What Doesn’t Kill You
Chapter 27: Adrift – Part 2/13
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: 8/6/16
“Okay, hold up,” Mai said, stopping Téa in front of the dining hall the next morning. Thick swaths of clouds fragmented the morning light that streamed through the windows below-deck. Everything seemed bright and hazy. Téa blinked, but sleepiness still clung to her eyelids.
“Before we go in there, there’s a few things you ought to know. Keep your eyes open, but don’t look at anybody. We don’t need to give anyone a reason to jump our backs. Keep your deck with you at all times, and make sure to check on it every so often. We don’t know what kind of people we’re dealing with yet, but after today we’ll have a pretty good idea.
“If anyone mouths off to you, just ignore them,” Mai continued, ticking off points on her fingers. “You are better than them, remember that! You don’t have to let these people bait you. That doesn’t mean you should be passive, though. Be assertive, but not aggressive, you know? And let your attitude show on the outside. Reveal some emotion, but only the right kind, and not too much. Show them you’re not afraid, you’re going to eat them for breakfast, you’re meant to be here and they aren’t.
“Oh, and remember to wear comfortable underwear because when you’re up there and everyone’s watching you it’s not like you can fix it. Actually, better yet, got a thong? I mean hell, if they’re going to be looking, might as well give them some nice goods–”
“Mai!” Téa exclaimed. “Did zombie Joey eat your brain last night or something? Really. I get it. Thanks for the information overload,” she said, pulling her skirt down a bit further, just in case. “I think I’ll be fine.”
“I’m just trying to watch out for you, Téa,” Mai said with a sigh. But she didn’t give Téa a chance to reply. She strode off toward the dining hall, head held high. Téa followed shortly thereafter.
Bright daylight flooded through the windows surrounding the dining area. Girls of all shapes, sizes, and colors milled about, talking, eating, or examining their decks. A neat arrangement of tables, booths, and elongated tables prevented any congestion of foot traffic through the area. This meant the white-jacketed crew could assist anyone within a moment’s notice. It almost seemed as if they were dancing between the tables and chairs.
“Good mornin’ ladies,” one such crew member said, tipping his navy-brimmed hat over a mass of brown hair.
“Good morning,” Téa responded without thinking. She was still nice to people, strangers or otherwise. She remembered her manners, despite hanging around boys that thought “politeness” meant not calling people “fat cows” or “blithering idiots.” Téa was sure it was what would get her through this tournament with her scalp intact. Téa stared after the crewman long after he’d threaded his way among the tables and into a crew-only area.
‘Why was his voice so familiar?’
She was just imagining things.
Mai was already walking ahead. She seemed intent on grabbing a table that would allow them to see the action without other duelists seeing them. It was one of the few tables with soft-cushioned booths surrounding it. Other duelists seemed to shy away from the elevated accommodations.
A cold shiver slid down Téa’s spine. She froze before following Mai up the short set of stairs to the upper level of the dining room. Was someone watching her?
Mai’s words echoed in her head. “Keep your eyes open, but don’t look at anybody.” Téa opted to tilt her head, looking through the veil of her hair to see if anyone was staring at her. No one seemed to be, until she spotted a figure in all white, leaning against a wall at the other end of the room. It was the crewman from before! He didn’t look familiar. A white hat with a shiny black brim hid most of his hair, and a pair of sleek sunglasses concealed the upper part of his face.
She kept her gaze steady for just a moment longer, hoping that no one would notice her just pretending to adjust her thigh’s deck box. A glint of sunlight streamed in through the window. In the moment Téa looked away and finished her “adjustment,” the crewman vanished.
Téa shook her head. ‘Not off to a good start if I’m already getting the heebie-jeebies from one of the crew! Geez, relax!’
Of course, it was easier said than done –and easier done on a full stomach than an empty one. Téa wasted no more time following Mai up the short stairs to their luxurious booth.
“Still haven’t been able to get ahold of Joey, huh?” Téa asked, leaning against the doorframe of their suite.
Mai jolted from her place on her bed, stuffing her cell phone under a pillow. “No,” she admitted. “This is the third time I’ve tried, actually, on the room phones, the sat phone out on deck, and my cell.”
“Don’t you think we should talk to the crew or ask someone else if we could borrow their phone?” Téa asked, pushing herself away from the door and drifting into the room. With one press of the wrist guard, she shucked her Duel Disk II and deck box onto the neatly-made bed. The second day of the tournament was now over, with both women having won all their matches without any losses to their names.
“No!” Mai insisted. “We don’t need the boys,” she said, stabbing the “Off” button of her phone with her fingernail. “They’re just boys,” Mai spat, as if the word tasted foul. “We don’t need them,” she repeated, her voice a shuddering whisper this time.
Téa blinked. Since when was Mai so concerned with what others thought of her? ‘Or maybe…’ Téa realized, ‘This is the real Mai Valentine, once and for all. No more playing the “Big Girl,” no more faking that she doesn’t need anyone…she really does care what everyone thinks about her!’ Maybe too much, actually. Wasn’t the whole point of this tournament –for Téa, at least– to prove that they could stand on their own two feet? They weren’t “accessories” of the boys, but duelists in their own right!
“So uh–” Téa began. She thought about suggesting they try and call the boys (to brag about their spree of victories) when they arrived. Mai cut her off with a smooth slice of her hand.
“Let’s check out your deck. According to the latest reports, you haven’t used any of the cards you got from Kaiba, right?”
Téa sighed. If Mai wanted to change the topic, then fine. There wasn’t much Téa could do to convince a stubborn woman like her, anyway.
“No need,” Téa replied, pulling her deck out of her Duel Disk and the 15 cards she’d gotten from Kaiba out of her deck box. Was it her partial belief in the “Heart of the Cards,” or had all the duels she’d watched paid off?
Press members that kept hounding her. They said she was breaking all the records set by prior lower division female duelists. She completed all six rounds in less than half the time given. The tournament rules allotted matches a total of one hour. There was no time limit for each of three duels in each match. Téa had managed to win the first two duels she played with everyone she went up against –no need for a third duel. For better or for worse, this left Téa with a great deal of time between matches and rounds. She used that time to study her possible future opponents and their decks and strategies, plus assess her own deck.
“You too, huh?” Mai grinned. She leaned back on her palms, looking all the world like the cat that ate the canary. “I might not be beating any world records, but that’s only ’cause I like to make ’em suffer.”
Téa scoffed. “I know! Ever since day one…” Téa shook her head, a smile creeping across her lips as she remembered her first meeting with champion duelist Mai Valentine. Téa had taken an intense dislike to her immediately. Now, here they were, dueling partners and roommates aboard a cruise meant for female duelists. Time certainly changed the way she had thought about many people, Mai included.
“Me, I’m more of the ‘Do it and get it over with’ type…” Téa continued. Mai’s eyes narrowed and her lips curled into a smirk. Téa’s cheeks flamed red and she waved both her hands in front of her as she yelped, “For duels! Duels!”
“Even for that curly-haired witch?” Mai asked, twirling a finger near her ear.
Mai rolled her eyes. “You bothered to find out her name? She’s not worth the time.”
“Hey, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from dating Seto Kaiba, it’s ‘know thine enemy!’ Besides, I’m not the one who has to worry about her,” Téa said, handing a yellow printout to Mai. “You do. She’s upper division, not lower.”
“Ugh, you’re kidding me!” Mai glanced over the sheet, the day’s current standings in the tournament. With five days left in the tournament, it was anyone’s game. Still…Marino was doing well, championship experience or no.
“Hey, what about the girl she registered with?” Mai asked, glancing over the sheet. “The one who just stood back and let Marino spout all that B.S. earlier?”
“Oh, I remember seeing her earlier,” Téa recalled, taking the sheet from Mai. “I think her name was Serena C-something. Ah, here it is,” she said, poking at the paper with a fingernail. “Serena Compagno. She’s lower division like me, but I haven’t faced her yet.”
“Like I said–” Mai began, but Téa cut her off with a grin.
“‘Keep your eyes open!’ I know, I know. I’m not picking up these end-of-the-day reports for nothing, Mai. What do you think I’ve been doing with my leftover time between duels?”
“Getting a manicure?” Mai smirked, pointing at Téa’s rose-colored nails.
Téa blushed as scarlet as her nails. “Well, all that talk from earlier about everyone’s eyes being on you and needing good underwear on top of everything else–”
Mai threw her head back and laughed. “Funny, I would have thought the spotlight would be no big deal to you by now, dating Kaiba and all.”
Téa’s blush deepened. “It’s not the same…. Anyway, between duels I’ve been watching other people. You know, observing trades and checking out whatever stats I can using the ship’s database.”
“Oh yeah, the tournament honchos made us register all cards in play didn’t they?” Mai asked. “I had to scan my deck through this thing to ensure all the cards were legit. I’m betting someone brought in counterfeits to a previous tournament, so they had to think of something for this year.”
Téa frowned and took out the side deck Kaiba had given her, glancing over the cards, including the Blue-Eyes White Dragons. The Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon was in her Fusion Deck, too, if she chose to use it. But not the Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon; Kaiba had kept that for himself, even though it was useless without the other dragon cards. It was a link back to him, Téa supposed. It was her only link back to him.
Mokuba had told her that Pegasus thought Kaiba had made the Pyramid of Light card himself. That the only card Pegasus himself had made to counter the God cards was the Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon. Fact was, they still didn’t know just who had arranged for Anubis to come to Japan in the first place. Or why Kaiba found the Pyramid of Light card with the Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon after he’d defeated Pegasus. Kaiba had the ability to counterfeit cards if he wanted. He had the technology and even the willpower, but….
‘There’s no way. He doesn’t fight that way anymore. Cheating isn’t winning.’
But he had once, when he’d been ruthless enough to think that winning was everything, and any methods employed to win were just a means to an end. Still, Téa felt hesitant as she ran her fingers across the surface of the side deck Kaiba had given her. None of them were counterfeits. It was impossible. He wanted her to win, not humiliate her in front of a crowd of hundreds, right?
Téa stared at the Blue-Eyes White Dragon cards, hoping the answer would float into her brain from the cool eyes of the dragon. But no answer came, and the doubts within Téa’s mind continued to churn and whirl.