What Doesn’t Kill You
Chapter 18: Accidental Friendship
version 2.0 – Thanks, DarkShadowFlame, for the correction! (9/25/05)
A Yu-Gi-Oh Fanfiction
By: Azurite – azurite AT seventh-star DOT net
Site: seventh-star DOT net
Conceptualized/First Written: 6/28/05
Completed/Final Edit: 9/11/05 – In Memoriam (Patriot’s Day)
TAKE NOTE! Please notice that my website has changed! This affects the location of the Seto x Anzu fanfiction archive Dragonfayth and the Seto x Anzu fanlisting Blue Eyes and Apricots, so please change all of your links!
Don’t Forget! All Review Replies are now hosted here. Thanks for your continued support!
Thank you! To Mamono, Nekokilala, and everyone at betasquad @ livejournal dot com!
Very Quick Recap: “Miss Gardner? It’s Sergeant Konami. I’m afraid I have some bad news. Mr. Kaiba’s been in an accident.”
R.I.P. Dedicated to Ben, a very nice guy who I met at CSUN’s anime club. He passed away in a car accident on Sunday, August 21st, 2005. He will be missed.
It all happened rather quickly. But if someone were observant enough, they would have been able to tell the precise order in which it all happened.
First, Téa’s eyes began to water, ever-so-slightly. She blinked rapidly a few times to quell the onset of tears, but her efforts were in vain. Subconsciously acknowledging this, she instead swallowed, forcing a rather acidic-tasting lump back down her throat. A cold, tingling feeling spread its way from her hands (now white from clutching the phone receiver so tightly) and the whole of her went numb.
While the greater part of her body seemed to slow and freeze to a halt, two parts of Téa were still quite active— her heart, thundering loudly, with the sound of her blood rushing booming in her ears… and her thoughts, rapidly firing one after the other.
‘Oh god, not again. Not him, I can’t— I can’t lose him. What will I do? What’s happened? What can I do? Can I even do anything? Is he—’
“Miss Gardner?” Konami’s voice came back through the line, sounding a bit concerned. He didn’t hear any vocal response— but he could just barely make out the sound of her breathing, soft and quick. She was afraid to ask what she so desperately wanted to know, so Konami had to just tell her.
“He’s alive, Miss Gardner, but…”
“Oh, thank god.”
The breath Téa didn’t know she’d been holding for the past few moments rushed out of her, and her skin slowly returned to its natural color. “Is he all right? What happened? Where is he?”
Konami chuckled under his breath, glad to hear Téa speaking again— once again, focused, determined, and above all else, concerned.
“He was in a car accident, I’m sorry to say,” Konami began. “I know what you’re thinking, but it really was just an accident, Miss Gardner. We had several eyewitnesses, and another driver involved… in any case, Mr. Kaiba is here at the Domino Prefecture Memorial Hospital. He’s alive and… well, I think you should just come in and see for yourself.”
Téa smiled hesitantly despite the fact that Konami couldn’t see her. It had to be some higher power’s sick sense of humor that kept on bringing her together with Konami, the perpetual bearer of bad news. But it wasn’t his fault… after everything that had happened, he was by her side, believing her no matter what she thought…
A thought occurred to Téa, and that smile disappeared as quickly as it had come. She lowered her voice to a whisper, afraid that Mokuba or Joey had heard her talking to Konami.
“He’s not in a coma or anything, right? He doesn’t have amnesia, or internal bleeding, or—”
“Like I said, Miss Gardner, he’s fine. But you really ought to come in— I think he’d like to see you.”
Téa sensed an odd sort of implication in Konami’s voice, but it obviously wasn’t the kind of thing the police officer was going to explain over the phone. A brief scene played out in her head, of Kaiba throwing everything from an IV machine to a bedpan at any nurses or doctors who tried to approach him, or any police officers that tried to question him.
She sweatdropped, laughing softly under her breath. Maybe it was a good idea to visit…
“Hey, where ya goin’?” Joey hollered the moment he spotted Téa trying to sneak out the side hallway. He knew that hallway led to the garage, so where was Téa rushing off to? And where was Kaiba?
Mokuba poked his head out of the kitchen to peer at Téa, who froze where she stood. She smiled at them sheepishly.
“You can have my dinner, if you want…” she murmured under her breath. She hadn’t wanted to ruin this night for either of them —for Joey, it was his last night here at the mansion, and that meant he was milking the rest of his stay for everything it was worth. He made a mess of the kitchen, splurged on the most expensive groceries possible for dinner, and happily agreed to go shopping with Mokuba for new games —so long as he got one extra of everything Mokuba got. Naturally, the younger Kaiba agreed without hesitation.
“Téa…” Mokuba started warily. “What’s wrong?”
Being a child, Mokuba could easily see through Téa’s pretend-smile. He knew there was something wrong.
Téa exhaled deeply and tried to explain everything as best she could. “Your brother got into a car accident, Mokuba.” In one second, Mokuba’s face became horrified, his skin going pale and his eyes widening to the size of saucers.
“He’s okay though,” Téa continued a bit hesitantly. ‘Okay’ according to a police officer wasn’t necessarily ‘okay’ by her standards, let alone Mokuba’s. If his brother wasn’t at the top of his game, he wasn’t ‘okay’ at all. “I don’t know everything that happened, but Sergeant Konami—”
“That same guy who called you about your parents?” Joey interrupted. He looked strangely serious and stoic, an expression uncharacteristic of Joey.
Téa nodded slowly, swallowing a lump in her throat. It bothered her that Konami kept getting involved in the hardest parts of her life —the death of her parents, her moving in with Kaiba, and now this.
“Well there’s no way I’m just going to sit here and wait for you and Big Brother to come home,” Mokuba announced abruptly, throwing his apron to the ground. He dusted his hands free of whatever powdery substance had coated them, and declared himself ready to leave.
“You ain’t leavin’ me here all alone— I know you don’t trust me that much,” Joey winked at Téa, a gesture which she couldn’t help but smile at. Joey was always trying to make his friends smile, even in the toughest times. It wasn’t as if he didn’t understand hard times or difficulties like these… he just dealt with them in a different way.
“Okay, so we’re all going then,” Téa sighed. She wasn’t going to argue, anyway. Seto would probably be grateful to see Mokuba, but as for Joey…
‘I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,’ Téa thought wryly.
“Uh, ‘scuse me!” If there was one thing to be said about Mokuba Kaiba, it was that he hadn’t yet grown into his genes. While his brother was tall and lanky from a very young age, Mokuba seemed to retain more of his mother’s petite appearance and dark hair. If he was ever going to get tall, he was long overdue for a growth-spurt. Being so short, he could barely reach over the high counter of the hospital reception desk.
The receptionist didn’t even hear him. Since Mokuba had run into the hospital before Joey and Téa finished speaking to the chauffeur of the limousine they’d come in, they had to catch up to him. Now, as they approached from the entryway, they allowed themselves a moment of amusement as they watched Mokuba try and get the receptionist’s attention.
“Pardon me.” With Téa and Joey behind Mokuba, there was no way the receptionist couldn’t notice them now. When she finally turned, the expression on her face was genuinely surprised.
“We’re here to see Seto Kaiba.”
“Relations?” the receptionist inquired automatically, her voice a dull monotone.
“I’m his brother!” Mokuba practically hollered from between Joey and Téa. The receptionist, despite not making eye contact with Mokuba, nodded and scribbled this down. She looked up at Joey and Téa, irritation and impatience quite prominent on her features. Her rimmed glasses slid down to the front of her nose, and for that moment, she couldn’t have looked more like an angry librarian, her silence disturbed by noisemakers.
“I-I’m his… his wife,” Téa mumbled, once she realized that it was probably past visiting hours and no one but ‘true’ relations would be allowed in. She pinched Joey hard on the side before he could make some surprised or snide comment, and he immediately piped up.
“I’m his brother-in-law. That counts, right?”
Apparently their little ‘act’ paid off well, because though Mokuba was staring at them with a look of complete shock, the receptionist seemed to fall for it, hook, line, and sinker. She shuffled through a thin file on the far end of her desk and looked back up at them.
“Intensive Care Unit, room 1025,” was all the receptionist said, and then she turned back around and went back to whatever it was she was doing before.
Téa cast an angry stare at the woman’s back, but she didn’t start a fight for fear that the woman would take a closer look at her or Mokuba -or the file on the edge of her desk- and realize that Seto Kaiba wasn’t married and that the blond duelist beside her was far from being her brother.
She put her hand on Mokuba’s shoulder and steered him toward the stark white double doors marked with the simple placard: “Intensive Care Unit” while Joey followed behind, wearing a large grin on his face.
The halls at the hospital seemed to stretch on forever, an almost endless expanse of white walls and speckled tiles. Though it wasn’t very late at night, there seemed to be very few people in the halls, and all the doors to individual hospital rooms were closed off and their tiny windows shut; there was no way to know if or when anyone would come out from one of those doors.
However, the moment Téa, Mokuba, and Joey reached the 1000 block of rooms, they knew they were getting close. Even from behind closed doors, they could hear a very angry, very distinct voice…
“You can just forget it! There is no way I’m going to use crutches!”
There was an exasperated sigh followed by a murmured voice; obviously some nurses were trying to convince Kaiba that he needed crutches.
‘So he broke his leg or sprained his ankle or something. As silly as it is for me to think it, that’s actually a much better scenario than what I thought happened…’ Téa knew that Kaiba probably wouldn’t find much amusement in the fact that Téa liked the fact that he’d broken his leg or whatever, but as far as Téa was concerned, a broken leg was far better than a crushed skull or an impacted spine. It was better than death.
Téa stared at the room marked ‘1025’ but there was no nearby paperwork or letter board to indicate that Seto Kaiba was inside. If it weren’t for the fact that they’d heard him hollering from all the way down the hall, there was no way they would have been sure this was the right room. She put her hand on the door with the intention of knocking and then entering, but she stumbled forward when the door opened from the inside.
The brunette found herself awkwardly pressed against the rather warm chest of a white-coated individual wearing a long stethoscope. When Téa finally regained her balance and her composure, she stared up at the doctor she’d fallen into: a young man with ebony hair and a perfectly white smile.
“Why, hello there.”
“Uh—” Téa felt her cheeks turn hot, but before she could fumble with an excuse for her sudden bout of clumsiness, Mokuba bolted past her and the doctor and hollered as he entered the room.
Seto Kaiba cast a somewhat surprised stare from Mokuba to Téa, who waved nervously at Kaiba from behind the doctor, who still blocked her way into the room.
Kaiba pushed himself up a bit further in his bed, wincing when his one unrestrained leg shifted painfully against the sheets. His right leg was bound up in a light blue fiberglass cast and elevated on a mass of fluffy white pillows. His left leg looked normal enough— except for the smaller white wrap and brace on his ankle.
“Well now didn’t I tell you Mr. Kaiba that I would have someone inform your family of your presence here, Mr. Kaiba?” the doctor smirked, finally allowing Téa to step inside.
“Sergeant Konami called,” Téa explained, a faint blush still covering her cheeks. “We came as soon as possible.”
“Your sister?” the doctor asked as he tapped a pen on his clipboard.
“Ah— I’m his wife,” Téa explained hurriedly, thinking that if the doctor knew she was ‘just’ Kaiba’s girlfriend, he would tell the nasty receptionist… and kick her out of the hospital while he was at it.
Téa’s words earned astonished looks from both the doctor and Kaiba himself, though Kaiba’s cheeks were the only ones that started to burn red. To both Téa and Kaiba’s surprise, the doctor didn’t say anything— he just sort of hummed under his breath and smiled again.
“Yo, bro!” It was at the exact moment that silence fell when Joey decided to burst into the room, juggling several paper cups of wiggling gelatin blobs.
“Ah, hi, Joey…” Téa mumbled as she stared at the floor. She was afraid that if she looked at anyone directly, they’d see right through her act. But she couldn’t risk Kaiba saying something stupid and blowing everything to the ground. ‘Brother-in-law!’ she mouthed urgently to him. He stared at Téa as if she’d grown a pair of antlers, and then turned back to face Joey and the doctor.
“You don’t want any wigglies?” Joey asked innocently, offering Kaiba a strangely-shaped mass of green.
Kaiba shook his head vehemently; answer enough for Joey, who promptly dropped the green gelatin into his mouth and swallowed it whole. Even Mokuba seemed in awe by this, but he didn’t dare ask his brother if he could have a “wiggly.”
“Well then, I’ll leave you and your family alone for a while, Mr. Kaiba,” the doctor smirked. He raised an eyebrow at Téa, who blushed and turned away from his gaze before he could see right through her lie.
“Mr. Kaiba will need to stay here for several days, but after that, he’ll be all yours. Oh, and Mrs. Kaiba?”
Téa’s blush darkened even further.
“Yes?” She couldn’t bring herself to look at the doctor.
“If your husband won’t agree to use crutches, he only has one other choice if he expects to heal. But I imagine I’ll have time to talk to you about that in a few more days. Good night.”
When the door finally closed, Joey burst out laughing. Mokuba joined in, but Kaiba only glared at the doorway, as if his gaze could penetrate the opening and follow the doctor on his rounds.
“There was no way he could have believed that.”
“He did put a certain sort of emphasis on the word ‘husband’,” Téa agreed softly. When she finally had the courage to look at Kaiba again, he was smiling at her— an odd, quirky sort of a smile, but a smile nonetheless.
Téa’s cheeks grew so unbearably hot that she decided to eat a “wiggly” herself, in the hopes that the funny gelatin might cool her down some.
When Joey and Mokuba finally finished laughing and eating the rest of the gelatin blobs, Mokuba spoke.
“So what happened, Big Brother?”
“I was just in my Integra coming home from work— the traffic downtown was ridiculous, so I took the long way. Well apparently some crazy driver decided it was the perfect time of night to practice racing down a pass, and the next thing I knew, my car was smashed in the guard rail. I must have blacked out after that, because all I remember is seeing the other driver, and then the ambulance lights.”
“Was it some drunk?” Joey asked, trying to sound nonchalant. But it was obvious he had no amicable feelings toward drunk drivers whatsoever.
“No, I don’t think so— though if it was, he sure got away lucky— my car was the only one damaged. When I woke up, the paramedics told me the other driver was uninjured, and went somewhere to deal with our insurance policies. At least he didn’t cut and run.”
“He must have called the ambulance for you, Seto,” Téa murmured. “If he’d cut and run, you might—”
But before Téa could finish, Kaiba reached over and grabbed her hand, squeezing it warmly in his own.
“I’m fine.” But a moment later, there was a clatter from where Mokuba sat, and the ebony-haired boy reappeared, sheepishly clutching the pair of crutches that had been leaning against the wall. Kaiba glared at them as if the crutches —and not a car accident— were the true source of his pain.
“But there’s no way in hell that I’m going to use those things.”
“You plannin’ on flyin’, then?” Joey asked, a sarcastic tone tingeing his voice. “Still, you’re a damn lucky dog to get away from that accident…” From the look on Joey’s face, he didn’t care that he was angering Kaiba even more with every word he said; he was finally getting to throw Kaiba’s favorite insult back at him— slyly, too.
Before Kaiba could answer, there was a soft knocking on the door.
“Please excuse my intrusion…” an apologetic voice sounded from the doorway.
To Téa’s surprise, the person that walked in wasn’t a quiet, demure nurse— it was a woman with short, sandy blonde hair, probably only a few years older than them. Something about her seemed oddly familiar too, but Téa’s mind was so jumbled that she couldn’t place it.
“Ah, Mr. Kaiba, right? How are you doing?”
Kaiba didn’t seem too pleased to see the woman, but he wasn’t snapping at her angrily, as he did with Joey.
“Could be worse,” Kaiba finally remarked, gesturing broadly to his legs, both bound in casts.
The woman laughed sheepishly, and then turned to Téa and Joey, who were both staring at her.
“Forgive me, I… I was the other driver in the accident that hurt Mr. Kaiba, here.”
Joey raised an eyebrow. “And you got away without a scratch? Looks like I was wrong, Kaiba: there is a luckier dog than you out there. This guy.”
“Wheeler…” Kaiba growled under his breath, even as he balled his hand into a fist.
But it wasn’t Kaiba getting angry at Joey again that prompted Téa to say something. It was Joey’s words— and the magazine on the bed stand beside Seto. She recognized the blonde woman at last!
“Please excuse my friend— he doesn’t know who you are.”
The blonde woman turned once more and smiled at Téa. “You catch on faster than most people.”
Téa flushed bright red and bowed her head. “If this hadn’t been lying around, I wouldn’t have even known—” She reached over to the bed stand and picked up the racing magazine that had been lying there. Now that she thought about it, this was all pretty ironic. After all, Seto was a relatively new driver, even if he had been taking lessons in secret. But despite all his genius and money, he’d still been badly injured. And the woman who’d gotten into the accident as well —a famous racer in both the car and motorcycle circuits— had gotten out without a scratch to her body.
As for the cars themselves…
“Haruka Tenou,” the sandy blonde-haired woman finally explained.
Suddenly, Joey’s expression changed. It looked as though his eyes might drop out of his sockets at any minute, and his mouth kept opening and closing as though he were a landed fish.
“T-T-Tenou?! T-The world-famous racer? The guy that beat all the odds in all the races in all the categories?”
Haruka blushed, but only faintly. It was obvious that she drank up this kind of praise, but she had the decency to look flattered.
“MISS Haruka Tenou, Joey,” Téa finally corrected, her face growing too hot to be comfortable anymore. For a boy, he sure was dense about things. Anyone could tell Haruka was female just by looking at her… right?
But when she glanced at Kaiba, he too seemed surprised by this revelation.
“Miss…?” Joey repeated slowly as he blinked.
“Uh, yeah,” Haruka scratched behind her ear nervously, and then cleared her throat abruptly. “Well, I know it’s late and past normal visiting hours and all that, but I thought I’d let you know that I’ll take care of the insurance, and your car will be as good as new in a week or so.”
Kaiba was silent a moment, but he kept whatever he was thinking to himself. He responded with a simple and curt “Thanks.”
Joey continued to gape, even as Haruka winked at Téa and closed the hospital room door behind her.
“Eww,” Mokuba exclaimed, turning his eyes away.
Kaiba rolled his eyes at his younger brother, inching up the pajama pants the hospital had provided him with so Téa and Joey could see the tops of the staples in his leg.
“Surgery to put staples in your leg? I thought medical science moved past that kind of thing…” Téa whispered, somewhat in awe but generally disgusted by the idea of anyone stapling parts of the human body together.
“It was only a couple of hours, and I was out for all of it,” Kaiba explained. “They x-rayed me, decided it was a simple fracture requiring minor surgery… I was in and out of the operating room, and now here I am,” Kaiba grimaced. “Stuck here for ten days, though.”
“It’s for your own good,” Téa reassured him. “You don’t want to do anything stupid and risk breaking your leg further.”
“The fiberglass is already dry, and I have a decent enough pain tolerance,” Kaiba seethed. “I didn’t even need half the amount of painkillers they gave me.”
“Guy thinks he’s Superman,” Joey muttered out of the corner of his mouth.
“Joey!” Téa elbowed the blond in the chest, and glared at him with narrowed eyes. Joey only shrugged and looked up at the ceiling.
“So you’ll be here for ten days. Don’t worry, I’ll get the homework from school for you— and Mokuba and I will visit every day.”
Mokuba turned around once more, carefully avoiding looking at his brother’s swollen and stapled leg, and nodded vehemently. “You bet. No way I’m going to let you survive off nasty hospital food again. You got so skinny the last time…”
The ‘last time’ was when Kaiba slipped into a coma as the result of Yami’s “Mind Crush.” He’d only been in the hospital for a few days, before Mokuba ordered him moved out— the last thing the little boy needed to hear from doctors was that there was no hope of recovery for his brother. In fact, Kaiba had recovered at home, quite miraculously at that. But only time would tell if he could pull off another miracle and not permanently damage his legs.
“What was the ‘other method’ that doctor was talking about, though? I mean, unless you want to stay here for eight weeks, I don’t see what you’re going to do if you don’t want to use crutches,” Téa murmured thoughtfully.
Kaiba only scowled deeper and crossed his arms over his chest, stubbornly refusing to say anything on the matter.
“The ‘other method’ is a wheelchair,” a voice announced. When Téa, Mokuba, and Joey turned to face the source of the sound, they found themselves face to face with the same doctor as before. This time, however, he was followed by demure nurse who was pushing a wheelchair in front of her. “And it turns out Mr. Kaiba is right— he can’t use crutches. Further examination of his ankle sprain shows that too much pressure on it could break the bone. So he has to stay off both feet for at least six weeks, or else he won’t ever fully heal.”
“I am not—” Kaiba started, a deep growl evident in his voice. But Téa cut him off before he could continue.
“So we’re permitted to borrow the wheelchair?”
“Your insurance covers it, yes,” the doctor said, flipping through some paperwork. “Though Mrs. Kaiba, I didn’t notice your name on his coverage—”
Téa blushed scarlet, remembering the not-so-little white lie she’d told the desk receptionist and the doctor so she could see Kaiba past visiting hours.
“I have my own. Different hospital and all. No offense.”
“None taken,” the doctor responded cheerily. “If you can live without him for the next several days, we’ll be helping him get started on the basics of physical therapy, and how to care for his legs at home. Bathing will be a bit difficult, but I’m sure you won’t mind assisting him with that.”
Téa only turned redder, while Joey burst out into laughter and excused himself from the room.
“Well, as it is far past visiting hours, I do recommend you lot get yourselves home now— you can come back and check on Mr. Kaiba as early as nine tomorrow morning.”
Téa cast a melancholy stare at Kaiba, but he didn’t look her way. He still seemed a bit upset that Téa so readily agreed with the doctor’s prognosis of him needing a wheelchair. She reached over and squeezed his hand gently, but he didn’t appear to react, so Téa just sighed deeply, and picked up her purse.
“Well, we’d better be getting home— we still have that whole mess in the kitchen to clean up, and now…” Téa gestured around absently, and forced a smile onto her lips. “Thank you again, doctor. We’ll be seeing you.”
“You too, Mrs. Kaiba. Good night.” The doctor smiled at Mokuba and Téa as they left, and he offered a slight wave to Joey, who lingered outside in the hall.
“Yeah,” Téa whispered as the door closed on Kaiba and the doctor. “Good night to you too.”
Ten days passed rather quickly, all things considered. The Kaiba mansion remained as cold and quiet as it ever had been, but there was also a distinct air of sadness whenever Téa bumped into Mokuba. It was very likely that the youngest Kaiba had never spent a night in the mansion without his brother, and missed the elder Kaiba’s reassuring presence. It was something Mokuba had mentioned the very first night Téa had stayed over— but it was only now that Téa understood what he’d meant.
‘I spent days away from here, staying at Mai’s, but because I was so upset with Seto, I didn’t think about what his presence did for me. And now that’s he’s finally coming home at last, I should be relieved, but…’
But she wasn’t. For some odd reason, she was dreading Kaiba coming home, if only because she knew he would be grouchy and irritable at having to use a wheelchair to get around.
And they hadn’t even talked about what they would do about school yet.
“Come on, Mokuba,” Téa smiled feebly at the younger boy. “Let’s bring Seto home.”
After Téa called the chauffeur, the two of them made their way to the garage, intent on getting Kaiba back to the mansion— one way or another.
“Okay come on, just take it carefully, one step at a time…” Téa was trying to assist Kaiba out of the limousine they’d taken to the hospital, but since he’d refused to use crutches, he was forced to lean on Téa and Mokuba for support, at least until the chauffeur managed to get the wheelchair assembled from the trunk.
“Need a hand?”
Téa gulped the moment she heard the Brooklyn accent. She muttered a quick “I had nothing to do with this” to Kaiba and then looked up to see not just Joey, but Yugi and Tristan as well.
“I didn’t want to believe it…” Yugi murmured on sight of Kaiba. “Wow.”
“Hey, Téa, shove over. A tall guy needs tall support,” Tristan nudged Téa aside amicably, while Joey took Kaiba’s other side. Kaiba didn’t look the least bit pleased by this situation, and wrenched his arms away from the two boys.
“I don’t need your help,” he ground out, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze.
Joey and Tristan exchanged a glance and let Kaiba go, but Téa hollered at Kaiba before he could attempt to hobble away.
“Seto, don’t even think about it!” Téa marched up to him and held his upper right arm in a forceful grip, one that Kaiba couldn’t escape even if he had the strength to try. “Do you really want to risk breaking your ankle, straining your leg even more, and being stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of your life?”
Kaiba didn’t answer, and kept his gaze fixed on the sidewalk outside the Kaiba mansion. He was glad the mansion took up a whole block, because otherwise he was sure this little scene would be drawing the attention of many neighbors.
After Téa nodded at Joey and Tristan, they took Kaiba’s arms again and supported him until the chauffeur finished bringing out the wheelchair. The two boys released Kaiba’s arms, but he didn’t move to sit in the chair.
“Big Brother?” Mokuba ventured timidly. “Don’t you wanna go inside? It is pretty cold out here…”
It hadn’t snowed since New Year’s, but Domino still remained a frigid temperature, enough to force most people indoors. Mokuba, like everyone else, quickly grew red in the face from puffing so much air, all in the vain attempt of keeping warm.
Mokuba touched a hand to Kaiba’s shoulder, and the elder boy let out a deep sigh. With a measure of obvious reluctance, he sat in the wheelchair and allowed the chauffeur to wheel him up the front walk toward the mansion, with Téa, Joey, Tristan, and Yugi following behind, and Mokuba at his side.
Quite uncharacteristically, Kaiba didn’t argue with Téa’s suggestion that the boys stick around for a while for some hot cocoa. He just sat on the loveseat in the living area, staring blankly at the widescreen television screen— which was turned off.
A mere ten minutes or so after everyone arrived at the mansion, everyone made their way out to the living area, trying to chat conversationally— but it was difficult with Kaiba’s imposing presence there, as solid and silent as ever.
“Hey!” Joey exclaimed abruptly when the silence began to make everyone uncomfortable. “I just thought of something!”
“Call the authorities,” Kaiba muttered under his breath. “It must be a miracle.”
Joey scowled at Kaiba, but it was a half-hearted scowl, owing to the fact that Kaiba didn’t even bother to look him in the eye and insult him. Even Yugi, Téa, and Tristan seemed surprised, though their shock was more from the fact that Kaiba had said anything at all, least of all acknowledging Joey when he did.
“You haven’t called me a dog,” Joey finally said. “It’s already been like, fifteen minutes, and nothin’. And you didn’t say anythin’ at the hospital, neither.”
“I’d be more than willing to—” Kaiba started, but Joey kept talking, steadfastly ignoring Kaiba.
“And it don’t matter, I guess, since the only dog here’s you,” Joey stared at Kaiba with amusement sparkling in his eyes. “And a damn lucky one, too. Not everyone walks away from an accident like that, you know.” Joey shifted his gaze to Téa, who realized the implication laced in Joey’s words.
Her own parents hadn’t walked away from their ‘accident.’
Kaiba’s parents hadn’t walked away from theirs.
You’d think Kaiba would be grateful that he was even alive! But he seemed grouchier than ever, and more reclusive on top of that. He wouldn’t even acknowledge anyone, or even talk to Mokuba!
Everyone’s gaze drifted to Téa, who forced herself to wear a smile. “I’m glad he’s okay,” she finally whispered. “I don’t know what I— I mean all of us…”
Kaiba looked up only when he realized Téa had started to cry. Yugi approached her with the intent of soothing her, but Téa swatted him away and valiantly fought to stop her tears.
Silence swallowed the room whole, and for a brief moment, all that was heard was light breathing and the sounds of people in their winter wools turning to exchange confused glances with one another.
“HEY!” Joey interrupted loudly, his cheeks a bright red. He seemed embarrassed that his little remark caused so much discomfort, so he was primed to try and fix his blunder. “So there’s this story— it’s kinda funny, you know, I think you could appreciate it.”
“No car accidents or broken legs?” Tristan asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Hey! Come on, what kind of a guy do you take me for?” There was a moment of silence as everyone present exchanged significant looks, and then Joey amended, “Don’t answer that.”
With everyone’s permission, Joey animatedly began his anecdote.
“So this one day, I gotta make this delivery for this high-class company way downtown, right? Now, I gotta wear this standard ol’ red vest number with dark slacks and a light shirt, but it was rainin’ cats and dogs that day, so I had my soakin’ wet rain jacket over the vest.” Joey demonstrated by tugging his sweater up so that it covered every inch of his neck, giving him the appearance of a turtle barely sticking its head out of a shell.
“No one notices me as I go into this office, even though I’m drippin’ wet everywhere. Now, I betcha thinkin’ why no one woulda noticed me— so did I. I was just lookin’ for the guy to drop the package off to though, so I could finish my shift and get my ass home— you know me, I don’t like hangin’ around work more than I gotta, and my manager over at Rising Sun is a real ass.”
‘Rising Sun?’ It was a familiar name, for some reason, but Kaiba couldn’t place it. Still, the idea of a sopping wet Joey entering the upper-class world of businessmen in suits amused Kaiba, so he kept listening.
“Well no one’s pointin’ me in the right direction, so I finally end up at this reception desk, where this guy in a suit’s arguin’ with his secretary or somethin’. Apparently, the guy didn’t want to deliver this important memo to the boss, because the guy was already pissed, and the memo only had bad news. But the longer he waited, the worse he knew things would get, right?”
“Why does this sound familiar?” Tristan mused aloud.
“Didn’t something like this happen to Henry VIII?” Yugi asked. “I swear we heard a story just like this one in our European History class.”
“Hey! No Henry or Harry or whoever’s stealin’ my story! Lemme finish!” Joey hollered.
Tristan and Yugi promptly shut up and gestured for Joey to continue.
“So anyway, I’m all sick of just standin’ there waitin’ for someone to notice me, so I clear my throat, and at last it gets these guys attention. Problem was, guy in the penguin suit looked thrilled to see me and that just freaked me out.” Joey shuddered for effect. Meanwhile, Kaiba covered his mouth while feigning a cough; the truth was, Joey’s little story was rather amusing, because Kaiba found himself thinking about office life almost the same way— and he was one of the suits!
Yet never before had he heard anyone but Joey call those drab gray or black-and-white suits “penguin suits.” Kaiba always thought that name was something of his own invention, and to hear it from someone else’s lips made it all the more amusing— and it validated his opinion of the stupid outfits.
“So I’m just tryin’ to explain to the guy that I have a package, and the guy goes nuts— the package was for his boss anyway, so I might as well go in there and deliver the memo on the sly. I tried tellin’ this guy, I’m wearin’ bright freakin’ red, I look like a stoplight, it’s not like I’m going incognito or nothin’, but this guy wouldn’t hear none of it. He just kept sayin’ that the boss couldn’t fire me, I didn’t work for him, right? Not that I like gettin’ yelled at by strangers, mind you, and some of ’em even call up the company and complain, which ain’t ever gonna help me get a promotion, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“King Francis could cut off the messenger’s head, but King Henry VIII tried to console the messenger by saying that he could cut off a bunch of Frenchmen’s heads in revenge. The messenger just said ‘Yeah, but none of those heads will necessarily fit my shoulders!’ right?” Tristan remembered, speaking to Yugi.
Joey looked irritated, but he waved his hand airily. “Somethin’ like that with my situation, right? Well anyway, the penguin forks over this memo, and I look at the first line, right, see if I can get an idea why the guy’s so terrified of givin’ this message to his boss. I only remember exactly what it says ’cause it was complete gibberish.” Joey paused and cleared his throat. He feigned a nasally, haughty voice and began, “‘It used to be true that enabling headcount readjustments enable growth years, however throughout the fiscal year we have seen that the reconfigurable resources work effectively’.”
Everyone in the room blinked, staring at Joey.
Kaiba wanted to laugh, but he restrained himself, given the situation; of course none of them would understand business jargon like that!
“See, I told ya it was gibberish,” Joey stated. “Anyway, I go into the boss’s office, in my bright red raincoat, my hood up over my eyes— I swear, I looked like the Grim Reaper with a sunburn. But amazingly, the boss didn’t even bat at eye at me. He even signed the delivery slip without thinking about it. Penguin guy tipped me like, 20% over my usual, and I left before the boss realized anything.” Joey grinned proudly.
“I still don’t get it though,” Tristan said. “At least with Henry VIII, the message to King Francis was something downright nasty, and easy to understand. Even the messenger knew that.”
“Oh, the message was nasty, all right,” Kaiba finally said. “It’s no wonder the ‘Penguin guy’ didn’t want to deliver the message himself.”
“You understood that memo?” Joey asked incredulously. It didn’t take long for all eyes to turn to Kaiba, as they waited for an explanation.
Kaiba nodded, tempted to dangle the silly piece of information over all their heads just because he could. However, the story had been amusing enough to raise his spirits a bit, so he didn’t see the point in fouling up the mood. He didn’t stand to gain a thing by teasing the mutt unnecessarily.
This realization almost destroyed the moment, but Téa spoke. “I’m surprised you could remember all that techno babble, Joey… it went right over my head.”
“The memo said the boss was getting fired by his boss,” Kaiba explained with a smirk. “‘Headcount readjustments’ is just a nice way of saying “firing a few people here and there” and ‘growth years’ has to do with a company eventually having a good enough turnover to make a profit despite the lowered efficiency rate.”
“Kaiba sounds like the memo,” Tristan uttered.
“…Whoa. Never knew it was so uh… simple,” Joey nodded slowly as he listened to Kaiba’s explanation. “The first part, I mean. But hey, makes sense why the Penguin guy was so happy to have someone else deliver the message. And I guess if he hated his boss enough to not want to deliver the message to him, he was pretty glad to know the guy was getting ousted. No wonder he tipped me so much.”
“But you already spent all that money, Joey…” Yugi sighed, staring at his best friend with an exasperated expression on his face.
“Eheh…” Joey laughed sheepishly. “I thought I told your Gramps not to mention I stopped in?”
“He didn’t have to, Joey— I heard you from upstairs, demanding to buy a full box of the newest Duel Monsters expansion packs…”
Practically everyone laughed while Joey tried to give a decent excuse for spending all his money on Duel Monsters cards. His excuses only brightened the mood further, his story and the corporate gibberish of the memo he’d delivered forgotten… to all but one. Kaiba didn’t mind the others being there at the mansion, seeing him in the state he was in— not anymore.
For the first time, he simply felt comfortable . It was an unusual feeling, to be sure, but one Kaiba was not about to let go of so quickly.
‘She can’t find out…’
A sharp sting of pain raced its way up Kaiba’s legs, but he steadfastly ignored it. He didn’t care what Téa or his doctors said— he wasn’t going to be some couch potato getting gangrene by sitting around for six weeks or more. He was going to start his physical therapy just a little bit early… the freedom from that godforsaken wheelchair was work the risk of injuring his legs further.
Unfortunately, Kaiba’s idea fell through rather quickly.
“Seto, what are you doing!?”
Téa was at his side in less than a moment, scrambling to put Seto back in the wheelchair and lecture him to stay in it, because it was good for him, it was right for him, and did he really want to risk breaking his legs again?
There was a moment when irritation overwhelmed him, and he almost opened his mouth and snapped at her… but he stopped. He wasn’t entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because he’d made the mistake of looking at her, of looking into her eyes and seeing the genuine concern for him there. She didn’t want to be constantly reminding him of his weakness, telling him what he couldn’t possibly do… she was just trying to help.
Every time someone said “You can’t,” it made Seto Kaiba want to do it even more. That was just his personality— try harder, do better, last longer. Be a champion. Even with all the duels won and lost, that part of him could never die. He always wanted to fight the odds, no matter how insurmountable it seemed. Yet Téa, who supposedly loved him and knew him so well, kept trying to pin him down.
‘She’s not!’ Part of Seto argued, but what little portion of him remained devout to his ideals couldn’t believe that one bit.
He was impossible to understand.
When she’d first met Seto Kaiba, Téa decided that he was completely off his rocker, a few lightbulbs short of a chandelier, and many other analogies that left her firm in the belief that Seto Kaiba was nothing less than mentally unstable.
And then, not long afterward, he’d changed. Not completely, and not necessarily for the better, but he had changed.
Instead of snarking at his brother the way he did to everyone else, and instead of letting insane schemes drive his need for victory, he’d become a much more reclusive person. He was still as determined and motivated as ever, but he didn’t resort to gruesome tactics to get his way. Quite suddenly, it seemed as though Seto Kaiba had a sense of honor. His brother had always been important to him, but now he seemed to be the sole thing in Kaiba’s life keeping him from reverting back to that “lost” state he’d been in before. And so when Pegasus kidnapped the younger Kaiba and took his soul, Seto Kaiba had gone to the most extreme of measures to try and get him back…
‘In the end, it hadn’t been about beating Yugi. It was about getting Mokuba back,’ Téa recalled, remembering Kaiba’s duel with Yugi atop Pegasus’s castle. Kaiba had threatened to kill himself if Yugi didn’t admit defeat, and in the end, Yugi refused to let Yami win the duel. With startlingly vivid clarity, Téa also remembered lecturing Kaiba on the value of life, and how stupid the whole duel had been.
But things changed. Téa’s opinion of Kaiba changed, because she hadn’t really understood why Kaiba fought the way he did. It was one thing to know someone’s motivation for fighting as hard as they could, for risking everything, but…
Maybe she hadn’t understood him as well as she thought, despite knowing him for nearly two years.
Even after seeing him get trapped in his own RPG world, even after watching him fight with the best and the most dangerous duelists in Battle City… even after nearly dying from something as sadly everyday as a car accident, she still didn’t understand him. She admired him, envied his strength, and she loved the man that only seemed to appear every once in a while: the man capable of romance and weakness.
But the man who refused to take orders, who refused to acknowledge common sense? That didn’t seem like Seto Kaiba at all. Yet he insisted on trying to get up on walk, on not having anything to do with a wheelchair, and on being so stubborn he almost became a pain to deal with.
‘What’s stopping me from just getting away from here for six weeks and waiting for him to heal?’ Téa wondered. She didn’t know. Maybe it was because she was worried Kaiba would continue to risk his health because of his stubborn attitude. Maybe she didn’t want to burden Mai with another houseguest when she already had Serenity there for the duration of the holiday. Or maybe she just loved him enough not to want to leave.
‘He can be a pain,’ Téa smiled wanly to herself, ‘but I still love him. No matter what.’
It must have been love that kept Téa smiling throughout the next few weeks, because Kaiba only grew more and more irritable, though Téa was always quick to remind him that with each passing day, he was getting better. One less day to spend in the wheelchair, right? Unfortunately, her attempts at cheering Kaiba up didn’t seem to work.
The first day of school, Seto badgered Téa into leaving with him hours before school was scheduled to start— after all, he wasn’t going to have her come up with some sort of sob story for the teachers. If they had problems with his absence, they could see his state for themselves.
He just didn’t care to have the rest of Domino High ogling him in a wheelchair.
So the two of them awoke and prepared to leave before Mokuba was even awake. Téa was still incredibly sleepy and quite irritated that Seto insisted on coming with her, when she told him repeatedly that the teachers would understand his absence, and that he had a practically perfect attendance record anyway, right? Seto didn’t bother giving her a response. He only chugged down another cup of steaming hot black coffee and insisted they get out to the limousine already.
Just as Téa predicted, the teachers understood perfectly that in Seto’s state he wasn’t in a very good condition to attend school. However, Téa half-expected at least one of them to put up a fight and say that Seto wasn’t dead, so he should still attend school. If Seto hadn’t been there, Téa could have just said that he wouldn’t come to school no matter what the teachers said, and the staff couldn’t do anything about it. Buthis being here ruined that.
But everything went perfectly. None of the teachers had a single problem with Seto’s absence, so long as Téa continued bringing him the classwork and homework, and kept him up-to-date on any lectures or lab assignments. None of them said anything contrary to what Seto and Téa were asking— and while Téa was glad she was right, she was also a bit disturbed. In the back of her mind, she’d acknowledged the possibility of teachers taking issue with Seto being absent. After all, they all knew Seto was in a wheelchair, but the school was perfectly wheelchair accessible, and it wasn’t as if Kaiba had to worry about taking a jam-packed train to school every morning.
Not a single teacher made any suggestion of the sort.
‘Maybe they’re glad to get Seto out of their class for a few weeks?’ Téa thought to herself. She couldn’t keep the amused expression off her face, but unfortunately, seeing Téa smile only seemed to make Seto grumpier. He refused to let Téa return home with him, saying that she would just be awake and bored with nothing to do until she usually left for school. She might as well use the extra hour and a half at school to study.
Téa bit her tongue to snap at Seto and tell him she only wanted to go home to sleep, but if he found her such a bother, she could nap just as easily at school. So she let Seto leave grumpy and sour-faced as ever, while she took up residence at her desk and napped until the first bell rang.
As the weeks wore on, Téa found relief in the fact that Seto seemed much more tolerable in the afternoons when she returned home from school. He was silent and diligent while they worked on their homework together, and whenever they had something to study for, he didn’t seem the least bit bothered when he had to ask her questions.
On the other hand, his attitude seemed very short-lived. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t doing very much with himself at home aside from schoolwork and whatever Kaiba Corporation matters he could handle from his home office. By the time the afternoon wore on into the evening, the snappish Seto Kaiba that Téa had grown to loathe returned with a vengeance.
It was even worse on the days when Seto had to try and wash himself with his casts on. While his ankle was very nearly healed from its sprain, it wasn’t ready to withstand full pressure yet. Though Seto’s leg cast lining was waterproof, it didn’t make bathing any easier. Seto was far too tall to fit in his own bathtub anymore, but he couldn’t exactly shower with two injured legs— and he was ‘reluctant’ was an understatement when it came to the idea of allowing Téa to become his nurse and giving him a sponge bath.
“You’re going to start smelling, though!” Téa protested as she wrinkled her nose. It wasn’t that she minded Seto’s musky scent or anything, but she couldn’t stand sleeping next to him every night if he didn’t wash himself. The thought was revolting!
Every day, the argument was the same. In the end, Téa always won, and was permitted to help Kaiba wash his injured legs (but nothing more), all because Kaiba inevitably saw the logic in her argument: if he didn’t wash, he’d smell, and if he smelled, no one would want to be around him— not Téa, and not Mokuba. Truthfully, Téa wasn’t sure if Kaiba cared whether anyone wanted to be around him or not, but she certainly hoped he wanted her around, and that he understood that she just wanted to help.
Yet here they were again, Seto stubbornly refusing to let her help, and sayinghe was just fine the way he was, he could take care of himself…
“Will you just STOP!?” Seto yelled at her.
Téa pulled away from him, taken aback by the forcefulness and volume of his voice.
“…I was only trying to help, Seto. I wish you would remember that.”
Seto was silent a moment. He dropped his head to his chest, his bangs concealing his eyes from view. “I know,” he said at last. “I’m… sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Téa smiled, even as a warm feeling blossomed in her chest. It wasn’t wrong of her to keep staying in this place, in these situations where Kaiba yelled at her and made her feel rotten. He always realized the error of his ways, and he had finally matured enough to the point where he could apologize for his own wrongs.
Some things that were fairly simplistic in Téa’s world —things like apologies— still surprised Seto, but Téa supposed that he would continue to grow and change, as he always had. She would just have to grow and change with him, in order to stay on the same page as him, and understand him as best she could.
“Hey. Remember this, okay?” Téa straightened and cleared her throat. “It’s a little rhyme my dad used to tell me when I was upset. ‘Whether the weather is cold, or whether the weather is hot, whatever the weather, we’ll be together, whether you like it or not’ … So do you get it?”
“…You’re not forecasting the weather, right?”
Téa gently tapped Kaiba upside the head. “No, silly. But I don’t want you going and thinking that you’re the only one having a hard time with this. Mokuba and I are having a tough time with this, too. It’s never happened before. But it could have been worse. No matter how tough it gets, we’re glad that you’re still here, still in one piece— so we’ll stand by you, no matter how grouchy you get.”
Téa smiled at Kaiba, and for just a moment, his heart jumped.
He hadn’t been feeling very ‘in love’ lately, and had started wondering if his feelings for Téa were a fluke. Were they supposed to come and go, or were they supposed to last forever? Was he even supposed to be thinking about ‘forever’ when he’d nearly died in a car accident, encountered all sorts of strange people bent on world domination, necromancy, soul eating, and dark magic? This was his first relationship after all…
But something in Kaiba didn’t want to brush it off so easily. It had taken them so long to get as far as they had, and he knew if he kept getting so easily irritated with Téa —talking without thinking— that he would push her away. The fear that he’d pushed to the recesses of his mind ever since his injury started to flow back into his mind. What was really keeping her here anyway? Why would she promise to stay by his side, when she had no obligation to do so?
One look in her eyes, and he thought maybe he knew the answer: she loved him. Perhaps more than he loved her, or more than he could express.
With this realization, Kaiba allowed himself the smallest of smiles, and he stayed quiet.
‘No more arguments. No more fear. I don’t want her to leave me.’
Perhaps it was his innate selfishness coming back again, but it had to be something more than that. Selfishness didn’t usually entail thinking about things so often, or wondering about other people’s thoughts and feelings. Where Téa was concerned, it was more than just possessiveness. It was something else altogether.
Quite unfortunately, Kaiba found himself unable to stick to his word.
A few days went by, and again he found himself in the bathroom with Téa, her trying to gently goad him into letting her help him wash. She just refused to understand how thoroughly humiliating this whole thing was— even if it had nothing to do with dueling, even if no one else was watching. It was all beside the point; she was the one Kaiba didn’t want to see… didn’t want her to see him like this!
But she kept on stubbornly insisting…!
“I don’t need your help!” Kaiba snapped, his voice abnormally loudin the moderately sized bathroom.
“That’s it, then, isn’t it?” Téa whispered as she dropped her hands to her sides. Her gaze fell to the floor, and she turned around, her back to Kaiba. All he could see of her was her reflection in the mirror, her eyes shadowed by a veil of hair.
“You never need anyone for anything. You just think you’re better off alone, don’t you?”
“Yes!” Kaiba shouted before he could stop himself. He saw Téa flinch, but she didn’t turn around. Fine. If she was going to play stubborn, then so could he. He didn’t have to keep playing this foolish game of hers. He didn’t have time for petty arguments or silly regrets.
His words continued to hang in the air, unrevoked.
‘Better off alone…’
“I can do that, then. You want to be alone— fine.” At last, Téa turned around, and Kaiba felt a measure of shock when he saw there wasn’t a single tear in her eyes. He was equally surprised at himself for expecting her to be crying, as if he wanted to take some pleasure out of it. But that wasn’t the case at all… right?
“Fine,” Kaiba ground out. “Go ahead.” It was a direct challenge. Whoever made the first move, whoever stood by their word longest would win.
That’s all this was— a game.
Téa stared at him long and hard, and after a moment, she sighed deeply. “There’s nothing holding me here, you know. Nothing but you and my friends. My friends —they could understand if I left. They could accept it eventually. I can do it if I want. But I just want you to tell me: is this really what you want?”
When he didn’t answer, Téa tried a different tactic: “You do know that I care what you think, Seto…” She sighed heavily.”So fine, forget that I care about you. But what about Mokuba? Don’t you careabout what he feels?”
She didn’t expect him to answer. She expected more silence.
In the end, it didn’t matter either way.
“And what would you know about his feelings? You think you’re his “bigsister,” but the truth is you’ve just started leeching off our family since you’velost yours— you don’t know anything about us.”
It took a moment for his words to sink in, for the shock to filter its way through her system and for her voice to form coherent words.
“Y-You don’t mean that.”
This time, silence was not the right answer, but it was all she got.
“Is this really how you want to end this?” Téa fought valiantly against the urge to start crying then and there; she would not be the weak one, the broken one, the coward— not this time around.
All she had to do was look away from him and get out of this place, get out of this life, once and for all.
She had the means, she had the motivation, but…
‘Why won’t my heart stop racing like this? It’s stupid!’
She couldn’t wait any longer. She couldn’t wait for Kaiba to suddenly become the man of her dreams, the man who would cause her to change her entire future and shape all her dreams. She couldn’t keep having these expectations of him, expectations she’d once had for Yami Yugi…
Téa stormed out of the bathroom and blindly ran to the closet. Once she’d fumbled for her duffle bag, she stuffed it full with as many clothes as possible. She paused only to grab her purse, and then she slammed the door to the bedroom that had once been hers and Kaiba’s shut. The sound echoed throughout the mansion as she stomped down the stairs. She was acting blindly, bent to action based on her emotions. But none of that mattered— she had no reason to stay here anymore, no reason to put up with any more of Kaiba’s ego or foolishness. She wasn’t going to waste anymore energy on something so fruitless.
A sharp, stinging pain started to filter its way through her system, aching even more with every step she took. She was only a few meters away from the door now, and nothing could stop her, no one could change her mind now…
‘She’s really leaving.’
It took a moment for the thought to really process through his system. One moment she’d been standing there, offering him an ultimatum. He hadn’t expected her to be serious about it, for her to suddenly leave like that…
‘She’s leaving me.’
Kaiba briefly remembered a nightmare he’d had not all that long ago. He’d been searching for Téa in the Kaiba mansion’s expansive gardens. He’d found everyone else, run into them multiple times, as though they were all lost in some eternal labyrinth. But with every moment that passed, everyone else’s faces became blurred and stone-like, while the few glimpses that Kaiba caught of Téa —it had to be Téa, after all— became less and less frequent.
She was going away, disappearing, leaving him…
‘It’s my fault. Why did I say something so…’ Stupid? Callous? Cruel? There were far too many possible ways to finish that sentence, and none of them made Kaiba feel any better about the situation.
Téa was leaving.
Leaving for good, too, if he didn’t do something to stop her. But Kaiba couldn’t exactly do anything about it in his current state. He wasn’t about to try skidding across the bathroom in the idiotic contraption the hospital had forced upon him.
But if he just sat there…
All it took was the thought of her being gone —gone forever, thousands of miles away, with no mind or heart to ever talk to him again, much less see him— and Kaiba forced himself up out of the wheelchair. His legs immediately protested with the pressure he was putting on them, but he ignored the pain.
He couldn’t let her leave. It wasn’t that he had to keep her because he was selfish or possessive… he just wanted her by his side, for no reason other than to have her, and to make her smile, to make her happy… That was the feeling he’d been missing all this time.
‘Hmph. “Love.” So it’s a realization of desire?’
It sounded like such a simple explanation for something so complex, it had evaded Seto Kaiba’s grasp for so long. But maybe for him, maybe for that moment, it was just that simple. He realized he wanted Téa, and if he didn’t get past the bathroom door, he’d never see her, never have her again.
‘One step at a time…’
“Téa, where are you going?”
She should have expected this. She should have readied herself for the possibility of Mokuba hearing her thunder down the stairs and approaching her, asking her with pleading eyes what was happening, where she was going, and how long she’d be gone. As if she could come back after what Kaiba said…
“Mokuba, I—” Surprisingly, Téa didn’t have time to finish. Her words were cut off by another’s.
“Téa, wait!” Seto’s voice was surprisingly hoarse, and resounded off the high ceilings of the mansion.
Only a few seconds passed before Téa turned around, and quite abruptly, any resolve she had to continue walking out the door —and out of the Kaiba brothers’ lives— left her completely.
Seto, despite his broken leg and sprained ankle, managed to hobble his way down the stairs, though if the grimace on his face was any indication, he was in excruciating pain. He limped awkwardly toward her, but his resolve to come too close wavered, and he stopped only a meter away. The look of hurt was still plain on his face, though now it wasn’t because he put undue pressure on his broken leg or sprained ankle.
“Big Brother, what—” Mokuba stopped talking after his brother glanced at him. There must have been a strange look in the elder Kaiba brother’s eyes, because it was enough to communicate to Mokuba that this wasn’t a moment for him to intervene. The ebony-haired boy quickly silenced and scuttled around the corner and out of sight.
‘I can’t say anything to him—’ Téa thought, again fighting not to cry. But this time, the feeling was coupled with the desire to run into Seto’s arms, to feel him around her and let him share that feeling too. She wanted to hold him up and support him, and let him know she would never leave, she could never leave…
“What happened to ‘Whether the weather is cold, whether the weather is hot, whatever the weather, we’ll be together, whether you like it or not?’ huh?” Seto demanded, trying to sound a lot more serious than he appeared. The fact that he was still grimacing and standing so awkwardly probably didn’t help matters any.
‘He’s throwing my own words back at me…’ Téa realized in mute surprise. That little poem she’d passed on from her father to Seto… the simple words that mattered so much to Téa, but she thought Kaiba didn’t even register her saying. He had heard her, and he’d taken her words to heart, too.
Cerulean eyes searched deep navy ones, looking for something that couldn’t be described in words. Apparently Téa found what she was looking for, because her once-angry expression melted away and she closed the distance between them. There was no hesitation as she wrapped her arms around him —to hug him and to help him stay upright. A few seconds passed before Seto realized that this was no dream, and it was okay to relax into her embrace.
“I’m sorry,” Téa finally managed in a dull whisper, smothering her face against Seto’s chest.
A hand pressed warmly against her back, absently stroking at first and then pressing her lithe form closer to his. “I’m the one…”
The words died in his throat. He’d already apologized once during this whole ordeal, and a second time would make it a miracle. Seto Kaiba was never very good at apologies. Still, the attempt was more than enough for Téa. All she wanted was to forget everything that had happened, everything that he’d said…
“Let’s get you back upstairs, okay?” She reluctantly shifted away from Seto’s warm body and clutched one of his hands. “You can’t be stuck in that wheelchair forever, and if you don’t heal, there’s so much we won’t get to do…” Téa intentionally trailed off, letting Kaiba’s mind wander where it willed. Obviously, he got the message, and he leaned into Téa for support, almost acting eager to get back upstairs and rest some more.
Though Kaiba was well aware of the fact that each passing day meant one less day in the infernal contraption called a wheelchair, it didn’t comfort him any during the long stretch of hours when neither Téa nor Mokuba were home, and Kaiba often found himself with nothing to do.
Unlike other teenagers who had the luxury of staying home for whatever reason, Kaiba had no inclination whatsoever to play video games, clean his room, or watch television. He’d already sorted and re-sorted his Duel Monsters cards a good three times already. He didn’t feel like playing a simulation duel against one of his many computer personalities, because he’d already beaten them into the ground twenty times over. And he’d already watched the business programs on television to the point where the monotone voices he was so used to listening to became an unintelligible drawl.
Worse, there didn’t seem to be any mass amounts of Kaiba Corporation paperwork for him to catch up on.
It was out of the ordinary and highly disconcerting being told that work was running smoothly, just fine, and was he okay? Obviously his employees had heard about the accident. Kaiba didn’t care to ask how they’d found out —it had to have been either Téa or Mokuba, but placing blame hardly mattered now. It seemed that everyone at Kaiba Corp. suddenly felt the need to go above and beyond their normal duties, so as to not risk their angry, injured employer firing them on a whim.
But now he was angry— because his employees were so competent, he had nothing to do! And so he sat, bored in front of his computer, clicking randomly about the Kaiba Corporation website in the hopes of finding something outdated or misspelled that he could nag someone to fix— or better yet, spend hours fixing himself, if just to have something to do.
It was at that particular moment that he remembered something rather random: ‘It used to be true that enabling headcount readjustments enable growth years, however throughout the fiscal year we have seen that the reconfigurable resources work effectively.’
What made remembering that jargon even more amusing was the fact that his mind remembered it exactly as Joey had said it: in a Brooklyn accent, with a feigned attempt to sound haughty and nasal.
‘The mutt actually said something amusing for once.’
Truly amusing, at that— not something stupid that was funny simply because it was so idiotic.
Out of sheer boredom, Kaiba stopped scrolling his mouse wheel and he glanced at the page he’d found: a listing of all the various subsidiaries of Kaiba Corporation. While the main company focused generally on technology, there were a variety of smaller companies, formerly directed by the Big Five, that still came under the Kaiba Corporation umbrella but retained their own name, logo, and the majority of their profits.
One of those companies was a local courier service with a familiar name: Rising Sun.
And then, ‘…you know me, I don’t like hangin’ around work more than I gotta, and my manager over at Rising Sun is a real ass.’
Suddenly, Joey’s words from weeks ago made sense.
Kaiba couldn’t help the broad smile that crossed his lips as he made the realization: ‘The mutt works for me.’
On the same token, he’d been paying Joey’s paychecks for longer than he’d even known the teen, let alone associated with him. Even more astonishing was the fact that they’d both been blissfully unaware of this fact until today, a perfectly random day of the year.
The question then was, what would Kaiba do with this newfound information? There was a myriad of possibilities, ranging from the inhumane and cruel to the uncharacteristic and kind.
The fact that Kaiba’s lips somehow managed to quirk upward in an uncanny smile decided it.
With one swift grab of his phone and the quick pushing of a few buttons, Kaiba knew what he was about to do— something unprecedented, and something that would never happen again.
“Roland? Get me the district manager for Rising Sun Courier Express. I’ve got some employee restructuring I’d like to talk to him about.”
“Hey Wheeler, congratulations.”
“Huh?” Joey responded eloquently. He was still half-asleep. After all, he came into work at five in the morning, worked two hours, and then headed off to school. It had never bothered him before, but ever since he’d left the Kaiba mansion, he’d made it a habit of staying over at Mai’s. As a result, it was getting harder and harder to wake up in the morning and force himself to leave.
“Didn’t they tell you?” Joey’s coworker, clad in a bright red windbreaker with two bright white zigzagging stripes down the sleeves, stared at the blond in shock.
“Tell me what? Aw man, tell me someone bought fresh coffee—”
“Dude, forget getting yourself coffee. Ask anyone else to get you coffee, they’ll do it for you!”
“You’ll get me coffee if I ask you to? Is this some kinda joke? You hate bein’ anyone’s gopher.”
“Yeah, well, unfortunately I have to do it when orders come from my boss.”
“Huh?” Joey repeated.
His co-worker had to lead him over to the front desk, which was dimly lit by a pair of long florescent lights flickering overhead. The rest of the store remained unlit, though dawn slowly began to spill in through the front windows. The light bounced off a single packet of paper on the front desk. Joey struggled to rub the bleariness from his eyes, and even when he’d scanned the paper once, twice, three times, he still couldn’t believe it.
“I… I got promoted?”
“To manager, dude! This store is yours!”
“It ain’t April Fool’s Day,” Joey began slowly as he stepped away from the counter. “And it ain’t my birthday yet, and if this is some kinda cosmic early birthday present joke thing, I—”
“Joey!” His friend gripped the blond by the shoulders hard and shook him out of his reverie. “The order came down from corporate. The boss’s boss’s boss’s boss or something did some major restructuring over the holiday, and now all the people that weren’t even getting looked at are suddenly getting promoted, getting raises— Did you see how much money you’re making now?”
Joey swiftly looked at the paper again, and his hazel eyes widened in astonishment.
“That’s gotta be a typo.”
“It’s not a typo, Joey,” his friend reassured him.
“Holy mother of—”
“I know! Congrats!”
At long last, it was over.
Kaiba ended up healing a great deal faster than anyone could have predicted, but no one knew exactly what to attribute it to. Perhaps it was Téa’s good nature and constant care, or perhaps it was something else. Personally, Kaiba wanted to believe that sitting on his rear for so many weeks had done less good than everyone wanted to think; if he hadn’t pushed himself to the limit and walked when he wasn’t supposed to, his muscles might not have regained their strength so quickly.
Or so Kaiba thought. He wasn’t exactly a doctor, and he was certainly in no mind to keep returning to the hospital for what he deemed unnecessary physical therapy.
Glad to be away from the stark whiteness of the hospital, nagging nurses, and the horrid smell of rubbing alcohol around every turn, he gladly put up with Téa’s gentle chiding when he announced he would return to school with her one day— even if he did have to limp.
Still, she didn’t put up much of a fight. In fact, she smiled when she thought he wasn’t looking, and she made it a point to curl up especially close to him that night as they slept. The next morning, she seemed almost cheery despite the fact that they were, once again, up far earlier than necessary. But she only saw it as reasonable— they had to prepare for any contingency, and as Kaiba wasn’t fully healed, she would have to look out for him.
While he thought it wasn’t necessary, it was a bit… endearing. It felt strange to have that kind of affection directed toward him. It confused him a bit, but it was easy enough to just let Téa continue in her own way, if it made her happy. He wasn’t about to tell her off for being so caring; not anymore. He’d come so close to losing her, and he didn’t care to come close to that again, or repeat his past mistakes.
‘Both her parents and mine…’ It had taken a while, but Kaiba gradually grew to respect just how lucky he was to have left the scene of his accident alive. Not entirely in one piece, and not walking by any means… but he was still alive, still breathing, and with every memory intact.
Every memory… including the more recent ones, when he’d said some very cruel, callous things to Téa out of insecurity, confusion, and other mixed feelings.
He just wanted to push those memories out of his mind completely.
Surprisingly enough, it was easy once the first school bell rang and people began streaming into the classroom.
First, it was just one girl— a nameless little brunette with twin braids on the sides of her head.
“Kaiba, you’re back! It’s so good to see you in class again!”
Téa turned to stare at Kaiba, a single eyebrow raised in question. He shrugged and went back to looking at his pile of make-up work, just to ensure that everything was in its proper order and there was nothing missing. But before he could even turn to the second page, another girl came bouncing up to him… and then another, and another.
Soon enough, Kaiba’s desk was surrounded by girls, well-wishers of various sorts. Tall and short, first-years who had no place in their class, second-years from down the hall, third-years who looked horribly out of place seeking out a younger student… even many of Téa and Kaiba’s own female classmates gathered around his desk. Even more surprising, some of them bore little gifts and trinkets of various sorts— things they’d kept stowed in their cubbies or their school desks, their satchels or their knapsacks…
By the time the tardy bell rang, signaling the start of first period, Kaiba’s desk was piled high with Get-Well cards, several bouquets of brightly colored plastic flowers, a few stuffed animals of varying degrees of sickening cuteness, and enough chocolate to give him a lifetime of teeth rot. Had Kaiba been able to see over the pile, he would have noticed Téa twitching slightly, fisting and unfisting her hands every few moments, her face changing intermittently from pink to white.
The truth was, it had been a very long time since she’d had any reason to be jealous over other girls fawning over Kaiba, but this sudden and abrupt display was quite unexpected. It wasn’t as if the Domino High female student population was unaware of her existence— everyone knew she was dating Kaiba, right? They probably didn’t all know she lived with him, but that was beside the point!
But it wasn’t as if she could remind those idiot girls that Seto Kaiba was taken. They had to figure it out on their own— from the man himself, right?
‘So why isn’t Seto doing anything to stop them?’ Téa chewed her thumbnail as she watched Kaiba itemize every gift and card he’d received, placing some into his Duraluminum briefcase and others into his desk.
He was actually keeping them. He was actually talking to the girls that sauntered up to his desk at breaks and at lunch, thanking them for thinking of him…
‘I can’t be mad at him… he nearly died, broke his legs, was trapped in his own mansion for over a month, stuck in a wheelchair! Even after everything… how can I be angry at him for getting a little attention?’
Téa tried to be reasonable, she really did. Unfortunately, the green-eyed demon constantly lurking under her skin didn’t feel the need to be suppressed any longer, and try as she might to ignore the feelings of jealousy and envy, they just kept burbling up…
Though Téa had been looking forward to a quiet, private lunch with Kaiba on his first day back at school since the accident, it didn’t look like she’d get that chance today— not with all the crowds of girls surrounding Kaiba’s desk. And though Téa managed to meet his eyes once or twice, Kaiba didn’t seem the least bit inclined to separate himself from the masses and join her for lunch.
So Téa found herself sitting with the guys— Yugi, Tristan, Joey, and Duke, in their little circle of desks at the far side of the classroom, the early afternoon sun streaming in through the windows at their side.
Joey was happily recounting something amazing that had happened to him only a few mornings ago— quite unexpectedly, he had gotten promoted at the Rising Sun Courier Express store where he’d worked for years.
“So that’s just it, you’re manager of the store now? But how are you going to shuffle work and school? We still have a year left!” Téa pointed out. “Not that I’m not happy for you or anything,” she added.
“I know, I know,” Joey dismissed Téa’s words with a quick wave of his hand. “But the school already knows why I had to get a job anyway, and now that things are finally goin’ my way, I don’t think they’re gonna complain. ‘Sides, I got the other guys at work to help me out— now that the old boss has gone corporate and I’m in charge, everyone gets along with everyone else! So, no worries.”
“…Not that I wanna be the guy that brings up the lousy news Joey, but what about your dad? Does he know about this?”
“Oh yeah,” Joey nodded. “That’s the other great thing that happened.”
“‘Great thing’?” Yugi echoed in a monotone. From what he’d seen of Joey’s father, the man wasn’t anything ‘great’ at all. So why did Joey look so delighted to be talking about him all of a sudden?
“Yeah, so after that day of work, I went home— like, really home, not Mai’s,” Joey admitted in an undertone. “And I caught Dad when he was sober! Guy couldn’t stop crying, thinking I’d given up on him, left him for dead, hated his guts. We had a good long talk, and since Dad was sober for the rest of the night, I convinced him to try and fix his life up.”
“What did you say, exactly?” Duke asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Suggested he go to this rehab clinic they have up in the mountains,” Joey stated seriously. “Somethin’ I wanted Dad to do for a long time. He got picked up by the shuttle this mornin’.”
“Wow, he really went? He’s going to stick with it, and—” Téa trailed off lamely. She knew it was hard to believe that an alcoholic like Mr. Wheeler would ever have a moment of sobriety, but apparently luck was with Joey yesterday.
“Aaaand, it gets better,” Joey continued as he pumped a fist in the air. “Serenity’s movin’ in with me in March!”
“Are you serious?” Duke and Tristan exclaimed at the same time. The two boys couldn’t have looked more gleeful if Santa Claus himself had dropped a pile of money on their laps.
“She got accepted here at Domino just this week! She told Mom she’s comin’ here no matter what, and so now for our third and final year, my little sis is gonna be right here with us!”
“That’s great!” Everyone cheered Joey on for his incredible string of successes lately.
The crowds finally parted from Kaiba, who had been carefully listening in on Joey’s story the entire time. However, he knew that if he said anything, he would likely give away his secret. Instead, Kaiba settled for smirking at Joey and letting the mutt have his fun.
“I dunno how it can get much better than this— I got the best four guy friends in the world,” Joey nodded to Yugi, Tristan, Duke, and even Kaiba on the other end of the classroom. “A gorgeous, angel-like conscience to slap me upside the head when I screw up,” Joey smirked at Téa, “The best sister ever, and the hottest girlfriend on the block!”
Kaiba, now free from the throngs of giggling girls, coughed under his breath. Oddly enough, his hack sounded suspiciously like “whip cream!”
Joey obviously heard what Kaiba “said” and turned a brilliant red. However, it was the fact that Téa blushed too that had the rest of the boys staring at them, on the verge of asking them many an embarrassing question.
“I’m going to smack you, Seto,” Téa grit between her teeth. She forced a pretty smile onto her face, even as Kaiba rose from his chair and awkwardly walked over to her. He leaned in to speak to her, his voice a whisper under his breath.
“We thought you were asleep.”
Téa didn’t honor Kaiba with a reply, so the CEO just chuckled.
“Guys,” Yugi looked from Joey to Téa to Kaiba. “Is there something you wanna tell us?”
“Yeah, about some odd nocturnal habits, maybe?” Tristan added.
“NO!” Joey and Téa shouted at the same time.
Everyone just laughed.
Okay, so this chapter ended on a bit of a happy note. But with the major cliffhanger of last chapter, I decided it was better that way. I apologize for the long delay in this chapter coming; it’s always the filler-type chapters (Hey, where’s the cream filling?) that have the most important information in it (hint, hint!) and are the most difficult to write. Finally, this chapter signals the end of the first half of WDKY. It only gets better from here, ladies and gents.
I hope to have you stick with me for the last half of what is sure to be a wild ride!