WDKY Chapter 7B: Happy Birthday, Seto Kaiba

Version 3.5 – Song lyrics fixed, Yumminizer applied to fake French food, formatting fixes

Conceptualized/First Written: 10/26/03
Completed/Posted: 12/8/03
Edited: 7/18/04,8/17/04, 12/5/05, 4/9/10

Sorry, Kaiba-sama! Happy UBER-BELATED Birthday! Don’t kill me!

Rated PG13/T for a bit of swearin’

Notes: I finally got around to changing “Tea” to “TĂ©a.” I’ll eventually get around to doing this for all the chapters; as it stands right now, I’ve made several revisions to ALL the chapters, but few of them are plot-wise. Still, if you’re nitpicky or simply want to reread to get your facts straight, the revised versions should be up soon.

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RECAP: They’ve been keeping secrets, hiding their feelings, and avoiding each other. With the school festival in progress, TĂ©a’s friends are getting more and more suspicious of TĂ©a’s feelings for her mysterious crush. And with Seto Kaiba constantly on her mind, will TĂ©a be able to crush her competition—or lose Seto forever?

Get a load of me, get a load of you, walkin’ downthe street, and I hardly know you. It’sjust like we were meant to be.

It was the third round of the dance club’s competition, and TĂ©a had opted to wander around the festival while she had the chance, the music flaring in the distance. She found herself half-wondering if she really had seen Seto Kaiba earlier, midnight blue eyes fixated on her as she danced.

A brief blush crossed TĂ©a’s cheeks, and she shook her head quickly.

“I need a drink,” she mumbled under her breath, heading over to a drink stand. A short wait and a few tickets later, TĂ©a walked away from the booth with a cup of lemonade in hand, her eyes searching the surrounding crowd.

Holding hands with you, and we’re out atnight
Got a girlfriend, you say it isn’t right. And I’ve got someone waiting too


Unbeknownst to TĂ©a, someone was searching for her. But it wasn’t who she would have thought. It wasn’t Seto Kaiba. Rather, it was Yugi Moto.

He was terrified that what he suspected was true—that TĂ©a’s crush was Seto Kaiba.

‘TĂ©a and I have been friends for years, and
we’ve told each other almost everything!’

But could Yugi really be upset over TĂ©a crushing on his rival? She was her own person, and she’d been through a lot recently
He’d kept his own share of secrets from TĂ©a, so wasn’t it fair that she keep her own as well? Despite their long friendship, she was never obligated to tell him anything

‘But all this time
I’ve been waiting. Hoping that maybe she’d see

Butthis is just the beginning—We’re already wet, and we’regonna go swimming! Why can’t I breathe whenever I think aboutyou? Why can’tI speak whenever I talk about you?

TĂ©a smiled, watching a group of small visiting children attempt to catch goldfish in a rice-paper ‘net’ before it dissolved. The goldfish kept flopping away, or the rice-paper kept falling apart, but they kept trying. They didn’t let their frustration get the better of them—they just kept going.

‘There’s a strange sort of sense in children, an intelligence that adults can’t have. When you’re young, things are simple, easy
And even if you’re called naive, stupid, or blind, children see things in a way older people can’t.’

TĂ©a remembered how, at her parents’ funeral, Mokuba had looked up at her wordlessly, and climbed onto her lap. She’d needed that. Needed someone to hold, someone’s shoulder to cry onto.

She’d grown to love the little boy like he was her own sibling, but she knew she could never come close to the bond the ebony-haired boy had with Seto.

‘Seto.’ Thinking of him caused TĂ©a’s breath to catch in her throat, remembering his intense gaze. It never seemed to be anything but. It was as if he could look right through her; see her very soul

It’s inevitable, it’s a fact that we’re gonna get down to it. So tell me: Why can’tI breathe whenever I think about you? Whenever I think aboutyou?

It was confusing. Her muddled thoughts, her complicated desires
even TĂ©a herself wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted. She wanted Seto to understand, she knew that much.

‘If—if he’s really here
I should apologize for that time. He doesn’t even know why I’m so upset over that stupid kiss

Butshe couldn’t just forget it.She wanted to, though, because then she’d be able tostart over, and have things the way she wanted. Maybe herbrain wouldn’t be so hyperactive whenever shewas around Seto Kaiba then. And she wouldn’t be so edgy around her friends, constantly recalling SetoKaiba’spassionate, forceful kiss. And how, though it had startledher, confused her
she’d enjoyed it.

Howcould she possibly tell her friends that?

Isn’t this the best part of breakin’ up? Finding someone else you can’t

And, as if Destiny had some sort of twisted plan set out for them, it was at that moment that TĂ©a glanced up—and blue met with blue. Seto Kaiba stood, not three meters away.

Swallowing hard, TĂ©a kept her gaze on him and walked forward.

“I wanna say sorry,” she said firmly. Her eyes wandered to the ground, littered with tickets, confetti, and broken prizes. “and I’m sick of us going on these avoidance sprees. I want us to be friends. To
talk again.” She sucked in a breath, looking up at Kaiba as she waited for a response.

Me too.” he finally said, cracking a slight smile, “Truce?”

TĂ©a grinned broadly, feeling as light as air once Seto smiled at her, “Truce!” And she shook his hand firmly, both of her hands gripping his, promise in her eyes.

It’s an itch we know we are gonna scratch. Gonna take a while for this egg to hatch. But wouldn’tit be beautiful?

‘It might not be anything now
but once we both get comfortable with all this
I’ll be able to explain everything to everyone. And I’ll see
that if Seto ever had any feelings for me. And we can go from there.’

Here we are, we’re at thebeginning—we haven’t done it yet, but myhead’sspinning!

Chieko Sagusa sighed, watching Seto Kaiba and TĂ©a Gardner walk away together. Despite both of them possessing a dynamic nature, they didn’t seem to attract much attention, being together. Not yet, anyway.

Perhaps it was because they clicked in a way that the blonde transfer student couldn’t even begin to understand. Perhaps it was because her own heart had never actually been in the “fight” for Seto in the first place.

When she’d first seen him, she’d been taken—he was handsome, enigmatic, rich
A chord of kinship had been struck, reverberating in Chieko’s soul. She’d grown up alone, lonely
not like her classmates.

A CEO’s daughter, of mixed heritage, and a complicated background. With dreams of being a dancer, a designer, a star—not some sort of financial analyst. She had an innate desire to always be filled with emotion, to always have someone to watch over and protect, someone whose smile she’d live for.

Why can’t I breathewhenever I think about you? Why can’t I speakwhenever I talk about you? It’s inevitable, it’sa fact that we’regonna get down to it!

He was out of her reach. Of course, she’d known that from Day One, but she’d had fun watching TĂ©a and Seto interact. Had circumstances been vastly different, it might have been Chieko in TĂ©a’s shoes.

‘But I wouldn’t wish what happened to her on anyone
circumstantial or not, it’s TĂ©a’s life to live.’ TĂ©a was her friend. The rivalry between the two was merely in fun. Chieko seemed to see what TĂ©a, Seto, and even their friends wouldn’t—that the two were falling in love with one another.

Sotell me: Why can’t I breathe whenever I thinkabout you? Whenever I think about you?

“So,” Seto Kaiba began, somewhat uncomfortably, “about that thing

“What thing?” TĂ©a glanced up at him curiously, blinking when she realized he wasn’t looking at her, and was instead concentrating rather hard—trying to come up with the right words to say without embarrassing himself.

“What did you mean,” he finally said, stopping and turning to face her, “when you said ‘It’s a little late for that?'”

TĂ©a’s eyes widened, and she glanced off to the side, flushing. They’d called a truce. They’d both agreed that ignoring one another didn’t solve any problems. In so many words

“Well, I

“Here to get your fortune told?” a smooth voice interrupted TĂ©a before she could speak. Both teens whipped around and faced Bakura, who wore a handsome—if not devilish—smile on his face. Seto frowned slightly; he remembered how close the normally-quiet, white-haired youth had been to TĂ©a on-stage.

I’d love for you to make me wonder where it’s goin’

“Um, sure, Bakura! Why not!?” TĂ©a laughed nervously,and wandered towards the metal seats Ryou had positioned in front of a table.Seto stood for a moment, seeming to contemplate whether he should sit or not,but he finally relented and sat, legs and arms crossed.

“It’s only five tickets,” Bakura explained, bringing out a deck of tarot cards, “It’s been quite busy today.”

“I take it when you passed by the stage then, you were on your only break?” TĂ©a smirked, watching her classmate shuffle the ornately-designed deck, flipping the cards.

“Something like that,” he smiled. “Now, both of you put your hands on the cards, and focus on a question to you want answered. Nothing like ‘Will I eat yakisoba today?’ but something that requires actual thought. No ‘yes or no’ stuff.”

Kaiba looked at Ryou Bakura as if he’d turned into a Kuriboh.

“You don’t expect me to believe in all this, do you?” Bakura’s smile didn’t slip for a single moment as he responded, “No, not really, but you’re here to have fun, aren’t you?” Bakura, unlike the cheating “Lord Kokurano” from their freshman year, seemed to have genuine abilities—at least where the occult was concerned.

Perhaps this had something to do with his possession of the Millennium Ring, or maybe

TĂ©a put her hand on the deck first, closing her eyes and breathing in deeply, ‘I know I’m not supposed to make a wish or anything
I have to ask a question. So I want to know if there really is something between Kaiba and I. If I’m not imagining things

Kaiba frowned, but eventually withdrew one hand from where he’d crossed his arms over his chest, placing it on top of TĂ©a’s. She didn’t move or flinch in the slightest, and eventually, he too closed his eyes.

I would love for you to pull me under. Somethin’sgrowin’

‘Is—is there something? Between us. TĂ©a and I. Or am I being ludicrous
’ Kaiba didn’t even know why he was thinking what he was, but ever since TĂ©a had dashed out of the kitchen, on the verge of tears, Kaiba hadn’t been able to get her words out of his head. ‘What did she mean?’

His latter question remained unanswered—for the time being, anyway. Bakura removed the deck after they’d concentrated on it, and now began dealing out the cards in a Celtic Cross pattern, with six cards in a circle shape, one in the middle, and four cards to the right of the first set.

outta this that we can’t control. Baby, I am dyin’—

“The first card briefly describes your situation,” Bakura intoned, flipping the first of the ten cards in the odd formation over. The Eight of Swords. A brown-haired girl was bound and blindfolded, with eight ornate swords surrounding her and preventing her from moving.

Bakura raised his eyes, but not his head, glancing up at TĂ©a, “You feel restricted. Bound. This card represents conflict. The girl on the card is alone. Perhaps you feel that way too,” a pause, as Bakura noted Kaiba’s eyes glancing hesitantly towards TĂ©a, “but you don’t want to be that way. You want to be free, but know that danger lies ahead if you make the attempt.”

Whycan’t I breathe whenever I think about you? Why can’tI speak whenever I talk about you?

“The second card: your problem. Obstacles you must face,” Bakura flipped the card over, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his lips, “the Knight of Wands.”

The card depicted a golden-armored knight, ribbons of red and green winding around his helmet, atop which was perched a dragon ready to pounce. He rode a horse and carried a wand—which actually resembled a really long stick with a blossom at he top.

“Is–is it supposed to be upside-down, like that?” Kaiba queried, referring to how the picture and text on the card were reversed. “Yes,” Bakura responded, somewhat glad that he’d been asked, “the cards can appear right-side up or reversed
and their meaning changes. That is why I flip the cards from the side, not the top or bottom.”

“The Knight of Wands can represent an actual person in either of your lives
” he paused, wondering if there would be any further questions, “or he can simply be the representation of your situation.”

“What does he represent?” TĂ©a asked, almost afraid to hear the answer. Though Bakura had only drawn and interpreted one card so far, that one card had been dead on. How much did Bakura know?

“Right-side up, he represents departures, advancements, undertakings.”

TĂ©a blinked. “And, upside-down?”

The white-haired boy smiled. “Emotional problems,” he paused, “with friends.”

Blue eyes widened, urging Bakura to continue.

Whycan’t I breathe whenever I think about you? Whycan’t I speak whenever I talk about you?

“The third card: The Star.” A naked girl with alabaster-white skin and brilliant blue eyes stood waist-deep in azure water. Water spilled from her hands back into the lake from whence it had come, while the girl’s gaze was fixed to the sky, where several brilliant stars gleamed down at her.

“The position of the past. The basis or cause of your situation. A good card.” Bakura nodded, “It is odd though, how the cause of your problems
seems to be something good.”

“What do you mean?” Kaiba asked gruffly. Not that he believed any of the occult or mystical fiddle-faddle—he’d seen enough of that ridiculousness during Battle City, and yet
no, it was all just tricks. Tricks and games.

“She represents hope. Satisfaction, contentment—but more appropriately for you two,” Bakura emphasized, gesturing vaguely to the two seated in front of him, “she is a new person with a favorable influence on your life.” Bakura leaned back in his seat, an eyebrow raised at the two as they mulled over the cards, “In this instance, I believe The Star represents the two of you.”

“Huh?” TĂ©a looked up, confused. Kaiba’s eyes remained glued to the card. Even if it was some silly game
something about the card—about the girl

‘Blue eyes?’

“You are The Star to Kaiba, while he is The Star to you,” Bakura explained. “While he isn’t exactly ‘new’ in your life, you are looking at him in a different way, are you not?”

‘This is nuts!’ TĂ©a thought wildly, ‘How–howdoes he know that?’

But it was true.He had influenced her life favorably,since getting involved with her personal affairs as he had. Andif it hadn’t been for his offer, TĂ©a didn’t know where she would be at that moment. Maybe not even going toDomino High.

And if she hadn’t moved in with him, seen him in a place outside of school and duels
she might not have ever fallen in love with him.

It’sinevitable, it’s a fact that we’re gonna get down toit—So tell me

“You didn’t come to this festival last year, did you, Kaiba?” Bakura asked suddenly, capturing the young man’s attention.

” His brows furrowed. Bakura hadn’t been a student at Domino High back then, “How did you know that?”

Bakura only smiled as he tapped the side of his head, “I know these sort of things. But it’s all the more proof—you being here now, sitting here and listening to me ‘tell your fortune,'” Bakura imitated Kaiba’s “I don’t believe it for a second” voice, “that you’ve changed. That you’ve been changed. By her.” He directed Kaiba’s gaze towards TĂ©a, who blinked and then blushed, turning her gaze back to the spread on the table.

“Thefourth card,” Bakura flipped it over, “isthe card of your past. That which is behind you. It influencesand directs you, yet must remain where it is: in the past.” Heglanced down at the card, “The Wheel of Fortune.” Ared disc immediately drew Kaiba and TĂ©a’s attention.On the rim, odd characters were inscribed—some looked likeGreek, others like Hebrew, while the ones in the very centerof the disc didn’t look like any language toeither Kaiba or TĂ©a.

Atopthe disc was an Egyptian Sphinx, wearing a traditional headdresswith a cobra emerging from the forefront. To the left ofthe sphinx, an angel reading from a book. An eagle perchedon another book to the sphinx’ upper right. A two-headed snake beside the red circle on the left, whilethe black head of a jackal—Anubis, Kaiba and TĂ©aboth realized—stared out at them. Below the wheel,a bull and a lion, the former emerging from the pages ofa scarlet-covered book, while the lion came from a golden-coveredbook.

“Your past consists of successfollowed by failure and success again, in a cycle. Lifeis a cycle, constant in this manner. Full of good thingsand bad equally. However, it is a fortunate card to havein your spread regardless. Ultimately,” Bakuraplaced his finger on the card, “it indicates happinessand fortune in your favor. Being in the position of thepast, it seems to say that your share of the worst incidenceshas passed,” TĂ©a sighed deeply atthis, “andthat better things lie ahead. Usually, it also means fortunewill come your way without much effort,” Bakura frowned, “butthe downside is that your decision to change—andwelcome this good fortune into your life—will bebad for others.”

Why can’tI breathe whenever I think about you? Whenever I thinkabout you?

“The fifth card
” Bakura paused, his brown eyes glancing over the card before he’d fully turned it over. “This is interesting.” Kaiba and TĂ©a both leaned forward in curiosity.

“Well, what is it?” Kaiba demanded.

“I thought you didn’t believe in these sort of things,” Bakura smiled, pulling the card closer to him and away from his patrons.

Kaiba rolled his eyes, “That doesn’t mean you can gyp TĂ©a out of her five tickets.”

Bakura laughed heartily. “Always the economist,” he chuckled. “The fifth card is the card of your goals, aspirations
hopes. Indeed, an interesting card to have in this place.” He flipped the card over, waiting for the two to read the text themselves.

The Lovers.

TĂ©a’s face went crimson and she immediately shifted in her seat, refusing to face either of the boys. Still, she was tuned in and listening, wondering what Bakura would say next.

“Somecards aren’t to be interpreted by theirname or picture,” Bakura said, earning a glance from TĂ©a. “This card,” he chuckled, “is not oneof them. It is what it says it is.”

The card showed two young people—ironically enough, a girl with flowing brown hair and bright blue eyes, and a young man with darker brown hair and equally dark blue eyes. The girl had one arm wrapped around the young man’s head, pulling his face close to hers. Her other hand was joined with his, fingers intertwined. Their eyes were riveted to one another, and they could see nothing but their lover, not even the angel in the sky above them, peeking down at the two from the clouds.

“This card represents the beginnings of an adventure. Love affairs, desire. You both are seeking this, and yet
” Bakura’s fingers danced over the previous cards in the spread, “yet neither of you take any action, though things would go in your favor. I wonder why that is?” Of course, Bakura’s question was purely rhetorical, and only served to get both Seto Kaiba and TĂ©a Gardner fidgeting in their seats further.

“And now,” Bakura’s smile faded from his face, “the sixth card. The future. Immediate future, if things remain as they are, and you do not change your actions.” He flipped the card over, his eyebrows shooting up.

“The Devil.”

“Hey, Mr. Joey!” Joey Wheeler turned at the hail, wondering who would be nuts enough to call him “Mr. Joey.” It was no surprise when he saw Chieko Sagusa dashing towards him, beads of sweat forming on her brow. She’d been dancing in the last round, but Joey, like Tristan and Duke nearby, couldn’t stick around to watch. They’d had to get back to the class booth and do their jobs.

“Have you seen TĂ©a?” Chieko asked breathlessly, panting as she rested her palms on bent knees. Tristan and Duke arrived at Joey’s side, having picked up some freshly grilled shish-kebobs from one of the other class stands.

“Nah, haven’t seen her since that first round,” Joey shook his head, glancing to his other two companions. They too shook their heads in the negative, indicating that they hadn’t seen their friend.

“Oh dear
the judges have selected the final five girls for the finals. After that, it will be eliminated to two. TĂ©a is one of those five, so I must find her quickly!” She smiled at the boys and dashed off, looking for TĂ©a.

“Huh. She wasn’t dancin’, and she’s not at the booth,” Joey looked around as he watched people playing all the games Class 2B had set up. TĂ©a was allowed to have fun at the festival too, of course, but
ever since Duke had suggested that Seto Kaiba could have been TĂ©a’s boss, Joey’d had an uneasy feeling in his stomach.

‘Nah, there’s no way. It just couldn’t be. TĂ©a wouldn’t lie to us like that.’

And so he kept telling himself that, even as he slid on the oversized Bluebeard mask and proceeded to get sprung out of a barrel.

“Someone inhumane, cruel, and uncaring. Someone selfish, who pursued money for money’s sake,” Bakura said, frowning as an odd feeling blossomed in his chest, “someone you would rather forget.” TĂ©a didn’t seem to understand, not having anyone that fit that particular description in her life. She anxiously glanced over to Kaiba, whose eyes had narrowed.

‘Does he know someone like that?’

Andknow someone like that—just likethat, in fact—Kaiba did. And he did wantto forget all about him. Gozaburo Kaiba. His adoptivefather.

“If your actions do not change, such a person may make an unwelcome reappearance in your lives,” Bakura said after a moment, “disrupting all the good fortune that is due. But where evil lies, good does as well.” He pointed to the two humans—a man and a woman—on the card, naked and chained together. In the background, a demon—the Devil—stared down at the two with blood red eyes, wielding a hammer of fire, bearing it down on the man’s back.

“These two might not deserve the suffering they are receiving,” Bakura explained, “and must learn to take action, fight back,” Brown eyes glanced up to meet blue, “or misfortune will follow.”

Silence prompted the fortuneteller to continue, which he did.

“TheMagician,” Bakura said, a grin formingon his face. “The card of creativity, originality, confidence, and skill. You, Seto Kaiba.” Setohad been about to protest, sick of his supposed ‘connection’ toa past-life where he was some sort of magical HighPriest or some such.

But TĂ©a nudged him, smiling, “He’s right. That does sound like you.” And any protest Kaiba had been about to make died in his throat.

‘I guess
it’s a compliment. Or maybe just stating the obvious.’

“He also represents those traits, whether you find them in yourself or in others,” he motioned to TĂ©a, “You too, possess some of these characteristics.” TĂ©a blushed mildly, but nodded, signaling Bakura to continue. “This seventh card is that of your present self, with traits that you likely do not exploit as often as you should to achieve your

Bakura’s eyes wandered back over to The Lovers card, smirking as he did so.

“To obtain what you desire, you must view yourself completely, but still be open to change, to adapt. Look at all your talents and abilities as possible approaches to gaining what your desires. Only then will what you want come your way.” TĂ©a was nodding slowly, ideas forming in her mind as Bakura spoke.

“The eighth card,” Bakura continued, without missing a beat, “is the card of your outside environment. Also the card of your fears, and others’ expectations of you. The Six of Cups.”

Two, young, round-faced children stood in a courtyard, admiring various cups of flowers. A simple cottage was in the rear. It looked like a happy childhood scene.

Apang went through TĂ©a; her childhood was longgone. With her parents gone, it only reinforced thatfact more. She could never have that sweet naĂŻvetĂ© again.Even her dreams—which had kept her going for so long,had shaped her into the person she was—were startingto fade, ever so slowly

“This card seems to lean more towards your fears than anything else,” Bakura finally said, startling TĂ©a. He gestured towards Kaiba, “Your childhood has a powerful influence on your life as it is now.” A pause, “Your birthday’s coming up soon, isn’t it?”

Kaiba looked surprised, and was about to ask why, but he knew that any such question would be answered with more of Bakura’s secret smiles.

“October 25th,” he finally murmured.

“Perhapsthen, it should be a time of facing your fearsand confronting what it is in your past that hauntsyou so, even to this day.” Bakura droppedhis gaze, “So that you can concentrate onthe possibility of a brighter future, and happinesswith those you love.”

Kaiba glanced up at Bakura, and brown met with blue. Though no words were exchanged, Seto Kaiba felt sure that Ryou Bakura knew everything that was going on in his mind. So far, his ‘fortune-telling’ had been right on the money. So much so that it was almost scary.

“The card indicates a fear of one’s past, but the need to return to the simple wisdom youth brings. You will find yourself enjoying things as you did back then, and bringing happiness to others in the same way,” TĂ©a smiled slightly; she remembered seeing the innocent children from earlier, trying to catch goldfish in their rice-paper nets. And trying, over and over, even when they failed

“By stopping to admire the simpler things in life, you will come to realize their importance, their significance. Such things do not last forever, and may slip out of your fingers if you don’t try to catch them.” Kaiba’s gaze had wandered to his hands, folded in his lap, while Bakura met TĂ©a’s gaze, smiling reassuringly.

“The ninth card. The guiding key factor that will bring about the future.” He flipped the card over. Strength. A young woman with closed eyes held her hand dangerously close to the maw of a great lion. A crown of leaves held some of her hair back, while an oddly-shaped circlet of light hovered above her head.

“The symbol of infinity,” Bakura pointed to the sideways-eight above the woman’s head. “The card of a Leo. Are you, TĂ©a, by any chance, a Leo?”

TĂ©ashook her head, “No
I’m aSagittarius. But,” she furrowed her brows, “Iwas nearly born about four months premature,on August eighteenth. And my ascendant is Leo.”

Bakurasmiled. “You know a lot about astrology,it seems.”

“One of my hobbies,” TĂ©a saidwith a grin.

The white-haired youth continued, “One must have strength to attempt what others perceive as reckless, dangerous
perhaps even stupid.” The last word sounded odd, rolling off the sophisticated Ryou Bakura’s tongue.

“Your hopes and fears are guided by this card. The two of your both possess an incredible amount of strength, perhaps kept hidden and silent. People do not see your true nature all the time. The card indicates that you must make an honest effort to strive towards your goals, for only then will they be recognized. There can be no triumph without loss, no victory without suffering, no freedom without sacrifice.”

“You stole that line from ‘The Lord of the Rings’,” Kaiba commented blandly.

Bakura shrugged, “But it’s true, isn’t it? The cards are telling me that it is something that binds you both—preventing you from having what you want. You must face your past, return to it and recognize the lessons there. Even if it will be a painful venture, it is one you must make. Or those less welcome will return from your past, and I assure you,” he flipped over the final card, without shifting his gaze from either Kaiba or TĂ©a, “it will not be pleasant.”

The final card
was Death.

“TĂ©a!” The brunette turned around quickly at the sound of a voice calling her name, smiling when she saw Yugi Moto weaving his way through the crowd of people to meet her. Seto had just disappeared around the corner, as TĂ©a had to head back to the dance club stage and see whether she’d made it into the finals, with the final five girls competing before it got eliminated down to two competitors.

TĂ©ahad a feeling that she had made it—and so had Chieko. Wouldit really come down to a final competition between the two?

No,more prominently on her mind was Bakura’s reading. After flipping overthe Death card, he’d quickly explained that it didn’t mean someonewould die—rather, the Death card implied powerfulchange. It could be good or bad, sudden or progressive. But, he’d said,given the other cards in the spread, it seemed more likely that change wouldoccur regardless of whether the two teens took action or not. It was a matterof whether the change would be in their favor, helping them achieve whatthey wanted or not.

‘Could it really be possible that he
that Seto
’ Images of The Lovers card flitted past TĂ©a’s mind, and she swallowed hard. Parts of Bakura’s fortune seemed to apply to her alone, while others applied to Seto. And some
seemed to fit them both. Was it true? Regardless, TĂ©a couldn’t shake the feeling.

“Hey Yugi! Having fun? How’s our class booth doing?” She smiled, walking with the shorter boy back to the dance stage.

“Oh,it’s okay
lots of people. Joey traded off as Bluebeard withone of the other guys, and now Kashiwagi has to experience the pains ofbeing popped out of a barrel.” TĂ©a chuckled, and Yugi flushed.He forced all thoughts of earlier—of seeing Seto Kaiba stare at TĂ©a,almost jealously eyeing the way she moved against Bakura
as if he’dwanted to be in the white-haired boy’s place.

‘Itjust can’t be,’ Yugi told himself, over and overagain, ‘There’s no way she’d lie to us likethat.’

But then, had TĂ©a really lied to them? She’d said she had—earlier, when referring to how she’d gotten her friends entangled in a matchmaker scheme with Seto Kaiba and Chieko Sagusa
but she’d never explained what either of them had to do with why she’d been acting oddly—her crush. Was it possible, that merely based on what he’d seen, that TĂ©a was crushing on Seto Kaiba—and the feelings were mutual!? Or could it be
that she had feelings for someone else?

Aglimmer of hope existed within Yugi, hoping that he wasthe one TĂ©a was crushing on. He hadn’t yet workedup the nerve to confess his feelings for her yet, but he knew thatif he waited too much longer, he’d lose TĂ©a forgood. And he wasn’t willing to take that chance. So

uh, TĂ©a?” Yugi glanced up at her, “want me to buy you a treat?” They were passing the sweet area of the festival, lined with booths selling ice cream, cakes, cotton candy, and chocolate-dipped frozen fruits.

“Man, I’d love to,” TĂ©a sighed mournfully as someone walked by with a chocolate-covered frozen banana, “but I have to get back to the stage now, and if I have to dance, I’d get a cramp for sure.”

” Yugi sighed, disappointed, “okay. I’m sure you’ll make it into the finals, and I’ll be sure that all of us,” he was referring to Joey, Tristan, and Duke, “are there when you win!”

TĂ©a smiled, hugging Yugi briefly, “Thanks, Yugi,” she smiled genuinely. “It means a lot.”

Indeed, TĂ©a had made it into the final five, and she, along with Chieko, Miho, and two others girls, were anxiously waiting on-stage. The judges cast a glance up at the five girls, each smiling reassuringly as the stereo finished its cycle of random songs and stopped on one.

Don’tlook back, look back, look back, look back

The opening, echoing words were the cue to the dancers, who immediately grasped the tempo of the song and struck their poses.

Justlet go, stop livin’ for now, it’s better than it’sbeen before

TĂ©a smiled,letting herself fall into her own rhythm, that special worldbetween reality and music. Dancing brought her into a stateof hypnosis almost, freeing her from all her troubles.

Trust your heart, you’ll make it somehow.It’s everything you’re looking for

She brought a hand against her chest, closing her eyes and then raising that same arm in a motion of strength, flexing her arm. She stretched it outward, palm to the skies, her eyes opening to settle on a familiar face in the distance.

Alittle bit of joy to ease the pain

Seto Kaiba. In the past two months or so since she’d moved in with him—truly gotten to know him—her opinion of him had changed drastically. While before, she’d thought him determined and ruthless, albeit misguided in his attempts, he was still human. Try as he might, he could never deny that, no matter how much time he spent around his ‘machines.’ And he’d understood her in a way none of her other friends could have, easing the pain of losing her parents.

Tryyour best to forget yesterday! A little bit of sun withoutthe rain—Now there’s nothing in your way!

She remembered his applause, when he’d caught her dancing. Remembered his brief, but genuine smiles. His smirks. His midnight blue eyes, sparkling with light. Mischief, even

Don’t look back, keep straight ahead

If she just kept going, kept living, doing what she loved
then things would be easier. If TĂ©a could just be herself, and not be afraid of anything life threw at her

You know what is right; out of mind is out of sight!

‘It was one thing when I was still in denial over whetherI liked Seto or not. I was so afraid of what the guys would think! I thoughtthat maybe, if I set Seto up with Chieko, I’d forget my feelingsfor him. But, it didn’tturn out that way.’

No. Seto Kaiba had only wormed his way deeper into TĂ©a Gardner’s heart.

Don’t look back, keep straight ahead! Learn to read the signs,out of sight is out of mind!

‘And maybe I can’t be sure whether he really likes meor not.’ Though TĂ©a couldn’t really say he hated her—hedid kiss her, after all. ‘Even if it didn’t count,’ TĂ©a grinned, turning herhead slightly and then whipping it face-front again.

Nowlife’s too short so let’s make it last; now it’s timefor moving on

‘Iguess in a lot of people’s eyes, I’ve really just bounced backfrom my parents’ death, but the truth is
’ Acold feeling enveloped TĂ©a as she thought, her emotionsswaying as she danced, trying to focus, ‘I’ve never felt so alone in my life.’

Thingscan change, some throw it away. Forget it all, what’s done is done

‘I can’t just forget my parents
forget everything they taught me! They’re the reason I am who I am, even if they didn’t always agree with me. And they always taught me that life changes, things happen
and you have to go with the flow. You can’t change the past.’

Alittle bit of joy to ease the pain
Try your best to forget yesterday!

TĂ©a reached her hand up to the sky, drawing that same arm down to her heart, shaking her head sadly as if to demonstrate joy easing pain away. A sad smile blossomed into a happy one, bright blue eyes sparkling.

A little bit of sun without the rain; Now there’snothing in your way!

In all honesty, nothing was stopping TĂ©a. She’d been afraid before, afraid that she really WAS falling for Seto Kaiba. Afraid, once she’d realized the truth, that her friends would shun her. Afraid that she’d lose Seto -before she’d even “had” him- to a stranger, a newcomer. The only thing in her way
was herself.

Don’tlook back, keep straight ahead! You know what is right; out of mind isout of sight!

TĂ©a moved her head as if she were looking back, but stopped herself, stretching an arm forward and walked forward, pointing out to the audience and then positioning a splayed hand in front of her eyes, her movements matching the lyrics perfectly.

Don’tlook back, keep straight ahead! Learn to read the signs; out of sightis out of mind!

The other four girls on-stage had developed a sort of synchronization with their dance. While each had their own individual style, it seemed that if they all had the same technique in mind, they looked better, worked together better, and felt great about it in the end. Though the contest was only supposed to have one winner, most of the girls had admitted they’d entered just for the experience and fun.

Afterall, the prize was only a CD store gift certificate

A little bit of joy to ease the pain
 A little bit of sun withoutthe rain
A little bit of joy to ease the pain
. Ooh—

Meanwhile, out in the audience, eyes were riveted to the stage.

Violet. Blue. Emerald green. Chocolate brown. Hazel.

Different people, in different places, yet all eyes remained set on the movements of one TĂ©a Gardner, the sole link between them all. This girl—their friend, their class representative, their role model, their cheerleader, their companion, their strength—so many things to each of them, in each of their minds and each of their hearts

Alittle bit of sun without the rain
Don’t look back, keep straightahead! You know what is right; out of mind is out of sight!

‘It’d be nice to pretend the bad things in life simply didn’thappen. But it’s those experiences that make us who we are. That defineus. They shape us—for better or for worse. I’d like to pretendthat I wasn’t still aching every moment
that I wasn’t missingmy parents. I’dlike to believe that I could leave the Kaiba householdon my eighteenth birthday, and never look back. But I’d only be kiddingmyself.’

Don’t look back, keep straight ahead!Learn to read the signs; out of sight is out of mind! Don’t look back,don’t look back, keep straight ahead! You know whatis right; out of mind is out of sight!

Only half of Seto Kaiba’s mind was on the lyrics of the music playing. It was English, so he understood it, and, judging by the way TĂ©a moved to it, synchronizing her dance to the words, she too, understood the song. At least, in part.

Encouragement. A song that seemed to fit TĂ©a’s former personality to a tee. The song pushed its listeners to keep going regardless of the past, regardless of pain. Joy would always come after pain, the sun would always come out after the rain.

But Seto Kaiba knew—possibly better than anyone else there—that it usually didn’t seem so guaranteed.

Still, even as the song came to a close, she was smiling. After all she’d been through, and all she’d seen—all that had changed in her life—she kept doing what she loved.

“Still going to go for it?” Seto remembered asking TĂ©a, when he’d spied her dancing in the living room. He’d heard the music from his office, and emerged, curious. She’d danced with passion, with emotion obvious in every move she made.

She’d remained oblivious to his watchful eye until they very end of the song, but hadn’t seemed to care about it in the long run. Even though he’d seen the kind of pain she’d put herself through, down in the basement, he realized that she was likely experiencing a myriad of emotions singular to her—and some exclusive just to womankind, and she’d kept going—kept dancing, even though it reminded her of her past, of her parents and what they’d really wanted for her

She kept smiling. Believing. Going for what she really wanted.

“Yeah! I am!” Smiling so brilliantly, it almost hurt to look at her. Even if her happiness wasn’t entirely genuine
Even if she put on an act—if not for him, then for her own sake—she still kept going
She truly was tough, truly was everything Seto Kaiba had wanted to be, when he’d lost it all

“Well!” It was Ms. Misao who stood up and cleared her throat, capturing the attention of the chattering students and visitors gathered near the dance club’s stage. Despite the club’s newness, everyone seemed to have had a good time—dancers, audience members, and judges alike.

For the first time in festival history, there had been music and dancing. With an open, friendly competition that everyone could participate in, many seemed eager to find out just which two dancers had been lucky enough to make it to the final round.

“The judges and I have finally reached a ruling—as have you audience members,” Ms. Misao grinned, gesturing towards the judge box. The group of judges had emptied the box and sorted out the number of votes for each dancer. “There was an overwhelming response from you for the same two dancers that the judges and I voted unanimously for
” A dramatic pause, “This is no surprise, ladies and gentlemen—the two girls that started this all—Chieko Sagusa and TĂ©a Gardner!”

Both girls grinned at one another and moved towards the stage, the crowd cheering them on.

“You might just have an unfair advantage with this, TĂ©a,” Chieko murmured, as the two girls loosened their muscles prior to the music’s start.

“Why?” TĂ©a asked, stretching her legs out, “because it’s my CD?”

Chiekogiggled slightly,”Well, that too. But more because the audiencehas already fallen in love with you.” Chieko had chosen her words carefully,and the brunette reacted to them just as she’d predicted—she glanced upfrom her stretches briefly, scanning the audience for the one person she really wantedto love her.

And he was there. In the back, not very visible
but there, nonetheless.

Seto Kaiba’s imposing frame, along with that studded white trench coat of his -couldn’t be easily missed. TĂ©a smiled wider now, “Let’s do this.”

The two girls nodded to the judges, one of them pressing the play button on the stereo. The final round of the Autumn School Festival’s Dance Club Competition had begun.

The start of the song trumpeted out, the two girls striking sudden poses and freezing them for the beats. When the violins and drums cued in the remainder of the non-vocal intro, the two girls spun, halting just as the lyrics began.

I know she wants, I know she wants you! I know she wants, I knowshe wants you! I know she wants, I know she wants you! I know she wants,I know she wants you!

TĂ©a blinked at the intro vocals to the song.

‘Too ironic,’ TĂ©a decided, shifting her body to the upbeat music. She eyed Chieko, who was smirking as well. So. The final round was a true competition between them both.

Boy,I know you better than you think you know yourself; I know where you’recoming from

Chieko took center-stage, stretching a slender arm out and pointing directly at Seto Kaiba, no shame or embarrassment on her face as she did so. She brought that same arm in to touch her chest, and then tap her head, in time with the lyrics.

Shewas Chieko Sagusa, daughter of a wealthy CEO
part of a world where she wasn’tunderstood. When TĂ©a had initially tried to set her up with Seto,and deny her own feelings for him, she’d known that Chieko and Seto hadat least their background in common.

WhereasTĂ©a didn’t know a thing about business or wealth, bothSeto and Chieko were rolling in it.

Seeing you together and I swear I can tell there’s somethinggoing on

Chieko glanced towards TĂ©a, a playful smirk disappearing before her expression melted into one of angry suspicion. She gestured towards the brunette, narrowing her caramel-colored eyes. Chieko ran a hand past her eyes, keeping her glare firm and her body lithe. That same hand slid downwards and then stretched up to point, almost accusingly, at TĂ©a.

I’ve seen her expression when she looks in your direction:It’s there
in her eyes. You say there’s no connection, you don’t think that’sher intention
Baby, you must be blind!

TĂ©a whipped her head around as Chieko danced in circles around her, the blonde stroking the air beside TĂ©a’s face, dancing away quickly and pointing at her again, towards her companion’s expression.

Forthe sake of the stage, TĂ©a adopted a hurt face, glancing out to theaudience: out to Seto. She wasn’t outright saying anything, just goingalong with the music. But one could see that the emotions reflected in hereyes—desire, jealousy, hurt—were genuine.

Iknow that she wants you, she wants you, she wants you; I know it instinctively!I know she wants you, she wants you, she wants you; you say you’re in lovewith me!

This time, TĂ©a joined in the dancing more actively, battling Chieko with the movements of her body. The two girls both stood at the fore of the stage, gesturing outwards and then spinning to face one another, bringing their arms in to their chest and out again, their dance becoming synchronous.

Boy,you think I’m crazy, you say she don’t mean a thing—that I’mthe one for you.

It didn’t take much for TĂ©a to remember the day after the beach, when Seto had comeoutright and said that he didn’t need another girl in his life: thatTĂ©a was the one he wanted.

They’d come so close,so many times, yet something had always held TĂ©a back. But itwasn’t as if she were still denying her feelings anymore
itwas something else. Her friends? Her fear? Not even TĂ©a wassure.

She just wants your body, baby, she don’t give a damnwhat I’vebeen going through!

TĂ©a’s expression became intensely angry, thinking that ifshe’d just gone for what she’d wanted—from the very beginning—thenshe wouldn’t be in the mess she was. There’d be nocompetition with Seto. She would have asked him outright, and if he did likeher, maybe then

TĂ©a threw her arm out in Chieko’s direction, casting a mad glare her way, mouthing along the lyrics. She ran her finger over her body and pointed out towards the audience, keeping her gaze fixated on the blonde.

She wants satisfaction, to be center of attraction—It’sclear to me

The brunette dancer ran a palm against her side, from her collarbone to her navel, curving her hips as she did so. That same hand rose out and in front of TĂ©a, and she stepped toward it, as if that one hand were resting on an invisible pane of glass.

She needs no invitation, she’s got such determination,Baby, you still don’t see!

TĂ©a cast her glance back at Chieko, narrowing her eyes as she she gestured ‘no’ with her arm, turning her gaze back to the audience as she flexed her other arm up in a pose of strength and determination. Her first parted into a splayed palm, covering her eyes as she shook her head.

I know that she wants you, she wants you, she wantsyou; I know it instinctively! I know that she wants you, she wantsyou, she wants you; you say you’re in love with me!

TĂ©a took that same palm and brought it to her stomach, then up to her heart, just above her left breast—instinct. Gut feeling. That inner knowledge that can’t be dismissed so easily. A delicate finger rose from her hand to tap against TĂ©a’s head, then she extended it out, pointing out towards Seto—but spinning around and dropping her hand before anyone could follow the direction of her finger.

You understand: you take my hand, you’re proud to be my man, and I’m not lettin’ you go!

The vocals changed slightly, sounding a bit more robotic than before. The instrumentals faded into a simple beat, with both girls moving towards the front of the stage, holding their hands out to the audience. They both stretched hands out, pointing out at random guys in the area, and bringing the same hand, fisted, to their chests.

You understand: you take my hand, you’re proud to be my man and I’mnot lettin’ you go! I know she wants, I know she wants you,I know she wants, I know she wants you, I know she wants, I know she wantsyou, I know she wants, I know she wants you!

They switched positions, TĂ©a moving to the left of the stage and Chieko to the right, keeping their footwork light and bouncy, even as they repeated the same movements from the previous verse. When the instrumentals and vocals returned to how they’d been at the beginning the two girls resumed their playful “accusations,” swiveling their bodies to face one another and point.

I’ve seen her expression when she looks in your direction; it’sthere in her eyes
. You say there’s no connection, you don’tthink that’s her intention; Baby, you must be blind!

Chieko seemed almost insistent in getting her “message” across, pointing towards TĂ©a with one arm while she bent down near the fore of the stage, the two forefingers pointing at her caramel-colored eyes. Chieko’s other fingers soon rose to cover her eyes in a play off the lyrics, just before she bounced on the balls of her feet and moved backwards.

I know that she wants you, she wants you, she wants you;I know it instinctively! I know that she wants you, she wants you, she wantsyou—You say you’re in love with me! I know that she wants you, she wants you, she wants you; I know it instinctively! I know that she wants you, she wants you, she wants you, You say you’rein love with me!

The two girls continued their accusations, though TĂ©a’s glancedrifted every few seconds to Seto. She couldn’t see his face—he wastoo far away—but she wondered what he was thinking. He just stoodthere

For a moment, her eyes felt riveted, and she knew if she didn’t tear her attention away from Seto Kaiba, she’d trip up. It didn’t matter whether she won the competition or not, but she wasn’t exactly jumping at the chance to be embarrassed in front of so many friends.She had to focus!

Soon, the song came to an end, both girls freezing in place. They heaved, trying to catch their breath, as one of the judges stopped the stereo. A thundering of applause awaited the girls only moments later, as they descended from the stairs on the side of the stage. They both smiled at one another, nodding, “That was fun.”

“I think you won,” Chieko grinned, wiping her brow with a nearby towel.

“You were pretty damn good yourself,” TĂ©a acknowledged as she swilled some water. “Don’t put yourself down.”

Chieko only smiled mysteriously, “I’m not.”

“TĂ©a, there is something else I must tell you later,” she glanced back to the judges table, Ms. Misao rising to her feet to announce that the judge box would close in a moment. Students had been busy crowding the box, ripping pieces of paper and scribbling down their final decisions.

TĂ©asearched through the crowd, wondering if Seto had come closer, but she couldn’tspot him. However, her eyes did catch on a familiar head ofblonde hair.

‘Mai!’ TĂ©a thought excitedly. She hadn’t talked to the older girl in a while, and looked forward to having an open girl-talk with her friend about recent events.

“Okayeveryone! The time for voting is closed! Now we find out who has won the first—andhopefully annual—” Ms. Misao grinned at the newsweating girls, “Domino High Autumn Festival Dance Competition!”

The judges emptied the box, sorting out the scraps of paper and verifying that what they said was legible and legitimate. A good ten minutes later, they’d sorted out the scraps and come to a conclusion.

“Well,” Ms. Misao announced, glancing back at the judge box and the mounds of paper, “This is amazing. It looks like we have a tie—” Ms. Misao was cut off as one of the judges reached into the judge box once more, checking to see if there were any more votes.

And, from the bottom-most corner, Mr. Norimachi withdrew a folded scrap of paper. Unfolding it carefully, his face blossomed into a huge grin. He handed the paper to Ms. Misao, who read it, and smiled, “We officially have a winner! Congratulations—” She glanced towards the two girls, who were almost leaning forward in anticipation, “TĂ©a Gardner!”

A loud cheer arose from the audience, the two competing girls hugging briefly before TĂ©a sprang up to the stage, swiveling her hips and winking as she accepted the gift certificate to the music store. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Misao announced that for the remainder of the festival, it would be free music, and anyone could get up on the stage and dance, or even make requests for songs.

TĂ©a descended from the stage, a bright smile on her face. Chieko greeted her at the base of the stairs, “Come on.”


Chieko grinned, “Aren’t you curious as to whose vote the tiebreaker was?” She pulled TĂ©a towards the judge table, where Mr. Norimachi handed them the infamous last vote. Chieko held it, a smile spreading across her face as she opened it.

“Peoplearen’t going to write their names on the paper,” TĂ©apointed out, knowing that the votes were anonymous. But that didn’t stopher from wondering what Chieko was thinking.

“The tiebreaker was for you,” Chieko murmured, “I believe that whoever’s vote it was, they left us a pretty apparent clue.”

TĂ©a didn’t believe Chieko for a second, but she amused the blonde by glancing at the paper. Her eyes widened as she recognized the handwriting on the tiny scrap.

The blonde was grinning, “You recognize the handwriting, too?”

TĂ©a nodded slowly, “It’s—it’s Seto’s. I didn’t think—I didn’t think he’d vote for this kind of thing. I was surprised he even came today, and then stuck around as long as he did

“Well, now we know without a doubt who he prefers more,” Chieko said with an assured nod.

TĂ©a blinked, clutching the scrap of paper, “Chieko, it was just a dance competition

“Youhave gotten him to open up in more ways than I ever could,” Chieko saidsmoothly, cutting TĂ©a off with a quick movement of her right hand. “Besides,it’s not like I was really putting any effort into it, you know. We spentmost of the past week preparing for the festival. If I had been serious aboutpursuing him, rather than getting you two to see how much you cared for oneanother,” Chieko winked, “then something tells me that that scrapof paper would have my name on it.” Chieko sounded awfully sure of herself, bordering on arrogant, but there was a smile playing on thecorner of her lips.

“The truth is—” she began, but this time, it was Chieko who was cut off.

“Hey TĂ©a! Great job! I knew you’d win!” Yugi grinned, and glanced up towards Chieko, “Sorry, did I interrupt something?”

“No,” Chieko smiled down at Yugi, and quickly realized his other friends were approaching. “Please, everyone. I have something I need to tell you.”

TĂ©aglanced at Chieko worriedly: what was the girl going to reveal? Chieko hadadmitted some time ago that she’d known all along that TĂ©a and Setoweren’trelated, but she still didn’t know why TĂ©a had tried to deceivehe —andher own friends—the way she had. Was she going to announce to the guys that TĂ©a liked Seto?

TĂ©a swallowed hard, ignoring the burning lump in her throat.

“I have a fiancĂ©,” Chieko said simply. All present blinked, and then blinked again. When Chieko’s words finally reached them, jaws dropped.

“Wha—butI thought you were into Kaiba or somethin’!” Joey asked, confused, “You
youain’t engaged to him are ya?” Joey stared, leaning forward on his elbows, “Er, no offense if ya are

Chieko laughed, “No. That was just
” she glanced at TĂ©a, “an experiment. I wanted to tell you because I’ve been deceiving you for too long. And I have come to see you all as my very good friends, which I very much appreciate. My changing schools has never been this easy or fun before, especially now that I’m in a different country altogether.” Chieko smiled in that innocent way of hers, though it didn’t exactly catch.

afiancĂ©?” TĂ©a ducked her head slightly, “Whywere you pretending to go for
Kaiba, anyway?” she caughtherself before she referred to Seto by his given name, knowing that herfriends would latch onto such a detail.

“I have never met my intended,” Chieko explained, surprising her classmates further, “but I have heard a great deal about his character. He is supposed to be quite rich, enigmatic, and supremely arrogant.”

The boys sweatdropped, “Well, that does kind of sound like Kaiba
” Yugi muttered under his breath. TĂ©a suppressed a grin.

Duke asked her question before she could speak, “But an arranged marriage? I thought those kind of things died out years ago.”

“Well,it seems to be getting more popular lately. My parents are friendswith my fiancĂ©’s parents, and well
I supposeaside from the personality similarities between Kaiba and my fiancĂ©,I wanted one last chance to ‘play the field’ beforeI got tied down.”

“Yo–You’re getting married soon?” TĂ©a asked dubiously, blue eyes widening.

Chieko shook her head, “Not that soon. When I get out of high school, I imagine.”

TĂ©asweatdropped. “That’s still pretty soon, isn’tit?”

“Well,” Chieko grinned, “not if I meet him and he turns out to be the love of my life.” She tilted her head purposefully towards TĂ©a, implications laced throughout her voice, “If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be able to wait until it’s ‘standard.'”

Everyonenodded, though few present could really empathize with Chieko’ssituation. But they did feel somewhat more informed—perhapssince TĂ©a and Kaiba had been getting closer asof late—since the funeral and all—Chieko had turnedto her in the hopes that she’d learn more about Kaiba—andbe able to pursue him. Or at the least, understand him, so shewould know her own fiancĂ© better. Was that why TĂ©afelt the need to pretend she and Kaiba were brother and sister?Was that the connection between SetoKaiba and TĂ©a’s mysterious crush?

Suchquestions raced through Yugi’s head as he glanced betweenthe two girls. He still didn’t believe that Joeyand Tristan could be right—that he wasTĂ©a’scrush. After all, he’d seen the way Seto had been staringat TĂ©a earlier, but maybe it was a one-sidedcrush on his end? Was it possible? It certainly didn’t sound like Seto Kaiba—to be crushingon a girl, let alone the best friend of one of his establishedrivals


The festival only had a good hour or so left in it, and the boys had to rush back to the Class 2B booth to check on things, and make sure everything was running smoothly. TĂ©a wanted to find Seto again—see if he was still wandering around the festival—but she didn’t dare voice her thoughts aloud.

Thankfully, Chieko seemed to know exactly what was on her mind, and the two girls excused themselves from the other boys with the hurried pretense of being hungry. Once they had split from the others, their pace decreased, Chieko glancing at TĂ©a from the side.

“You wish to find him, don’t you?”

TĂ©a stopped in her tracks, glancing up at her blonde companion with a rueful smile, “You know me too well.”

“Verywell,” Chieko smiled, “but since we have sometime left before the festival ends, I’d like one last fun dance—mypick. Say, twenty minutes from now, at the stage?”

TĂ©a nodded her assent, smiling gratefully at her. “Deal.”

Not five minutes later, TĂ©a wandered the festival alone, occasionally glancing at the trinkets, food, and games her other schoolmates had set up. As per usual, there were yakisoba and okonomiyaki booths, a karaoke booth, the manga club’s doujinshi sale, and miniature competitions ranging from table tennis to mini golf.

TĂ©a had circled the first three rows, her eyes catching on Ryou Bakura, who sat at his booth, telling fortunes to a gaggle of starry-eyed girls.

‘All the things in Bakura’s fortune were pretty accurate,’ TĂ©a thought to herself, ‘He even knew that Seto’s birthday was—’ TĂ©a’s thoughts abruptly derailed.

‘Ohno, his birthday! It’s in a week! What am I going to do!?’ Suddenly,TĂ©a had forgotten all about finding Seto, and insteadset on figuring out what to get forhim. Her thoughts were all a jumble, flashing back to when she’dcaught sight of Seto watching her dance earlier—when she’dfinally run into him, and they’d had their fortune told—andthen, seeing his familiar handwriting with her nameon it, choosing her as the winner of the danceclub competition.

She was so distracted that she didn’t even think to move out of the way of a pair of approaching girls, and bumped right into them.

“A little spaced out, aren’t we?”

TĂ©a glanced up, her blue eyes widening in surprise, “Mai! Serenity!” The two girls smiled, the younger of the pair reaching to hug TĂ©a.

“I thought I saw Mai earlier, but Serenity, what are you doing here?”

Serenity grinned, “Well, I am coming here next spring. And what better way to get to know the campus than to show up at the open festival?”

TĂ©a nodded, “Does this mean you’re going to start shadowing me soon?” she grinned. Though Joey was rather overprotective of his sister, TĂ©a doubted he’d be able to ‘protect’ for Serenity forever, especially considering that in the next spring, she’d be a full-fledged high school student, just as they were.

“Totally!” Serenity grinned, starting to walk again, “You were heating up that stage earlier, TĂ©a.”

Mai nodded her agreement, “I’ll admit, you have moves—and guts, too.” The blonde smirked, “What say the three of us tear up that stage since it’s free music hour?” TĂ©a blinked and grinned back.

Maybe what she needed the most at that moment was to hang out with the girls. They were far easier to talk to than the boys, and better, they’d be able to give her some advice as to what to get for Seto for his birthday.

“Sounds great!”

Mai wore a wide grin on her face, waving a sky blue CD in front of her two companions. TĂ©a caught sight of the album title and laughed aloud.

“Are you kidding me, Mai? I never thought you were a fan of Britney Spears.”

“She’snot half bad,” Mai replied, grinning, “but I know someboys that would love to see us imitate her movesfrom that first music video of hers.” TĂ©aand Serenity both nodded, knowing exactly what Mai was referringto: the infamous “Baby One More Time” video,where Spears had dressed up as a Catholic school girl and madethe outfit undeniably sexy, especially with the way she tied upher blouse and hiked up her skirt.

At first, TĂ©a, like many of the other girls in her school, had disliked Spears for all the attention she got—but eventually, TĂ©a started to study the girl’s dance moves, realizing that the American singer’s choreography wasn’t half bad.

“I have an even better idea,” TĂ©a’s eyes lit up, her smile mischievous. “Come on.” She dragged the two girls away from the stereo near the dance stage, and into the dimly-lit school building.

The white hallways were devoid of all light, filled with the dim shadows of the festival booths, people milling about outside, and the trees lining the campus. Rather than appear as the bustling academic institution it was, Domino High appeared to be a ghost campus, without a bit of movement within.

That was, of course, excepting the triad of girls skittering through the halls.

“Where are you taking us, TĂ©a?” Serenity questioned, being tugged along by the elder brunette.

TĂ©aonly smirked, tossing Serenity a glance, “You’ll see ina second.” Soon, they arrived before a closed doorwith no marking on or near it; TĂ©a rummaged through herpocket and withdrew a set of keys that opened the door.

“Itpays to be the class representative,” the brunette smiledat her companions, flicking the room’s light on. Serenityand Mai peered past the door frame, their eyes widening, grinsblossoming on their faces.

Seto Kaiba wasn’t sure why he was sticking around the festival. He’d seen TĂ©a, and they’d finally devised a sort of truce to get them talking again. But
he still didn’t understand what she’d said back then

“It’s a little late for that!”

And then there was Bakura’s fortune. It had been eerily accurate. And what was more, the white-haired youth had indicated that if neither Seto or TĂ©atook action, things wouldn’t go in their favor. Someone from the past would disturb their happiness

‘It’s impossible, though. Gozaburo
he’s dead!’

Still, Seto couldn’t shake the odd feeling that the Devil card had somehow been related to the man.

And, lost in thought as he was, Seto Kaiba remained at the school festival, merely watching as kids played games, his classmates ran booths, and people ate, drank, and were otherwise festive and merry.

He somehow found himself back near the dance stage. It wasn’t as crowded as earlier, now that the competition was over, but

He hadn’t even realized it, but his eyes were searching for someone. Her. TĂ©a

But she wasn’t anywhere in sight. Seto sighed, pivoting on the ball of his foot to turn away. His normally cool composure broke when he found himself face-to-face with Joey Wheeler, the shorter blond having crossed his arms over his chest and not looking a bit happy with Seto Kaiba’s presence.

“What do you want, Wheeler?” Seto said with little enthusiasm.

“Igotta few questions to ask you, Kaiba,” Joeyglared, his dislike for the CEO apparent.

“Joey, where the hell—” Tristan stopped running, having found his friend on the brink of a confrontation with Seto Kaiba.

“Joey, what are you doing? You have to get back to the booth, you know Kashiwagi can’t stick around for much longer
” he trailed off, purposely ignoring Seto Kaiba’s presence. He was sure that Joey, like himself, couldn’t get Duke’s earlier theory out of his head.

‘It’sjust not possible, right? Seto Kaiba couldn’t beTĂ©a’s boss. It

“Hey! You know what Duke said earlier? Well, what if he was right? And this guy is really—” Joey thumbed towards Kaiba, shooting daggers at him with his eyes. Tristan clamped a hand over Joey’s mouth, intending to muffle whatever he was about to unnecessarily blurt.

However, the blond’s eyes shifted slightly, widening to the size of saucers. Tristan curiously followed Joey’s gaze, and his jaw dropped, his hand quickly sliding away from his best friend’s mouth.

Three girls, oddly dressed in school uniforms, complete with winter sweaters and long-sleeved blouses, were heading up to the stage. From where the three boys stood, they looked vaguely familiar, but given that the girls weren’t facing them directly, it was difficult to recognize them.

That was, until the music started blaring, and the three girls faced front.

Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” flared on the speakers, the three girls’ identities revealed for all to see: TĂ©a, Serenity, and Mai! The three girls stepped forward, sashaying their hips in time with the song and one another, all while people turned and started to watch, a crowd quickly gathering.

It wasn’t long before the song reached the end of the chorus, at which point the three girls pulled off their cardigan-sweaters and revealed their tied-up shirts. Wolf whistles immediately sounded from the crowd, the three girls grinning as they spun and continued to dance.

“M-Mai!? What da heck is SHE doin’ here?!” Joey’s eyes were still wide, but they remained fixed on the blonde in the triad—the Domino High uniform fitting her voluptuous frame all too snugly.

“Isn’tthat your sister up there too?” Kaibapointed out wryly, though his own attentions were focused onTĂ©a. He’d seen her dance before, seen her down inthe basement, seen her in the living room, but never–neverso

He couldn’t describe the feeling, the sensation: thatsame dark feeling curling in the pit of his stomach, windingits way down

“Serenity!” Joey and Tristan gasped at the same time, their eyes widening further.

Itwas one thing to see Mai up there, shockingly in a school uniform.With TĂ©a, at least, they could understand, her dancing—evenif it was in the Domino High uniform, a practice which wassurely forbidden by the deans—there was no denying thatthe brunette radiated ‘sexy.’ At least with her andMai, it was somewhat expected! But

The young girl had gotten her sight back less than six months ago, but in that time, she’d developed a strong bond with TĂ©a and Mai—which was apparent from the way she moved with them, grinning and dancing despite the catcalls they got from the boys in the audience.

Serenity had a slight blush on her cheeks, while Mai and TĂ©a merely smirked, keeping their movements fluid and synchronous. It was amazing how the three of them, without any previous practicing, managed to dance together in unison, each mimicking the others’ movements.

Once the second verse started, the girls started to lip synch to the words, even daring to lean down towards the audience and draw some of the drooling boys closer.

Though the stage was a good distance from where Seto, Joey, and Tristan stood, when the ebony-haired ponytail of Duke Devlin appeared near the fore of the crowd, accented by Duke’s choice red clothes, Tristan immediately raced to the front.

“Damn that Duke, there’s no way I’m letting him near Serenity!”

“Hey!That’s my sister you’re talkin’ about!”

Joey and Tristan were off like shots, quickly forgettingabout whatever Joey had been about to confront Kaiba about.And as for Kaiba—well,he too had forgotten whatever Wheeler had been about to annoyhim with.

‘If he just up and left like that, it couldn’thave been important,’ Kaiba thought distantly. ButKaiba’s attention was divided and any curiosity he may havehad over Joey’s would-be confrontation faded away as he watchedthe lithe, movingform of one TĂ©aGardner.

‘She moves like water
’ Kaiba’sthoughts had little rhyme or reason to them—all he knewwas that he hadn’t blinked in the past two minutes, andhe had no desire to any time soon.

The song was quickly coming to a close, the trio of girls grinning madly as they took their bows and scampered off stage, just before any teachers nearby could catch them “altering” their school uniforms in such daring ways—or, in Serenity and Mai’s case, wearing uniforms that weren’t even theirs!

Breathless,TĂ©a, Serenity and Mai entered the cool, dimhallways of the school, having escaped the crowd. They’dspotted Joey and Tristan trying to worm their way throughthe crowd (with little success), and quickly ducked beyondtheir line of sight, nearly brushing by Duke as well. Butthankfully, they’d escaped all of the boys, and werenow right back where they’d started: in that uniformroom TĂ©a had unlocked.

“That was fun!” Serenity grinned, “I really like dancing, TĂ©a.”

“Yeah?” TĂ©a smiled, still trying to catch her breath from their dancing and dashing, “It’s great exercise. And fun too.” She remembered all the catcalls and wolf whistles, “Fun for everyone.”

Mai smirked, “Did you see the look on Joey’s face when he realized his precious sister was up on stage grooving in a tight school uniform?” She winked a violet eye at Serenity.

“Oh,I don’t know about that
I think hewas staring at you!” Serenity nodded towardsthe blonde, “or maybe at your shirt, and how small itseems

“Not my fault, Sugar,” Mai frowned in distaste, “I haven’t been in high school for five years now. The uniforms barely fit me then, and they don’t fit me well now. But I guess that was the point, wasn’t it, TĂ©a?”

TĂ©a nodded, “Total blast. But we have to get back out there, before anyone catches us in here.” The girls nodded, Mai and Serenity trading their borrowed uniforms for the clothes they’d worn to the festival.

“A gift, huh?” Mai tapped her chin with a perfectly-manicured finger, violet eyes lifting to the sky as the pondered TĂ©a’s predicament.

“It’s always so hard to shop for Joey,” Serenity murmured.

Mai nodded her agreement, “Boys as a rule are a pain to shop for. I don’t know how you put up with so many of them, TĂ©a.” The blonde winked at her younger friend, who promptly blushed.

“You make it sound like I have a harem of them,” TĂ©a grumbled.

Serenity and Mai laughed, the older girl clapping her hands together, “Well, one could look at it that way. After all, you are the lone girl in a bunch of guys. Serenity and I don’t go to this school, and you’ve known them all the longest

“Mai’s right,” Serenity nodded, “even though Joey and I were inseparable as kids, there was a long time when we had to go without seeing or even talking to one another. It’s only been recently, with my surgery and Joey’s breaking into Dueling that we’ve been able to be together

Therewas a moment of uncomfortable silence. It seemed that Duelinghad brought them all together—and caused more problems. They made new friends and new enemies. One mysterygot solved, but another unfolded in its place. Relationshipsstarted and ended

Everything was on fragile ground.

“You know what?” Mai finally said, “I don’t think we can help you with Kaiba’s gift.”

TĂ©a blinked, “Why not?” She was at a loss for any decent ideas—everything she thought up as just too stereotypical to give to someone like Seto.

Boxers? Too embarrassing. A wallet? He probably had fifty of them.

There wasn’t a single Duel Monsters card that TĂ©a could possibly get for Seto that he didn’t already have.

And clothing?

‘As much as I’d love to redo Seto’s wardrobe, that’s a project for another day—when I have more time and more money!’

So what was left?

“Ithink whatever you get for him should be from your heart,” Maiexplained. She wrinkled her lips, “It sounds weirdcoming from me, I know, but it’s the truth. If you want to get something meaningful that he’llreally like, then it has to be something you thoughtof.”

“Yeah,” Serenity agreed, pointing her popsicle stick at TĂ©a, “you don’t want to get him something generic, right? You want him to know how much you care, and how much he means to you.”

“Sincewhen are you two the Espa Roba sisters? Yeesh, I hateit when I’m not right,” TĂ©agrumbled. The other girls laughed, knowing TĂ©aagreed.


The brunette turned towards the source of the voice calling her name. She, Serenity and Mai weren’t far from where they’d been snacking in the “food court” area of the festival, where most of the booths were set up around a series of tables, benches, and chairs.

“Chieko!” TĂ©a grinned, “I was wondering where you went. Are we still on for that ‘last fun dance?'”

“You bet!” Chieko nodded in affirmation, then turned her gaze towards TĂ©a’s two new companions.

“Hi,” Chiekosmiled at TĂ©a’s companions, “I am ChiekoSagusa. I saw you dancing on-stage earlier. You twohave talent.” Serenity blushed, whileMai regarded the other blonde with a mild smile. TĂ©ahad told her about Chieko—including her mostrecent revelation that she had a fiancĂ© andhadn’t intended to go after Seto Kaiba at all—andMai didn’t like the girl much. She wasn’t bad though

“Mai Valentine,” Mai introduced herself, briefly shaking the other girl’s hand.

“Serenity Wheeler,” the younger redhead grinned, “I’m sure you know of my brother.”

Chieko nodded, laughing, “Indeed I do. I knew he had to have a sister, he’s the least crude of many of the boys here.”

TĂ©a, Serenity and Mai all sweatdropped in embarrassment, wondering how Chieko could ever think that Joey was politer than “most of the boys” at school.

“The other girls from the club all thought we could rope you three into one last dance before the festival ends for the day,” Chieko continued, “would you like to join us?”

The three girls exchanged a glance. They’d danced quite a bit, run around even more, and then eaten. But

“You’re on!”

“Domino High!” TĂ©a had gotten hold of the microphone again and shouted out to the crowds. Faces turned in her direction, people filtering back to the empty area that had been set up for the express purpose of the dance club’s competition.

“There’s only about ten minutes left of today’s festival, and us girls from the dance club,” TĂ©a grinned, gesturing to the cheering members of the dance club, “and any other interested parties,” she winked at Bakura, who had since closed his booth and stood on the fringe of the gathering crowd, “can come up and join us for one last dance! We’d like to thank all the guests that have helped support our school today, all the dedicated students who stuck around running booths, and all the teachers who are nice enough to let us party like this!”

A loud cheer erupted from the crowd, and it took TĂ©a stepping towards the stereo and starting the music to quiet people down at all.

Youspin me inside outside, and then you hold me so tight
We’lldance and party all night, Mambo MambolĂ©!

The song already had people clapping and cheering in the background, and once everyone heard the poppy melody, they joined in as well. The girls spun on stage, wrapping their arms around themselves and then unwinding. They curved their hips up and down, and then rolled their hands around one another, waving to the audience as they backed up, all in one line.

So kiss me in the moonlight, you know italways feels right, we’ll dance and party all night— Mambo MambolĂ©!

The girls all pointed up towards the bright autumn sky, towards the moon that shone a brilliant white against the blue of the sky. They blew kisses to everyone in the audience, eliciting a round of laughter and catcalls, while they grooved to the beat.

Towards the end of the verse, the vocals dropped out, the instrumentals building to a rolling call that TĂ©a imitated, stepping forward from her place in the center of the line, sounding like a Warrior Princess about to attack.

The girls all stepped forward at the same time, joining TĂ©a with wide grins on their faces. They waved their hands in the air, urging crowd members to dance, or join them on-stage. People cheered as girls and boys alike filtered through the crowd, moving towards the front area to dance with the others.

You’re on my mind every day you are with me, and every night boy you dance in my dreams! We dance united, together we are one
I’lltake you there baby, come home with me!

The girls tapped the sides of their heads and then pointed out to the audience, many of the girls pointing to their boyfriends or best friends out in the crowd. It was no coincidence that TĂ©a’s finger pointed straight to Seto Kaiba —who unfortunately found himself smack in the middle of the crowd, rather than on the fringes—while Serenity pointed toward Tristan, and Mai toward Joey.

The three boys—along with countless others, including Yugi and Duke—had appeared to see the final dance of the day at the festival. Most booths were closing, or were closed already, so it seemed as though the entire school population was there to watch.

The girls drew their hands back in towards their chests and thrust them out again, their forefingers raised to indicate “one,” just as they all grinned at one another, leaning down and motioning with those same fingers for the boys at the fore of the crowd to come on-stage.

Youspin me inside outside, and then you hold me so tight
We’lldance and party all night, Mambo MambolĂ©!

The boy TĂ©a found herself dancing with was none other than Ryou Bakura, who spun TĂ©a towards his chest and out again, squeezing her shoulders as he brought her back in. The two separated from their chaste embrace as they shimmied up and down with the other dancers, laughing and grinning all the while.

So kiss me in the moonlight, you knowit always feels right, we’ll dance and party all night—MamboMambolĂ©!

Mai and Serenity had each hooked up withother guys, much to the disdain of Joey, Tristan, andDuke, still in the audience. But rather than let theguys lead, both Mai—and shockingly, Serenityas well—took the leads and dipped the guys backwards, almost as if they intended to kissthem. They didn’t, of course, and arched back upwardsjust as quickly, extending their forefingers to thesame guys they’d separated from and wiggling themat the blushing boys. They brought their hands to theirchest, waving them up in the air after a beat, andgrinned, shouting out the last words to the audience.

There was an instrumental verse for a brief period, the noise of a standard whistle sounding off in the background, the girls stepping forward and wiggling their hips to the beat.

Ifell in love with your voice and your laughter. Andjust one smile always makes me believe! Our destiny—curiousif you are mine
Oh, won’t you tell me thatwe’re meant to be?

TĂ©a, Serenity, Mai and Chieko quickly dominated the stage, their movements synchronized and full of emotion, as each of the girls wore a brilliant smile on her face, eyes twinkling.

They each pointed out to the crowd again, drawing their hands back in to touch their throats as they laughed, following the first line. They took a step backwards and turned slightly to the side, angling their profiles to the audience as they smiled mischievously. The four girls splayed their palms up to the autumn clouds, waving them at the audience as they brought their hands back to their chests, smiling as they stepped forward and back again, forefingers waving as the girls’ smiles grew wider.

Youspin me inside outside, and then you hold me so tight
We’lldance and party all night, Mambo MambolĂ©!

“She’s really pretty,” a voice commented.

Seto Kaiba knew that voice—he glanced downwards, his eyebrows raising when his gaze fell on his little brother, Mokuba.

“What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Mokuba smirked, taking a bite out of his cotton candy. He grinned briefly at his brother, before the two of them turned back to the stage, watching the girls dance.

“Whoare you talking about?” Seto finally asked ofhis younger brother, eyeing him out of the corner ofhis eye.

“TĂ©a, ofcourse!” Mokuba responded, his tone almost incredulous.Were Seto to read between the lines (which he did),he could easily tell that what Mokuba hadn’t saidaloud went something like this: Whoelse would I have been talkingabout!?

In all truth, Seto Kaiba would have chuckled at such words
but as they remained unspoken, and Mokuba’s gaze remained trained on TĂ©a’s vibrant form, Seto realized something.

A quick glance down at his brother.

Adefinitive scarlet hue coloring his face, his eyesdarting back and forth as he watched TĂ©a closely.

‘He–he likes her.’ Seto realized suddenly. And it wasn’t the sort of childlike “like” between friends. And not even the “like” between siblings. (Mokuba did, after all, call TĂ©a ‘Big Sister,’ a fact which amused Seto to no end.) Mokuba had a crush on TĂ©a—and from the looks of it, a bad one.

Mokuba glanced curiously up at his brother, feeling the penetrating gaze on his back. Seto quickly averted his gaze, wondering how to react to this sudden truth.

So kiss me in the moonlight, you knowit always feels right, we’ll dance and party allnight—Mambo MambolĂ©!

For the repeat of the chorus, the four lead girls jumped down from the stage, the audience allowing them dancing space. Many eager boys filtered through the crowd in the attempt to dance with the foursome, but the crowd was so thick that few could even come close. Instead, Mai, Serenity, TĂ©a, and Chieko danced with the same boys as before; random classmates, save Bakura, whom TĂ©a had danced with previously for the first round in the dance competition.

MamboMamboleo, Mambo Mambolé! Mambo Mamboleo,Mambo Mambolé! Mambo Mamboleo, MamboMambolé! Mambo Mamboleo, Mambo Mambolé!

Once again, an instrumental bridge, and then the fading out of the clapping and cheering.

Whenyou dance with me boy, I know you feel my equal!

There were two rolling “Whoops” that TĂ©a again imitated, much to the amusement of the audience. And then, a crescendo that TĂ©a called out, “Ayiyiyi!” sliding forward on her knees and holding both her arms out towards the audience.

Whenyou dance with me boy, I know you feel my equal!

“I’m going up to get a better look,” Mokuba spoke up, tossing the now-blue cotton candy stick into a nearby trash bin

“Big Brother?” he glanced up at Seto.

“Yeah?” Oceanblue met with with midnight blue. Mokuba. His brother.A child
? He had a wisdom that sometimeseven Seto believed surpassed his own intelligence.He was wise beyond his years, and it showed in theyounger boy’s eyes.

One day, Seto knew, he’d have to stop being Mokuba’s father and brother. Mokuba would grow up, would get a life of his own
Seto just wanted to make sure it went well. That Mokuba was happy. And, well
TĂ©a made him happy.

Seto sighed, causing Mokuba to wonder what was going on in his older brother’s head.

“Try to have fun. You never got to as a kid
” Mokuba looked away, almost shamefully, “you grew up too fast.”

And with those odd parting words, he disappeared into the crowd, ducking between people’s legs to get closer to the stage.

MamboMamboleo, Mambo MambolĂ©! Mambo Mamboleo,Mambo MambolĂ©! Mambo Mamboleo, MamboMambolĂ©! Mambo Mamboleo, Mambo MambolĂ©!You spin me inside outside, and then you hold meso tight
We’ll dance and partyall night, Mambo MambolĂ©!

Tristan, and Joey resumed their struggle in getting through the crowd, each of them hoping to prevent Duke from leaping on-stage and dancing with Serenity—at least, as closely as TĂ©a was dancing with Bakura. For the brief moment they stopped to watch the brunette and the white-haired boy dance, they got jostled backwards in the crowd, hundreds of visitors and classmates dancing.

They all sighed, resignedly, and had to try and dance their way through the crowd—a sight that made the four girls at the fore of the stage laugh while they grooved.

Sokiss me in the moonlight, you know it always feelsright, we’ll dance and party all night—MamboMambolĂ©!

“That TĂ©a girl really isbeautiful, isn’t she?” Seto Kaiba glancedout of the corner of his eye, wondering who wasspeaking. It wasn’t as if he were jealous of someone else looking atTĂ©a
onecouldn’t help it, the way she tookcenter-stage

The only feature Seto noticed on the person that had appeared beside him was a mop of oddly-colored hair, almost aquamarine in hue.

“Don’tyou agree
” a pause, “Mr.Kaiba?”

Seto sucked in a breath;the person had been speakingto him! But he refused to tear his gaze awayfrom TĂ©a for any reason. Perhaps it wasbecause he was enchanted by TĂ©a’sgraceful movements, or perhaps he simply desired tobe as transfixed as he was

“Ah, but beauty is so fleeting
” Had Seto been looking towards the young man beside him, he would have been startled by the uncanny resemblance between them. The only noticeable difference was in the stranger’s odd hair color
And the malicious smile that had appeared on the aqua-haired boy’s face.

“As is human life.”

At that, Seto turned, whipping around almost violently—but whoever had spoken was gone. Amongst the huge crowd, not a single head of aquamarine hair could be spotted. Few people, if any, even seemed to be leaving the grounds. Everyone had gathered to watch the dancers perform one last time

‘Had to be my imagination,’ Seto told himself, turning back towards the stage. TĂ©a was up there, dancing her heart out, radiating such real emotion
An odd ache formed in Seto Kaiba’s chest, watching her dance like that.

After such heartache in her life, such pain and such loss
she still had something left to be passionate about. To love with all her heart, and chase after, even when her dreams seemed fleeting.

‘I–I never had anything like that. I didn’t even want to be in this position. Maybe Mokuba’s right
I grew up too fast

How would his life have been different—had Seto’s birth parents lived? Had his mother not died giving birth to Mokuba? Where would Seto be now, had he never become the “protĂ©gĂ©” of Gozaburo Kaiba?

You spin me inside outside, andthen you hold me so tight
We’ll dance andparty all night, Mambo MambolĂ©! So kissme in the moonlight, you know it always feelsright, we’ll dance and party all night—MamboMambolĂ©!

Everyone had gotten into the spirit of the song, almost everyone in the crowd dancing to the poppy, fun music. The dancers on-stage encouraged more movement and smiles, grinning from ear to ear. They glowed, sunlight reflecting off the thin sheen of sweat on all their necks, smiles playing across each of their lips.

The girls spun in place, their partners squeezing their shoulders as they were brought back in. They all broke apart, injecting their own brand of dance moves into the celebration, then following the lyrics again and blowing kisses at the audience.

La la la la la la la lala la la la la!

The singular, repetitive syllable was the cue to all the dancers that the song was coming to a close. Most of them took their bows, and the dancers in the crowd stopped, catching their breath and starting to clap for the exiting dancers.

La la la la la la la la la la la la la!

Finally, Serenity, Mai, and Chieko exited the stage, leaving TĂ©a alone by the end of the song. She took one final bow, the applause and cheering almost thundering in her ears. She grinned despite her short breath, and waved as she left the stage.

The tremendous crowd slowly began to filter from the school grounds, the few students in the area trying to worm their way through the masses to clean up the booths and tables.

TĂ©a could just barely make out Joey, Tristan, and Duke, being jostled like rag dolls in the middle of the crowd. It was apparent that the boys were struggling their hardest to get to the front of the line—and, as TĂ©a glanced down to the base of the stage, she realized why. Joey was likely heading for Mai, who was speaking with the object of Tristan and Duke’s affections—Serenity. Chieko stood beside them, glancing out at the crowd through tired eyes.

TĂ©a smiled, grabbing the towel she’d tossed on the stage-side chairs and wiping her brow with it.

“They’re like fish trying to swim upstream,” TĂ©a commented as she stood beside Mai and Serenity. The two girls laughed, noting the boys struggle. “Come on, let’s go grab something to drink before the booths close completely.”

Serenity looked unsure, though she still wore a smile, “And leave the boys
?” Mai only winked, and soon, the four girls disappeared through the crowds, the three boys that had been trying to reach them stopping in their tracks and blinking in confusion.

“Excuse me, are you TĂ©a Gardner?”

TĂ©a, Chieko, and Serenity all turned around, the crowd milling about them. An older woman with shoulder-length locks of curly red hair was approaching them, a smile on her face.

that’s me,” TĂ©a responded slowly, her face a mask of confusion and wonder, “Who are you?”

The woman chuckled slightly, the smile never leaving her lips, “The name’s Francesca Lohrs, but you can call me Fran. I’m from the Domino Performing Arts Company,” Fran paused, her smile curving into a smirk. “You three are awfully talented young ladies.”

TĂ©a’sblue eyes widened—this woman was from aperforming arts company? InDomino!?

‘What could she possibly want with us?’ TĂ©a wondered, cocking her head as she listened to the woman speak.

“I’m scouting for new talent for the new season. I didn’t expect to hit the jackpot at a school festival, but I seemed to have done just that.”

Threesets of eyes widened, TĂ©a looking fromChieko to Serenity, “Um, I

“Theother girls in the dance club told me I mightfind you here, and that if I was interested inscouting people from your school, I’d besttalk to you and—Chieko Sagusa,is it?” Fran turned towards Chieko, whonodded, extending her hand in a polite, but firmhandshake.

“TĂ©a and I are the dance club presidents,” Chieko explained, “and this is our friend, Serenity Wheeler. She doesn’t go to Domino High yet, but she will in the spring.”

Serenity nodded, shaking Fran’s hand brightly.

“Um,wasn’t there a fourth
younglady with you?” Fran looked around, andit was then that the three younger girls realizedthat Mai had dashed off. Where had she gottento?

‘That was a close one,’ Mai heaved a sigh, clutching at her chest while she caught her breath. She hesitantly glanced backwards, where she could just barely make out the back of TĂ©a’s head, likely talking to Fran.

‘She’sthe last person I need to see right now.’ Maigrumbled to herself, gathering her composureand rising fully. When her violet eyes glancedup, she gulped—‘No, one of two peopleI really don’t need to see right now
’ Butthere was no running now: Joey Wheeler wasapproaching, Duke Devlin and Tristan Taylorshortly behind him. Mai made no attempt todash off this time: she wasn’t thetype to run away from every problem.Perhaps with Joey, there wouldn’t evenbe a problem. Perhaps hewas still clueless about Mai’s involvementin TĂ©a’sproblems, and wouldn’tthink any less of her

For some reason, Mai couldn’t stand the thought of Joey turning away from her. The young man had wormed his way into her heart, and now

‘Stupid! I’m not supposed to trust men! They’ll all just stab you in the back anyway.’ But Mai knew, in her heart of hearts, that such wasn’t the case with Joey. Somehow, he was different. From all the rest

“Mai!” Joey glanced up in surprise, his cheeks reddening as he took in Mai’s form. She wore her usual attire now, rather than a Domino High uniform—but of course, Joey couldn’t get the image out of his head. The way she’d tied up the shirt, the folds of the fabric creasing and knotting snugly over her chest

“What are you thinking, Joey?” Mai raised an eyebrow as Joey’s cheeks reddened, “You better not be picturing me in some sort of naughty get-up.”

Tristanand Duke snickered, Tristan whispering to Duke beside him, “Noproblems with that. She already dressed up in one today.”

“Iheard that,” Mai snapped at them. But her anger was brief;she didn’t want to be upset at Joey. Besides, it was
kindof cute. The way he was so utterly
obvious aroundher.

“That was some pretty hot dancing,” Tristan finally commented, catching Mai’s attention, “I didn’t even think you’d show up to these kind of things, but there you were, on-stage with TĂ©a and
” Tristan swallowed, suddenly remembering Serenity dancing gaily on-stage as well, auburn hair flowing behind her.

“Yeah,why did you and Serenity show up today?” Duke questioned,leaning forward on the balls of his feet. Mai was about to answer, sayingthat she and Serenity had arranged to go to the festival over a week ago,when Joey had let slip about the event to his sister, but Duke continuedspeaking.

“Just one of the many weird things I’ve been noticingtoday. What with TĂ©a dancing with Bakura, we thought he mightbe the one TĂ©a’s crushing on,” Duke shook his head,not noticing that Mai was rolling her eyes, “but then, we rememberedwhat TĂ©a said at the mall.”

“Yeah,” Joey was scowling, remembering Duke’s wordsfrom earlier, and how Seto Kaiba had ducked away from their ‘confrontation,’ (okay,so that wasn’t how it really happened, but that’s how ithad played out in Joey’s mind), “she was pretty stiff aboutdefendin’ that boss of hers. And then we remember that Kaiba’s theone that introduced them?!”

“So,” Duke continued smoothly, “I got to thinking
ifYugi’s really not the one TĂ©a’scrushing on,” he exchanged a brief and somewhat worried glancewith the other boys, “then maybe it’s Kaiba. And maybe he’s her boss.”

Mai’s eyes widened, violet glancing from each boy. She had to think fast, if just to protect TĂ©a’s secret. It was obvious she hadn’t come completely clean with them yet, and the true identity of both TĂ©a’s crush and her boss was still a mystery to them.

“That’sridiculous,” Mai interjected, trying to sound as forceful andsure as she ever had, “Kaiba? TĂ©a thinks he’s themost arrogant blowhard to walk the Earth. She’d never crush on him, letalone live with him.” she paused, forcingher trademark playful smirk, “and believe me, I know. Fromall our girl talks.”

Joey looked unconvinced, “Really, Mai? I mean, you andTĂ©a seem like you’re gettin’ closer an’ all that,but

Mai mustered all the courage she could, about to tell the biggest lie in a long while, “Trust me.”

Days later, the school had finally ‘recovered’ from all the excitement and mess the Autumn Festival had brought with it. The student council and class representatives finally had a chance to relax, all the paperwork and finances having been taken care of.

But of course, there was still much on TĂ©a Gardner’s mind.

Like, for example, the offer Fran had made her, Serenity, and Chieko. That and, more prominently, what in the world she could get Seto for his birthday.

Ithad been three days since the festival—leaving only four days forTĂ©a to come up with something. And she was still drawinga blank.

“What’s up, TĂ©a?” Yugi smiled at her, joining the brunette as they walked down the hall and to their shoe cubbies. School had let out for the day, and TĂ©a, Yugi, Duke, Joey, and Tristan had all arranged to grab a bite to eat at the local diner.

They’d started a tradition with the first time they’d gone there, to cheer TĂ©a up all those months ago
and eventually, Duke had joined the party, turning the event into a weekly gathering of friends—in a comfortable, stress-free environment.

Therewere no duels, no class work, no rivalry

Well, almostnone. Duke and Tristan regularly bickered about Serenity, and as a result,Yugi, Joey, and TĂ©a had come to the silent agreement that Serenitywould stay out of their after school lunches—at least until shebecame a Domino High student herself in the spring. Having her aroundwould only fuel the fire between Duke and Tristan, who seemed so possessiveof Serenity, it was bordering on childish.

Yugi,what do you get for someone when you have no idea whatthey want or even need for their birthday?” TĂ©asighed, exhaling deeply.

“Birthday?” Yugi looked confused, “October, October
Tristan’s April 19th, Bakura’s September 2nd, Joey’s January 25th
Grandpa’s birthday was on the 4th
” Yugi scratched his head, “Who are you talking about, TĂ©a?”

TĂ©a swallowed.

” She scratched behind her ear, a nervous habit she’dhad since she was a child. And one Yugi recognized all too well.

He stopped walking and looked at his friend, an eyebrow raised in amusement, “You can tell me, TĂ©a.”

“It’sKaiba!” TĂ©a finally blurted. Her voice dropped a levelwhen she noticed a few of her classmates glance at her oddly, “I mean,he’s just done so much for me in the past few months, andwe’veall known him for so long now
I just think it’d be nice to gethim something. But I can’t think of a thing!”

Yugi looked thoughtful —a bit surprised at first, but

‘That has to be it. TĂ©a doesn’tlike Kaiba that way, she just wants to thank him for all he’s done. And
her crush is someone else. It–it has to be.’

“Well,” he scratched the back of his head briefly, trying to think, “do you know anything that he likes?”

TĂ©a gave Yugi a flat stare, “This is Kaiba we’re talking about here. He’s about as impossible to figure out as
” TĂ©a eyed the Millennium Puzzle briefly, very tempted to name Yami as her subject, but she refrained, “a Rubik’s Cube!”

Yugi only sweatdropped in response to that; Rubik’s Cubes were some of the first puzzles Yugi had mastered as a child, and he had a collection of finished ones lining a bookshelf in his room.

we have hung around him for a while,” Yugi murmured. ‘Hung around’ probably wasn’t the best choice of words, but what else could he say? That’d he’d dueled him multiple times, and almost lost his life and his sanity in doing so? That probably wasn’t the kind of answer TĂ©a needed to hear.

Butregardless of how long they’d known Seto Kaiba, he was still as enigmaticas the first day they’d encountered him at Domino High. Though TĂ©aseemed to have cracked his shell some, what with the way he seemedto like her and all.

Yugi frowned, remembering the jealous expression on Seto Kaiba’sface at the festival. He hadn’t told anyone what he’dseen, least of all TĂ©a. How could he, when he was stillclinging onto the hope that maybe Seto’s obvious affections -or whatever they were- for TĂ©a were not shared? That maybe,just maybe, the crush she’d spoken of wasn’t herboss, wasn’t Seto Kaiba or Ryou Bakura oranyone else
buthim? Yugi! He who had loved her for so long

“Huh, all the duels
” TĂ©a furrowedher brows, briefly glancing into her cubby to check her hair and makesure it was straight. The days since the festival had been awfully windy,and TĂ©a’s hair tended to flip every which way.

It was a mere three seconds later when TĂ©a’s eyes widened, and she shouted in happiness.

“I got it!” she exclaimed, a grin blossoming on her face.

“What? What have you got?” Yugi looked bewildered, TĂ©a’s shout startling him from his brief reverie.

“Blueeyes, Yugi!” TĂ©a pointed to her own eyes, brilliantand cerulean in color, eyes that Yugi could find himself lost so easilyin
butof course, that wasn’t what TĂ©a was trying to getacross at the moment. Yugi shook his head vehemently and asked herwhat she was talking about.

“The Blue-Eyes White Dragon!” TĂ©a explained, “The one card, theone concept, the one creature that Seto Kaiba himselfis bound to!”

Yugi nodded slowly, beginning to see where TĂ©a’s thoughts were going, “How does that translate into a gift?”

TĂ©awasn’t sure; it wasn’t as if she could get him aBlue Eyes White Dragon card. He had theonly three that were in existence!

there had to be something else. A way to take that wonderfully inspirational thought and turn it into the perfect gift. TĂ©a just had to think of what.

” TĂ©a groaned in an exaggerated fashion, as she arrived home and promptly flopped down on the kitchen counter, exhausted from her day’s efforts.

She’dtried finding something “Blue Eyes White Dragon” for Seto,but nothing had come to mind. She’d gone to all the major shoppingdistricts, trolled through every mall, and still

Nothing had screamed out at her, called to her, said, plainly and simply “This is meant for Seto Kaiba.” And his birthday was drawing ever-nearer, and TĂ©a felt that she was getting backed up against a wall.

The kitchen door swung open, and TĂ©a glanced up from her pillow-of-arms, one eye half-opened to see who the intruder in her quiet space was.


“Hey Mokuba,” TĂ©a grumbled.

Theyounger boy blinked at her, pausing not a decimeter away, “What’swrong, TĂ©a?”

“Ugh,” she groaned, turning on her stool and leaning backwards on the counter,her hair splayed over the clean, white tile, “I’ve beentrying to figure out what to get Seto for his birthday for day now.I’m having no luck, obviously.”

Mokuba hid a disappointed frown: he’d hopedthat whatever problem TĂ©a might have been having, it had nothing to do with his big brother. Though it seemed highlyuncharacteristic for the boy, there were some things that Mokubawished his brother wouldn’t set foot in, andone of those “things” was actually a person: TĂ©a.

A few months ago, had someone asked the younger Kaiba if he thought his brother would have anything to do with TĂ©a Gardner, Mokuba would have immediately and firmly replied, “Not a snowball’s chance in hell!” And he probably would have been telling the truth.

Butnow, after everything that had happened, it was hard to tell.Even Mokuba couldn’t be sure of his older brother’sfeelings for TĂ©a. All Mokuba knew was that he likedTĂ©a, and he didn’t want to lose her to Seto.

Forthe first time in his life, Mokuba realized that he wasn’tagreeing with everything his brother said and did. Rather,he wanted to compete—he wanted something thatSeto also wanted

Still, a small shred of hope existed within Mokuba’sheart, that maybe, just maybe, Seto didn’t carefor TĂ©a

‘The way she cares for him? That isn’t very nice of me to think that way

Mokuba frowned, desperately trying to push such thoughts out of his head, “I’m going to make him something,” he responded, “maybe you could try that?”

TĂ©a pushed herself up from the counter, “I would, kiddo, but I’m about as adept with glue as I am in Duel Monsters,” Mokuba raised an eyebrow, “which means NOT AT ALL!”

The younger boy laughed, “I don’t know about that.”

“Well, it’s a thought. And you might have just given me an idea,” TĂ©a mused, “Something handmade, right? Maybe I could get Seto something—” TĂ©a’s thought was cut off as the kitchen door swung open, Seto Kaiba standing in the doorway. He glanced from TĂ©a to Mokuba, an eyebrow raised in query.

“Did I interrupt something?”

TĂ©a smiled innocently ,”Noooope.” She rose from the stool and winked at Mokuba, causing the younger boy to flush crimson, “Thanks for your help.”

Seto only looked at Mokuba, his expression curious.

Three days left. Thanks to Yugi, who had mentioned duels, and Mokuba, who had suggested a handmade gift, TĂ©a was much more selective when it came to what stores she went into.

Handmade gifts

Purses. Jackets. Hand-painted pottery.

SetoKaiba didn’t need any of it. TĂ©a wantedher gift to be practical, but it was awfully difficult tofind something special for Seto Kaiba that was also useful.Especially a useful, special something that he didn’talready have, stashed somewhere in that gigantic mansionof his.

Quite unexpectedly, TĂ©a found herself headed towards a break between storefronts, a small alley lined with trash cans, tied-up garbage bags, and dirt-covered dumpsters.

Under normal circumstances, TĂ©a wouldn’thave even considered glancing down such a forbidding alleyway. But

A wave of heat pressed against TĂ©a’s skin, the sudden sound of metal clanking against metal drawing her deeper and deeper into the alleyway.

Suddenly, TĂ©a found herself glancing into a workshop of sorts, tools hanging down from every single nook and cranny. A brilliant orange fire glowed from within a furnace, just barely visible amongst the scattered tables and workbenches.

And, on every tabletop, on every windowsill, hanging down from every rafter

” TĂ©a found herself stepping into the place, her eyes catching on every piece of glasswork displayed in the workshop. She hardly noticed that the clanking sound that had drawn her to the place had ceased, and footsteps signaled the approach of someone coming in her direction.

“They are, aren’t they?” A voice spoke up. TĂ©a glanced down, embarrassed that she’d been caught intruding in someone’s personal workspace.

“The way the light shines through them
And the glass can take so many forms, so it never looks the same, regardless of who looks at it, or what position it’s in

“Hi,” TĂ©a smiled, tearing her gaze away from the glass objects littering the place, “I’m TĂ©a Gardner. I–I was looking for a present for someone, and I just happened on this place

The middle-aged man who apparently worked there nodded, a smile cracking his stubble-covered features, “Not many people ‘happen’ on a place such as this when they’re out gift-shopping,” he grinned, “but the few that do manage to find their way here are usually in for something special. What can I help you with?”

TĂ©a blinked, somewhat startled at the man’s forwardness, “Well, I
Do you do custom work?”

The man laughed, the sound echoing off the skylights and reverberating off the glassworks throughout the room, “It’s all custom, Miss Gardner. No two things alike in this workshop here.”

“Um,” TĂ©achuckled, her face flushing in embarrassment, “Wouldyou be able to do
well, a dragon?”

The man turned towards her, a bushy eyebrow raised in amusement, “Never gotten a request like that before. Vases, plates, even jewelry
but never a dragon. Could you be a bit more specific?”

“Well,” TĂ©ascratched behind her ear, “Have you
” Hadthe older man even heard of Duel Monsters?Why was it so difficult to describe a dragon? The very nameof the creature dictated its appearance: Blue Eyes, White Dragon!

“Have I what?” The man’s eyes weretwinkling, his smile broadening with each passing moment.

“Everheard of Duel Monsters?” TĂ©a finally blurted,her cheeks coloring. She was beginning to wonder if theheat rushing to her cheeks had anything to do with thefurnace in the corner, or if she really was justembarrassing herself over and over again.

“Heardof it? Of course I have, dear! I’d have to be livingunder a rock not to have!” the man exclaimed,disappearing around the corner. He reappeared with a smallbox in his hands, about sixteen centimeters high.

He set it on a workbench, opening it carefully. TĂ©a leaned closer to get a better look. Her blue eyes widened in astonishment as the figurine was revealed.

“Flame Swordsman,” the man murmured softly, pride evident in his voice. “A special request. These figurines usually take a while to make, since I have to blend the different glasses together, shape them. It’s a very difficult and time-consuming process, but always worth it,” he glanced up at TĂ©a, “Not to boast, but I’d have to say I’m the best glassblower in Tokyo. Not another one for a good hundred kilometers could pull off something like this.”

TĂ©a’s eyes remained riveted on the glass Flames Swordsman figurine. The furnace light reflected off the elegant purple glass, glowing brighter through the bright orange-red glass of the sword. It was

“Could you–could you make a Blue-Eyes White Dragon?”

The man chuckled, much to TĂ©a’s surprise, “I had a feeling that’s what you’d be asking for.”

TĂ©a blinked, confusion evident on herface, “How–how could you have known?” Shecocked her head to the side, “You aren’tpsychic, are you?”

The old man grinned, “Nope. But
” He looked at TĂ©a carefully, “You seem to have that spirit. That same
I’m not sure how to describe it. The Blue-Eyes fits you.”

“Oh! It’s–it’s not for me!I mean, I’m–I’m looking for a special giftfor someone

“I know that,” the man said. “When you came in here, you said you were looking for a present for someone. But obviously, if you managed to find this place
and you want this gift to be as special as you say, then your spirit must be in it. It’s not a run-of-the-mill gift, is it?”

TĂ©a shook her head. “You’re right, it’s not.”

There was something about the man’s words that nagged at the back of TĂ©a’s mind, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Spirit?

She dismissed the thought before it could fully form, smiling at the man again.

“I–It’sa gift for someone that means a lot to me. And the Blue-EyesWhite Dragon means a lot to him, too. It symbolizes alot of things for him, and his brother
” Theman’s eyebrow raised, but he kept silent. He knewnow just who TĂ©a was getting the giftfor. He knew a lot of things, doing what he did. Fewfound his place, and even fewer ever bothered to askhow or why he did or knew the things that he did.

“ThenI have the perfect design in mind,” the man responded,heading over to a workbench. He brushed aside somepapers, revealing a large white newsprint sketchbook.He pulled a few soft-lead pencils from a glass holder,sketching out a design.

Three dragons curled around a short cylindrical base, two of them having their necks wound around one another, while the third appeared smaller, looking up at the other two with an interesting expression on its face.

TĂ©a ran her fingers over the image, careful not to smudge the artwork, “It’s perfect
” she breathed. It was if the man knew exactly what she’d been envisioning. Beside her, the man smiled, brilliant blue eyes gleaming.

“Good. I’ll make it, say
this big?” He gestured with his hands, “and I can fix it to a silver base.” He nodded towards TĂ©a, “Would you like anything engraved on it?”

TĂ©a paused a moment.

Aspecial gift. From her to him. Something that only she couldgive. A gift from her heart, her spirit:something that would tell him how much she really caredfor him

“Yeah.” And with a bright smile and flushed cheeks, TĂ©a leaned towards the sketch, writing down what she wanted engraved on the base.

“Excellent.” The man nodded, “It’ll be ready in about two days, so you can come back then.”

TĂ©a looked hesitant, “Shouldn’t I pay for it now?”

“That’s quite all right, dear. I want the piece to be your satisfaction before you hand me anything.” TĂ©a nodded brightly; she hadn’t brought a whole lot of money with her that day anyway, and she suspected that such a gift would be costly.

“Thank you, thank you so much.” TĂ©a smiled gratefully at the man before heading towards the workshop doors, “See you in two days!”

“Indeed,” The man waved back at her before turning back to the sketch and the words TĂ©a had specified she wanted engraved on the base. “Indeed, Miss Gardner.”

“Did you get something?” Yugi asked TĂ©a as they walked down the hallways towards their first class.

TĂ©a nodded, a satisfied smile on her face, “It’s going to be perfect!” Her smile dropped slightly, “Well, I hope so, anyway. I hope he likes it.”

“He who?” Joey asked, appearing behind the two and slinging his free arm around TĂ©a’s shoulder, “Gettin’ a gift for your mysterious crush?” He winked down at Yugi, who flushed in embarrassment and looked away.

“No!” TĂ©aturned scarlet, even though Joey was right, “It’s—well, Kaiba’s birthday is coming up, and

“Kaiba?” Joeyblinked, dropping his arm from TĂ©a’s shoulderto his side. He remembered Duke’s theory , and howMai had shot it down without a minute’s hesitation. Joey realized that he hadn’t known Dukeor Maifor very long, and he didn’t exactly know why hewas inclined to believe Duke this time

He hated not trusting Mai, though. But whywould she have lied? How could she have known differently,anyway? It was true, she was getting closer with TĂ©ain recent weeks
but did that mean the blonde wasprivy to all of TĂ©a’s secrets? Joey couldn’t force the idea out of hishead, but he had to try. For TĂ©a’s sake
hejust had to believe Mai. There was no way that TĂ©aliked Kaiba that way.

“What happened to him being the most arrogant blowhard in the world?”

TĂ©ablinked, confusion etched in her eyes for a minute, “Well,I don’t know if that’s changed much,” theboys chuckled at TĂ©a’s response, “buthe has been awfully nice to me thesepast few months. If it weren’t for him
” shetrailed off. She didn’t need to be vivid in describing how different her fate would have turnedout if Seto Kaiba hadn’t interfered. True, the boysdidn’tknow how much of a hand Seto had had in saving her from foster care, but

“Yeah,” Joey stretched his arms behind his head, offering a nod towards Duke and Tristan, approaching them from the other direction, “and I guess the guy’s been through enough with us to warrant a little somethin’

TĂ©a’s eyes widened, “Are you guys going to get him something, too?”

“Him who?” Duke asked, yawning.

“Kaiba,” Yugi replied, though his voice was laced with sadness. “His birthday’s coming up. What day did you say it was, TĂ©a?”

“The 25th,” TĂ©a murmured.

“What? That’s in only two days!” Joey exclaimed, “Man
now what the heck am I gonna do?”

TĂ©a stared at the blond in surprise, “I didn’t think you were serious in getting him something, Joey.”

Joey laughed, “Serious about a gift, sure. But that doesn’t mean the gift is gonna be serious.” He winked conspiratorially at the other boys.

Tristan groaned, “Dude, hand-me-down porn videos aren’t Kaiba’s thing, I’m sure

Joeyflushed, “Hey! Who saidanything about forking down my collection—”

TĂ©a fixed at Joey and Tristan with an unamused stare, despite the smirk creeping up the corners of her mouth, “GUYYYYS!”

“This is hopeless,” TĂ©a groaned.

Though the festival had gone off well—and TĂ©a had found out the truth from Chieko—TĂ©a’s mind was far from clear.

She remembered the offer the woman from the dance company had made; she remembered Bakura’s eerily accurate Tarot reading and the things it predicted; she remembered Seto admitting that his birthday was on the 25th.

The 25th! Just over a week! TĂ©a had gone crazy trying to come up with things to get Seto, and when she’d finally decided on something

TĂ©aGardner sighed, cupping her chin in her palms as sheleaned on the kitchen counter. Seto had been gone allday. According to Mokuba—and TĂ©a’sown experience living with the young man—Seto wasn’tthe type to simply up and disappear, even if itwas his birthday, and he had every reason to celebrate.

So where had he gone—all day?

Witha lot of prying, TĂ©a had found out what Seto’s favorite foodwas, and went to great length to prepare the dish—a complicatedand difficult meal called beef foie gras in sauce, or a specially marinatedand cured French beef. A veal cutlet, to be precise. She could have orderedit from one of the expensive French restaurants in the city, but it wouldn’thave been the same.

‘Besides,’ TĂ©athought, glancing at the small white box in which her gift to Setowas contained, ‘that’s just a dinky present
notenough, hardly anything in comparison to everything Seto’s donefor me, has become tome

And so, she’d spent the entire week since the festival practicing with every spare minute of her time, reading cookbooks, testing her recipe out on smaller pieces of beef, and even going to the lengths of having one of the school’s French teachers taste a sample TĂ©a had prepared in Home Ec during her free period.

And they’d all said it was good.

Whether Seto thought the same would be known only in a matter of time

‘Ofcourse, if he never comes home, then all this work will be for waste!’

Of course, the thought provoked a steadily disturbing chainin TĂ©a’s mind. If he never camehome? What had happened to Seto Kaiba on that day,his own birthday, that caused him to not come home? What if it had beensomething terrible, and TĂ©a wouldn’t find out until

She swallowed hard, shaking her head. Tears gathered on the edges of her eyes, threatening to fall, but she managed to hold them back. ‘No! I can’t think that way. I’m sure he’s fine. Probably gone to Kaiba Corp. The guy never takes a break for himself, even on his birthday.’ Of course, he was lucky because his birthday had fallen on a Saturday—he’d only had to go to school for half a day, but had disappeared the moment the bell had rung.

TĂ©a, at the time, had thought it for the better. She’d still had to pick up his present, get ready for dinner, and

In the distance, a door slammed.

TĂ©a blinked, the loud noise startling her. She realized the sound had been the sound of the garage door shutting, but by the time she’d gotten up for her place beside the counter, Seto Kaiba was nowhere in sight. TĂ©a frowned at the door of his office, the lights inside flicking on suddenly.

‘Sohe thinks he can just come home and not say a word! I know it’shis birthday and everything but the least he could say is “I’mhome” or something
’ TĂ©a humphedto herself, and started gathering things—the tray with Seto’s dinner on it, along with several gifts from the guysand herself, and placing them on a cart she’d found in one ofthe kitchen closets.

She paused outside Seto’s office door—just for a moment—wondering what she should say. Finally, an idea came to her, and she adopted a smile, knocking briefly before opening the door.

Itwas no surprise to see Seto already sitting at his desk, computeron, as though he planned to work on one thing or another for theremainder of the night—instead of celebrating, likemost eighteen-year-olds did. He’d turned to face the openingdoor once TĂ©a had knocked, about to say “Come in,” butTĂ©a had entered even without his saying so.

Not that he minded. Rather, his curiosity was piqued. Namely by the huge mound of gifts -and a dinner platter- on the tray she was wheeling into the room.

“Forgetting something?” TĂ©a grinned, gesturing down to the presents and the tray.

“Whatis all this?” Seto asked, somewhat dubiously. Surely she hadn’tgotten all those things for him

“Gifts. From the guys—and me, of course
” TĂ©ablushed slightly, her eyes drifting towards the single white box,the smallest of the bunch, sitting on top of all the other gifts.She’d scribbled on it last minute “Open me last!”—thoughit wouldn’t delay the inevitable by much. It wasn’tas if she could just refuse to give him a gift; it had taken herlong enough to decide what to get him, and then

Seto’s eyebrows shot up as he stood, taking one of the boxes and shaking it.

TĂ©a stared at him oddly, “What are you doing?”

She was on the verge of giggling when Seto sniffed the box, “It’s not going to explode or anything,” TĂ©a rolled her eyes. “Haven’t you ever seen a birthday present before?”

“You can never be too sure,” Seto replied, half-serious. TĂ©a blinked, wondering if the CEO ever had received exploding birthday presents before. That sure wouldn’t have been fun.

‘Understatementof the year, genius,’ TĂ©athought, her gaze wandering towards the silver platter on whichshe’d put Seto’s dinner. She’d gone to greatlengths to get everything right—and had rummaged throughthe kitchen and dining room to find nice enough plates and traysto serve everything with.

” she nudged the tray forward, almostshyly, “I made you dinner.” Seto blinked, lookingat TĂ©a, then the covered tray, then TĂ©a. “HappyBirthday,” she murmured softly, a very slight smile curlingthe corners of her lips.

She turned to leave, but remembered something suddenly, “Don’t shake the small white box, okay?”

“Why? What’s in it?” Seto asked, eying the aforementioned gift. He glanced at the “Open me last!” written in bold letters, scrawled over the top of the box, one of his eyebrows raised in query and amusement.

a surprise. Just don’t shake it, okay?” TĂ©a grinned, her hand on the doorknob, “Goodnight, Seto. I’ll come back later
for the tray.”

Seto nodded slowly, already fingering one of the gifts. He’d never seen so many before—each one different from the other. Of course, he’d gotten presents before
from company associates and the like. Usually boring things, in boring paper. Things like engraved pens, ties, or business card holders. All very useless and meaningless to a ‘dynamic, up-and-coming CEO’ such as Seto Kaiba.

Curiositygot the better of him, and he lifted the first box—a bright greenand black striped one—and pulled the paper off. At first, he wasmethodical about it, tearing along the folds and being very carefulabout it all—but patience gave way to the near-giddinessbuilding up in the eighteen-year-old. Without a second thought,Seto Kaiba ripped the paper off, tore the box open, and lookedinside.

Some forty minutes later, TĂ©a was so anxiousthat she concluded Seto had tobe done with his dinner by then, and she should go back intohis office to fetch the tray. She was also curious whether ornot he’d opened his gifts yet, and, of course, whatthe guys had gotten him

‘I didn’t think they’d actually doit,’ TĂ©amused, ‘But they did. Every one of them got himgifts. Something tells me at least one of them will be a gag though,’ TĂ©achuckled.

When she reached Seto’s office door, she hesitated. She was still nervous about the engraving on her gift to Seto—worried, paranoid
so many things at once, but regardless, her heart was racing. Her hand barely scraped the wood of the door at first, but finally, she sucked in a breath and knocked, waiting for a reply this time.

“Come in,” Seto’s voice came. At first, TĂ©a thought his voice sounded a bit odd, and entered the room, a confused expression on her face. She looked at Seto, surrounded by empty and torn-apart boxes, shreds of wrapping paper and tissue paper, and several cards and envelopes. He had a huge smile on his face, which looked very nearly out of place on the usually stone-faced CEO
but it warmed TĂ©a to her very core.

The tray on which TĂ©a had brought Seto his dinner was completely cleaned, and she blinked in surprise, double-taking.

liked the dinner?” She waited for an answer with bated breath—she’d tried so hard to get the recipe right, and even if he said it was “okay,” she would be relieved. As long as he didn’t turn green or throw up

“Itwas delicious,” he smiled up at her, pausing in his foragingthrough the gifts. “You knew beef foie gras was my favorite,didn’t you?” He pronounced the name of the Frenchdish with ease, a near-perfect French accent sounding when he spoke.But that, of course, was to be expected—French was only one ofthe few languages Seto spoke fluently.

“A little horse told me,” TĂ©a grinned, making a pun of Mokuba’s name.

Seto grinned as well, “Thank you.”

TĂ©a blushed and smiled widely. “It was no trouble. Besides, it’s your birthday and all
I wanted to do something nice.”

“This is the best birthday I’ve ever had. I hope you know that.” His smile wasn’t as wide now, but the expression on Seto Kaiba’s face was remarkably serious.

He means it,’ TĂ©a thought, elated. ‘He really

” TĂ©a trailed off, gazing at all the boxes, “what did you get?” Seto chuckled, and reached into one of the smaller boxes, pulling out what looked like a brown ball of fuzz.

“From Wheeler,” he said with a smirk. He moved hishand slightly and revealed that the puff was a tiny brown dog, atoy one. He flicked a switch on its base, and set it down. Momentslater, the little dog started yapping in a high-pitched bark, waggingits tail madly. It flipped in the air once, landed soundly on itspaws, and proceeded to bark again.

TĂ©a giggled, petting the little thing on its head, even while it barked and wagged its tail. Seto chuckled, “I think he likes you.”

TĂ©a laughed, “I think he likes everyone!”

Seto took the dog and turned it off, “Well now, I’ll always have a constant reminder of Wheeler right here in my office.” He was referring to how he constantly called Joey a ‘mutt,’ (or some variant thereof) and how even Duke Devlin had taken advantage of the unwanted nickname, forcing Joey into a dog-suit when he lost a match of Dungeon Dice Monsters.

Seto removed the other gifts from their boxes; from Duke Devlin, he’d gotten a special Blue-Eyes White Dragon Dungeon Dice Monsters starter set, while Serenity—surprisingly giving Seto a gift of her own, rather than including her name on the card that had come with her brother’s gag gift—gave Seto a book.

“‘Chicken Soup
for the CEO’s Soul’?” TĂ©a read, her eyebrows raised.

Seto smirked, “She’s got good intentions.”

Tristan had gotten him a subscription to a magazine—the name of which TĂ©a hadn’t caught—while Yugi had gotten what Seto considered the oddest gift of them all—a game called ‘Cranium.’

“Oh,that game is a blast!” TĂ©a grinned, remembering when she’dplayed the game with the guys at Yugi’s house. It had been a while sinceshe’d gone over to to the Turtle Game Shop; it felt like so long

“Then we’ll have to play it sometime,” Setosaid with a smile.

“There’s just one left.” TĂ©a’s blue eyes widened. Her eyes drifted over to the cart, where the lone, unopened box sat. Her gift. The tiny white box
and suddenly she felt the need to stall. She snatched the gift out of Seto’s reach before he could grab it, chuckling nervously as she whipped it behind her back.

“Um,wait! What did Mokuba get you?”

Seto cocked an eyebrow up at her in question, “Afraid you got the same thing?” TĂ©a shook her head, ‘That’s next to impossible,’ she thought to herself, but her apprehension didn’t fade.

“This,” Setocarefully drew out what looked like a picture frame—assembledfrom cardboard, colored pipe-cleaners, and popsicle sticks. Mokubahad arranged everything in such a manner that the popsicle sticks, paintedblue, had a fuzzy Blue-Eyes White Dragon made from thepipe-cleaners perched on their top, rightmost corner, staringout from the frame with googly eyes.

“Cute,” TĂ©a smiled. “He must have worked hard on it.”

“I have to find the right picture to put in there,” Seto smiled, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Can I have my present now?” He faked a pout, and hesitantly, TĂ©a handed him the box, their fingers touching for one brief, electric moment.

Halfof her wanted to dash out of the room, and escape like a batout of hell while the other half remained firmly planted to thefloor, regardless of what she thought she wanted,her legs as heavy as stone.

Unlike the other gifts, Seto opened TĂ©a’s carefully—not just because she was right in front of him, but because of her earlier warning. He surmised that there was something fragile inside, which already made her gift vastly different from everyone else’s.

” hebreathed, removing a statuette from the tissue paper-filled box.The statuette was that of a blown glass Blue-Eyes White Dragon—moreprecisely, three of them. Two of them sat atop the sterling silverbase, while one wound around it. The two that sat perched onthe base had their necks linked around one another, their eyesstaring right at one another. The third dragon, and the smallerof the triad, was looking up at the other two from below, almostin curiosity.

Great detail had been put into the sculpting of the statuette, as the dragons had scales, wings, and even differently-colored eyes, reflecting back a deep, sapphire blue. Seto turned the gift in his hands several times, admiring it, before his gaze caught on some words engraved around the rim of the base.

‘Happy 18th Birthday, Seto Kaiba. Love, TĂ©a.’

TĂ©aswallowed hard. She knew he’d noticed the engraving, she’dwatched him read it. There was no going back—there hadn’t beenany going back, not since she’d decided that she wanted thosewords engraved on the base, several days ago.

Seto glanced up at TĂ©a curiously, and she was sure he was going to ask her about the “Love” on the base. She mustered all the courage she could, ready to admit her feelings then and there if need be—

“Thank you,” he whispered.

TĂ©a almost heaved a sigh of relief, but managed to smile brightly instead, “Of course, Seto! I mean, it was the least I could do! It’s just a silly paperweight, really, but

“Ilove it,” Seto interrupted her smoothly. Fora moment, TĂ©a had been sure he was about tosay something else—something further—but he’dstopped. TĂ©a knew then that it was time to leave: she’ddone what she’d set out to do, and made Seto happyon his birthday. That was all that mattered. She turned togo, about to push the cart with the tray and all the emptyboxes out, when a hand reached out and grabbed her arm.

Before she knew what was happening, she’d been whirled into Seto Kaiba’s embrace, his arms wrapping around her easily. She could feel his warm breath on her neck, and after the first initial moment of surprise and shock, TĂ©a put her arms around Seto as well, hugging him back.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Seto whispered softly, tendrils of TĂ©a’shair flying upward and brushing against her left ear.

‘I want to tell him!’ TĂ©a thought suddenly, her heart aching. She squeezed Seto tighter, wordlessly, and allowed him to do the same. What few minutes they spent in each other’s arms seemed to stretch into an eternity, a silent moment of bliss for TĂ©a.

And for a split second, the world around them froze. TĂ©a could hear her heartbeat pounding in her head, sounding unnaturally slow. She pulled back only slightly, slowly, her eyes closed as thoughts raced through her mind. She wanted to do it, she needed to do it. If she could, it meant she could stop bottling up all her feelings

Blue met with blue, her eyes a bright cerulean, while his were fathomless pools of navy. Breathing and heartbeats quickened, both sure something was about to happen, though neither could say for sure what.

Without realizing it, TĂ©a found herself searching Seto Kaiba’s eyes, looking for the answer to her unspoken question—the one she’d kept locked away in her heart for so many months now, screaming to be said, most especially in the past week.

‘Please,tell me he feels something—anything—forme
’ TĂ©a found herself wishing,hoping, dreaming. Even as her eyes shifted, memorizingevery curve of Seto’s face, they alighted on somethingelse.

On a bureau behind Seto’s desk, a picture frame: a picture of Mokuba.

Theyoung boy was smiling widely, his elder brother standingstoically beside him. The faintest traces of a smirk couldbe seen curling the corners of Seto Kaiba’s lips in thepicture, but only if one looked very closely and knew whatthey were looking for.

‘What am I thinking!?’ TĂ©athought suddenly, ‘How can I be so selfish as tonot see
Seto’s priority is his brother! I can’t–I couldn’t ever come between them,and that’s just what I’m trying to do! How dareI?’ She was almost on the vergeof tears, forcing herself to close the gap that had formedbetween herself and Seto Kaiba.

She wedged herself into the nook of his shoulder,where she’d initially fallen, when Seto had whirled her into his embrace.TĂ©asqueezed her eyes shut, willing time to resume its normal courseso she could get out of there—out of Seto’s arms,out of his presence—as soon as possible. It was becomingincreasingly difficult not to act on heremotions, her inhibitions, her desire.

With the whole of her body protested againstkissing anything but his lips, TĂ©a shifted slightly, gently brushing her lips against his cheek.She’d wanted so badly to kiss him in thatmoment, to feel his lips moving againsthers. But then, she’d seen that picture, and everythingbecame all muddled again.

” TĂ©a paused, licking her lips as she loosened her arms around Seto and forced herself to look away. “Happy Birthday.” And with a flurry of movement, she sprung out of his arms and out of the room, shoving the cart out with her.

A full minute later, Seto Kaiba blinked, his arms still splayed as though TĂ©a were still within their confines. But she’d left.

They’d been so close, and

Two fingers brushed against the spot on Seto’s right cheek, where she’d gently kissed him.


Against TĂ©a’s will, she awoke early the following morning, a cool, overcast Sunday. Her thoughts were, as per usual since she’d moved into the Kaiba household, jumbled.

Sheknew Seto was likely awake already, and despite her initialmental protests to seek him out, she found herselfdoing just that. But of course, she didn’t want to seem likeshe’d been searching for him, and so she just wandered about the house, coming downstairs and circlingthe living and dining areas before entering the kitchen.There was no sign of him.

‘He hasn’t disappeared on me again,has he? I never did get around to asking him wherehe spent all day yesterday

TĂ©a glanced into his office, but the wooden room was cold and empty.

Shespared the picture frame on the bureau—the one thathad interrupted her thoughts so utterly the night before—asingle glance before sighing, wondering if she was trulyregretting what could have been, or if she was just beingher stubborn self when it came to accepting the past andmoving on.

At the precise moment TĂ©a closed her eyes and clicked Seto’s office door shut, she heard the door from the garage into the laundry room open. TĂ©a walked briskly over to the aforementioned door, blinking in surprise when her eyes met with Seto Kaiba’s.

Hergaze shifted quickly, and that was when her eyes alightedon the motorcycle behind Seto Kaiba.Its parts gleamed like polished silver, the reflectionof the chrome sparkling in the early morning light filteringthrough the small garage windows.

A silver and blue design—dragons?—was apparent on the Honda Shadow Sabre’s covered parts, though it the morning light didn’t touch the metal as brightly as it did the chrome parts.

TĂ©a’s jaw dropped.

me!” she squeaked, her eyes never straying from the sleek new vehicle parked in the garage. She gestured wildly from the cycle to herself, blue eyes as wide as plates.

She’dalways wanted to ride on a motorcycle—see the worldblurring past her, nothing ever sticking long enoughto worry her—andhave that thrill, that sense of freedom, adventure, danger,all at once.

TĂ©ahad asked Tristan once, surprising the young man, but he’d declined—ontwo reasons. The first was that he wasn’t legally allowedto ride his motorcycle, as he wasn’t 18 yet, and if he got pulledover with a passenger on his bike, he’d be in even deeper trouble.The second reason was because he admitted his own driving skillsweren’texactly professional—and he didn’t want to riskTĂ©a getting hurt.

When TĂ©a finally pulled her gaze away from the bike to see what Seto would say in response to her request, she realized just what she’d said.

And, just as quickly, she blurted, her face crimson, “That didn’t come out the way I wanted it to!” She waved her hands in front of herself, almost defensively, guarding herself from the slowly approaching Seto, who wore a devilish smirk on his face.

One eyebrow was raised in amusement as he approached her, “Are you sure about that?” he chuckled. “Either way, I’d be more than willing to oblige

Thescarlet that had colored TĂ©a’s cheeks deepened, but beforeher jaw really could drop, she lowered her headslightly and muttered, “Pervert.”

Seto only grinned cockily as he put both hands on his hips. “You said it, not me.”

“You misinterpreted it!” TĂ©a shot back, looking up at him, blue eyes dancing with light. A smirk of her own formed on her face, her gaze drifting back and forth from the motorcycle.

Was that where he’d been all day yesterday? Getting his bike?

“How do you know that I misinterpreted it when you’re the one interpreting my possible misinterpretation?” Seto retorted.

TĂ©a raised her brows at the challenge, grinning now, “Ah, but you said ‘either way,’ giving me reason to believe that you interpreted my words at face value, which means my initial interpretation of your misinterpretation of my words was, in fact, correct!” TĂ©a crowed triumphantly.

Seto’s once-arrogant grin faded, and he knit his brows together, “Stop confusing me.”

TĂ©aonly laughed, “But why? I’m so good atit!” She smiled beautifully at Seto, who forced hisgaze to the cool floor.

“Got that right,” he mumbled under his breath.

“What was that?” TĂ©a asked, leaning forward.

“Go change! You can’t wear that,” Seto gestured to TĂ©a’s pajamas, “on a motorcycle, anyway.” He groaned, rolling his eyes as he turned back into the garage, “So you’ll give me a ride?” TĂ©a was leaning towards him on the balls of her feet, pouting in a way Seto thought only Mokuba had mastered.

“Yes!I’ll give you a ride—” A slight pause, seeingTĂ©a’s grin, “on the motorcycle!” TĂ©alaughed and skipped out of the room, dashing upstairs to change intosomething more suitable for a motorcycle ride.

“Iwas thinking—” a voice interrupted Seto as hewent over his new bike for the umpteenth time that morning, “ifyou just turned eighteen yesterday, how do I know you can ride thisthing without killing twenty innocent pedestrians on your way to
whereverit is we’re going?” Seto glanced up at TĂ©a, nearly choking on his tongue when he noticed she wore a pair ofblack flared pants, a ribbed maroon turtleneck, and a blackleather jacket.

She looked beautiful.

But not the same kind of beautiful as the ball—or any of the other days and nights when Seto found himself admiring TĂ©a. This was something entirely different. A strange feeling turned in the pit of Seto Kaiba’s stomach, the sensation forcing him to tear his gaze from the approaching girl back to his bike. He strolled over to where he’d put the two helmets he’d bought, willing the uncomfortable feeling in his abdomen to go away.

“I guess you could say I’ve been cheating the system for a while now,” Seto smirked, despite TĂ©a not being able to see him. He flicked on a light switch, casting brilliant and nearly blinding florescent light throughout the concrete garage.

TĂ©a shielded her eyes for a moment, but soon adjusted to the light, blinking. She’d never been in the garage before, and had only gone as far as she had this particular morning since she’d been looking for Seto and had spotted him standing before a new motorcycle.

But obviously the new Honda Shadow Sabre wasn’t the only vehicle in the young CEO’s collection; the white lights touched on what had to be no less than six cars. Most of them were rather sporty and sleek, all in blues, silvers, and black, save the one bright red Acura Integra, Type R.

“Beendriving for over two years now,” he grinned, “and takinglessons for the newest addition to my collection here. So
arewe going for a ride?” TĂ©a’sattention snapped back to Seto and the silver-blue “DragonBike,” and she nodded dumbly, catching the black helmet Setothrew at her and putting it on.

It was a mere second later when she flipped the visor up, her muffled voice asking, “What about Mokuba?”

Itwas still early, and the boy wasn’t awake yet, but TĂ©astill worried about him.

“We’ll be back before he wakes up,” Seto assured her, flipping his own visor down. He mounted the bicycle shortly after turning the main garage lights out, throwing his own leather jacket on and zipping it all the way up.

TĂ©a looked a bit unsure as to how to get on, but eventually straddled the heavily-padded seat. She glanced about, wondering where to put her hands, much to the amusement of Seto, who glanced backwards, his eyes twinkling with amusement behind his darkened visor.

He started up the engine abruptly, revving up if just to see TĂ©a’s reaction. She jumped in her seat, and started fumbling, desperately trying to find a handhold before Seto took off.

“Hold on,” he said simply before throwing the kick-stand backwards and balancing on the bike.

TĂ©astared at him incredulously, “To whaaaaaa—” Shenever finished her last syllable, as Seto Kaiba pressed downon the gas and zoomed out of the garage, TĂ©a’s armsslinging around his midsection as they tore out into the morning.

Sometime after the first five minutes of the ride, TĂ©a had stopped staring about in wonder. It became increasingly difficult to even make the attempt, what with the way Seto Kaiba kept speeding by everything.

‘Lessons? He’s probably been riding a bike for years! There’s no way a beginner could handle the road this smoothly,’TĂ©a thought to herself. Of course, never having been on a motorcycle herself, she didn’t know what a truly “smooth” ride was like. But the way Seto drove wasn’t causing her heart to leap up her throat, nor scenes from her life flash before her eyes.

It was almost relaxing.

They plunged into walls of fog, streaking through the nearly-empty city streets during the early morning hours. TĂ©a had stopped paying attention to their surroundings, and kept her arms around Seto’s waist, leaning her head against his back.

She was awoken from her brief stupor when the bike stopped, Seto shutting off the engine briefly and throwing the kick-stand down to balance the bike on its own.

“We’re here,” he said, removing his helmet and securing it to the back of the bike, along with TĂ©a’s, using a chain he had stored under the seat. TĂ©a glanced around, her eyes revealing her surprise.

“Acemetery? Real romantic.” Ever since her parent’sfuneral, TĂ©a had developed strong feelings against placeslike graveyards and cemeteries—and this particularone had a strange, haunting feel to it.

“Next time you want romantic, feel free to make a suggestion,” Seto remarked, though there was no trace of emotion in his voice. He was stone-faced and deadly serious, even as he moved the two metal gates at the entrance aside, stepping into the cool morning mist.

Hesitating, TĂ©a followed Seto into the graveyard, wondering why the young man had chosen such a spot to go so soon after his birthday.

Dew-moistened sprigs of grass were crushed into the soft mud underneath their feet. While Seto Kaiba, wearing a pair of knee-length boots, didn’t care less, TĂ©a was somewhat more careful, trying to keep to the drier parts of the graveyard.

They stopped before a plot of land separated from the rest of the graveyard, one that she and Seto had accessed via a wrought-iron gate. A thick garden surrounded the two graves therein.

They looked like any other graves—plain, rectangular tombstones made of granite. But, from the top of the two joined gravestones, rose the figure of a man. The carvings that made up his torso weren’t very elaborate; one could barely make out the outline of a stiff jacket on the stone figurine, complete with cushioned shoulders. Behind him, the figure of an angel rose, one arm wrapped protectively around the man’s shoulders, while the other arm extended outwards, a hand pressing against open space.

Seto dropped to his knees, pulling some incense out of his jacket. From another pocket, he withdrew a silver lighter, cupping it and the tip of the incense in his hand, protecting the small flame from the cool morning breezes.

TĂ©a remained quiet, a few meters away from him, watching as he kneeled before the graves and prayed silently to himself.

‘His parents,’ TĂ©a realized. They weren’t ever there to celebrate his birthday with him. And Mokuba’s birthday fell on the same day that their mother had died. Surely Seto wouldn’t take Mokuba to a graveyard on the younger boy’s birthday, so

It’s been a while,’ Setoprayed. It was only in the “presence” of his parentsthat Seto felt he could truly be himself. There was stilla six-year-old boy trapped in his eighteen-year-old body,remembering his true parents and everything they’d done together.

‘A lot has happened in the past few months.’ He glanced out of the corner of his eye at TĂ©a, who was running her fingers across the names on the gravestones. She looked somewhat contemplative, but then Seto couldn’t get a good glimpse of her face, given that he was only looking at her profile. He turned back to the gravestone, inhaling the musky scent of the incense.

She happened.’ Setosighed audibly, causing TĂ©a to glance at him.

Briefly,she wondered what he was thinking—what he was sayingto his parents. He’d lost them when he was muchyounger, and it had undoubtedly traumatized him. He’d hadto give up his childhood to protecthis brother

TĂ©a hadn’t been to her parent’s grave site since the funeral. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for it.

I’m not ready for a lot of things, it seems,’ TĂ©athought wryly, ‘I wish–I wish I had someone tohelp me along
to tell me, “this is how you’resupposed to be, this is what you have to do to get what you want”
’ Ofcourse, life didn’t work out that way.

TĂ©a glanced up at the angel that was representingSeto’s mother. The name on the gravestone read ‘SachikoHiroma, cherished wife, beloved mother.’ So Seto’sbirth name was Hiroma. Why, TĂ©a wondered, hadn’the changed it back when his adoptive father died? What significancedid the name Kaiba have to Seto?

‘I think–I think I’m falling inlove with her,’ Seto admitted. Regardlessof what he believed—whether there actually was aHeaven, an afterlife
if his parents existed in someinvisible form, able to hear his thoughts, he knewhe needed to admit that fact. If not out loud, then at leastto himself.

For so long, his feelings for TĂ©a had been a muddle. Attraction, definitely.He couldn’t deny that she was beautiful.She was also intelligent, witty, funny, friendly
everythingthat Seto Kaiba found himself unable to be
shewas. The yin to his yang, the light to his dark: all thathe’d ever needed, all that he’d everwanted to be

Could one really attribute it to fate, or destiny—the events that had brought them together?

‘I don’t even know
what love is supposed to feel like. Not this kind of love.’

He supposed that it was one of those questions that couldn’t be answered, one of those things that couldn’t be described in simple terms.

‘I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do. What I should say
’ They’d come so close to kissing the previous night, but then, like the previous incident when they’d been watching Toy Story with Mokuba, fate had intervened.

Ormaybe TĂ©a just hadn’t wanted tokiss him.

Was there someone else occupying her thoughts, then?

A name came to mind, one that brought a scowl to Seto Kaiba’s face.

Yugi.His rival for everything else and TĂ©a’s longtimebest friend; if it was true, and her thoughtsreally didn’t lie with Seto, then maybe

Suddenly, a vision of a tarot card appeared in Seto’s mind. The Lovers. And Bakura’s voice, telling them that they both desired the same thing, but something inside them was stopping them from pursuing it.

‘What is that phrase
”If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself?” Maybe I shouldn’t just wait anymore
Tell me, Father, what should I do?’

‘Follow your heart, Seto.’

The young man looked up abruptly, wondering if TĂ©a had just spoken. But she wasn’t even looking in his direction—her eyes were wandering over the sculpture emerging from the base of his parents’ graves, lost in a silent reverie.

He swore he had just heard a voice—a woman’s voice. A familiar one, but one he couldn’t place. There was no one else in the graveyard but he and TĂ©a, so

‘I must have been imagining things.’

TĂ©a hadn’t noticed Seto look up, an almost startled expression on his face. She admired the intricate carvings that made up the face of Seto’s father, and of the angel that represented his mother. Her wings each had carefully engraved feathers, with the tiniest of lines tracing their lengths. Had the angel not been made of cold, gray stone, TĂ©a would have almost thought it a living creature.

She gently lifted her own palm to touch that of the angel’s, closing her eyes as she did so.

‘I wish I’d had the chance to know you,’ TĂ©athought. ‘Even if you couldn’t spend as much time raising Seto and Mokuba as normal parents,’ TĂ©a stifled a slight sob, remembering her own parents, ‘they still turned out wonderful. I know because
I love him. Despite everything he’s been through, he still remembers you, still loves you. I think that’s what makes him who he is.’

TĂ©aknew little about Seto Kaiba, but what she did know,she had fallen deeply in love with. Such feelings were boundto cause more complications in her life, of that much shewas aware, but in such a silent, solemn place, she felt compelledto admit—at least to herself—that Seto Kaibawasn’tthe man everyone else thought he was. No matter how hardhe tried to escape his past, it remained in his mind, inhis soul
. Though his parents had died when he was a child, he kept them in his heart, and refused tothrow away the lessons they’d taught him.

‘Lovehim, TĂ©a.’

The brunette looked up, startled when she heard the sweet voice. There was no one else in the graveyard besides herself and Seto
so who had spoken? TĂ©a hesitantly glanced back towards the angel, her own face turning ashen when the stone eyes bored right into her core.

Shewas sure that the angel’s eyes had been lowered, herhead bowed. But now, the angel was looking up, directlyat TĂ©a, a smile creasing the cornersof perfectly-carved lips.

TĂ©a’s hand remained clasped in the stone angel’s, and even though her gaze was riveted to the statue’s face, she was sure she felt the angel’s fingers curve around hers, warmth pulsating from the palm of what was undeniably a granite sculpture.

And then, though TĂ©a’s eyes didn’t blink, she was sure she saw a lone tear track its way down the gentle curve of the angel’s cheek. The droplet traced its way down, leaving a dark trail of wet stone in its wake
and then another, another

TĂ©a glanced upwards, releasing her hand from the angel’s, and realizing that she must have been imagining things—it was starting to rain, and the statue was just as lifeless as it had been when she’d arrived there.

Seto glanced up at the quickly-darkening sky, rising to his feet.

“Let’s go.”

No more words were spoken as he and TĂ©a rushed from the graveyard, speeding back home to the Kaiba mansion on Seto’s bike.

The day had passed without much incident; few words were exchanged between any members of the household. Mokuba didn’t bother to ask where Seto had gone in the morning—he knew that his older brother made it a point to visit the graves of their parents every year on or shortly thereafter his birthday.

Mokubanever went, and Seto never pressured him. Mokuba had alwayshad a fear of graveyards and the like, not liking the nauseatingfeeling that accompanied the very thought of such a place.

The Kaiba mansion was silent for the bulk of the day, few things making noise save for the household staff cleaning, TĂ©a in the kitchen cooking, or Mokuba playing video games.

One would have thought that the silence that the night brought would have been welcome—a signal of peace for a few hours, while the stress of the day passed. Such didn’t appear to be the case.

TĂ©aGardner tossed in her bed, dreaming. Her dreams weremore like flashes, lasting only a few seconds. It wasimpossible to get a good grasp on what she saw, whatanything meant
It was if she were looking intoa bottomless pool while it rained—every image constantlydistorted, disappearing before she could really get agood look at it.

Stone hands, the fingers moving as if grasping something, but crumbling as they did so. Emotionless gray eyes, tearing and leaving trails of black in their wake, the voids parting the stone face and sending TĂ©a into a world of black.

The world around her trapped her, black and sticky, as though the webs of a million spiders surrounded her. TĂ©a fumbled, desperately trying to free herself from the invisible restraints that held her.


She knew that voice.

“Seto! Help me!” She struggled more, but the moment she felt a hand on her cheek, cupping her face and caressing the skin, she froze. A wave of calm washed over her, the bindings around her seeming to slip and slide away, fading into the nothingness from whence they’d come.

TĂ©a’s eyes slowly opened, and she stared at Seto, a slight smile creeping up on his lips. He appeared to be at an odd angle, and that was when TĂ©a realized that she was lying down now, Seto kneeling over her. One hand kept himself off the ground, while the other continued its gentle caress of her cheek.

Despite the cloak of darkness that concealed her, TĂ©a’s face burned scarlet, suddenly aware of the very intimate position she and Seto were in. She wanted to murmur his name, but her voice wouldn’t come.

He lowered his head, his breath hot on her ear, “I don’t want us to hesitate anymore

TĂ©a blinked as he stared down at her, but barely a second passed before his lips were on hers. TĂ©a was startled for a moment, but realized that this was what she’d wanted all along—every ounce of fear that she’d bottled up inside her vanished, and she wrapped her arms around Seto, her fingers running through his hair.

It wasn’t long before he pulled away, much to TĂ©a’s disappointment. She opened her eyes slowly, her face glowing with happiness—which vanished when she realized that it wasn’t Seto that was lying on top of her, and it wasn’t Seto that she’d been kissing, but someone else. He looked strikingly like Seto, but his eyes were narrower, a different shade of blue. His hair

TĂ©a’s eyes shot open as she woke up. She bolted upright in her bed, her eyes darting about her room with fear laced in their cerulean depths.

They froze on the shadow of a figure in the doorway—barely illuminated by the moonlight filtering through TĂ©a’s half-open curtains. The figure blew a kiss at TĂ©a, and then vanished through the door—without ever opening it.

The girl paled, throwing the blankets off her and rushing out the door without a second thought. She glanced down the hallway, not seeing anyone, and turned around, wondering if the mysterious figure had actually been there—

“Oof!” TĂ©a fell backwards, landing on the cool marble floor. She stared up, terrified that she’d run into the young man she’d dreamt about.

“TĂ©a?” A frightened voice called out from the darkness. TĂ©a’s eyes eventually adjusted to the different light level, and she realized who it was.


“You saw him too, didn’t you, TĂ©a?” the young boy demanded, crawling forward on his knees.It was apparent that he too, had seen the mysteriousfigure. His ebony hair provided a clear contrast tohis pale skin; he’d obviously been just as scaredas TĂ©a upon seeing the figure.

?” TĂ©amurmured. No, it had to have been a dream. Peopledidn’t walk through doors! It just wasn’t possible!

“T-That ghost!”


* Elissa – Mamboleo
* Liz Phair – Why Can’t I? (I altered one word of the original lyrics to make it “Clean” instead of “Explicit”)
* ThalĂ­a – Don’t Look Back (English 21st Century Mix)
* Billie – She Wants You (7″ Disco Mix)


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