Version 5.0 – Spelling, grammar, formatting errors
Conceptualized/First Written: 12/9/03
Completed/Posted: 2/5/04 (Sorry it took so long!)
Edits: 7/8/04, 7/11/04, 9/6/04, 1/8/06
Rated PG13 for a bit of violence…
Notes: I’ve revised chapters 1-6; mostly spelling errors and the “Téa” thing.
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*laughs* I read somewhere on FFnet that a fic was “a demented soap opera.” That kinda works for WDKY too, doesn’t it? Kinda. Sorta. Not really. Whatever!
RECAP: It seems as though it’s obvious who Seto Kaiba likes—or at least, prefers. But why won’t Seto or Téa take any action and admit their feelings? Bakura’s mysterious Tarot reading has them on the edge—not to mention the mysterious Kaiba mansion hauntings! What’s going on here!?
“G-Ghost?” Though Téa tried to keep her voice steady for Mokuba’s sake, but she couldn’t help it. Paranoid and on the verge of hiccuping (it was a bad habit she’d picked up whenever she was scared), she glanced down the hallways of the Kaiba mansion, her gaze only meeting darkness.
Ghosts were just…myth, right? Urban legends? The sort of things parents told their kids about to scare them? The sorts of things that made their way into ancient fairy tales, or heritage stories about the origin of the O-Bon festivals? Weren’t they…?
“I saw him, Téa!” Mokuba insisted, “But then he disappeared, right in front of me!”
Téa absently ran the tips of her fingers across sore lips. Ghost or no, whoever had awoken her from her sleep—when she’d been dreaming of kissing Seto!—had certainly felt real.
A leaden, acidic feeling welled in Téa’s stomach; had she really kissed someone else? She’d spent so much time agonizing over the fact that Seto didn’t remember their first kiss, and then…and then, when she’d finally worked up the nerve to admit she was falling for him, she couldn’t bring herself to kiss him a second time! Why?
Téa glanced down at Mokuba, the small boy looking terrified, midnight blue eyes darting left and right.
‘Because family comes first. Because I’m just an employee. Nothing more. Never more.’ Seeing the picture of Seto and Mokuba together on Seto’s desk two nights before had addled Téa; her thoughts, once sharp and clear, were now muddled.
Seto and Mokuba had been there for each other, the only constants in each other’s lives. Téa had barely known Seto for a year, and yet…
‘And yet I seem to think I have the right to disturb their lives so entirely.’ Téa wasn’t about to pack her bags and leave, though. Her birthday wasn’t for a few more months, and it was only then when she could make the decision to leave or not. Until that time, she had nowhere to go…
Téa glanced down when she felt a tugging on her hand; Mokuba was looking up at her imploringly, “I don’t want to go to sleep, Téa,” he whispered.”I don’t want that guy to come back.”
Téa wanted to reassure the boy that everything would be all right, that he’d be able to go back to sleep and wake up the next morning without even remembering the nighttime disturbance…but then, she’d be lying. Because even she didn’t know what was going on.
Mokuba and Téa had opted to search the house to see if there really was some sort of intruder wandering around, someone that had somehow escaped the high-tech security embedded throughout the Kaiba household.
They hadn’t found anyone.
And, aside from Seto’s bedroom, they’d explored every single room in the house, using the bright emergency flashlights Mokuba had discovered to penetrate every shadow.
“Mokuba,” Téa’s voice was a whisper, “I’ve always wondered, what’s up with these two rooms?” Téa thumbed towards the Aquamarine and Burgundy Rooms, two of the bedrooms she’d passed on when she’d initially moved into the Kaiba mansion.
“Them? They’ve always been empty. The dark red one used to be…” Mokuba paused, furrowing his brows, “used to be our adoptive dad’s room.”
”Adoptive dad? This just gets more complicated by the second.’ Téa knew that Seto and Mokuba’s birth parents had died many years ago, the mother having passed away while giving birth to Mokuba. She’d been to their graves with Seto, she knew how special they were to him…
But a adoptive father? Téa knew that the Hiromas, Seto and Mokuba’s biological parents, had died when both boys were still young, so it made sense that they had been adopted. And it was obvious that the person who had adopted them was a man—their adoptive father. She’d asked Charles about him a while back, and been told that Kaiba’s past was best left there—in the past.
Neither Seto nor Mokuba had made any mention of him. Judging by the tone of the younger Kaiba’s voice, the subject was somewhat taboo; but why? Who WAS the original Kaiba patriarch?
The warm milk slid down Téa’s throat, the honey the girl had flavored the drink with instilling her with a temporary sense of calm. When she had been younger, her mother had prepared warm milk flavored with honey (and if Téa was lucky, a splash of vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon) to help her get to sleep.
Oddly enough, tonight, it wasn’t inducing her into a comatose-like sleep. The drink did calm her, but thoughts of the strange, aqua-haired boy haunted her thoughts. Who was he? Had she really been imagining things?
She couldn’t have, not if Mokuba had seen him, too.
“Hey, Mokuba?” Téa murmured, setting her mug on the kitchen counter.”What did the guy you see look like?”
“Huh?” Mokuba looked up, sleepiness beginning to cloud his eyes, “Kinda funny hair…it was like…” The boy smacked his lips, his eyelids beginning to droop, “greenish…His eyes reminded me of Big Brother, but…”
He trailed off, yawning. Téa’s eyes widened, surprised that she and Mokuba HAD seen the same person. A ghost…?
“He looked like he was my age…” Mokuba murmured, drifting into sleep. Téa blinked. What…?
The following morning, Téa wandered into the kitchen, rubbing her temples. She hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous night. After she’d deposited Mokuba in his bedroom, she’d tried to go back to sleep herself, but with little success.
The second her eyes drifted shut, the slightest noise or movement of shadow caused them to shoot open again, her gaze shifting about wildly, looking for any signs of intruders—or other apparitions.
Seto glanced up from his newspaper when Téa walked in, raising an eyebrow when she headed straight towards one of the cabinets, taking out some aspirin, rather than eating breakfast.
Téa glanced towards him, dark circles framing her normally-bright blue eyes, “The worst. I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
Seto was on the verge of asking why, but before he could, Téa asked him a question.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
Seto looked at her oddly, scoffing. “Ghosts? No.” He went back to his newspaper, but he couldn’t focus on the small-print words. Why hadn’t she slept at all the previous night? And what did ghosts have to do with anything?
Téa didn’t bother to explain her question; Seto’s negative answer told her enough. Her gaze wandered towards the other end of the kitchen, from where Mokuba appeared. He didn’t look quite as haggard as Téa did, but, like any other child forced to go to school at an ungodly hour of the morning, he didn’t look too enthusiastic about being awake at all.
The two kept the previous night’s ‘adventure’ between themselves, sharing secret glances over the kitchen counter while Seto continued to read his newspaper, occasionally sipping at his coffee.
How could they possibly tell Seto what they had seen? Téa knew she couldn’t tell Seto that she’d dreamt of kissing him, only to be awakened by a kiss from someone that likely wasn’t even part of the realm of the living!
What then, COULD she say? What could she do?
For the past several months, Seto, Mokuba, and Téa had all gone to school together in the limousine. There was a single brief period during which Téa had opted to walk to school instead, for reasons that were still unclear to the Kaiba brothers—but that time had passed.
However, the ride to school that particular morning was unusually silent. Normally, Mokuba made some conversation with Téa while Seto worked on one thing or another—but that cool, gray day, even Mokuba was silent. Briefly, Seto wondered what the two of them were hiding from him, but he doubted it was anything to worry over.
‘Psh, ghosts. Nothing either of them should even bat an eye at. It’s just myth.’
But still, there was an unsettled feeling in Seto Kaiba’s stomach…
The day passed without much incident. However, Seto had realized with some dismay that he’d been searching for Téa at lunch—and had been unable to find her. She wasn’t with her other friends —Yugi, Joey, Tristan, and Duke had all cast odd looks in Kaiba’s direction when he’d wandered past—or even that Sagusa girl. Not in the dance studio; the girls from the newly-formed club were in there, busy plotting how they would take the funds from the festival and turn the ratty room into a studio worthy of practicing in.
The last place Seto would ever think of to look, of course, was the very place where Téa was that fateful lunch period.
Alone in the small Domino High library, Téa breezed through the city’s historical section, meager considering it was a school collection. But it would have to do. She didn’t have the time to go to the local library, let alone make the trip to the National Library in inner Tokyo.
She pulled out several books on area 20th century architecture, surmising that the Kaiba mansion that was now her home had been built in the past 100 years. Maybe some of the books would help her find out what had happened there—like why it was being haunted.
Another thought surfaced—that of the Kaiba patriarch. The nameless, faceless, mysterious man who adopted Seto and Mokuba.
It wasn’t HIS ghost that had appeared to her. It couldn’t have been. The person Téa and Mokuba had seen was a much younger boy, never appearing older than Téa herself. And, had it been the Kaiba sire, Mokuba surely would have recognized him, right…?
Things got more complicated by the second.
Fueled by her determination and curiosity, Téa settled down with a mound of books before her, sandwich in one hand, pen in the other.
Of the few books in the Domino High library that HAD revealed anything about Kaiba’s adoptive father, or the Kaiba mansion, they only mentioned in passing that it had been built at great cost by Gozaburo Kaiba, one of the century’s wealthiest businessmen, and contractor of many military products and installations.
‘A war freak. Somehow, I’m not surprised.’
Several of the books were old; at least five years. They didn’t mention what Téa already knew to be truth—that Gozaburo Kaiba was dead. But how? He hadn’t been very old—and there was no mention of his having any disease or illness of any kind.
‘Though I doubt that kind of thing makes it into architectural digests, anyway.’ Téa grimaced. She was going about this all wrong.
She needed answers—but where could she possibly get them?
Sleep would not come to her.
She could feel the exhaustion settling into her bones, but try as she might, she couldn’t simply close her eyes and fall asleep.
As with the previous nights, sleep eluded young Téa Gardner. Though her eyes were closed, her thoughts ran amok, preventing her from resting.
Perhaps was because of her silent, unspoken fear of the ghosts—that which she kept bottled in herself, a secret from Seto, Mokuba, her friends…even Mai, who knew almost everything Téa had kept locked away in her heart the past few months.
None of them would believe her anyway, Téa knew. If Seto hadn’t, why would they..?
It had just been a whisper. A breeze, a creaking of the house…
But the grazing of fingers brushing against the silky skin of her cheek was no illusion. Téa’s blue eyes snapped open, and widened with horror when she realized she was looking into the same midnight blue depths as before—of that strange aqua-haired…ghost!
It seemed as though he lay right on top of her, yet Téa could feel no pressure; odd, considering she clearly remembered his forceful kiss, and the way, only moments previous, his fingers had caressed her cheek…
“Who are you?” Téa managed in a choked whisper, doing her best to remain still. Every fiber in her being wanted to struggle and get away, but if this WAS real —if she wasn’t going crazy—then she had to find out what was going on. The truth.
The young man chuckled, “So, you’re willing to talk now, are you? Such a pity, I was hoping for more…” He leaned in dangerously close, his lips almost touching Téa’s —before she abruptly turned her head to the side, preventing his lips from meeting hers. He drew back, a scowl crossing his face, “Well.”
“Who are you?” Téa repeated, emphasizing the force in her voice.
“I am…your sweetest dream,” he nuzzled her neck, chuckling as Téa froze, the hairs on her skin standing on end, “your darkest desire,” Aqua-hair melted into a chocolatey brown, while Téa’s vision blurred; had he suddenly become Seto? But no…
She blinked, and the aqua-haired boy was back, smirking, “And your worst nightmare.”
The grin on his face was predatory—bordering on demonic.
‘He must be insane!’ Téa thought to herself, her thoughts wild and chaotic. But she had to remain still, for she had no idea what he was going to do next, if any of this was even REAL…
“Telling you who I am would ruin my fun. Instead…let me show you.” Only a fraction of a second had passed, and he was off her entirely, standing beside the door.
Téa stared at him a moment, wondering whether to actually follow this —person!?—or not, to entertain her delusions about ghosts. This had to be a dream, right…?
‘Even if Mokuba just happened to see the same guy, only…6 years younger than he’s appearing to me now?’ Téa fumbled with her blankets, ‘No one said any of this had to make sense. Nothing has, not since I moved here!’
And so, with the hopes that she would finally get SOME answers —find some sense in the Kaiba household—Téa set out, following the ghost as he disappeared through the door.
It was cold.
The Kaiba mansion usually was, given that the ceilings were high, and what little heat flowed throughout the stone mansion tended to rise and dissipate rather quickly. But…it felt ten degrees colder than usual, as Téa followed the mysterious aqua-haired ghost—down the hallway, down the staircase…
The marble stairs felt like ice under her feet, the sensation causing Téa to wonder why she hadn’t slid her slippers on before following the ghost. Had he really entranced her so utterly, that she’d forget something so simple?
‘And speaking of feet…’ Téa glanced at the ghost. Indeed, he had to be a ghost—not some human intruder bent on a joke. His feet —what there WAS of them, anyway—didn’t touch the floor. His form was most solid from his head to his waist; from there on down his form seemed to fade, as if receding into darkness.
Yet, in a twist of irony, the apparition seemed to cast a hazy blue glow on everything in the surrounding area—though no reflection of the ghost’s actual form appeared in mirrors, or on the marble floor.
The darkness hugged the space around the pair, as if Night herself had enveloped them both in her never-ending arms. It was only when the ghost-boy’s “glow” revealed a door that Téa realized they’d arrived at their intended destination.
But the darkness had been so thick, her body so numb with cold, that she didn’t realize where they were, until she hesitantly put her hand on the knob and pushed the door open.
The pieces came together. She knew where they were. She knew this place…
The dimly illuminated photo on the bureau opposite the desk told Téa everything she needed to know.
His study, his sanctuary…
Téa turned and faced the ghost, who was glancing at her with a placid expression on his glowing face. She was about to ask what the office had anything to do with who he was, but before she could even open her mouth, the aqua-haired spirit coalesced into a ball of light and vanished into the bookcase.
Téa’s mouth dropped open, but no sound, no words came forth. He’d just—just…!
The darkness was closing on her again, so Téa padded over to Seto’s desk, quickly flicking on the small lamp there. It barely illuminated the room, but it was enough to comfort Téa—for the moment.
Her heart was still beating at an unnaturally fast pace, and she wasn’t entirely sure her breathing was regular, either. But…she had to know.
One step at a time, slowly, hesitantly, she moved towards the bookcase.
Titles in all languages —English, Japanese, Chinese, French —was that Spanish?—lined the case, each with different bindings, different covers, different sizes…
Téa absently ran her fingers across each book, her hand finally stopping on the cover of an old, dust-covered brownish book. It glowed faintly, as if the spirit rested between its pages.
Fear threaded its way through Téa’s veins, her hands trembling as she closed her whole hand around and the book—and pulled.
There was a great clanking from behind the bookcase, and just as soon as she’d heard it, Téa dropped her hand, her face paling. Had she activated one of Seto’s security devices? Would she be interrogated for being in his office at the darkest hours of the night…?
Blue eyes widened to the size of saucers as the bookcase moved a decimeter backwards, entirely of its own accord, and slid behind the bookcase opposite it—revealing a doorway into a small, dark room.
Fluorescent lights flickered on, cobwebs hanging off their cylindrical forms, casting eerie shadows in the tiny space.
The concrete-walled room was sparse; two metal chairs sat before an oaken table inlaid with decorative moldings and heavy drawers; what they contained Téa could only guess at.
Two of the walls —those to Téa’s left and right—had computer screens spanning their length and height; sticking out from the computer-walls, short panels of buttons, covered in a sheen of dust, glowed and sparked. Were they still active…? What were the computers’ purposes, and what was that odd chair-like contraption all their wires were connected to?
Atop the table was something most interesting—an old metal chess set. Téa had never seen a metal chess set before —only plastic, glass, and ivory. She supposed the pieces could be made out of various things —wood, soft mineral, perhaps even gemstones—but metal?
Téa absently picked up one of the pieces, a silver-colored rook. It was oddly heavy, so the girl set it down, inspecting the rest of the board.
The board had been positioned out as if a game were already in play, and yet the pieces were spotted with rust, dust covering every centimeter. From one king piece to the other, a thick cobweb devoid of any spiders stretched, cleanly dividing the board into two jagged pieces of checkered wood.
‘Seto doesn’t know about this place…does he?’
No, he didn’t. Téa was sure. Something in her bones told her as much.
Perhaps then, this was the last true link in the entire Kaiba mansion, that proved there had been other people before Seto and Mokuba. Their adoptive father…the ever-elusive patriarch…he who was “best left in the past…”
Neither Seto nor Mokuba ever made much mention of him. Téa knew that Seto undoubtedly valued his biological parents much more than his adoptive parent, but still…she had a feeling that things weren’t that simple.
Her gaze drifted —over the dust-covered chairs, over the oaken tabl—
‘What in the…?’
A small white page was sticking out of the wood as if it had grown there naturally. Téa bent down to inspect the oddity, surprised to find the thinnest of indentations—marking the opening of a secret drawer.
Running her fingers over the ancient wood, she found the handle—disguised as a carved centaur, bursting from the wood as if alive and in miniature form. With two quick tugs, the drawer popped up, and years of dust erupted from the space in a great cloud, causing the brunette to cough, waving her hand about as if it were a fan.
With groping, fumbling fingers, she reached for the page—only to discover it was attached to an entire leather-bound book, only a hand’s width-wide, and roughly six centimeters long. Someone’s journal…?
She cautiously opened the book, and from its worn pages fell a tattered photo—that of a young, aqua-haired boy, smiling beside a man who could only be the boy’s father, and a beautiful, aquamarine-haired woman beside the older man.
‘It’s him…!’ Téa realized with a start, ‘The boy that’s been haunting this place…!’
She flipped towards the cover, hoping to find a clue as to the young man —no, boy’s—identity.
Underneath a gold-leaf sticker affixed to the cover, Latin words ‘Ex Libris’ embossed on the adhesive surface, a child’s name was scrawled.
Téa found herself curved up in one of the metal chairs, reading the leather-bound journal she’d found. Noah Kaiba was Gozaburo Kaiba’s son.
His REAL son.
The book had been a present for him for his 10th birthday, and had continued for an entire year. But, in the last few months of entries, the style of writing had become…erratic. Odd. As if the boy within the entries had vanished, and been replaced with someone else entirely.
Gone was the innocence that came with childhood…replaced instead by constant lessons, brutal punishment for all things done incorrectly or incompletely.
Through the pages, Téa felt the boy’s fear. She felt the boy lose grip on the world, lose everything he’d known…
Even his mother.
Noah had made mention of how the one year anniversary of mother’s death had come along, and he’d expected to go to the grave with his father and mourn. But his father appeared to have forgotten about the importance of the date entirely, and had left Noah to stew in his own misery.
No doubt Gozaburo Kaiba had changed drastically since losing his wife —Noah had said she was only 31, a very young age to die. Yet, there was no mention of how she had died—only that his father was “different,” and he missed the old Father he used to have.
Téa wanted to keep reading, to see if she could unearth anymore about the original Kaibas, but streaks of sunlight made their way through Seto’s heavy office curtains, slanting into the tiny room.
Téa blinked, surprised that she had stayed awake for so long, engrossed in a book, holed up in a dusty room.
‘I have to get out of here before Seto finds me!’ Téa realized with urgency. She knew Seto woke at ungodly hours of the morning and went straight to work, long before he showered, dressed, or even ate breakfast. Such was his ‘way,’ and Téa wasn’t one to abruptly change it.
She scrambled out of the room, leather-bound journal in hand. With desperate fingers, she traced the books until a mechanical clank was heard, and the bookcase slid into place with a soft ‘thump.’
She flicked off the desk lamp, and stood back, gazing at the room.
Everything looked the same.
Nothing was out of place…even the old maroon book that had proven to be the ‘switch’ into the secret room was back in its original position. Téa nodded to herself, affirming that everything was okay, and scuttled out of the room.
She couldn’t just go back to bed—besides, there were only three hours before she had to be at school, anyway. No doubt Seto would soon awaken, wanting coffee before starting his morning routine. Having no other way to explain her awakened state, Téa headed towards the kitchen to start up a coffee pot, with the hope that a piping hot mug would quell any of Seto’s suspicions as to why she had arisen so early.
Téa was busy pouring coffee grinds into the brewer when she felt a familiar tingling streak down her spine—cold. It washed over her skin, the smallest of hairs on her neck standing rigidly on end.
Téa whipped around, expecting to come face-to-face with the young man she now knew as Noah Kaiba.
But it wasn’t him.
Not at all.
Téa pressed herself up against the counter; she could tell by the leer on this man’s face —that demonic grin—that he was something different from Noah—something darker, something more powerful—something to be truly frightened of.
‘It can’t be!’ Téa thought suddenly, a name appearing before her mind’s eye. And a face to match, though faded by history. An image from Noah’s journal…a memory of better days.
It had to be…
That same angular jaw, those piercing eyes, that perfectly trimmed mustache…
It was none other than the Kaiba patriarch himself.
Seto Kaiba groaned, flinging his arm across his alarm clock as he shifted in bed. He didn’t want to get up. Exhaustion had claimed him utterly the night before, and sleeping had been so wonderful…he didn’t want to rise.
But he had to.
His eyes felt like lead weights, opening with the speed of a snail stuck in sap. The moment they had opened even a minuscule fraction, sunlight assaulted his vision, nearly blinding him. His curtains were only parted slightly, but enough light spilled through to cause him to see spots.
With a moan, Seto rubbed his eyes, forcing the colored dots from his vision. He rose shakily, his limbs feeling as if they’d been torn from his torso and reattached.
He stretched, opening his eyes fully—and instantly, his senses became aware of something…not right.
He couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it…but there was something wrong.
The air was cold, but musty, and there was a hint of a fragrance —an old cologne—that Seto had long forgotten about. Until now.
Goosebumps snaked up his flesh, giving the young CEO pause. Involuntarily, he recalled what Téa had asked him about the previous morning. Though it was more than 24 hours in the past, the expression on her face -the sound of her voice- remained clear in his mind.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
‘No. It’s not possible. There’s no such thing…’
But Seto couldn’t shake that feeling —that same unsettled, dangerous feeling, curving its way up and down his body…
Without a second thought, Seto bolted from his bedroom and into the hallway, skidding to a halt. He was amazed to see Téa’s door already open. Glancing inside, he wondered where she’d gotten to. No sound came from the hall bathroom; the lights were off and the door there was ajar.
Something pulled him towards her bed —he found it odd that, though he himself wasn’t cold, his hand was shaking as it moved towards the mound of blankets…
Just lumps of cloth. And they’d been that way for some time.
Panic assuaged Seto Kaiba’s senses, and he raced downstairs—unsure what drove him, but knowing that he could be too late if his gut were right.
“Gozaburo Kaiba.” Téa gritted out. She didn’t need any formalities; she didn’t need to hear any stories.
Noah’s journal had told her more than enough about Gozaburo Kaiba. He wasn’t a man to be reasoned with. Since the death of his wife, he’d changed drastically, utterly—sinking so low as to abuse his only blood child.
And somehow, someway, Noah had died.
If the dates Téa had found in the journal were right, then he’d died when he was young—and the spirit that had appeared itself before Téa was merely a manifestation of what Noah Kaiba would have looked like, had he lived to Téa’s age.
Noah’s death, coupled with Gozaburo’s growing insanity had likely driven the man to the edge—and somewhere along the way, Seto and Mokuba had gotten entangled in the mess.
“No need for introductions, I see. Then again, I needn’t know your name either,” He paused, licking his teeth in a manner that revolted Téa to her very core, “Téa Gardner.”
The brunette swallowed; how did HE know HER name?
“You awakened me,and now I can take form. So I must thank you for that. But…” He glanced out of the corner of his eye, as if looking at something Téa couldn’t see, “I have been watching all this time. And I must say, I don’t LIKE what I’ve seen.”
“Oh yeah?” Téa managed, forcing herself to stand up straight, trying to be defiant despite the spirit’s imposing stature.”What have you seen?”
Gozaburo turned on her, eyes flaming with anger and dementia.
“Happiness, child. And THAT is never permitted—for ANY Kaiba.”
‘W-What? What is wrong with this guy?’ Téa forced the grimace off her face, knowing too well not to provoke attacks from dangerous individuals. She’d seen that insane, delerious-with-power-and-knowledge stare before.
On Malik. On Bakura.
Memories she wanted to forget.
Times best left in the the past, and locked there.
‘But…here the past has come back—quite literally! And no matter what I’ve found out, I still don’t know why Noah or Gozaburo are haunting this place!’
“Why are you here?” Téa tried, trying a different tactic. The direct approach. It had worked with Seto on a few occasions, but would it work for his adoptive father?
Much to Téa’s dismay, Gozaburo’s leering grin vanished, only to be replaced by a frown. “You know what? I don’t like questions.” The grin returned, malicious this time, “But I do like…fun. And you know what?”
He paused this time, clearly expecting an answer, though Téa was on the verge of being too terrified to give one, “W-What?”
“Games are fun.” Téa’s eyes widened as she saw Gozaburo’s hand move—and out of nowhere, a chess piece —a rusty, silver-colored rook—appeared from thin air.
‘The…the piece from the room! Could that have been what triggered Gozaburo’s “awakening?”‘
“I like games,” Gozaburo went on, his eyes following the rook as he tossed it in the air, as if it didn’t weigh a thing. Then again, he was a ghost —incorporeal, immaterial. How was it then, that ghosts such as Gozaburo and Noah could phase in and out of reality, sometimes having solid form, while others not? And how could they handle real objects—when their own bodies technically didn’t even EXIST?
‘Too many questions, not enough ways to escape!’ Téa thought, panic twisting her insides into a knot.
Suddenly, as though lightning had struck, Gozaburo was gone from where he’d been standing—and he was feeling very real, very solid as he spun Téa in a semicircle, twisting her arms behind her so that she couldn’t move. With one strong arm, he forced Téa’s neck up, her gaze meeting his equally.
“You’ll soon learn, Téa, dear, this is no game.”
Seto whirled around at the sound of Mokuba’s voice; he was a mere meter from the staircase, and Mokuba’s sudden cry had nearly caused him to lose his footing and take a nasty tumble.
That thought, coupled with the panic that had gripped him ever since finding Téa’s room cold and empty, continued to well and grow in Seto Kaiba’s stomach. He needed to find her—and fast.
“What is it, Mokuba, what’s wrong?”
The smaller boy looked somewhat ashen; his normally-bright eyes subdued and puffy.
“I-I—I saw him!”
“Saw who, Mokuba?” Seto demanded, kneeling before his brother, who was near hysterics now and blubbering through his tears, “Gozaburo!”
“You think this is funny? That haunting this place—doing this is going to change anything? You haven’t been apart of Seto’s life for years now. Your haunting this place isn’t going to threaten him in any way.”
Gozaburo’s grip loosened -but only marginally, his eyes wandering from the kitchen’s swinging door back to Téa’s stiffened form.
“On a first name basis with him already, dear? Tsk…” Gozaburo shifted the hand closest to Téa’s neck, revealing the metal rook; he pushed his thumb into the base, and to Téa’s horror, a slender blade protracted from the rook, growing in length until it was a good decimeter long.
“I’m not here to threaten Seto, anyway,” Gozaburo chuckled, pressing the blade into Téa’s throat, indenting her skin.”YOU’RE the problem here.” The older man’s gaze drifted towards the swinging door again, as if expecting Seto to walk in any moment.
His voice dropped an octave, whispering coldly in Téa’s ear, “You’re the reason why Seto has known happiness. And since he took my only chance at that away from me, I’ve sworn that he’ll never know true happiness.” Gozaburo’s voice was laced with promise, with venom.
‘What did Seto do to Gozaburo that’s got him so…angry?’
Of course, Téa was well aware of the possibility that Gozaburo had simply died a very lonely, very INSANE man, and his ghost haunted the Kaiba mansion for reasons unknown. But the man sure could hold a grudge…
Seto Kaiba’s skin went ashen.
His brother never lied. He was a child, but he was mature enough to know not to joke around about things like their late adoptive father…and seeing him in the house.
“I swear it,” Mokuba cried out, sniffling now to hold back tears, “He was at the end of my bed and looking at me, and then, then he turned around and went right THROUGH the door!”
Téa not sleeping. Téa and Mokuba’s secrecy the previous morning. Why she’d mentioned ghosts in the first place. Everything…
‘It’s not possible!’
But Seto couldn’t shake that feeling that something was VERY wrong.
“It’s going to be all right, Mokuba,” Seto tried to comfort his sibling, but he wasn’t exactly calm himself. Goosebumps still covered his flesh, and he was worried about Téa. Could something possibly have—
‘Think logically, Kaiba,’ The young man reassured himself. There were no ghosts, no spirits—and Gozaburo Kaiba was dead!
The door between the kitchen and the dining area swung open in a grand arc, announcing Seto Kaiba’s entrance into the kitchen—and almost immediately, his eyes set on Téa.
She was all right.
Almost immediately, a sense of calm washed over Seto, and his once-frantic expression melted away.
Téa’s eyes widened, watching Seto glance at her and heave a sigh—of what? Relief?
‘Surely he can see—’
But he didn’t. Seto Kaiba moved towards the coffee pot that was already percolating, and poured himself a mug of piping hot coffee.
“He doesn’t see me,” Gozaburo Kaiba whispered in Téa’s ear once more. His breath —if ghosts actually breathed—was ice cold, each hair on the brunette’s neck standing on end.
“He doesn’t believe.” Gozaburo went on, twisting Téa’s arms forcefully, causing the girl to wince even as she was frozen in place, her eyes begging Seto to notice her odd position. She couldn’t say anything—if she did, she’d risk getting that blade jammed into her throat!
“He doesn’t believe in you and your stories enough to see me. Doesn’t believe I even exist anymore,” Gozaburo was laughing softly now, continuing to hold Téa in a vice-like grip, the edge of the rook-blade still precariously close to Téa’s soft skin.
“But you know different, now don’t you, Téa?”
She wanted to yell. Wanted to scream, to kick behind her. But all of that would have worked only if her attacker had been human —alive! Gozaburo Kaiba wasn’t either of those things anymore, and now he had her trapped…
“What’s wrong with you?”
Seto was looking at Téa oddly, one hand still clutching the handle of his untouched mug of coffee.
Gozaburo chuckled low, his voice dark, evil, and laced with malicious intentions.
His movement was quick—but Téa felt it instantly, the first bit of warmth she’d felt in nearly ten minutes, since encountering Gozaburo Kaiba. She suddenly regained control of her body, and her knees buckled, but she didn’t fall.
It was a small cut, only about five centimeters long—just below her left ear’s lobe and stretching down her neck in a perfect line…
A cut from nowhere.
A shudder rippled through Téa’s body, her mind unwilling to believe what had just happened—what Seto himself didn’t see, didn’t believe…!
“Nothing,” she mumbled out, clapping a hand over her now-steadily bleeding wound. Seto Kaiba’s gaze remained fixed on her a moment, but then dropped to the table, where he picked up a newspaper and began to read.
Hurt —of a kind beyond physical—filled Téa’s being, almost bringing her to tears. But she was strong. And in front of Seto, she just couldn’t cry…
‘He doesn’t believe me. He doesn’t trust me…’
Téa hadn’t wanted to believe Gozaburo Kaiba when he’d said that Seto didn’t see him—didn’t believe in Téa enough to even try. But…
Tears welled in her eyes as she regained her balance, but didn’t fall. Through the veil of tears, through the blur…
A single chess piece.
A rook, silver and rusted in spots, lying on the floor.
Téa glanced up at Seto, wondering if he’d noticed the piece, but he looked too engrossed in his paper to even notice her still standing there.
She bent to pick it up, and felt the same, chilling feeling from before wash over her—Gozaburo’s low chuckle echoing in her mind.
She turned the piece over in her hands, realizing with a start that it felt LIGHT—ordinary.
No mechanisms inside, no concealed blade…? She couldn’t have imagined it all, right?
There was blood on the turrets of the miniature castle. Fresh blood.
“Heeey!” Joey crowed, seeing Téa walking down the hall to their classroom. School was about to begin in a few minutes, and the tall blonde was in an unusually good mood. He couldn’t explain it—he just was.
“You’re awfully happy this morning,” Téa grumbled. Joey glanced down at his friend, his eyebrows shooting up when he realized how tired and sad she looked.
“What’s with ya?” Joey asked, concern creeping into his voice, “Ya look like ya ain’t slept in days!”
“That’s about the long and short of it,” Téa sighed, turning into the classroom and flopping her books down on her desk. Seto was already seated, reading another book. Téa tore her gaze away from him, trying to find a plausible reason to be angry with him.
‘For what? Not believing in ghosts?’ Seto Kaiba was a logical guy. Reasonable was another matter altogether, but it was true that Kaiba looked at things the way they were—what he saw. He didn’t believe in magic, didn’t believe in spirits from the past…
‘Even if it’s going to get me hurt in the long run? Does he even care about me at all?’
He hadn’t said, “Are you okay?” or even “Good morning, why are you up so early?” but “What’s wrong with you?”
Téa wasn’t sure what stung more—the fact that he didn’t believe, the fact that he didn’t seem to care…or the wound on her neck.
Absently, she touched the bandage on her neck, partially concealed by her hair, rubbing the gash with the tip of her fingers.
“Coverin’ somethin’ up, are ya?” Joey was grinning down at her, and Téa blinked, confused.
Momentarily, Yugi and Tristan came up to her, offering their own morning greetings, “Maybe a—” Joey paused for dramatic emphasis, winking at Tristan and nudging Yugi, “hickey of sorts?”
Téa’s eyes widened despite her tiredness, “No!”
“She denies it so vehemently, though,” Tristan smirked. “Are you SURE?”
The two chortling boys didn’t notice Yugi’s crestfallen expression, but Téa did. She frowned, her once-wide eyes narrowing as she stood, her fingernails sliding under the edge of the adhesive strip as she yelled, “It’s not a damned hickey!”
Silence befell the classroom as all eyes —even those of Seto Kaiba—fell on Téa, who had ripped off the bandage in one, quick motion.
Spots of blood appeared from the wound, slowly at first, but then growing in number until a steady stream traced its way down Téa’s neck, almost reaching her jacket’s collar.
“Téa,” Chieko, sitting beside the brunette, stood up, a pack of tissues at the ready. “what a horrible injury! We should get you to the nurse’s office immediately.”
Téa nodded her affirmation, fixing Joey and Tristan with a stare that, without spoken words, asked them if they were satisfied. They’d made a spectacle of her, embarrassed themselves, and they’d been wrong, too!
Téa allowed Chieko to lead her out of the classroom, turning her head away before she could meet Seto’s curious —and concerned—gaze.
Lunchtime. And for the first time in many weeks —since the day after Téa’s parents had died, in fact—Tristan and Joey remained in the classroom even after the bell rang. The other students had all rushed out, save the scant few that brought their lunches. Many of them had opted to eat outside with their friends, given that it was an unusually warm and beautiful autumn day.
“What?” Téa asked, her voice flat and monotone. It was clear she had no mind to listen to any more “jokes” from Tristan or Joey, but then, it didn’t seem as if either of them were about to crack any, either.
Tristan had chased any people considering staying in the classroom for lunch out —save Seto Kaiba. The intimidating CEO had stayed in his seat even as Tristan shooed the other people out.
He knew full well they were all going to talk to Téa —and get the answers out of her that Seto himself wanted to hear. But he wasn’t part of their circle of friends. Téa, maybe, but…somehow, he’d screwed up that morning.
He’d rushed into the kitchen, terrified that Téa would be—
But she hadn’t been —anything! She’d been standing there, albeit in an odd pose, for an ungodly amount of time…but she’d seemed fine. No ghosts. No Gozaburo.
Maybe the calm had washed over him too quickly. Maybe he’d wrongly convinced himself that she was all right, when she wasn’t.
He hadn’t bothered to ask why she had been awake so early, why she’d been standing there, frozen in place…
Where that wound had come from.
It wasn’t the kind of thing that just HAPPENED, like paper cuts did. No one got cuts on their neck from a piece of paper.
But it was apparent that he wasn’t going to be privy to the conversation. Not wanting to bother with Tristan or the mutt, Seto cast one last glance at Téa —who refused to acknowledge his gaze—and exited the classroom.
A heavy silence befell the classroom, with only four occupants. Tristan and Joey exchanged nervous glances, hanging their heads guiltily off a Look from Yugi, until finally Joey spoke up.
“We uh…well, I wanted ta…” Joey trailed off, scratching behind his ear nervously. Yugi, sitting in an empty seat behind Joey, gave his friend an encouraging look, motioning to Tristan to do the same.
“Look, we wanted to apologize!” Tristan blurted, bowing abruptly. Téa blinked, tempted to giggle. Her friends were horribly informal most of the time, so to see them bowing in apology —to her, their longtime friend—was almost laughable.
“It was uh…outta line, and all. We’re just worried about ya, ya know?” Joey glanced up, hoping to see a forgiving expression on Téa’s face. He’d seen her angry on a number of occasions, and it wasn’t pretty—he had no desire to be on her bad side for any extended period of time.
“…Thanks, guys.” Téa murmured. “Besides,” she grumbled after a moment of silence, “It’s not like I have anyone to make out with in the first place, so I don’t even know why you would have thought it was a hickey.”
Joey and Tristan blinked, and then smiled at one another, sitting down next to Téa in the seats surrounding her desk.
“Well, what about that uh, guy you said you liked a while back, huh?”
Téa’s eyebrows shot up, though she didn’t look at any of her companions, “Him? I…I never said anything to him. He doesn’t know that I—” Téa could feel her cheeks growing hot, remembering the moment she’d been sprawled on Seto’s lap, mere centimeters from kissing him…
“So uh…” Yugi spoke up, trying to prevent silence from swallowing the room again. “What happened? To your neck, I mean.”
Téa ran her finger over her fresh bandage, grateful that Chieko had dragged her from the classroom in an embarrassing situation.
But…how could she tell her friends about the ghosts?
How could she explain what happened —without revealing everything?
“He’s not hurting you, is he?” Yugi’s voice was soft, his violet eyes full of meaning. Téa looked away quickly, hating herself for all the lies she’d been telling—for all the deception…
‘Yugi’s my best friend. And…’
And every time he looked at her, Téa swore he saw right through her. Right through all her lies…
“Your boss,” Yugi said, concern etched on his face.
Téa’s eyes widened, ‘What the—?’
“No!” she exclaimed, “He—No. This…” she gestured towards the cut, “this was an accident.”
Her excuse was paper-thin, and it was apparent that the boys saw right through it—but they kept silent. Téa sighed to herself, bringing out the bento set she’d made for herself that morning, “Enough talk guys, let’s eat!”
The boys gratefully brought out their own lunches —rather, Yugi did, while Joey and Tristan started to argue over a bag of chips their shorter friend had—while Téa attempted to smile.
None of them noticed the figure in the still-open doorway, his eyes riveted to Téa Gardner’s form.
“Hmph,” the young man mumbled, walking away from the classroom, cloud-white hair flowing behind him on a mysterious breeze.
“I’m home…!” Téa called as she walked in the door.
‘Of course not.’ Seto went to work immediately afterschool, and Mokuba had, as of late, been busy joining clubs right and left.
She was alone.
Or so she thought.
“Welcome, welcome, dear Téa.”
The brunette spun around in a circle, eyes narrowing as they fell upon the tall and imposing frame of Gozaburo Kaiba. He hadn’t been there a minute ago—but such was the nature of ghosts.
Téa had never encountered the ghosts —Gozaburo OR Noah—in the daytime, and the fact that Gozaburo looked so…REAL sent a wave of fear spiraling down Téa’s spine.
‘I just can’t…can’t be afraid.’
Of course, it was easier said than done. Téa brushed right past Gozaburo and headed into the kitchen, intending to prepare herself a snack before she started on her homework.
“Ah, pretending to ignore me, are you? It won’t work.” Gozaburo materialized behind Téa, following her every move, hovering just behind her. While HE didn’t seem to mind pestering her, Téa could feel his presence behind her every step of the way, sending shivers down her spine.
She’d just finished putting some crackers and cheese on a plate, irritated by Gozaburo’s presence to the point where she slammed her cutting knife on the counter, wheeling on the ball of her foot and snapping at the ghost.
“What do you want, anyway?!” she yelled, the exasperation plain in her voice. “It’s not like Seto’s here anyway, and if you’re here to drive me crazy, well then, Mission Accomplished!”
She exhaled deeply and marched towards the kitchen table, taking out her schoolwork and nibbling on her snacks—desperate to distract herself from the apparition just behind her.
To Téa’s surprise, Gozaburo —ghost of the most notorious, ruthless businessman in 20th century history—laughed.
“No wonder you bring him such…joy.” The amused expression disappeared from the apparition’s face, the final word dripping with disgust.
“…You had someone like that, once,” Téa murmured, turning her gaze back to her schoolwork. She remembered Noah’s journal—and how he made constant references to his late mother, and how completely his father had changed since her death.
“Quiet, girl!” Gozaburo snarled in a menacing tone, “Don’t speak of that which you have no idea!”
“No idea?” Téa chuckled, her voice soft and her eyes drawn downwards, “No idea.”
Téa rose to her feet, lifting her gaze to meet Gozaburo’s. Blue eyes shone brilliantly back at the apparition, “I don’t care how long you’ve been haunting this place, or how well you think you know me. Haunt me all you want—you don’t know a damn thing about me or what I’ve been through! I know what it’s like to lose someone you love—I know what it’s like to suffer! All you Kaibas are the same—you think that by wearing a smile, I’ve forgotten?! I’m doing my best just to stand right now!”
Indeed, Téa’s knees wobbled slightly, until she took in a shuddering sigh and flopped back into her chair.
When no response came from the ghost, Téa dared to look around—and found the kitchen area empty.
No one. No ghost.
He wasn’t entirely sure what had drawn him there.
But he had a vague idea.
Téa Gardner had entered that place not long ago.
Her new home? The place Yugi and his friends spoke of incessantly whenever the girl wasn’t around. They all had wild speculations about who her new employer was, what the “little kid” she baby-sat for was like, and when they’d be able to visit.
“Tch,” Ryou Bakura clicked in tongue in his cheek, brown eyes shifting. “The girl keeps secrets,” he murmured aloud. “Dark ones.”
The closer he got, the more he could feel it. The faintest traces…
Something dark and powerful lurked within the confines of that house. No, not just any house…
The Kaiba mansion.
“You shouldn’t have said anything.”
Téa raised her head, glancing backwards at the sound of a new voice in the previously-silent kitchen. It had been a good hour since Gozaburo had left Téa to her own devices, and with that time, she’d been able to get some actual study time in.
“Your father’s an idiot.” Téa replied sharply, turning her gaze back to her work. Compared to her recent experiences with Gozaburo, she’d learned that Noah wasn’t that much of a threat.
The soul of a eleven-year-old boy, who’d died too soon…
“Sometimes,” Noah responded, pulling a chair out. Téa stared, watching his transparent hand physically grab hold of one of the kitchen table’s chairs and sit in it.
“H-How do you do…that?” Téa asked, her expression confused and her eyes wide.
Noah chuckled, “What? This?” He took a napkin holder in his hand, his arm fading to invisible, as if the holder were being supported by invisible strings.
“Never been too sure of that myself. I’ve just been playing with my options recently. I can touch things sometimes…” He grinned saucily at Téa, licking his lips as he did so, “But most of the time, it’s like I’m in a different dimension. Can’t touch, can’t feel…”
Téa was silent a moment, running through the possibilities in her mind. Of all the ghost stories she’d ever heard or told, nothing was quite like this.
“Do you…even know why you’re here?” Téa murmured, setting her things aside and looking at Noah straight on.
The aquamarine-haired spirit blinked, and then shook his head, “Too soon. I died too soon. It feels like—like I’ve been living here for years and years, but…asleep. That’s why I take this form more often, I think.” Noah gestured to his older body; it was just an apparition; something that had never really existed…
At least the ghost that Mokuba had seen —Noah’s true form—had been an echo of what he had looked like during life.
“How…I mean, if I can ask…how did you die?” Téa tried to phrase it as delicately as possible, but it simply wasn’t one of those everyday questions you asked people.
“I…” Noah cocked his head to the side, as if trying to remember, “I—”
“Don’t tell her ANYTHING, Noah.”
Téa spun around; standing in the kitchen door was none other than Gozaburo Kaiba. His fierce, relentless expression was back; it was obvious he had no mind to answer any of Téa’s questions—or let Noah do the same.
“None of this makes any sense! You two both died under mysterious circumstances, Seto doesn’t even know who the heck YOU are,” Téa gestured to Noah, “and I’m the only one who can see either of you.”
“Mokuba can see us.” Noah replied quietly.
Her skin went pale, “Don’t drag him into this. He’s just a little boy—”
“And a Kaiba!” Gozaburo replied darkly.
“It doesn’t matter WHAT his name is! Don’t hurt him!”
A pause, as silence filled the room, the tension as thick as fog.
“So then, better you than him?”
An ultimatum. If not one, then the other…
‘I have no choice.’
She had such beautiful eyes.
They were the same shade of brown as her brother’s, but Ryou had always thought that Amane’s chocolate brown eyes held a much more heart-melting light to them than his ever could.
Had his own eyes ever possessed such a light, it had faded since…
Since she’d died.
He wasn’t sure why he’d suddenly thought of her, his late sister, but the notion brought pangs of memory to his heart. Her beautiful eyes…her perfect smile.
And suddenly, for no particular reason, Ryou Bakura saw Téa Gardner’s image superimposed over that of his sister’s, for a fraction of a second.
Something…something about Téa.
His memory was blank; he could not recall how he had gotten home, what he had seen, or whom he had spoken to. Had he run into Téa? Was that why he saw her in his mind now, saw her face where his sister’s should have been?
His other half…his darker half had taken control again, and left Ryou feeling disoriented and lost. Dazed and confused, the white-haired youth ran his fingertips over the lone photograph he had of Amane…his precious sister.
Téa reminded him of her…of Amane’s sweet smile, her determination…even the way her face used to pinch up whenever she was angry.
‘I must have…talked to Téa,’ Ryou mused, though he couldn’t fathom what he would have said to her.
Ryou glanced down at Amane’s picture once again, smiling briefly—but that smile faded instantly, brown eyes widening impossibly.
A crack had appeared in the frame’s glass, centered right on Amane’s face…and growing, zigzagging to the corners…
And the girl captured within the photo no longer smiled.
Night had fallen once again—and though the ill spirits within the Kaiba household had not yet faded, Téa Gardner, was at last able to get some sleep.
Perhaps it was because she’d discovered Noah’s secret—that he wasn’t a malicious ghost after all, just a young boy who’d died too soon. He’d only wanted to see his father happy again…
Téa brought her knees up against her chest, crossing her arms. Despite being curved up in a nearly fetal position, under mounds of blankets, warmth wouldn’t come to her. Painful memories haunted her dreams, and she continued to wake throughout the night, only to find her room dark and cold, as before…
Still dark. Still cold.
But, between the blurs, the patches of dark and darker, there seemed to be…someone…?
It was real. The voice…
‘I know that voice.’
Blue eyes opened fully, the haziness fading away. Her whole body was numb with cold, frozen in position, so much that it ached to try and sit up.
‘Am I dreaming…?’
“Daddy…?” A whisper on the tip of her tongue, hanging within the darkened room like shadow.
The faint light in the room took form, and, kneeling before Téa was her very own father…Eric Gardner.
“Sweetheart…What’s wrong? You look sad.”
She couldn’t think, couldn’t control her movements—without realizing it, she’d pushed the blankets off her torso and sat up in bed, eyes as wide as saucers and shimmering with unshed tears.
Mr. Gardner chuckled softly, “Speechless? That’s not like you at all, dear.”
Another voice, equally familiar to Téa as her father’s had been.
Another coalescing of light, and then…
“Mom? What—what the heck is going on here?” Téa looked from spirit to spirit—that of Eric and Elizabeth Gardner, her two deceased parents of over two months now…looking as alive and healthy as they ever had—except for the glowing.
“We’ve been watching over you, Téa…”
“B-But you’re ghosts! I thought that ghosts only existed when…when…” Téa’s brows furrowed, recalling the unusual circumstances in which Noah and Gozaburo had supposedly died. Both before their time…but that wasn’t the only reason, was it?
“Before our time, Téa…but we can’t change the past.”
“No, you can’t.” Téa murmured. But she still had an odd feeling about everything. Was it a dream?
“But—I don’t understand. Why here? Why now?”
“You don’t belong here, Téa…not in this place, not with Seto…”
The young brunette started; her parents had never met Seto Kaiba in life. They had undoubtedly heard of him because of his reputation, but even if they had, they never would have referred to him as Seto…
‘And it’s not like they’ve been haunting this place. “Watching over me,” they said. But that still doesn’t mean they’re “living” after death…right?’
“Why not?” Téa asked softly, keeping her suspicions to herself. She found the courage to look at them fully, to speak to them as if they were alive. When they’d died, a million things had arisen in her mind, things she’d always wanted to say…
A pause, as the two spirits exchanged a glance.
“He doesn’t deserve you, Téa. And you have such big dreams that you should be out there chasing—your dreams of dancing, and New York…”
Blue eyes narrowed. No. These weren’t her parents. They couldn’t be.
“Maybe you’re right,” Téa murmured, baiting the ghosts as she rose from her bed, feet finding her fluffy blue slippers, “but then…I’ve changed. From the girl you knew…” Téa glanced around the room, wondering if there was any telltale sign regarding Noah or Gozaburo’s whereabouts.
‘Noah was able to change forms, right? So wouldn’t Gozaburo be able to as well?’
“Téa…” The tone in Elizabeth Gardner’s voice was one Téa knew all too well. Chiding. Reprimanding.
“I’m not afraid.” Téa stood up and faced the ghosts head on, “You guys don’t scare me.”
She knew it couldn’t be her parents. While it stung seeing them again, it hurt more that she was seeing them —and it wasn’t really her parents. That she couldn’t really say what she wanted, couldn’t really—
Her head bowed slightly, the brunette allowed a smirk to cross her lips.”What hurts me off the most is that you’re disrespecting my parents! I lost them both, and you’re just showing up here, babbling off some lies and trying to get me to leave!”
Even in the dark, the glow of the spirits provided enough light to reflect off the tears forming on Téa’s lashline; it stung to realize that she wasn’t really seeing her parents, and that she had KNOWN it wasn’t —couldn’t ever be—them, as they’d never fostered her dream…
Téa cut the spirit off with a quick motion of her hand, “Don’t! Just cut it out—I know you’re not my parents.”
The two apparitions glanced at one another, a wicked smile appearing on Eric Gardner’s face before he morphed into another phantom, one Téa was already familiar with…
“Well done, dear, well done.” Gozaburo clapped lightly, casting an offhanded glance at the specter of Elizabeth Gardner. The older woman bowed her head, glowing brighter for a moment, before her form morphed into that of Noah Kaiba.
“You guys are pathetic.” Téa hissed, narrowing her eyes at the two. However, she noted, Noah didn’t look all that happy. He wasn’t standing beside his father and trying to get Téa to leave…he was just there.
“Consider this a warning, Téa. Leave this place. Stop delving into the Kaiba family past and MAYBE—just maybe—we’ll leave Seto and Mokuba alone.”
“Make up your mind, already!” Téa growled out, “First you tell me that you’re not here to bug Seto anyway; you want to punish ME for making him happy! And now that you’re here, driving me insane, you want me to leave—when I’m the one you supposedly want to hurt! Better me than Mokuba, right? So just have at it!”
She was sure that she’d awoken someone in the household with all her yelling, but she didn’t care. She was tired of being haunted, tired of being frightened and tricked…
Tired of not being believed.
She wanted, more than anything, for Seto to believe her, for Seto to come in and that moment and realize that she wouldn’t lie to him, that she was sick of lying, and that only he could deal with Gozaburo properly…
‘I don’t even know anything about this. And if Seto’s not going to help me, then…I’ll have to do this on my own.’
It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but if it rid the house of the ghosts…
“Remember, Téa,” Gozaburo’s rough voice interrupted Téa from her thoughts, “this is a warning.”
A feeling of foreboding filled Téa from the inside out, but she refused to let it overcome her. She would prove to Seto that this was real.
“Bring it on.”
It was as if she were looking at the world from underwater—everything was blurred, a mass of colors and vague, distorted shapes…
Téa was trying her hardest to stay awake—she was only in her fourth class of the day, and if she didn’t stay awake through the end of the period, she was sure she would get detention.
After her encounter with her parents —no, Gozaburo and Noah Kaiba—Téa hadn’t been able to sleep. She’d been worried that the elder Kaiba would have tried to harm her —or worse, Mokuba—while she slept, and so she’d camped out in the hallway, half expecting the two spirits to return.
Téa had spent hours staring into the darkness, doing her best to squelch the dread growing in the pit of her stomach. But nothing had happened, and no one had appeared.
The moment the thought crossed her mind, she saw him. Amongst the blurred shapes of her classmates…
He was unmistakable, with that mop of aquamarine hair, clad in a white uniform like Téa had never seen before.
She rubbed her eyes and blinked—no one.
Unaware that her slips into sleep had caught the attentions of a few of her classmates, Téa’s eyes began to droop once more—and again, between the haze, she swore she saw Noah, standing there, his face too blurred to make out…
‘He’s saying something,’ Téa knew, ‘But what? What are you trying to tell me, Noah?‘
Her vision blurred again, patches of darkness clouding her sight, the numbness swallowing her limbs, bit by bit…
Chieko, sitting beside Téa, and gave a cry of horror when her friend collapsed to the ground next to her in a dead faint.
The voices seemed distant…echoing, as if they were being yelled to her from a great distance, or through a tunnel.
A brilliant light blinded her, and Téa pinched her eyes shut, using her arm to shield herself from the vast whiteness. When the blaze faded, she could just barely make out a form—calling to her…
Groggily, Téa opened her eyes, reality settling in and bringing her back to the waking world.
Colors and shapes slowly melded together, revealing her best friend, leaning towards her with a concerned expression on his face.
After rubbing her eyes for a few more moments, Téa realized she was in the nurse’s office, surrounded by all her friends —Joey, Tristan, Chieko, and Yugi.
“You’re awake!” was the chorused exclamation, and, Téa rose on unsteady arms, trying to sit up and face her friends.
“We were so worried when you fainted in class, Téa,” Yugi began, covering Téa’s hands with his own and giving hers a gentle squeeze.”You look like you’d seen a ghost.”
Téa’s eyes widened as she realized that was just what HAD happened. A slight smile crossed her lips, and she was about to reply when a voice spoke up from the doorway, “Maybe she needs to call an exorcist, then.”
Téa glanced towards the door, not at all surprised to see Ryou Bakura standing there, the faintest hint of a smirk gracing his charming features. He walked further into the room, acknowledging Téa’s awakened state with a brusque nod of his head.
Everyone laughed lightly, though Téa and Yugi both directed curious gazes towards Bakura. Something about him was…off.
‘Could it be that it’s…?’
But before anyone could comment, a harsh voice sounded, “Those that believe in ghosts are fools.”
Téa recognized that voice immediately…knew those same words. Seto Kaiba stood in the doorway, where Bakura had stood only moments before. With their backs all turned to the elder Kaiba, none of them had seen the concerned gaze cross his face, just before Bakura turned towards Téa.
Now, all eyes were on him—and then suddenly, the bell rang, signaling his departure from the office.
Not once did he look back.
Tristan and Joey looked more than a bit eager to get going; they knew they had to rush to get their lunches, and would be stuck with nothing if they didn’t hurry.
“Go on guys,” Téa smiled gently, “I know you’re hungry.” She fumbled with the sheets covering her, willing her legs to regain their sense of feeling.
The two boys shot Téa a grateful smile, “Thanks, Téa. Feel better, okay?”
“Yeah,” Joey added, winking and giving Téa a thumbs-up, “don’t push yourself.” And with that, the two boys were gone, lost in the crowds outside in the hallway.
Straightening out her wrinkled uniform, Téa worked to regain her balance, murmuring her appreciation to Yugi as he helped her stand. She still felt a bit wobbly, and more than a bit shaken from seeing Noah at school.
‘At home is bad enough, but here, too…?’
“Are you going to be okay, Téa?” The sincere concern in Chieko’s voice was rather apparent, and for that, Téa flashed her friend a smile. “I’ll be okay, once I get my balance back.”
Joining Téa on the other side to help her stand fully, Chieko smiled at Téa, whispering softly in her ear, “We need to talk.”
Téa nodded, shuddering slightly as feeling and sensation restored themselves to Téa’s body.
“Thanks for sticking around, guys,” Téa nodded to Yugi and Bakura, the former boy still wearing a mask of concern on his youthful face. “Give me just a second to get my bearings, and I’ll meet you outside, okay?”
The two nodded, Yugi exiting first followed by Bakura—who cast an odd look at Téa before he too exited, closing the door behind him.
Chieko turned towards Téa, the worry evident on her pretty features; light brown eyes shimmered as she gripped Téa gently by the shoulders and spoke in her polite tone of voice.
“Téa, are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m…I’m fine, Chieko. There’s no reason to worry about me.” Téa attempted to smile, the results appearing somewhat halfhearted and crooked on her tired face.
“‘No reason…?'” Chieko repeated softly, closing her eyes and shaking her head, “No, Téa, I think there is. Not only do you have a rather mysterious injury that easily could have been fatal, but you’ve been tired in class lately, listless and inattentive. And now you faint? It’s not like you.”
Téa swallowed; she knew her behavior had been unusual since the hauntings had started at the mansion, but she hadn’t known it had been so evident outside of the house.
“Téa,” Chieko continued, her gaze becoming serious, “is there something wrong at home?”
‘Is everyone all of a sudden psychic?’ Téa thought to herself. She hated keeping things from her friends—and she hated lying. Since Chieko at least knew some of the truth —that Téa was living with Kaiba, and that her feelings for him ran deeper than friendship—she could perhaps understand Téa’s situation slightly, but…
‘How can I explain to anyone that the place is haunted, and I’m being stalked by Kaiba’s dead father? No one’s going to believe that!’
“It’s just,” Téa began, trying to find a half-truth explanation, “I’ve been seeing…Look, this guy keeps appearing. And then I blink, and he’s not there anymore, and I can’t concentrate, can’t sleep…” Téa trailed off.
It still sounded crazy.
“A guy…?” To Téa’s surprise, Chieko didn’t appear skeptical. Rather, she appeared to be deep in thought, considering Téa’s words.
“What does he look like?” the blonde asked, surprising Téa out of her brief reverie.
“Tall. With…dark blue eyes, and—this kind of aquamarine hair…”
“And a white uniform?” Chieko interrupted, the confusion disappearing from her cinnamon colored eyes instantly.
Her brunette friend beside her paled, her knees weakening to the point where she collapsed on the bed again, staring up at Chieko with wide, blue eyes.
“H-How did you know that?”
“I saw him,” Chieko replied, sitting beside Téa on the bed, “at the festival.”
“W-What?” Téa breathed, her voice dropping to a whisper. Noah had only started appearing to her in the past week—and the festival had been nearly a half month ago!
“I was getting my fortune told by Bakura, between rounds of the dance competition,” Chieko explained, “I was sure Bakura saw him too, but…” Chieko trailed off warily, her eyes glancing out to the hallway, where, from the window in the nurse’s office door, one could plainly see Ryou Bakura and Yugi Moto leaning up against the wall, neither one speaking to the other.
“He didn’t say anything.”
Chieko’s words only stirred the fear boiling in Téa’s stomach more.
Had Noah truly been seen outside of the Kaiba mansion—before Téa had even known about him? If so, how—and why? How was it that Chieko and Bakura could both see Noah, when Seto couldn’t?
And Bakura’s odd attitude earlier…
What did it all mean?
Only a few minutes later, the two girls had decided to drop the subject of the mysterious young man they’d seen —that only Téa knew as Noah Kaiba. She wasn’t sure if Chieko would believe what Téa knew as fact—that Noah Kaiba was long dead, and that the young man they’d seen was just an illusion.
So she kept silent.
The two had agreed to leave the nurse’s office and not mention the incident ever again—though it was painfully obvious to Téa that she wouldn’t be able to forget seeing Noah so easily.
‘Am I going crazy?’ she wondered. Maybe, if it meant she was seeing Noah amidst dizzy spells while at school…
“Feeling okay?” Téa glanced down at Yugi, who had been waiting for her and Chieko outside the office, standing beside Bakura. With the latter boy’s head bent and his long bangs covering his eyes, it was hard to read the expression on his face, but the same feeling —that odd vibe from before—arose again, stronger…
“Yeah Yugi, I’m—” Bakura’s gaze met hers, and with instant clarity, Téa realized what the odd vibe was, and what it meant. “Fine.”
Yugi glanced between Bakura and Téa, who seemed to be lost, staring at one another. Uncertainty sparked in Yugi’s mind.
Part of him vaguely wondered if he’d been wrong all along—and that Bakura was really the one Téa was crushing on.
‘That’s crazy!’ Yugi reprimanded himself, ‘Besides, there’s more important things to think about than who Téa likes right now. Things like…who hurt her. And why she won’t tell me…’ A burgeoning feeling of loneliness welled up inside the boy, wondering what had changed between he and Téa that had fostered her sudden lack of confidence —lack of trust—in him.
Did she find out about the crush he harbored for her? Maybe…maybe she was avoiding him because of that, knowing what Yugi already suspected—that her crush was someone else entirely.
Such thoughts only reinforced Yugi’s depression, and, though he said little, the pain he kept in check reflected in his eyes.
“I’m…going to find Joey and Tristan now, Téa. I’ll see you back in class.”
Chieko glanced hesitantly from Yugi to Téa, having seen the sad look in the shorter boy’s eyes; didn’t Téa know that he was worried?
‘She probably wants to ask Bakura about what he saw. If it’s affecting her so, maybe he could give her some answers.’
Chieko wasn’t sure about the dynamic Téa had with the boys at her school —her past seemed to go farther back and deeper with each passing day—but she wasn’t one to question it, either.
“I shall join you, Yugi,” Chieko nodded briefly to Téa, who didn’t notice the two departing, leaving her and Bakura alone in the hallway, staring at one other.
Silence swallowed the hall once the last echo of Yugi and Chieko’s footsteps disappeared, suddenly multiplying the tension in the narrow hallway.
The silence was broken by an unexpected laugh from Bakura—though one laced with dark amusement.
“I cannot keep anything secret from you for long, can I, Téa?”
“Since when were we on a first name basis, you…whoever you are!” Téa growled. It was not her FRIEND Ryou, not her classmate —the shy, endearing, charming British transfer student. Nor was he the mysterious, emotional young man Téa had the pleasure of dancing with at the festival…
Someone else entirely. Someone dark and twisted, with cruel intentions that Téa herself had experienced firsthand.
“The name’s Bakura,” the white-haired youth hissed, “Always has been, always will be. And we were, as I recall, on quite a friendly basis not that long ago…” Bakura trailed off meaningfully, walking dangerously close to Téa and the wall she stood against.
Whatever his name, whatever his motivations or reasoning, Ryou Bakura’s “dark” half was one Téa did NOT like.
‘He—he took control of me. Violated me! There’s no WAY I’m letting him get close enough to me to ever do that again!’
And yet, here they were. It seemed as though Bakura —or his dark half, perhaps—had all the answers that Téa needed. It was just a matter of sticking around long enough to get them.
And sticking around in this Bakura’s presence was NOT something Téa wanted to do.
“You’re NOT Ryou,” Téa whispered, a dangerous tone edging her voice. “He was the one I danced with, not you.” Having no mind to argue with the spirit of the Millennium Ring, Téa pushed past Bakura, fully intending to leave and enjoy lunch with her friends—until Bakura interrupted her.
“Are you sure about that, Miss Gardner?” Téa froze, eyes narrowing as she slowly turned to face Bakura again.
“Are you sure about anything, these days?” Bakura continued smoothly, closing the gap between their bodies once more. The darkness that Téa had recently felt in the Kaiba mansion seemed to thrum tenfold from Bakura —the young man who, like Yugi, seemed to be so innocent on the outside, but so dark on the inside.
“What do you know?” Téa asked, her voice wavering for a fraction of a second. Bakura grinned toothily, sending shivers coursing down Téa’s spine.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” he whispered, his lips dangerously close to Téa’s ear. She stilled, finding herself unable, or perhaps unwilling to move. Ryou —no, Bakura—whoever he was! He was a mysterious person that Téa could never truly comprehend. And he always was in tune with things mystical, things from the occult…
‘His prediction from the festival came true, didn’t it? The Devil Card…it’s Gozaburo.’
“I would,” Téa found herself saying, though her voice sounded oddly hollow as she spoke. “because only you can tell me what I need to know.”
Bakura stared at Téa, his brown eyes darkening to the point that no light mirrored back from their depths.
“You’re going to owe me, Gardner.”
Of all the things Téa knew Bakura wanted, she was positive she couldn’t provide any of them. But if he was willing to make a deal…
Chieko, with a good deal of athletic experience from all her years of dancing, caught up to the shorter Yugi Moto with ease. She’d expected to be several paces behind him, as he’d said he was going to join Joey and Tristan, but, to her surprise, she’d found Yugi leaning against a wall further down the hall, just before the bend that led out to where the other boys were undoubtedly eating.
“Yugi?” Chieko panted quietly, taking the chance to catch her breath and press her palms to her knees.
“I just…I just left them there.” Yugi mumbled, his expression downcast. He shook his head vehemently.”What was I thinking?”
“I think…leaving them was best,” Chieko said, leaning up against the wall beside Yugi.”Téa had a few questions for Bakura that only he could answer.”
“You don’t understand!” Yugi exclaimed suddenly, his voice sounding unusually loud in the empty, echoing hallways.
Violet eyes met with bright brown, a silent challenge issued on Chieko’s part for him to explain just what it was that she didn’t understand.
“He’s…Bakura’s not—You can’t trust him.”
A moment of silence, as Chieko mulled over what would be an appropriate response.
“I can’t, or YOU can’t?”
Yugi’s eyes dropped to the floor again and he sagged, slouching against the wall with a great sigh.
“Everything’s so confusing nowadays,” he murmured, “I thought I knew who she liked, but then…”
Chieko’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, silently hoping Yugi would continue.
And continue he did.
“But it’s none of my business anyway, even if I thought I was her best friend, but so much has happened lately…But she’s never kept secrets like this before, and I just can’t help but wish she’d turn to me and tell me everything, like she used to…”
“You like her, don’t you?”
Sad eyes glanced up towards the blonde, giving her the answer without words being spoken. After a moment, Yugi swallowed and said, “Am I that obvious?”
“No,” Chieko giggled lightly, “I’ve seen far worse cases. I think it’s just that Téa doesn’t see what she’s not looking for.”
“She’s got a crush on someone,” Yugi said bluntly. “It’s not me, is it? I’ve been too afraid to tell her how I feel, thinking she likes someone else, and now…”
“What makes you think I would know?” Chieko asked innocently, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling. Yugi only fixed his classmate with a bland stare, until Chieko’s smile slipped from her face.
“When the time is right, I think Téa will tell you herself.”
“That’s a non-answer,” the smaller boy grumbled, burying his head in his arms. He’d since slumped all the way to the floor, sitting with Chieko beside him in the silent hallway.
“That’s life for you…” Chieko smiled gently.”But tell me, Yugi,” she put a hand on the smaller boy’s shoulder, catching his attention and his soft gaze, “what do you value more—the possibility of a romance with Téa, or her friendship, which you have had for years and years?”
Yugi stared at Chieko, having never thought of that before. He’d always figured that one day, he would have the courage to tell Téa how he felt, and things would just go from there.
But as of late, Téa had drifted further and further away form him, and despite the few reassurances Tristan and Joey offered, Yugi highly doubted that the boy Téa was crushing on was him. His best friend had become someone else, and Yugi just wasn’t sure about anything anymore.
“The gu—the ghost,” Téa amended, “From the festival. Chieko said you saw him.”
“Hmm,” Bakura stroked his chin in a mocking, thoughtful gesture, his gaze wandering back to Téa’s rigid form. “Perhaps.”
“Stop being so damn frustrating!” Téa snapped, “I asked for answers!”
“You didn’t ASK for anything, Gardner,” Bakura hissed, abruptly shoving Téa against one of the walls, both of his arms pinning her shoulders down.
“And whenever anyone wants something from me, they don’t ask, they BEG. And in your case, it’s only appropriate…given how much I know.”
Téa’s eyes narrowed, and she abruptly shoved Bakura’s hands off her shoulders, increasing the space between them almost abruptly. He spun around, as if moving to leave, but Téa spoke before he could take a step, her tone freezing him in place.
“Let’s get one thing straight, Bakura,” she said icily, “I don’t like you. I’ve never liked you. And I don’t trust you, so it’s not like I’m going to believe whatever you tell me at face value anyway. But you HAVE been right about some things so far, and for that reason alone, I’ve bothered to ask you for your help. And trust me, if you’re looking to have someone owe you a favor…I’m probably the only one that would even come close to agreeing.”
She paused, taking a breath, narrowing her eyes further as she took in Bakura’s distinctly dark aura, “What do you know, anyway? You act like you could blackmail me.”
“Torture is more like it, my sweet,” Bakura chuckled. “I know not only of your ghosts, but of where they haunt. Your new home…the Kaiba mansion.”
He knew. He wasn’t one of the ones Téa had told, nor a confidant to either of the two girls that did know. So how…?
“…What is it you want from me, Bakura?”
“What I want? It’s more like what YOU want from me, Téa. You’re asking for favors…telling you about your ghosts, keeping your precious secret…I will tell you what you want, do what you ask…and collect when it is most opportune.”
“I want…” Téa began, fumbling for words. What did she want? For Bakura to stop vexing her so? To just tell her what she needed to know? But…what DID Bakura know, and how? Could she even trust his words?
His back having been turned to Téa ever since Téa had snapped at him, Téa’s attention was captured when he briskly faced her, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips.
“You want me to be be more like the Pharaoh?”
Téa stilled, not expecting such words.
“No,” she finally gritted out, though her cheeks had burned at the mention of the enigmatic Pharaoh that she hadn’t encountered in so long, “I wouldn’t. That’s past.”
To Téa’s surprise, Bakura laughed loudly, “You have no idea of the past, girl,” Bakura pointed at her, still chuckling with dark mirth, “and it will come to hurt you in the end, I assure you.”
“Not if I can help it.” Téa whispered, and strode down the hallway, with every intention of leaving Bakura behind.
“A little something about ghosts, Téa,” Bakura called down to her. “What ties them to this realm has nothing to do with their time of death, but everything to do with their emotions at the time. If they can’t move on, their souls remain here…trapped.”
Téa hesitated at the door, but shook any thoughts of speaking to Bakura further out of her head. She stored away his words in her memory, and left the building to find her friends.
“When the time comes, Téa Gardner,” Bakura grinned maliciously, “you will need me.” And with those words echoing in the empty halls, Bakura shoved his hands into his uniform pockets, retreating into the darkness opposite from where Téa, Chieko, and Yugi had gone.
The Kaiba mansion was cold and silent when she entered —entirely as expected, and perfectly fitting.
‘After all,’ Téa mused to herself, setting her school things on the floor beside the door, ‘Seto Kaiba has turned this place into an architectural portrait of himself. Stone cold and unrelenting. That’s why I haven’t bothered to tell him anything about our little ghost problem.’
Could such a place really be her home?
Even if she ended up deciding that all her feeling had been the result of trauma, or at best, misplaced gratitude, would she still be able to leave…in less than two months, without a second thought to all that Seto had said and done…
‘I can’t think about that now. I have to stop Gozaburo…before things get worse, and someone innocent gets hurt.’
She had to find out the truth.
Téa strode purposefully into Seto’s study, her gaze already focused on the maroon “trigger book” that she discovered was the key to entering the secret room.
Pulling on the once-dusty maroon cover, she unlocked the door to the secret room, mustering all her courage and willpower to not be afraid. She knew that Gozaburo Kaiba could be looming over her shoulder, watching her every action…
Téa first set out going through all the drawers in the oak table in which she’d found Noah’s journal. Though the leather-bound book had been the only contents of the secret drawer, a normal compartment revealed a stack of dusty manila folders and envelopes, as well as scattered newspaper clippings and faded photos.
“‘Youth dies in tragic car accident,'” Téa read aloud, her eyes skimming over a worn newspaper clipping, attached to another folded section of newspaper. In the middle of the worn column was a face Téa knew all too well by now—Noah.
The same face that had been in his journal’s photo…a young, smiling boy—only eleven years old, with his whole life ahead of him…
“‘Noah Kaiba, heir to the vast fortune of the Kaiba Corporation, died in a tragic car accident on Thursday, October 31st…'”
‘Wait a minute…’ Téa peered at the fine print on the newspaper, realizing with mute surprise that the article was dated November 1st—almost exactly six years previous.
‘So that’s why Noah appears sometimes as a guy my age…’ Téa realized. He’d died six years ago…and for whatever reason, he still haunted the Kaiba mansion.
“If they can’t move on, their souls remain here…trapped.”
Bakura’s words echoed in the recesses of Téa’s mind.
‘Can’t move on?’
Was it a simple a matter as accepting death? If one acknowledged death as the inevitable result of life…
What was it that held Gozaburo and Noah to their home? What prevented either of them from moving on?
Amongst the newspapers, old letters, and faded photographs, Téa came upon something considerably heavier, and of greater value.
A picture frame.
Sterling silver, according to a small label on the back. The glass was coated in a fine sheen of dust, the picture totally invisible. Not having any tissue on hand, Téa settled with wiping the frame clean with her fingers, revealing…
A happy family.
It was absolutely undeniable—the expressions on Noah and Gozaburo’s faces couldn’t be faked.
Probably because one of the most beautiful women Téa had ever seen stood between the two, her arms around each of the two Kaibas’ shoulders.
Carefully detaching the stand from the frame, Téa gingerly removed the photo from its confines, peering when she saw a small line of handwritten script on the back.
‘To my dearest husband, on our 10th Anniversary. May we be continue to be blessed with light and love.’
At the bottom, it was signed ‘Michiru.’
“Michiru Kaiba, huh?” So the Kaiba matriarch had a name. She seemed like a nice woman—at least, in the picture. But such things could be deceiving, Téa knew, so she kept on researching.
A few minutes later, Téa came upon a yellowed, crisp document—a marriage certificate.
“Michiru Oukai and Gozaburo Kaiba.” The paper was dated over eighteen years ago, meaning that Michiru and Gozaburo had been married for some time before the woman given birth to Noah.
‘She had to have lived at least until Noah was nine, right?‘ Téa mused to herself. Noah’s journal had made mention of the one year anniversary of her death, and that had been AFTER he’d been presented the book for his tenth birthday.
‘And she’d been so young. I wonder…‘
Téa glanced up at the computer blinking erratically beside her. She knew that Seto’s computer in his study worked fine, but…he could trace wherever she went on it. His security was not to be trifled with, Téa knew that much.
And in dealing with the Kaiba family’s dark past, Téa preferred not to have Seto find out.
‘No, not yet. I know he’ll have to believe me…when I have some solid proof.’ After all, Téa reminded herself, Seto Kaiba was a “see it to believe it” kind of guy. True, he still didn’t believe in what Téa, Joey, Tristan, and countless others knew—that within his arch-rival and THEIR best friend, Yugi Moto, the spirit of an ancient Pharaoh rested.
Téa moved towards the computer, fingers tracing over the dust-covered buttons and the cobweb-choked displays.
The technology blinked to life, and suddenly, Téa found herself privy to information she never would have dreamed of…
“Obviously, once wasn’t enough, girl.”
Téa swiveled around in her seat, eyes widening as she saw the spirit of Gozaburo Kaiba enter the room.
“Once what, KAIBA?” Téa asked, venom dripping from her voice. The past several hours of research had revealed a great deal about the Kaiba family—about Michiru Kaiba, and her unfortunate, untimely death…and how for weeks, the authorities had suspected it of being a suicide, then a murder. When it was finally proven to be an accident, the damage had already been done.
“One warning, girl. I gave you an ultimatum, but now I think I might revoke my words…” Gozaburo trailed off in a warning tone, his voice clearly implying what his words did not.
“Don’t even think about hurting Mokuba, you slime! I know almost everything about your sordid past—about what you were planning to do with Noah, about how your wife die—”
A sharp slap to her face quickly silenced Téa, her face reddening with the force of the slap.
“Mind your own affairs girl! And don’t bother presenting your ‘findings’ to Seto—you know he doesn’t believe in you, anyway! Leave this place, or I promise you, a much worse fate than a mere slap will befall you…and that brat Mokuba!”
Noah had been in a coma for three days before he’d died of massive hemorrhaging in the brain.
In that time, Gozaburo Kaiba had been reckless, nearly insane…showing up at the hospital and insisting the doctors hook Noah up to some device. He’d ranted about saving his son, preserving his mind…
The police had escorted Gozaburo from the hospital, and he hadn’t even been in the room when his son had finally crossed over.
Téa had come across hundreds of files—many of them so highly encrypted that Téa couldn’t begin to fathom what their contents were. Over the years, the system had degraded, and small bits of information came through…
There were scanned images of journal entries, written by the Kaiba patriarch himself. Covered with scratched-out words and crooked scribblings, Téa could make no sense of the pictures…only that the man sorely missed his wife, and like Noah had observed shortly after his 10th birthday in his journal, Gozaburo had changed completely.
Budget statements and quarterly finance papers from the original Kaiba Corp, including confidential papers sent from various military groups wanting a piece of the Kaiba Corp’s technology littered the hard drive.
Something about Seto and Mokuba’s adoption.
Something that didn’t look right, Téa knew, but she was unable to decrypt the file.
It was getting harder and harder to focus, to think…with the darkness lurking in every corner, Téa could never be sure when Gozaburo would spring out at her and follow through on his threat—and hurt her, much more than he had before.
‘I—I can’t lie to him any longer! Mokuba might be in danger, and I can’t do this alone.’
She knew Seto didn’t believe. Not in the stories, not in ghosts—and, if Gozaburo was right, not in her. But that didn’t matter, because she knew better than anyone else that Seto’s number one priority was his brother.
And if Mokuba was in danger, surely Seto would realize…
‘I’ll be fine. I’ll just…find a way to get Seto to just listen, and…’ Téa sighed. She knew telling Seto wouldn’t be that easy, but she had time. He wasn’t home yet, and she still had to finish some more research…she knew she was close.
Having been scared out of the secret room by Gozaburo, Téa had opted to bring her paperwork to the kitchen, and instead try to sort things out there. It would be easier too, should she lose track of time and neglect to get out of the secret room fast enough. She closed the small space off, and hoped to never have to go there again.
If she could just solve the mystery…
But there were still so many unanswered questions, and if Seto started to believe, then he could answer them…
He’d been lucky.
Work had been slow; his employees strangely cheerful.
Seto Kaiba had no reason to stay at the corporate offices of Kaiba Corp, and so had packed up his briefcase and headed home, a full two hours earlier than he usually did.
Briefly, he thought that now, with this extra time, he could find a moment to speak to Téa.
Ever since she’d revealed the wound on her neck to the entire classroom, he’d been plagued, wondering how she’d come about such an injury.
‘It couldn’t have been self-inflicted, could it?’
But no. Téa wasn’t that type of girl.
‘Then again…’ Seto realized, ‘I don’t really know what type of girl she is…’
And it was the truth. In the two months or so since her parents had passed away and she’d moved in, they had rarely ever sat down and TALKED. Whatever sort of relationship it was between Seto and Téa, it wasn’t like the ones with her friends.
She never talked to him about her day, never laughed with him…
‘What have I got to laugh about, anyway?’
Everything that Seto Kaiba was —everything that he said, did, and surrounded himself with—made his life infinitely complex.
She was one of those things.
The desire to just…talk to her welled up inside him, and he found himself pushing the accelerator in his car just a little bit harder, willing himself to be home sooner.
He wasn’t the type to announce, “I’m home!” like he was sure so many other people did. His entry was a silent one, heralded only by the beeping of the security panel confirming that he had entered the correct access code from the garage.
The Kaiba mansion, as usual, was silent.
He’d been hoping that Téa would have been in the immediate vicinity, so that he wouldn’t have to embarrass himself asking if they could sit down and talk. He had no idea how he would begin such a conversation, and was leaning towards the slight possibility that things would just…happen.
But she was nowhere in sight.
‘At least,’ Seto spied a mound of papers covering the kitchen table, ‘I know she’s home. She must be working on a project or something.’
Seto couldn’t recall any sort of project being assigned in any of the classes that he and Téa shared, though it was just as likely that it had something to do with her dance club…
His curiosity piqued, Seto Kaiba moved towards the table, placing his metal briefcase near the closet, draping his jacket over its handle.
He hadn’t even realized he’d spoken aloud, so great was his surprise.
These papers weren’t part of any school project.
Photos. Newspaper clippings. A journal…
Private matters. Things Téa shouldn’t have had access to. Yet…here the things were, and it was painfully apparent that Téa was delving into a part of his life that Seto had hoped was locked away for good.
‘She better have a good explanation for this.’
Téa rounded the corner from Seto’s office into the kitchen, startled when a voice spoke up.
“What the hell is all this?”
His voice was laced with anger, a hair’s breadth from being enraged. Téa didn’t know how he kept himself in check so often; she’d always thought of Seto as a rather emotionless kind of guy—except where certain things were concerned.
Things like his past.
She hadn’t heard him come in, but then, she’d been so engrossed in her newest findings that she hadn’t really paid attention…
Astonished, her grip on her latest batch of photos, papers, and files fell to the floor, scattering over the linoleum like confetti.
‘He…he wasn’t supposed to be home for another hour, at least!’ She’d wanted to clean up the mess of papers she’d discovered throughout the house, wanted to find the perfect time to approach Seto and tell him everything…
It was apparent that Seto, on the other hand, had heard Téa approaching, and had picked the choice moment to reveal his presence—and his anger.
‘Now’s a good as time as any, girl! I’ve got no choice but to tell him everything now!’
“It’s…something I was working on,” Téa admitted quietly, bending down to pick up the papers. But she couldn’t bring herself to look Seto in the eye. She could feel his icy gaze penetrating her, boring through her skull, but she refused to look up.
The thought -the very idea– of Seto being angry with her brought a stinging sensation to Téa’s heart, one she had hoped she wouldn’t ever feel again…
Seto Kaiba remained silent, waiting for what he sorely hoped was a damned good explanation from Téa—about why she was digging into his past. Once she’d gathered all her papers, she stood up, crystal blue eyes meeting his.
“Sit down, Seto. There’s…something you need to know.”
The slightest inkling of fear sparked in the back of Seto’s mind, but he did his best to ignore it; what could Téa possibly say in her defense about going through his past?
“…This place…Seto, it’s haunted.”
A pregnant pause.
“Do you think this is funny?” A stiff hand swept across the table, pushing papers off its smooth surface and flying all over the floor.
His voice was calm, almost emotionless. One might have interpreted his tone as cold sarcasm, but Téa knew, as many others did, that when Seto Kaiba wanted to be brutally sarcastic, he let it show. So…it was a valid question. To him, anyway.
“W-What? Seto, I’m not joking! Mokuba, he—!”
“I know what he thinks he saw!” Seto snapped, his voice growing in anger and intensity. Téa shrank back slightly, swallowing the fears slowly churning their way up from her stomach and into her throat.
She was close -dangerously close- to breaking down and telling Seto everything —everything she’d discovered, and everything she’d been through. She hoped he’d understand, that he’d try to help…
‘I’m so afraid…I just—I just want him to be there for me…’
And yet, part of Téa knew, almost instantly after she’d heard Seto say he didn’t believe in ghosts…that he wouldn’t help. No matter how horrible things got…
“…He wasn’t the only one, Seto. I’ve seen them, too.”
”Them?'” Seto raised an eyebrow out of curiosity, though his anger hadn’t receded much.
“…The ghosts, Seto. Your adoptive father, and…” she swallowed, her voice quiet, “your adoptive brother.” Her words echoed every ounce of her need for him to believe…
He was silent at first, and then he sighed, closing his eyes as he did so.
“Ghosts…You really are childish, Gardner.”
His words stung her, quickly and painfully, as real as any physical blow. An insult…Her pride wounded, she barely realized that he’d called her by her family name…something he hadn’t called her in months…
“I’m not lying, Seto, why would I—” She stepped towards him, an arm outstretched to stop him from turning and leaving. She hadn’t gotten the chance to explain anything to him yet—anything about Noah, or why Gozaburo Kaiba had adopted Seto and Mokuba—or what Gozaburo had said.
But before Téa could even continue, Seto cut her off, spinning around abruptly, his eyes flashing like twin coals.
“STAY THE HELL OUT OF MY PAST!”
Her hand fell, limp and numb, to her side, as the shock filtered through her system. Her face had gone white, her blue eyes widening and then filling with tears as she stumbled backward, too startled to say anything.
The fire in Seto Kaiba’s eyes slowly died as he watched her fumble to pick up the bulk of her papers -her project of delving into his past- and she ran from the room, tears streaming from her eyes.
And though Seto still couldn’t bring himself to believe in Téa and Mokuba’s foolish game, one thought arose—‘What have I done?’
She couldn’t stop.
Though she’d been downright terrified of Seto’s reaction to her research into his past —the way his eyes had flashed at her, his voice so full of rage…
She needed to find out. Needed to know why Seto Kaiba kept his past locked away, why the Kaiba patriarch had died, why…why…
“You should stop. Go.”
Through her veil of tears. Téa saw him—he who had been there since the beginning. He who could be blamed for all this mess, all this fright…
“Noah.” Her voice was a mere whisper, her sobs having taken away her ability to be even slightly loud.
“I don’t know why he’s so dead-set on hurting you…but I know you’re a good person Téa, you don’t deserve this—”
“You’re damn right I don’t! And you didn’t deserve it either! I’m trying to help here!” Her voice rose, cracking as she made every effort to express her anger to the ghost-boy, “I just want to know the truth.”
“I want to know why, too, Téa!” Noah’s deep blue eyes pleaded with hers, “Please…just don’t anger him anymore. I’ll find a way…we won’t bother you anymore. Please, just don’t…”
And with those cryptic words, Noah Kaiba disappeared, fading into the shadows.
The following morning, Mokuba became instantly aware of the tension simmering between his older brother and his ‘tutor.’ Curious, he sat himself between them at the breakfast table, looking between the two of them and wondering if he could deduce the cause of the problem. He ate his cereal slowly, the sound of his teeth crunching the corn flakes breaking the still silence that permeated the room.
“Uhm…” Mokuba began, unsure. He dropped his spoon into his now-empty cereal bowl with a loud clatter, but Seto didn’t even spare his brother a glance, only spoke from behind his newspaper.
“It’s nothing to worry about, Mokuba.”
The ebony-haired boy looked towards Téa, whose eyes only shifted down; she looked sad.
An odd sort of anger boiled up in the pit of Mokuba’s stomach; why did Seto always go around upsetting Téa? He had to have said something to her, hurt her feelings somehow —he was so good at that!
But, years of experience with his brother told Mokuba that Seto couldn’t be blamed for everything. He’d grown up a certain way, and…
‘Gozaburo,’ Mokuba suddenly remembered. He’d been haunting the place, the boy was sure, as had that weird aquamarine haired boy. Maybe Téa had tried to tell Seto about them, and he hadn’t believed her.
‘Of course he wouldn’t,’ Mokuba realized, ‘Big Brother refuses to believe in what he can’t see and understand at face value.’
Even after all they’d been through —all that the world shoved in Seto Kaiba’s face as being beyond the realm of simple explanation—he still refused to attribute things like magic and ghosts to anything aside from foolish pranks.
Despite having his very soul stolen from him…
“I’m going.” Téa abruptly stood up, grabbing the book satchel at her feet. She didn’t wait for any sort of response from either of the boys, startling Mokuba into action.
“Uhm, I’m going with you!” Mokuba exclaimed. This did earn him a glance from Seto, an eyebrow raised in curiosity, but Seto didn’t say anything. Sheepish, Mokuba explained, “Well, I ate my breakfast and I wanna get out of here now, so…” he trailed off meaningfully, but it was apparent that his brother didn’t catch the drift.
“Bye, Big Brother.” Mokuba mumbled as he exited the kitchen, trailing behind Téa. Seto didn’t even glance up, offering a sharp wave to Mokuba as the younger boy left. Mokuba glanced up at Téa, who seemed to be staring sadly at Seto, but she shook her head and turned to go.
Once the pair were a good distance from the Kaiba mansion, Téa broke the silence.
“Mokuba…don’t tell your brother about the ghosts, okay?”
“Huh? Is that what this is about? I mean, did you try to tell him? ‘Cause Big Brother’s stubborn and all, I know he is—”
“It’s not that,” Téa interrupted softly. She shook her head again, chocolate brown hairs covering her eyes, “Just…pretend it never happened, okay? Pretend it was a bad dream.”
“Please?” When Téa looked at him again, the expression on her face was imploring, her eyes watering with unshed tears. Mokuba wanted nothing more than to be the stubborn Kaiba he knew he could be…to tell Téa ‘no,’ that he would help her, because he—but he couldn’t.
He would do what she asked…for the very same reason he wanted to refuse.
Téa had distanced herself from everyone that day, her sadness apparent in her silent nature. Yugi and the other boys worried; Chieko had approached Téa and asked her what was wrong…no answers.
Yugi and Chieko had a vague idea who was behind Téa’s abrupt change in nature; just yesterday she’d been in higher spirits, almost to the point of being abnormally loud…
Yet today, it was as if she’d shrunk into a shell, closing herself off to the world…
The quiet was what she sought, and it surrounded her very being the moment she arrived…’home.’ The Kaiba mansion.
‘Maybe if I take my own advice, and pretend that the ghosts never existed —that I never saw them—then maybe they’ll go away. If I can just do what Seto does…’
But wouldn’t that be the same as lying to herself?
Téa’s policy was one of honesty, but lately, she’d been entangling herself —and countless others—in a web of lies, just to protect her heart.
‘Maybe if I’d gone about this differently from the beginning, I wouldn’t be having this problem now.’
She could easily question a great deal of what she’d done in the past, of what had brought her to that point in time…but she didn’t regret any of it. It wasn’t as if she could go back in time and change things, anyway.
No. There was no going back. And while Seto could continue lying to himself, pretending that his past was locked away forever…and Mokuba, the innocent child, could try and pretend…Téa knew she couldn’t.
She’d faced death too many times to ignore the very face of it.
Gozaburo Kaiba…The Devil.
She remembered Bakura’s fortune telling, remembered his warning about ghosts…she couldn’t let go. Was it true that ghosts remained on the mortal realm only because of strong emotion? What then, was it that held Gozaburo Kaiba?
She still hadn’t found out how HE had died.
His wife had died in a tragic boat accident. She’d drowned when no one had been around, and her death had turned the Kaiba household upside down.
Noah, grief-stricken, was left alone to deal with his grief, as his father couldn’t cope with reality enough to be there for his son. Though months had passed, Gozaburo Kaiba couldn’t simply go back and be who he was before—so instead, he pushed his son into being something inhuman…to the brink of insanity.
And a tragic car accident had left Noah Kaiba with little hope of waking up, let alone becoming the genius heir to the Kaiba fortune. And a mere three days after his accident, he’d died…
Gozaburo Kaiba’s own parents abandoned him. They’d left him on the street. He bounced from foster home to foster home, and no one took him in for more than six months at a time.
A a boy even younger than Mokuba, Gozaburo Kaiba had seen death, destruction…
But it wasn’t an excuse.
‘If Seto refuses to believe…then I’ll get my answers someplace else. I won’t involve Mokuba and put him in danger! I WILL be rid of you, Gozaburo Kaiba! I swear it!’
“The end is here.”
Téa glanced up sharply; Gozaburo was back.
She’d taken her research into her room, hoping that it would be more private than Seto’s office, the secret room, or the kitchen. It was the only place she hadn’t yet been disturbed by Gozaburo Kaiba and his threats…
‘Empty threats, hopefully.’ Téa thought. But it didn’t look that way.
This time, Gozaburo Kaiba looked enraged.
“I warned you, girl. Many times…you don’t listen.”
“You never should have appeared to me in the first place, Kaiba! If you thought I’d be afraid and give up, then you know now that you were wrong!”
“I will give you something to be afraid of!” The distance between them closed abruptly, as if the Kaiba patriarch had stretched his arms out in an inhuman fashion and pulled Téa from her chair.
She struggled mightily; fighting as fiercely as she could, but it was as if Kaiba’s grip were of cold steel; she couldn’t even budge her wrists as he dragged her down the hall, to the landing that hovered above the entryway into the mansion.
“What a pleasant surprise to greet Seto when he comes home—young Téa Gardner, broken and bloody in his very doorway!”
And with a single swing, Gozaburo Kaiba flung a shocked Téa off the staircase landing, sending her flailing body crashing hard into the wall mirror. The force caused the frame to shudder and come forward; the glass shattered and rained down on Téa’s limp form.
Bruised and bloodied, she slumped to the cool marble floor in shock. She wasn’t sure whether she was succumbing to the pain or to the numbness swallowing her body…all she knew was that behind her blurred vision, Gozaburo Kaiba stood in front of her, the angriest expression Téa had ever seen crossing his face.
“STAY THE HELL OUT OF MY PAST!”
‘Not Gozaburo…’ Téa thought dazedly, her consciousness slipping.
‘Seto…He’s so angry with me…’
A lone tear tracked its way down her right cheek as she darkness swallowed her, leaving Téa alone in the Kaiba mansion entryway, the mirror frame still hanging crookedly in front of the secret doorway; glass shards surrounding her every centimeter.
Minutes later —though it might as well have been hours for Téa—the front door opened, the soles of fine dress shoes crunching against the glass scattered about the floor.
“What the—” Seto Kaiba swung the door open fully, seeing the glass shattered everywhere —it wasn’t until Mokuba, whom Seto had picked up after school, rushed in—that they saw what happened.
The younger boy wheeled on his feet upon entering the mansion, immediately spotting Téa lying amongst the broken remains of the mirror, the side of her head bleeding steadily while a multitude of other scars and cuts lined her face, neck, and arms.
Seto Kaiba took two steps inside and saw what Mokuba did—though, unlike his brother, he made no move to rouse Téa, as the ebony-haired boy did.
“Téa! Téa, wake up! Please wake up, Téa!”
The girl groaned slightly, her frame trembling slightly. Mokuba’s expression radiated with the concern, worry and fear he felt for the girl; a small hand on her back brought her to consciousness once more.
The brunette’s reply was a hacking cough directed into her palms, sending her tumbling forward into her glass-littered lap with the force of her convulsions.
When she sat up, Mokuba’s eyes widened; blood covered Téa’s lips, and it was obvious that one of her eyes was beginning to swell. It was the worst Mokuba had ever seen someone —and he’d seen Seto treated pretty roughly in his younger years.
‘Téa…she didn’t deserve this. If I’d just told Big Brother everything sooner, then maybe Téa wouldn’t have gotten hurt—trying to protect me, no doubt!’
“Gozaburo did this to you, didn’t he?” Mokuba asked quietly. Téa couldn’t seem to speak yet; she just nodded her head slowly, coughing again into her palm, crimson blood providing a stark contrast to her pale skin.
“I’ve heard enough!” Mokuba glanced backwards at his brother, the younger boy’s expression one of shock and surprise. Seto hadn’t moved a centimeter since he’d entered the mansion, save to close the door and stare at the scene before him; the catastrophe that his hallway had become, and the bloody mess that Téa now was.
Glass crunched beneath Seto Kaiba’s feet as he walked forward, only ametert from Téa. He didn’t bend down to look her in the eye, rather his gaze was callous and condescending, navy eyes narrowed in what could only be revulsion.
“Bad luck for breaking a mirror, Gardner. Just what this house needs…”
“Big Brother!” Mokuba exclaimed, “How could you—?! Téa’s hurt!”
“Because of GHOSTS? I don’t believe in that idiocy, Mokuba, and I don’t know what sick game the two of you are playing at, but it’s not going to work!”
“Seto—” Téa began, her voice soft and raspy.
Kaiba cut her off abruptly, “Since you’ve come here, more things have gone wrong and been more troublesome than ever before! You’re a curse!”
Despite the swelling, Téa’s eyes widened in shock. Words could not express what she felt at the very moment —if all the pain, numbness, surprise…and everything else she had ever felt for Seto Kaiba could be bottled into a single word.
“Seto…” Mokuba’s voice was a whisper. He looked crestfallen—was this the brother who had sworn to always protect him, to always be there for him?
What had happened to the Big Brother that cared?
“Get someone to clean that mess up!”
And with that, Seto Kaiba slammed the door of his office, the sound echoing off the walls of the now deathly-silent Kaiba mansion.
Ten minutes later found Mokuba and Téa in the small downstairs bathroom near the laundry room and garage door. The younger boy had helped Téa rise to her feet and make her way through the glass to a place where he could tend to her wounds.
After a few moments of rummaging through the cabinets, Mokuba had procured a first aid kit, and set to work.
Though both he and Téa were silent, the younger boy’s thoughts rang loudly in his head.
‘How could Big Brother be so heartless? I thought he liked Téa, even a little…What could she have said to him earlier that made him so mad?’
But it didn’t matter what Téa had said, Mokuba amended mentally. She was a good girl —no, a GREAT girl—and didn’t deserve that kind of treatment from anyone.
‘I’m sorry, Téa,’ Mokuba thought to himself as he wiped an alcohol swab across her bleeding brow, ‘But I won’t be able to pretend that I never saw the ghosts. Even if Seto won’t listen to me, I’ll find a way to make you safe again…I don’t want you to leave.’
Seto Kaiba sighed deeply, leaning against the bathroom door.
Though the sounds were muffled, he knew what cries sounded like.
“It’s gonna be okay, Téa…” Mokuba was saying, “Let me clean that up…”
So, Mokuba was tending to her wounds.
‘He’s a good kid,’ Seto thought absently, running fingers through his hair.
“Ah!” A sharp cry of pain. Muffled sobs.
How could he ignore it?
How could he ignore the possibility that maybe…maybe she was right? That maybe, all this time, she’d been justified in what she’d been doing, and was only trying to—
‘No! No excuses! She—she could have told me!’
But…would things have ended up any differently?
‘I…would have reacted the same way,’ Seto realized, stumbling down the hall towards his office. He paused, glancing at the crooked frame and the broken glass surrounding the marble.
It wasn’t possible—for Téa to have done such a thing by herself. To have HURT herself like that. But…
Even his own thoughts betrayed him. Echoing hollowly in his mind, his words meant nothing.
Closing his office door with a quiet click, Seto Kaiba moved towards his desk, withdrawing a small, leather-bound book from the top drawer.
He flipped only a few pages before his eyes alighted on the numbers he sought. Hesitating for just a moment, Seto Kaiba reached for the phone, dialing the numbers in a rush.
The phone rang only twice before someone picked up, offering the standard greeting to callers.
“Bakura? It’s Kaiba. I need your help.”
Blue eyes glanced from book to book. A soft scritch-scratching filled the room as Téa diligently took notes. Doing this…it was the only way.
She’d told Mokuba that she would rest, but she hadn’t been able to. She’d stayed alone in her room for hours, restless. Evening fell, and once again silence and darkness swallowed the Kaiba mansion whole.
Her stomach had growled, reminding Téa that she’d barely eaten anything that day. Depression had allowed her to forget eating lunch, and what little Téa had managed to eat for breakfast hadn’t stayed in her belly long, anyway.
Her injuries sang with pain, and the world around her tipped, spinning in a dizzying swirl of light and colors.
She’d gone down to the kitchen, bandaged hands fumbling with her piles of found work. She was close—so close to discovering the truth. And no amount of cuts and scars would deter her. She couldn’t let them.
‘Besides…scars fade…’ The cut on Téa’s neck was barely there anymore; a faint pink line that one couldn’t see unless inches from the soft curve of her skin.
Even if she was putting herself in danger…even if Seto had told her…
“STAY THE HELL OUT OF MY PAST!”
Téa blinked, remembering the enraged tone in Seto’s voice. Gozaburo had said the same thing, in the same tone, but Téa hadn’t seen HIM standing there. She’d only seen Seto, and remembered how ANGRY Seto had been…
‘Was that…the man I fell in love with?’ Téa wondered absently. Eyes widened as she considered this thought; she thought she had seen and come to know a Seto Kaiba vastly different from the genius at school, from the #1 Duelist, from the young CEO.
But had she really gotten to know him at all?
“You don’t learn.”
Téa’s head snapped towards the sound of the voice, fear coursing through her veins upon the realization that Gozaburo Kaiba had returned.
It wasn’t enough that he’d hurled her against the hall mirror, very nearly killing her. It wasn’t enough that he’d managed to get through to her, and started eating away at all her fears…
He didn’t look the slightest bit amused.
Point in fact, he didn’t look like he felt ANYTHING.
And for that reason alone, Téa had to silence the fears raging inside her, and continue working. She knew she was close now—close to finding out the truth about the late Mrs. Kaiba, about Noah, about how they had all died, and why Gozaburo had adopted Seto and Mokuba.
But her facts were fragmented. Seto didn’t WANT Téa prying into his past. He didn’t know that if she didn’t, it was likely that they’d be stuck with Gozaburo and Noah haunting the place…forever. And Téa didn’t want that to happen.
Noah hadn’t appeared for the longest time. Téa had the feeling Gozaburo was behind it somehow, with his uncanny power and manipulative ways. But in saying so —even subtly—she knew she’d incur the Kaiba patriarch’s wrath…
“I told you to stop.” Gozaburo said, his voice as icily calm as before. Téa refused to look up, butterflies flapping wildly in her stomach.
“Don’t do this girl. You’re only bringing about your own destruction.”
Téa didn’t respond, but the fear in her surged forth. She tried to keep her eyes averted from the apparition before her—maybe that way, he wouldn’t see her eyes darting about, or see the sweat trickling down her neck…
“You’re afraid.” A smirk crossed Gozaburo Kaiba’s face, though Téa wasn’t facing him in order to see it. She pursed her lips, desperately trying to remain silent. If he didn’t see the fear so apparent on her face, then he’d definitely hear it in her voice…
“Don’t think that I don’t know fear, Téa. I know every particle of fear…I know what it can do to you…” he leaned closer to Téa, freezing breath dangerously close to her ear, “It can kill you.”
“Like your fears killed you?” Mustering all her courage, from the very depths of her soul, Téa Gardner faced Gozaburo Kaiba head-on. Blue met with black, and Gozaburo stood up, somewhat surprised.
“Your wife —Michiru—she died. Drowned. Left you alone. Like your parents did. But instead of helping your own child through that same loss, you alienated him! And he died! And you only secluded yourself more!”
“Shut up!” Gozaburo yelled, the anger in his tone becoming apparent. But Téa continued on. If she could just get to him…
“And then, you met Seto! And he was a painful reminder of your son—and how you’d messed up with him in every possible way! Seto beat you at your own game, but instead of learning, instead of giving someone who UNDERSTOOD you a chance—you turned him against the world!”
“Be quiet, girl! I’m warning you!” His eyes were flashing, and Téa could feel the darkness in the room rising. Power…
But she had to keep going. If she could just rid the Kaiba mansion of Gozaburo, once and for all…
“And then when he became what you once were —powerful, smart, cunning—you realized that you lost! Because Seto always had Mokuba, always put him first! And you realized that you should have done that all along—and maybe you wouldn’t have lost Michiru and Noah that way!”
“SHUT UP!” His voice was a roar, his movements almost invisible as he closed the distance between them, arms outstretched.
And with wide, blue eyes, Téa realized that Gozaburo Kaiba had never appeared so…so REAL before. And before she could really consider the implications of that, fingers pressed into her throat, Gozaburo Kaiba lifting her body off the floor a good half meter.
Téa could feel the air leaving her throat, compressing what little was left in her lungs. It felt like her whole chest cavity was on fire…
She was choking…
Spots of black darkened her vision, and the sensation of pain that had dominated her whole body just moments before faded away…and the world went black.
“Téa?” Mokuba’s voice hovered just above a whisper; afraid he would wake the injured girl up, should she be asleep.
But the moonlight filtering into her darkened room revealed her bed as freshly made and empty—unoccupied.
Fear suddenly raced through Mokuba’s veins; what if she hadn’t stopped researching—what if she didn’t rest, and Gozaburo had gotten to her again?
Seto Kaiba had been pacing his office, waiting for Bakura to arrive. It had already been a good two hours since he’d called and asked for help—something that Seto Kaiba was NOT accustomed to doing.
But as he recalled the sound of Téa crying out in pain, he had to.
He knew he was stubborn, knew he could do stupid things…but he’d never wanted Téa to be hurt because of him. And he’d been going about figuring things out all the wrong way, and what he’d said…
At that moment, the doorbell rang, the sound clear and sharp. In several long strides, Seto Kaiba rushed from his office and practically threw the door open, hoping that everything could be resolved —right then and there.
Ryou Bakura was unaccustomed to receiving phone calls.
He didn’t have much of a social life, that much he knew, and of the few people he did consider his friends —or at least, classmates he was on a talking basis with—he didn’t hear from them all that often.
Not over the phone, at least.
And of those people whom Ryou DID frequently associate with, he didn’t consider Seto Kaiba to be one of them.
Which made the latter boy’s phone call to Ryou’s house all the more surprising.
“I need your help.”
Ryou had been about to speak —about to ask Seto Kaiba why in the world the powerful CEO would need HIS help—when the blackness swallowed him again.
The voice was noticeably different, Seto realized, though it had the same British tinge to it that Ryou Bakura was so famous for possessing.
“I…Please. I need your help.”
“What in the world would the great Seto Kaiba need MY help for?” Bakura asked, the sarcasm thick in his voice. He had no respect whatsoever for Seto; not three thousand years ago, and certainly not now.
“There’s something…going on here. Something…” Seto gripped the receiver tightly, his knuckles whitening as he forced himself to continue, “Something that’s more your area of expertise.”
“Ha!” Bakura laughed sharply, “The great Seto Kaiba admits that he’s not the best at everything! By Ra, I wish I were recording this!”
Seto grumbled low in his throat, ever fiber in his being wanting to shout and protest, but he knew he wouldn’t get any help that way.
Was this the result of Téa’s worming her way into his heart?
Had anyone wounded his pride so callously before, Seto Kaiba wouldn’t have hesitated a moment to insult them right back—yet, he refrained. Because…it was for her. Because he didn’t want to hear her crying, ever again…
“My area of expertise, hm?” Bakura’s laughter died, and he continued to speak,
“Why should I help you? Help Téa, as the case truly is. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t reveal your wicked little secret to the world.”
So he knew. Knew that Téa was staying with him, knew…he probably knew everything.
Knowledge was power, Kaiba realized, and at that moment, Bakura had all of it. Seto was wrapped around his little finger…
“Because,” Seto finally said, his voice a gruff whisper, “I’ll do anything.”
Half-expecting Bakura to name something outrageous then and there, Seto paused, wondering just how much he would owe Bakura for helping him.
“Very well. I shall collect when the time is right. And Kaiba?”
“Yeah?” Seto sighed, grateful that he didn’t have to do anything too exorbitant—yet.
“I’ll be there soon. Try not to get yourself in too much trouble.”
And then the line clicked. Seto Kaiba realized he hadn’t even given Bakura his address; it wasn’t in the school directory like Ryou’s number was…so how did the white-haired occultist know…?
“Bakura.” Seto tried to remain calm, but the blood rushing in his veins practically sang; whatever was WRONG in the household was going from bad to worse…
He could feel it.
“The darkness…” The white-haired boy stepped into the entryway with his gaze tilted up towards the stairway landing, the Millennium Ring around his neck glowing with power. The five points affixed to the bottom of the ring shot out stiffly in every direction—a compass for evil. It surrounded them.
“It has gotten stronger. It feeds off the light.”
“Make sense, Bakura!” Seto growled out, “I didn’t ask you here to tell me riddles!”
Bakura only smirked before lowering his gaze to Seto Kaiba and facing him fully. Though there was a good ten centimeter difference between the two boys, somehow Bakura seemed much more intimidating than Seto Kaiba was oft described to be; though Seto wouldn’t admit it aloud, he surmised that it had something to do with that Millennium Ring of Bakura’s.
“Whatever’s haunting this house,” Bakura said plainly, “it’s sucking the life out of Téa.” He paused for a moment, looking around, noticing the glass shards littering the floor near the broken, crooked mirror.
“Do you always leave your secret doors open?” Seto turned to where Bakura’s gaze was directed; shock hit him fast and hard when he saw the secret entryway to the mezzanine level open.
He knew it hadn’t been that way before.
When Mokuba had found Téa against that selfsame wall…
The glass still covered the floor, but…
“It’s here.” Bakura moved a step towards the opening, then froze, as if someone had grabbed him by the shoulders.
“What is it?” Seto asked. Silence was his reply, and almost robotically, Bakura reached into his pants pocket and withdrew a deck Seto remembered with startling clarity.
His tarot cards.
Bakura didn’t even glance at the first card as he pulled it away from the rest, showing it to Seto with a grim expression on his face.
Applause snapped Bakura out of his stupor; he’d been concentrating on the source of the power, the darkness…but it was everywhere and nowhere, impossibly powerful and hard to track…
“Very good boy, that you should be able to sense me so clearly.”
Bakura looked towards Seto; the brunette didn’t appear to have noticed the presence of the ghost —the powerful apparition from which all the darkness flowed into and out of.
“Kaiba,” Bakura spoke sharply from the corner of his mouth, keeping his gaze turned to the spirit.
“What? Look, I think there’s something off about the glass…I’m sure it wasn’t like this earlier…” Seto squatted before the shards, absently hovering a hand over the mess.
“You don’t see,” Bakura realized with a whisper.
Seto looked up, his gaze going right THROUGH the wraith. “Don’t see what?”
“He can’t see me,” the ghost intoned, “he’s too foolish. And for that, he will lose everything…” The apparition glided towards Bakura, but the boy didn’t flinch; he wasn’t intimidated; he knew darkness as much as his own body; it was part of him.
And at that very moment, he thirsted for the kind of power that this paltry phantom radiated without understanding.
“You know darkness, boy.”
Bakura didn’t favor the shade with an answer; instead, he asked a question, “Who are you?”
Kaiba looked up, wondering who Bakura was speaking to; when his eyes came across Bakura’s rigid frame, —facing away from him—he realized that no one else was there. At least…no one else HE could see.
“The one and only Gozaburo Kaiba—to whom the blood of the name belongs.” Gozaburo bowed in an exaggerated Western fashion, sweeping one arm across his waist and bowing far lower than necessary.
Bakura blinked, wondering if the phantom thought he would be impressed by such words.
“Am I supposed to care?”
The dark sarcasm disappeared instantly from Gozaburo’s face, now contorted in a rage as he moved towards Bakura. The youth, realizing what Gozaburo had intended to do, sidestepped the phantom’s attack, the ghost plunging forward. He had been a real person, he would have toppled headfirst towards the glass, but, being a spirit, he morphed before he could even ‘hit’ the floor, and faced Bakura once more.
“Who are you talking to, Bakura?” Seto stood, trying to figure out where Bakura was looking —and who was there that he couldn’t see.
Téa…Mokuba…Bakura…Why could they all see, but he couldn’t?
“Why—why can’t I see it?”
Bakura glanced at Seto out of the corner of his eye, a smirk tugging at the corners of the shorter boy’s lips, “You used to be very in tune with the spirits once. Funny how you lost that.”
Baffled, Seto made no reply, but he stilled his movements and attempted to concentrate. Maybe—maybe if he tried to believe…
“And I’m speaking to your father, as it were,” Bakura frowned. “Pardon, adoptive father. The source of all this darkness.”
Seto’s eyes flew open as he faced Bakura, both boys’ faces dark and lacking any trace of humor.
“He’s only getting stronger,” Bakura said a moment later, keeping his gaze locked on Seto.
Bakura wheeled around at the sound of laughter; loud and obnoxious, “Ha! The darker this place grows, the stronger I’ll be! All the pieces are in place, and the White Queen shall fall! That is…unless the King chooses to save her, and risk himself…”
Gozaburo trailed off meaningfully, still chuckling under his breath.
“What? What did he say?” Seto growled out, shaking Bakura by the shoulders. He was frustrated that he couldn’t seem to do anything —couldn’t seem to understand, couldn’t help—
“Big Brother!” Mokuba’s voice cut through the air, and three faces turned towards where the younger, ebony-haired boy was on the stairway landing.
“Mokuba—what is it?”
The younger boy’s face paled as he realized Gozaburo Kaiba was down there—staring straight at him with a menacing grin on his face.
‘I…can’t be afraid. I have to find Téa!’
“It’s Téa,” Mokuba called down, trying to keep his voice steady despite his growing fright, “she’s gone!”
“The White Queen has vanished into the night, and with her gone, the house shall fall…” Gozaburo uttered, loud enough only for Bakura to hear. The white haired youth spun on the ball of his foot, eyes aglow as he stared directly at Gozaburo Kaiba, not at all intimidated by the older phantom’s imposing stature.
“Stop speaking in riddles, fool! This is no chess game!” Bakura seethed. He hated seeing power go to waste, and as soon as he rid the Kaiba mansion of its poltergeists, he would have not only the power, but favors owed…from Gardner AND Kaiba.
“Not a game, true. I said the very same thing to young Téa…” Gozaburo paused, licking his teeth as he turned slowly, catching Mokuba’s gaze as the younger boy came down the last of the stairs. “before I strangled her.” His gaze now directed into the darkness of the mezzanine level stairway, Gozaburo Kaiba fell silent, a wicked smile crossing his lips.
“Why you—” Mokuba moved forward, fear and anger plain on his youthful face, but he was stopped suddenly by a hand on his chest. When he looked up, it wasn’t his brother or Bakura’s gaze he met with, but that of an older boy—a mop of too-familiar aquamarine hair on his head.
“Y-You’re him! The…but you were younger—and…the festival!”
Noah glanced down at Mokuba, “I am. But listen to me, Mokuba: don’t do this. Don’t anger Gozaburo. We don’t need more casualties.”
“You mean Téa—is she…?”
Gozaburo faced Noah, a scowl appearing on his face, “What do you think you’re doing, Noah?”
“What? What is it?” Seto whispered under his breath, “What is everyone seeing?”
“Two,” Bakura replied in a low voice, cocking his head in Kaiba’s direction. “There are two spirits now. The other one is a young man…from the festival.”
“H-He looks kinda like you, Big Brother,” Mokuba ventured, realizing that this form of Noah —his older form—was the same person as the boy-spirit he’d seen before.
“More like the boy looks like him,” Bakura stated, “Seto here hasn’t changed in three thousand years.”
Mokuba and Seto both shot Bakura an odd glance, but said nothing in reply; their eyes remained fixed on the two phantoms having a confrontation.
“No more, Father. This ends here. We don’t need to hurt anyone.”
“They don’t belong here, boy!” Gozaburo shouted, his anger growing, and the dark power around him pulsating in tune with his emotions.
“And that brat was pushing her limits, exposing our past—”
“WE ARE past, Father! We’re dead! There’s no reason for us to stay here!”
“I’m not about to leave this place, not after years of being trapped in that godforsaken room—we had plans, Noah, I was going to save you!”
“Did it ever occur to you that I might not WANT to be saved?!”
Bakura and Mokuba stared at the two quarreling spirits, the Mokuba’s eyes wide with curiosity. Seto, for his part, was racking his memory as far back as the festival—it hadn’t been all that long ago, and…
“…Beauty is so fleeting…as is human life.”
The words echoed in Seto Kaiba’s mind, and for a brief moment, Seto thought he had matched a face to the voice—the same one he’d seen at the festival. A young man about his age, wearing a crisp white uniform and bearing the oddest of hair colors…
And with a burst of light, the younger ghost was gone.
After a moment, Gozaburo turned, taking two strides and facing Seto directly, despite the fact that he knew his own adopted son couldn’t see him.
“No amount of arguing will save her, Seto. She won’t escape her prison unless she wills it herself…”
“Focus, Kaiba!” Bakura hissed. “He’s speaking to you.”
Seto cast a surprised glance at Bakura, but nodded shortly. He looked down; whatever stood near him had no reflection, as the scattered shards only brokenly reflected Seto’s form. He sucked in a breath, closing his eyes. If he could remember…
A painful slap.
Grips tighter than that of a vice, squeezing and twisting his arm until it felt like it would break from its socket…
‘I don’t want to remember him!’
He wanted Gozaburo Kaiba to be buried, along with the rest of his past. Yet now, of all times, his past was coming back to haunt him—literally. And if Téa was in danger, then he had to face his demons, he had to try…
“You’re a failure!”
“I’m ashamed of you!”
“Nobody loves you!”
It was the last memory that rang over and over again in Seto’s mind, stinging, even though it had been years…
“Poor girl…she believed in you, Seto.” The poltergeist circled Seto, leaning in towards the younger man’s left ear, “But now, she’s lost so much faith in you…”
“SHUT UP!” Seto wheeled on his feet, startling all present -ghostly and otherwise- as his enraged gaze met dead-on with Gozaburo’s.
“Big Brother—you…you can see him now?”
“Indeed he can,” Gozaburo chuckled, “but it’s too late! Too late for everyone!”
And before any more questions could be asked, Gozaburo Kaiba vanished.
“The glass, Seto!” Mokuba pointed. All eyes turned to look at the pieces of broken mirror scattered about the marble floor; after a moment the two older boys saw what Mokuba did—words.
The fragments of glass were arranged in such a way that they spelled out a brief phrase—’SHE DIES NOW.’
Seto didn’t even spare Bakura or Mokuba a glance as he rushed through the glass and up the stairway to the secret mezzanine level.
Her head felt like a rock, while her arms were so numb, they might as well have been coated in ice. Yet, her legs burned, and the coppery taste of blood was poignant on Téa’s tongue.
‘Wh…Where am I…?’
It was an unfamiliar room —cold steel and concrete surrounding her from every side.
“Welcome to the panic room, dear Téa.”
Swollen eyes opened halfway, her vision catching on the blurred form of Gozaburo Kaiba, standing in what looked like the doorway, not too far from her.
Was the room really that small, or was it growing and collapsing, all at the same time?
“Three hundred and five meters of linear steel girders…over six tonnes of concrete, three kilometers of cable. Six security cameras and eight monitors. Ventilation, surveillance, a carded bolted steel door with motion sensor stop, a buried separate phone line, and of course…a toilet.” Gozaburo’s introduction of the room was accompanied by several grand, sweeping gestures, even a slight grin—which disappeared as soon as he finished.
“A perfect place to hide from the outside world. But in your case, well…” he chuckled darkly, “I don’t think you’ll be getting up anytime soon. In short, you’re trapped in here. I had this place commissioned myself. The design was over three months in the making, over five months to build…” His gaze swept the ceiling and walls, finally resting on Téa’s bruised form.
“It is the last place you’ll ever see. While I designed it in case of burglary, such a need never arose. So, it has come to serve…” A wicked grin, “other purposes. Your torture, for example. All the emergency rations are in here…all but food and water. Drink from the toilet if you feel so inclined—bitch.”
“Why…?” Téa whispered, “What did I ever do to you?” she coughed, blood spewing from her lips again. Was this what dying felt like?
It certainly didn’t feel heavenly, that was for sure.
“You existed,” Gozaburo snarled down at her.
The pain overwhelmed Téa, the darkness thrumming around her and eating away at her very soul. Everything hurt, and the pain only intensified…but Téa had lost the will —bodily or otherwise—to fight.
“Know this, girl,” Gozaburo whispered roughly, leaning dangerously close to the nearly-unconscious Téa, “he will never truly love you.”
And then the pain swallowed Téa again.
She didn’t even notice that Gozaburo had vanished.
“You’re too late!” Gozaburo Kaiba laughed darkly, even as the trio of boys approached the panic room door, midway through the mezzanine hallway.
“Don’t do this, Father!” A voice suddenly called out from behind Gozaburo. The older wraith turned and faced Noah, irritation and surprise masking his face.
“She didn’t do anything to hurt us. Let Téa go.”
“Never,” Gozaburo hissed, “I will break him first, and then…and then you will live again!”
The three boys stopped before Gozaburo exchanged a glance; was he losing his mind?
“Your only purpose was to become an avatar for Noah,” Gozaburo turned towards Seto, their eyes locking. “That can still happen, and then only a true Kaiba will remain!”
“I won’t do it!” Noah interrupted, his voice firm.
“Boy…” Gozaburo trailed off warningly, the implication of a greater threat apparent in his voice.
“I won’t! The only reason why I’m even here now is because of her! Téa…she’s light! She’s purity, she’s love, she’s everything we had and everything we lost!”
“Silence!” Gozaburo yelled, but Noah forged onward.
“The only reason why you’re so desperate to get rid of her is because she reminds you of Mother, doesn’t she!? And you lost her, and the happiness she gave you, and now you want to deprive Seto of that too!”
“He doesn’t deserve her!” Gozaburo shouted back, his eyes beginning to glow with the sheer force of his anger.
“And neither do you!” A pause, as Noah’s reply startled Gozaburo into silence once more, “She’s a different person, Father. Her own woman. She doesn’t deserve this treatment. She’s only trying to help.”
“Help…how can she help? How can anyone help when everything that meant anything to us is gone?! While we’re still trapped here in this hell!?”
“We’re only trapped because you can’t let go!”
“…Strong emotions tie them here,” Bakura murmured under his breath.
“What? What do you mean, Bakura?” Mokuba asked curiously. It was apparent that the ghosts weren’t THAT far off from being human…especially if they could still feel.
“Very few things can keep spirits bound to the mortal plane,” Bakura explained softly, his gaze meeting with the younger boy’s, “in the case of these two, it appears to be being unable to accept death…and powerful feelings.”
The noise that brought Téa out of her hazy reverie was that of a sniffle. First one, then another…it was the sound of hiccuping coughs, sniffled tears, and suppressed sobs.
What clouded her vision seemed to part and vanish, leaving a deadweight Téa staring listlessly at the other end of the chilling panic room.
And there, arms hugging knees, the whole of the small figure’s body pressed up against the cold concrete walls of the tiny room…was Seto Kaiba.
She knew that form, that mop of hair…
Many years younger, Téa realized —a vision from the past, perhaps—and haunting this place as Noah and Gozaburo haunted the rest of the mansion. An echo of a memory…
“A-Are you okay?” Téa found her voice, though it was barely above a rough whisper, choked with her own agonized sobs. Very little of the pain had subsided, yet it didn’t ring so loudly, hurt so badly…
A loud sniffle, and then Seto looked up. Tears streaked his translucent face, though the redness of his eyes against his pale skin was prominent, even from across the room.
Téa was silent a moment, closing her eyes and, just for a second, allowing the blotches of darkness to come together, swim over her vision, and let her rest. Just for a second.
“I am too.”
She wasn’t sure how she had mustered the strength —or if it had truly been an outside force at work, pushing her forward, crawling towards the shadow of a memory, a phantom that looked all too much like Seto.
“But…we’re strong. We’ll make it through this.”
Young Seto stared up at Téa with a small measure of surprise and doubt in his eyes. But his sniffles had receded, and for the first time, Téa saw the boy smile. A warm feeling blossomed in her chest as she wrapped her arms around the boy, and he closed his eyes, sighing deeply.
And the warmth spread and faded, leaving Téa alone in the panic room once more.
Seto wasn’t sure why he’d suddenly felt warm—up to that point, all the ‘idiocy’ about ghosts had been true—including the bit about how their presence made any room colder. The mezzanine was a cooler floor by design, having to keep all the cameras and computers cool and running…the ghosts’ presence had turned the level almost icy, and yet…
It was a feeling that he remembered, but only vaguely…a sensation long forgotten. A sensation of warm arms wrapping around him…and gentle eyes meeting his own.
The fear that had surged forth upon seeing the face of Gozaburo Kaiba again began to dissipate and fade. Regardless of the power he seemed to have over the mansion, Seto refused to let him win. Calm determination surged through his veins; he WOULD save Téa. He had to.
‘Because I’m strong. I can make it through this.’
His focus back, Seto Kaiba turned towards the two quarreling spirits in the hall, blocking his way from Téa. Though the entire floor was dark, small flickers of light came from the barely-lit ceiling lamps —and, oddly enough, from the ghosts themselves.
Yet he could still see the darkness, slithering around everyone as if alive. Seeping under the doors…
“All I wanted was for you to be happy again! After Mother died, you wouldn’t even let me mourn—so I tried my hardest to please you, to be the best person possible! But it was never enough!”
“You gave up too soon!”
“I had no reason to keep going!” Noah shot back. “If…if there really was a moment, while I was in that coma, and someone said to me, ‘Noah, this is it; decide if you want to go back to that world, where the people you loved are gone; changed beyond recognition…or come with me. Sleep, until the light finds you again.’ I wouldn’t change the choice I made! Call it youth, call it naïveté, but death was my only choice!”
“And you know what I did, the months that I spent awakened?” Gozaburo’s eyes seemed to widen with the realization that Noah had been ‘awakened’ long before he had; “I mourned. I went to Mother’s grave EVERY DAY! And I watched her…watched Téa, the light that had awoken me from my slumber. She’s something incredible, Father, and I won’t let you destroy that!”
“Fine,” Gozaburo murmured, his chin drawn to his chest, shadows concealing his eyes, “Fine. But if she won’t pay…then he will!” And with a sudden lunge, Gozaburo Kaiba launched himself towards Seto, the malicious expression on his face clearly revealing what fate he had in mind for his adopted son.
“Hey, Kaiba!” A voice suddenly rang out in the darkened, narrow hall, freezing all where they stood. No one appeared; the voice was sourceless and distorted, yet oddly familiar.
Before anyone could place it, two brilliant bursts of white-blue light shot from the darkness, hitting Gozaburo Kaiba squarely on the back—pushing their way through him like bullets. The ghost collapsed to the ground, clutching his chest as if in agony—though it wasn’t as if he were alive and bleeding…
Noah, Seto, Mokuba and Bakura gaped in astonishment, their eyes shifting from the fallen Gozaburo’s form to the far end of the hallway; the half of the mezzanine in which the panic room was located. And the three mortal boys’ faces paled even further when a bright light shone through the darkness, in the unmistakable form of…
“You’re dead, Kaiba.” Téa appeared in perfect health—except for the fact that she was glowing like a lighthouse and was as transparent as a piece of plastic wrap.
“T-Téa…you’re—a—” Mokuba stuttered, his finger trembling with fright. Téa noticed the others for the first time, glancing down at them, then at herself, and holding her right hand up to the dim hall light.
“Huh. That’s…that’s interesting. That’s veeery interesting.”
“Dead for a moment, girl. But if your precious friends can’t save you in four minutes, that will be your PERMANENT form!” Téa looked aghast, staring at Gozaburo, then Seto, Bakura, and Mokuba.
“Go…don’t do this.” The voice was an echo of something that couldn’t be seen—all eyes riveted themselves to the darkness swelling at the other end of the hall, wondering if something new would appear.
And appear something —no, someone—did.
Glowing with a pale aquamarine light, the woman that appeared bore no smile on her face. Only a mask of concern—yet the worry creasing her face didn’t detract from her beauty at all. Flowing, wavy hair the same color as Noah’s, and bright, ocean blue eyes made the woman appear almost inhuman—angelic. The slightest trace of a scent —lilies—swept through the cold air.
“M-Mom…” Noah murmured, eyes wide as the woman neared him and Gozaburo.
“You called me here, Go. Your feelings…you’re still so strong.”
“M-Michiru…” Gozaburo whispered, looking unlike Seto and Mokuba had ever seen him. Almost…broken. Desperate.
Suddenly, everything rang out with a distinct clarity in Seto’s mind. Gozaburo had lost his wife…then his son. He’d sought to replace Noah —or find Noah a replacement, more accurately—with Seto…but his plans had gone awry when Seto took over Kaiba Corp at fourteen, and…And in a moment of insanity, Gozaburo had thrown himself out of the window.
At the time, Seto had been glad to be rid of his adoptive father. He hadn’t mourned in the slightest, hadn’t given Gozaburo or his past a second thought.
But Gozaburo hadn’t really left the mortal plane. He, like Noah, couldn’t accept death, even when he’d brought it about of his own free will. It was what had kept them bound to the Kaiba mansion, kept them sleeping in silence…until Téa. Until she had arrived, Seto and Mokuba had remained unaware of the unnatural presence still in their home…
“Let the girl go. Be forgiven, Go!” Michiru whispered, kneeling down before Gozaburo.
The older man shuddered, his gaze dropping to the floor as he shook his head vehemently, “No. No, you’re not real. In all these years we’ve slept, there’s been nothing. That’s what this is, nothingness, darkness, hell, torture! I lost you, and you’re gone forever, just an illusion, a heavenly nightmare…”
His movements halted suddenly, his voice a raspy growl.
“She dies now.” His gaze went right past that of his beloved wife, and bored into Téa, who had continued to fade. He rose to his feet, coalescing into a burst of dark light and tearing between the people in the hall to gain access to the the panic room.
Téa was almost invisible now, her bright blue eyes the only thing bearing any sense of solidity or color. No voice came from her lips when her mouth opened, but even so, her words rang clearly in the boys’ minds.
“Oh no!” Mokuba cried out as Téa flickered, then vanished altogether, “He’s going to kill her for real this time!”
“Not if I can help it,” Noah growled under his breath, moving forward. He nearly tripped and fell over his own two phantasmal feet, a new source of light filling the hallway with luminescence.
“If you’re going to help her, so are we.”
Eyes widened, skin went ashen, and fingers trembled.
“Mo-Mother…?” Seto’s voice was barely above a whisper, but if one had asked him to manage any more than that, he wouldn’t have been able to comply. For before him, he saw the spirit of she who was his birth mother -his only mother- Sachiko Hiroma.
From the fading brilliance, one other woman appeared—a young woman no older than Seto or Ryou, with jet black hair and bright brown eyes, glowing a pearl-white.
“A-Amane…” Ryou stuttered, falling to his knees. The power that had kept the Millennium Ring aglow had suddenly faded; Seto, pulling his eyes away from the spirit of his mother, realized that he’d seen such a transformation before…from dark to light.
From Yami to…not.
He’d seen it before, but never acknowledged it…not like now.
“It is not yet her time. We must save her,” Michiru spoke, her voice reminiscent of the sound of waves crashing on a deserted shore at low-tide. The other two women nodded abruptly, casting bright, but gentle smiles at their loved ones.
Sachiko’s eyes caught upon Mokuba, her face softening as the boy clutched his brother’s leg in awe and fear.
“My boys, my precious sons…the lights of my life.” Sachiko turned to Seto, her brilliant eyes shining, “Please…protect Mokuba. Be for him what I could not. Love him. And…be loved. Please, Seto…follow your heart.”
“Follow your heart, Seto.”
An echo of a memory -or had it been a dream?- from many mornings ago. When he’d been to the graveyard with Téa the day after his birthday. When he thought he’d heard that voice…
“T-That…at the graveyard…that was you, wasn’t it?” Somehow it didn’t even seem like a question. It had to have been.
Sachiko only smiled, that gentle, sweet, knowing smile.
“Save her. Save yourself.” And Sachiko turned, facing Michiru and Amane, “Shall we?”
The other women nodded wordlessly, though, before they turned to the panic room door, Michiru and Amane turned, facing Noah and Bakura respectively, both boys’ eyes wide.
“My precious Noah…Free yourself.” Noah stood, stupefied, until the moment his mother turned away, joining Amane and Sachiko.
“Sister…” Ryou mumbled, brown eyes threatening to spill tears. Though he was still, fallen to his knees on the cold floor of the mezzanine hall, the bangles on his Millennium Ring jangled mysteriously, sensing Ryou’s pain.
“I…will always watch over you, Ryou Bakura. More than life, more than death, I love you. You know that. In this lifetime…and every other…” The intensity of the white light surrounding Amane grew stronger, the prism-shaped bangles on the Ring jingling louder…louder…
It was a quiet roar, akin to the rush of wind, lasting only a few seconds. And in that small time, that small space, within that roar…teal, white, and pink light glowed, coming together and then disappearing into the panic room.
Wherever she was, it was dark. Infinitely so. Téa tried to hold her hand up to her eyes, but she couldn’t find the strength. In the inky blackness, Téa felt like a slab of lead, stuck. Numb, cold, and slowly losing grip on every sensation…
And then, infinite white, so bright that it stung Téa’s eyes, blinding her.
“Not yet, dear. Not yet.” Téa knew that voice.
“Yes, Téa. And we’re the real thing. And we’re here to tell you—it’s not your time yet. You don’t belong here, not yet.” This time, it was Elizabeth Gardner’s voice that spoke, soft, but firm in tone.
“B-Belong…belong where? I —I just want to be with you again! Please—!” She could barely make out the forms of her parents through the white haze, and it seemed as if they were fading faster, drifting further away…
“Go back, Téa. Find that strength in yourself. Save yourself…” And then, they were gone, their voices only an echo in Téa’s memory.
Just as instantly, Téa’s eyes snapped open, sensations flooding back to her body —pain bring the primary one. Intense pressure on her neck, choking the air out of her…
But her vision was clear. Gozaburo Kaiba, surrounded by swirling darkness, straddled her, pressing his fingers into Téa’s fragile, pale skin, threatening to strangle her once again. His eyes were dark —no trace of light, sense, or reason within their depths.
‘I—I want to fight! I don’t want—I don’t want…’
“Fight!” A young voice, encouragement clear through the single word spoken. For a moment, Téa wondered if it wasn’t someone else speaking, but HER own self. A memory of when she’d passionately told her friends to keep going, keep fighting, keep dueling, no matter what the cost…
“Live!” A strong voice, but older. Experienced, Téa realized. The speaker had known pain, known loss…
“Love!” A softer voice. Sweet and simple, this new woman’s voice urged Téa to keep going for what she had stopped believing in…Love.
Téa couldn’t match the voices to any names she knew, but the forms—they seemed vaguely familiar. Was she still in a dream? Were dreams supposed to be so powerful…so painful?
Another burst of brilliant light, and the pain started to fade…
“Mokuba…” Seto tore his gaze away from the space where he’d seen his mother, seen an amazing spectacle of light, defying every law of physics and reality imaginable. Her words still repeated in his mind, her tone serious.
“The lights of my life…Seto, please…protect Mokuba.”
‘Mokuba is the light of my life. He is every reason why I haven’t given up this fight, why I keep going. I…I will protect him. I swear it, Mother.’
“I want you to get out of here. Now.”
“But, Big Brother—!” Mokuba protested, his eyes wide. It was obvious he didn’t care to leave, especially if Téa’s fate was still in question. But, he had been afraid of Gozaburo all his life. And, knowing what the ghost could do…
“Please, Mokuba,” Seto whispered, his intense gaze fixed on his younger sibling’s. Mokuba nodded after a moment, and turned around, suddenly facing Noah.
“When this is all over, you’ll be glad you listened to him. You’re a lucky kid, Mokuba, to have someone like that.”
“I—.I know.” Mokuba cast a proud smile at his brother, though the older boy’s eyes remained firm on the panic room door, and the darkness leaking from under it like water.
“Hey,” Noah halted the boy once more before he disappeared towards the hall exit, “you make one hell of a Kaiba. Stay strong.”
Mokuba nodded, then dashed off down the hall.
It was only Noah, Kaiba, and Ryou, now. Ryou rose shakily to his knees, his gaze averted from his companions. His Millennium Ring was still in plain sight, and glowing ever so faintly. His eyes drifted towards the darkness, and, unthinking, his tongue ran across his lips.
He wanted it. He thirsted for it. That power…
And in that split second, Ryou was gone, and Bakura was back, eyes narrowing as he turned to face Seto and Noah.
“Well, are we going to stand here, or are we going to save her?”
“How?” Noah asked bluntly, crossing his arms over his chest, “I was stuck in that room enough times to know the only way out is from the inside.”
Seto looked at him oddly, “Stuck in a room where the only exit is already right before you.”
“The catch being, of course,” Noah went on, “you have to have the will to get up and return to the outside world.”
“Téa needs to find the will to get to that door and push that button,” Seto realized aloud. “She has to let herself out.”
“Something tells me she won’t be doing that anytime soon,” Bakura murmured. His Millennium Ring possessed the ability to control other Millennium Items —such as the all-seeing Eye Bakura had acquired from Pegasus back at Duelist Kingdom. Bakura wasn’t foolish enough to try and mutilate his vessel’s body to gain the power—why bother, when his Ring could do all the work for him?
Tapping into that power, he saw what was beyond the door—incredible power, surging through Gozaburo Kaiba, using him as its channel, its focus. He was nothing more than a conduit for an amazing amount of power. And Téa…? She was the light, that which the darkness wanted to devour, consume…
And if it succeeded, it would only become stronger.
Doubt flared in the back of Bakura’s mind. Was he a man of his word—would he help Seto Kaiba? What reason did he have? Seto was someone he LOATHED, and yet…
Téa was not.
Though he distinctly remembered her blue eyes shining at him, twin orbs of ice, telling him she didn’t like him, didn’t trust him…
Yet, there was something else. A connection there that Bakura didn’t understand, but…he wanted to. So, no matter how badly he wanted that darkness, wanted that power to be his to harness and control…he couldn’t. For her.
“Inept fool!” Bakura hissed at Seto, realizing the boy hadn’t moved an centimeter to help Téa, to shout through the door, to encourage her to get up and move…
Seto looked at the door, and at Bakura, “What the hell do you expect me to do? I can’t get through to her!”
‘No,’ Bakura thought to himself, ‘You can’t. Perhaps Gozaburo was right, and she’s already given up on you. Your cruelty has no doubt broken her, through and through…Or maybe, just maybe, it is you who does not believe in her.’ And if that was the case, Téa would surely die.
Bakura cast an angry glare at Seto, who stood dumbfounded, lost as to what to do to help Téa, even as the intensity of the darkness increased, the last of the light in the hall flickering.
She was dying. Four minutes were almost up…
Whatever Amane, Michiru, and Sachiko had tried to do, it hadn’t worked. Even their light was gone. Perhaps whatever had called them to aide the boys —aide Téa—in the first place no longer remained in the hearts of Noah, Seto, and Bakura.
‘They might have given up,’ Bakura seethed mentally, ‘but I have not!’
And he pressed his palms to the panic room’s door, willing every particle of his power, every part of his being, to find that missing part he’d left in Téa, so long ago…
A swirl of colors.
White and black…violet. Gray tinged the white, inking it dark, the purity slowly bleeding away. The light was growing dimmer, and Téa could feel herself weaken…
But then, a brilliant flash of gold.
It felt familiar —and slightly uncomfortable, unwanted—but Téa didn’t have the will nor the strength to fight the new sensation.
She knew that sensation…that darkness. She knew that in her final moments, she wouldn’t be violated—wouldn’t be controlled. She refused to let him anywhere near her mind, near the last bit of control she had. She just wanted to focus on the light, on that sensation of painlessness…
“Dammit, girl!” Bakura hissed under his breath. It was apparent that he was exerting a great deal of energy, trying to get Téa to focus.
* You’re only hastening your own death! Let me in! *
Bakura leaned forward, pressing the flats of his hands against the cold steel of the panic room’s door. In the small hallway, there was little light and a great deal of dark power. He could feel it thrumming around him, slithering about his body, slipping underneath the door and suffocating Téa.
He couldn’t let that happen.
No matter how much he wanted that power, thirsted for it, desired it with every fiber in his being, he knew he had to resist—for her.
* There’s still a part of me inside you, Téa! Open yourself to that darkness! Embrace it! *
‘I won’t!’ Téa screamed back mentally. He could feel her losing strength. If he focused…if SHE focused, then maybe, just maybe they could combat Gozaburo -no, the darkness- and stop it from killing her.
Within the cool confines of the concrete-paneled panic room, Téa gasped for air. Black spots were beginning to appear on the edge of her vision, and try as she might, she simply couldn’t keep her eyes open for very long.
Between blurry glimpses of shadow, Téa caught sight of the wickedly smiling face of Gozaburo Kaiba—strangling her for every particle of air she was worth. She could feel the coarse texture of his fingers on her neck, feel the pressure sapping her air, her energy, her strength…
‘Seto…why couldn’t you believe in me…?’
The shadows were growing. Bakura’s voice was becoming more and more distant, echoing in a realm beyond Téa’s mind.
Fear enveloped her as her gasps quickened; she was losing this battle, and fast.
* TÉA! *
Blue eyes snapped open as she heard Bakura’s voice yell to her, louder, clearer than before.
* Do you want to die here, at this time, and in this place?! * Bakura demanded. He had tried everything, and now, this was the last resort. If Téa didn’t see the truth…if she didn’t understand that she WOULD die without his help…
Never before would Bakura have imagined himself anyone’s savior. But…
‘No! Please…help me! Get me out of here!’
Bakura hid a wry grin as Téa allowed him passage into her mind, her soul. This wasn’t the first time he’d controlled the girl, but it was the first time she’d WILLINGLY opened herself to him. Somehow, the sensation was…different.
Kneeling before the layered steel door, Bakura called upon the powers of his Millennium Ring, ignoring the presence of Seto Kaiba, unmoving to either help or harm Bakura in any way.
Suddenly, the darkness shrank into the panic room, as if a great void had called it all back into the tiny, locked space. Bakura slumped over, going limp while the Millennium Ring faded, clattering once on the cool ground before it disappeared, hidden to the human eye.
“Bakura!” Seto shouted, wondering if the only hope he’d had of getting Téa back was lost. There was so much he wanted to apologize for, so much he wanted to say to her…
The white-haired boy groaned, and suddenly it became apparent to Seto that this wasn’t the young man he’d made a deal with. Wasn’t the man who had, only moments before, shouted at him for not trying hard enough to save Téa. But…what could he do?
“H-He…it’s gone,” Ryou groaned, sitting up, his face a mask of amazement and shock. “It’s…there. Within—”
It felt like…like nothing else Téa had ever experienced. It slid over and through her body, as much apart of her as any centimeter of her skin or hair on her head. The darkness…
It burned like a thousand suns, yet soothed. How could something be this incredible?
* Now focus, Téa! *
Ah. Bakura, inside her. Part of her. The darkness she’d grown to fear, grown to hate…
No, not hate. Téa couldn’t hate. Not when she knew how fleeting life was. But…suddenly, she wasn’t so afraid anymore. She wasn’t so determined to capture that white light, to lose herself and all her pain in a single moment.
She wanted to live, she wanted to experience…
Again, her eyes snapped open, this time a swirling mass of blue and gold. Gozaburo Kaiba suddenly felt the darkness ebb away, and he was staring at the girl he’d been strangling with astonished eyes. Though his pressure remained firm, Téa acted as though she couldn’t even feel it.
A devilish smile crossed her lips, and it was at that moment that the power dormant inside her surged forth, and the instant when Gozaburo Kaiba knew fear of a different sort.
Ryou’s eyes widened to the size of saucers, seeing a sudden glow of VERY familiar power from underneath the panic room door. He barely had time to think, to react, shouting as the power —the light—grew in intensity, threatening to tear the door out of its frame.
“GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!”
The voice was unmistakably Téa’s, the power a perfect blend of her own incredible strength and Bakura’s Millennium Powers.
“Watch out!” Ryou called out, shoving Seto forward with every ounce of his strength, pushing the taller boy off to the side.
And suddenly, there was an explosion of light and power that rocked the very foundation of the Kaiba mansion, sending the sliding steel door blasting out of its grooves and flying into the opposite wall—just where Seto Kaiba once stood, had Ryou not warned him and pushed him off to the side.
The light burned throughout the hallway, down the stairs to where Mokuba was cleaning up the last of the mirror shards…when the energy abruptly faded into a mass of sparkles, as if it had never existed.
When Ryou and Seto finally looked up, the steel door was leaning against the wall opposite its frame, in a precariously diagonal position—with a broken, injured Gozaburo Kaiba splayed across its surface.
In the doorway, the light dying, Bakura’s Millennium Powers drifting back into Ryou, stood Téa. Her eyes were lightless, as if she’d been blinded by her own strength, her own energy.
Bakura felt his strength return to his vessel once more, and didn’t waste a second in standing up and nearing Téa.
“It’s going to be okay, Téa. It’s going to be okay.” Barely a second passed before Téa collapsed bonelessly into his waiting arms.
“Sorry,” Bakura finally murmured, smirking at Seto. The taller boy’s expression was confused, so the white-haired youth offered an explanation, “That was your line.”
The brunet rose to his feet, staring at Gozaburo Kaiba with an intense expression on his face. Téa was free. She was going to be okay.
‘I—I have to end this.’
Gozaburo looked up at Seto, a measure of fright creeping its way into his eyes. Seto had only seen that expression on his face once before…when Seto had announced the takeover of Kaiba Corp.
Gozaburo had counted on Mokuba to betray his own flesh and blood brother…and had been amazed when the younger boy, despite horrid treatment from his own sibling, stayed by Seto’s side.
Then, Gozaburo Kaiba had realized all that he had lost.
And he’d thrown himself out a window.
Seto had thought the insanity -the hurt- had ended long ago. But the past several days had proven that wasn’t true at all. Téa had suffered for him…delved into his past even when it had put her in danger. And he’d…insulted her, threatened her. Hurt her worse than any physical injury could.
It was time to let go. His past would no longer be a secret to those he cared for…especially if it put them in danger. He would…forgive him.
“Be forgiven, Go!”
Michiru’s words. Seto remembered them well, though he’d never known the woman in life, and he’d never tried to love his adoptive father. He’d been used by the man, if only because Gozaburo didn’t know how to cope with reality and the losses that came with it.
But…could he really be angry with him for that? After all these years? The man was dead, a ghost in a realm he no longer belonged to. Because he’d felt so passionately about his son, about his wife…he’d been unable to let go, to accept death.
Was that why he had been so consumed by darkness and evil intentions…while the other spirits —even Téa, however brief her stay in the spiritual realm—had glowed with purity, light…REAL power?
“I…I forgive you.” Seto began, his voice rough, but serious, “I understand your sorrow, your pain. Why you hurt so many people.” His gaze drifted to Téa briefly. “I forgive you.”
Gozaburo’s eyes widened, and then, as if eaten away, particle by particle, he faded into nothingness.
Seto glanced around, shocked to see Noah Kaiba still there, kneeling by Téa, though she still lay sprawled and unconscious in Bakura’s arms.
“I am not bound to this plane by any one person, as Gozaburo was for you,” Noah explained. “It was you who suffered the most at his hands…it was you his last thoughts were of. He was bound to this plane by jealousy of you,” Noah scoffed, “his own son.”
“I, on the other hand…merely wanted to see happiness again. Wanted Father to be happy again.” Noah looked sad, if just for a moment. Reaching a translucent hand out, Noah stroked Téa’s cheek briefly.
“While I might not have succeeded in ever restoring my father to happiness,” Noah murmured, “I have seen happiness. I have seen light, and it is in HER. She is something incredible, Seto. It is not surprising that so much darkness would seek her—its very opposite, its other half. She can offer you the kind of happiness that few people ever get in a lifetime,” Noah chuckled wryly. “Take care of her, Seto. You never know when she’ll be gone…forever.”
And Noah stood, as did Seto, blue eyes clashing with blue.
“I forgive you,” Noah stated in an even tone, “for becoming the man I have always wanted to be. Luck be with you,” Noah began to fade, bit by bit, “the true Kaiba.”
He turned to go, becoming ever more transparent, disappearing into the natural darkness of the hallway…until a blinding light burst forth. Once Bakura and Seto dropped their arms away from their eyes, they saw them.
Michiru, Gozaburo, and Noah…a beautiful, smiling wife, a happy husband, and an innocent eleven year old boy. A happy family, together again.
“Let’s go Mom! Come on, Daddy!” Noah called out, tugging his parents along by their hands. The two adults glowed a brilliant white, smiling and laughing…Gozaburo cast a single glance back toward Seto —the faintest traces of a smile on his face—as he walked off into the whiteness with his wife and child.
“She needs medical attention,” Bakura stated pointedly, even as he and Seto made their way down the hallway towards the exit. Seto froze behind Bakura, the shorter boy casting a curious glance at the brunette.
“Please…could you please take her to the hospital? I—I can’t…I—I should clean up here.”
Bakura frowned deeply. Even if Seto let go of his past, dark things still haunted him. Perhaps he couldn’t forgive himself for not being able to help Téa —when her life had been on the line, and when it had mattered the most.
“In all my lifetimes,” Bakura began, narrowing his eyes at Seto, “I’ve known many men who are cold and unfeeling,” he paused, distinctly remembering the High Priest Seto’s own callous behavior. “Few of them match up to you.”
And with those chilling words, Bakura left the Kaiba mansion, Téa in his arms.
“Ugh…” Téa groaned. The light…it was so bright. But it wasn’t that calming light from before. It was a damned florescent light,, and if Téa’s arm hadn’t felt so heavy, she would have flicked the frickin’ thing off.
“You have awakened, I see.”
That voice. Téa knew it so well by now…
“Bakura.” Her voice was dry, as if she’d swallowed sawdust. She paused for a moment, squeezing her eyes shut in an attempt to focus her vision, “…Thank you.”
Bakura’s eyebrows shot up in surprise; he hadn’t expected that.
“Thank you…for helping me. For believing in me. I needed that.” Téa licked her lips, continuing even though she couldn’t bring herself to open her eyes, “I know…you gave up the chance at a lot of power there. And I know I already owe you…but for what it’s worth, you saved my life, so…” The light didn’t seem so blinding now. Crystal blue eyes opened, meeting with intensely brown ones.
“Thank you.” Her voice was so sincere, Bakura could hardly believe his ears. This was the girl that had cursed his very existence, and yet…
The connection that Bakura had felt before thrummed to life. Something about her eyes, her smile, her light. He—he needed that.
Was it like Noah said, and the darkness NEEDED the light? Not just to consume and devour, but to truly be powerful with? To become whole with? Bakura once said that he was the Darkness; if that was true, was Téa Light?
“You—you are welcome.”
And suddenly, any thoughts of telling her what had happened —that she had actually died, that she had saved all of them from destruction at Gozaburo’s hands, by blasting him…that she had been the cause of Seto Kaiba showing his greatest weaknesses, and forgiving the darkest demon of his past…all these thoughts died on Bakura’s tongue.
“I think…for a while there,” Téa said in a soft murmur, “that maybe I died.” Bakura jerked forward in surprise; she knew!? “And, I saw—I saw them. My parents. They…they sounded kind of sad. But…they told me that it wasn’t my time yet, that I had to have the strength to keep going. It’s funny, I’ve never needed my own cheerleader before, but…” she chuckled, “I needed it so much then. If they hadn’t cheered me on, I might have just given up then and there. Then you never would have reached me, and…” Téa trailed off.
“You’re welcome, Téa,” Bakura responded softly.
“And—” Téa continued, struggling to sit up, smiling, “I forgive you.” Bakura raised an eyebrow, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips.
“For everything. I think this is cause for us to start on a clean slate, and forget any bad blood between us. So…that’s it.” Téa smiled, her cheeks slightly pink; she’d gone and given one of her SPEECHES again.
Then, much to Téa’s surprise, Bakura’s smirk turned into a full-fledged smile—an honest one, not a trace of demonic glee anywhere.
‘She has no idea that forgiveness was the key that saved us all. Perhaps…perhaps it will somehow save me.’ Bakura wasn’t entirely sure what he needed saving from, but then…if Téa did the saving, he wouldn’t mind whatever came his way.
Something about her niggled at the back of Bakura’s mind —something Ancient—but Bakura couldn’t place it. Though his memories weren’t as fragmented as the Pharaoh’s, or as blank as Seto’s…he didn’t remember everything. But he DID remember a feeling. A sensation not unlike this one he had with Téa. One of peace…
“Uhm, one more thing…Bakura?” Téa asked, hesitating. He looked down at her, waiting for her question, “You—you won’t tell the guys, will you? About…about Kaiba? About me living there? I—I hate lying to them, but…”
“I won’t tell.”
And she smiled brightly at him, that odd sensation flooding through his chest again. Bakura rose to go, regretting leaving her. “Kaiba will be here shortly to pick you up. I hope I shall see you in fine health at school.”
Téa nodded firmly, thanking Bakura once again, offering him a cheery wave, even as she fumbled with her hospital blankets. Bakura was already in the hallway, about to head out of sight, when he turned back, leaning into Téa’s vision, “Oh, and Téa?”
“Yes?” Téa asked, smiling slightly.
“You’re an incredible dancer. We should dance again sometime.”
Téa blinked, then flushed scarlet, even as Bakura laughed, disappearing down the hallway.
Seto arrived at the hospital, guilt leadening his every step as he made his way towards the ICU where Téa had been examined. The doctors had found her in relatively good health, save for the bruises and cuts littering her body. Each one had been disinfected and bandaged, and now Téa was dressed and ready to go, filling out some paperwork at the desk.
On his way into the hospital, Seto had run into Bakura, though the white-haired boy had made no mention of the debt Seto was now sure he owed. Instead, he’d stopped and looked Seto dead-on in the eye, saying only “He who hesitates is lost.” And with those cryptic words —a warning?—Bakura disappeared into the night.
Téa finally met Seto’s eyes, finding herself devoid of any emotion.
“Téa, I—” Seto began, gulping down what felt like an acid-covered lump in his throat.
“Don’t.” She interrupted him, her voice soft and emotionless. Seto glanced down into her eyes, finding the light that normally graced their depths entirely missing. She was pale, with dark circles rimming her already-red eyes. She looked…different.
“But I wanted to apolo—”
“No.” She was the one to meet his gaze, her voice unusually steady, “Just—just forget about it.” And she turned on her heel, walking away from Seto, who stood dumbfounded in the hospital hallway, watching her walk away on wobbly feet.
“Wait!” When he finally had the sense to catch up with her, he remembered something.
Téa paused, but didn’t face him; trembling, ashen hands still clutched at the jacket thrown haphazardly over her slim shoulders.
“Here. It was…in the mess of the glass. Mokuba found—”
But before Seto Kaiba could finish, the pink cell phone in his outstretched hand rang.
The two teens blinked, surprised for a moment, before Seto handed Téa the phone.
“H-Hello?” she answered unsurely, not recognizing the number on the caller ID.
Seto briefly wondered who was calling; probably one of Téa’s unwitting friends, who had no idea what had transpired that night…
“Uh-huh.” Téa was nodding, though her expression hadn’t changed any, save for the slight raising of her eyebrows.
“…Oh…” Her voice had quieted some, and then she nodded to herself, “Yeah, sure. Right now?”
She swallowed, her eyes briefly glancing up to meet Seto’s.”We’ll be right there.”
A moment later, she’d pressed the END button and turned to face Seto fully.
“That was Konami. He said that the both of us should go into the station right away.”
‘Konami? The police officer from…?’
Seto Kaiba had no idea why the Sergeant from the Domino City Police Department would be calling them at that time of night, let alone why he had requested Seto Kaiba’s own presence…but since Téa didn’t look all too eager to respond to questions, Seto didn’t ask.
“Right through there,” the policewoman directed Seto and Téa through an opening in the wall. She wore a pleasant smile, and looked nice enough, but Téa couldn’t quell the unsettled feeling in her stomach.
Why had Konami called them to the station?
Seto Kaiba had barely gotten two steps into the room adjoining the Domino Police Department’s Lobby when he was roughly shoved from the sides, two police officers flanking him as they forced his hands behind him, clicking a pair of handcuffs shut around his wrists.
Téa spun around on her heel, looking horrified as Seto struggled against the police officers’ grips, “What’s going on here?” She moved forward, but the menacing expression on one of the officer’s faces froze her in place.
From behind her, a familiar voice spoke up, “Seto Kaiba, you are under arrest.” Téa turned, her eyes widening as she stared at a stone-faced Sergeant Konami. He held a Warrant for Arrest in one of his hands—with Seto’s name plainly printed on it.
“For the murder of Elizabeth and Eric Gardner.”
Edit as of July 11th, 2004 – All review replies can now be found at my LiveJournal (username: the_sweet) by browsing through my Memories section. look for the one marked ‘Review Replies,’ and you’ll be able to find all related entries.
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