nature…
“A big box of sand?”
Malik laughed at Téa’s confused expression, and moved toward the great glass enclosure in the center of the room, which had a rather large expanse of sandscattered on its floor.
“Not quite. It’s a to-scale replica of the Sahara and Egyptian lands, from ancient times.”
Téa peered closer and realized Malik was telling the truth— the points of pyramids stuck up from the sands, with the Great Sphinx not far away. But the last of the Great Wonders looked different than Téa knew it was supposed to: buried in a dune and chipped away —quite literally—by the sands of time.
“It’s not completed as of yet,” Malik continued as he removed a key from his pocket and opened up a door in the glass enclosure. “I’m still waiting for the people to install the final lights and connect the water system to the museum’s piping.” Malik indicated the area where the sand receded into a half-cylindrical pipe, devoid of water.
“Come on.” Malik gestured for Téa to follow, and she did, an excited smile spreading across her lips. She glanced backward at Seto, but he just crossed his arms and stood stubbornly outside of the door, his gaze averted. Téa frowned briefly and shook her head, ignoring his antics.
‘If he wants to be immature, let him! He’ll probably stare at the wall so long he’ll bore a hole in it.’
So Téa stepped inside and stared at the miniature replicas surrounding her. From pyramids to tiny cities, the entire Sahara was spread out around her, and she was a giant, looming above it all.
“It feels… warm in here,” Téa commented, gazing around. Four brilliant lights in the upper corners lit up the entire diorama, with smaller strips of lights tucked away in the edges of the walls.
“Once the exhibit opens, no one will be allowed in here except for repairmen,” Malik explained. “But I did add a few… special features.”
Much to Téa’s surprise, Malik took off his shoes. The sound of them hitting the ground outside the exhibit briefly captured Seto’s attention, and the two men locked gazes— but Malik only blinked and turned away. Seto’s scowl deepened and he looked away once more— but only for a moment. In truth, Seto’s gaze remained locked to Téa and Malik in their sandbox, his stare firm and steady out of the corner of his eyes.
Malik squatted down on the dunes and picked up a handful of sand, letting it slide between his fingers and back to the floor.
“Imported Egyptian sand. It’s so fine, it packs itself together, even after a massive sandstorm. But the soil and bedrock below are much more aerated, and since heat rises, the sand gets hot. That’s why you can’t walk around on desert sands the way you would at a beach.”
Téa picked up a handful of sand herself, murmuring with pleasure at the warmth that spread from her fingers to her wrist up her whole arm. She scuttled quickly over to the door and disposed of her own shoes and socks, much to Seto’s surprise and annoyance. He turned to her to say “You’re not actually going to—” but Téa turned back before he could finish.
In the blink of an eye, Téa dashed across the warming sands and flung herself out on the dunes, lying down right on the sand as if she hadn’t a care in the world.
“Okay,” she said in a laughing tone, “it’s not exactly snow, but I’ve always wanted to do this.”
She then proceeded to shift her arms up and down and her legs open and closed, pushing the sand back and forth away from her body until grooves in the shape of her body appeared. Téa sat up and moved away carefully, revealing her ‘sand angel.’
“What is it?” Malik asked curiously.
“A snow angel. Or a sand angel, I guess,” Téa laughed. “I’ve never actually seen snow before— call it horrible luck. With the way my luck is, I don’t think I will this year, either. So I decided to take a chance and make myself a sand angel. After all, when am I going to get another chance to do something like this, hm?”
Malik nodded slowly, trying to understand. “I’ve never seen snow myself, either. The one time it snowed in Egypt, I wasn’t anywhere near the site. I was a few kilometers underground,” he groused. “It’s always so hot and dry in Egypt. And underground is worse— it’s so humid down there, you can hardly breathe.”
Téa smiled, “Well, you’ve lucked out— Tokyo’s got more weather patterns than most any other place in the world. It even rains cherry blossoms here!”
Malik laughed and threw himself back on the sand himself. He experimented making his own sand angel for a moment, sitting up and realizing he’d created a rather lumpy and disfigured one, but a sand angel nonetheless.
“If this exhibit were completed, these sand angels of ours wouldn’t last a minute. The whole point is to simulate the passing of time in ancient Egyptian times— so we have timers controlling the lights and fans, and they create everything from sandstorms to the annual floods of the Nile.”
“A scale model of the Nile, too?” Téa asked, unable to hide the awe in her voice. She knew Malik had a strong connection to his homeland —one that probably seemed too strong to ignore at times— but never to the point where he would become so dedicated and determined to bring its landscape all the way to Japan.
“From where it empties to its source in what is now called Lake Victoria,” Malik nodded. “The Blue Nile and the White Nile.”
“Kemet and Deshret,” Téa murmured, earning a surprised stare from her tourguide.
“Where did you hear that from? I never knew you spoke Egyptian.”
An embarrassed blush spread across Téa’s cheeks, much to Seto’s displeasure. He still refused to set foot in the ‘big box of sand,’ as Téa originally termed it, though now she looked more enamored with it than she ever had with him.
‘It’s a sandbox! What is she so fascinated with?’
“I-I’m not sure where I heard it,” Téa mumbled, her head low to her chest. “I probably read it in a book somewhere.”
“Well you’re right,” Malik said, leaving no room for further comment. “The Black Lands and the Red Lands. The ancient Egyptians used those words to describe where the river valley met the desert.”
“Oh wow…” Téa breathed.
“If you think that’s amazing,” Malik allowed himself a proud smile, “then watch this.” He brought out a small, thumb-sized black remote and pressed two buttons on it. Abruptly, the lights in the exhibit hall dimmed to black, the corner lights in the exhibit following. Bile crept up Téa’s throat ever so slowly, but the moment she saw a sparkle above her, surprise washed over her once more, erasing any doubt.
One sparkle, then another, and then… hundreds —no, thousands!— more. Countless stars appeared on the sandbox’s ceiling, enveloped in rich blues and violets. A great pearl of a moon swung across the sky in an ever-changing arc, the stars shifting and moving…
Somehow, everything seemed so much more special now— so much more fragile. If she spoke, it would ruin the moment completely. So instead she stared, watching the seasons of ancient Egypt change before her very eyes. If she let herself go —just a little bit— she could pretend to hear the rushing of the Nile River nearby, or the soft rushing of the breeze.
‘And… voices? Singing…?’
No, she had to be imagining things. But it was still so amazing…
Malik coughed, breaking the silence. He apologized quickly, and added something about the entire box being made of a special tempered glass that could reflect and disperse light in this unique manner.
“There’s even a bit where we can show the ancient constellations—” he pressed another button, and immediately lines shot from the hundreds of stars, revealing familiar —and others not-so-familiar— constellations. There was Sirius the Dog-Star, Polaris, or the North Star, and countless others— parts of vast constellations of animals and gods alike.
“It’s all rather silly, I suppose,” Malik mumbled.
Despite it being still ridiculously dark in the box, Téa’s eyes had since adjusted to the lack of light, and she easily found Malik’s silhouette. She touched his shoulder gently, startling him and capturing his attention.
“It’s really not,” she smiled. It didn’t matter that her other friends couldn’t make it tonight, or that Seto was being a grouch, or even that she wouldn’t have a White Christmas with her mom and dad this year. She’d seen something amazing, something that resounded inside her and stirred her heart like nothing else ever had. And of all people to show it to her— a former enemy, and someone she’d been so intensely afraid of, not all that long ago.
Malik swallowed abruptly and forced himself to look away. If he didn’t, he was afraid she’d see right through him— and that would mean the end of everything.
‘I— I can’t!’ Malik sunk his hand into the sand and clenched his fist tightly. Blast his role in all this! It wasn’t fair to keep a secret from someone like Téa…
“Are you quite finished?”
Téa turned around and yelped, finding herself practically nose-to-nose with Seto, who decided that Malik and Téa were getting all-too cozy in their little sandbox diorama. Téa stood up and made to leave, but abruptly squeaked once more and whimpered, stumbling away from a darkened dune.
Malik rose to his feet, shaking off the remnants of the unsettled feeling that had only moments ago pervaded his mind. He quickly brought the exhibit lights back on, and realized with a short smile what had happened.
“You must have stepped on the Well of the Souls,” he chuckled. “One of many entrances to the Tombkeeper Clan’s underground home.”
Téaa nursed her foot while Seto got her socks and shoes. “You mean you put those in here, too?”
Malik allowed himself a toothy grin, “I pride myself on being accurate.”
Seto only rolled his eyes, holding out his arm so he could take Téa out of the box— and away from Malik. Unfortunately, his jealousy wasn’t hidden too well, and what was supposed to be a gentle, escorting arm assisting Téa turned into a harsh yank. Téa yelped once more and tumbled face-first into Seto’s chest, startling her and Malik, who paused in the doorway with a curious expression on his face.
Once Téa regained her balance, she scowled at Seto, her eyes saying more thanenough: ‘What do you think you’re doing, you dummy?’
Malik only chuckled. “It still seems a bit… strange. You two…? I neverwould have thought you’d get together. Not in three thousand years.”
The ride home was quiet.
Seto sat in the furthest corner of the car away from her, his arms crossed tightly across his chest.
Téa kept looking back at him, but his gaze never wavered. He just stared out the window, as if fascinated by the sight of the street lightsblinking by.
She wanted to ask him what was wrong, or why he was being so stubborn and quiet all of a sudden.
‘No, that’s not the way to say it…’
It was still a bit much to take in— Seto Kaiba, her boyfriend. Could she really handle it? Sure, he’d been a challenge when they’d first met, and even more of an adventure once they’d moved in together… and then, when those feelings started coming into play, things got even more complicated.Weren’t things supposed to get easier, now that they were together?
There was much more to Seto Kaiba than Téa ever imagined. Somehow, she doubted it’d ever be easy between the two of them. Even if all the obstacles in the form of former enemies, jealous friends, or wild adventures suddenly disappeared, there would still be problems. If not tension betweenthem, then something else.
‘Isn’t variety supposed to be the spice of life?’
Maybe if Seto was a food dish, he’d probably be the hottest curry available. He didn’t need more spice.
Téa shook her head and sighed resignedly. If this was how her Christmas was going to end up, so be it. Better her boyfriend be all stubbornly quieton his own accord then she instigate a fight with him.
Once the couple got home, Seto strode right into his office, as if he had a pile of important work waiting for him. Téa trailed after him, tossing her coat over her arm. She cast a sidelong glance at the glowing Christmas tree in the living room, and the rest of the entryway decorated with holly, ivy, snowflakes, and other assorted ornaments. But even with all the decorations, it still didn’t feel very much like home. Not at themoment, anyway.
Snow or no, it felt awfully cold…
“It’s almost midnight, Seto.”
“I’m not tired,” he responded just as promptly, tossing his jacket over his chair and rummaging through his desk drawers. He didn’t even look at Téa. This lack of a gesture —any gesture at all!— suddenly hit home, stinging Téaright in her heart.
“Try to come to bed eventually, Seto. There should be at least a little something the both of us can look forward to this Christmas, even if it’s only when we dream.”
And with that, she padded out of Seto’s office, closing the door with a quiet click.
Seto exhaled the moment Téa left his office. He knew he was upsetting her —again!— but he couldn’t explain why. He couldn’t even explain it to himself, if he had to. It was just… something in his blood boiled any time someone else got close to her. It made him clench his fists and grit his teeth whenever she smiled at someone else, and he always had to restrain himselfwhenever she took a step toward another man.
It was bad enough she already put so much stock into Yugi and Joey, because of everything they’d been through and all that they’d done for her, but…Malik!?
From the look on her face in the car —when Seto pretended to be looking out the window, when in reality, he was looking at Téa’s reflection in the glass— she knew he was jealous, too. He knew jealousy wasa completely idiotic feeling, but he couldn’t seem to quell it.
And… there was something else.
There was the odd, almost itching desire to have been the one in that silly sandbox with Téa, the one lying down on piles of imported sand, making angels that were silhouettes of their figures. There was the desire to be the one —the only one— that awed and amazed Téa. He wanted to be the one to make her gasp lightly and cause her cheeks to flush, theone to—
‘What am I thinking?’
Being foolish, that’s what. Or so Seto told himself, over and over until the idea echoed constantly in his head. Whatever was that confused him so couldn’t be of any consequence, right…?
A shuddering breath shook its way through Téa’s body once she reachedthe bedroom.
So far, nothing was turning out right. Her parents were gone, the weatherman predicted yet another year of cold sunshine and no snow, Seto was acting ridiculously jealous of Malik, of all people, and now he wasn’t even responding to her. Mokuba was the most cynical child she’d ever met, and not only refusedto believe in Santa Claus, but thought Christmas was entirely too commercialized.
His detachment from the other connotations Christmas had saddened Téa. Did Mokuba really think that way? Like… his brother?
So it was another Christmas Eve where she couldn’t expect much. Ever since Téa could remember, every holiday always ended in disaster. A fightwith her parents, losing presents, forgetting friends…
She’d always harbored a secret, almost silly wish to make up for all of that— for once, she’d like a white Christmas, with the whole of Domino covered in a blissful, thick sheet of snow. But it never happened. In the eighteen years of her life, there wasn’t a single year she could remember a white Christmas.
Only gray winters filled her memory— clouds, rain, and snow that never fell.
Why couldn’t she have the kind of Christmas like in movies, with snow so thick you could make snow angels in it? Why not snow she’d have to dig her way through, or snow she could use an excuse to stay inside cuddled by the fire with a mug of hot cocoa in hand? Why not the kind of snow that could cancel school for weeks, or the kind snowmen could be made of?
‘Only in your dreams, Téa. Only in your dreams.’
Resigned to this as fact, Téa slipped into a two-piece pajama set and snuggled deep under the covers of the bed. Maybe in her dreams, she’d be in a different place, a different time… without commercialization, cynical children, reticent boyfriends, or slushy brown snow.
‘What am I doing?’
Not sleeping, that’s what Seto Kaiba was doing. It was already a few hours into Christmas Day, but his eyes were still wide open. Yet, he hadn’t had any coffee, and he was fairly sure no one spiked his egg nog with caffeine.
No, the reason why he couldn’t sleep had nothing to do with caffeine at all. What was on his mind kept him wide awake.
Out of sheer boredom and a strong lack of any better ideas, Seto moved toward his always-on computer and sighed. Most of the programs on there were for designing things related to his company, or for simulating duels. Of course he had Internet access, but he’d never really used it for personal entertainment.
But, being as wide awake and confused as he was, he clicked on the browser icon and connected to the internet via his wireless satellite connection. The homepage was set at the default: something called SHOOT! Japan, and held no real interest for Seto— until he spied a small box in the lower right corner, reading ‘Chat Now!’ in bold, fanciful letters.
It listed a few of the names of chat rooms currently open, along with a number in parentheses that he didn’t understand. One room was labeled ‘AskAnything,’ with a small (2) beside it.
‘Anything, huh? How about, “why the hell am I awake at this time of morning, when I could be sleeping in my warm bed with my beautiful girlfriend?” What is wrong with me?’
Of course, he wouldn’t really say that.
Feeling particularly uncreative that night, when Seto was prompted for his username, he just typed in his old initials followed by his birth date— SH1025. Hardly awe-inspiring, but what did he care about screen-names, anyway?
“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” the screen shrilled, the chat room bursting on screen. Seto irritably turned his speakers off, not wanting to deal with the beeping or ringing or whatever noises his computer made whenever he sentor received a message.
“Finally, a fresh face!” V10leteyes exclaimed. Judging by the deep purple background and cerulean font color, Seto promptly guessed that the user —’Violeteyes?’ was female.
‘Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.’
“What can you help us with?” The other user, LuckyChance777 asked, finishingoff his query with a devilish-looking icon.
“Stop being an idiot, Chance,” Violet typed in before Seto could even move his fingers. “He means, what can we help you with?”
In all honesty, Seto had never been in a chat room before. He had no idea where to begin. Sure, the place was called ‘AskAnything,’ but what did he need —or even want— to ask?
“First off, I insist you answer one question before we say another word,” LuckyChance777 declared. “ASL?”
Seto Kaiba stared blankly at the screen for a minute, wondering what ‘asl’ was supposed to mean. When Violet realized that the newcomer didn’t understand Lucky’s request, she filled him in.
‘What Lucky boy here means is ‘age, sex, and location.’ I’ll start if you don’t mind: I’m mid-20s, 100% female, and in Domino, Tokyo.”
Seto Kaiba blinked. Someone… local? It had to be a coincidence.
“18/M/Tokyo,” Seto finally typed, unwilling to reveal the fact that he, too, was in Domino. He had the briefest of thoughts— what if he was actually talking to one of Yugi’s other friends?
But no— they were all probably curled up in their comforters waiting for ‘Santa.’ Seto scoffed.
“Ditto,” Lucky responded. “That is, same as you. So what can I do you for?” Lucky followed this new query with a string of widely-smiling happy faces, each one of them baring their teeth to Seto in an all-too-disconcerting fashion.
“…Can’t sleep. I guess…” Seto paused, not pressing Enter just yet; could he really tell complete strangers what he couldn’t even tell Téa? “I guess I’m wondering where I’m at with my girlfriend.”
“Ooh, romance questions! I love these!” Violet exclaimed, creating a heart with an angular bracket and the three digit.
“This coming from the girl who wouldn’t say anything about whether she was with anyone from the get-go? Miss Clam-Lips?” Lucky responded wryly. The emoticon following his sarcastic question was that of a very bored-looking smiley, with only a line for a mouth and slits for eyes.
“Hey, that was when I first started chatting with you,” Violet responded indignantly. “But right now we have someone else to talk about, okay?”
‘Sly,’ Seto chuckled. ‘She’s still Miss Clam-Lips, and she just changed the subject to shut Lucky up.’ Maybe these chat rooms were just a little bit interesting…
“So, what’s the deal with you and your girlfriend?” Lucky asked bluntly.
“…” Seto couldn’t think of anything to say. After all, why was he even in a chat room in the first place? People were prone to lying about everything online— not just their age and location, but likely their gender, too! For all he knew, he was talking to two prepubescent girls looking for a good laugh. Or worse, he could be talking to two hackers looking to steal every bit of vital information off his computer.
True, his computer was more than secure enough to deal with any security compromise, but still…
“Are you gonna make me guess?” Lucky typed after Seto’s wordless response. “Are are you afraid I’m gonna hack into your computer and steal your credit card information?”
“If it makes you feel any better I’m on a public computer, so I can’t do jack with it. If that’s not enough assurance for you, I don’t know what is.”
“Lucky’s right, SH. You don’t have to tell us anything if you don’t want, but we’re all just here because we’ve got nothing better to do this Christmas,” Violet typed.
“…Except wonder about strange guys and their girl problems. And since he ain’t gonna tell us— I’m gonna guess!”
“Don’t bother,” Seto finally typed as he sighed. “She loves me. I don’t know if I feel the same.”
Well, there it was— he’d made the choice, and now he couldn’t take it back. He’d said what was truly on his mind —something highly unprecedented for a private individual like himself. But… ever since he’d been with Téa, everything had been one change of heart after another.
He’d forgiven Gozaburo… discovered his own brother was growing up beyond his control… and above all else, he’d taken the girl who he’d once dubbed as an insignificant cheerleader into his home, and into his heart.
There was no going back from any of that, was there?
“Ah, one of those cases,” Violet typed in. Seto imagined a faceless woman sitting nearby, her back to him as she nodded sagely. “Well, it’s always best to begin at the beginning, right?” Shetyped in a cute smiley to make her point.
“The beginning, huh?” Seto murmured aloud. Well, the beginning was… trying to figure out if whatever he felt was ‘love.’ Seto couldn’t be sure—he’d never been in love with anyone before. All he knew was what he’d told Téa that first night —her birthday, some weeks ago. He wasn’t sure what love was, but it probably wasn’t the same for everyone— and regardless of what they have to go through to be together, he wanted to find out what love was with her by his side.
That was still true, but a part of him strongly recognized Téa’s unspoken need for Seto to vouch some feelings —any feelings— for her. Hence his problem.
“What IS love, exactly, anyway?” he finally typed, hoping that the other two in the room could give him a definition like other teenagers or young adults would think of it. These two regulars in a late-night chat room had to be normal people, living normal lives, right? They probably had a betteridea of what it was supposed to be like— being ‘young and in love.’
“Well,” Violet began with a winking smiley, “the dictionary defines love as ‘a powerful emotion felt for another person, manifesting itself in the form of deep affection, devotion, or sexual desire… a great liking, or fondness’.”
“Thank you, Webster’s!” Lucky typed, though he added far too many exclamation points than was really necessary. Violet only shot him an unamused smiley emoticon, not bothering to dignify his remark with words.
“So, do you feel ‘affectionate’ toward your girlfriend?” Violet asked seriously, leaving out all emoticons and other strange online emphasis.
Well, yes… but then, he also was affectionate toward Mokuba, right?
“Yeah, but I’m affectionate toward my brother, too.” Sort of, anyway. Truthfully, things were a bit… rough between them as of late. First withthe ghosts and Seto’s being framed for murder, then with him and Téa finally getting together… and most recently, with Mokuba putting Téa in danger by keeping her meeting with Crump of the Big Five a secret from Seto— and worse, trying to distract him while it happened! But… they had talked, so things were supposedly on their way to getting better.
“Okay, but what about devoted?” Lucky put in. “It’s a given that you’re devoted to your brother too, so don’t even say it.”
“Well of course I’m devoted to her!” Seto typed before really thinking about it. He considered his words once they were on the screen. Devoted meant he wasn’t going to pay attention to other girls, and he was going to care for her no matter what. But then, it wasn’t as if many females truly expressed an interest in him to begin with— not a strong, lasting one, anyway. Fangirls aside, he rarely dealt with any girls besides Téa, and her occasional classmate or friend.
“Don’t get your briefs in a twist,” Lucky snarked, inputting an icon with its tongue sticking out.
Violet responded by typing in “LOL,” though Seto didn’t understand what it meant. “You’re not online much, are you SH?”
Seto shook his head in reality prior to typing his reply, “This is actually my first time… I’m usually working. ”
“Oh-ho, a virgin!” Lucky laughed, adding even more smilies to his sentences now. Seto groaned. For someone that was supposed to be his age, couldn’t this ‘Lucky’ guy act a bit mature? Seto paused, reassessing this thought. He was ‘friends’ with people like Yugi and the mutt. Maturity was highly overestimated for their age bracket.
“LOL means ‘laughing out loud’,” Violet explained kindly. “I guess we’ll just have to define any weird acronyms we use from here on out.”
“That is, if we don’t scare him away first,” Lucky responded.
Seto chuckled under his breath, “I’m still here.”
“Miracle of miracles.”
“So we covered the affectionate part, and the devoted part. NOW…” Violet trailed off, and Lucky took his cue.
“SEX!” he exclaimed in big, bold, capital letters. “Not including your GF, you’re affectionate toward your brother and devoted to your work. But do you wanna have sex with your job?”
Seto stared at the screen in disbelief, his cheeks colored a brilliant scarlet. Lucky was being an idiot, but at least he spoke his mind.
Violet typed in LOL three times, followed by a face that looked like it was about to explode with laughter and tears. “Good one, Lucky! But I guess if he did, that job would really BLOW, huh?”
Lucky laughed himself, “Good one, V.”
Seto, meanwhile, rolled his eyes. The truth was, he hadn’t considered the topic of sex in regards to his relationship with Téa— at least,not since that first night, when they’d almost—
“Do you want to have sex with… this girlfriend of yours?”
His face still hot and his fingers now feeling strangely clammy and trembling, Seto began a reply. “I…”
“Might be too heavy of a question for our virgin here,” Lucky snarked.
“Okay, so let’s figure out if what he’s got is ‘the love bug,’ then. For some people, it’s really not that easy to know right off the bat if they’re in love,” Violet stated. “So how about this: do you notice something like… the scent of her perfume?”
‘Love’s Baby Soft,’ Seto answered mentally. It was one of those timeless, schoolgirl scents— not too strong, but not too muted, either. He’d only recently discovered the name of the stuff when he spotted Téa’s palm-size pink bottle in their now-shared bathroom.
And whenever she wore it, he knew. The soft, wafting aroma of talc mixed with gentle flowers…
“Yeah,” he responded simply, unable to come up with anything else to say. Memories of the scent reminded him of the touch of her skin, and the firsttime he’d really been close enough to smell it.
“Me next!” Lucky exclaimed, once again using a devilish emoticon thathad Seto on edge. What was this ‘Lucky’ going to ask now?
“How about how she moans when you kiss her?”
“Ooh, we’re getting into dangerous territory now, Lucky!” Violet winked at him using yet another one of the smilies, waiting for Seto’s reply.
Seto only blinked, suddenly thrust back to the night of December 8th. He’d just blurted without thinking that he wanted to kiss Téa. and her startling reply came in the form of a simple, soft-spoken question: “So why don’t you?” Seto hadn’t thought of a reply to that, and in the moment he hesitated, Téahad grabbed and kissed him.
Minutes later, she proclaimed that THAT kiss didn’t count— and neither did the one that Seto still had difficulty remembering: their first kiss after the Kaiba Corp. 50th Anniversary Ball. So once again, their lips met in tender union, and this kiss felt deeper and warmer than the last. And then one thing had led to another, and in a haze of warmth and touches, they’d ended up spawled on the couch, him kissing whatever skin he could gain purchase on, her writhing beneath him and making those little noises —moans being just one of them— that only served to entice Seto more.
His cheeks still burning, Seto managed to type out a simple, “Yeah.”
“I think we got him a bit flustered. Let’s stick to some other topics, huh?” Violet grinned. “How about… do you notice the softness of her skin, or the way her neck curves when she turns a certain way…”
Lucky responded before Seto had the chance, “Damn V, I’m getting turned on!”
In a darkened apartment complex far from where either Lucky or Seto were, Mai Valentine smirked to herself. She sighed deeply, glancing at her bed, and the darkened picture frame on the endtable beside it. The ‘violet eyes’ that made up her screen-name narrowed sadly; she turned back to the screen with her lips painted in a slight smile.
“Sorry sugar,” she murmured aloud while typing the same thing, “I’m spoken for.”
By this, she meant Joey had captured her heart… she just had to be willing to hear him out, and apologize for her lies. Hopefully… hopefully Joey would be willing to listen to her side. But those were her problems, to be dealt with at another time, in another place— not in a chat room with two hormonal teenage boys.
Aside from Seto, the other teenage boy laughed to himself. In a dark internet café in a run-down part of Domino, Joey Wheeler sat before a glowing computer monitor, occasionally sipping out of his paper cup of hot cocoa. He was in a good mood, and unwilling to go home just yet. It wasn’t as though he had any high hopes for Christmas, what with his dad always being drunk. The holidays offered just one more excuse to the elder Wheeler to drink until he threw up, or at least ended up in one of those stupors where not even family mattered.
So he was out at a 24-hour internet café, chatting it up with a girl he didn’t even know, and a virginal guy with love problems.
‘Heh, some Christmas. This is one for the books!’
The chat continued, with both ‘Lucky’ and ‘Violet’ throwing out their definitions of what love was, and how one could recognize when they were “in” it. Seto scrutinized each and every one of their messages, asking for further definition when he needed it. It was odd— Seto Kaiba prided himself on being well-versed in a variety of areas of academia— but love wasn’t exactly partof school curriculum. Here, he actually needed help, and oddly enough, with these two characters throwing back and forth advice and their own experiences, it wasn’t as bad —or as humiliating— as Seto would have thought.
“Look,” Violet stated, abruptly changing her font and background to a plain black-and-white, “the long and short of it is, no matter what we tell you, you have to decide ifwhat you’re feeling is ‘love’ or not.”
“And whatever you are feelin’,” Lucky added, “make sure to tell your girlfriend, all right? Don’t let the good ones slip away. Trust me man, it sucks.”
“And not in the good way,” Violet added with a winking smiley.
Lucky typed in a sole shocked emoticon, followed by an exclamation mark. A moment later, he added a blushing one, exclaiming “V!”
Violet only laughed. “Yeah, I’m hilarious and I know it. Look, I’m logging for the night boys, but SH?”
“(Man of many words, ain’t he, V?)” Lucky typed sarcastically.
“I’m right here, CHANCEY!” Seto shot back, making fun of the last part of Lucky’s user name, comparing it to one of the more girly Pokémon his brother had once been obsessed with.
“ANYWAY,” Violet continued in exasperation, “TELL YOUR GIRLFRIEND.”
“What V said,” Lucky added. “My time’s just about up here anyway, so catch you both later, maybe?”
“You bet!” Violet winked, and signed off. Seto nodded slowly before he logged off and shut down his computer.
‘Tell her… huh?’
Something told him it wouldn’t be that easy. But… they were right. Even for a pair of strange online chatters, up for some bizarre reason on Christmas Day, talking about love, sex, and relationships… they were right.
Seto trudged up to the bedroom he now shared with Téa, contemplating everything that Lucky and Violet said.
“Do you know what shampoo she uses?”
‘Pomegranate and Persimmon fusion,’ Seto answered. She always smelled divine, and whenever he was near enough to her, it took a great deal of resistance not to bury his face in her hair and wrap his arms around her as tightly as he could manage.
“How about what hand she writes with?”
‘Right, but she’s stubborn and she still tries to write with her left hand every now and then. It looks like chicken scratch when she does but… her face is awfully cute while she’s trying.’
Her nose would wrinkle in this frustrated way, and she’d fumble with her pencil or pen until it was caught in a left-handed death grip. Her eyes would narrow and darken ever-so-slightly, and she’d try scrawling for a good five minutes before she’d give up and switch to her usual writing hand.
“How does she like her chocolate?”
‘Milk chocolate, preferably with almonds. She’s not fond of dark chocolate, but she loves fudge brownies. And she thinks white chocolate is made from tapioca.’
For a girl that had taught him how to cook, she sure had some interesting beliefs about sweets. She had a killer sweet-tooth too, from what Seto remembered— frosted cookies, fudge cakes, and chocolate parfaits? Oh, and raw cookie dough.
‘I still haven’t tried that stuff,’ he thought with a smirk. He now stood in the doorway of his bedroom, staring at Téa curled up warmly in his bed. Her back was to him, her body just a slender lump amongst his fluffy comforter and many blankets. A single stream of moonlight filtered in through the thick, navy curtains, highlighting the bright auburn of her hair and the perfect complexion of the side of her face.
‘So I do know. I know… more about her than I ever thought I would. I know her habits, her scent, the way she laughs, the way she cries. But… does she still love me?’
People could change. Feelings could change. Both he and Téa were physical proof of that. But shared bedroom aside, it had been weeks since Téa admitted her feelings— and as usual, so much had happened to throw a wrench in what would otherwise be a ‘normal’ teenage lifestyle. Maybe in those few weeks, her feelings for him lessened… or maybe she’d changed her mind altogether.
Seto sighed as he closed the door to his room, shucking off his clothes and trading them for a simple blue thermal top that he wore with his boxers. With all his blankets —and Téa right beside him— he had no need for a full pajama set, no matter what he’d told Téa about wanting his silk ones back.
He slid into bed, edging his arms around Téa’s waist when she turned around and faced him, her blue eyes half-open. She smiled sleepily and twined her arms around his neck, bringing him in for a warm, toothpaste-minty kiss.
‘Silly Seto. It’s about time.’ If he wasn’t going to make her Christmas dreams come true, then she’d just have to make them happen herself. ‘If only in my dreams,’ Téa thought sleepily.
But for Seto, it wasn’t a dream at all. Somehow, the simple realization that yes, he was in love with her made this kiss wildly different from all the rest. Everything seemed magnified tenfold— her lips warmer, softer, her touch electrifying his skin and sending tingles all the way down his spine. The sensations amazed Seto so much that he hungrily kissed her back, to which she responded with a delighted murmur mid-kiss. His lips trailed to the corners of her mouth and then down her chin to the base of her throat; Téa’s breathing turned into a series of short gasps. Fingertips wound into his hair, urging him in the direction she wanted him to kiss.
“Gosh,” Téa whispered breathlessly, suddenly realizing they were both wide awake, “what’s gotten into you?”
Seto smiled to himself barely raising his head to fix her with a devilish smirk, “Nothing in particular.” He cocked his head to the side, examining Téa lying underneath him, looking for all the world like she couldn’t get more comfortable. Her hair fanned out in a halo on the pillow beneath her, and her eyes shone a bright cerulean due to the moonlight streaming in through the small gap in the curtains.
“Have I ever told you how incredibly beautiful you are?” Seto murmured, lowering his lips to gently nuzzle Téa’s cheek. She really was amazing, and he was surprised he hadn’t realized it before.
Téa laughed softly, running her fingers deeper through Seto’s hair. “Not in so many words, no,” she whispered, moaning a moment later when Seto pressed a hot, open-mouthed kiss to her neck and daringly licked at her skin.
She didn’t have the chance to finish— Seto kissed her warmly, resisting the urge just to pin her to the bed with his body and—
Well, with the way she was kissing him back, they probably would get to that point sooner rather than later. However, for the fraction of the moment that Seto thought about that as opposed to being focused on what he was doing, his attention on Téa waned. He’d already torn open her night shirt, not giving a damn if he broke a button or two. That was when she noticed what she wore beneath her pajama top— a silky camisole lined with lace. The vision sent his thoughts careening into even more dangerous territory, and he was already deep enough in to begin with.
Téa pressed cool hands to his own a moment later, but instead of stopping him from continuing, she wriggled out of her pajama bottoms, casually tossing aside the flannel drawstring pants as if they were nothing. Seto stared in mute astonishment, his cheeks coloring as he watched her writhe, and then as she withdrew her pants from under the blankets. His gaze trailed back to her once the pants were safely on the floor, his gaze straying past her navel…
His gaze snapped up almost immediately, his cheeks red. She was still wearing panties, but the fact that he’d looked at all suddenly embarrassed Seto, and he froze.
“Wh-Wh—” he began in a soft stutter.
“Hot,” she explained with a flushed face and twinkling eyes. She didn’t say anything further before yanking Seto back down to her, kissing him eagerly. It barely took another minute before Téa was fumbling with the hem of Seto’s thermal shirt, easing it up over his broad shoulders and up to his arms. He raised himself away from her momentarily, finally understanding the heat that caused Téa to dispose of her pajama set, leaving her clad only in a camisole and panties. Téa grinned saucily as she practically tore the shirt off Seto, once his arms were in the air and able to slide out of the sleeves.
Skin met skin as Téa once again drew Seto down into her embrace, with him caressing her neck and shoulders with kisses of varying pressure and length. She was starting to shift underneath him again, and suddenly, everything in the room became startlingly clear and vibrant.
“God Téa, I’m so in love with you…” Seto whispered as he kissed the shell of her ear, his breath hot on her skin.
Téa froze her ministrations of Seto’s back, tracing the natural curves of his spine and shoulderblades. Had he really just said—?
Seto’s kisses continued for only a few more moments, before he rose up and looked at Téa’s face— she was crying. She wasn’t sniffling or hiccuping; tears were just slip-sliding from her eyes down to the pillow.
For a moment, Seto wondered if he’d screwed things up somehow— and considering the track record of their ‘relationship,’ it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He’d upset her so much earlier…
Maybe… maybe his worst fears had been right all along, and she was no longer —or never had been— in love with him. Maybe theirs was a relationship purely based on desire and complicated entanglements.
Before he could ask Téa what she truly felt in that moment —whether she wanted him to stop and leave her alone— she tugged him down abruptly, and wrapped her arms tightly around his broad shoulders and neck. Her chest trembled with the way she was crying, and her breathing came in ragged gasps.
“You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for you to tell me that,” she whispered brokenly. “I love you… so much, Seto.”
Muffled against her breasts, Seto could only manage out an “Oh” of surprise and relief— though it didn’t exactly come through in his voice. Realizing she practically had Seto in a half-naked stranglehold, Téa released him, an embarrassed grin spreading across her lips.
Seto smiled once he’d caught his breath. “I’m glad. For a minute there, I thought—”
Damn, she was distracting. Radiating warmth like that, her shirt rumpled and exposing her smooth stomach, her face flushed and damp with tears… how could he be expected to resist her, let alone finish his sentences when she was lying there like that?
Téa laughed softly. “Stop looking at me like that.”
“Can’t help it,” Seto replied immediately, still smirking. He wanted to be kissing her again, but he was well aware of what would happen if he did. And part of him also realized that if he started, he might not want —or be able— to stop.
“We don’t have to… you know,” Seto murmured, his smile melting away into a serious expression.
Téa looked away, her cheeks still pink. “I know. As much as I want—” her eyes met his, just for a moment, before her cheeks flushed again, and she turned away. “We can’t. I don’t… we don’t have any protection,” she blurted at last.
Seto masked his surprise; that was the only thing stopping her? Not thinking that it was too soon, or that she didn’t want to be with him for her first time (and Seto was inexplicably positive that it was her first time, too)?
But he didn’t dare question if she had any other motives behind agreeing with him; he just shifted to Téa’s side, lying beside her on the bed. He tugged her close to him, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist. Téa snuggled further into his embrace, then wrapped her own arms around his and sighed deeply.
“I just needed to know that you could love me,” Seto said after a moment.
“I can, and I do, Seto,” her voice became leaden with tiredness, “Always.”
Hours later, Seto bolted upright in bed, his skin covered in a thin sheen of sweat. He felt concurrently hot and cold at the same time, with a wave of nausea reminding him of why it wasn’t such a good idea to sit up abruptly.
Had it all been a dream? Just a dream?
Seto turned a wavering gaze toward the opposite side of the bed, where Téa had to be— after all, she was no longer sleeping in his arms. The blankets and comforters were piled up on her as high as they could go, covering everything of her from the neck down. Seto reached a trembling hand toward her, wondering if he really had dreamed everything.
‘And if I did?’
Why was he shaking so badly? Why was he sweating, even though it was cool in his room, and decently warm under the blankets? He wasn’t sick. He never got sick. Why… was he so afraid of pulling those blankets away from Téa, and getting the confirmation he needed?
‘If it was all just a dream…’
But his mind couldn’t process the thought. Maybe it was late at night, or else too early in the morning. Maybe he’d eaten something that disagreed with him. But he doubted any of those were really the reason why— the reason why he couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that it had all been a dream. His senses felt alive, his nerves raw. Every little sound, every little image ingrained itself into his head for permanent storage.
Seto sucked in a deep breath, forcing himself to stop shaking. All he had to do was move the blanket a few centimeters away from Téa’s shoulder, and he’d know.
‘I— I can’t…’
The dream still flitted on the outskirts of his mind, like the memory of something he’d done only hours before.
But it was impossible.
There was no way it could have happened, no matter how achingly hot or cold he felt. Despite the sweat that covered his skin or the residual stickiness he felt in every joint and corner of his body, there was just no way.
But he couldn’t tear his gaze away from her.
The longer he stared, the more vivid his memory of the dream became… the more real it seemed.
Burning kisses, restless touches, and unfathomable desire…
“I can’t do this.” Seto grumbled. He was out of bed like a shot, taking several quick strides to the bathroom and flicking on the light. He closed the door just as abruptly, once again letting his bedroom fall into darkness.
It was dark, but there was an odd sense of comfort that surrounded Téa completely.
It felt as though she were lying on a cloud, enveloped in the night sky. But there weren’t any stars, just a single ray of light that didn’t seem to have any definable source. And… the sound of running water?
The darkness parting, becoming just a bit lighter, until Téa realized she was in bed.
Her lips parted and curled into a dry smile as she realized it wasn’t any bed— it was Seto’s bed to be precise. Well, their bed, since they’d been sharing it for nearly a month now. Every night…
The thought warmed Téa to her toes, giving her the urge to curl up against Seto and pull him against her. She’d done that for the past few nights, and Seto hadn’t protested in the slightest. In fact, he’d snuggled closer against her with a little groan, much to Téa’s delight. These past several nights, she’d discovered a whole new side of Seto that couldn’t be seen while he was awake.
He was awfully adorable while he slept…
But he wasn’t.
Sleeping, that is. He wasn’t in bed at all, and this fact caused Téa to suddenly sit up in bed, and take a good look around.
Once she noticed the shaft of light coming from under the bathroom door and the sound of running water, she put two and two together.
‘So that was where the light and running water sound from my dream came from.’
But what was Seto doing taking a shower at… 2:56 a.m.?
He wasn’t one to wake up at ungodly hours and shower just because he could. Seto was a rational, sensible man. Where was the sense in showering at three in the morning?
Throwing the blankets aside, Téa resolved to find out.
‘No more secrets, Seto. You promised.’
The heat racing through his veins was fading at last. His once-tense muscles relaxed slowly, taking fragments of his dream away with them.
And suddenly, the heat came rushing back. He had to find his voice, and fast, lest Téa get suspicious.
‘What the heck is she doing in here, anyway?’
Wasn’t she supposed to be sleeping soundly, curled up on her side? Hadn’t it all been a dream? Hadn’t it?!
“What is it?” Seto managed hoarsely, straining to regain control of his senses. Before, Téa only complicated matters— made things confusing. Now she made it downright impossible to even think straight or act sanely. Now he was battling his very consciousness just to keep control.
“A-Are you all right?” Téa asked, her voice quavering slightly. In the back of her mind, she feared that she’d said or done something wrong earlier, and he was in the bathroom now as an excuse to get away from her.
Maybe she’d slept on him and caused his limbs to go numb.
Maybe she’d fallen asleep while he was talking.
“I’m fine,” Seto gritted out, pushing his hand forcefully against the tile wall.
Damn it… he didn’t even need to see her! Her voice alone sent his blood rushing to every part of his body, the whole of him locked in a dizzying wave of raw sensations.
‘He doesn’t sound “fine.” What isn’t he telling me…?’ But she couldn’t push it. She knew if she forced the subject, he’d only get angry withher, and frankly, Téa didn’t want to deal with that at three in the morning. Maybe for once, she had to be patient, and wait for the right time…
Still, something was odd about all this.
“Oh… okay.” Téa turned to leave, casting a sideways glance at her unsure reflection in the mirror.
If Seto was showering, why weren’t the mirrors steamed up?
Téa stepped quietly as though she were leaving the bathroom. She heard Seto exhale deeply and continue showering— while she snuck around the corner and gently pressed a few fingers to the stall door.
It was ice cold.
The next morning, Téa once again awoke to a cold and abandoned bed.
‘Some Christmas’ was her first thought— and decidedly uncharacteristic of her, since she always forced herself to be bright and cheery, even when she’d gotten into arguments with her parents on Christmas Eve. But now, they were no longer here, and she was in a brand new home, with an almost-brand new life. Except it wasn’t new and wonderful, because something she’d done or said last night sent her boyfriend —who’d finally admitted he loved her!— into an ice cold shower.
‘I will never understand men,’ Téa groaned to herself as she got up, tossing the blankets aside and not bothering to replace them neatly.
Where was Seto, anyhow? Where was her good morning kiss under the mistletoe, her trail of gifts leading down to the tree, and the smell of steaming hot chocolate to lure her downstairs?
Téa sucked in a deep breath, wondering if maybe she’d dreamed Seto’s confession last night. But if it had been just a dream, why was she just wearing her camisole and panties? She wouldn’t dare sleep like that under any other circumstances— unless it was sweltering hot, and that was highly unlikely in Seto Kaiba’s dark and open room.
‘I need some light in here.’
So Téa took three brisk strides over to the grand windows and threw open the heavy windows.
Suddenly, her jaw dropped.
“It’s SNOWING!” Téa squealed, unable to help herself. Everything outside was covered in a thick blanket of endless white, from the tall trees to the stubby bushes. The fountains were frozen over and the walkways were covered in a gray-blue sheet of ice. Tiny white flakes, each unique, fell from the sky in a soft rain.
‘There’s enough snow out there to make twenty snowmen!’ And plenty of ice castles, and endless array of snow angels, and hundreds of snowballs!
“IT’S SNOWING!” Téa didn’t even bother putting a sweater on— she just fumbled into her pajama pants and dashed downstairs as though Father Winter were nipping at her heels.
Mokuba was busy poking into the closet nearest the kitchen when Téa rammed right into him. Mokuba rubbed his nose and stared up at Téain surprise— where had the graceful dancer gone?
“It’s snowing!” Téa grinned from ear to ear, as if to explain herself.
Mokuba stared at her blankly. “Okay…?”
“I’ve never seen snow in my entire life, Mokuba!” Téa practically shouted with delight. Her face glowed pink from how happy and excited she was— and Mokuba had to admit, he’d never seen her quite so thrilled before. But wasn’t it his job to be the ridiculously excited one on Christmas Day?
But then, he didn’t believe in Santa Claus or anything, and that had nearly broken Téa’s heart. Christmas was just another holiday to Mokuba Kaiba, but he still had fun— but what was so special about snow?
“Eighteen years and I’ve never seen snow! Come on, don’t you want to go outside and make snowmen or something, Mokuba?”
Mokuba eyed Téa up and down suspiciously. Unless she was wearing one of those skin-tight thermal suits that those athletes in the Winter Olympics wore, it looked like she was wearing pajamas. And nothing BUT pajamas.
“Seto and I went to Sapporo last year. It was cold.”
“Oh, but that’s half the fun! Besides, you warm up real quick when you do something!”
“But I thought you just said you’d never seen snow in your life!” Mokuba pointed out, confused.
“I haven’t!” Téa smiled broadly. “And I’m not going to miss out on this chance today! Come on,” she leaned down and whispered conspiratorially in Mokuba’s ear, “haven’t you ever wanted to pelt your brother with a huge snowball?”
A devilish grin slowly crept its way across Mokuba’s face, and he glanced around, as if to make sure there were no security cameras trained on him. He nodded slowly, and grinned.
“I’ll do it— if you help me.”
“What are you up to?” Téa asked, smiling widely.
“Looking for my Christmas presents!” Mokuba grinned. He held a small scrap of paper in his hand, a hand-written note with an odd riddle on it.
“That’s strange. I thought you and your brother didn’t do the Christmas present exchange thing.”
“What would give you THAT idea?” Mokuba asked incredulously, sweeping a stray lock of ebony hair from his face.
“Well, there weren’t any presents under the tree—” Téa began. When she’d noticed, disappointment filled her stomach like the ocean rushing in at high tide. She was hoping to get just a little something for Seto, because she had her own gift that she hoped he’d like…
“You mean he didn’t tell you?” Mokuba asked, astonished. He dragged Téa by the wrist to the living room, and practically shoved her over toward the mantleplace, where a stocking hung. Much to Téa’s surprise, she noticed her name —sewn in silver thread!— embroidered on the top.
For just a moment, she felt like crying. She’d come so close to moving out earlier this month— but her desire to finish high school in Japan and leave no loose ends hanging kept her in place. She pushed through even more obstacles to get into a relationship with Seto at long last, and despite their many quibbles, he really did seem to think of her as one of the family.
And not like some ‘sister,’ like Téa pressed on him when Chieko first showed up. No, he thought of her as something much closer than that.
The thought warmed Téa to her toes.
“Look here!” Mokuba plunged his hand into Téa’s stocking, pulling out a small envelope. He handed it to Téa, who opened it curiously. Within the envelope was a small scrap of paper not unlike Mokuba’s. There was nothing else.
The paper read simply: “At night I come without being called; at day I am lost without being stolen.”
“More riddles…” Téa mumbled. She didn’t really mind— she missed her father’s daily quizzes, in fact, but it just seemed a bit ironic.
“So let me guess— your brother’s going to ‘riddle me this, riddle me that’ until I find something?”
“A bucketload of presents, that’s what!” Mokuba grinned. He pointed toward the couch, where he already accumulated quite a pile.
“Once you find one present, there’s a riddle inside that leads to another. It’s fun!”
“I’ll bet,” Téa smiled. But then she realized something —rather, someone— was decidedly missing from the fun.
“But where’s your brother?”
Mokuba laughed. “He never shows up on Christmas Day. You have to find him.”
Téa stared in disbelief. “So Seto’s the final present?”
Mokuba grinned, his lips curving into a sly smile. “Something like that.”
“I come without being called… and I am lost without being stolen,” Téa murmured, as she paced about the living room. She was alone now, Mokuba’s exploits having him taken to the other side of the house, where he continued to hunt for presents.
“For once, I have no idea where to start,” Téa sighed. “Maybe today just isn’t my day for riddles. I was so excited to think about snow, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Plus I haven’t eaten,” Téa murmured.
The staff that normally had the littlest things ready for the Kaiba household was off— just to show that Seto Kaiba wasn’t a heartless employer, after all. Aside from Mokuba —and somewhere within the grounds, likely glued to his laptop— was Seto. And that was it. Just the three of them, in this big house. Everyone else was off until after New Year’s.
So no help there.
“Maybe if I have some breakfast I can concentrate better.” Téa shuffled toward the kitchen and opened the cabinets, reaching in and grabbing out a pair of raspberry-filled cereal bars. She tore one open, admiring the pretty reflection of the Christmas lights on the magenta foil wrapper.
One light was larger than the rest, casting a rainbow-colored glow over Téa’s fingers and hand.
When she glanced over at the Christmas tree, the answer came to her. The bright glowing came from the brilliantly-lit star topping the tree off— and if one looked closely, they could see a tiny scrap of paper, tied with a ribbon, at the very top.
“How the heck am I supposed to get that down!?” Téa exclaimed. Her voice echoed off the high ceilings, but Téa didn’t care. This was Seto’s idea of fun? Was he trying to kill her?
Téa examined the tree carefully. It was several meters tall— far beyond her reach, or the reach of any ladder or stepstool. The tree was still in one piece though— imported from one of those pine farms in the mountains. Seto accepted nothing but the very best, from the trunk of the tree up to the star at its peak. So… how did he manage to get that paper up there?
‘The stairs!’ The massive staircase wound just behind the tree, which meant the middle landing would have been the perfect place for Seto to lean over and stealthily tie a riddle to the top of the tree. Téa scuttled up the stairs and leaned ever-so-carefully over the banister, fishing theribbon and scrap with trembling fingers.
“‘Did you think I would make it that easy to get a present already?'” Téa read with a frown. “Seto, you goofball.”
The next riddle was longer than the first, and it made Téa cringe: “I am bacterial waste, oh yes, But just what type, can you guess? Some put me on their fish and chips, others on floors to prevent slips, some on salads, some in stews, some on windows, even shoes. So I’m bacterial waste, oh yes, But my name can you guess?”
‘Seto, you are so gross.’ But there was no way he could have written a rhyming poem like that. No way… right?
Then again, he was a genius. He probably delighted in forcing others to bend to his immeasurable IQ.
“Bacterial waste that people eat, put on their floors, and on windows,” Téa mused. She tried to remember her mother’s “five easy ways to keep a house clean.” There was something about five things in your home that can do every job you can think of… but what were they?
“Bleach was one, but no one eats that… and I think more people would slip on bleach than not. There’s ammonia— but that’ll kill you, so no. I’d say detergent’s probably one of them, right? No one eats that either, and I nearly broke my ankle that one time in the laundry room…” Téa stared at Seto’s fine print, wondering if there was some sort of trick in the wording.
Her father had always been fond of word puzzles and cryptography, but Seto didn’t seem to be using any of that here.
‘He couldn’t use anything Christmas-related, could he? Geez.’
That left two more possible ‘everyday household items’ that could clean anything— and would more likely than not fit Seto’s riddle. But even then, would that really lead her someplace, or to another clue, even harder than before?
Well, she couldn’t exactly say her Christmas wasn’t stirring, that was for sure.
Téa flung open the cabinets and stared hard at their depths, wondering if perhaps she’d stumble on another clue tied to a bottle of cider or a canister of sauce. Instead, she was rewarded with the answer.
“Vinegar!” It made perfect sense, in retrospect— plenty of people put vinegar on their fish and chips, it was used to clean all sorts of things in the house, prevent slipping on shoes, and when wine went bad, the bacterial waste left behind was vinegar!
“You know, Seto,” Téa murmured aloud, “no one in their right mind would have guessed that. So you know what that means— your girlfriend isn’t exactly SANE!”
He was probably somewhere laughing his butt off.
Téa flipped the vinegar bottle upside down and found another clue, marching back to the living room to read it.
Nearly an hour later, Téa found a series of more riddles— and finally, some prizes to reward her labor.
The first was a beautiful charm bracelet, decorated with ballet shoes, bows, stars, and hearts. Each of them were covered in array of what had to be rhinestones —‘But what if they’re real?’ — from the twelve birthstones.
Three more riddles led Téa upstairs and into what had once been her room— and hidden under the bed was an ivory-white box containing a beautiful ice-blue jacket lined with soft artificial fur. The jacket itself was soft to the touch and beautifully shiny, embroidered with swirls of snowflakes and lace-like butterflies.
Another set of clues —the final ones, Mokuba assured her, while he parked himself in front of the TV watching Christmas specials— were even more confusing than the last. She couldn’t figure out the last riddle for the life of her, and Mokuba claimed he had no idea where Seto was.
“I am the start and end of all things, I am in all that you hear, and I swim in the waters. My companion is wild, but can be domesticated. It can be found in the deepest of gardens and in the checkout line of a supermarket. It is strong and powerful, but broken easily by winds and rains. Together, we are a forgotten place that can save you at a moment’s notice.”
It made no sense— the start and end of things? Something that could be heard, but it swam in water? A wild companion that could be domesticated— an animal, maybe? But no, animals weren’t found in the checkout line of a supermarket. And what kind of thing could be strong and powerful, but broken by wind and rain?”
Téa suddenly remembered the Sphinx she’d seen in Malik’s exhibit. The Sphinx was massive, made of stone— yet sandstorms eroded it over the years, wearing away at its shape and form. Maybe the ‘companion’ in Seto’s last riddle was something like that— something strong, but affected by nature.
But what in nature could be wild, but tamed?
“A plant?” Téa mused. But what kind of plant? There were no further clues. A strong and powerful plant? That could be anything! There were all sorts of plants that grew like crazy, or plants that leeched water from other plants. There were weeds, rose bushes with thorns, poisonous flowers, aromatic blossoms… or wild vines! It could be ivy, or the leaves of an oak tree!
She wasn’t getting anywhere with that train of thought.
Holding the scrap in her hand, Téa made her way to the kitchen once more, opening one of the drawers and pulling out a stick of gum. It wasn’t until Téa slipped the mint-flavored stick in her mouth that she realized just who the ‘companion’ was.
“Mint! It’s a wild plant that’s got a powerful flavor, and a strong aroma! But since it’s a weak plant, it can be torn from the ground by wind, or drowned by rain! You can buy little pots of the stuff at a store, and—” Téa held up the pack of gum triumphantly, “it comes in stick form at supermarket checkout lines!”
But Téa’s victorious smile was quick to fade— she’d only solved half the puzzle! What was the other half— the thing that was the start and end of things, that was in everything she heard, and swam in the sea?
“It’s got to be a word trick— there’s not really anything in the world that swims, starts and ends everything, and is in everything I hear.”
An anagram? No, that wasn’t it. It couldn’t be a misleading riddle, like the one her father had given her. He’d had a similar riddle that led to an envelope— the thing that started and ended with an ‘e,’ but contained only one letter.
“The start… and end…” Well, what did you start with? What were synonyms for start?
“Beginning, opening, square one, alpha, birth, dawn, day one…foundation?”
Suddenly, Téa’s eyes widened. “Another word for foundation— base. Base sounds like the word ‘bass,’ which is the same as a low register of sound, pronounced just a bit differently, a kind of fish!”
Base plus mint equaled…
“Basement! Seto, here I come!” Téa quickly tossed the scrap aside and tore downstairs toward the basement.
Téa groped her way through the darkened halls, her entire body coming to a halt when the plaster walls abruptly changed to something of a different texture. It squeaked when she ran her fingers across it, andit felt much smoother than the walls did.
‘Glass?’ Téa mused. But she was downstairs in the basement— there were no windows!
“A dying old man promised to leave the bulk of his fortune to one of his three sons that could buy something that could fill his room. The first son bought sacks and sacks of straw, and laid it all out on the floor, but it filled only a portion of the room. The second son bought sacks of feathers, and it only filled up half the room. The third son bought two small objects that could be concealed in his pocket, but when he went back to his father, he managed to fill the entire room. What did he buy?”
Téa smiled, realizing Seto was nearby. If she solved this riddle, he’d reveal himself— and that meant the end of the game.
“The third son bought a match and candle. When he lit the candle, he filled the room with light.”
Just as she said it, Seto turned on the lights— and Téa’s jaw dropped in astonishment.
She wasn’t in the wine cellar —that was on the other end of the hallway— nor was she in the gym. Instead, Téa found herself in a huge dance studio, with giant mirrors lining the walls and thick, navy curtains gathered at the sides. Bright, smooth, polished pine lined the floors, and made up the twin barres on the side. And in the middle of it all, Seto stood, a strange expression on his face.
At first, Téa didn’t say anything. She didn’t think she could, even if she tried. Her lips moved, but the only sound that came out was a squeak. A moment later, her knees knocked together and wobbled, sending her to the ground in a heap.
Seto was at her side momentarily, his lips quirked up in an odd smile. Téa hadn’t blinked once since he’d turned the lights on, but now she was blinking away a steady stream of tears. He softly rubbed away each one with his thumb, allowing himself a moment to boast mentally— she’d certainly never received a Christmas present like this before!
“You’re welcome,” Seto responded, draping an arm over Téa’s shoulders. She abruptly shrugged it off and forced herself to stand on still-wobbly feet as she looked about the room in amazement. The corners of the room had top-of-the-line speakers to provide complete surround sound for a stereo system gleaming brand-new and slick black in a nearby cabinet. Below the stereo system was a glass case lit up with button-sized bulbs and chains of lights that illuminated hundreds of CDs. A tiny computer monitor with a touchscreen classified each CD by title, artist, genre, and even each track— with its listed tempo, instruments used, and sheet music available for printing.
“You never cease to amaze me, Seto. I— I—”
She couldn’t seem to find the words. For every time she doubted him, for every dark thought that had ever crept its way into her brain, he did something like this. Something to utterly amaze and impress her, something that showed he really knew her. A room as vast and perfect as this meant he’d been planning it for a long time— or else he’d paid a great deal of money to get it done quickly, expressly for her.
Why else would he need a dance studio in the basement of his home?
‘This must have been the room I thought I saw when I first came here,’ Téa surmised. The empty storage space with old, dusty mirrors lining its walls… It had to be. But Seto had cleaned it up, and turned it into a proper dance studio, right around the corner from the gym!
“How can I compare to this? Anything I give you will seem like… like dirt on your shoes compared to this,” Téa frowned, twisting her fingers together. “I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve any of this from you.”
She was talking about more than the studio and the other presents she’d discovered, too. She meant the relationship, the fact that she was staying in his home, the fact that he’d gone out of way to do so many things for her— and there were still more she didn’t even know of. Seto could count them on his hand, but he never thought it mattered that she know about them.
They were in the past, after all.
“You gave me a chance,” Seto responded gruffly, suddenly feeling odd. True, he’d told Téa that he loved her —and they were alone, in his own house, on a holiday when it was perfectly acceptable to be affectionate— but there was still something holding him back from being the sterotypical romantic hero. If that was what Téa wanted, then she was better off not holding her breath.
Téa couldn’t think of a very good reply to this, so instead she stood up on tip-toe and embraced Seto as tightly as she could possibly manage. After a moment, Seto wrapped his own arms around her as well, bringing her even closer to him. For a moment, the whole of him tingled with a wave of heat, but he quickly pushed the sensation out of his mind. Desire didn’t matter right then and there— what mattered was that after a difficult year for the both of them, they’d made it through— and were on the verge of something challenging and unknown that had nothing to do with the upcoming new year.
She nudged her chin upward, just a bit, staring up at Seto with wide, doe-eyes. It was an expression Seto knew only too well. But Téa wasn’t Mokuba, and so her doe-eyes had an entirely different effect on him than his brother’s pleading look.
Seto swallowed, not entirely sure what she wanted him to do— but he had a good guess. He could be a genius in class and ruthless in the boardroom, but he couldn’t figure out what his own girlfriend wanted from him?
‘I will never understand her.’ It was just one of those things he had to accept, right? No matter how much he knew about her perfume or her favorite chocolate, there were some parts of Téa —no, all females— that were to forever remain a mystery.
Téa only pouted more, reaching up a bit further, almost standing on her toes.
‘Improvise, stupid. What else could I want when I’m in your arms and leaning this close to you?’ She wanted him to figure it out on his own. Let it be her own riddle to him. He would certainly like the present he got in return.
So Seto took a chance and craned his neck down a fraction— and pressed his lips against hers. Téa smiled against his lips, sneaking a half-lidded glance at her boyfriend as he pulled her even closer to him. Seto was squeezinghis eyes shut as tightly as they could be.
‘Okay, so I have to give him a few lessons in kissing. Maybe all I know about kissing is from the magazines and romance novels, but… I don’t think he’ll mind. “Practice makes perfect,” and I think that’s something Seto and I both agree on.’
So Téa decided to engage in just a bit more ‘practice’ as she woundher arms around Seto’s neck and kissed him back.
Hours later, night fell on Domino once more.
A cold wind whipped through the streets, but it hardly seemed to faze one man —a silhouette standing among satellite dishes and radio towers, on the roof of a tall skyscraper.
He slowly opened his eyes —one turquoise, one gold— and smiled maliciously.
-_- This chapter was a PAIN IN THE BUTT. I just wanted to let you all know.