Version 4.6 – Punctuation fixes, “missing text” fix
Conceptualized/First Written: 10/23/03
Completed/Posted: 10/25/03 (with 15 minutes to spare! WOO!)
Edits: 8/15/04, 12/5/05, 1/18/06, 12/28/09
Rated PG13 for angst and such…
God, this chapter really didn’t want to come out. It didn’t come out yesterday because I had to work extremely late hours, and was tired as heck when I got home…and then today, I had a meeting…I go home, catch up on my Zs, wake up and work on it—and then the compute restarts on me! AUGH! I lost a bunch of scenes, too…but hey, here I am again…Part 7 comes out later tonight. N’Joi
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.
Version 3.0 Notes: After much confusion, I have successfully updated this chapter to version 3! This means that all scenes are separated by nice and easy-to-see horizontal rules, and also all the U.S. “Imperial” measurements have been converted to metric (which is in use in Japan, so it makes sense). Please note that I’ve gone througha grueling screening of the metric conversions—and there really are metric teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups! I am not imagining things! YAY! They’re not the same as the U.S. ones, but if you’re a nitpicker, I’ll have both versions (U.S. and metric) of the recipe Téa uses on my website!
Version 4.6 Notes:Thanks to Jade for pointing out that FFnet’s “wonderful” system went and stripped out chunks of this chapter. I’ve fixed that and made some minor punctuation, formatting, and grammar fixes along theway.
RECAP: Moving in with Seto Kaiba was one thing, but Téa Gardner certainly didn’t expect to start LIKING him. Worse, when he steals her first kiss from her —and doesn’t remember!—Téa finds herself trying to find any excuse to forget her growing feelings for the young CEO. So now, only Mai knows the truth, but Téa will have to tell her other friends soon…
“Why why why why why why why why why why!?!?”
For all intents and purposes, it appeared that Téa was not that thrilled to be returning to school that Monday morning.
Seto Kaiba and his younger brother Mokuba exchanged a glance before stepping forward to greet Téa, clad in her pink-and-blue school uniform for the first time in the past six days.
“Why is the sky blue?” Mokuba asked.
“Why the world is round?” Seto added.
“No,” Téa groaned, glancing at the boys from where she’d been banging her head on the front door.
“Why do I have to go back to school? I mean aside from the obvious reasons, but I’m really not looking forward to it.”
“Who does?” Seto asked rhetorically, shrugging as he tossed his metal briefcase over his shoulder. Larger than Téa’s black leather satchel, it often doubled as a weapon —and a shield—against the countless idiots after Seto Kaiba.
“I thought you’d be happy to go back to school and have something real to occupy your time with. Though,” as he opened the front door, he glanced back at the sulking Téa, “you do have a few tests to make up.”
“That’s the least of my worries,” Téa grumbled, slapping her satchel against her knees. Her eyes drooped and her lips curved down into a frown, “I have to face the guys.”
“Can we not stop right in front of the school?” Téa asked suddenly, turning to face Seto inside the limo. They had just dropped off Mokuba at the elementary school, and were nearing the high school.
“Afraid someone’s going to see you?” Seto quipped, sarcasm in his voice. Téa didn’t respond, she only shot him a look that said ‘Damn straight.’ He blinked for a second, and leaned forward, pressing a button on the panel below the driver/passenger separation window.
“Hey, can you stop about a block from the school, around the corner?”
“Ah yes, Master Kaiba. Of course.”
Seto leaned back into the chair, glancing at Téa with an ‘Are you satisfied now?’ look. She only sighed, but she wasn’t relaxed. In fact, her posture stiffened even as they neared the school, the sleek black limousine coming to a stop around the corner from the school gates.
Téa didn’t look too eager to step out of the car, even when the driver opened it for her, so it took Seto shove from behind to even get her to move. She nearly tripped over the curb in the process, shooting daggers at the young CEO as she clambered up onto the sidewalk, beginning her slow walk to the school as if it were a death-march.
“Would it please you if I walked ahead? Then no one will be the wiser.” Seto raised an eyebrow at Téa, knowing that she didn’t fear seeing her friends so much as she feared their reaction to learning that she was living with him.
The idea didn’t please him very much either—after all, his home life was just that—his. But of course, having Téa embarrassed or scared about her friends knowing where she’d been staying…
An uncomfortable ache formed in Seto’s chest, but he ignored it.
‘Let her think the way she wants. She obviously doesn’t trust me enough.’
‘And why would she?’ Another voice piped up in Seto Kaiba’s mind. It was true. Téa Gardner, as yet, had no real solid reasons to trust him. Be grateful to him, that was one thing, but…
Téa’s head was lowered as she entered the school grounds, Seto Kaiba trailing only a meter or so behind her. Very few people noticed as the pair entered the school grounds, and of those few, none of them suspected that Seto and Téa had actually arrived together.
The two weren’t walking close to one another, talking, or anything of the sort. It was just the way things were—two people running into each other on the sidewalk on their way to school, not saying a word to one another, just walking…
Of course, for anyone who knew Seto Kaiba better than that, they would realize that he didn’t WALK to school, and when arriving on campus, always walked a good three meters from any of his classmates. His ‘loner’ aura radiated about him every second, but no one put two and two together, thinking that it was odd that he walked so closely to another classmate—a girl, no less, and the friend of his nemeses!—or that he hadn’t emerged from his limousine.
Of course, the one person that DID notice happened to be someone that didn’t know Seto Kaiba and Téa Gardner as well as everyone else on campus. And for that reason, a pair of eyes narrowed, realizing that the two had likely arrived together.
‘Interesting pair. I’ll have to introduce myself to them later…’
“Class, we have a new student starting with us today,” Mr. Eba spoke, as he tapped some papers on the surface of his podium. The young English teacher glanced towards the sliding door entrance of the classroom, which opened, revealing a young girl with light blonde hair and brown eyes, smiling as she walked into the classroom.
Whispers immediately filtered through the classroom. Many were from boys admiring the new student’s figure; others were from girls jealous that this girl had bright blonde hair, and was allowed to keep it.
Mr. Eba motioned for the girl to introduce herself, and she smiled, speaking suddenly in perfect English, “Hello, my name is Chieko Sagusa. It’s nice to meet you.”
Very few students -save Seto Kaiba, who spoke English as a second language- understood her, and gave her confused looks. She smiled and repeated her words, this time in Japanese. Nods of understanding, complete with “Ahh, so that’s what she said” filled the room.
“Miss Sagusa, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself,” Mr. Eba suggested, winking at the students.”In Japanese, please.”
“I have just transferred here from Degas Ballet Academy in New York City. My father works for Sony as the President of the American branch, and was recently transferred here to Tokyo. I was raised in America, but my mother is Japanese, and taught me to speak the language when I was a child,” Chieko spoke.
Many of the students were tittering amongst themselves; Chieko’s speech was very formal and refined, almost ancient in retrospect to how they spoke amongst themselves. Still, she seemed like a nice girl.
“I also know Chinese and French, and one day I hope to become a fashion designer and take my designs around the world!”
A smattering of polite applause filled the classroom, and Chieko glanced expectantly towards the teacher, awaiting his direction towards a seat.
Mr. Eba glanced up, noting that Téa was in her seat, and smiled, “Ah, Miss Gardner, you’re back. That’s perfect, since you’re class representative, why don’t you show Miss Sagusa around today?”
Téa blinked and smiled pleasantly. The girl seemed nice enough, and hadn’t she said she’d come from a ballet academy in New York City? The two would have a lot to talk about, and since Téa was eager to find things to distract her from a confrontation with her friends, she quickly accepted the role Mr. Eba had bestowed upon her.
“Sure, I’d be glad to.”
“Perfect. Then…there’s a seat open to Miss Gardner’s right. Why don’t you sit there, Miss Sagusa?” Chieko smiled and walked gracefully over to her newly assigned seat, either oblivious or ignorant of the many stares the boys gave her as she walked by.
However, there were a few boys’ gazes that were not directed at the pretty new student’s legs.
Yugi Moto was one, distracted by Téa’s appearance. He hadn’t seen her arrive on campus, and thus hadn’t had a chance to talk to her before class. He was eagerly waiting to know what had happened to her the past week, and find out how she was doing.
Seto Kaiba was another, though his gaze wasn’t directed at any one person in particular. His thoughts were clouded once again, mulling over how desperate Téa had seemed earlier that morning, just to ensure no one saw them arrive together.
‘They’re going to find out sooner or later, aren’t they?’ Seto mused to himself, ‘What good will it do her to keep dodging the inevitable?’
The only other boy whose eyes weren’t directed at Chieko Sagusa’s legs was Tristan Taylor. Rather than staring at the transfer student as she walked through the desks, his eyes were riveted on a newspaper in his lap, unseen to everyone else.
On the front page was a color picture of someone he knew all too well—Seto Kaiba. But it wasn’t Seto Kaiba’s appearance in the newspaper that irked him. It was the fact that in the foreground, someone else Tristan knew very well stood, in an incredible blue dress, smiling as if she had no cares in the world.
Much to his chagrin, Tristan Taylor could not find a spare minute to speak to Téa.
Every time the class ended for a break. Téa dashed out of the classroom before anyone could catch her. The first time, she claimed she needed to use the bathroom, and after that, she had to dash to the nurse’s office to get something.
Fourth period was gym, so the boys and the girls separated into their own locker rooms and gyms, effectively cutting Tristan off from Téa AGAIN.
“Yo Tristan, what’s up? You’ve been lookin’ agitated all mornin’.” Joey appeared, having thrown on his gym clothes in record time. Gym was his best class, and that day’s “lesson” was to be basketball, his favorite.
“It’s Téa,” Tristan growled out, pulling his gym shirt on.
“Uh yeah, we all know she’s back. But it’s not exactly easy to talk to her when class is in session, ya know? She’ll probably stick around and catch up with us at lunch.”
“Something tells me she’ll try skipping out on us then too,” Tristan muttered.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” Yugi appeared behind Joey, noting Tristan’s less-than-pleased appearance. “Tristan, what’s wrong?”
“See for yourself,” Tristan said simply, throwing the newspaper on the bench beside him.
Joey and Yugi both leaned in closer to inspect the newspaper; their eyes widened when they caught sight of the front page picture.
“Miss Gardner?” Téa turned around, halted by the sound of a voice calling to her just as she was leaving the girls’ locker room to head upstairs.
Chieko Sagusa was behind, her, clad in a brand new Domino High gym uniform —a white T-shirt and navy blue bloomer-shorts. Her name, written in permanent marker on her shirt and the lower right corner of the right leg on her shorts, was still drying.
“Hey Chieko—” Téa realized that the new girl had called her by her last name, and blushed, “It’s okay if I call you Chieko, right?”
“Oh sure! I…I am used to people calling me by my first name only in America. I have to remember to use all the honorifics when here in Japan. I must admit, it is somewhat confusing.” The two girls started to walk together upstairs.
“Uhm, Téa—” Chieko smiled, her cheeks reddening, “It is okay if I call you Téa, right?” Téa grinned nodding, gesturing for the blonde to continue, “Would it be okay if you showed me around the campus during lunch? I’m afraid I didn’t have a chance to tour the place, and I believe I will get very lost…”
‘I know I should talk to the guys, but…’
Mr. Eba’s words from earlier that morning echoed in Téa’s ears.
“That’s perfect. Since you’re the class representative, why don’t you show Miss Sagusa around today?”
Téa closed her eyes in silent apology for her friends. But she just couldn’t tell them the truth—not yet.
“I’d be glad to.”
It was only a few minutes before the lunch bell, and Yugi, Joey, and Tristan were all fidgeting in their seats. Joey and Yugi, the two sitting closest to one another, cast a glance at one another.
The picture in the newspaper had been surprising. The article that accompanied it…shocking.
“Kaiba Corporation celebrated its 50th Anniversary on Saturday, August 24th. Many notable figures from the technological industry were present, including the company head, Seto Kaiba, and his younger brother, Mokuba Kaiba.
Mr. Kaiba’s date for the evening, Téa Gardner, agreed with many of the industry leaders in saying that she hopes Kaiba Corp. continues to succeed for another new year, producing more technology that will revolutionize the entertainment, medical, and home and office technological markets.
‘I have always known Kaiba to be dedicated to his company, and the amount of dedication he puts into his work is amazing. He offers a fresh perspective to what would otherwise be an industry dominated by older adults, and he attempts the impossible by creating technology for every market. He’s out to help everyone and revolutionize the world, even if he doesn’t know that himself,’ said Miss Gardner.”
Everyone had thought the same thing—Téa? Their Téa? Not only was there no way she would have gone to Kaiba’s ball, but as his date!? And even if by some snowball’s chance in hell that she HAD indeed gone with Seto Kaiba as his date to his company’s Anniversary Ball, would she have ever said such things about the CEO?
“There’s just no way,” Joey had said to the other guys in the locker room. But he couldn’t deny what was written in black and white. It’s not like the newspaper was claiming that Téa was going to have Seto’s love child, but…
With a sinking sensation, they all realized that they hadn’t had any contact with Téa in the past week, and they really DIDN’T have any idea what she was up to. And for all they knew, the newspaper article could be completely true.
After all, her picture was there…
Joey, Tristan, and Yugi all sprang from their seats at the same time, intending to converge on Téa’s desk and get some answers from her.
After worming their way through a flood of students trying to tumble out of the classroom, they stood, shell-shocked when their eyes met with Téa’s empty desk.
“Damn!” Tristan swore, snapping his fingers.
“She musta jumped outta here with that Sagusa chick before the bell rang!” Joey muttered, leaning on Téa’s empty desk. He glanced up, catching sight of someone else leaving the classroom.
“But if Téa can’t give us the answers we want, I know someone else who can.” Joey Wheeler grinned maliciously, rising to his feet and rushing after Seto Kaiba, Yugi Moto and Tristan Taylor following closely behind.
“And this is the chemistry lab,” Téa opened the sliding door, revealing the lab to the blonde girl beside her. Chieko nodded appreciatively, then turned to Téa.
“Do they have a dance studio here? I am wondering, since I like to study dance…”
Téa grinned, “And this is the best part of the tour. I actually want to study dance myself,” she admitted. “When I heard you came from a ballet academy in New York, I just knew I had to talk to you. I’m glad Mr. Eba asked me to show you around.”
“I am glad too!” Chieko smiled, “What kind of dance do you want to study?”
“Well…” Téa trailed off, “I’ve always been interested in all forms of dance. I took ballet as a kid, and up until recently, I was in a dance class not affiliated with the school.”
“Ah, so the school doesn’t have a dance class?” Chieko asked, disappointment creeping into her soft voice.
Téa nodded sadly, “Like any other Japanese high school, we focus more on academics. Of course, that’s not to say that our extracurriculars and clubs aren’t great—our drama club has been to the nationals, and our baseball team’s made it to the playoffs before…and I’m pretty sure our choirs have won a lot of awards.”
“I see,” Chieko murmured as the two girls entered a small room. It wasn’t much– the floor was dusty, as were the walls. There was no barre on the wall, and desks cluttered up the corners.
“It’s not really a dance studio, if you want to be honest,” Téa said. “But the place is good for practice. During the day, it’s pretty well lit, and I like to eat in here sometimes– it’s got a great view of the courtyard.” Téa gestured toward the windows, which looked frosted-over with an old layer of paint, or perhaps an aging layer of sticky paper.
Chieko was silent a moment, walking around the perimeter of the room, running her hand along the walls. “Téa? I have an idea.” She smiled broadly, catching the brunette’s attention. “And I think you will like it very much.”
“Hey moneybags! Hold it!” Joey Wheeler called out.
Seto Kaiba froze where he was, heaving an internal sigh. He really didn’t feel like dealing with ‘the dog’ at the moment, and he also knew enough to respect Téa’s wishes—and not tell them where she’d been staying.
“What do you want, Wheeler?” Kaiba ground out, turning to face the approaching triad of boys. His face remained less than enthusiastic—then again, he usually looked like that at school. If emotion ever crossed Seto Kaiba’s face, it wasn’t ever in the presence of his classmates.
“An explanation,” Joey began, narrowing his eyes at the CEO, “for this!” He whipped out a newspaper that he’d been clutching at his side, stretching the front page so that the color photo of Téa -with Seto Kaiba in the background- was right in front of Seto Kaiba’s face.
He blinked, abruptly snatching the newspaper from Joey as he skimmed the article. Nothing incriminating or derogatory…the newspapers were always better than the tabloids. But, he couldn’t control the photos they used for their copy….
‘I don’t remember that picture being taken,’ Seto thought, noticing that he was in the background, leaning against the bar with a glass in his hand. His face wasn’t all that clear, but he knew it was himself.
Of course, it wasn’t his picture that had captured the Three Stooges’ attention. It was Téa, right in the foreground, smiling.
“Why don’t you ask Gardner yourself?” Kaiba sighed, tossing the paper back to Wheeler, turning on the ball of his feet and heading back down the hallway.
“Hey!” Joey caught up with Kaiba in a few quick strides, clamping a hand on the brunette’s shoulder. Kaiba immediately turned his icy gaze to the offending hand, which Joey promptly removed—but his expression remained just as serious as Seto’s.
“She’s been avoiding us all mornin’, and I’m thinkin’ you know the reason why. If it was your company ball, and she was your date, the least you can do is explain some things. We didn’t even know where the hell she was all week, and you’re takin’ her out dancin’?”
“It’s not as if you asked me where she was, anyway,” Seto shot back, narrowing his eyes as he faced the boys again.
“Kaiba, please!” Yugi’s voice came. Seto cast his gaze down to the younger boy, and he noted the concern laden in the boy’s violet eyes.
“We were really worried about Téa all week, and if you know something…” He trailed off, but his gaze remained steadfast, the worry in his eyes never wavering.
Seto Kaiba was silent for a moment. He had a grudging respect for Yugi Moto, though the same couldn’t be said for the dog Wheeler and his lackey, Tristan Taylor. And he knew the concern in Yugi’s eyes was genuine. He’d seen the same worry in the younger boy’s eyes at the Gardners’ funeral. Worry and…
“It was a favor,” he finally said.
“Huh?” Joey and Tristan said at the same time.
“The dance. I needed a date, and I asked Téa. It was a favor. Nothing more. She did a good job charming the press, but she hasn’t done anything to warrant an interrogation. Now, if you’re through harassing me?” Without waiting for an answer, Seto Kaiba strode down the hallway, ignorant of the gazes piercing his back.
“A favor, huh…?” Joey murmured, staring at the picture in the paper.
‘I dunno about this one. Somethin’ seems real funny here!’
“A dance club?” Téa repeated.
“Yes. Did you not say that this time of the year, clubs have to renew their charters to the administration? I am sure that you, as class representative, would be able to put in a good word. And I know that from gym class, we two are not the only girls interested in dance.”
‘She’s right. I never thought about it. Not being able to be part of the old dance company like I used to, having a dance club here at school would be great. Especially since I can’t keep practicing in the living area at home…’
“Sounds great! Now, we should get planning…”
The school day quickly drew to a close, but Yugi and his friends were no closer to having a real answer as to Téa’s whereabouts in the past week than they had before she’d returned.
Seto Kaiba ‘explaining’ Téa’s presence with him at the dance was one thing…but how would they have run into one another outside of school, anyway? After all, wasn’t Téa now working for some guy, baby-sitting his kid?
Yugi couldn’t get the thought out of his head. He needed to talk to Téa. No matter what.
The seconds seemed to irk by at a painfully slow rate, but finally, the bell rang. It only took Yugi a second to gather his things from the side of his desk, but when he looked up, Téa was already gone.
“Come on, Yug’! We can catch up with her downstairs at the cubbies!” Joey called, dashing out of the classroom with Tristan.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Téa was shoving her books into her satchel, trying to slide her school shoes off as soon as possible, so she could dash the heck out of there and get home.
The idea that she was actually calling the Kaiba mansion ‘home’ hadn’t occurred to her, even though she’d thought it twice that day already. Rather, foremost on her mind was avoiding her friends for another day.
‘I’m not ready, I’m just not ready! I can’t tell them—!’
“Your friends are worried about you,” a voice came. Téa blinked, and looked to her right. Seto Kaiba was methodically removing things from his cubby, sliding his shoes off and placing them in his locker—but his eyes never moved towards her. Téa went back to stuffing her things in her bag, still trying to beat the time.
“I can’t…I can’t face them. I can’t tell them, not yet.”
“I don’t think it matters whether you tell them everything or not. They just want to talk to you.” He closed his locker and turned, pausing for only a moment as he exited the cubby area, “I’ll wait in the limo for fifteen minutes. Around the corner, where we were this morning. If you’re not there by then, I’ll assume you’ve decided to talk to your friends and can walk home.”
And with those words, Seto Kaiba left Domino High School.
Téa was frozen in place, wondering just when Seto Kaiba had started to care about her.
‘I’ve been trying so hard to convince myself that he’s the same ruthless, narcissistic bastard I met back at the Duelist Kingdom…after he stole that kiss from me. But he’s not. Even though he doesn’t get along with Yugi and the others, he knows they care about me, and I care about them. And he wants me to talk to them, because…he knows it’ll make me happy.’
Téa swallowed, closing her cubby and sitting on the bench.
“Better now than later,” she sighed, waiting. It wasn’t long before she heard a thundering of footsteps, and caught sight of Joey, Tristan, and Yugi all piling down the stairs from the main building, calling her name.
“TÉA! TÉA, WAIT UP!”
She smiled slightly, “I’m not going anywhere, guys.”
Their eyes all widened in surprise, to see their best friend waiting there as if it wasn’t out of the ordinary at all. They were all heaving, trying to catch their breath, flopping down on the bench with smiles appearing on their sweaty faces.
No one noticed another person in the area, carefully placing shoes in a cubby on the opposite side of the lockers as Seto and Téa’s. That person had heard the entire exchange between the two, and was curious…
Before anyone could see them, the person slipped out of sight, leaving school grounds.
The quartet of friends walked down the sidewalk, intending to head to a local diner to grab something to eat and talk things over.
They walked right by the Kaiba limo —and Téa, closest to the car parked at the curb, cast a quick glance at the tinted windows of the car.
‘Thank you,’ she mouthed, smiling slightly. She turned her gaze forward again, laughing as Joey cracked a joke, the blonde’s arm slung around her shoulder, Yugi in front of them, and Tristan to Joey’s right.
Inside the car, Seto nodded to himself, having seen Téa walk by and silently thank him. He paged the driver, and moments later, the limo pulled away from the curb, speeding away towards the Kaiba mansion.
“So. Where’ve you been this past week?” came the inevitable question, asked by Joey not long after the four friends had placed their order for food at the local diner..
Téa swallowed nervously. Half of her was primed to bolt out of her seat and get the hell out of there, but she couldn’t—she owed her friends an explanation. That and Tristan was sitting right beside her, and it wouldn’t exactly be easy to clamber over him and escape.
“Well, as you guys know, I moved out of my old house. Because of what the police said, I can’t live alone until I’m 18, or am employed…and school rules won’t allow me to be employed at a place like Burger World,” Téa grimaced, “but I managed to get employed as a live-in tutor and baby-sitter of sorts for this guy.”
“So, when do we get to visit?” Tristan asked.
“Yeah,” Joey added, “If this guy can afford some live-in tutor for his kid, he’s gotta be sproutin’ money outta his ears, ain’t he?”
Téa blinked, suddenly envisioning Seto Kaiba with money falling out of his ears. She giggled. The boys exchanged a glance, Joey and Yugi shrugging as they missed the punch-line, but waited for Téa to respond.
“Not exactly,” Téa finally said, “But I don’t…I don’t think…” She scratched behind her ear nervously. So far, so good. They just wanted to know what she’d been up to the past week. They didn’t need to know who she’d moved in with. That was an explanation she would give when she was ready.
“I don’t think you guys should visit just yet. I mean, I just moved in about three weeks ago, and I’m not so sure my employer would be uh…fond, of high school visitors.”
‘Damn straight. Kaiba would probably have Joey reduced to ashes with some sort of laser beam technology he’s got hidden in his house somewhere. Or maybe he’s got a pack of Dobermans ready to eat anybody that intrudes on his personal space.’
Téa was well aware that the Seto Kaiba she’d known as her classmate for the past two years, and the Seto Kaiba she lived with were very different people. She recognized the fact that people liked to have a private home life, and it wasn’t anyone else’s business—
‘Even if I have moved in with him.’
“Ah, I get it,” Joey nodded.”One of them rich and snooty types, huh?”
Téa sweatdropped. Well, he was rich and kind of ‘snooty’…
“You could say that.” She grinned, a little embarrassed.
“Well I’m sure you’ll worm your way into his heart soon enough,” Tristan piped up, their food arriving.”And when you do, let us know so we can drop by for a visit and check this guy out. See if he’s worthy of having Téa Gardner around 24/7.”
Téa laughed, her grilled cheese sandwich set in front of her. “Thanks, guys. I’m really sorry though, for…not being around.”
“Nah,” Joey said, popping a fry into his mouth.”It’s okay.”
“Yeah, Téa,” Yugi added, smiling, “but you know that if you ever need us -any of us- for anything, we’ll be here for you.”
“True that!” Tristan said, slinging his arm around Téa and rubbing his knuckles into her hair.
“Ow, hey, guuuyyys!”
Seto Kaiba was just emerging from his office when the front door slammed closed.
Téa sighed, glad to have spent a day with her friends again. While she hadn’t told them everything -next to nothing, really- she did feel good about not avoiding them anymore.
In time, she’d work up the nerve to tell them everything.
They’d asked about the Ball, producing the newspaper, and Téa had almost lost her wits.
“Uhm, yeah…hey Téa, we got somethin’ else we wanted ta asked you about.” Joey rummaged around in his satchel, drawing out a crinkled newspaper—that morning’s edition of the Tokyo Sun.
Téa’s eyes widened when she caught sight of the full-color picture of her, smiling in her Jacques Mode ball gown, Seto Kaiba in the background, leaning against the cocktail bar with an unreadable expression on his blurred face.
“Kaiba told us you went with him as a favor,” Tristan began, looking somewhat uncomfortable, “But he didn’t say more than that.” Téa heaved a silent sigh of relief, thanking Seto for not blowing her secret.
She swallowed before speaking, “Uh yeah. Since—since Kaiba helped me out…at the funeral, and everything, uhm…He’s also the one who, uh, referred me to my employer. So, I…he asked me, as a favor, and I said yes.”
“Oh,” the guys said synchronously, as they nodded slowly. In the back of all their minds, something still irked them, but they remained silent. If there was something else to Téa’s story, she’d tell them in time.
“How’d it go?” Seto asked her, raising an eyebrow in question. Téa glanced up at him, grinning.
“Good. It went good. I mean, I didn’t exactly tell them everything, yet…” she trailed off, gesturing to the house around her.
“But I will. Soon. Eventually. Someday.”
“Riiiight,” Seto drawled, turning back to his office. He barely got a step before he was YANKED backwards by his collar.
“Don’t even think about going back into that office, Seto Kaiba,” Téa said, smirking.
“I haven’t forgotten about your cooking lesson tonight!”
“Oh, great …” Seto Kaiba groaned, allowing himself to be dragged to the kitchen.
“What are we going to start with, anyway?”
Téa glanced at Seto, who looked downright uncomfortable in the Hamtaro apron she’d forced on him. “It has to be something simple,” Téa said aloud, rifling through the various cookbooks she’d assembled under the kitchen cabinets, almost all of them from her old house. She’d bought one new one at the bookstore with Mai the day before, when she’d gone shopping, but she hadn’t used it yet.
“Cookies!” a voice exclaimed, and both Seto and Téa turned to face Mokuba, who was just walking into the kitchen area.
“But Mokuba, I thought we were going to make cookies together!” Téa smiled at the small boy, hugging him, since she hadn’t seen him since they’d left for school that day.
“Yeah, but he,” Mokuba thumbed towards his brother, “needs the lesson more than I do. Besides, cookies are pretty easy, right? And they won’t make a huge mess…”
“You just want sweets,” Seto said, grumbling. It was then that Mokuba noticed the pink Hamtaro apron his brother was wearing, and he burst out into fits of laughter.
“Oh my god, I have to get the camera!”
Mokuba dashed out of the room before Seto could do anything to stop him.
“Cookies do sound pretty easy. I think even you could pull it off.” Téa grinned, flipping through her new cookbook for a suitable recipe.
“Hey. My cooking skills aren’t THAT bad,” Seto grumbled, leaning into the palm of his left hand, elbow propped up on the kitchen counter.
“You can’t even boil water,” Mokuba’s voice came, and when Seto glanced up to glare at his brother, the smaller boy smirked, snapping a picture of his elder brother in the pink Hamtaro apron.
“Mokubaaaaa!” Seto growled, intending to chase the boy. Téa caught him by his shoulders before he could catch the black-haired boy.
“Cookies,” she reminded him with a gentle smile.
Seto relaxed a little, his face still expressing irritation, but he nodded slowly. “Sugar cookies. Easy.”
“Okay, the first thing you learn whenever you cook anything is to always make sure you have everything you need before you start mixing anything together, or take anything out.” Seto Kaiba nodded slowly, feeling somewhat ridiculous (then again, who wouldn’t feel a bit silly in a pink Hamtaro apron…?) but listening all the same.
Mokuba apparently thought he needed the lessons. Téa didn’t seem to mind giving them. And Seto? Well…
‘I guess…I guess this will help me figure things out. With Téa. I think. I hope. Whatever.’
Seeing his picture in the paper had unnerved Seto—and he couldn’t get it out of his head. He didn’t remember getting any drinks at the bar, but there he was- and he knew that whatever was in the glass he’d been depicted as holding, it probably wasn’t a mere glass of water.
‘It would explain why I can’t remember anything. But if the press didn’t go wild about me doing something idiotic because I accidentally got drunk, then what did happen after Téa and I danced?’
By now, Seto knew it hadn’t been something in the Chicken Apple Marinade that had made him forget all about how he’d come home and somehow passed out on his office couch. True, he didn’t remember anything more than he had the previous morning, but…
‘At least I have a place to start. Téa seemed upset yesterday, and it was might have been because of something I said. So, if I go along with these lessons of hers, I might just get some answers out of her.’
Téa, on the other hand, remained completely unaware of Seto Kaiba’s thoughts—or his slowly-developing plan to find out the truth about the Ball. For her part, she was doing her best to forget all about the event and the incident that had occurred afterwards. It wouldn’t leave her thoughts completely, especially since it seemed to tie in with everything else going haywire in her life at the moment—but she was distracted enough not to be thinking about it completely.
“So, what do we need?” Téa continued, sliding the cookbook towards Seto. He glanced at the recipe quickly, his photographic memory storing all the ingredients and tools needed.
“One hundred and sixty grams of softened butter, three hundred grams of granulated sugar, two eggs, five milliliters of vanilla extract, three hundred and ninety grams of flour, twelve and a half milliliters of baking powder, and two and a half milliliters of salt. Plus extra sugar.”
Téa stared at Seto, her eyes widening as he calmly recited all the ingredients without even looking at the cookbook.
“What are you, some sort of human PDA?”
Seto chuckled, even as Téa snatched the cookbook back to confirm everything he’d said, “Something like that.” He tapped his head, rising from his seat to get some of the ingredients out, “Photographic memory.”
Téa rolled her eyes. ‘Yeah, right. If he’s got such a photographic memory, why doesn’t he remember what happened Saturday night?’ Téa thought. Another part of her mentally added, ‘You don’t want him to remember though, right?’
Téa sighed and turned to get the butter and eggs out.
“No electric mixer,” Téa chided, dashing towards Seto before he could plug the mixer into the wall socket.
“But it says—” Seto began, looking a bit confused.
“Nope! For beginners like you, we do everything the old fashioned way. And that means—your hand. Or a spoon. You did wash your hands before starting, right?” Téa asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Of course.” Seto shot her a look. He wasn’t stupid enough to handle raw eggs and the like with dirty hands. Even though he’d since deduced that he hadn’t been the victim of food poisoning Saturday night, he was no stranger to the experience—and if he could avoid it happening in his own home, all the better.
“Okay, so what are we supposed to do first, Kaiba?” Téa asked, purposely keeping the cookbook at her side. She wanted to test how well Seto’s photographic memory worked.
“Blend the butter and half of the sugar.”
“Bingo,” Téa smiled. Once Seto had measured the sugar, Téa moved towards another bowl, this one sitting beside the bag of all-purpose flour she’d dragged out.
“So if we have three hundred and ninety grams of flour and we have to put a hundred grams of it in at a time, how much will we have left after we mix this with the butter mixture?” She gestured to the two-hundred and fifty gram dry measuring cup, placed beside the other measuring cups and spoons on the counter, along with many of the ingredients they’d need.
Seto favored Téa with a bland stare, “This isn’t sixth grade math class, Téa. I know how to subtract fractions.”
“Enlighten me, oh Master of Trigonometry,” Téa smirked.
Seto rolled his eyes, “Ninety grams.”
“Good. So what measuring cup or spoon should we use then, to measure the first hundred grams?”
“Uh…the hundred gram one?” Seto was giving a Téa a look that plainly said ‘Are you kidding me?’
“No!” Téa crowed, glad that she’d caught something she could actually TEACH to Seto, “Cooking is like math in that you always have to have a common denominator. So if you have three hundred and ninety grams of flour, it’s the same as having thirteen thirty gram measuring cups. So stick with using the thirty gram measure, and you have to do less dishes.”
“Is that the only reason why you go to all that trouble?” Seto asked as he measured the flour. He was about to dump the first batch of flour into the bowl when Téa’s hand reached out and grabbed his wrist. She made a clicking sound with her tongue in cheek.
“Always pack the flour. Use a spoon or your fingers to press as much as you can into the container. If you have more than can fit even when you cram it, you can level it off by using a knife or something else that’s flat. The only two ingredients you ever pack are brown sugar and flour.”
“Good?” Seto asked, pressing the flour into the cup as Téa had told him to do.
“Let’s check.” She upturned the cup of flour into the larger mixing bowl, and Seto watched as it came out as a stubby cylinder of flour before collapsing.
“Good. When you pack something successfully, it stays together when you drop it—well, depending on how high you drop it in from. But you did a good job.”
Téa watched Seto carefully as he poured the first two hundred grams of flour into the bowl, which was to be mixed with the butter mixture later on.
“Okay, since you don’t keep your butter out —it’ll go rancid if it does, anyway—we’ll have to soften it the old fashioned way…” Téa smiled,”the microwave!” Again, Seto rolled his eyes, even as Téa popped the unwrapped one hundred and sixty grams of butter into a glass measuring cup into the microwave, setting it for 45 seconds.
She poured the liquid mixture, once it had finished melting in the microwave, into the bowl with the sugar, and handed Seto a spoon.
“Mix until creamy.”
“How do I know when it’s creamy?” Seto asked, beginning to stir the grainy yellow concoction. It slowly thickened, the sugar absorbing the liquidity of the melted butter, blending together.
“Creamy,” Téa began, walking around, gesturing, “Like…like whip creamy!”
“Right. Whip creamy.” Seto repeated. “Is this good?” Téa strode over to the bowl and touched her finger to the rim, sliding a droplet of mixture onto her finger. She promptly brought it to her lips and licked it off, much to the horror of her student.
“That’s how you see if it’s creamy?”
“Oh, have a sense of humor, Kaiba. It’s not like it had any raw eggs in it…yet. And yes, it’s creamy.”
“But…all that butter…” he mumbled.
“Oh please. All that butter. All that sugar. Don’t tell me you’ve never eaten raw cookie dough before!” Téa rolled her eyes, glancing back at Seto Kaiba dubiously when he said nothing.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! You poor, deprived child! Well, there’s a first time for everything!” she crowed triumphantly.
“Now for the eggs,” she smiled. “Okay, practice makes perfect, and eggs are a few hundred yen a dozen. So you’re going to learn to crack eggs properly. You learn to do this, and you can make a bunch of different breakfasts in no time. For once, you and Mokuba can eat real food for breakfast, and not Lucky Charms.”
“What’s wrong with Lucky Charms?” Seto pretended to look offended, but Téa only laughed. After a moment, Seto smiled too, grabbing an egg in one hand.
Téa glanced at the egg in her hand, and the egg in Seto’s hand. While all the eggs were roughly the same size, in her hand, the egg fit snugly into her palm. But in Seto’s hand, the egg looked horribly out of place, a tiny little ball of white.
‘His hands are so…big!’ Téa thought. ‘Then again, he is like, 180 centimeters or something. Tall guys like that have to have big hands, right?’
Suddenly, Téa remembered what it felt like to have those selfsame hands on her bare skin. When she’d danced with Seto, he’d had one hand on her back, just above her dress line. And when he’d spun her outwards, catching her back in his arms, both palms had rested on her shoulders, his slender fingers brushing against the wavy tendrils of hair on Téa’s neck.
The feeling of warmth rocketed up Téa’s spine like electric fire, and she shuddered slightly, wondering what it would be like to feel his hands on her skin again.
‘No no no no no. Do not be thinking that way. Bad Téa. Bad.’
“Something the matter?” Seto asked, noticing Téa had frozen in place, her eyes fixed to her feet.
“Uhm, what?” Téa looked up suddenly, nearly dropping her egg.”No! everything’s fine.” She glanced down, turning the egg over in her palm.
“You have big hands.”
Seto blinked, wondering where that comment had come from, but nodded, “I guess so.”
Briefly, Téa wondered what Seto’s father had looked like, wondering if maybe Seto’s stature came from him.
“…Questions regarding his past are best left between those…not inhis employ,” Téa remembered suddenly.
‘Charles. Charles told me that. And he was right. No matter what’s almost happened,’ Téa grimaced, glancing at Seto out of the corner of her eyes, watching him inspect the eggs, ‘or what has happened, he’s still my boss. We’ve never actually been close friends, and no matter what I wish for, it’s not like I can ever be part of his family. It’s been him and Mokuba for almost all his life…’
Téa banished the thoughts from her mind, returning to the problem at hand—or rather, the problem in her hand. The eggs.
“Okay, so just for practice,” Téa said, licking her lips as she spoke, “crack your egg into that small bowl there.” Seto glanced at Téa, awaiting further instruction, blinking when none came. So he took the egg and cracked it on the rim of the bowl—promptly shattering said egg into a million tiny bits, egg white and yolk dripping from his hand and into the bowl—and all over the counter.
“Okay, that didn’t go as planned,” Seto said, walking briskly over to the sink to wash his hands. “Disgusting.”
“Live and learn, Kaiba, live and learn.” Téa grinned, handing Seto her egg, now that his hands were clean and dry.
“This time, don’t actually crack the egg yet, just hold onto the egg —not too rough now, or you might crack it in your hands again—and show me the motion you’d use to crack an egg.”
And so Seto Kaiba did just that, gripping the egg firmly and moving his wrist—as if he were about to bang the egg on a rock.
“No no no…Here, it’s all in the wrist,” Téa reached out, placing one of her hands on top of Seto’s, the other underneath it, fingers just grazing his palm, where he clutched the egg.
Seto turned to stare at Téa, and after a moment, her eyes met his. She realized what was likely going through his mind at that moment —her hands still touching his—but she couldn’t think enough to remove them.
‘Her hands are so small…’ Seto found himself thinking, though he never tore his eyes away from hers. He kept searching them, those endless sky-blue depths, hoping to find some sort of answer in them.
For what question, not even Seto knew, but he knew he couldn’t just blink, couldn’t just look away…
‘Where Téa Gardner is concerned, everything gets a little…complicated,’ Seto remembered. But it certainly wasn’t an unwelcome feeling of complication…
Seto seemed to be searching her eyes, his own navy blue eyes shifting as he watched her face with a frightening intensity. Out of embarrassment, Téa glanced down, focusing on the egg —rather than Seto’s hands, or worse, his face.
“It’s…just a quick flick of the wrist, really. And you want to hold the egg so its curved side is going to hit the rim of the bowl. That way it doesn’t explode in your hands, and you can just curve the egg into the bowl, so you don’t make a mess on the counter, or…”
“Right.” Seto said abruptly, moving his hands. Téa’s own hands were trembling as she withdrew them, watching carefully as Seto cracked the egg, flicking his wrist and curving the cracked egg along the rim of the bowl.
This time, it broke perfectly, with no egg shell in the mix, or goo on Seto’s hands or the counter.
“Great! Now do that in the sugar-butter mixture…”
The two continued to work, Seto learning how to gradually add one mixture to another, along with the various ways of mixing or blending things together.
“It’s like chem class,” he commented, stirring the cookie batter slowly.
“Right. I mean, you learn in chemistry that everything in this world is made of smaller somethings, right? So cooking is the easiest way to demonstrate that. Since we can’t just grab atoms and squish them together, I mean.”
Seto cracked a smile.
“Okay, I think this is mixed,” he gestured towards the lump of batter in the bowl. They’d already taken all the measuring spoons and cups they’d used, along with the original flour-mixture and egg-batter bowls, and rinsed them out in the sink, placing them in the dishwasher for later cleaning. It freed up a lot of space on the counter, and a good deal in the sink as well.
“Okay, so now we roll it out on the cutting board —a floured cutting board, so it doesn’t stick—and we cut it up!”
“Hearts, stars and horseshoes?” Seto quipped, raising an amused eyebrow. Since he didn’t cook, Seto didn’t have anything like cookie cutters at the house. And unless Téa had suddenly bought some on her way home, it would be hard to make any cute decorative cookies without them.
“Well…you don’t have any cookie cutters. We could always improvise, but I think if we stick with simple rectangles, we can have more fun decorating them later on, anyway.”
“Decorating?” Seto asked, rolling out the dough on the lightly floured cutting board.
“Yeah, that’s the best part. Hey, when rolling out dough, make sure to do it evenly—top to bottom, side to side. If you stop midway, the thickness changes, and when you cut the cookies out, they’ll cook unevenly. Uneven stuff burns. Remember that.”
“Right. Uneven. Burns,” Seto repeated, rolling the pin evenly now, creating a perfectly even slab of cookie dough on the cutting board.
Téa used a knife and a plastic ruler she’d found in one of the kitchen drawers —where Seto kept spare office supplies and the like—and carefully cut out even rectangles. Seto moved to get a cookie sheet, and didn’t notice Téa’s expression as an idea hit her.
‘That’s perfect! Now, how to get Seto out of here so I can pull it off…’
“‘Place evenly on ungreased cookie sheets,'” Seto quoted from the cookbook.
“‘Sprinkle generously with sugar,'” Téa smiled as she did just that.
“Okay! You did it! Now we just bake them for eight to ten minutes,”
“‘Or until edges are lightly browned,'” Seto smirked.
“Right,” Téa nodded.
“Well, how did I do, Teacher?” He grinned and glanced over at Téa.
“Not bad for a first-timer.” She smiled back at him. “You remembered all the ingredients, used the measuring utensils properly, and put the ingredients in order. Believe it or not, if you add stuff out of order, it can change the overall consistency and taste of whatever you’re making.”
“And so your sugar cookies end up tasting like crap?”
“Not crap,” Téa sweatdropped, “but more like butter cookies.”
“Cookies are done,” Seto murmured, rising from the couch. He and Téa walked into the kitchen, quickly turning the oven off and removing the cookie sheet with oven mitts.
“Now we transfer them to a rack and let them cool for a bit. Then, decoration!”
“Are we going to make frosting now?” Seto asked curiously, noticing how Téa was picking through the cabinets, looking for food coloring. When she’d found a box, she grinned to herself.
“That we are!” Téa grinned, pulling a box of powdered sugar from the cabinets. She withdrew the carton of milk from the fridge, and pointed to a bowl.
“About two hundred grams sifted powdered sugar, and enough milk to make a creamy icing. Remember, creamy?” Téa smirked and giggled when Seto rolled his eyes as he shook his head at Téa.
“You know how to use one of these things?” Téa asked as she handed Seto the sifter.
“I didn’t even know I had one,” he responded, pulling on the metal contraption’s handle. It looked like a watering pail, only with no spout, and a mesh basket in the middle.
Téa measured out two hundred grams of powdered sugar, using a tablespoon and a dessert spoon to remove the excess. She then dumped them into the sifter. Very few flakes actually escaped the mesh basket, since it was so tightly woven.
“Okay, so gently squeeze —don’t pull—the handle there. The spinning blades attached to the handle move, and add air to the powdered sugar, letting it fall through the basket. Once you’ve got all of it, it’s been fluffed enough.”
“‘Fluffed?'” Seto queried, an eyebrow raised in amusement. Téa nodded smartly, and went back to searching for custard cups. The cookies were cooling on a rack, and would be ready to frost in about six minutes.
Soon, Seto had sifted all the sugar, and started to carefully pour milk from the carton into the mix. After a few moments, the consistency was just right for an icing, and so he started to stir it.
“Ready to frost?”
“I sure am. You, on the other hand,” Téa grinned devilishly, and pushed Seto towards the swinging door, “OUT!” And she booted the confused young man from his own kitchen, leaving him standing on the other side of the swinging door—only to get smacked in the rear by the swinging door for not moving fast enough.
“Aw man, I wish I’d kept the camera on me for that one,” Mokuba smirked, looking up from the couch, where he was watching TV. “The expression on your face just now was priceless!”
“Why you—!” Seto growled as he tore off the Hamtaro apron. He lunged for his brother, forgetting entirely about Téa kicking him out of his own kitchen.
Meanwhile, Téa grinned to herself, mixing several food coloring drops with the icing she’d poured into small glass custard cups. She made a light blue, a dark blue, red, green, brown, purple, yellow, and orange.
‘This is too perfect. Now all I need are some…shall we say, “samples?”‘
Téa carefully snuck around the other side of the kitchen, into Seto Kaiba’s office. She stealthily went through the drawers until her eyes alighted on just what she’d been looking for—a deck box. She opened it quietly and glanced at several of the cards—the one on top being the legendary Blue-Eyes White Dragon.
Téa committed the design to memory, along with that of several other cards in Seto’s deck box, including Swordstalker, Gemini Elf, and the Rainbow Fish. The Malevolent Nuzzler card made for a great use of the green and purple frosting, while Téa made use of the brown and pink for the effect monster Penguin Soldier.
‘These are perfect! Duel Monsters cookies!’
It wasn’t long before the icing hardened and dried, giving the once-plain sugar cookies an all-new look. Téa carefully arranged them on a plate, tossing a napkin over them. She dusted herself off and went through the swinging door, a secretive smile on her face.
Seto and Mokuba Kaiba both glanced up as Téa entered the room, both curious as to what she was smiling —no, more like smirking—about. Once the two boys had seated themselves at the dining room table, the TV now turned off, Téa placed the plate down.
“Presenting,” she said, in a showman’s voice, “Duel Monsters Cookies!” She removed the napkin with a flourish, revealing the arrangement of cookies. Seto and Mokuba both leaned in, their eyes wide with surprise.
“Wow, Big Brother, look!” Mokuba pointed to the cookie closest to his elder brother on the circular arrangement, “It’s a Blue-Eyes!” Indeed, the design of the cookie was that of Kaiba’s famed and favorite card. Téa picked it up carefully, placing it on a clean napkin and handing it to Seto, who was staring at it —and the other cookies—with awe.
“Go on guys. I didn’t poison them. It’s just frosting.”
“Just frosting!” Mokuba exclaimed, snatching the Swordstalker cookie, “Man, we could make a fortune with these! Just imagine,” he waved his arm in the air as if envisioning a marquee, “‘Kaiba Corp. cookies!’ Now in stores everywhere!”
“Not a chance,” Seto said, giving in and biting the head off his Blue-Eyes.”These,” he waved the remainder of his ‘cookie-card’ at his little brother, “are a family secret.”
Mokuba laughed, chomping down his cookie, while Téa selected one of her own, smiling to herself.
“A family secret, huh? Wow. Thanks, Kaiba.”
Seto looked up, finishing the last of his cookie.
“So if we’re family now,” he smiled, leaning back in his chair, “you can call me Seto.”
Téa blinked, her heartbeat suddenly quickening in her chest. The only person to call Kaiba by his given name was his own flesh and blood—Mokuba! Anyone else who dared usually incurred the wrath of the aforementioned CEO, as such references weren’t that respectful.
“O-Okay,” Téa murmured, a smile blossoming on her face, “Seto.”
He grinned, while Mokuba glanced between the two, “Hey, but she still calls me Mokuba…”
The next day, Téa once again became apprehensive as the limousine neared the school, and asked to be let out at the corner. And again, she got cold feet, practically requiring Seto to forcefully remove her from the car.
“You’re never going to get anywhere by always freezing up at the last second, you know,” he mumbled from behind her.
“Quiet you!” she hissed, not even glancing his way. Behind her, Seto adopted an irritated expression on his face, but he didn’t say anything.
The two walked briskly through the school-yard, not catching the attention of anyone, despite their second day of walking within close proximity to each other.
Well, except for the attentions of one particular person—as she saw the two walk by her, she immediately shoved the novel she’d been reading away, dashing after the pair.
“T-Téa!” Téa glanced up from her desk on the far left side of Class 2-B, where she’d been arranging her supplies for that day.
Huffing and puffing in the doorway was none other than Chieko Sagusa.
“Chieko! Hi—what happened?” Téa asked, rising from her seat, noticing that Chieko was on the verge of hyperventilating.
“I…saw you and your brother…come to school. I wanted to catch up with you, but I was never very good at running.”
Téa’s mouth opened and closed like she was a landed fish —”My…my brother?”
She cast a quick glance at Seto, the only other person in the classroom, who raised an eyebrow. He looked as though he were about to speak, and correct Chieko’s mistake, but Téa quickly zipped over to his side and clamped her hand over his mouth, muffling whatever he had to say.
“Oh yeah, my brother! Hehe, you mean this lout! Well, he’s got legs as long as a giraffe’s, and I’ve had to get used to walking with him, so we walk pretty fast…”
Téa glanced downward at Seto, making sure he wasn’t about to say anything, “Isn’t that right, Big Brother?”
Seto only grunted, neither an affirmation nor a denial of Téa’s question. He cast her a suspicious stare, but said nothing—even when the brunette settled herself on the corner of his desk, leaning on it as she spoke to Chieko.
“So what’s up with you this fine morning?”
Before Chieko could answer, however, the bell rang, and Téa grinned sheepishly, “Well, I guess we better get to our seats before Mr. Kinomoto sees us. Bye, Big Brother!” Téa said with a sugar-sweetened grin, dashing back to her desk.
Seto Kaiba was the only one quick enough to catch up with Téa as she practically sprinted from the classroom, dashing down the hall to the gym.
“What the hell was that about?” he hissed, clamping a hand on Téa’s shoulder, forcing her to slow down.
“Well,” she murmured, not glancing behind her at Seto, and keeping her own pace steady, “Didn’t you say we’re like family now?”
“You know that’s not what I meant. What’s the point of making her think we’re brother and sister?”
‘Why do you want someone to believe that?’ Seto thought. So, it wasn’t just a lack of trust Téa had for him…it was a lack of attraction, too, apparently. Normally, this thought wouldn’t have bothered Seto Kaiba in the slightest—on the rare occasions he’d captured the attention of some vapid schoolgirl, he’d always been quick to dissuade her feelings.
Primarily, it was because Seto Kaiba wasn’t like the other dunces in his school—he didn’t give a rat’s tail about whether or not a girl liked him—he had other priorities. His company. His brother.
Of course, now that he found himself somewhat attracted to a girl, it seemed she didn’t want anything to do with him—at least, not that way. No, Téa Gardner seemed much more content making the new girl believe they were brother and sister.
And, as was the usual where Téa Gardner was concerned, Seto Kaiba hadn’t the slightest idea why.
Téa was silent, wondering just why she wanted Chieko to believe it. Something inside her insisted it was the right thing to do—perhaps she’d seen them arrive together, or heard them talk the previous day.
‘And if that’s true, she could blow my cover to the guys! I’m still not ready to tell them everything yet, and if Chieko makes good friends with them, I’m done for! So if she believes we’re brother and sister, it wouldn’t be at all unusual for Seto and I to hang around one another…or live together. Besides Mai, she’d be the only one who knows!’
But there was another reason—one Téa wasn’t too quick to admit.
‘Maybe…maybe if I pretend that Seto and I are just that—family—then these stupid feelings I have for him will go away. It must be some weird side effect of trauma or depression or something—latching onto him like that. It doesn’t make any sense! This is Seto Kaiba, who, for as long as I’ve known him, as been sadistic, rude, power-hungry…There’s absolutely nothing attractive about him whatsoever! Except maybe his eyes, or his hands…but no! I-I thought I was in love with Yami…’
Thinking of the mysterious pharaoh “inside” her best friend Yugi only saddened Téa more. She hadn’t seen him much—if at all—since Battle City. The chaos had ended, though everyone was no closer to solving the truth about the mysterious pharaoh’s past than they had been when Yugi’d first assembled the Millennium Puzzle.
But no matter what, Téa couldn’t forget what Yami had done for her.
‘He saved my life…so many times. When Kaiba could have cared less about anything—besides his precious God Cards. Even Mokuba seemed to come in second place to Seto’s dueling. I can’t let myself be duped into believing that he would ever think of me as anything more than a friend…if that.’
And so, Téa convinced herself that what she was doing—duping an innocent girl into thinking she and Seto were siblings—was right. If not for Chieko’s own sake, not knowing what kind of a person Seto Kaiba could really be—then for Téa’s, and for her own fear of her friends—and her heart.
“She might blow my cover,” she finally told Seto in the dimly lit stairway, below which were the divided boys’ and girls’ locker rooms. “I can’t risk that, not yet, Seto.”
Something nagged inside of her, tugging on her heartstrings. ‘What a hypocrite I am, to call him Seto, to make believe in my heart that we’re family, when…!’
The sensation of his lips against hers assailed Téa, and she blinked hard, trying to forget.
‘I can’t…I won’t!’
“I’m not ready.”
‘It doesn’t make any sense,’ Seto Kaiba thought, pulling his gym shirt on. ‘Even if that Sagusa girl thinks that Téa and I are related, it wouldn’t take her long to learn the truth. If she even asks one person —namely Yugi, Joey, or Tristan—Téa’s cover would be blown. So what the hell is she thinking?’
Seto didn’t know.
‘Now I know what it’s like,’ he mused, ‘On the other end…not knowing what someone is thinking.’
Téa approached Yugi, Tristan, and Joey with some amount of trepidation. It had taken her all gym period to come up with a scheme that would keep her secret safe with Chieko—and would keep her friends playing along as well.
Téa hated tricking them, too, but there was so much at stake.
‘I just know that if the others found out I was living with Kaiba, they’d never speak to me again. And it’s been hard enough, avoiding them—almost lying! And now I really am going to lie, because if Chieko knows the truth about Seto and I living together, one answer from Yugi or the others could spoil everything! I…I just can’t risk it!’
“What’s up, Téa?” Yugi asked, about to open his lunch box, “Are you going to eat with us today?”
“Yeah. You wouldn’t mind if Chieko joined us though, would you? She’s gone to the cafeteria to get some lunch.”
“Sure.” The other boys smiled, each wolfing down their food as Téa sat next to them in their circle of five desks.
“Uh, there’s something, else though…” Téa’s cheeks reddened, praying to any gods that she wouldn’t give herself away.
‘You can do this Gardner. It’s for your own good!’
“Chieko, she kind of…” Téa furrowed her eyebrows, trying to come up with a plausible excuse for Chieko’s assumption that she and Seto were related.
“Yeah, whazzit?” Joey asked, a leaf of lettuce hanging from his mouth. He shoved the last bit of his sandwich down, swallowing it with a single gulp, just as quickly guzzling a nearby soda he’d bought.
“ChiekokindofthinksKaibaandIarerelated…” Téa said in a rush, squeezing her eyes shut.
“Wha?” Tristan murmured, wiping the mustard from the corners of his mouth.”Why would she think that?”
“I don’t know. But…” Téa grinned to herself, suddenly hitting upon an idea, “I think we should let her keep believing that.”
“But why, Téa?” Yugi asked, curiously.
Téa smirked, “I have a plan, guys. And it involves our lovely transfer student and my, shall we say, brother…”
“Ah, Téa!” Chieko spotted Téa, sitting at a circle of tables with three other guys. She walked over to them, her steps slowing as she became unsure whether her new friend wanted Chieko to join them.
“Hey, come on, sit down,” Téa beckoned to the empty chair beside her, “Join us.”
“Ah…hello.” Chieko said softly, her voice somewhat timid. She glanced up quickly at each of the boys, smiling, but then just as quickly glanced down.
‘I did not know Téa was such…a tomboy!’ Téa thought. Back in New York, Chieko had always eaten lunch with a bunch of other girls from the ballet academy. Of course, that was mostly because there weren’t that many boys at the academy in the first place…
“Chieko, these are my best friends Yugi Moto, Joey Wheeler, and Tristan Taylor.”
“It is very nice to meet you,” Chieko murmured politely, unwrapping her sandwich slowly. She glanced around the classroom, not seeing Seto anywhere.
“Ah, Téa,” she began, her cheeks pinking slightly “where is your brother? Don’t you eat lunch with him?”
Joey and Tristan exchanged a glance, Tristan coughing briefly before nodding.
“Seto usually eats by himself,” Téa explained quickly, forcing herself not to look at her friend’s reactions. She expected them to be somewhat surprised at how easily Kaiba’s given name rolled off her tongue —but then, she’d been calling him that for a whole day now, and no matter how polite she’d been in her speech, she’d always known that Kaiba was Seto. In her thoughts, he was always Seto.
‘Not that I think about him like that or anything. Anyone that calls someone they’re not really related to by their first name has to be close to them. But since Chieko doesn’t know Seto and I aren’t really related, she doesn’t have to be any the wiser. After all…it’s not like I am close to him. And…and I don’t want to be!’
Of course, Téa didn’t even believe herself. But she was trying.
“Oh,” Chieko said, disappointment creeping into her voice. Surprised, the three boys exchanged a glance.
“Yeah, what kind of a plan?” Tristan asked, unwrapping his sandwich as he looked at Téa. She was smirking, her eyes twinkling with a plan.
“Seto Kaiba is the most stubborn, reticent guy we know, right?”
“Yeah, and as thick as a rock to boot!” Joey added in a growl, shredding the plastic wrap around his own sandwich.
Téa sweatdropped but nodded, continuing, “Well, Chieko and I are certainly hitting it off right. And if she thinks Kaiba and I are related, I think we might have a shot to get the normal teenager in him to come out.”
“Waitasec, Téa,” Yugi stared at his best friend—and longtime crush—with wide eyes.
“You want to set Chieko and Kaiba up?”
Joey immediately choked, almost spewing soda all over Tristan. It took a good solid whack on the back for him to get his air back.
“Well come on!” Téa winked, “All the time we’ve known him, he’s been—like you said—stubborn and sadistic. Only focused on one thing: his dueling. What he needs most in his life,” Téa said, only believing her words with half a heart, “is someone who can get him to open up some more.”
“And you think this Chieko girl will be able to do that?” Yugi asked, somewhat dubiously. Téa nodded firmly, sure that all the pieces in her plan were coming together.
“I know she will.”
“Just out of curiosity,” Téa began, beginning to nibble on her own lunch box that she’d prepared that morning, “What do you think of my brother, anyway?”
Chieko’s cheeks immediately reddened, and when she dared to look up, everyone in the ring of tables was looking at her curiously.
“He—Well—I didn’t get a chance to speak to him much,” Chieko murmured, brushing a stray strand of hair aside.
“I know,” Téa grinned, “but you can still answer my question, right? You know, what do you think of him?” The emphasis in her voice was clear, and if it hadn’t been for Téa’s earlier explanation, the three boys present might have been utterly confused by Téa’s implications.
“Ah…” Chieko blinked rapidly, “is it really appropriate to say?” She glanced at the three boys, who seemed torn between hearing what she had to say about Seto Kaiba and wanting to interrupt her with something of their own.
“Oh yeah,” Joey piped up, stealing a chip from Tristan, “we’ve all known Kaiba for years now, and he’s just never…you know.”
“What Joey means,” Yugi quickly interrupted, “is that Kaiba’s never really paid attention to girls before—he’s always so focused on his work and everything—but…”
“But…?” Chieko prompted, interest plain in her voice. She leaned forward, and Yugi suddenly blushed, blinking.
“But,” Téa said quickly, “he seemed to take an interest in you yesterday. So since we’re all Seto’s friends—” Téa kicked Joey in the leg before he could make a snide remark, “and I’m his beloved little sister, we just wanted to know if you were at all interested in him. You know, thought he was cute or something.”
“Oh…well,” Chieko smiled, “as I used to say in America, he is quite hot.”
“Hot?” Téa asked, confused.
“Uhm,” Chieko blushed, “in Japanese, I suppose ‘handsome’ would be the closest description? There are a lot of words in English that have multiple meanings when used in slang.”
“Oh. But what it gets down to is that you think he’s really cute, right?”
“Ah,” Chieko blushed scarlet, “yes.”
Tristan and Joey both started coughing at the same time, so Téa fixed them with a bland stare and used the full strength of her arm to whack them both on the back at the same time. They both glanced up at her, daggers in their eyes, but she only smiled back at them, sugar-sweetness dripping from her lips—and a dangerous promise to them that they had better not ruin her plan.
Had Joey and Tristan been able to communicate telepathically with one another, they both would have thought the same thing: ‘What is Téa up to!?’
“I meant to ask,” Chieko murmured, glancing down, “I knew from the first day I arrived on campus that you and Kaiba had to be brother and sister, since you two were walking together,” Téa’s eyes widened and she paled, refusing to look at the guys, “but I’ve noticed that you have different last names. Why is that?”
“Uhm, that is…” Téa was nervous now—the guys knew she’d arrived to school with Seto!—but she had to think fast, if not for Chieko, then for herself. “Well, we’re not really brother and sister—we’re half-brother and sister. We uh, had different dads.”
“Oh. I see,” Chieko smiled. The other boys nodded, though their gaze wasn’t directed at the new girl anymore—so much as Téa, who was steadfastly ignoring their pointed stares.
And again, the same thought ran through the minds of all the boys at the table—‘Téa,you have a lot of explaining to do!’
It wasn’t long after the lunch bell rang that Chieko dashed off, having to sort some paperwork out in the office. All three boys turned to Téa before she could get out of the desk she’d been sitting in.
Tristan blocked her only exit off by pushing his own desk at the side, glaring down at Téa.
“‘Since you two two were walking together…?'” he repeated with careful emphasis.
“Yeah, what the hell was that all about, Téa?” Joey asked, his eyes gleaming with suspicion. Normally, he wouldn’t think twice about Téa or her actions—she was a good girl, through and through—but lately, she’d been acting funny, and Joey knew he wasn’t the only one to see it. And ‘funny,’ to Joey Wheeler meant that she was hiding something—and he, like the other boys, intended to find out what.
“Uhm, er…” Téa trailed off, glancing from one boy to the next. Joey and Tristan looked almost angry, though interest shone in their eyes, but Yugi…he looked sad.
Pangs of guilt shot through Téa’s heart, but she knew she couldn’t tell them everything—not yet. She had to keep them playing along…
“It was nothing guys, really!” she started, dropping her eyes to her desk.”It was just the day after the Ball, and Kaiba was thanking me. That’s all…” she paused, swallowing painfully. “Trust me.”
“This sucks,” Téa sighed, banging her head on the table, “this sucks, this sucks, this sucks, this sucks!”
The only response to Téa’s frustration with her situation was laughter—from Téa’s tablemate, Mai Valentine. Téa glanced up at the blonde, shooting daggers at her with her eyes.
“You’ve just gone and gotten yourself in deeper trouble,” Mai commented, nudging the straw from her lemonade into her mouth. She took a long slurp from the tangy beverage and continued, “Seems to me as though you’ve got three options.”
She put her cup down on the table, leaning forward with her chin in her hand.
“One, is to come clean to the guys. And I mean the whole truth. They might not like it, but at least it’ll stop a sticky situation from getting even messier.” Téa shook her head mournfully; that was not an option. To her, telling ‘everything’ didn’t just mean admitting who she’d moved in with and who was really her boss, but also saying that she’d started liking Seto Kaiba.
‘No I don’t! I can’t! It’s…it’s stupid!’
Téa was at war with herself, half of her passionately believing that she really DIDN’T like Seto Kaiba that way, and that whatever she was feeling was the result of depression piling on gratitude.
‘A twisted combination. But it doesn’t change anything! The Seto Kaiba I’ve known for the past two years hasn’t cared for anything besides his company, his brother, or his dueling! And sometimes, even Mokuba takes second place to Seto’s goals…Why would I even think that he’d want me in his life…as anything more than a friend?’
“Second option,” Mai continued, noting Téa’s negative response, “is to keep lying. Not exactly the smartest option, but undoubtedly the easiest at this point. Still, one way or another, someone’s going to find you out.”
‘Mai’s right. It’s only a matter of time before Chieko figures out what really happened to me, and why I’m really living with Seto. And the guys…well, it seems they’re already suspicious, and no matter what I tell them about wanting to set Chieko up with Seto, they know it doesn’t make much sense…’
Tristan, Yugi, and Joey weren’t exactly the sharpest, but they weren’t stupid, either—especially when it came to their rivals. Or their own friends.
‘Not seeing me for a week, and then when they do, I’m acting completely abnormal. They must know something’s up.’
The way they’d cornered her earlier had been enough of a warning to Téa —and she’d gotten so scared that she’d lied to them—again.
She felt horrible about it too. She vividly remembered the sadness that emanated so plainly from Yugi’s eyes when he’d found out from Chieko that Téa had walked to school with Seto Monday morning. And now, Tuesday afterschool, Téa was in no less of a mess than before.
‘Waitasecond…didn’t Mai say something about a third option? But…’
“Option three,” Mai said, smirking, “is to turn your lies into the truth.”
“Huh? Mai, I don’t understand.” Téa glanced up, confusion plain in her blue eyes.
“You told the guys that this Chieko girl believed you were brother and sister. And maybe she really does believe that, for whatever twisted reason, but as far as Yugi and the others are concerned, you’re no closer to being Seto Kaiba’s sister than they are being his best friends.” Téa smiled wryly at that; no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t imagine Joey and Kaiba in the same room with one another —without one or the other cracking some sort of joke or insult at the other.
“And so they think that you’re trying to set Chieko up with Kaiba. I bet they’re lost wondering why, but you always have the excuse of a woman’s prerogative,” Mai smiled, waving a perfectly manicured finger at Téa. Téa smiled at this, knowing that Mai, of all people, was an expert where “women’s charms” were concerned. She knew exactly what to say and how to say it to get the result she wanted.
“Waitaminute,” Téa started, blinking away her confusion, “you’re suggesting that I actually set Chieko up with Seto?!” Mai leaned back in her seat, nodding slowly.
“That is,” she said slowly, “unless you have feelings for him…” the older woman trailed off purposefully, already knowing from Téa’s earlier reactions—and the initial conversation regarding the young CEO—how Téa likely felt about him.
‘And it’s not like I don’t know how she feels. I had my share of crushes back in high school…Though somehow, I get the feeling that this is a bit different. Téa and Seto don’t look like they’d be compatible with one other, namely because they both don’t seem to care much for relationships, but…’
“No, Mai!” Téa looked horrified, but her pink cheeks gave her away. Her blue eyes dropped to the surface of the table where they were sitting at the food court, “That’s silly.” Of course, her mind chose that particular moment to remind Téa of that almost-kiss from when they’d been watching the movie …of the sensation of Seto Kaiba’s large, warm hands on her bare skin, pulling her close to him when they’d danced…of the spicy, heady feeling of his lips crushing against hers, kissing her —passionately.
Her eyes widened at the memory, her voice having dropped to a mere whisper, “Ridiculous, even.”
‘Yeah, that being the kiss he can’t even remember! And it’s for the better anyway, isn’t it? Under every other circumstance, I’m totally sure Seto wouldn’t like me that way at all…’
There was a shred of doubt flitting its way through Téa’s mind, but she steadfastly ignored it.
‘No. I have to stick to my original plan. Mai’s right—if I stick by my word, and set Chieko up with Seto…’ The very idea pulled at Téa’s heartstrings, but she ignored the pain flaring in her chest, ‘She’s a nice girl. And she does seem to like Seto. If Seto Kaiba needs someone —a girl—in his life to get him to open up more…that girl isn’t me. She can’t be.’
“What’s on the menu today?” Seto Kaiba asked, walking into the kitchen through the swinging door. He glanced towards Téa, sitting at the table, seemingly absorbed in another one of her cookbooks. But she didn’t respond.
Her eyes weren’t at all focused on the words or pictures in front of her. Rather, she was staring off into space, remembering Mai’s words from earlier.
“That is, unless you have feelings for him…”
‘Mai thinks I have a crush on Seto. Which is…it’s silly. Right?’
But Téa couldn’t be sure of herself at all. Her head was spinning with ideas, thoughts, and memories—most especially of Battle City.
‘I thought for sure that I was…that I loved Yami. He’s done so much for me, and when I finally found out that he and Yugi were the same…’
It hadn’t changed anything. Téa had kept on treating Yugi like her best friend, and Yami as if…
‘As if he were someone else entirely. But they’ve both got a destiny that’s so much bigger than me…. Out of everyone, I’m the only one who isn’t part of something bigger. There’s those with their Millennium Items and other selves. There’s the serious duelists, like Joey, Yugi, Mai, and Seto. Tristan and Joey both used to be part of a gang, and Serenity just recovered from a marathon operation on her eyes. Am I the only one who’s been trying to live a normal life, despite all this?’
From the beginning, Téa had known that her friends were different. If everything she had known was “normal,” then she lived in a world alone. Yugi, after all, had solved the mysterious Millennium Puzzle, and gained himself a destiny bigger than anyone ever could have predicted for the boy. Joey and Tristan, once bullies out to teach Yugi “how to be a man” suddenly became his best friends, and got him out of more scrapes than Téa could count on both hands. Seto continued to be his rival, while Mai and even Duke Devlin were new friends, additions to the group. Serenity was Joey’s constant support and motivation, an amazing girl in and of herself.
‘And here I am, the tagalong, the one who’s always cheered everyone on, helped them realize their dreams…I’ve gotten in a bunch of tangles for being everyone’s friend, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Just, sometimes I wish we were a more “normal” group of friends. Where the only things we worried about were tests, or having enough money to karaoke on a Saturday night.’
Alas, this wasn’t how life was lived in Domino City.
“Earth to Téa? Hello?” Seto waved a hand in front of Téa, who immediately snapped to attention, casting an apologetic glance at Seto.
“Something the matter?” he asked her, and for a moment, Téa glanced up, searching his eyes. It almost seemed as if he really was concerned…
‘Don’t fool yourself, Gardner. This is Seto Kaiba. Everything comes second to his dueling.’
Still, part of her reminded her that he hadn’t been obsessed with dueling in a long time. He’d gone to school like every other normal guy his age, ate breakfast and showered. Been “normal.” He’d treated her with the utmost respect and kindness—‘More than I deserve, maybe?’ Téa thought. ‘I’m thinking about this…thinking about him way too much for my own good. If I distract myself…If I don’t focus on it, all this madness will just…go away.’
Or so Téa told herself.
“Not too much in the mood for something big and complicated,” she told Seto, “so how about a cake?”
“Dessert again, huh?” Seto quirked a smile, “Does somebody need their sugar-fix?”
Téa eyed Seto with a smirk of her own, whacking him lightly on the arm as she rose from her seat.
The next day at school, Chieko came up to Téa and smiled, “I have heard from one of the teachers that we must fill out this form,” she placed a sheet of paper on Téa’s desk, “in order to start up a club. I hear that the Autumn Festival is soon, and we could certainly attract a lot of attention if we did something then.”
“You’re right…it’s coming up on October 16th, I think. If we got enough people together by then, we could do something for the festival, and raise enough money to fix up the school’s studio.”
Chieko clapped her hands together excitedly, “Wonderful!”
Téa smiled at the blonde girl. True, she didn’t know the girl that well, but she seemed nice enough. Téa hated duping her, but…
‘She just might be what Seto needs in his life right now.’
“Hey, Biiiig Brooooother!” Téa hollered, immediately catching Seto Kaiba’s attention as he walked down the hall at lunch time. He turned around, an eyebrow raised, the other lifting when he realized Téa was accompanied by the new girl. Chieko Sagusa.
“Téa. Sagusa,” he said, nodding politely. Chieko smiled brilliantly, though Seto didn’t really take much notice. He kept his eyes fixed on Téa, still searching her eyes for any trace of what she was hiding. He still didn’t remember anything about the night of the Ball—and part of him doubted he ever would—but now he was left wondering what Téa’s true motivations were for keeping her new home a secret. He realized with some dissatisfaction that Téa didn’t trust him yet, but it was likely more an issue with the fact that her friends didn’t—and probably never WOULD—trust him.
‘Not that I care what Yugi, that dog, and that other bonehead think about me. They’re not part of my life in any way.’
Which was a total lie, and Seto Kaiba knew it, but he wasn’t quick to admit such things to himself.
“Eat lunch with us today, Seto,” Téa said, linking her arm with his. Seto looked down at her with some measure of surprise; she was being awfully bold around him, if she wanted to keep her ‘relationship’ of sorts with him a secret.
‘She might have said something to Yugi and the others…but somehow, I doubt it was the whole truth.’
“Yes, we are discussing the upcoming festival. Perhaps you could offer some helpful input?” Chieko smiled, oblivious to the fact that Seto didn’t smile back, nor offer her much of a glance.
Seto only grunted slightly, allowing himself to be dragged outside by the two girls.
“I think the problem is going to be that I have to help everyone in our class come up with something. I know I want to try helping out with the dance club too, but first we have to get it off the ground,” Téa mused aloud, leaning back on one of the trees in the courtyard.
“Well, we should probably discuss things with Ms. Misao, the gym teacher…she might know how we could make in-class announcements, or maybe we could post flyers…”
“I’m glad we’re thinking ahead for the carnival, though. I know it’s only a month away, but we always end up having problems, the closer we get…” Téa remembered her first year school festival, when the upperclassmen had stormed their space with their okonomiyaki grill, practically ruining the freshman booth of Carnival Games.
“At least this year the upperclassmen aren’t so stingy about their space,” Seto murmured from his laptop. He was busily typing away out of his briefcase, and for a while, neither of the girls had been sure if he was even paying attention to their conversation.
“You’re right, Seto,” Téa smiled, “and assuming we win another good spot in the lottery this year, I know we won’t have to worry about anyone trying to steal it.”
“Did something happen with the upperclassmen last year, Téa?” Chieko asked curiously.
“Ah yeah,” Téa remembered, her voice dropping a level, “some really rude seniors from class D shoved their grill right where we were having our carnival games booth. I don’t know how, but the next day, they moved their grill, and we had our space back. I think Yugi might have had something to do with it,” Téa thought back, realizing she hadn’t even known Yami existed back then.”But, hey, it’s all in the past.”
“I am worried, now. What will stop any upperclassmen from stealing our area, then?” Chieko asked.
Téa smiled, thumbing over towards Seto, “Between my other friends and this slugger here, I know no one will try and mess with us! I’m sure of it!”
Seto raised an eyebrow at Téa, but nodded slightly, “What are you planning to do for the carnival, anyway?”
“Good question,” Téa tapped a finger to her chin.”For the class, we’ll have to have a meeting, but what about for the dance club we want to start up? If we spend too much time trying to get people to join, we won’t have enough time for the festival, and then we won’t attract anybody!”
“Competition,” Seto said suddenly, catching both girls’ attentions.
“Say what?” Téa asked. Seto glanced up at her, steel blue eyes meeting sky blue ones. Téa suddenly felt the urge to turn away, embarrassed by his penetrating gaze, but she simply…couldn’t.
‘I’m such an idiot! This is my “big brother,” right?’
“Everyone gets a big kick out of competition, right? Why not have dancers compete against one another to a lottery of random music?”
Téa and Chieko exchanged a glance, nodding as smiles blossomed on their faces. Seto figured that the suggestion had appeased their little conversation, and he went back to working. But he didn’t expect to get suddenly glomped by two girls as once, hugging the living daylights out of him.
Seto Kaiba flushed, sweatdropping.
“Uh, can’t breathe…”
The week went by rapidly for everyone. Téa grew slowly less and less apprehensive about showing up to school with Seto, but insisted she get out around the corner on her own—when and where she was absolutely no one would see her.
She and Chieko ate lunch with Seto almost every day, scheming about the carnival and the dance club plans, with Téa sticking to her “plan” and doing her best to worm Chieko into Seto’s heart.
It was getting harder and harder to remember why she was trying to set them up in the first place though—with every day that passed, she went home with Seto, leaving Chieko and the guys behind, and she reminded herself that the Seto everyone knew—as a duelist, as a businessman, and even as a classmate—wasn’t the Seto she knew at home.
It was an odd thought.
And everyday, Seto waited for her in the kitchen, a frighteningly attentive student, eager—in his own strange way—to learn about cooking. Wednesday, Téa had helped Seto assemble a delicious salad, and taught him how to correctly store and use fruits and vegetables, including how to make the most out of every food item, so nothing would be wasted.
On Thursday, Téa had taught Seto how to properly handle meat of various types, and together, they’d made a beef stew, and chicken stir-fry. Friday was Seto’s “final exam,” during which he’d have to assemble an entire meal—from appetizers to dinner to dessert—all by himself.
Suffice it to say, he wasn’t looking forward to it —and it was awfully unusual being in the kitchen by himself—but he had assured Téa that he could handle it. And he could. Except, he kept thinking back to the past week, when he’d been eating lunch with Téa and Chieko.
He had the sneaking suspicion that Téa’s reason for eating with him wasn’t simply to get ideas for the upcoming school festival—which Seto had rarely given a thought to before. He hadn’t even attended the one in his first year, and planned not to this year—after all, it was a day when he could work instead, right?
Every day, Téa had brought that Chieko girl with her. Seto had no problem with her personally, but he didn’t know her very well, and supposed he couldn’t be as friendly with her as Téa was.
‘That kind of thing just comes to her naturally,’ Seto thought, a nagging feeling of jealousy flaring in the back if his mind. Between his confusing feelings for Téa—trying to figure out just why she’d captured his attention so—and her even more confusing actions, he was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
‘She’s not trying to set me up with that Sagusa girl, is she? What in the hell would possess her to…’
Before Seto could finish his thoughts, the timer went off for the lemon chicken he’d prepared, and he had to rush to get everything cleaned up and prepared for dinner.
“That was delicious,” Téa murmured, leaning back in her chair contentedly.”You pass. Oh, you pass.” She nodded slowly at Seto, who grinned back.
“Does this mean I win the Iron Chef Challenge?” he quipped.
Téa opened one eye and shook her head slightly, “I didn’t even challenge you to a real duel of cooking yet, Seto. You had to learn how to boil water first!”
Mokuba laughed, so Seto swatted his napkin at him.
“Well then, you owe me a duel of some sort,” Seto remarked.
Téa nodded, “Yeah…of some sort.”
“Hey!” She sprung up from her chair slightly, “You did a really good job this week with these lessons, and Mokuba, you got an 100 percent on that project of yours, right?”
Mokuba nodded proudly, “Yep, best in the class!”
“I think this calls for a celebration!”
“Not more cake…” Seto groaned. He’d had enough of melting chocolate, burned saucepans, and stubborn frosting.
“Not cake. How about…a trip?”
Mokuba and Seto both glanced at Téa curiously, wondering what she had in mind, “Well, we only have a half day at school tomorrow,” she explained, “so why don’t we drive down to the beach or something? The nice weather’s going to be gone soon, and I haven’t been to the shore in a long time…”
“Wow, the beach! We haven’t been to the beach since we were kids, Seto! We’ve gotta go!” Mokuba cried enthusiastically, tugging on his brother’s shirt.
Seto cracked a smile and spoke, “Sounds good.”
“What’s with the duffle bag?” Chieko asked Téa curiously as she watched her friend set the pink bag on the ground beside her desk.
‘Seto, Mokuba and I are going to the beach today!” Téa smiled.”But ssh! Don’t tell anyone. They’d probably laugh if they knew it was the first time we’ve all been there since we were kids.”
Only a few moments later, Yugi, Tristan and Joey walked in.
“Hey Téa! What’s up?” Yugi smiled at Téa, who seemed unusually happy about something.
‘Not that she can’t be happy,’ Yugi amended to himself, ‘It’s just that lately, she’s been acting kind of out of it…’ Yugi was no closer to figuring out what Téa was up to than he had been when she’d returned at the beginning of the week. He figured Téa still needed time to adjust to her new lifestyle—and her new home. But he worried about her…and he knew Yami shared his concern.
“Goin’ somewhere today?” Tristan asked, noticing Téa’s bag. Téa blinked, and was about to speak, before Chieko interrupted her, “Yes, Téa is coming over to my house today. We are going to practice dancing.”
Téa smiled at Chieko gratefully, “Yeah, you know me guys, I’ve been out of practice for way too long. And Chieko and I thought we’d start up a dance club, just in time for the Autumn Festival.”
“Great idea,” Joey leered. “What kinda outfits you gals gonna be wearin’?” Chieko giggled and blushed slightly, but Téa just rolled her eyes, punching Joey on his shoulder.
“Don’t even think about making the same suggestion as last year for the festival, Joey,” Téa warned, “that cabaret joke of yours really pissed all the girls off.”
“Ehee…” Joey scratched behind his ear, embarrassed, “you still remember that?” Téa only fixed him with a bland stare.
Not much later, the bell rang, and the short school day began.
“Isn’t this a little too conspicuous?” Téa asked, eyeing the stretch limo that arrived behind the school. She glanced towards Seto, “Or do you always go all-out no matter where you go?”
“I don’t see you flashing a pair of car keys,” Seto responded hotly. He walked towards the trunk, signaling to the driver to open it, while he took his and Téa’s things and put them in the rear of the limousine.
“That’s because I’m not eighteen yet! Besides,” she smirked, “you aren’t either. Mokuba told me your birthday’s coming up.”
Seto groaned, shaking his head as he rested it in the palm of his left hand, “It doesn’t matter,” he grumbled, looking up, “I never celebrate it anyway.” As if to emphasize his words’ forcefulness, he slammed the trunk closed with a loud BANG!
Téa stared at Seto in surprise, “Why not?”
But Seto didn’t respond.
“Let’s go,” he finally said, opening the car door, not even waiting for Téa to get in first.
She glanced at him curiously when she got inside the car, shutting the door as she sat down, but Seto did not meet her gaze.
The entire ride to Mokuba’s school was silent.
“This spot is perfect!” Mokuba declared, immediately dumping his share of things on the ground. Seto, who had since donned a pair of sleek black sunglasses, pulled them down the bridge of his nose, glancing at their surroundings.
Sand to the left and right, as far as the eye could see, spanning out a good sixty meters behind them, and five in front, until which point the glistening blue waves crashed on the shore.
“It is nice,” Téa agreed, setting down her bag. She and Mokuba pulled out the large blanket they’d gotten for the occasion, spreading it out. Seto put the cooler they’d brought with snacks off to the side, but it wasn’t more than a few moments later before Mokuba tore off his T-shirt and went skipping down to the shore.
Téa smiled, watching the younger boy jump into the water, wading through it as he explored. She eyed Seto, who hadn’t yet spoken to her since they’d left school, and sighed.
‘Well, if he wants to be stubborn, let him be. One more reason why I couldn’t possibly like this guy,’ Téa thought.
She pulled off her own shirt, revealing the bikini top she wore underneath. She didn’t notice Seto’s gaze suddenly shift to her as she worked on unbuttoning her shorts that she’d changed into before she’d left school. The CEO’s sunglasses almost fell off his nose as he stared unabashedly at Téa, who had stripped down to her flowered bikini, and was now lying on the towel with her back to the sun.
Seto swallowed abruptly, glancing back up to the shore. He fixed his gaze on something much more mundane—like his brother’s hunt for shells.
“Are you just going to sit there all day?” Téa asked, mumbling from where she’d rested her head on her crossed arms.
“What do you suggest, I make a sand castle?” Seto asked sarcastically, once again shifting his gaze back to Téa. Just as immediately, his face turned scarlet, and he forced his sunglasses back up on his face.
“No,” Téa laughed, “I just wanted to know if you were still talking to me.” She smiled and turned her head, snuggling deeper into her arms as she sunbathed.
“Well, aren’t you at least going to go into the water or something? Or were you planning on sitting there in your shirt and pants all day?” Téa closed her eyes, turning her head slightly.
“I have swim trunks,” Seto finally said.
“Then wear them, for Pete’s sake,” Téa mumbled. “You’re as white as a ghost, and you need the tan more than I do. Always sitting in front of a computer, it’s a wonder you ever see the light of day…”
She didn’t get a response from Seto, and so opened one eye, then another.
She slowly craned her head to see if maybe Seto had run off to join Mokuba, and let out a squeak when she saw Seto pull off his shirt. Her eyes widened to the size of sand-dollars when she saw his back, revealed in the bright sunlight.
“Eep,” she mumbled, sitting up, unable to take her gaze away.
Seto turned and faced her, his sunglasses now removed. He smirked devilishly as he said, “What? Like what you see?”
It was an open invitation for Téa to give him the once-over, and, like any other normal girl her age, she did just that.
Her heart thundered loudly in her chest —‘Oh heavens, he’s hot!’ Téa thought, remembering Chieko’s word for it. Téa had been to the water park with Yugi, Joey, and Tristan before, and had seen them topless—and though they were all decently built, they hadn’t captured Téa’s attention quite the way Seto had.
And with the way he was leaning so dangerously close to her at that moment…
“You’re surprisingly well-built,” Téa sniffed, forcing herself to look in the other direction.
Seto laughed, “‘Surprisingly?’ What, did you think I was a twig underneath my uniform?”
Téa blinked, turning back to him, “Well…”
“Hey!” Seto pretended to be offended, even as he flexed his arm slightly, “What, do you think I got these arms by dueling?” he asked dubiously.
Téa fixed him with a flat stare, “Well, yeah,” she responded, turning sheepish, “all that flinging of your Duel Disks and stuff…”
Again, Seto laughed, this time stripping off his pants to reveal dark blue swim trunks. Téa blinked and tried not to stare, instead occupying herself with leaning over and rummaging through the cooler.
“There’s a gym of sorts in the basement,” he explained. “I work out. ‘Duel Disks.’ Hah. You’re something else, Téa,” he chuckled. Téa only turned around and glared at Seto, sticking her tongue out.
“Hey Mokuba!” Téa called out, capturing the boy’s attention. She pulled a camera out from her bag, motioning the black-haired youth over.
“Come on, let’s take some pictures.”
“Okay,” the smaller boy nodded. Téa snapped a few of Seto and Mokuba together, prodding Seto to smile. When he finally did, Téa grinned behind the camera lens. In turn, Seto also snapped a few pictures of Téa and Mokuba —the first one being the funniest. Téa had reached and looped her arms around the younger boy, her bikini-clad breasts pressing dangerously close to Mokuba’s face. His face turned scarlet and he stiffened as rigidly as a board.
“Now, if only we could get someone to take a picture of all three of us…” Téa murmured, glancing around the beach. She spotted a girl their own age, walking down the beach alone, in a white bikini with a light yellow jacket tossed over it, her aquamarine hair flying behind her in the wind, a tiny red bow securing it at the end.
“Excuse me,” Téa called, catching the girl’s attention, “would you mind taking a few pictures of us?” Téa smiled, and the girl blinked, glancing from Téa to Seto, who was behind her.
“Saga—” she stopped, giving Seto the once-over herself. Seto flushed slightly, averting his gaze from the girl, while Mokuba only smiled like the innocent child he was.
“Sure.” She took the camera and snapped a few pictures. Téa was about to rise to her feet and get the camera back when the girl’s eyes widened, and she suddenly ducked to her feet. She smiled sheepishly, “How about we take just a few more? Why don’t you all sit closer together this time, and I can take a family shot?”
Téa blushed slightly; did this girl think they were…?
‘Doesn’t matter,’ Téa told herself, flashing a smile.
“Closer,” the girl murmured, her voice having dropped a level. It seemed as though she were avoiding someone looking for her, and so wanted to keep a low profile. Seto and Téa moved in closer, with Mokuba in front of them, having wedged himself between their knees. Téa’s were splayed off to the side, bent, while Seto sat with his knees up in the air, resting one arm on top of them.
When the girl motioned for them to move closer together, Seto glanced at Téa out of the corner of his eye, realizing they were already pressed against one another. He shifted his arm between them slightly, and draped it around her shoulders as casually as he could possibly manage. Téa glanced up and blinked at him, surprised, but then the girl’s voice called out “Smile!” and Téa was forced to face forward again.
Barely ten minutes later, Mokuba had gotten himself acquainted with a group of kids on the beach who had made it their goal to build a giant fortress in the sand. Mokuba was helping them, running back and forth from the ocean with buckets of water to be used to solidify the walls.
Meanwhile, Téa had settled herself back down on the blanket, her back to the warm sunny sky, intending to relax and enjoy the sun for as long as possible.
Seto’s voice, unfortunately, broke through her peace, when he commented, “You’re going to get sunburned.”
Téa immediately bolted upright, yelping “I forgot to put sunscreen on!” Seto rolled his eyes, watching as Téa scrambled to her duffle bag and pulled out a bottle of SPF 45.
She squeezed a sizable blob of the stuff onto her hands, spreading it all over her arms and legs, gently patting her face —especially her nose and the tips of her ears—and moving to slather her stomach and chest. But when she tried to smooth the lotion onto her back, she had problems. She twisted, angling her arms as many ways as possible, but she couldn’t get her hands to reach any place besides her shoulder blades.
“Oh please,” Seto grumbled, shifting towards Téa, “lie down.”
“Wha—” The last syllable of Téa’s protest was cut off as Seto pushed her to the blanket, muffling her voice. She grumbled, but eventually settled in the position she’d been in earlier. Only, earlier, Seto Kaiba hadn’t been straddling her knees from behind.
Téa whipped her gaze forward again, refusing to stare at Seto Kaiba —even if he was awfully handsome in those swim trunks…
She was about to relax again when a pair of distinctly warm hands, slathered with the sunscreen, began rubbing her back. Téa froze, every muscle in her body tightening as she became acutely aware of Seto Kaiba’s hands on her body.
Téa squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the sensations of pleasure she was experiencing—warm hands, soothing motions…
‘Ah! No! Not thinking about…oh, man, that feels good…’ Before Téa could stop herself, she made a small sound of pleasure—just a slight moan, really—before she shifted her head, almost melting into the beach blanket.
Seto abruptly stopped, blinking. Téa made no move to stop him, nor was she as stiff and unrelaxed as she had been only a few moments ago. But there was a problem—her bikini top.
“Why’dya stop?” Téa mumbled, “That was nice…”
“Uh…” Seto began, glad that Téa wasn’t facing him, lest she see the crimson color on his cheeks, “your top…”
“Ugh, I hate tan lines,” Téa muttered, shifting. Seto’s eyes widened as he realized she was taking her bikini top OFF entirely, worming about in such a way that she slipped it over her head and placed it off to the side of the blanket, now lying face-down—and topless—underneath him.
“Continue,” Téa murmured, her voice growing sleepy again. With more than enough hesitation on his part, Seto finally put his hands on Téa’s back again, slowly moving them up and down the length of her spine, soft skin shifting and glistening with the sun lotion. He shifted one hand to each side, rising up to her shoulders and neck. His fingers curved around her shoulders, squeezing and rubbing as gently as he could possibly manage, given that his muscles had tightened the moment Téa had taken her top off.
He wasn’t even thinking straight when his hands slid up to her arms, tracing lines of sunscreen where Téa had already rubbed some, sliding back down the curve of her back to her ribcage, his fingers brushing against the tender skin of her breasts.
Seto flushed, realizing where his fingers were, and quickly removed them, drawing his hands back from her altogether. Téa made no sound of protest this time, and Seto dared to lean closer to her, finding her asleep where she lay.
‘I only hope she doesn’t move in her sleep,’ Seto thought, pulling his knees to his chest and glancing backwards at Téa. She lay with her head in her crossed arms, a slight smile on her face.
‘She’s not that bad-looking…’ Seto thought absently to himself. He shook his head rapidly, ‘I am not attracted to Téa Gardner. Not. Not, Not!’ His hands felt like they were on fire though. Holding her when they’d danced was one thing, but what had just happened…that was something entirely different.
Seto watched Mokuba build the fortress with the other kids, but he couldn’t keep his gaze from Téa for very long, ‘Okay, fine. So I’m attracted to her. A little. Just a little.’
Well, she was beautiful. He couldn’t exactly deny that. Not after the Ball, and certainly not now. He might have even grudgingly admitted to the fact back in Duelist Kingdom, that the dog Wheeler was damn lucky for the sort of company he kept -namely, Téa- but back then, Seto had been solely focused on getting his brother back. That was all that had mattered.
‘And now?’ His brother was busy frolicking in the sand and waves with other kids. He was living the life of a normal kid. It was what Seto had always wanted for him. But for himself? His gaze wandered back to the sleeping girl at his side.
Seto had never given much thought to girls before. Not that he hadn’t noticed them -he was a guy, after all- but there had always been other priorities. But things had changed. Dueling wasn’t such a phenomenally large part of his life anymore, and for the most part, things seemed normal.
Téa was no longer the pawn of some sick and twisted enemy’s plan to capture the Millennium Items, or the God Cards. She was an ordinary girl, doing what ordinary girls normally did to ordinary guys—confusing the living hell out of them. Or, in the case of one Seto Kaiba, boy-in-transition-to-normal, confusing HIM.
“You’re going to get sunburned too, you know,” a voice spoke up. Seto was about to turn around when he remembered that Téa wasn’t wearing her top, and he didn’t want to risk embarrassing her—or himself.
That’s why, when he felt warm skin against his back, his posture became rigid, and he fixed his eyes on one particular point on the horizon.
“I put my top back on, stupid. Thanks for the help, by the way.”
Téa smirked, “Now it’s your turn.” Téa’s words didn’t serve to loosen Seto up any more than he already had been, and he remained staring at the horizon.
Téa squeezed another blob of sunscreen onto her hands, trembling as they were, as she shifted forward on her knees. She took a deep breath before placing her hands on Seto Kaiba’s shoulders, slowly tracing her hands—and the lotion—down his back.
A shudder rippled down Seto’s spine, and almost against his will, he began to relax against Téa’s ministrations. Her fingers seemed to caress every inch of skin he bared—though only on his back. She ran her two forefingers down his spine, the slight pressure forcing him to arch his back slightly.
“Geez, you never do relax, do you?” Téa chided, cuffing both her hands around his shoulders. She started a purposeful massage of Seto’s tense shoulders, continuing to rub what lotion was left on her hands around his back.
This time, it was Seto’s turn to groan, though whether his sound was one of pleasure or pain, Téa couldn’t tell. She did smile slightly to herself, dipping her hands lower and lower until she almost reached Seto’s tailbone—sneakily hooking one finger under his waistband and snapping it—hard.
“Ow!” Seto exclaimed, leaping to his feet, and Téa giggled, falling back onto the blanket.
“You are going to pay for that…” Seto growled, marching over to Téa. She quickly scampered around, but it wasn’t long before Seto practically pounced on her, quickly burying her in sand.
Mokuba approached his older brother, who seemed to be busy scooping sand and adding it to an already-large, shapeless pile.
“Where’s Big Sister Téa?” Mokuba looked around curiously, not seeing the older girl anywhere.
“I’m right here, Mokuba,” Téa’s voice came. The small boy’s eyes widened and he glanced around his brother’s form, seeing Téa’s head pop out from the growing mound of sand.
“Big Sister Téa!” he exclaimed in surprise. He plopped down on the sand right next Seto, “Why’re you burying her in sand?”
Seto turned to his brother, grinning almost maliciously, “Why not?”
Mokuba eep’d and started to scoot away, afraid he’d be next. But instead, Seto grinned at him—normally, this time—and said, “Want to help?”
“Oh no! Seto, come on!” Téa cried pleadingly.
“Uh-uh,” he responded, shaking his head as he added another pile of sand.
“You know,” Téa said after a moment, her head tilting to glance down at her grainy, shapeless form, “The least you could do is give me some sort of a body or something. Being a block of sand isn’t exactly appetizing, you know.”
Seto looked at Téa, covered in sand as she was, and nodded. He then proceeded to poke two holes in the sand-mound where Téa’s breasts would have been. Her jaw dropped open in surprise, and had her hands been free, she probably would have slapped Seto Kaiba upside the head.
“Brat!” Seto Kaiba responded just as quickly.
“Great,” Téa shook her head, “I’m a giant pile of sand with dots for boobs.”
Seto and Mokuba both snickered, even as they continued to pile sand on top of Téa.
“Ugh,” she groaned, “I’m getting sand in places I don’t want to think about. Seto, when are you going to let me out of here?”
Seto stood up, followed shortly thereafter by Mokuba, the two dusting their hands off and glancing down at Téa, their finished “creation.”
“You mean you can’t get out on your own?” Seto smirked.”Not even trying, are we?”
Téa narrowed her eyes at Seto, and proceeded to struggle, much to the Kaiba brothers’ amusement. Suddenly, Téa froze, her eyes widening.
Seto rolled his eyes. “Oh please Téa, I’m not going to fall for that one, it’s the oldest trick in the book.”
“No, guys I’m—” Téa never had the chance to finish her words, as an amazingly large wave crashed over them all, soaking each of them in salt water. Téa, still partially stuck in the sand, spit out some salt water and mumbled, “…serious.”
She freed herself from the pile of mud she was no longer completely buried in, and helped Seto and Mokuba up. The younger boy had a piece of red kelp hanging from his hair, and when Téa plucked it out, she giggled.
“I guess that’s your just desserts for burying me, huh? Seems like the sea is on my side today.”
“You’re still the one covered in mud,” Seto pointed out. Téa turned slowly, her arm snaking out and yanking down on Seto’s—hard—before he had a chance to react. He went plummeting to the now-wet sand, getting a chest—and face—full of mud.
“That makes two of us,” Téa grinned, offering her hand to help him up again. He gripped it fiercely, almost yanking Téa down in the process, and blinked when she didn’t let go once he stood.
“Come on, let’s go rinse off.”
She sprinted down the beach, dragging Seto with her. “Hey Mokuba, can you make sure none of our stuff got damaged or washed away?” she called from a meter away.
The smaller boy nodded, wringing out his locks of hair, “Sure thing!”
She and Seto, their hands still linked and their bodies still covered in wet sand, waded out to the water.
“Ooh, cold, cold, cold!” Téa mumbled, splashing her front with the water.
“The Pacific Ocean usually is,” Seto remarked blandly. He brushed at the wet sand on his chest, but only succeeded in brushing the larger chunks away, the remaining grains forming a pattern on his chest, which scraped away at his skin when he tried to brush them off.
Téa only responded by splashing him with a handful of cold water, to which he splashed her back, and she splashed him—until it was an all-out water war between the two. Both had both been sufficiently cleaned of the sand covering their bodies, but they continued splashing at one another, neither ready to let the other gain the upper hand.
Mokuba was done inspecting everything, making sure nothing had gotten washed away or was too soaking wet, and looked up to see his brother and Téa splashing away at one another in the water. The ebony-haired boy blinked for a minute, not entirely sure he was seeing his brother there. Oh, but it was.
“Seto—” Mokuba called out, but his older brother didn’t seem to hear him. This time, it was Mokuba’s eyes that widened in surprise, seeing another wave heading towards them, “WATCH—” The wave splashed down on Téa and Seto, and Mokuba sighed, defeated, “Out.”
“Okay, you were right, it is cold,” Seto stood up from where he’d been splashing at Téa, and then realized with a sinking sensation that she was no longer there, nor anywhere in sight.
“TÉA!” Without a moment’s hesitation, Seto dove into the deeper waters, looking for the girl he’d just lost.
It wasn’t long before he found her underwater and unconscious. He quickly brought her up from the water, scooping her into his arms and walking briskly up to the spot where Mokuba was, and all their things had been laid out.
“Big Brother! Is she okay? Is she…” Mokuba paused, never having seen Téa look so…so helpless before. And he’d been stuck in a variety of messes with her, with the Rare Hunters, among others. She’d never given up, never let anything beat her down…but now, a stupid wave had taken that spirit and vitality away from her, and she was limp and unconscious in Seto Kaiba’s arms.
Seto gently set Téa up in a sitting position, leaning her forward slightly.
“Come on, Téa. Breathe.” He glanced at her for a moment, but she didn’t respond at all. Her chest didn’t rise or fall with any sort of movement, which gave Seto reason to believe she’d swallowed water.
“Hate me for this later,” he muttered under his breath, delivering a sharp whack to Téa’s middle. She immediately lurched forward and coughed, spitting up salt water.
“Ooh,” she moaned, “Damn wave scared the living crap out of me…”
“It scared us too,” Seto smiled, relieved, glad to see Téa breathing again.
“Can we go home now?” Téa mumbled, having had her fair share of a day at the beach. It had been fun, but she wanted nothing more at the moment than to get every last particle of sand OFF her, and take a nice, warm bath.
“Yeah,” Mokuba nodded his assent, “Let’s go.”
The drive home was silent, with both Mokuba and Téa falling asleep. Seto, on the other hand, never one to fall asleep in any sort of moving vehicle, remained awake, thinking about the day’s events.
He realized with quiet seriousness that he could have lost Téa that day—that if he hadn’t found her when she did, she might have drowned. Or, even if he had saved her, he wouldn’t have been able to get her to breathe soon enough. He was just lucky that he had saved her in time.
‘I…I didn’t realize I cared so much about her.’ Seto thought, glancing over at Téa, who was slumped over slightly, with Mokuba resting on her lap. She’d placed her hand on the younger boy’s head, her fingers running through his hair before she herself had fallen asleep as well.
‘Lucky brat,’ Seto smiled slightly. His smile soon faded as he remembered even earlier in the day though—more of Téa trying to force that Sagusa girl on him. She was doing it in her own subtle way, of course, but Seto saw right through whatever ruse she was playing.
‘Why? I still don’t get why she’d try to set me up with someone else, when we…’
His thoughts cut off. ‘When we what? It’s not as if she likes me that way or anything.’ No, he knew that Téa—by insisting she not be seen with him when they got dropped off for school, by keeping her new home and employer a secret from her friends, and above all else, by trying to get him interested in another girl—was forcing the message on him: “I’m not into you.” Which stung Seto more than it should have, really.
He’d never cared hide nor hair whether girls liked him, or even what they thought of him—until now. Now, he was actually trying to be a normal guy, and he found it harder than he would have expected. He wanted Téa to like him—even a little—but she just made things more confusing. She was about as unreadable to Seto Kaiba as a book written in Greek—one of the few languages Seto Kaiba could NOT brag about knowing.
“Man, am I glad to be home,” Téa stretched, “I think I’m going to take a hot bath now…” She moved to head upstairs, but Seto’s arm reached out and grabbed her own. She turned around and eyed him curiously.
“Seto, what’s wrong?” He didn’t say anything at first, just stared at her, his eyes shifting, searching for something in her eyes, “I told you, I’m fine. See?” Téa brought her hand up and breathed in deeply, exhaling with another flourish of her hand, “Breathing!”
Seto swallowed slightly, “I know. I’m glad. But…That’s not what I want to talk to you about.”
“Huh?” Téa responded eloquently, confusion and tiredness plain on her face. Seto closed the gap between them to a mere foot, his hand still gripping her arm without the slightest sign he intended to release her any time soon.
“Why have you been trying to set me up with that Sagusa girl?” Seto asked bluntly, his eyes still searching hers. This time, he knew what he was looking for: a sign. Some sign—any sign—that Téa didn’t hate him so entirely. That she didn’t merely “tolerate” him, nor was she acting so nice around him simply out of gratitude. That maybe -just maybe- she liked him back. Even a little.
‘He knows!’ was Téa’s first thought, at which her eyes widened in surprise and horror. Part of her knew her plan had failed—but it wasn’t just her plan to convince Yugi and the others that she had some sort of PURPOSE in letting Chieko believe she and Seto were brother and sister…it was also her unspoken plan to wean herself away from the possibility that she was falling for Seto Kaiba.
She had insisted to herself that she wasn’t, that she couldn’t, that she didn’t WANT to, but as the days passed, she found herself growing more and more attracted to him, even reasoning out why Yami, the enigmatic pharaoh, no longer occupied her thoughts.
‘Because,’ Téa had realized, ‘He’s not a separate body. He might not even be a separate soul. Whoever—or whatever—he is, he’s inside Yugi. And Yugi has always been my best friend. I…I can’t betray him like that. I’ve already pushed the limits of our friendship by lying like this, and I can’t force myself to believe that I can love Yami when he’s just inside Yugi’s body. That would be using my best friend shamelessly. And while I do care for Yugi, I don’t—I don’t love him.’
“I…” Téa started, her eyes shifting off to the side.
Seto would have none of it, however, and used his other free hand to shift her gaze back his face. “Tell me why,” he said, an imploring tone creeping into his voice. “Please.”
“I thought…maybe what you needed in your life right now was a girl—someone nice and sweet to get you to open up some more. I…” Téa’s voice dropped in volume now, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…”
Seto inhaled, and then sighed, “But why? Besides, I already have a girl in my life.”
Téa looked up and blinked, “Wh…?”
“You,” Seto responded, shifting his grip on her so that both his hands rested on her shoulders. Téa’s eyes widened, “Isn’t it enough that you’re the only girl I want in my life right now?” Seto asked softly, his eyes searching hers once more. Téa stared back, hardly believing her ears. She hadn’t the slightest clue what to say, and, her silence interpreted as a negative to Seto, he released her.
“Forget it. Just…forget it.”
And he walked away, into his office, but this time closing the door quietly, with an almost sense of finality to it.
Téa stared after him, long after the door was closed and Seto was gone, before tears traced their way down the curve of her cheek.
“You idiot,” she cursed under her breath, “Why did I have to fall in love with you?”
W00T! I’m so proud of myself for being able to get the chapters out so quickly…and you guys like it when they’re long? I know this chapter had a lot of stuff in it…Is this one of those fics you’ll like to read again, in case you missed anything? I know a couple of fics like that…
I’m such a detail freak…I wrote out an entire floor plan for the ground floor of the Kaiba mansion (based off my aunt’s house, actually, with some edits, like the secret floor!) and even drew a seating chart for Class 2-B, which everyone is in! Of course, it’s not the same seating as the original manga, when everyone’s still in their first year…plus, I know Japanese classes usually don’t have 54 students, but that’s how many desks there are in the class. Let’s assume most of the back rows (except for Tristan) are empty, okay? I should plan these things out more in advance…
Uhm, I’d be all ecstatic about Chapter 7 coming out soon…and it will, I promise…but it’ll have to be a belated birthday present for our beloved CEO. Sorry guys, this one took me FOREVER to chug out, and I was stressin’ so much…I think I need to get my Yu-Gi-Juices back up again anyway, by watching some more episodes. So look for “Happy Birthday, Seto Kaiba,” come the 26th or 27th. Hope you N’Joi-d!
Does anyone know who the girl on the beach is? I’ll give you a hint—she deals with a guy mentioned in a previous chapter as being one of the Seto Kaiba seems-likes. Look at the bottom of the last chapter for possibilities.