Conceptualized/First Written: 10/06/03
Completed/Posted: 10/11/03 (ver. 2), 12/11/03 (ver. 3), 8/15/04 (ver.4), 3/25/05 (ver. 5)
This chapter is rated PG13 for angst and such…
Disclaimer: ME, own Yu-Gi-Oh!? I wish! (I can’t believe I forgot a disclaimer before… someone smack me) Anyway, if I were Kazuki Takahashi or the people at Shounen Jump or Viz or 4Kids or wherever, I’d not only be rich, but I’d make a REAL life Seto Kaiba for me to hold prisoner or something… ^_^ So yeah. This is for fun, not profit.
Téa was more than reluctant to step out of the warm water that had been relaxing her muscles -and her mind- for the past 45 minutes. It had been a nice, luxurious bath, and Téahad needed it— badly.
But then, the water was getting cold, and the bubbles were disappearing, and her skin was getting all raisin-like…
‘And I do eventually have to face Kaiba.’
That was probably the primary reason why Téa wanted to hop right back into the water and wait until it froze over and her skin turned the color of prunes.
Why Seto Kaiba had been at her house in the first place was a mystery. Why he’d even bothered to speak to her— let alone offer his house for the night, was a bewilderment. Téa half-expected to wake up soon, lying across a park bench with a massive headache.
Or maybe back at home -in her own bed- with all this being a crazy nightmare.
After all, how much more horrific and strange could your day get, with your parents dying in a sudden car crash, getting treated to a huge meal by a mysterious someone, and then being offered a place to stay for the night, at the “giganimous” Kaiba Mansion?
“One. Big. Nightmare,” Téa murmured, wrapping the first towel she found -a large navy blue one- around her body. She glanced sideways at the pile of shining, silky pajamas Kaiba had thrown at her.
She couldn’t exactly change into her old, dirty, smelly clothes, but…
She held them out to the light, the bright florescent of the heating lamp reflecting off the dark fabric. After careful inspection of the tag, Téa confirmed that yes, the pajamas were indeed made of silk.
‘Would Seto Kaiba ever settle for anything less than the best?’
Probably not, Téa thought to herself. But she didn’t exactly get opportunities like this everyday —especially not from people like Kaiba. She’d be a fool to turn it down.
Téa fumbled a moment, buttoning up the top of the shirt, which hung nearly to her knees.
‘I thought this had to be his mom’s or something… but unless he gets his height from her, then whose shirt is this?’
The thought caused a whole new stream of questions to spring forth in Téa’s mind— like where WAS the Kaiba matriarch, anyway? She suspected the two Kaiba boys didn’t have a father— judging by the way that Seto ran Kaiba Corporation, and Mokuba often clung onto him like a second skin.
‘Unless he’s like my Dad… er… like my Dad was…’ Téa’s thoughts took a nose-dive as she realized that she would have to refer to her parents in the past-tense now— and for the rest of her life. They were gone.
‘They’re really gone…’
Téa’s knees went weak and she crumbled to the floor in tears, the only thing separating her warm body from cold tile a dark blue, fuzzy floor mat.
Mokuba Kaiba wasn’t one to stay up late. At least— not often. But on some nights, sleep simply didn’t come easily to the younger Kaiba.
He had the mind to go downstairs and hassle his brother —who was never asleep before Mokuba— or at the least, sleep in his office. Somehow, Seto’s presence nearby relaxed the small boy and tended to lull him into a sleep.
The boy was on his way downstairs to his older brother’s office when he saw it— light coming from underneath the hallway bathroom door— and the sound of soft sobs coming from underneath. And that voice was decidedly NOT Seto Kaiba’s.
Hesitantly, Mokuba pushed open the door, his eyes widening to the size of sand-dollars when he saw a familiar form hunched over the bathroom counter, crying her eyes out— and wearing his older brother’s pajama top!
“B-Big Sister Téa?” Mokuba murmured, stepping into the room, wincing from the change of light levels.
Téa looked up, auburn hair clinging to the sides of her face, as she hadn’t yet bothered to dry it from when she’d gotten out of the bath.
“M-Mokuba? What are you doing awake?”
For whatever reason, the smaller boy’s presence —maybe it was the concern in his eyes— caused Téa to break out into a fresh set of tears.
Maybe it was just instinct, or perhaps something hereditary, but Mokuba Kaiba did not like to see girls cry. So he rushed forward and hugged Téa as tightly as his small arms could manage, up until her sobs subsided somewhat.
“I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes I sleep in Big Brother’s office. Being around him helps me sleep sometimes. But what— what’s wrong, Téa? What are you doing here?” Mokuba asked a few moments later.
“I… Oh geez, look at me, I’m dripping all over your shirt and this nice…” Téa stood up, fingering the silk nightshirt, and Mokuba blushed, realizing how incredibly LONG Téa’s legs were— and, given that she’d just emerged from the bath, how the wetness only defined her form under the baggy silk top further.
“Hang on, let me dry off some more…” Téa snatched the towel she’d been clinging to —one Mokuba recognized as being his brother’s— and proceeded to towel-dry her hair as if she had a lion’s mane. When she was done, her hair went out every which-way, and Mokuba couldn’t contain his giggles.
Téa glanced in the mirror and smiled. It felt nice to smile… even knowing there was still a lot of hardship and pain ahead of her.
“I suppose I’m dry enough now…” Téa murmured, picking up the pajama pants that were part of the set. She didn’t feel entirely comfortable wearing someone else’s clothes —especially without her own undergarments— but she wasn’t about to wear her dirty ones, either.
She hesitated as she picked them up— they were HUGE.
‘I take it back, these can’t be a woman’s…’ Téa thought to herself. Far too big for her dancer’s waist, at any rate. And they didn’t even have an elastic waistband.
“I’ll have to do without these…” Téa murmured, grinning. Mokuba stared at Téa as she tossed the pajama pants over her arm and proceeded to stride out of the still-steaming bathroom.
“Uhm, B-Big Sister Téa… if you don’t mind me asking… uhm… why are you here…?” Mokuba looked up at Téa even as she paused in the doorway of the bathroom, halfway turning to face him. Mokuba glanced off to the side, adding in a mumble, “And wearing Big Brother’s pajamas…?”
Téa’s eyes widened and she looked utterly shocked— “Y-Y… Your Big BROTHER’S pajamas?”
Mokuba nodded slowly, wondering why Téa would have thought they belonged to anyone else. They certainly weren’t HIS.
“Eh… I thought maybe… maybe they were your mother’s or something…” Téa adjusted the hair behind her ear nervously, suddenly finding her messy hair fascinating as she tried to straighten it out, strand by strand.
Mokuba was silent a moment, looking down.
“Mom… Mom died when I was born,” Mokuba whispered, desperately trying to hold back tears. He’d never even had the chance to know his mom, but he promised her every night, every time before he went to sleep, that he’d be strong, and he’d be a good brother. And he didn’t intend to break that promise by crying in front of a girl he liked.
“Oh, Mokuba… I— I didn’t know…” Téa murmured, kneeling down. She opened her arms to the small boy, who stumbled into them, and the two sat there for a few minutes, just hugging. Téa had stopped crying now, but the ache in her chest —an almost constant, throbbing pain— refused to cease.
‘Maybe… maybe that’s why Seto Kaiba was being so nice to me. Because… because we’ve been through the same thing? Losing our parents…’
“I guess I know how you and your brother feel now, Mokuba,” Téa whispered, forcing a smile for the smaller boy’s sake, “My— my parents died… the other day…”
Mokuba’s eyes widened in surprise, and he launched himself into her arms again, hugging her more fiercely than he had before.
“I— I’m sorry, Big sister Téa…” Téa smiled slightly, even as she held Mokuba. Mokuba understood, at least on some level… and he really DID like her as an older sister.
‘That’s a nice feeling… to think that I could be someone’s big sister. I mean… I never will… really…’ Now that her parents were really, truly gone, Téa would never HAVE a younger brother or sister to care for.
‘I think I was jealous of Kaiba… for a while. He had someone that adored him unconditionally, someone who he had real drive and determination for,’ Téa smiled wryly, remembering how Kaiba had threatened suicide if he didn’t get into the Duelist Kingdom castle to rescue his brother. And she’d chewed him out about the value of life for a good five minutes, and he’d responded in that cool, usual manner of his —”At the end of the day, I have all I need.”
And that had shut Téa up right away. In retrospect to then, Kaiba hadn’t changed much… but now, Téa felt that she’d become an entirely different person. How could she go on lecturing about the value of life when it tended to end so suddenly, so abruptly, so… painfully?
Mokuba and Téa were walking downstairs slowly, not speaking so as to interrupt the solemnity of the moment. After so much talk about death and loved ones dying, it would have been awkward to suddenly interject any other subject into the brief conversation.
Rather, Téa followed Mokuba obediently to his older brother’s office. She intended to thank Kaiba for his kindness (unprecedented as it was) and give his pants back to him, given that they were too big for her to wear.
What she didn’t expect was to be the first thing Kaiba’s eyes landed on when Mokuba opened the door, announcing himself with a loud “Big BROOOOOTHER…!”
Seto Kaiba HAD been working on perfecting the designs of the Duel Disk III, idly sipping from his ever-present Kaiba Corp. logo-emblazoned coffee mug as he typed.
He glanced at Mokuba as he entered the room, about to swallow his coffee and lecture his younger brother about getting to sleep on time.
Of course, he wasn’t exactly doing his job as role-model, staying up till all hours of the night, a coffee-addict, supposedly ‘perfecting’ designs. But sleep didn’t come easy to the elder Kaiba brother most nights, and when it did, dreams he rather would not recall tended to haunt him.
What he didn’t expect was for a scantily-clad Téa Gardner to be marching right behind Mokuba, wearing only his nightshirt, with the silk pants tossed over her left arm like a towel.
So instead of swallowing his hot coffee, he choked it down, suddenly having a coughing fit as he averted his startled gaze from Téa’s form. She stared at him a moment and then rushed forward with Mokuba, who started slapping his brother on the back to rid him of the coughs.
“I’m— I’m fine.” Seto Kaiba rasped, glancing up slowly, meeting Mokuba’s concerned gaze first, and then Téa’s. Of course, he didn’t expect to see concern for HIM —of all people— in her eyes, but maybe it was because he’d offered her a place to stay the night while she sorted things out.
‘That has to be it.’
Kaiba immediately turned his gaze back to the computer screen, intending not to glance one way or another.
“Uhm… listen, Kaiba… uh…” Téa began, her left leg moving behind her right one, a movement Téa didn’t even think about as she made— lifting the silk hem of the shirt nearly up to her thigh. Kaiba, with his gaze fixed on the rotating plans for the Duel Disk III, didn’t even see, but Mokuba, across the room and shamelessly staring at Téa, turned red.
Téa and Seto, of course, didn’t even notice.
“I want to thank you… for this. For tonight. Uhm…” Téa couldn’t seem to find the right words, the right way to express her condolences for his loss, knowing that he too, had suffered the same. Doubtless his own experiences prompted him to offer his home as a place for her to stay for the night.
“Do you think, er, maybe you could lend me some shorts or anything? These pants… don’t exactly fit…”
Kaiba wanted to keep his gaze glued to the monitor, but with Téa making a request of him, he couldn’t exactly keep his eyes on the screen forever. He stood up jerkily, keeping his eyes on the floor as he walked over to the closet in his office, where he kept an extra set of most clothes in case he ended up pulling all-nighters— as usual.
He disappeared into the darkness of the walk-in closet a moment, trying to come up with something that she could wear. It was bad enough his imagination was supplying him with images of what she’d look like in each item his fingers brushed upon, but…
Finally he found some clean blue boxers, and tossed them over his shoulder to her, hoping NOT to meet her gaze so he could get back to work— distraction-free.
Téa stared at the boxers a moment, and unfolded them in her hands. Her eyes widened and her cheeks colored a brilliant red, but Kaiba didn’t notice. She cast a look at him, one eyebrow raised in mute amusement, but his eyes didn’t reach hers. So she smirked at Mokuba instead, and strode out of the room, gently closing the door as she left.
Mokuba shook his head, almost in comic resignation, at his brother, who continued to keep his eyes fixed on the computer screen for the rest of the night. Mokuba simply curled up on the couch in the office, fluffing up the right arm pillow and tossing the fuzzy blue blanket over himself before he drifted off to sleep.
Téa wasn’t sure of anything at this point— but Kaiba certainly wasn’t about to LOOK at her, let alone speak to her.
‘I suppose his generosity has its limits,’ Téa thought, her eyes alighting on a comfortable looking couch in the living room area. A knit blue-and-white blanket was folded over the back of the couch, which sealed the deal for the girl, and she crawled on it, hoping to get a good night’s sleep.
She sucked in a breath, grateful for all everyone had done for her today. Her eyes wandered over shadowed picture frames lining the mantle over the fireplace, and Téa wondered for a brief moment if Kaiba actually smiled in any pictures he was in.
‘I bet he has a nice smile…’ Téa thought to herself, slipping off into dreamland.
Two mornings later, Téa awoke unusually early, as the sun was just coming over the horizon and filtering into the tall living room windows. She was warm, despite being in one of the bigger rooms in the house, and with only one blanket covering her.
But she’d had a comfortable and full night’s sleep— that left her somewhat more rested and sane.
One day away from everything wasn’t enough. She’d spent all of Sunday locked in Kaiba’s mansion, not doing anything but wallowing in her thoughts. But she’d have to face the real world eventually…
She reached over to her small satchel and fumbled around for her cell phone, drawing out the pink flip-phone with some distaste.
‘Stupid little phone. You ruined my life.’
Well, it wasn’t really the phone’s fault, and neither was it the fault of Sergeant Konami, who’d called her and told her —well, not on the phone, exactly— that Téa’s parents were dead.
Waking up on the couch in the Kaiba mansion only slammed the truth deeper into Téa’s mind— yesterday HADN’T been a nightmare. Her parents were really gone, and she was really alone, and she didn’t know what was going to happen— not an hour from now, not a day, not a week— her whole life had suddenly been pitched into a seemingly endless, thick, gray fog…
* You have 1 New Message *
The display on Téa’s phone read as she turned it on. She groaned, wondering who could have called her. Maybe it had been one of the guys, who had tried to reach her at home, and wondered why she didn’t pick up?
‘Yeah right, I’m sure they’d be thrilled to learn I spent the night at Kaiba’s. Joey would blow a gasket.’
She still wasn’t sure just why there was such a heated rivalry -well, at least from Joey’s point of view- between the two boys. It wasn’t as if they were even EXTREME opposites…
‘No, Joey’s just a reformed bully and partial slacker, while Kaiba has the highest IQ in the school. That’s all. Oh yeah, and Kaiba’s an orphan, Joey’s not… well, at least they both have younger siblings.’ But that was the extent of the similarities Téa could find between the two boys.
‘Why did I even think of that, anyway?’ Téa wondered, waiting for her voicemail to activate.
“Miss Gardner, this is Sergeant Konami from the Domino City Police Department. It seems as though you’ve turned off your cell phone, so I hope you get this message before Monday evening… There are still some things we need cleared, so at your convenience today, please come in. Thank you.”
Téa groaned to herself. She didn’t particularly feel up to going back to the police station, given that her most recent experiences there included a lot of heartache, more bad news than she could handle in a night, and a stupid donut that didn’t taste ALL that great.
But she had to go.
Even if it meant her whole life would change in the course of yet another day? But she couldn’t sit through school, wondering what had to be done, what had to be said, what would happen to her.
‘I’m only 17… They’ll say that I can’t live alone… that I have to live with someone classified as a legal guardian, or else get a job. But the last time I was employed, I got in that stupid situation… and I came too close to blowing it. I can’t juggle school and work again…’
So the future really was one great big unknown to Téa.
It was a frightening thought, having a life one moment, and the next, having it pulled out from under you like the veritable rug it was.
And so Téa woke that day, dark thoughts clouding her mind, even as she retrieved her once-dirty clothes from the washer where she’d tossed them last night on the way to the couch.
By the time she was dressed, she wandered to the kitchen— Seto Kaiba already sitting at the large round table, sipping some coffee while he perused the business section of the Domino City News.
His gaze met Téa’s as she entered the room, the swinging door from the dining room and living area thumping closed as she stood, almost riveted in place.
“Uhm…” Téa began, not sure what to say. She’d never gotten around to expressing her condolences for Kaiba’s own loss the other night, but after more careful thought, she decided he probably wouldn’t want it, maybe even going as far to interpret her apology as pity.
‘Which isn’t the case at all! It’s not like he pities me for what I’ve been through, right?’
“Sleep well?” Kaiba said, sipping from his mug. His eyes went back to the paper, though it wasn’t as if his mind was actually absorbing the words. Suddenly, Téa’s presence —in his house, his sacred space away from the rest of the crazy world— distracted him more than ever before.
Kaiba had seen Téa curled up on the couch as he emerged from his office earlier that morning. And he’d found himself staring, if just for a minute. Questions had burbled forth in his mind, wondering what she was thinking, what she was feeling, and if she dreamt while she slept.
She’d been through hell, and hadn’t even started the trip back up to the normal world. Time would tell if she’d ever make it back to the world of the sane, though Kaiba couldn’t exactly be a judge of whether he was part of that world himself.
“Y-Yeah, thanks. I mean really, thanks. You didn’t… you didn’t have to do this, Kaiba…” Téa trailed off anxiously, and a heavy silence settled between them. Moments later, said silence was interrupted by a grumble in Téa’s stomach.
Kaiba glanced up at her, an eyebrow raised in amusement, a smile just barely tugging at the corners of his lips. But Téa didn’t notice; her face had flamed red and she looked down at her feet.
“I’ll uhm… grab myself something to eat, if you don’t mind…”
Kaiba smirked as Téa marched stiffly to the fridge, pulling out a carton of milk and rummaging through the nearby cabinets for a bowl, a spoon, and a box of cereal. When she found what she’d been looking for, she made it a point to sit at the kitchen counter, her back to Kaiba’s unwavering gaze— just so he couldn’t look at her and see how red her face was.
‘Damn fine time for my stomach to growl like that!’ Téa thought, her cheeks burning still. When she’d finally finished her breakfast, thoughts of earlier —namely, of Konami’s message, and the promise of an unsure future that it carried— claimed Téa’s mind once more.
“You can come to school with me, if you want,” Kaiba spoke up, though he didn’t raise his eyes from his paper. Behind the newsprint, his eyes almost twinkled with amusement, wondering if behind the paper Téa was still blushing as red as a tomato.
When he didn’t get a reply from the other side of the paper, he pushed the pages down to check if Téa hadn’t suddenly disappeared on him. She was, in fact, still sitting there, but one couldn’t deny the obviously sad expression on her face, as she stared at the tiled floor to her side and played with her fingers.
“I— I uhm, don’t think I’ll be going to school, today, Kaiba… if you wouldn’t mind telling the teachers, I have some things… I need to take care of at the police station.”
“What things?” Kaiba asked abruptly, catching Téa’s attention. She hadn’t expected a verbal reply from him— only a slight nod of his head or something. But his words struck a chord inside Téa, and she couldn’t decide whether she wanted to throttle Seto Kaiba at that precise moment or not.
‘Things! You know, dealing with my late parents! Things like what I’m going to do with myself, where I’m going to go! What’s going to become of me, THOSE things! What an obnoxious idiot!’
But then, Téa’s thoughts took a turn, and she realized that Kaiba wasn’t trying to be obnoxious. If anything, he was curious. For whatever reason, Téa couldn’t fathom, but he had given her shelter for the night, when otherwise she would have ended up spending a cold, lonely night in her own small home— after breaking into it illegally, of course.
She sighed deeply, and replied, “Well… papers, mostly I guess. I have to figure out where I’m going to live… what I’m going to do with myself, really. I can’t exactly live alone without a job, but you know school rules about employment… It’s either that or go into a foster home or something, I really— I really don’t know…” Téa was on the verge of crying, but of all people she didn’t want to see her tears, it was Seto Kaiba.
Always the epitome of silent, steadfast strength, Seto Kaiba rarely ever showed weakness. True, he had lost a few battles, lost duels, but he never flinched when he had a goal in mind. And back in Duelist Kingdom, it had seemed as though he’d arisen from the dead— and triumphed, up until the very end.
‘I really am jealous of him. Not only has he overcome the incredible pain of losing his parents, but he’s become the best brother —and father— a kid could ask for. And while he might not be a socialite, he seems to have the world in his hands…’ It only took one look around the expansive Kaiba mansion to realize that. And Téa hadn’t even seen the whole place yet.
To Kaiba’s surprise, Téa’s tone was unsure— utterly so. He’d never heard her sound so— so…
‘Scared,’ his mind supplied for him. He knew what fear sounded like —he knew ever facet of the sensation, from what fear tasted like to how it looked. Fear could be different things to different people, but the way Téa had spoken gave it all away…
“I’ll— I’ll tell the teachers,” Kaiba finally said, at a loss for any other words.
Seto Kaiba couldn’t concentrate. It wasn’t the first time —at least, not the first time in the recent past. It seemed that his attention span snapped whenever Téa Gardner was the subject at hand.
Why it was she that haunted his thoughts, Seto Kaiba couldn’t begin to fathom.
She’d left early that morning, declining his offer for a ride to the police station. She’d taken what few belongings she’d had on her from Saturday —from Friday night, actually— and left for the station.
Glancing over to what was her empty seat, Kaiba felt a strange emptiness settle in the pit of his stomach. Why was it that she was on his mind in this way? It wasn’t as if they really knew each other, let alone had anything in common, aside from the loss of both their parents.
Before, he thought he’d found someone who could understand his situation— his feelings and reactions towards the world— but it was one thing to think about such things, and another entirely to act on them. Seto Kaiba didn’t reveal weakness to anyone, especially a girl that was the best friend of his two worst enemies. And he wasn’t about to start thinking of Téa as any sort of kindred spirit.
‘It’s possible… that I’ll never see her again.’ Kaiba suddenly thought. Her seat might remain empty for the rest of the year. Her friends would never see her again, either.
It wasn’t as if Yugi, Joey, and Tristan hadn’t noticed Téa’s absence, either. Seto had seen them exchange worried glances at the beginning of class. And the first teacher to call morning roll had asked them if they knew where Téa was. True, it seemed as though the faculty knew what had happened to Téa’s parents, but without a proper excuse, she still had to be marked absent.
Of course, Kaiba knew exactly where she was and what she was doing. But he didn’t speak up —not when everyone would hear him. He knew just what would happen, too. Stares would come his way, people would whisper, wonder, ‘How does HE know where Téa is?‘
It wasn’t as if petty high school gossip bothered Kaiba much, but he knew that Téa was going through enough, and didn’t need a sorry reputation tacked onto her name.
‘Funny, it’s not like I care about her or anything. But… I don’t want her to go through what I did.’
That seemed to be the sole motivation and reasoning behind all that Kaiba had done thus far for Téa. But still, it didn’t seem enough. Her sad, frightened voice from earlier that morning came back to him.
Against his will, his eyes wandered back to that same empty seat. The thought of never seeing her again suddenly was a very unpleasant thought. It wasn’t as if HE needed her —not the way her friends did— but…
Suddenly, in the middle of a math test —which Kaiba had already finished twenty minutes ago— he stood up, catching stares from almost everyone in the classroom, including the teacher.
“Mister Kaiba, where are you going?” the teacher interjected as Seto grabbed his satchel and walked towards the door.
“I have something to take care of.” And with that, Kaiba brushed past the bewildered teacher, throwing his finished test at him, and left the school.
“So you see, Miss Gardner, we can’t possibly let you return alone to your home… you’re sure your parents have no siblings, no relatives that could possibly take you in?”
“No,” Téa shook her head mournfully, “Mom was an only child like me, and Dad’s brother died two years ago.” Her father’s brother had never married or had any children. And her grandparents had passed away when Téa was still young.
She had no one.
“Well, I’ll have to contact Social Services and arrange to have you placed in a foster home… of course, you’ll have time to arrange for your parent’s funeral, and possibly stay with a friend…”
“But—” Téa interrupted, her one hopeful thought suddenly burbling forth, “What about employment? If I get a job, couldn’t I just stay at the old house? I mean, my parents owned it and everything, shouldn’t the deed pass onto me?”
“I’m afraid not, Miss Gardner,” Sergeant Konami shook his head regretfully, hating having to explain all these little potholes in her plan for restoring her life to some semblance of normal.
“Since you are not yet of a legal age to hold property, the bank will likely retain the deed and rent it out. Once you reach the legal age, you could gain control of the property and live in it, sell it… whatever you wish. Or you could take the bank’s offer for the property, and live off the results.”
It did sound somewhat tempting to Téa —to take money for her old home— but then, she’d grown up there —spent her entire LIFE there. Memories that went back seventeen years were in the rooms of that house, she couldn’t just give it up— and, the way things were, that was her only choice.
She didn’t even have rights to the house— not for another four months.
“You really don’t have all that much time though, if you were to find employment. And I’m aware that Domino High has some restrictions regarding employment…” Konami trailed off, knowing that all this was a lot to take for a 17-year-old who had just lost both her parents.
“What about working for me?” a voice interrupted. Téa spun around in her chair, her eyeballs almost falling out of her sockets as her jaw dropped in much the same manner—
“Kaiba? What are you doing here?”
Kaiba glanced down at her, not taking the seat beside Téa, but instead striding forward, a mere meter from Konami’s desk, staring at the police officer dead on in the eyes.
“Kaiba? As in Seto Kaiba, of Kaiba Corp.?” Konami confirmed, his eyebrow raised. He was surprised to learn of this young girl’s connections, but it WAS possible…
“That’s right. And I need someone to look after my little brother when I’m not around,” Kaiba turned to face Téa, “What do you say? You can stay in the mansion.”
Téa’s eyes, had they been considered wide before, now increased in size, if that was at all possible.
“A-Are you… are you serious?” she asked, her voice a near whisper. She couldn’t believe that this was Seto Kaiba, standing before her. A million questions erupted in her head, all at once—
‘Why is he here? Why isn’t he at school? Why is he doing this for me, anyway? He barely even spoke to me this weekend, but now he’s here not just offering me a job, but a place to live! Who the heck is this guy, and what has he done with the REAL Seto Kaiba?’
It was all too good to be true, and Téa couldn’t help but be a little bit suspicious when he nodded his confirmation.
“Why do you suddenly need someone to take care of Mokuba, anyway? Aren’t you always at home in the office?”
“I can’t always be,” Kaiba responded immediately, staring at Téa. His gaze might as well have penetrated her very soul, the way he was looking at her so seriously. This was indeed Seto Kaiba, and his words were sincere. But it still baffled Téa beyond all words.
“And Mokuba’s grades have been slipping as of late. With school back in session, I don’t have time to watch over him all the time. I have to run the company somehow, and I can’t do it when I have to worry about Mokuba all the time.”
His words shook Téa— he who had been so determined, so faithful to his brother, suddenly wanted someone ELSE to be Mokuba’s keeper? Somehow, it didn’t boil down so simply for Téa, but she wasn’t a fool. She would have been stupid to turn down Kaiba’s offer last night to stay at the mansion, and if she turned down the opportunity to live in the mansion —AND get paid to watch over Mokuba— she’d have to have been brain-dead.
“Deal.” Téa finally agreed, with a brisk nod of her head.
A good hour later, she and Kaiba finally left the Domino City Police Department, hopefully never to return there. Both she and the elder boy were silent as they walked down the stone steps, intending to return back to school.
“Kaiba,” Téa finally blurted, her brows furrowed together. He stopped walking, but didn’t turn and face the girl who had spoken.
“Why?” Téa responded back, just as promptly.
“Why… what?” Kaiba asked, his eyebrow raised as he turned to face her.
“Why— why are you doing this? Why me?”
Seto Kaiba pursed his lips, racking his mind for a decent explanation. Truth be told, there was none. Was it because he didn’t want Téa to suffer the way he had, being stuck in an orphanage? Was it because he didn’t want her to have to deal with an abusive adoptive parent, or five months of agony of not being in a familiar place, seeing familiar faces? Perhaps he wanted to save her the heartache of being separated from all her friends that she held so dear.
“Because,” he finally said.
Téa was about to protest to this non-answer, but it suddenly occurred to her that his answer was enough. Kaiba didn’t really have to give REASONS for his random acts of kindness, did he? Why should he?
‘I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, I guess,’ Téa mused. So she smiled faintly, and continued walking, soon catching up to Kaiba and walking beside him back to school.
“I can have your stuff moved from your old house today, if you want,” Kaiba finally said, as they were a block from the school.
Téa stopped dead in her tracks, looking at him, bewildered.
“No! I mean… thanks, but no… I don’t think— I don’t think I’m ready to leave the house just yet.”
Kaiba looked at her oddly, “Konami back there said you couldn’t stay more than a day there, given that the property’s going to be transferred to the bank.”
“I— I know. But maybe… maybe I could stay at the mansion— another week? And Friday night, I’ll stay at my old place, and…”
The funeral was Saturday morning. The closure Téa was hoping would never come would be upon her, and she would bury her own parents.
“And Saturday, I’ll move out.” She looked up at Kaiba, her eyes not tearing or watering as he would have expected — but they had a fierce, determined gleam to them. He smiled slightly himself, ever so much, but not enough to be noticed by Téa, realizing that the strength she’d always passed onto her friends was still inside her.
“Deal.” Kaiba nodded his assent, and was rewarded with a timid smile from Téa.
The days went by sluggishly for Téa. She spent her days at the Kaiba mansion, this time with her own clothes to wear. The police had brought a locksmith to the old house and allowed her to get some of her belongings while she stayed the week at Kaiba’s. She informed them of her plan to stay at the house Friday night, a plan which the police and the bank representative agreed to— including the part about Téa moving everything out by Saturday. Whatever she couldn’t or didn’t want to bring with her could either become property of the bank, along with the house, or would go up for sale in an estate auction.
Téa’s friends, meanwhile, came up to her during school and offered their condolences, encouragement, and questions regarding the funeral. Yugi, Joey, and Tristan all promised they would be there at the funeral, and did Téa need help with anything else? Anything at all?
“Thanks guys… but I think, somehow I’ll make it through.” She glanced sideways out of the corner of her eye, watching Seto Kaiba read a thick hardcover novel. She wasn’t about to tell her friends of Kaiba’s sudden generosity, lest she jinx her luck, but she was grateful to the young man.
‘Thank you… Seto Kaiba. Thank you.’ Téa thought to herself.
Friday evening had fallen upon Téa Gardner sooner than she desired. But she was no Time Wizard; she didn’t control the flow of time.
‘Come what may… what happens, happens, and anything that can happen, will happen.’ Téa recited to herself mentally.
She was clutching the duffle bag she’d brought with a few changes of clothes while she’d stayed at the Kaiba mansion the past week. Everything else she owned was still at home, and now, tonight, she was finally going back— to stay.
True, it was only a night, but…
‘I’m finally home… Sorry I’m so late, Mom… Dad…’
Téa wanted to burst into tears right then and there, but she was well aware of Kaiba’s presence behind her. He’d given her a ride to her place, and stood behind her even as she trembled in place, one hand holding her duffle bag, the others clutching the keys the police recovered from the scene of the accident.
Suddenly Kaiba spoke up, his words cutting through the tension, the fear, and the thick night like a knife.
“Do you want me to stay?”
Téa was silent a moment. ‘Yes, Yes, Yes, I want you to stay, I need you to stay. Because Mokuba’s right, somehow your presence brings comfort to me… to others. I don’t know how it is you do it… with that attitude, that chill you always keep wrapped around you, but…’
“No… Mokuba’s waiting for you at home. Thanks, though. Besides, you’ll be seeing enough of me the next few months.” Téa managed a wry chuckle, but Kaiba didn’t laugh or even quirk a smile.
Half of him demanded he go up to the girl and comfort her properly, the way her real friends did, but the other half reasonably pointed out that he wasn’t her real friend, despite the past week, despite his offers, despite everything.
As everything stood right now, they were mere acquaintances, classmates… and now, she was his employee. Not friend. Never friend…
The thought hurt.
Téa stared up at the plain white ceiling, her arms crossed behind her head, pressing against the cool fabric of her pillow.
This would have been normal, been an easy night’s sleep— before. Any time before this.
But now, Téa was painfully aware that her parents were NOT sleeping in the next room, that the smell of coffee brewing wouldn’t awaken her the next morning, and her father wouldn’t be sitting at the small kitchen table, reading his paper.
‘What was once…’ Téa thought absently to herself.
‘Things change. Times change. People change. People are born, and people die.’
This was the way of things. It was more a Destiny than anything the Millennium Necklace could have predicted. It was life, as it always had been, for millennia before Téa’s time.
‘And people back then died a lot sooner, of a lot worse things… and the people got up off the ground, wiped their eyes, and kept living. They did it. Seto Kaiba did it. Mokuba did it. And so will I.’
Sleep didn’t come easy to Téa, and it didn’t seem as though more than five minutes had passed before her alarm clock was buzzing shrilly, informing her that it was 9:00 a.m. already, and she had to start getting her things together, get dressed and… and go.
Go to her own parents’ funeral.
At age seventeen, Téa had never felt more alone.
‘I took them for granted. I never… I never even said “I love you” when I left that day…’
Téa didn’t care about what she looked like, or what anyone would think of her when they saw her. Red eyes, droopy hair, none of it mattered today.
She wasn’t representing anyone. She didn’t have a reputation to uphold anymore— or if she did, she didn’t care. She could be herself, be sad, be lonely, today. Even if she was surrounded by friends…
If she thought back long enough, really remembered that painful day over a week ago now, she’d remember that the last things she’d said to her parents were angry words— filled with pain and rage.
“You never try to understand anything from my point of view! Why is it that I can’t at least try to live my dream? What is so wrong about wanting to be a dancer?'”
“A DANCER!? Téa, you’re still on this?! We’re not telling you that you can’t dance, but it’s not something you should call your future! You can dance your heart out for one show, one person, one place, but then what? Wander from job to job? It’s not like they have constant casting calls for dancers! And how reliable are those jobs? What happens if you slip, if you fall, if you hurt your leg? What then? What will you do with yourself then? No, Téa, this isn’t right, it isn’t reasonable! You need a job that will support you, support a future!”
“I know what I want in my future, and you guys never support that! Not once! All you want is for me to be some stupid office lady who sits at a desk and types all day! I won’t stand for it, I won’t become like YOU!”
Such were memories that Téa would rather forget. But regret is a constant companion to hurting souls, and Téa could feel the burning sting of those memories… that her last words to her parents, before she’d slammed the door and gone running out of her house that day, had been filled with such hate, anger, and tears.
Téa spent the remainder of the morning gather things. She’d brought out all the cardboard boxes she could find, taking all her personal possessions and arranging them as neatly as possible, finally sealing the majority of them in boxes and labeling them as she placed them by the door.
What was left… was the past seventeen years of her life. Stored away in the closet, boxes of holiday decorations, for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Old curtains and smelly sheets. Broken do-it-yourself shelves, and dowels meant to hold clothing, but missing a bolt or a screw.
Her Dad’s old shoes. Mom’s old coats.
Téa systematically went though everything, crying when she found something memorable, occasionally grumbling about what a packrat her mother had been —even up until the end— and sometimes smiling, halfheartedly, when she came upon the remnants of happier times with her parents.
It was still hard to believe -almost impossible to really absorb- that they were really gone. Forever. It wasn’t as if they were on a vacation. They were gone— to a place Téa couldn’t see, couldn’t imagine, or even begin to dream of. And they’d never come back.
The brunette started hiccupping between her soft sobs, assembling a pile of shoe boxes. She glanced sideways between her veil of tears, at the room her parents once occupied. The door was slightly ajar, morning light streaming in through the windows.
Hesitantly, and sniffling away the last of her tears, Téa walked into the room on shaky feet. Lining her parents’ bureau was a series of pictures of Téa— the first when she was a small girl, sitting on her father’s shoulders and holding her mother’s hand.
The second photo was of her and Yugi back in junior high, giving a “V is for Victory” sign— it had been their first day of school, and they were both happy they’d gotten in the same class.
The final photo was of Téa by herself, smiling as if on the verge of laughter.
Seeing these pictures only gave Téa cause to burst into a fresh set of new tears.
‘They’re gone, really gone, and maybe they were mad at me too, maybe they weren’t even thinking of me, maybe they died instantly, but maybe they sat there, trapped in the car, thinking what a screw-up I’ve been, how I’ve wrecked their lives by wanting to be something so unreasonable like a dancer…’
For the first time in her life, Téa wasn’t just unsure of herself, she was backtracking and questioning herself. Being a dancer had been her dream for so long now, and while it seemed as though everyone BUT those who mattered most had cheered her on… now she was starting to agree with her late parents, even if they weren’t around to chastise her dreams anymore.
‘I’m sorry Mom, I’m so sorry Dad… I was always so stubborn and I didn’t seem to care… I didn’t spend enough time at home, I wasn’t with you enough, I went off with my friends all the time, I came home late because I was always at school, staying as late as I could to practice for something that… that you were right about all along! Being a dancer… what was I thinking? If I never become a dancer, if I get a good job, would you come back? Could you? I don’t think I can do this, I don’t think I can survive without you… I’ve only pretended to be strong…’
The doorbell interrupted Téa’s downwards-spiraling train of thought, shocking her to her feet. With red, watering eyes, Téa shifted to get up, dusting off her black skirt as she rose. She stumbled towards the door, eyes widening marginally as she came face to face with Seto Kaiba.
He wore a deep gray suit —as formal as Téa had ever seen him— and his usual stoic expression. He needed no invitation to Téa to come in, and he shut the door behind him.
Téa looked at him, the bright blue of her eyes contrasting sharply to the red of her bloodshot eyes, and the redness of the surrounding skin.
She wasn’t really thinking straight at the moment, realizing with a sharp pain that it was “time” for her to lay her parents to rest. But she needed to feel comforted, needed to feel that she could get that from someone —anyone— at all. And so Téa launched herself into Seto Kaiba’s arms, startling the young man even as he glanced down at her, shaking almost violently against his chest. And without really knowing what compelled him to do so, he wrapped his arms around Téa, giving her the comfort that she so desperately needed at that moment.
Yugi, Tristan, Serenity, and Joey were already at the graveyard when Téa arrived— in a black limousine. She emerged from the vehicle, her head bowed to the ground even as she stepped forward, dressed entirely in black.
The color didn’t suit her; Téa always represented optimism and hope, and wearing the darkest, most foreboding color possible only seemed to highlight (in an ironic manner) the fact that the Téa they all knew and loved so dearly wasn’t ever going to be the same.
Mai, too, was there, also wearing a formal black outfit, presenting a very different woman than the one that usually wore violet garb. She stood a slight distance from Joey and the others, watching with a sad expression as Téa walked forward, keeping her eyes on the grass. As their eyes all followed Téa as she walked to the fore of the memorial, few saw both Seto Kaiba and his younger brother Mokuba emerge from the same limo that Téa had.
Most of the company present were friends of the Gardner parents from work— several of Mrs. Gardner’s fellow office ladies, a few with their husbands, and several men from Mr. Gardner’s own law firm, lawyers or paralegals with their wives.
It wasn’t as if the Gardners had been a very social couple, but they had always been kind— it was their teaching that had caused Téa to be the upbeat dreamer her friends had always known her as. While her pushy, stubborn streak seemed to be a product of her teenage years, much of what Téa’s parents had taught her stayed with her even in her “rebellious teenage years.” What they taught, they had lived— that to give kindness is to receive kindness. And so many adults were there to mourn the loss of a wonderful couple, and to give their condolences to the Gardner’s now orphaned daughter.
Téa occupied the first seat in the first row of chairs lining the area before her parent’s gravestones, and her friends were quick to seat themselves beside her, with Yugi on Téa’s immediate right, followed by Joey, Mai, Serenity, and then Tristan at the end of the row. Kaiba sat on the first seat on the second row, but Mokuba refused to be seated.
Instead, he wandered directly to Téa and stared up at her. She faked a smile, her lips trembling as she did so. Mokuba took this as a good sign, and promptly climbed onto Téa’s lap, hugging her for all she was worth. Téa hugged the small boy back, softly crying into his shoulder even as adults and her own friends looked on.
Seto Kaiba, for his part, tried not to look in that direction, not knowing how he’d react if he did. Besides, as far as he knew, Yugi, Wheeler, and their other odd band of friends didn’t even know he was there. And, for whatever reason, Kaiba wanted to keep it that way.
The service dragged on slowly, especially for Téa, who couldn’t take her eyes off the coffins. She hadn’t chosen them, nor had she had anything to do with the flower arrangements. She wasn’t sure who had, or if it even mattered— maybe Konami had taken care of everything himself, since he was the one who said something about her parents’ term life insurance paying for the funeral.
The smell of the flowers, even in the cool, damp morning, was sickening, almost choking Téa. She tried to avert her eyes from them —and the coffins— and glanced around at those present. Many of the faces were unfamiliar adults, coworkers to either Téa’s late mother or father. But, to her surprise, in the back, there were a few faces she knew well.
‘Weevil Underwood!? And… Rex Raptor?’ The two younger boys had both been beaten soundly by Yugi and Joey a number of times, and Téa didn’t understand why they were there— let alone dressed just as formally as anyone else present.
Curiosity sparking her, Téa glanced around further, allowing Mokuba, who now sat in her lap, to shift. In the rear, she caught sight of Duke Devlin and Mako Tsunami, recent additions to the small group of friends Téa hung around with. She wondered why they weren’t up front, but it was possible that they didn’t like funerals very much either.
‘Who would? Probably only that Bonz kid…’ Téa thought to herself. She swallowed, trying to focus on the sermon that the priest was giving, and after that, the words of several coworkers.
She was dazed and cold, not realizing until the priest kneeled before her.
“Miss Gardner, do you have any last words for your parents?”
Somehow the priest’s words made it sound like she was about to get executed, and her parents were there to watch. But such wasn’t the case at all.
‘No. I was the one that executed THEM! It… somehow, it’s all my fault… If I hadn’t… If I hadn’t stayed out late, if I’d told Mom I’d be home early to help her with the shopping…’
But none of Téa’s “what ifs” could bring her parents back. She knew that. And it stung. It stung, and it was bitter. It was bright, and it was sharp. So many sensations for a single word —loss. Utter, total, and complete.
Téa rose on shaky feet, depositing Mokuba on the chair that she’d once sat. She walked hesitantly up to the coffins, swallowing the rising bile in her throat a she glanced into the casket.
Heavy makeup covered the scars the couple acquired in what had been a fatal car crash. And while glass no longer littered their skin, the paleness that came with death was painfully obvious. Mrs. Gardner didn’t look like the woman Téa had recognized as ‘Mother’ for seventeen years. She wanted to scream and shout that this was wrong, that this had to be a mistake, that this WASN’T her mother.
But in Téa’s heart of hearts, she knew it was. Morticians weren’t gods, they couldn’t make the dead look alive again. Téa knew, just as well as anyone else, that they weren’t simply “sleeping.” She reached out a trembling hand and grasped her mother’s hand— it was cold. Heavy. Lifeless.
With a gasp, Téa let her mother’s hand go, watching in acute horror as it flopped back down to her body with a soft thud. Téa’s own hand flew up to her mouth as tears welled in her eyes.
“T-They… they will be missed,” Téa mumbled out to the crowd. Whether or not they’d all heard her, it didn’t matter, for Téa collapsed to the soft, moist dirt in front of the coffins, crying her heart and eyes out.
Yugi was the first to rise to his feet, but not the first to arrive at Téa’s side— rather, Seto Kaiba was there first, kneeling beside Téa, much to Yugi’s surprise. Violet eyes met with dark blue ones, reassuring one another that they both only had Téa’s best interests in mind— and it was in Téa’s best interest at the moment to get away from the cemetery.
Yugi shifted away from Téa, giving her a brief and slight reassuring hug, even as Kaiba helped her to her feet, wiping her eyes with his own handkerchief, and leading her out of the cemetery. Adults followed behind Téa, the service having reached its end.
When all was said and done, Yugi, Serenity, Joey, Tristan and Mai were the last ones left amongst the damp metal seats, staring at the place where Téa had been. She’d clutched a single red rose in her hands until the moment she’d crumbled, and now it lay on the grass, a perfect, still bloom.
Yugi moved towards it, making sure the stem was free of thorns, and slid it gently into the clasping hands of Mrs. Gardner.
“Rest in peace, Mrs. Gardner,” he whispered.
And he too left the graveyard, followed shortly thereafter by the rest of his friends.
“That’s the last of it, right?”
Téa nodded slowly, watching as the movers took the last box of clothes Téa had. Almost everything else —furniture, food, and her parents’ belongings— would either be thrown out, given to the bank with the property, or sold.
The money from the estate sale would go to Téa’s property holdings, and when she turned 18, she could do what she wanted— with the house, the furniture, and the money earned from the sales.
None of that was on Téa’s mind though.
After the funeral, Kaiba had led Téa back to the limousine, and immediately driven her back to the mansion. He hadn’t wasted a moment making sure the movers were on their way to Téa’s old house, and barely twenty minutes later, Téa, now in black jeans and a baggy, long-sleeved shirt, nodded her assent to the final move.
She stumbled towards the door, offering a timid smile to Kaiba, who reached out to catch if she were to pitch forward into the ground. And she walked up to the house, walked around it once, and brushed her fingers against every surface, even that of the mailbox, damp with morning mist.
“Good-bye…” she whispered, “Good-bye.” And with lowered eyes, Téa Gardner locked the door to the past seventeen years of her life.
AAAAAAAAAAANYWAY… let me know what you think. If you think… anything. 🙂 Yeah.