What Doesn’t Kill You
Chapter 21: Dangerous Transitions
A Yu-Gi-Oh Fanfiction
By: Azurite – azurite AT seventh-star DOT net
Site: seventh-star DOT net
Conceptualized/First Written: 6/28/05, 10/26/05
Completed/Final Edit: 10/31/05 – Happy Halloween, everyone!
Don’t Forget! All Review Replies are now hosted at my LiveJournal. Look for a section in my Memories called ‘Review Replies,’ and you can choose from the story/chapter of your choice to see what I had to say to your reviews! Thanks for your continued support!
Note: I’ve changed Marik’s name to ‘Malik’ because despite this being set in the dub universe, there’s just no reason for me to condone the usage of the dub’s messed-up names. I could probably change all the names to the Japanese ones, but trust me, it would take WAAAY too long, and would screw up several other minor plot points (Bakura being from London, Joey’s Brooklyn accent, the usage of honorifics, etc).
Thank you to Miss Matched for all her help with this chapter…!
“Something must be done about her.”
Silence filled the room after a moment, as each of the four men looked at one another. It was dark; hard to see each other, but after all this time, they knew each other by silhouette. But one of their own was missing. The fact thatCrump was gone from his place at the table (as incompetent as he was) unnerved them all, yet none of them said so.
“There is no question as to that,” a voice snarled in response.
“She’s cleverer than we gave her credit for,” said a broad-shouldered man in a thick accent. “And now she has us all on the run. Even if we do get rid of her, how will it help us?”
The only immediate answer to that question was silence: silence that was broken as one man’s fist connected with the surface of the table sharply.
“Crump is dead because of that brat!” he growled, “It doesn’t matter what happens afterward, we must get rid of her!”
The glass tabletop beneath his fist splintered, a vein of glass the width of a single hair forming on the dust-covered surface. A small cloud of residue arose from the crack, but the men most tempted to cough refrained.
This was no place for rich, intelligent men such as them… but they were in hiding. They had to suffer, all because of that girl…
“He didn’t die at her hands,” a slender man spoke. “He was foolish and got scared.You heard what those special police said.”
“I don’t care,” the rotund man growled. “Téa Gardner must die!”
Most male Domino High students wore simple uniforms of navy blue jackets paired with trousers of the same color; girls wore skirts in a sky blue with a carnation pink jacket to match. Such was the attire of almost every public Japanese high school; the only way someone could stand out was if they weren’t in uniform. Even so, when two large men in suits walked up through the main courtyard of Domino High school early during the lunch period of the 18th of March, no one batted an eye.
No one knew that the two men concealed guns underneath their jackets, or that their expensive sunglasses disguised the gazes of assassins who no longer possessed the ability to feel remorse.
No one knew where they were headed— so when Téa went missing that day, no one had any answers.
Normally, Téa spent her lunch periods in the dance studio, but today they’d been lucky enough to have a free study period right before lunch. No one actually bothered to study during their so-called free study periods, so Téa decided to head to the dance studio a bit early with Chieko. She promised Kaiba that she would return for lunch so that they could eat together for once.
But the lunch bell came and went, and Téa didn’t come.
Yugi, Tristan, Duke, and Joey all showed up, each looking equally perplexed at Téa’s disappearance. None of them seemed particularly keen to strike up a conversation with either Malik or Bakura, which left them only one choice: find out where Téa was.
The boys all stared at Kaiba, watching as he twitched at random intervals while he stared at the clock.
“You waitin’ for time to fly or somethin’?” Joey asked. His ‘joke’ went unheeded. Kaiba remained fixated on the time. After five minutes of Joey staring at Kaiba staring at the clock, Kaiba relinquished his gaze and sighed.
“She’s not here yet.”
Joey knew that ‘she‘ couldn’t be anyone but Téa, and judging by the expression on Kaiba’s face, if she didn’t show up soon, the guy would be irritated through next month. Though his skills as a peacemaker were never very renowned, Joey realized he had to make the attempt; Téa and Kaiba’s ‘little spats’ seemed like the sort of things that blew everything to high heaven and back again.
‘Eh, nothing’s ever simple in love and war.’
Or something like that, anyway.
“I’m sure she just went to the bathroom or something…” Joey told Kaiba, but the CEO refused to listen. Fifteen minutes had passed now, and he wanted to know where Téa was. Kaiba yanked his ever-present Duraluminum briefcase from his side and immediately stalked out of the classroom, even though there were only fifteen minutes left in the lunch period.
“H-Hey, Kaiba!” Yugi rushed after Kaiba in the hopes that they could look for Téa together, his indoor sneakers squeaking loudly on the floor and causing a white rubber streak to sear its way into the linoleum. Yugi stopped, panting furiously once he caught up to Kaiba. It didn’t take much longer for Duke, Joey, and Tristan to catch up.
Kaiba didn’t seem too keen on waiting for Yugi, and part of him wondered why he’d stopped at all. But the truth was, if Téa wasn’t in the dance studio, he would have no idea where to begin looking for her. Only her friends would know something like that…
“We could split up,” Yugi suggested once they entered the main hallway. On this particular cold, March day, the school was thick with people trying to keep warm, and with lunch about to end, students would constantly be milling about. But if something really had happened to Téa, then they didn’t have much time to find her.
That was when Duke spotted Chieko, who was busy patting her glistening forehead with a small hand-towel.
“Hey, Chieko— have you seen Téa?”
“Hm? Oh, she was in the dance studio,” Chieko answered. Her face took on a worried expression as she continued, “These two gentlemen in suits from the Domino Police Department said they wanted to speak to her, so I left.”
“In suits?” Joey repeated incredulously. Something sounded awfully fishy about that…
One look at Kaiba’s face confirmed it: they were both remembering the special police the Big Five had tasked to kidnap Téa once before. If their hunches were correct, then those guys probably weren’t cops, but another set of special police, out to do who-knows-what to Téa. Neither of them wasted any time barrelling through the approaching crowds and headed down to the dance studio as fast as they could run, Yugi and the others hot on their heels.
“How can I help you?” Téa was on edge the moment these two guys had stepped in the door. They didn’t look like any police she’d seen before, but if she just called them on their play, she might get hurt— or worse. She couldn’t risk letting them have the advantage by having her turn away, but thankfully the mirrored panels of the dance studio made it easy for her to keep an eye on the two suits.
And they were probably keeping an eye on her, too. But at least she had enough distance between them where they couldn’t tell how fast her heart was racing. Téa was sure she would break out in a sweat and her fight-or-flight instinct would kick in if they got too close to her.
While they lingered near the doorway, Téa edged toward the corners, where she tried to think of something she could use to defend herself— if the situation came to that. There was no way she could unscrew the barres on the wall fast enough, and the other dance club members had moved all the spare classroom desks out of the studio after winter break ended.
‘There has to be something…’ Desperation started to ebb into her system, making her jittery and paranoid. This couldn’t be happening, right? Not here, not now, when everything was finally starting to fall into place!
“Let’s just get right to the point. You have something we want.”
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
‘Play the innocent card. Get them to trust you. Anything, something…’ The longer she played coy, the more time she would have to try and find something to use as a weapon— or at the least, create a distraction with. She had to get out of there!
One of the suits rushed Téa before she could even blink. His grip on her shoulder was iron-tight, and he squeezed her painfully. As the man’s jacket fluttered down to his side again, Téa spotted something strapped to his side that caused the blood to drain from her face: a gun.
Forget distractions. Forget weapons and trying to escape. Her best bet at that point was to just do what they said and hope they didn’t kill her then and there. When the SP clutching her saw Téa’s gaze fixed on his holster, he smiled wickedly.
“No more games, Gardner. If you don’t want to end up like your parents,” he paused as he removed the gun with his free hand, pressing the barrel against Téa’s forehead, “then you’ll do exactly as we say.”
There was a click as he cocked the hammer and switched the safety off.
Téa nodded, unable to make a sound.
A girl’s soprano shriek from somewhere in the vicinity of the dance hall caught the boys’ attention as they continued to charge through the halls, despite the shouts of their fellow classmates and the various teachers wandering around.
Kaiba and Joey just barely skidded to a halt when they saw a small crowd congregated around the door to the dance studio. When they heard an unfamiliar voice speak, everyone froze, and Kaiba felt his blood run cold.
“Just back off slowly kids, and Miss Gardner doesn’t get hurt. Don’t make any trouble for us.”
“I-I thought they were cops,” a girl murmured, sounding like she was on the verge of tears. “T-That’s why I told them where the studio was…”
Téa rose her chin and gazed at the girl straight on, the expression on her face amazingly unafraid. “It’s okay,” she whispered. The girl still looked upset, but she managed to smile awkwardly at Téa, who still had a gun pressed into her temple.
One of the suits frowned at Téa and thrust the barrel of his gun under her face. “Shut up.”
Téa only stared at the ‘special police’ coldly and pressed her lips together. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as the crowds started to part— but a row of students refused to move.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Mr. Bigshot himself,” one of the suits muttered in a stage whisper. When Téa opened her eyes to see who the suits were talking about, her heart swelled with relief— it was Seto. Beside him, Joey, Tristan, Duke, Yugi, and Chieko stood, each with varying degrees of anger on their faces.
“Let her go,” Seto said coldly, his eyes narrowed. He’d become a master of disguising his feelings, even to the point where he believed his own deceptions. But at that moment, it was safe to assume he was terrified. He’d been in life-or-death situations before; had a gun pointed to his own head, but… this was different. She was different. She couldn’t possibly—!
“Or what?” the suit holding the gun to Téa’s head sneered. “In case you haven’t noticed, rich boy, we have a gun to your girlfriend’s forehead. If you don’t get out of our way, we’ll blow her brains out.”
Chieko trembled slightly beside Yugi, as if tempted to move and part the way for the SPs. Yugi glanced up at her, and in a moment, her wavering expression found resolve, and the blonde continued to stand her ground.
“P-Please Yugi— do you know what’s going on here?” Chieko’s voice had always sounded so clear and assured; hearing her so afraid gave Yugi pause. He wasn’t sure how to explain something so complex in only a few sentences.
“I’m pretty sure these guys work for this group of people called the Big Five. They’re the people that tried to kill all of us —including Mokuba and Kaiba— before. They’re also the ones responsible for the deaths of Téa’s parents,” Yugi finished. This was all old news to Kaiba, Joey, Tristan, and Duke, but Chieko and the other students gathered in the hallway had no idea. An astonished gasp filtered its way all the way from the fore of the crowd where Chieko stood, still trembling to the back, where many students were cramming together in an effort to see what was happening.
“Where are the papers you were talking about?” the suit with the other gun demanded in an impatient tone. “Tell us where they are and this’ll go by a lot faster.” He obviously didn’t like the way things were looking— students surrounding and blocking the whole hallway, teachers peering out from their classrooms. If they wasted too much more time, the police would arrive and everything would go to hell.
Téa fumbled for a quick answer, hoping to lead the SPs to a place where they could get caught— or where she could lose them and escape with her life, at the least. Back in the studio, she’d told them that the Big Five didn’t just want her dead— they wanted the information she still had that could incriminate them. She could show the SPs where it was, if only they didn’t kill her on the spot.
Amazingly, the two men agreed, and they led her out of the studio, guns cocked and pointed straight at her.
That was when she spotted Seto’s briefcase.
“I-In his briefcase,” Téa stuttered, feigning a frightened tone of voice. The truth was, even with the guns to her head, she was still resolute in her desire to put the Big Five and all their lackeys behind bars once and for all. She was sick of being the target of their schemes and plans, all because her parents had been smart enough to find out what they were up to: extorting money from Kaiba Corporation and its employees, and ruthlessly arranging for the deaths of anyone that didn’t follow their plans.
At Téa’s words, Seto’s eyebrows rose, but he knew he couldn’t afford to doubt her. Maybe she was playing a game with the two suits…?
‘She’s taking too big of a risk…!’
But if he didn’t open his briefcase, Téa might get shot anyway. This wasn’t a very favorable situation to be in, but it wasn’t as if he had a better plan. Seto silently prayed that he was right, and Téa really did have something in mind. Otherwise, this would end all too soon.
“Not you!” One of the SPs snarled as Seto bent to open his briefcase.
The man flicked his gun in Chieko’s direction. “You. You open the case and get the papers.”
Chieko looked startled, but when Téa glanced at her and gave a small nod, Chieko nodded and stepped forward. “Fine.”
Seto signaled to Chieko what the combination was, and she quickly opened the case. To her relief, there were papers in there— probably not the ones Téa was talking about, assuming such papers even existed. But nonetheless, it was better than opening it up and having nothing. If that had happened, then Téa—!
“Which papers are they again?” Chieko asked without looking up at Téa. She was trying to find a set of papers that would most convince the men that they had found what they were looking for. Even if they didn’t let go of Téa immediately, at least while one of them inspected the papers, the others could distract the second SP and hopefully get Téa out of harm’s way. But the pressure was building and Chieko wasn’t sure she could keep up her act for much longer…
Téa’s voice had taken on an odd tone when she replied. “The ones in the folder marked ‘Mamboleo’.”
Chieko looked up at Téa, and though all eyes were on the two of them, somehow the two managed to communicate something unspoken.
“Right, here they are,” Chieko responded, plucking a folder out a random. No one else saw that she had also grabbed the first loose Duel Monsters card she’d found in the suitcase. It was the only thing in there besides random Kaiba Corporation paperwork, but hopefully Téa could think of something to do to distract the SPs if this plan of hers didn’t work out. Chieko carefully closed the case with a click.
After that, everything was automatic— instead of walking forward and handing one of the SPs the papers, Chieko stood up sideways and handed the files to Téa. In her head, she could hear the steady tempo of the song Téa had named: ‘Mamboleo’ by Elissa. There was no folder in Kaiba’s briefcase under that name; it was all just a ruse. It was a good thing Chieko knew what Téa had been talking about, or else their little plan might have fallen apart completely.
‘1, 2, 3, 4… 5, 6, 7, 8!’
Chieko spun quickly on her heel, grabbing Kaiba’s briefcase as she went. She swung the case hard and fast, her unexpected movement startling everyone present. Luckily, only the SP with the gun caught the brunt of the blow to his knees. He crumpled to the ground with a shout of pain, while his gun skittered across the floor. Before the other SP could raise his gun at Téa, she danced around him and shoved the Duel Monsters card Chieko had given her into the tiny space between the gun’s hammer and the cylinder. Unable to make contact with the bullet chamber, the gun jammed and clicked uselessly. In the second it took for the SP to look at his gun in wonderment, Téa brought her knee up fiercely into the man’s groin, and he too crumpled to the floor in pain.
The man’s gun dropped from his limp hand onto the floor, sliding to a stop just in front of Téa’s feet. The appreciative murmurs and cheers suddenly stopped when Téa bent down and plucked the gun from the floor. She removed the card —a Gyakutenno Megami— from the gun and clicked the hammer back into place.
“You have a cell phone, right?” Téa feigned disinterest in the target, and she listlessly aimed the gun up and down the SP’s body— starting at his kneecaps and working her way up to his face. The man trembled as the barrel got closer and closer to his face as Téa leaned in, her rear leg thrust out in a lunge. After a moment of fumbling, he managed to extract a small cell phone from within his breast pocket. He quickly dropped it beside his wrist, keeping his gaze locked on Téa’s.
“Call them,” Téa whispered in a low voice as she motioned to the cell phone with the gun.
“Call who?” the SP under her foot snarled back. It seemed that he was getting his attitude back, and Téa didn’t care for attitude where the Big Five were concerned. This was her battle.
In response, Téa only jammed her foot deeper into his face, threatening to crush the man’s jaw. She pushed the barrel of the gun directly into the man’s cheek and smiled coldly. “Crump, Gansley, Leichter, Nesbitt, Johnson— I don’t know, pick one!”
“Crump’s dead,” the SP finally said, surprising Téa and the others just a fraction. “Had a heart attack before the police even came to pick him up. Heard it was your fault.”
Téa fell silent, her eyes clouded with disbelief, but the feeling quickly faded. “It’s no problem of mine. He deserved it for what he did to my family. Now… call them!”
Despite having a foot on his face and a gun barrel pressed to his cheek, the man obeyed. When the phone started ringing, Téa turned to Joey and handed him the gun.
“Keep this on him. I want to talk to the Big Five myself.” There was a strange, icy look in her eyes, unlike anything any of her schoolmates had ever seen in her eyes before— but Joey trusted his friend, and he knew how important this was to her. Téa’s parents had been murdered by the Big Five, and yet they were still at large, still trying to hurt more people and get more and more money.
“No problem.” Joey shoved the revolver even further into the man’s face, barely suppressing the bit of glee he felt at doing so. The tables were turned on the Big Five— though Joey and the others had all thought they’d been permanently trapped in the Virtual World of their own tampering, they’d somehow escaped and wreaked havoc on Téa’s life— and they obviously weren’t satisfied unless every secret that the Gardners knew was locked away—permanently.
The phone clicked, and a gruff voice answered on the other end. “Well, is it done?”
“Hello, Gansley,” Téa murmured in a low, cold voice.
“I know you’re still listening. And I know you’re wondering how a ‘tiny little scrap of a girl’ like me could have possibly disposed of what were likely your two last, best men. I won’t spare you with the details, but needless to say, Gansley, you and the other members of the Big FOUR are in for it now.”
“…Is there any reason why we should be afraid of you?” Gansley said. His words were boastful and overconfident, but his tone betrayed the surprise and fear likely pulsing through his veins at the moment.
“Oh yes, Gansley. You picked the wrong family to mess with, all the way from the beginning. This is war, and it’s not over until all of you are behind bars— or worse.”
Téa gave a dispassionate sideways stare at the phone before letting it slide from her hands. With lightning-quick reflexes, she picked up Kaiba’s Duraluminum briefcase, disposed of on the floor after Chieko had slammed it into the first SP’s knees, and she slammed it down forcefully, breaking the cell phone into hundreds of tiny bits. She didn’t need to give an explanation as to what she had meant by ‘worse’— she had just displayed it for all to see.
The sound of sirens wailing in the distance, steadily drawing closer brought everyone’s attention to the windows. A group of Domino Police Department squad cars pulled up to the front gates of Domino High school as officers emerged and closed in on the school.
“Well,” Joey grinned, releasing the gun pressed up against the SP’s face, given that the man had fallen unconscious, “I guess our work here’s done.”
“Yeah,” Téa sighed tiredly, “Just another day in the life of an ‘ordinary’ Domino High student…”
Joey only laughed in reply.
Two people who had gone unnoticed amongst the thick crowds backed away and drifted their own separate ways as the crowds began to scatter. Some people were eagerly thrusting their way forward, hoping for a chance to spot the two muscled men Téa and Chieko had felled; others wanted to talk to Kaiba or Yugi or Joey about the whole situation and how much they knew about it.
For Bakura’s part, he couldn’t care less about the idiotic ‘Big Four’ — there were greater powers at work, operating from a distance. One of them was watching Téa— he was sure of it. Well, almost sure. The truth was, in the past four days since Téa blacked out at the Maple Hotel where she’d gone with Kaiba, Bakura had been unable to turn anything conclusive up about why she’d fallen unconscious. It couldn’t be as simple as Téa having a little fainting spell; the next day when Bakura spied on her, she’d looked as right as rain, though she had complained a bit about cramps.
No, there had to be some other presence that had been watching her, unseen— and Téa, oddly sensitive to that sort of thing, reacted by doing the only thing her body knew how to do in an emergency: shutting down.
It would be all too easy to blame it on something like a lack of eating, or food poisoning, but Bakura knew —somehow he just knew— that there was more to it than that. And Kaiba, fool that he was, didn’t even think twice about it. Once White Day was over, he returned to his normal self, and his relationship with Téa remained a closed-subject at school. The two barely even acted a couple, save for the rare lunchtimes they spent together.
It was entirely possible that they were all putting on a wretched facade, a thought which brought a strange sort of joy to Bakura’s heart. It was entirely possible that the feeling was misplaced— something leftover from his host, whom Bakura had been forcefully suppressing for nearly a week. It was starting to take its toll, but until Bakura found the answers he was looking for, he could put up with a bit of weakness.
Just… a bit…
Unbeknownst to Bakura, another person headed in the opposite direction of him was none other than Malik Ishtar. He too had been keeping an eye on things lately, but he was being far more discreet about it than Bakura was.
He could easily afford to not spy on Kaiba and Téa so diligently, if only because he knew what was to come— though it put him in a very precarious position. He had to stay in Japan and watch over the couple, and watch over the turn of events to make sure they happened the way they were meant to. But the slightest interference on his part could alter the very course of destiny, and seeing Bakura obsess over Téa threatened to send Malik over the edge.
All it would take was a simple warning to prove that he was being honest, that he had good intentions— and that Bakura did not. The tomb robber in a high schooler’s guise was more dangerous than anyone gave him credit for, but there was nothing Malik could say or do without destroying everything. Worse, part of him continued to doubt his birthright— the inscriptions of the prophecy on his back, and on the panels housed at the Domino Museum in the ancient Egyptian exhibit he manned.
How much harm could he possibly do by finding a way to stop Bakura before he went too far? Would it damage the future entirely if he found out just who was the cause of the strange feelings he’d been having lately, and the ‘presence’ surrounding Téa so often?
What it got down to was something rather unfortunate: there was simply no way of knowing.
“How exciting!” Serenity Wheeler exclaimed when Téa told her about being held hostage by the two SPs.
Téa wanted to throttle her friend, but it wouldn’t look good for the third-year class president to be seen choking the daylights out of a brand-new first-year student. At long last, Serenity was starting high school, just as her Téa, her brother, and all their friends were getting ready for their third and final year of school. Their first year had been filled with duels, tournaments, and all sorts of mysteries; their second year hadn’t been any different, and it had ended with practically every student in Domino High getting interrogated by the Domino Police.
Four days after the two SPs from the Big Five came to Domino High, a wealth of new students filled the halls of Domino High, one of those new students being Serenity. She’d already made quite the impression on the second and third-year students, when she’d come to the school in November and slapped Seto Kaiba right in front of the entire student body. To make matters worse, everyone knew she was Joey’s sister, but no one seemed to care about her family ties — they all wanted to meet the spitfire redhead that was ironically named ‘Serenity.’ While Joey attempted to do damage control and keep lustful older boys away from his sister, Tristan and Duke redoubled their efforts to capture Serenity’s attention once and for all.
Meanwhile, Serenity seemed perfectly content being oblivious to the boys who pestered her, and instead she stayed glued to Téa like a second skin.
“Exciting isn’t quite the word I’d use to describe it,” Téa mumbled under her breath as she walked with Serenity through the courtyard. They’d had an extended assembly for all students, welcoming them to the new school year, and now everyone was stumbling toward the entrance halls to find out what classes they were in this year.
“Compared to my junior high, where barely anyone knew about Duel Monsters and the most exciting thing that happened at school was the Sushi Surprise?” Serenity replied with a smirk.
“Okay, okay, but trust me— having a gun to your head isn’t exactly the highlight of your typical high school day.”
“I’m just glad you’re all right,” Serenity said, her expression changing from excited and happy to serious and solemn. “The police arrested those two men, right? Do you know if they found out anything more?”
Since Sergeant Konami of the DCPD maintained contact with Téa, the girl was well-aware of any developments in the continuing ‘Big Five Fugitives’ case. Unfortunately, there weren’t any within the past four days— and it might well have been Téa’s fault.
“We might have been able to repair the SIM card in the cell phone that SP had,” Konami told her the morning following the incident. “Unfortunately, it was too damaged to extract any data from it. We can’t trace the call that you made to Gansley— and even if we could, I’m sure by now he’s disposed of that phone and moved elsewhere.”
Téa mentally cursed herself for acting on her impulses like that; if she hadn’t gotten so upset about everything, the Big Five might be rotting in a jail cell right now. But they weren’t— they were still at large, and they still had so many people’s blood on their hands!
Serenity’s gentle hand on her shoulder startled Téa out of her reverie. “Don’t worry, Téa. I’m sure something will turn up. Try not to let it get to you.”
‘Easier said than done,’ Téa wanted to tell her friend. She still missed her parents terribly, and she couldn’t stand knowing that they’d been murdered and that their killers were still roaming free.
“Aw—” Joey started muttering a string of colorful curses under his breath the moment he caught sight of his name on the new class roster.
“And the dog is freed from his leash,” Kaiba smirked. After two years of enduring classes with Joey, Yugi, and Tristan, at long last they were separated. More precisely, Yugi was in a separate class from Joey, Tristan and Duke, who were in a separate class from Téa and Kaiba. However, Malik and Bakura were both in Téa and Kaiba’s class, as was Chieko.
“Hey, you’re in my old homeroom,” Téa exclaimed when she caught sight of Serenity’s classroom assignment: 1-B. “Hopefully that’ll bring you good luck!”
“I hope so too,” Serenity whispered. While before, Serenity had been confident, now that she was actually a student at Domino High, she was starting to get nervous. For one, everyone seemed to know her without her knowing them. Second, it wasn’t as if she could surround herself with Joey, Téa, and the others all the time— she had to learn to make friends and defend herself if necessary.
“I’m still in a bit of shock that we’re not in any classes with you, dude,” Tristan said to Yugi. “What happened?”
“I decided to go vocational ed,” Yugi explained. “I think we’ll still have gym class together, though…”
“That means you’ll be in at least one class with Kaiba and me,” Duke said, elbowing Yugi in the side. “You’re taking business, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I figure it’ll help me run the Game Store one day.”
“Forget the game store,” Duke chuckled. “You’re the presiding stockholder over Industrial Illusions. Think big, Yugi!”
Yugi only blushed and stared at his feet. He was still a bit too hesitant to really do anything with all the power he had over Industrial Illusions. Ever since he’d beat Pegasus at Duelist Kingdom, he’d had the wealth of the entire company at his feet, but Yugi was benevolent enough to let the company go running as it had for the past several years. No one heard from Pegasus, or knew what had happened to him. The media claimed he was dead; Yugi and the others liked to think they knew better, but the truth was, they didn’t. They’d all decided to move on from that time.
The tardy bell rang shrilly, and the crowds started to disperse and head to their classes.
The halls continued to empty, leaving the motley crew of semi-friends behind: Yugi with his erratic hairstyle and ever-present Millennium Puzzle; Joey with his uniform shirt untucked and his hair in a disarray; Tristan and Duke, both trying to edge ever-closer to Serenity, who hung close to Téa and Kaiba; and Malik and Bakura, who hovered at the outskirts of their little circle.
“Well, I guess this is it—” Yugi finally managed.
“Hey, we don’t have to be all upset about it, right?” Tristan laughed awkwardly. “I mean, we’re still in some classes together…”
“It’s not like we won’t be friends anymore just ’cause we’re not in a few classes!” Joey assured Yugi, but he didn’t look too confident himself. Everyone knew that their third year together would be the one that determined their future: if they didn’t do well, they were destined to work low-paying jobs with no real happiness or future behind them. Each of them wanted something different from that. But it couldn’t be denied that being in school together wasn’t enough; Domino High was packed with students and people constantly busied themselves with clubs and extracurriculars. Assuming they actually had a normal school year for once, how would they ever find time to spend together?
“Joey’s right!” Téa grinned. “Come on!” She smirked as she plucked a black marker from her satchel. She gestured for everyone to stick their hands out, and after a few protests and some cajoling, she got everyone into one circle, with all their fingers touching one another. Téa swept the nib of the marker against the top of everyone’s hands, including her own, and drew a large face complete with a perfectly happy, dopey smile.
“No matter what!” Téa said as she finished the face and capped the pen.
“No matter what!” Everyone repeated— even Kaiba. Téa smiled brilliantly at him —and each of the others in turn. The gesture was enough to reassure everyone, and soon they were rushing off down the halls with wider, more confident smiles on their face.
Téa refused to let her worry show, and kept that same brilliant smile on her face despite the fear and doubt flitting into her heart. Malik and Bakura happened to both glance backward at the same time and spy the odd look in Téa’s eyes, but the moment each of them realized the other was watching, they both glared at one another and stalked to class, keeping as much distance between them as possible.
Kaiba, for his part, kept his free hand securely around Téa’s. He could still feel the residual stickiness of the ink from Téa’s marker on his hand. Needless to say, he never expected to become ‘formally initiated’ into Yugi’s little gang, but…
Remembering the bright smile and the look of fierce determination in Téa’s eyes was reason enough for Kaiba to grin, ever-so-slightly.
Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all.
I’m actually glad that I’m getting these out so fast! I know they’re not quite action packed yet, but trust me: we’re almost there! Besides, do you really want a cliffhanger every chapter? ^_~
Remember that Review Replies for previous chapters will go up soon. For Chs. 19-21, they’ll go up after about a month has passed from the release date of the chapters, since I posted them all within a week of each other. This gives everyone enough time to catch up with the story if they feel the need to. Don’t forget to review and let me know what you think of the story so far!