Conceptualized/First Written: 2/6/04
Completed/Final Edit: 4/2/04 (Sorry it took so long!), 4/28/04, 3/5/06, 6/8/07, 2/8/10
I like TAFFy.
(I also like my betas, Harlequine and Atlantis2, who both write fics that *I* think are a bazillion times better than this. So go read their stuff, and then come back here.)
Notes: The important notes can be found in past chapters, or in my profile— go check it out. For this particular chapter, it’s called ‘Boy Season’ for the same reason certain parts of the year are called ‘Duck Season’ or ‘Deer Season’ —time for hunting! So this chapter really focuses on all of Téa’s boy problems, of which there are many…
The sole song in this chapter is “I Wish” by Jo Dee Messina, and I planned to use it for this chapter for a VERY VERY VERY long time. I filked it a little though, but just for one word. ‘Boy’ was changed to ‘Hey.’
^_^ I’m quite excited that WDKY has gotten this far! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUR ENCOURAGEMENT!
The Seto/Anzu Fanlisting “Blue Eyes and Apricots” is now up! Go join! The link is on my profile page!
I just discovered that there is *another* fic called ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ in FFnet’s Yu-Gi-Oh section, by Wingleader Sora Jade. She published her fic before me, so many, many apologies to her for “stealing” the title; I had NO idea until now. Good thing the fics are totally different, and the titles have very little to do with one another…
Remember authors, strive for originality in naming your fics— it makes them more memorable!
Mamono, thanks for catching the errors with Téa’s name… I fixed them. The new FFnet QuickEdit feature is being a brat and removing a lot of my special characters, including asterisks, underscores, and tildes— if anyone else is having this problem or is confused by the scene transitions or thoughts here in WDKY9, I’m VERY sorry! I wrote to Xing about it; hopefully it’s a bug that can be easily fixed.
RECAP: As if things couldn’t get any worse, once the Kaiba mansion has been exorcised of its spirits, Seto and Téa both owe Bakura— big time. But it’s hard for Téa to think about anything like that— especially since Seto didn’t believe in her enough to save her himself. Her trust in Seto shattered, it comes as even greater shock when Seto is arrested for the MURDER of her parents!
“W-What?” Téa’s voice was an astonished whisper, soft, yet surprised. Blue eyes had widened to the size of saucers, her gaze riveted to Seto Kaiba.
He struggled despite the iron grips the two Domino City Police Officers had on him; he looked up at Téa, fear and desperation plain in his eyes, “Téa, you know I would never—!”
But he was abruptly cut off when Konami spoke, “Thank you for your cooperation, Miss Gardner.”
The words died on Seto Kaiba’s tongue. She’d had something to do with this? With his arrest? But… it couldn’t—
“Take him out of here,” Konami instructed, motioning to the two officers. In the moment it had taken for the shock to work its way through Seto’s system, he’d frozen in place, unable to do anything but stare at Téa, until he was shoved around the corner and she was out of sight.
“What the heck is going on here, Sergeant?” Téa asked, her body and voice quaking with fear. Every piece of doubt, every fear that Gozaburo Kaiba had instilled in her —all her trust for Seto— everything that had been shattered suddenly burbled forth.
‘Seto…arrested for my parents’ murder?’
“Miss Gardner, please, sit down.” Sergeant Konami gestured to one of two plain metal chairs in the small room, lit by two dust-covered florescent lights on the ceiling and separated by a rubber-topped folding table
“I think I would have without you asking me to. Again, Sergeant, what the heck is going on here?”
One of the officers that had taken Seto away appeared in the doorway, handed a brown accordion file to Konami and then exited the room, shutting the door behind him with a ‘click.’ Téa’s eyes never once strayed from the door, until Konami cleared his throat.
“Miss Gardner, could you please look at this?”
From the accordion folder, Konami withdrew a small re-sealable plastic bag, marked across the top with a bright yellow label, reading ‘EVIDENCE.’ Other scribblings -numbers and shorthand code Téa couldn’t understand- littered the front of the bag in a nonlinear fashion, but that wasn’t what Konami wanted her to examine.
It was the contents of the bag.
“What is this?” Téa held the small chip up to the light. “I thought you said that my parent’s death was an accident? Why all of a sudden are you arresting Seto and throwing microchips at me?” It was difficult to remain calm, especially when the last week had presented Téa with more trials and tribulations than most people faced in a month… or in their LIVES.
Ghosts, supernatural powers, and being hurled against hall mirrors…
“…Originally,” Konami started, looking somewhat uncomfortable, “we didbelieve that your parents’ death was an accident. Until we cleared away the debris, and we found this.” He indicated the microchip, “Look at it closely, Miss Gardner.”
And look Téa did, finding nothing out of the ordinary. Then again, she wasn’t exactly well-versed in microchip construction or usage, so she had no idea what she was looking for… or what it had to do with her parents’ death.
“It’s an E.L.F. emitter. We found it hooked underneath the steering column.”
“What’s an E.L.F. emitter?” Téa asked, turning the bag in every direction, looking at the small, metallic chip. Two small, copper wires threaded out from one end of the emitter, bent and twisted as if they’d been yanked from their source.
“Extremely Low Frequency.” Konami explained.”They’re usually only found in things like airplanes, or other vehicles that use microwave devices.”
“We’re not talking about the kind of things that you use to heat up your frozen dinner, Miss Gardner,” the sergeant responded, leaning forward in his chair as he took the emitter’s bag from her.”We’re talking about devices that emit invisible waves, usually to heat up things, or to send signals across space.”
“‘Usually,’ right? That obviously wasn’t the case here.” Téa whispered. She’d lost her parents. She’d thought it was because of an accident. Now, months later, after everything, it was murder? And the face behind her parents’ death was… Seto?
“No, you’re right. In this instance, the emitter caused the driver—in this case, your father—to fall asleep.”
“What?!” Téa exclaimed in surprise. A stupid little chip could—!
“The E.L.F. emitter is a special piece of technology that, if configured in a certain way—the wrongone—can cause the human brain to lapse into unconsciousness. And obviously while driving, that can be dangerous.”
“…Wh-What connects all this back to Seto?”
After the death of her parents, Téa had envisioned how it happened, seen it all in her mind…after all, she’d been at the scene afterwards, seen the family Accord smashed into the Domino Expressway’s guardrail, the entire engine block crushed completely.
Her parents, their skin charred and littered with glass.
‘I’m about to throw up again,’ Téa thought, her stomach lurching with the return of the memories.
“Look at the right corner of the chip, Miss Gardner,” Konami told her, handing the baggie back. Her eyes rose to meet with his,her fear evident. Hesitating for just a moment, she took the bag and examined the emitter.
It was just barely visible… hard to see, even in the bright florescent light…
A Kaiba Corporation logo.
“Get your hands off me! I don’t need a damned escort, and I’m nota murderer!” Seto snarled at the brutish officer charged with escorting Seto Kaiba to a jail cell. The moment he’d gone lax from his amazement at Téa’s betrayal —her utter lack of trust in him— the officer had taken it upon himself to shove Seto around like a rag doll. But Seto Kaiba was nobody’s toy.
This was nothing but a sick joke, and he’d be damned if he wouldn’t fight back.
“And I don’t care what you need or want!” The officer snapped back.
“You have no idea who you’re dealing with, do you?” Seto’s voice uncoiled like a cobra, each syllable poisoned with venom— low, dangerous, and deadly.
For a moment, the officer looked a bit stunned, but then he frowned and finished unlocking one of the danker cells.
“Get in there!” The officer shoved Seto Kaiba into the cell without a second thought, not even batting an eye when the young CEO nearly tripped. Without even waiting for Seto to regain his footing, the officer slammed the barred gate closed.
“You can’t just toss me in here without allowing me to call my attorneys! They’ll eat you alive in court for this!”
The officer didn’t respond; he merely turned on his heel and walked back down the dimly lit hallway, the clicking of his heels sound echoing in the concrete hall moments after he was gone.
Seto absently rubbed his wrists, trying not to look around.
Perhaps if he didn’t acknowledge his surroundings, they wouldn’t become REAL in his mind. But then, as the past day had taught him, things didn’t work out that way. It wasn’t just a matter of “seeing to believe.”
Gozaburo Kaiba had taught him that.
Seto had stubbornly refused to listen to Téa’s warnings, had refused to believe that her research into his past was justified. And he’d nearly paid for it… dearly. He hadn’t been able to save Téa himself, and yet…
‘She betrayed me.’
The feeling welled strong and powerful in Seto Kaiba’s chest. Deception was not something he took lightly.
‘Everything I’ve done for her, and she lies to me! How could I let myself become so… so blind? So weak?!’
Konami had thankedher for her cooperation! Had THANKED her, for bringing him in, for playing along, for letting him get arrested—
“What are YOU in for?” A voice interrupted Seto’s thoughts.
Seto Kaiba abruptly looked up, realizing that he wasn’t alone in the dank cell. His cell-mate was a stocky man with straw-colored hair sticking out every which-way from the top of his head. His flannel shirt was buttoned haphazardly, construction boot laces undone and sprawling over the floor like golden snakes. The man looked like he was a fixture of the jail.
“…Something I didn’t do.” Seto finally said. He didn’t want to get into any sort of fight in the DCPD, especially not with people that appeared to be ‘regulars’ in the cells. He was a disgusting portrait painted on the jail’s stained walls; under every other circumstance, Seto Kaiba would have nothing to do with the man.
He hoped the man would just shut up and leave Seto alone with his thoughts- after all, starting a conversation meant that he might CARE about whatever trivialities the man had to share, and frankly… Seto didn’t.
He couldn’t afford to care. Not anymore.
Caring about someone only meant they’d hurt you in the end…
* Fool! *
It didn’t matter that Gozaburo Kaiba was truly gone now— because ‘truly gone’ was a lie, and lies didn’t matter. His adoptive father had spouted a lot of bull in most respects, but when it came to life, the old man knew exactly what he was talking about. Slowly but surely, he’d became the voice inside of Seto’s head.
“Ain’t we all? Well, not me,” the man continued, shuffling so he could look up. Glassy, muted green eyes met with Seto Kaiba’s stormy blue ones, and there appeared to be, for just an instant, a flash of recognition. It disappeared just as soon as it had come, the man making a gruff, grunting sound before settling back into the alcohol-smothered warmth of his folded arms.
“I’m here because I did what I got brought in for.” The man coughed, spitting off into a corner, even while Seto cringed and edged away slightly. His eyes strayed out to the lonely corridor outside the bars; not a single soul roamed its length, the few bulbs lighting the hall flickering sporadically as if unable to decide whether to stay on or off.
“Can’t help myself though, y’know, the drink. It’s a poison, but a sweet one. Makes ya… makes ya do stupid things,” the man’s voice quieted some, “say stupid things. But that happens even ta people who don’t drink… like me!” The man laughed loudly, the sound filtering through the concrete paneled area like the clanging of a bell.
“Lookit ya —- justa kid. Bet you’s done and said yer share of stupid stuff, too. Bet dat’ s how ya ended up in here, right?”
Seto was quiet, wondering why he was listening to the drunken ramblings of an alcoholic. For someone that had spent most of his life dwelling in isolation, bathing in the sanctity of quiet, of solitary being… somehow, that particular night, company —even in the form of a forty-something drunk— was welcome.
* You’re still so pitiful, Seto. So disgustingly weak! *
More welcome than his thoughts, at any rate.
“Heh, ‘maybe,’ he says.” The man laughed, “Well if ya haven’t got any regrets now, ya’ll have ’em in the future, sure enuff . Us guys are cursed like that, y’know? It’s not just the drink that makes ya say and do the stupid things,” The man coughed again, this time louder and more violently, ” Da… da women! Oh… she drove me insane, she did. But I loved her so much, and then…” The man chuckled wryly, shaking his head.
“Ya lose a lot when ya don’t think straight. When ya let yerself get clouded by da kind of thoughts dat spring up when ya drink. But a lot of things put ya that way, y’know? Bein’… bein’ angry…”
Seto Kaiba raised an eyebrow at the man, wondering briefly who it was that the drunk reminded him so much of. It wasn’t so much his appearance as his attitudethat struck a chord in Kaiba… or maybe it was his words. Maybe they spoke to him in a way that no one else’s ever had…
“Smile, Seto… for me?”
No! He had to… had to forget. Whatever she’d make him feel was part of the past. He didn’t need those feelings… and he didn’t need her. He was foolish for ever thinking he did.
“T-This was found… in my parents’ car, you said?” Téa asked in a trembling voice. She dropped the bag abruptly. After what Konami had explained about the emitter, she knew that they weren’t MEANT to be in cars. That… they caused accidents.
That they took lives.
‘My parents… dead, because of something Seto created?’
“Yes, Miss Gardner. But that’s not all. Witnesses on the scene said that the car swerved momentarily —we suspect your mother tried to take control, but another device locked the steering wheel.”
“Locked it? I… I don’t understand.”
“If the steering wheel in a car becomes locked, it becomes impossible for the driver to move the wheel fully in one direction or another. It’s likely that at that point, the car slammed into the guard rail.”
“Oh… oh god…” Téa was murmuring. She didn’t want to think about that day, didn’t want to think about the accident. But…
“Your parents were still alive at that time, Miss Gardner.”
“What?” Blue eyes widened in shock, Téa’s alabaster skin paling further .
“Once the car had been stopped, unable to move, another device was triggered.”
Konami reached into the accordion envelope once more, withdrawing another bag, this one containing a larger black block of metal, and several smaller, curved fragments of an unknown material.
“Do you know what this is, Miss Gardner?” Konami asked, his eyebrows drawn as he spoke. Téa hesitantly reached out for the bag, grasping it with trembling hands as realization came to her.
“T-The speaker. From the back of… of the Accord. T-The back of my parent’s car!”
Indeed, the large block of black metal was none other than the left speaker from the rear panel in the Gardner family’s Honda Accord. Or what was left of it.
The car was a pile of rubble now, the speaker… melted metal. The griddled openings were formed together in odd bubbles, as if someone had held a lighter directly underneath the speaker and waited for it to melt and warp.
“And these? The other pieces?” Konami motioned towards the other pieces weighing down the bag —- curved pieces of metal that looked like part of a broken egg.
But they were easily the size of Téa’s hand, and a made of dark, smoke-colored material… embossed with a pattern Téa couldn’t identify.
“N-No. What is it?”
Konami took the bag from Téa, staring at it a moment before replying, “A grenade. To be more specific, a grenade made of serrated cast iron. We found its shell in what was left of the rear of your parents’ car, where the blast occurred.”
Never before had Téa considered foul play to be the cause of her parents’ death. And now, with everything presented before her —everything she’d begun to accept as truth, as part of life— everything… shattered.
“Seto… you… you couldn’t have…!’
But her doubts lingered.
“These,” Konami reached into the accordion folder once more, “are close-up photos I had our Forensics Laboratory department take of the inside of the shell. You probably noticed the odd pattern on the shell— well, this is what it’s of.”
Téa took the pictures from Konami with hands as steady as she could manage. She had a feeling she would recognize the symbol, would know why the police suspected —no, convicted!— Seto of her parents’ murder.
The pattern was that of a logo Téa knew all too well…
The drunk had settled back into his arms, and as far as Seto Kaiba knew, his only cell-mate was asleep.
It was for the better, anyway. He didn’t need to talk with some old fool and inadvertently let his guard down… again. If it happened with Téa —Yugi’s best friend and an overly-optimistic, idiotic sprig of a girl— then who was to say who else could dupe him?
He couldn’t trust them. He couldn’t trust anyone but himself.
Thus, Seto Kaiba was left alone with his thoughts, his predicament allowing them to run amok, questions bubbling forth in his mind and then vanishing as quickly as they’d come. He never had any answers.
”They’re all fools… Fools for thinking they could accuse me with murder and not face the consequences! I might have let them think I was getting soft, bringing a girl into my life like that. But no more. They’ll all regret the day they crossed my path…’
He remembered the expression on Téa’s face when they’d entered the room the female receptionist had directed them to. The policewoman had worn a gentle smile on her face, but…
Her eyes had been full of pity.
She’d known. They’d ALL known, and he’d been so stupid, so gullible…!
Yet… Téa’s eyes had widened —in shock, in surprise.
She was either one hell of an actress… or she really hadn’tknown about his arrest. Surely, if Konami had told her about it over the phone, she wouldn’t have led Seto to the police station, right?
But, if she hadknown about it all along…
Unbidden, the memory of Téa clutching onto him —as if he represented her only lifeline— when her parents died… on the day of her funeral… came back to him. His chest ached.
“Hey, you! Time for questioning.” A loud banging came from the bars on the cell’s door, the noise stirring its occupants to alertness.
One of the officers from before, burly and imposing, stood near the cell door, his nightstick tapping on the bars. His gaze was fixed right upon Seto, gesturing with his fingers for the younger man to rise.
“Hey, ya ain’t takin’ the kid away already, is ya? I mean, come on, he jus’ got here, and we were gettin’ to talkin’…”
Wordlessly, Seto stood to his feet and dusted off his pants as the officer opened the cell door. He spared his cell companion one last glance as he left the door, the older man still babbling even as the metal clashed closed.
“He’s got somethin’ goin’ for him, ya know, he ain’t like me—”
“Shut up, Wheeler!” the officer shouted, and then the hall was silent again.
“Our government doesn’t manufacture grenades of that type, as I’m sure you guessed, Miss Gardner.”
“Wait. I thought Kaiba Corp. stopped manufacturing any kind of military products… years ago, when Seto took over the company…”
“That’s what we thought too, Miss Gardner. But this type of grenade is new. We’ve rarely seen its kind here in Japan before. Though from what the Explosive Disposal Unit could tell, it’s a time delay grenade… a prototype of something that has yet to be manufactured for our government.”
Téa stared at Konami, horrified, “You think Seto is still manufacturing military weapons, behind the government’s back?”
“Whatever he’s doing, it’s not legal. And your parents died because of it.”
Téa fell silent. How could she argue with the police? What did she know about forensics, criminology… homicide?
Her parents were dead, that was all she knew.
She was alone…
“In any case, we called in some of your parents’ coworkers, to find out if any of them saw Mr. Kaiba around the premises of either of their offices on the day they died. They’re coming in. Meanwhile, I’m going to question Mr. Kaiba— see what we can get out of him.”
Téa nodded dumbly, barely registering what was said.
Seto… a murderer?
Seto Kaiba was roughly shoved into a small room by the same officer that had escorted him from the jail cell. He’d fixed the heavyset man with the iciest glare he could manage; not difficult considering the amount of rage just simmering beneath the surface of his skin.
The word ‘escorted’ though, probably wasn’t that accurate— the older man had tightly clapped a pair of handcuffs on Seto after jerking the young man’s arms up, and then shoved Seto forward, pushing on him with the blunt tip of his nightstick, urging Seto to walk faster and faster, until they’d reached their destination.
In the few minutes it took to stumble from the cell hall back to the fore of the station, where the interrogation room was located, Seto hadn’t seen Téa.
‘Hmph. It doesn’t matter. Without her around, I might actually be able to get some work done. But Gardner will pay for deceiving me.’
But for some reason, Seto felt he wasn’t ready to face her yet. His mind insisted that she deserved nothing less than his most bitter, caustic words, his most intense rage. But another part of him altogether wasn’t entirely sure. He just wanted to avoid it —avoid her— and get the hell out of this disgusting mess. Maybe then, life could get back to normal.
Normal meant nothing would matter except his company, his brother, and Duel Monsters. Nothing else. No one else.
It didn’t feel as though that much time had passed… since all this had began; since he and Téa had entered the police station, and he’d been arrested for something he knew he didn’t do. Yet, the clocks on the wall read that it was after three in the morning.
Mokuba had no doubt already gone to sleep, despite not seeing Téa after the incident back at the mansion. He had the utmost confidence in his brother in every regard, Seto knew, but…
‘What will he think of me now? Accused of murder…’
Seto hated to think of how Mokuba would look at him, knowing…
* Seto, can’t you do anything right? You’re so worthless! *
‘I’m not weak! I’m better than them all— smarter, stronger, faster! This idiocy won’t even dent me! I’m a Kaiba!’
Briefly, an image —no, a memory— of Téa, smiling at him, passed through his mind. But… hadn’t she betrayed him? Wasn’t she the reason he was in all this mess? Even if she hadn’t known what Konami was going to do, if he hadn’t taken her in, hadn’t given her a job, then…
Seto looked up, finally making eye contact with the same Sergeant Konami he’d spoken to months ago, arranging for Téa’s stay in his household.
“What is this all about, Sergeant?” Kaiba asked calmly.
Konami was surprised by the young man’s impassive tone; was Seto Kaiba really taking this so lightly? If so, he was a fool to think this was some game he could get out of so easily… he couldn’t have any tricks up his sleeves. There was no way to beat the law.
“This is about YOU, manufacturing weapons, long after the contract you had with the government expired. This is about YOU, planting bombs in innocent people’s cars. This is about the murder of two parents, whose daughter you had the gall to keep in your employ! She lost her parents because of you!”
“Hold it!” Seto snarled, struggling against his handcuffs. He glared down at the blasted chains binding his hands together and then faced Konami again, “Kaiba Corp. hasn’t been manufacturing weapons of ANY kind since I took over the company when I turned fourteen. Why would I have killed Téa’s parents!? I’ve never even met let alone murdered them! This is ridiculous! Was that warrant from earlier even real?”
Konami’s eyes narrowed; the boy knew legalese enough to challenge him. Well, if a fight was what he wanted, a fight was what he would get.
“You’ll be able to talk to the judge about that one, Mr. Kaiba.” Konami stood up and pointed to a corner of the room, where a metal chair sat in front of a telephone.
“I’d suggest you call one of your attorneys. And ask him to notify your precious PR department, because this is going to blow up in your face by tomorrow evening.”
Kaiba only glared as the Sergeant removed Seto’s handcuffs, leaving the room and locking the door.
“Hm, my attorney? Well, maybe that damned Johnson will finally be of some use.”
The brunette looked up, startled. She’d been sitting in the Domino City Police Department’s waiting area, waiting for Konami to finish questioning Seto. She was so distanced from the room she’d been in —the room where Seto was now— that she had no idea what was going on, or what was happening.
“Ms. Banks!” The woman who had spoken was Audrey Banks, a coworker of the late Mrs. Gardner, and a friend of the family, one whom Téa had been acquainted with ever since she was a small girl.
“Please Téa,” The woman cocked her head to the side as she smiled, stray hairs that had escaped her tightly-woven bun falling against her face, “call me Audrey.”
Téa nodded slowly, smiling as Audrey sat beside her . The older woman wore a mask of concern. “How are you doing, Téa? You look a little… well, a bit beat.”
The corner of Téa’s lips quirked upward; she wasn’t sure if Audrey had intended that has a pun or not. Judging by the amount of bandages sporadically placed on Téa’s skin, it was no wonder she ‘looked beat.’
And the dark shadows that undoubtedly rimmed her eyes from lack of sleep probably didn’t help either.
“Me? I’m…” Téa chuckled wryly, “I’m doing great. Just great. It’s not enough that my parents both die in a single day, changing the entire course of my life, but now, nearly three months later, I find out that it wasn’t an accident at all, and that Set— that Kaiba might be the one behind it! I just…” Téa gasped in a breath, nearly choking, “I don’t know what to think anymore.”
Audrey fell silent, tearing her gaze away from the young brunette, her hand sliding off the younger girl’s shoulder.
“Audrey.” The two women looked up at the sound of a new voice; this one belonging to Michael Pemms. He too, was a coworker of the late Gardners’ — in this case, Mr. Gardner. He worked as a financial advisor to the Johnson Firm where Mr. Gardner worked as an attorney, and thus knew many of the same people from Mrs. Gardner’s former place of employ, Crump Financial.
“Perhaps we should all talk… some place more private?” Michael suggested, gesturing behind him. A group of tired, anxious looking adults —all coworkers of her late parents, Téa realized— stood a short distance behind Michael.
‘They all came, at this time of night? But… why?’
Téa knew one couldn’t exactly ignore the summons of the Domino City Police Department, but still… Her eyes wandered over each face, each form. She knew most of them.
Ten… eleven… twelve people. Not including Michael and Audrey— and that made fourteen. How much could each of them possibly know about what had happened?
Téa followed Michael, Audrey and the other adults into a waiting room adjacent to the police station’s lobby. This one was a closed room with a door and two, tightly sealed windows.
Michael closed the door with a click, raising his gaze to meet Téa’s after a brief silence.
“Téa, you might want to sit down,” Michael began, pointing towards the plain, brown leather couches bordering the room. Téa shook her head, frowning slightly, “I’ve been sitting all night. I think… I think I just want to stand right now. What’s going on here?”
There was a pregnant pause as Michael and Audrey, obviously the speakers for the group, exchanged nervous glances.
“Téa, do you know who your parents worked for?”
Téa blinked, her expression fading from upset to confused, “I… Mom worked for Crump Financial or something as an office lady or an accountant or something. And Dad… Dad was a lawyer. What- what does that have to do with anything? Do you guys know why Seto’s being accused of murdering my parents?”
“Because…” Michael began , “the person they worked for was Mr. Kaiba.”
“We’re sorry, the number you are trying to dial has been disconnected…”
“Damn it!” Seto Kaiba swore, slamming the phone down on the receiver. He hadn’t been able to reach them. Not a single ONE of them.
He’d tried all of Johnson’s contact numbers first— his cell, his pager, his office, his home… nothing. All of them disconnected or rerouted.
And when he’d tried to call the other Directors, he’d gotten the same result. Something was definitely wrong — for all five of them to suddenly disappear when Seto would have needed them the most.
* You’re a fool if you trust in anyone but yourself, Seto! *
Even though the Big Five —Kaiba Corporation’s current Board of Directors— had served under Gozaburo initially, when Seto had taken over, they’d become hissubordinates. Gozaburo hadn’t trusted them long before their betrayal… there was no reason for Seto to trust in them now.
He couldn’t rely on anyone but himself.
“Did you reach your lawyer?” Konami’s voice called from the doorway.
Seto Kaiba rose from his seat slowly, facing the police Sergeant with a frosty gaze.
“I’ll be representing myself, if it comes to that,” Kaiba ground out . “And before you decide to interrogate me more, I know my rights. I don’t have to say anything. You’ll be in enough trouble as it is, tossing me into jail first without letting me call my lawyers before.”
Konami’s eyebrows shot up, his lips quirking in surprise. The kid was going to represent himself? What kind of a fool washe, anyway? He was accused of homicide!
‘Unless,’ Konami thought warily, ‘He knows he really didn’t do it. Why else wouldn’t he have gotten one of his high-powered attorneys to make this an open and shut case?’
The Sergeant never liked to leave loose ends hanging. And while he hadn’t actually interacted with the CEO much, he knew that the young man was incredibly intelligent, resourceful… and determined.
Whether or not that would be his downfall was only a matter of time.
“W-Wait… I th-thought…” Téa did sink down in one of the leather couches now, her eyes wide and unblinking.
“Elizabeth worked with me and a few others here at Crump Financial.” Audrey began, her eyes raising to meet Michael’s.
“And Eric —Rick, as we all called him— worked with me and a lot of the other guys here at the Johnson Firm.”
“Okay, I knew that much. What does that have to do with Seto? He never— I mean, my parents didn’t even know him!”
“Well, I doubt they ever met him, but I’m positive they knew ofhim.” Michael stated grimly, kneeling before Téa and clutching her hands . “Téa, the companies we work for —your parents’ old jobs— they’re subsidiaries of Kaiba Corp.”
Téa paled. Her parents had been working the same job all her life— and that meant they’d been working for Kaiba Corp. even when Gozaburo Kaiba had been running it! And maybe… maybe Gozaburo had KNOWN them?
“We’re not the only ones either.” Audrey started, “There’s also Gansley Consulting, Leichter Management, and…” The older woman trailed off, her gaze dropping to the concrete floor.
“And the fifth one?” Téa whispered. She had a feeling she already knew; she remembered from her research into Gozaburo Kaiba that he’d run a weapons manufacturing company. Heavy artillery, battle vehicles…
Things meant to destroy.
“Nesbitt Heavy Industries,” Audrey finished with a whisper.
“But it’s been out of business for years now. Ever since Seto Kaiba took over, there was never any need for a military division of the company.”
“Why do I have a feeling that’s not true? After all, the police found a damned grenade in my parents’ car!”
“Dear God…” Michael murmured in surprise, dropping into a chair and letting his head rest in his hands. Briefly, he looked up and stared hard at Audrey, whose own eyes were quickly filling with tears.
“We all knew they were doing something dangerous, but we didn’t try to stop them. And they— they killed them, so mercilessly, so brutally…” Audrey murmured, sucking in a breath.
“‘They?'” Téa repeated with deliberate slowness. “Kaiba didn’t kill my parents, did he?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I— I should have known. Seto… he would never be capable of something so horrible and yet…” Her sky blue eyes lifted to stare at all the adults present, guilty looks practically dripping from their faces.
“You all knew. You knew, all this time, that my parents had been murdered, and WHO DID IT! WHY? Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you go to the police!?”
“Téa, please, try to understand!” Audrey cried in a pleading tone, but Téa cut her off before the older woman could continue.
“What is there to understand? I’m here at three in the morning with more than enough physical bruises, but now people I thought were my friends go and bruise my heart! Seto probably thinks that I believethe idiotic idea that he could have killed my parents, and so he’s stuck in a jail cell for no reason, when the people that have known the truth all along have been too cowardly to come forward!”
Téa’s voice had steadily been rising in volume, though her frame shook and trembled, until she finally heaved a great sigh and collapsed onto the couch again.
“Téa… we couldn’t. The Big Five— if they got wind of us revealing the truth, they’d make sure the same thing happened to us. And Téa, we… we just couldn’t risk that. We have families,” Michael explained, his voice hoarse.
Téa’s eyes, unfocused from Michael and all others present, widened slightly at his words, watering as she remembered what had once been herfamily…
Téa stood up, mustering all the willpower she could notto tremble; not to be afraid.
“You know what?” Her voice was soft, but deadly serious. “I had a family too, once. And I lost them… because they were brave. Because theystood up for what they believed in.”
“Téa…” Audrey murmured, staring at the girl as she moved towards the doorway.
“Newsflash, ladies and gentlemen. I’m standing up for what I believe in. And I believe in Seto. I’m not going to let him get framed for something I know he didn’t do. I’m notgoing to lose my new family.”
And with those quiet words hanging in the air, Téa Gardner left the room, leaving a group of stunned adults behind.
“Sergeant Konami?” Téa queried softly, having found the officer in charge of her parents’ murder case.
Konami had just seen Kaiba escorted back to the jail cell, and now was wondering what to do. The boy seemed quite sure that he wasn’t guilty— though the sergeant couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing something.
‘Why didn’t Kaiba use one of his lawyers?’
“Miss Gardner, how are you holding up?”
Téa took a deep breath, avoiding Konami’s question, “Seto didn’t do it.”
“I said Seto didn’t do it. He didn’t kill my parents. But I know who did.”
“Excuse me, Miss Gardner, but how would you—?”
“My parents’ coworkers. They won’t come forward, but they told me who’s really behind my parents’ murder. They’re afraid if they testify, they’ll end up the same way.” Téa swallowed, fixing a steely gaze on Konami, “I’m not afraid of what may happen to me. My parents died fighting for what they believed in, and if I have to go the same way, so be it. I believe Seto is innocent, and I’m not going to sit here and wait for procedure to pan out so he can be released.”
The girl was determined. She sounded just as assured as Kaiba had only a few minutes ago, if not moreso. Barely a hint of fear in her voice, not a trace of doubt in her eyes…
“Who killed your parents, Miss Gardner?” Konami asked quietly.
“My parents’ bosses… the Big Five.”
“That’s a pretty long leap, Miss Gardner,” Konami sighed, sucking in a breath as he sat down in the interrogation room. But Téa was insistent —determined. She’d said herself she believed in Seto…
Even though initially, it looked as though she’d actually doubted him… for a second, she’d actually thought that Seto Kaiba had murdered her parents.
“Look, I don’t know why they would have killed my parents, but I know…” Téa hesitated, wondering if she should correct her usage of the present tense, “I know my parents. They were good people. And they stood up for what they believed in. The Big Five were obviously up to no good, and my parents were going to expose them.”
“I can’t exactly storm into their offices and arrest them. I need to have some sort of evidence or testimony with which to obtain a warrant for an arrest,” Konami explained, exasperated. This was like a puzzle with the pieces all mixed up.
A murder that had originally looked like an accident.
Two people that seemed normal enough, yet were somehow involved in a conspiracy with their own employers.
And… Seto Kaiba, unable to reach his own lawyer.
Why did that fact keep nagging at the back of Konami’s mind?
“Your father worked for the Johnson Firm, didn’t he?” Konami asked suddenly, interrupting Téa as she pondered over how to get a warrant without solid proof. Unless she convinced Audrey and Michael to testify…
“Yeah.” Téa murmured slowly, “Johnson is one of the Big Five, I know. Some really high-powered attorney.”
“Not just any,” Konami stated grimly; he saw the connection now. “Seto Kaiba’s attorney.”
“And the Big Five knew that Seto would be implicated if the grenade fragments or the emitter were ever found!” Téa realized, the truth dawning on her.
“So that’s when he was arrested —the time he would need a lawyer the most— Johnson would just conveniently disappear!” Konami finished.
“This still isn’t enough to get even a search warrant, is it?” Téa sighed, rising from her seat. She was sick of sitting down, being stuck in this place as dawn broke outside, and the world moved on while her life continued to be stuck in this rut.
‘And Seto…’ She couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was like, being stuck in a jail…
‘He probably thinks that I believed that he really was… that he…’ Téa shook her head resolutely, fighting against the tears threatening to claim her eyes again.
‘And he’d be right. For a while there, I didn’t believe in him. And… I’ve never hated myself more for that. These past few days have done nothing but put a huge wedge between Seto and I. No matter what the others tell me, I have to find out why the Big Five killed my parents… and why they framed Seto.’
Sheer determination crossed Téa’s features; she was a vision of resolute and steadfast beauty and strength.
‘By the time I’m done with them, the Big Five are going to be sorry they ever heard the name Téa Gardner!’
Téa was startled as she walked out of the interrogation room with Konami, bumping her nose right into the taller officer’s back as he stopped suddenly in the doorway.
Téa recognized the speaker’s voice.
“Ms. Banks.” Sergeant Konami addressed the woman. Other officers had questioned the coworkers, but had reported to their Sergeant that they hadn’t come up with anything conclusive. Unfortunately, something conclusive was just what they needed at the moment —otherwise, the case was at a standstill.
“I—” Audrey suddenly met Téa’s stare, the younger woman’s eyes almost an icy blue as she locked gazes with the former coworker of her mother. “WE,” Audrey emphasized, signaling lightly to the group behind her, “wanted to tell you that we’ve decided.”
“Decided?” Konami questioned, confused.
“To testify, if the case is brought to court. I’m sure Téa’s already told you,” Audrey murmured, swallowing the lump in her throat as Téa continued to stare in silence, “but Seto Kaiba is not responsible for the deaths of Eric and Elizabeth Gardner. The Big Five are.”
“I thought—” Téa came out from the small room, edging her way out from beside Konami, “I thought you weren’t going to testify. If it meant the same thing would happen to you or your families…” Téa trailed off uncertainly.
“What you said to us,” Michael stepped forward, “it really got to us. I think… no, I knowRick and Liz would be proud of you.”
Téa fell silent for a moment, squeezing her eyes shut as a faint smile curved the corners of her mouth, “Thank you.”
“I think all of us agree,” Audrey started, “that we hope we can do as good a job raising our children as Eric and Elizabeth did with you, Téa. We can start being good parents by setting good examples— and standing up for what we believe in.”
The tears Téa had been so desperately fighting to keep in check slid down her cheeks as she kept staring at the adults, all murmuring their agreement. Audrey stepped forward and embraced Téa in a tight hug, soon joined by Michael and many of the other former coworkers of the late Gardners.
Moments later, Téa sniffled, wiping the last of the tears off her face, “Thanks… thanks a lot, guys. Now, let’s go arrest some bad guys!”
“I knew it wasn’t going to be this easy,” Téa mumbled as she followed Konami, Audrey, Michael, and a handful of Domino City Police Officers into the Johnson Firm.
It was just after seven in the morning, and she knew that her friends were probably getting ready for school…
‘There’s no way I can go to school. Not until all this is sorted out, and…’
Wouldn’t it be so easy, to run away from each of her problems, busying herself with something else, until they just “went away?”
But problems never did just “go away.” They were just shoved to the sidelines, waiting for another inopportune moment to spring up…
Like now. Even with the huge problem of solving her parents’ homicide looming before her, there was the problem of getting a warrant to search the Johnson Firm and Crump Financial premises. However, that was solved when Audrey, Michael, and the others agreed to testify. But now that they were finally at her father’s old workplace they had to look for clues that would inexorably point to the Big Five as being behind her parents’ death. After all, testimony from adults —no matter how many in number— wouldn’t hold up in court without at least ONE piece of solid evidence.
“Your parents had found some solid evidence saying that the Big Five were embezzling funds from the company meant for employee medical benefits and other purposes,” Michael explained.
“Yes, and they were rallying all the employees that had been blackmailed into keeping silent —including ourselves— into testifying against the Big Five in court and getting them tossed off the Kaiba Corp. Board of Directors, once and for all,” Audrey added.
“Your Dad was one of the most organized guys I ever met,” Michael said, “There’s no way he’d only have made one copy of the evidence. And I know your parents intended to bring to the police the day they died.”
Téa absorbed all this information as they walked down the long, carpeted hallways towards what had once been her father’s office. According to Michael, no one had touched anything in it —and Johnson hadn’t authorized anyone else to take Mr. Gardner’s position… yet.
The floor in Mr. Gardner’s office was covered with pressed gray carpeting, not a stain in sight. The early morning light filtered through white Venetian blinds, casting bars of light through the shadowed slats, reflecting off the various trinkets and antiquities Mr. Gardner was known for possessing.
Various photo frames, a desk pad, a sleek, black flat-screen computer, and gold-plated miniature globe littered the former attorney’s desk in an oddly organized fashion that few could begin to comprehend.
The small group fanned out in the office, Michael going through the short file cabinet in the right corner of the room, while Audrey examined the various books in the shelf, to see if anything might be wedged between their pages. Konami leaned over the desk, going through the drawers, while Téa stood on the sidelines, looking at all the plaques that lined the wall. The other officers had fanned out throughout the office, trying to find Mr. Johnson.
“Miss Gardner?” Konami spoke up a moment later, catching everyone’s attention. He withdrew a single piece of thick, cream-colored paper, with fine strokes of calligraphy written upon it.
“Does this mean anything to you?” He gestured at the words, written down the horizontal length of the page —rather than vertical, as was customary for printed pages— and in the exact center.
“‘Born at the same time as the world, destined to live as long as the world, and yet never five weeks old.'”
“I don’t get it,” Michael stated.
Téa smiled slightly; she’d said the exact same thing the first time she’d encountered those very same words…
“It’s a riddle. My dad loved them,” she remembered fondly. Her father had come up with a new riddle every morning when she was a child, challenging Téa to solve the riddle by the day’s end. If she did, she would receive a reward.
But, in recent years, those daily rituals had spread out to only weekly events, then biweekly, then monthly…
‘And then…’ Téa couldn’t remember the last time she heard her father ask her to solve a riddle, with that playful grin on his face and the promise of a great and mysterious surprise if she solved it. Seeing his handwriting —even if it was his formal calligraphy— and the old riddle again brought a mixture of pain and warmth to Téa’s heart.
“Huh. I always knew your dad was complex, but I didn’t know he had a thing for riddles. But what does it mean, anyway? Why would your father just leave riddles in his desk?”
“Hush,” Audrey silenced Michael, “What’s the solution, Téa?”
“The moon,” Téa whispered, the answer coming back to her, accompanied by the memory of her father’s large, warm hand, patting her on the head as he grinned, telling her she’d gotten her very first attempt at solving a riddle correct.
“The moon?” Audrey murmured. She glanced back to the bookshelf, walking to it brusquely, withdrawing a book she’d thought was oddly out of place.
“Could this somehow be related to the riddle? It was the only book in the case that had nothing to do with law.”
The deep blue hardcover read only ‘The Moon.’ Audrey handed the book to Téa, who stared at the older woman before opening the book. To her surprise, all the pages were blank and glued together— save for one section about three-quarters of the way through.. Nestled in a rectangular hollow was a single, perfectly creased and folded piece of paper.
“Another riddle?” Konami asked as Téa opened it, her eyes widening. She nodded slowly, reading the words —this time written in her father’s normal handwriting— aloud.
“‘What can be measured, but has no length, width, or height?'”
Téa stayed silent. She’d never encountered this riddle before. If her suspicions were correct, then each riddle would indeed lead to another clue. Her father knew only she knew his mannerisms when it came to riddles, but that probably hadn’t stopped him from being careful.
“Prepared,” Mr. Gardner used to boast, “is my middle name,” Téa remembered her father saying, even as she’d rolled her eyes and brushed her dad’s words off.
‘You lied, Daddy,’ Téa thought, her fingers crinkling the edges of the paper, ‘You weren’t prepared for your own death. Or maybe… maybe you didn’t prepare me for it. And is that your fault… or mine?’
But how could a girl be expected to prepare for her own parents’ death at the young age of seventeen…?
“Téa?” Audrey’s voice snapped the brunette back to reality.
“Well?” Michael asked, excitement creeping into his voice, “What’s the answer?”
“I…” Téa faltered; she couldn’t give up! Even if it hurt to remember… even if it meant the Big Five would come after her…
She couldn’t get Seto’s face out of her mind. Memories of the past few months, and everything that had led Téa to believe she was falling in love with him… and, despite recent events with malicious ghosts and false accusations of murder, she still…
‘I still believe in him.’
“I don’t know right now,” Téa stated firmly, “but I know my dad’s style of riddles. There’s got to be a solution.”
“Things that are measured.” Michael paced about the room. “Physical objects are measured. Height, width, mass, volume…”
“Liquid, perhaps?” Audrey suggested, her eyebrows knit together.
“I don’t think so,” Téa shook her head, glancing about the office, “There’s nothing liquid in here.”
“Maybe we’re thinking about this the wrong way,” Konami said, rising from where he’d been sitting on the corner of the desk, “There are things that are out there, measured in different ways besides height, length, and width.”
“The perfect riddle for someone as obsessive with details as your dad,” Michael grinned. “But what would be in here that can’t be measured by length, width, or height? I mean, if we seeit, doesn’t it have to have those properties?”
“Who says we have to see it?” Téa said excitedly, beginning to smile. “Height, length, and width are standard measurements used around the world. So is…”
At just that moment, a slight whooshing sound was heard from the ceiling as the heating kicked in.
“Temperature!” Téa exclaimed. She brought her father’s chair over to the vent where the warm air blew out in waves, but even with the added height boost, she couldn’t see anything inside the dark shaft.
“I don’t think your father would have hidden something in the ventilation shaft,” Michael stated, “There’s too great a risk that it could get blown away or damaged somehow.”
Téa looked crestfallen; was she wrong? She’d been so sure…
“But who says a vent is the only place in the office relating to temperature?” Audrey smiled, standing beside the doorway. She brushed aside the large leaves of a potted plant, revealing the indoor thermostat that automatically controlled the heating.
“You’re a genius, Audrey!” Téa gasped, jumping from the chair and running towards the thermostat.
“Not really.” Audrey smiled, “We have thermostats in every office. It makes sense that your father’s private office would have one, as well.”
“Hey, got a nail file?” Téa murmured, trying to pry the front plate of the thermostat off. She swore she saw the edges of a piece of paper in there, but she couldn’t be sure. What if she ended up ripping the entire thermostat off the wall and breaking it?
“Uh— sure.” Audrey fumbled through her purse a moment, bringing out the item Téa requested.
Téa played with it for a moment, blocking Konami and Michael’s view of what she was doing, until she let out a triumphant “Ah-hah!”
The thermostat’s face plate popped off its base, clattering noisily when it hit the rim of the plant’s pot and toppled onto the carpet. And, tucked between the wires and switches, a single piece of paper was folded meticulously into even squares.
Téa opened it silently, her eyes widening and watering as she read the words aloud.
“‘You have lost me a million times, yet you still have me,'” Téa read in a choked whisper, “‘I am always at your side.'” Her face went pale as she trembled in place, remembering her father— and how, when last they’d spoken, they’d gotten into a fight…
“Daddy! Before he died, I was always getting into fights with him, and now… now!” Téa bit her lip, but the tears slid down her cheeks anyway, leaving red streaks on her once-pale face.
Everyone was silent a moment, realizing that the words held a double meaning for Téa. Her father’s riddles brought back memories —both painful and sweet— to the young girl.
“It’s true,” Audrey finally said, “No matter how many quarrels you had with your parents, they still loved you more than anything else in the world, Téa. Your parents will always be at your side, always watching over you…”
The adults present let Téa cry, even as she clutched onto the riddle-paper and crinkling it completely.
“Time.” Her voice was hoarse, “The answer is time.”
Michael glanced at Téa dubiously, his gaze tracking to Audrey, then Konami. Time? But… what in the world could ‘time’ mean? Another riddle within a riddle? Would they have to waitbefore the answer would reveal itself?
Téa, her head still bent low, stumbled towards her father’s desk, finding a picture-clock— one that allowed a person to place a photo in the in the clock’s face, and still be able to read the time.
She brought the device to eye level, examining it for just a moment before she turned the back of the clock and revealed its inner mechanics— and the final clue.
On the back of one of several photos Mr. Gardner frequently placed in the face of the clock, the last riddle was written in small, English print: ‘What starts with e and ends with e and has but one letter?’
“You can read that?” Konami asked, peering over Téa’s shoulder. His English wasn’t that great, but the office was littered with books in the language— along with letters, awards, and now, riddles.
“Y-Yeah. Daddy taught me some English— if only it meant I’d be able to solve more of his favorite riddles.” Téa smiled slightly; she wasn’t nearly as fluent in the language as Chieko and… and Seto.
She had to remember— he was the reason why she was here. He was all she had left to hold onto, all she had left to fight for. Friends were one thing, but Seto was… Seto had become her family. And she refused to let him get framed for something she knewhe didn’t do.
“‘Starts with e…'” Téa murmured aloud, wandering the room. It was a word puzzle, she knew that much. The English language was full of tricky word riddles— she’d been stumped for nearly a month with the infamous G-R-Y one, and her father had laughed for nearly five minutes without stopping when he’d told her the answer.
Was this another instance of the answer staring her straight in the face?
‘Wait a second. Staring me… straight in the face?’ Téa didn’t know why, but she felt compelled to pick up the clock she’d found the riddle in. And the photo the puzzle had been written on…
‘What has a face but no eyes; hands, but no fingers?’ Another riddle that Mr. Gardner had told Téa, and she’d known the answer immediately. A clock. And this latest riddle had been written on a photo that was usually displayed in the clock’s face…
Téa turned the photo around, staring at it. Her father, grinning broadly beside a younger man who wore a somewhat timid smile. Téa couldn’t place a name with the face, but she knew something was familiar about him…
“Michael? Who is this— in the photo? Beside my father?” Téa asked softly, pointing to the brunette in the picture.
“Hm? Oh, him. Your father’s assistant, Theodore Iwana. He was a paralegal who worked here at the firm for awhile, but after your father died, he sort of disappeared— we all figured he’d been pretty close to Mr. Gardner, thinking of him as a mentor or something, and decided to find work elsewhere.”
“Hold it,” Konami started, his eyes narrowing, “You’re saying there was someone employed here who disappeared from the company shortly after Mr. Gardner’s death?”
“Well, yes…” Michael started, suddenly realizing Konami’s unspoken implication, “You don’t think hehad something to do with Eric’s death, do you?”
“Iwana is a Japanese name,” Téa stated softly, interrupting Konami just as he was about to open his mouth and reply to Michael.
“Yes, that’s true.” Audrey began, “What are you thinking, dear?” Téa finally tore her eyes away from the photograph, blinking for the first time in what had to be a minute or more.
“The name ‘Theodore’ isn’t Japanese, though. He doesn’t look like a native Japanese.”
“Not a lot of people do, these days,” Michael laughed. “Matter of fact, I thought that was weird too— the kid supposedly went to a law school in France or something…”
“France?” Téa’s eyes went wide as she glanced at the photo again.
No, not a brunet… but a blond.
And not a paralegal… but a fashion designer’s assistant.
“I know him,” Téa whispered under her breath. When she’d been fitted for her dress by the thoroughly French Jacques Mode, his male assistant had…
She remembered him looking at her oddly —a sort of sad frown on his face. You could see it in his eyes, that he was unhappy, but…
‘I never thought anything of it. Why would I have?’ Téa realized with a sinking sensation. Back then, she’d thought her parents had died in an accident, and she was doing her best to move on…
“Téa?” Michael began, “You met Theo? But—”
“I met him, all right. Only, when I met him, his name wasn’t Theodore Iwana, it was Laroque. And he wasn’t a paralegal, he was a fashion designer’s assistant.”
“When did you meet him, Miss Gardner?” Konami stared at Téa, and she turned to the officer, bile creeping its way up her throat as she met the police officer’s steely gaze dead on.
“Wednesday, August 20th. The day I got my dress designed by Jacques Mode.”
“I don’t like it.”
“None of us do,” a rasping voice snapped irritably, “That’s why we’re going to DO something about it, isn’t that right?”
Johnson, the man who had first spoken, fixed his associate Crump with a bland stare.
“Just how are we going to do anything? We can’t exactly return the money, you know.”
“And who said we would?” Frank Nesbitt, the youngest of the Big Five, with a trim crew cut, shouted.
“Quiet!” Gansley, founder of the Big Five, said sharply. “We have a strategy. Now we must make use of our… resources.”
“Indeed,” Leichter nodded, his American Southern drawl prominent in his voice, “Isn’t that right, Mr. Iwana?”
The young man at the end of the long conference table suppressed a gulp. He was highly intimidated by the five directors in charge of the subsidiary companies of Kaiba Corp., but he couldn’t let on how afraid he was.
‘Guys like them… they can smell fear,’ Theo thought. But it didn’t matter how afraid he was, or what they’d have him do. None of that mattered, because… because they’d told him if he cooperated… if he did what they told him to, then they would ensure that Liselle got the best hospital care money could buy.
And then… then her cancer would go into remission, and they could finally go through with the plans they’d been making all these months, and they could get married. The very thought of seeing Liselle’s smiling face, all rosy-colored and bright once more, brought a timid smile to Theodore’s face.
He would do anything for her. For Liselle.
“Listen here, Mr. Iwana,” Nesbitt started, pulling his metal briefcase to the tabletop, “we know that Mr. Gardner and his wife are plotting against the companies. They’re trying to bring Kaiba Corp. down, and gyp innocent people like you out of your benefits. And we can’t let them do that, now can we?”
The other directors all grunted in agreement, nodding their heads solemnly.
“Since you’re Mr. Gardner’s paralegal —his protégé, if you will— we want you to… well, keep an eye on him.”
“But,” Gansley interrupted, “since you can’t do that all the time, we’ve devised a little solution.”
Nesbitt punched in a short combination for the briefcase, opening it with a click. He withdrew three objects— an odd-looking chip, a pair of thick cables with thin wires protruding from the ends, and finally, a…
“What is that?” Theodore asked in a hesitant voice.
“These?” Nesbitt grinned toothily, causing Theodore to shudder in his seat.
“Just some products we’ve been developing lately. Prototypes, if you will. When my branch of Kaiba Corp. is restored to market, these will be selling like hotcakes, and you, my friend, will be taking in all the rewards.”
“Since you can’t keep an eye on Mr. Gardner all the time, we’ve come up with a way for us to keep an earon him.” Nesbitt held up the chip, “It’s a listening device. You just plant it under the steering wheel of his car, and we can listen to whatever plans he might be hatching against Kaiba Corp.”
It sounded more than a little fishy to Theodore. He wasn’t any sort of an electronics major, but he did know what most microphones and receivers looked like. And the chip Nesbitt was showing him didn’t look like one at all.
“And this,” Nesbitt picked up the two cables, “enhances the sound.” He smiled again, exchanging a brief grin with his associates, who all chuckled darkly, “In case they decide to play music, or something?”
“A-And that?” Theodore pointed to the cast-iron shell. He knew what that was— there was no mistaking a grenade. With a serrated plating and a perfectly circular metal pull-ring tab, there was simply nothing else it could be.
“Another amplifying device,” Nesbitt said smoothly, perfectly expecting Theodore to believe him. The Big Five eyed the young paralegal with intense gazes.
“I-I see.” He couldn’t very well accuse them of lying. It would mean the end of him. The end of Liselle.
He couldn’t let that happen.
“Today when Mr. Gardner goes to his meeting, I want you to put these in his car. You have access to his keys, do you not?” Johnson asked.
Theodore nodded hesitantly, “Yes.”
“Good. Then our business is complete.” Nesbitt replaced the three items in the case, handing it to Theodore with a tight smile, “The combo is 4-1-7-3.”
And without a single word from any of the other directors, they filed out of the room, leaving Theodore alone with his thoughts.
“Mr. Gardner!” Theodore spun around anxiously, nearly tripping over his own two feet in the process. Mr. Gardner, smiled, chuckling slightly.
“Hey, you seem a bit nervous. Is anything the matter?” The concern on Mr. Gardner’s face was sincere, Theodore realized. When he’d first come to work at the Johnson Firm, many of the secretaries and legal assistants had told him that Mr. Gardner was the friendliest, most personable man they’d ever worked with— a true family man, and a hard worker.
He’d treated Theo like his own son, even taking the time and expense to send Liselle flowers every week to brighten up her hospital room.
Theo knew that the Big Five were watching him. That if he didn’t help them —if he didn’t do just what they said— then they would have Liselle killed. Her time was already limited, Theo knew, but!
“No, Mr. Gardner, everything’s fine.”
“Great! Going to visit Liselle today?” Mr. Gardner smiled, pulling some papers from his briefcase and looking them over with a critical eye.
“Wonderful. I hope she’s doing better. Ask her if she likes the lilies I sent.”
“I… I will, Mr. Gardner. I mean, I’m sure she does.”
Eric Gardner chuckled. “You treat every day with her like it’s your first date, the way you speak about her in a stutter. It’s kind of cute.”
Theodore blushed darkly, but nodded; Liselle washis first love… his only love. For that reason, and that reason alone, he had to…
“I’ve got a date of my own later, Theo. Today’s it. The big day.”
“All these papers…” Mr. Gardner revealed some of the papers, all littered with numbers or legalese, “will prove that the Kaiba Corp. Board of Directors —the Big Five— have been siphoning out funds to try and re-institute the military branch that Seto Kaiba shut down years ago. Funds that should be going to hardworking employees— like you, Theo. You’re lucky you’re new here, and the Big Five hasn’t gotten wind of your account intake yet— or you’d never be able to afford Liselle’s health care.”
“R-Right,” Theo nodded dumbly. In truth, the Big Five knew allabout his account— and they’d told Theo that if he assisted them, Liselle would get the best care possible… and if not, Liselle would die an even earlier death than her condition could bring on.
It didn’t matter whether or not Theo believed the horseradish they fed him about Mr. Gardner being a traitor to the company… Theodore was smart enough to formulate his own opinions. And he knew that Eric didn’t deserve to die.
“If this all works out, and my wife gets the right papers from her work, then we’ll be going to the police this evening to report our findings. And within a few months time, this place will be brand new— with honest people behind the scenes, and the employees receiving all their benefits withoutgetting blackmailed.”
“S-Sounds wonderful, Mr. Gardner.”
“It sure does,” Mr. Gardner sighed, collapsing into his chair and picking up his clock. The current face of the clock contained a picture of Mr. Gardner, his wife, and his daughter, Téa.
“I got into a fight with her this morning.” Mr. Gardner said without meeting Theo’s gaze, “Téa, I mean. Liz and I both said some… some pretty horrible things, and Téa just stormed out. Had every right to, I guess. I can’t help feeling a little guilty, though. This… this will more than make it up to her. Liz and I can start spending more time with Téa, instead of staying out all hours of the night trying to get evidence. Those once-a-month special dinners will become weekly, and…”
Mr. Gardner sucked in a breath, nodding as he smiled fondly at the picture of his wife and daughter, “And we’ll support Téa, and her dream, no matter what. All this time, we’ve been telling her that being a dance isn’t financially feasible— and here Liz and I are, about to take the biggest risk of our lives. It could make or break us completely. If everything works, Téa will go to New York and follow her dream…”
“A-and if it doesn’t?” Theo couldn’t help himself from blurting.
Strangely enough, when Mr. Gardner looked up at Theo, he was still smiling. “It’ll work. Somehow, someway… I knowit’ll work.”
Theodore didn’t know what else to say; he watched silently as Mr. Gardner put all the necessary files back into his briefcase and headed out the door, waving jauntily.
“I’m off to have lunch with the other guys, Theo. Have a great afternoon, and see you tomorrow!”
The door had already closed when Theodore whispered, “Good-bye, Mr. Gardner.”
Some hours later, Theodore exited the Johnson Firm, stiff legs carrying him out to the parking lot. Mr. Gardner’s keys —to the old Honda Accord he’d been using as long as Theo had known him.
There was a brief crackling of static in Theodore’s left ear; the directors had made him keep a cell phone in his pocket, with a hands-free headset hidden by his ear.
With shaking hands, Theodore approached the Accord, hesitantly glancing up to the room where he knew the Big Five were looking down at him, piercing eyes staring at him from between the office window blinds.
Theodore stared at the keys in his hands briefly. Mr. Gardner trusted him wholeheartedly. And now…
“What are you waiting for?” Nesbitt snapped, his voice resounding in Theo’s ear. Theodore shook his head. He wasn’t trying to be cruel. He was trying to save a life. His fiancée’s life. Liselle…
With a simple clicking sound that echoed in Theodore’s ears, he opened the door to the car.
Theodore had to believe the Big Five, no matter how much his gut protested against it. Despite everything Mr. Gardner had said and shown Theodore regarding the illegal activities of the Kaiba Corp. Board of Directors, Theodore’s life —and Liselle’s— were in their hands. He had to do what they said, or…
The Big Five were wealthy, financially secure men. Respected businessmen— surely they wouldn’t lie to him. They were just keeping tabs on an employee, that was all. Theo fought the bile rising in his throat, even as he fixed the two devices under the Accord’s steering wheel.
And… the last device?
Theodore knew that it had to be a grenade. He didn’t know much about weapons or the military, but he knew he didn’t like the idea of people dying. He’d already lost his family, and he wasn’t about to lose Liselle, too. But Mr. Gardner… he had a family. A wife, and a daughter, Téa…
‘I- I can’t take that away from her. I know what it’s like… to be alone…’ Theodore tried to come up with ways to dispose of the thing, but how could he? The Big Five were watching him, listening to him… following his every move.
“Put the amplifier in the back somewhere,” Nesbitt spoke, unaware of Theo’s change of heart. “Loop it around the plastic of the back speaker.”
Theo swallowed as he opened the back door of the car, removing one of the speakers from its place. Maybe… maybe if he jammed the pull-switch with something, it wouldn’t activate. If he could prevent the ring from lifting the lever and releasing the cap, there would be no way the it could light the fuse and detonate…
Catching sight of a gum wrapper, Theo grabbed it and balled it up between his fingers, carefully stuffing it between the lever and the pull-ring.
‘Please… let this work. Let the Gardners make it to the police today… Let them live to tell Téa how much they want her to pursue her dreams…’
An ache formed in Theo’s chest and he finished attaching the grenade to the back speaker, carefully placing it back on the rear dashboard.
Something in his gut told him that no amount of gum wrappers would save Mr. Gardner and his wife.
He was such a hypocrite— helping the Big Five for Liselle’s sake, claiming that his betrayal was justified— he was trying to save Liselle, after all! But… he would be killing Mr. and Mrs. Gardner, and turning Téa into an orphan. For no reason other than the fact that the couple stood up for what they believed in…
“This is it, Rick,” Elizabeth Gardner smiled, her lips trembling ever so slightly. In her white-knuckled grasp, she held a manila folder stuffed full of papers and sprouting with sticky bookmarks.
In that folder was everything she and her husband had worked for the past several years. Everything that would set them free…
That would give them —and their precious daughter, their beautiful Téa— everything they’d ever dreamed of.
“We go to the police now, then,” Eric Gardner nodded affirmatively, trying his damnedest to smile. It was hard to smile, given that they’d worked so hard for everything… lost so much.
And not just them. Their fellow coworkers… their friends.
And for those left, working under the fools that were collectively known as the Big Five, the Gardners were about to make a difference. They were about to change things.
Eric Gardner was a moderately powerful attorney working for the Johnson Firm, one of Japan’s most authoritative and powerful law firms. He’d spent his youth believing firmly in justice and equal rights — fair treatment for all. A lucky break had landed him the scholarship money he needed to go to law school, and before he knew it, he found himself passing the Bar and becoming a full-fledged lawyer.
And things had been great for a while— he’d had fantastic cases, worked his way up through the firm. But the moment he’d caught the eye of Mr. Johnson himself, Eric Gardner knew he’d found trouble.
Bits and pieces of information leaked their way down from the uppermost tiers of the Big Five hierarchy… facts that sickened Eric to his very core. Johnson and his four associates —Gansley, Crump, Nesbitt, and Leichter— were cruel manipulators, hiding behind the façades of “the normal businessman, the family man,” equality for all, and the end of a destructive generation.
They extorted money from their own employees, siphoning funds intended for beneficial use —towards health benefits, sick leave, paid vacations, and scholarships— to fund an operation on the side— one that the head company, Kaiba Corp., had no idea about.
The restoration of Frank Nesbitt’s defunct military branch.
Though Eric Gardner had never worked nor spoken at great length with Nesbitt, he knew enough about the man not to like —let alone trust— the man. Ever since the motivated Seto Kaiba had taken over his adoptive father’s company, there had been no use for a military division of Kaiba Corp.
Production of high-powered battle vehicles, weapons of war… things from a destructive past. The old Kaiba Corp. had profited greatly from wars around the world— everything from mere skirmishes to all out revolutions. As a “middleman” to countries around the world, it provided firearms, tanks, grenades… everything you could possibly think of to destroy— the old Kaiba Corp. had it. They made it, they sold it to the highest bidder. It didn’t matter what they planned to do with it, or who would be hurt.
Gozaburo didn’t care, as long as it put money in his pocket.
When Seto Kaiba took over, he immediately junked the military division, and effectively putting Frank Nesbitt, military liaison to Kaiba Corp., and president of Nesbitt Heavy Industries out of a job.
Yet, for some bizarre reason, Seto had let Nesbitt remain employed by Kaiba Corp. Though the subsidiary companies they ran had little —if anything— at all to do with Kaiba Corporation’s main gaming technology branch, the Big Five Board of Directors still maintained a firm grasp on their companies… and their wealth.
And if increasing that wealth meant restarting a defunct company… manufacturing weapons of mass destruction…
They would do it, by any means necessary.
No matter who got in their way.
Eric and Elizabeth Gardner knew of these risks. But likewise, they knew of all their coworkers with family members in the hospital, unable to pay their bills. They knew of sons and daughters trying to get into the best schools possible, finding that the scholarship money they’d expected to get from Kaiba Corp. no longer existed.
They refused to sit down and suffer.
They refused to see the hurt in their own daughter’s eyes when they told her she couldn’t live out her dream…
“Everything’s going to turn out fine, Liz,” Eric murmured softly. They would go to the police with Elizabeth’s accounting records —solid proof that the four major subsidiary companies of Kaiba Corp. were embezzling money. The Big Five would be arrested, and NEW people would be put in charge. And everyone that had lost out to those sleazy directors would get their just rewards… and then some.
Little did the couple entering their car know, they were being watched.
By Theodore Iwana, who was watching from his own car parked under the shade of many trees in the Crump Financial lot. His blue eyes were clouded with guilt, as he stared at the Gardners as they drove away in their Honda Accord. He knew what he had done… and he had the sinking sensation that he would never see the Gardners alive… ever again.
Konami responded to Téa’s soft-spoken reply of when she’d last seen Theodore Iwana —no, Theodore Laroque— by tapping the radio wired up his uniform. It beeped shortly, and Konami spoke, “Marks and Hendricks, I want you two to get back to the station and pick up whatever you can get on a Theodore Iwana, alias Theodore Laroque. He’s most likely still employed by Jacques Mode, so get an APB out on the kid and grab a warrant for his arrest.”
There was a brief silence before “Copy that, sir. Over and out” crackled over the radio.
“You really think he’s connected to the Gardners’ death?” Audrey asked in surprise.
Konami grimaced, “It’s just too big of a coincidence. All the other employees stayed with the firm, why not him?”
“Well, he was pretty close to Mr. Gardner…” Michael began, “I never knew much about the kid, except that he didn’t have any family out here. And he had a fiancée, but—” Michael trailed off, shifting the weight on his feet from one to the other.
“But what?” Konami asked sharply, “We don’t have any time for more secrets or games.”
“I heard she died,” Michael stated simply, “She had leukemia, and though Theo was new to the company payroll, he moved whatever benefits he could scramble to her care.”
“How awful,” Audrey murmured, glancing sideways at Téa, who was still looking at the photo, and the riddle on the back.
“I thought you said the Big Five directors were embezzling the company medical benefits for their own purposes.” Konami began, “Why would this kid, a newbie to the firm, have access to the kind of medical insurance able to pay for a leukemia patient?”
“I— I don’t know,” Michael stammered.
“The Big Five got to him,” Téa whispered. “Threatened him, probably. Said that if he cooperated, his fiancée would get the best care possible. And…” Téa looked up, “I need an envelope.”
The adults present blinked.
“It’s what ‘starts with e, ends with e, and contains only one letter,'” Téa explained the answer to the riddle. “Whatever’s in the envelope we’re looking for, I’m sure it leads to the evidence we need to bring the Big Five down.”
“This is a law office, Téa,” Michael started, “there are thousands of envelopes everywhere.”
“No, I mean one from in here. It’s probably a special envelope, or hidden somewhere special.” Téa glanced around, moving around her father’s former desk and opening the drawers to see if she could spot anything.
Maybe one of the drawers had a false bottom?
“There isn’t anything else in the riddle? A clue as to where the envelope would be, or what it looks like?” Audrey asked curiously
Téa shook her head, “That would be too obvious. But… something tells me Dad didn’t choose this picture on accident.”
“He couldn’t possibly have known that Theodore boy in the picture was going to betray him and kill him!” Audrey exclaimed, “For heaven’s sake, we don’t even know if he was really involved!”
“It isjust a hunch at this point,” Konami admitted, “so we need something solid to back it up. We have to find the envelope.”
“Where was this picture taken?” Téa asked Michael, bringing the round picture to the lawyer. He glanced at it, his eyes widening in surprise, “That… the plaque in the picture looks like your father’s law degree.” Michael pointed to the wall adjacent the doorway; the potted plant stood beside the closed door, while a single leather two-seater couch beckoned to those with tired feet.
“So the couch behind them is this one, then?” Téa asked, moving towards the furniture.
“Looks that way.” Michael examined the picture in the light, or what little sunlight came through the blinds. “Hey, Téa… do you think this is a coincidence, too?”
Téa walked over to him and looked at the photo. In the light, one could see that the ink in which the riddle had been written in was visible through the photo paper— with one of the e’s positioned right over the small gap between Eric Gardner and Theodore Laroque— where the cushion of the black couch could be seen.
“Not a chance.” Téa grinned, moving towards the couch. With one yank, she pulled the cushions off, sitting on the edge of the couch and examining them.
“I don’t get it.” Téa murmured. Nothing had been tucked between the cushions… and there was nothing but the usual cotton stuffing inside them. “Where else…?” Téa tried to envision the letter over the couch as she looked at it again. Kneeling, tea ran her arm underneath the couch, but still came up with nothing.
“Want us to lift it?” Michael asked, nodding towards Konami. The two men each took an arm of the couch and lifted it up with a grunt, straining as Téa ducked under the couch.
There was a hideous gray, thick fabric separating the box of the couch from the floor, and just as the weight shifted from Michael to Konami, Téa saw something move.
“Wait, there’s something in there!” She ran her fingers over the fabric, looking for some sort of opening, even as Konami and Michael strained above her.
“Ugh, find it fast, Téa!” Michael muttered, “This thing is notlight!”
Téa finally found the opening right where the fabric was stapled to the bottom frame of the couch. Sliding her arm in, she groped around until her fingers closed around a piece of paper…
“Got it!” Téa whipped the envelope out and scuttled out of the couch’s resting place, just as the two men collapsed, panting as the couch dropped with a loud thud.
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” Audrey asked Téa. The younger girl nodded, carefully sliding her finger through the envelope and opening it with a rip.
She unfolded the single piece of paper inside, staring at it with curiosity.
“‘Domino First National Bank?'” Téa read in confusion, “But that wasn’t Dad’s bank…”
“No, you’re right,” Audrey stepped forward, wearing a mask of confusion herself, “It certainly wasn’t one of the financial institutions under Crump Financial, anyway. Why would your father have had a letter from there hidden so meticulously under his couch?”
“A safe deposit box,” Konami replied immediately, glancing over Téa’s shoulder as he caught sight of a string of numbers.
“Your father must have prepared for every possibility, and left copies of everything needed to convict the Big Five in a safe place, where the Big Five stood no chance of getting it. After all, you’re the only one able to solve your father’s riddles, and without you, no one would have found the letter at all.”
Téa stared at Konami, bewildered, “You think my father really prepared for this— knew that he’d probably die, and that— that I’d—”
“No one really prepares for that kind of thing, Téa. But in our line of work, we have to be aware of every possible reaction to something… and your father must have known the Big Five catching onto him was one of them,” Michael explained.
Téa fell silent, staring at the paper. A safe deposit box number…?
“What’s this?” Téa pointed to another set of numbers, this one directly below the first, but shorter in length.
“Probably a password. Domino First is known for incorporating the most high tech measures for financial security, and that means keyless boxes. Only the person with the password can open them.”
“Smart.” Michael commented, “But what about those?” He pointed to a strand of twelve digits that seemed to have no order or sense to them.
“Not sure…” Konami murmured, “I’ll get Decryption on it. For now, I think it’s best we head out and get to that deposit box.”
And so they did. The bank manager had looked more than a little intimidated to see a police officer, a lawyer, an accountant —and a very upset teenage girl— approaching him with purpose clearly evident in their stride.
But, he’d escorted them to the safe deposit area without incident, and disappeared while Téa entered the numbers to open up the box. A heavy silence had settled between the group, eyes widening and breaths hitching as Téa withdrew the sole contents of the metal container… a large, manila envelope.
Téa undid the brass brad that kept the envelope sealed, and then proceeded to withdraw the contents with bated breath.
The envelope had contained thick masses of paper— some handwritten, some typed— all bearing the Johnson Firm or Crump Financial headings.
“Th-These…” Audrey breathed, glancing at some of the papers, “It’s proof,” she murmured, as Téa distributed the papers between Audrey, Michael, and Konami to inspect.
“The paperwork that the Big Five had to have filed in order to siphon the money from the employee benefits accounts.” The older woman flipped through page after page, her eyes growing wider.
“Transfers to various accounts around Japan, all banks controlled by the Big Five. At least… seven different aliases for the Big Five… hundreds of excuses as to where the money was going.”
“Look here,” Michael began, showing the others the papers Téa had handed him, “There’s a list of all the employees the Big Five blackmailed into keeping quiet.” His eyes narrowed as he found his own name circled on the paper. He, like hundreds of other Kaiba Corp. subsidiary employees, had been forced to stay silent about the disappearance of millions of yen— or risk losing his job, and quite possibly his life.
The Big Five were utterly ruthless , but they’d met their match with the Gardners. They hadn’t stood for the Big Five’s deception, and had gathered proof from the dankest basements, the darkest closets, and the most secured databases in all of Kaiba Corp. And yet… they’d come through.
They’d stood up for what they’d believed in, stood up for their fellow employees, even knowing they might not stand behind them the whole way through; they’d given up their lives…
“And look,” Konami motioned to Téa, “the only benefit account holder that didn’t have any sort of change over a six month period was that Iwana kid. Says the funds went to Domino General Hospital, and were to care for… Liselle Franc.”
“Funds abruptly stopped… August 12th,” Michael read aloud, “It wasn’t long after that when Theo disappeared from the firm, and we heard that Liselle had died.”
“It’s just too big a coincidence,” Konami murmured, shaking his head. “Even if your father couldn’t have known that Iwana-Laroque was going to betray him, these papers will be enough to get the Big Five in trial.”
“That’s ifwe can find them,” Téa spat out angrily, “They disappeared at the perfect time— right when Seto was framed.”
“We’ll find them, Miss Gardner,” Konami swore, “We will.”
Morning drifted into afternoon, as Téa sorted out bank paperwork with the accountants. Michael and Audrey rounded up other employees of the various Kaiba Corp. subsidiary firms, garnering their support for an all-out war against the Big Five. And finally, when the clocks were striking four and the sun was about to set, Konami received a call that Theodore Laroque had been found— and a warrant for his arrest received.
Téa rode with Konami in the squad car, passing by Domino Park as the sun danced off the lake.
“Miss Gardner,” Konami began abruptly, breaking the silence that had formed between them since they’d left the bank, “I’m afraid I can’t bring you along for Mr. Laroque’s arrest or interrogation.”
Téa was silent for a moment, but nodded faintly, “I… I understand.”
“I’ll drop you off here,” Konami said, bringing the car to a halt outside the park, “and I’ll call just as soon as we find anything out. If this Laroque kid is guilty, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
“And Seto?” Téa asked immediately, her eyes still riveted to the gold streams of light arching over the water.
“…I’ll let you know.” Konami repeated. Téa nodded and opened the car door, pausing briefly as she stood on the curb, “Thanks, Sergeant.”
And with that, she slammed the door shut and watched Konami drive away.
‘So I’m back here,’ Téa glanced at her surroundings, ‘This park seems to be a place of a lot of endings… and beginnings.’
Téa found the same park bench she’d sat on before… and here she was, staring out at the same lake, the same sky. Sure, months had passed, and she was getting by… her feelings for people had changed, and…
“Téa? Is that you?”
Téa turned abruptly, startled to suddenly see Yugi standing on the dirt path not three meters from her.
“What happened?” Yugi exclaimed, catching sight of the bandage on Téa’s cheek— and neck, and arms.
“Uhm, long story, Yugi…” Téa began sheepishly. The past several days had been nothing short of hellish for her— and here was her chance at peace and quiet… or coming clean to Yugi about everything.
‘There’s no such thing as a coincidence, right?’ Téa thought absently to herself, waiting for Yugi to join her on the bench, ‘Maybe… maybe I should tell him everything now, while… while I still have the courage to.’
“Why didn’t you come to school, today, Téa? The guys and I were worried.”
“T-That’s sweet, Yugi… I’m sorry if I worried you guys. I just— there were…”
How could she possibly say it? How could she tell him that everything she’d told him in the past few months was built on a lie? That she—!
“Téa.” Yugi’s amethyst eyes met with Téa’s bright blue ones, staring into hers with the utmost sincerity.
‘Yugi… He’s always cared about me— he’s always been there for me, and I lied to him. My own best friend… I’m so horrible!’
“You know, you can tell me anything. We’re friends.”
The walls crumbled.
Inside her, any resolve Téa had, to keep perpetuating the lie… faded. In the deepening sunset, Téa saw only her best friend, saw the one person she needed the most to tell… to admit everything.
One by one, the tears slid down her face, as Téa mustered every ounce of courage, and she told her story.
“I can’t do this anymore, Yugi. I can’t keep lying to you.”
“Téa, what are you—” Yugi began, but Téa cut him off.
“All this time, I’ve been lying to you. Lying to the guys. And it’s not fair, and now, when things really are at their worst again, I can’t just cover up how I feel. I can’t pretend…”
“Téa,” The boy put a hand on Téa’s shoulder, “you don’t need to pretend around me.” The concern in his eyes was genuine, Téa realized. But… would he still care, after she’d told him everything?
“This all started the day after my parents died. You remember Yugi, we all went to see a movie?” Yugi nodded slowly, keeping his position beside Téa on the park bench. His hands had fallen to his lap, and now he clenched his fists anxiously; something in his gut told him he wouldn’t like what she had to say.
“I didn’t have a place to go. My home… I didn’t have the keys. The police couldn’t find them in the scene of the accident, and they’d said it was illegal for me to stay alone, anyway. A minor, you know?”
Yugi nodded wordlessly. He always HAD wondered what had become of Téa, those few days between her parent’s death and their funeral. Somehow, between those dates, Téa had found a place to stay, and a job…
“…Kaiba’s… the one who, uh, referred me to my employer.”
Téa’s words from over a two months ago suddenly echoed back clearly in Yugi’s mind. All his suspicions… everything that had never added up…
“After you guys left, I tried breaking into my house,” Téa chuckled wryly, shaking her head, “but then heshowed up.”
Téa didn’t wait for Yugi to ask who; when their eyes met, it was clear to the both of them that he knew.
“Seto,” Téa whispered, “Seto Kaiba.”
“H-He’s… he’s your boss, isn’t he?” Yugi stammered. Everything was coming together. Why Téa had been acting so strange around them that first week she’d been back from her parent’s funeral… how Kaiba had been around Téa to ask her to that Ball of his…
“Yeah,” Téa murmured. “Or he was. Yugi… he— he’s in jail!”
Yugi’s eyes widened in astonishment; that was unexpected. Seto Kaiba in jail!?
“He-He… the police think he murdered my parents!” Téa hiccuped, her voice rising, “I… I’m so scared, I just— all this time, everything that’s happened… I just don’t know what to think!”
“Téa…” Yugi began, but faltered. What could he possibly say to her that would be of any comfort? He hadn’t known anything about what was causing his best friend so much pain… because she hadn’t wantedhim to know.
She hadn’t wanted him to be part of her life.
“A-And even though I know Seto couldn’t have— I mean, there was evidence against the Big Five, and my parents had—”
“Slow down,” Yugi interrupted, his voice an octave lower than normal, “I don’t understand, Téa.”
The brunette sighed, nodding as she sucked in a deep breath.
“The police… were conducting an investigation of what happened to my parents, ever since their death. Turns out they’d found… signs of foul play,” Téa grimaced, “and were investigating the possibility that my parents hadn’t died in an accident, but had been murdered.”
“A-And,” Téa continued, twisting her fingers together in her lap, “they found a grenade. Made by Kaiba Corp.”
“But I thought Kaiba shut down the military division of the company years ago!” Yugi exclaimed, surprised. Besides, what would Kaiba have stood to gain by the death of Téa’s parents?
‘Other than Téa’s constant company,’ Yugi grimaced. That wasn’t it at all. He was just being foolish. Kaiba had understood what Téa had gone through with the loss of her parents, and… well of course it had been odd, seeing him reaching outfor someone other than Mokuba.
Why DID he help Téa, anyway?
“He did,” Téa sighed. “But someone with connections… access to the old military branch of Kaiba Corp. had the grenade planted in my parents’ car. No, five someones.” Téa paused, staring at Yugi intensely, “The Big Five.”
“Wh— But I thought they were trapped in the virtual world! After they tried to do the same to Kaiba, and we—”
“I know, Yugi,” Téa murmured, “But these guys are too slimy to get caught like that. They must have had a fail-safe or something, and have been working in the shadows ever since. They’ve been siphoning money out of the subsidiary firms of Kaiba Corp.— trying to get the military branch running again, so they can oust Seto from office.”
“…And your parents found out,” Yugi stated.
Téa nodded, “Yeah. I guess the whole headstrong thing is hereditary, huh, Yugi?” Téa squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to cry more.
Yugi didn’t know what to say; he’d known Téa since they were both in elementary school. Her parents were kind people —her mother passing on her beauty to Téa, while the spunky brunette got her attitude and stubbornness from her father. There was never any doubt in Yugi’s mind that Téa was Eric and Elizabeth Gardner’s daughter.
“A-And they knew, Yugi… they knew that they might die, and they didn’t tell me, didn’t warn me, and now…” The tears started to fall as she hiccuped out her words. Between gasps of air, Téa saw Seto in her mind’s eye —he wasn’t guilty! He didn’t deserve to be in that jail cell!
And yet… for a moment, Téa had thought he did. That he HAD murdered her parents, and that he deserved to rot. That whatever young man she’d been deceived by was gone… and in his stead, the cold, callous, murderousSeto Kaiba that had always been there.
“I didn’t trust him… when I should have. When he needed me the most, I… Oh, Seto, I’m so sorry!” Téa whispered under her breath, forgetting for an instant that Yugi was right beside her.
Suddenly, she glanced up, startled, “Mokuba!”
“Téa?” Yugi questioned, confused.
“Mokuba! He- I know he had an afterschool thing today, but… if Seto’s not there to pick up up— oh god, Yugi, I can’t tell him that Seto’s in jail! And because of me!”
“It’s not your fault!” Yugi insisted, grasping Téa by the shoulders even as she heaved, still sobbing, “Téa!”
“I-I’ll go. I’ll pick up Mokuba. Explain things to him.”
“You’d do that, Yugi?” Téa looked up, the redness of her eyes a sharp contrast to her blue eyes.
“You know I would, Téa.” Yugi swallowed. It hurt to see her in so much pain… to realize that she cared so deeply for… for HIM! It wasn’t that Yugi hated Kaiba —he didn’t, not in the slightest, but…
Yugi didn’t want Kaiba to be with Téa. He didn’t want Téa to love Kaiba.
Téa swallowed, hastily rubbing her face with her arm. She sniffled loudly, taking in the scenery around them. Even if the park never changed… even if things started, and things ended, always in that same place… on that same park bench…
The sky was always different. The sunsets, always a new myriad of colors; the clouds, always floating across the sky in a new pattern…
‘I’ve changed,’ Téa realized. The last time she’d been at this park, she wouldn’t have even considered loving Seto Kaiba. But now… they’d been through so much. He’d been there for her, and even though things got… well, “awkward” was probably the best word, he was always there…
Present, but ever-changing.
Like she was the same girl, but with new feelings in her heart.
Where once, she had fancied herself deeply in love with her best friend’s “darker half,” now she knew that such a relationship could never come to fruition. And that Yugi was her best friend…
‘I need to tell him.’
It’s not easy saying this to you
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do
“Yugi, there’s something else. I— I think… I think I’m in—”
But Téa didn’t have a chance to complete her sentence. Yugi’s own lips cut Téa’s words off, and her voice died a quick death.
Crystal blue eyes widening, Téa barely had time to process what was happening. Her best friend Yugi —kissing her?! Warm lips caressed her own in a manner that was entirely different from her first kiss with Seto — Yugi’s lips were gentle, soft…
And, just as soon as it had started, it was over. Yugi pulled away from her, his violet eyes opening and staring at Téa forlornly. He’d felt it; her heart didn’t belong to him.
That the guys had been wrong, and Yugi’s gut had been right all along…
“Yugi, but… why?” Téa whispered, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion as she tried to blink a fresh set of tears away.
But hey, before you go
I want you to know
“I…” Yugi swallowed hard, looking at his clenched fists in his lap, “I’ve been in love with you for a long time,” he glanced up, amethyst purple meeting with sky blue, “Téa.”
Silence claimed the space between the two teenagers: the same two teenagers who had known each other since elementary school, the same two teenagers who had grown to be the best of friends…
“Why now? Why not four months ago, when—” Her words came to a stop. Four months ago her crush for Yami had still lingered. She’d only begunto have doubts about whether she’d really be hurting her best friend —be hurting YUGI— if she were to admit her feelings for the spirit of the Millennium Puzzle…
I wish you strength
When times are hard
Oh, I wish with all my heart you find just what
You’re looking for
Yugi gaze fell again, “I’m sorry, Téa. I wanted to tell you, but I never could. And now… now it just doesn’t matter anymore. You’re in lovewith someone else.”
Téa stared at Yugi, “You knew?”
“I think part of me knew… for a while, now. It’s Kaiba, isn’t it? You’re in love with him.”
Yugi’s last words weren’t in the form of a question, though Téa felt the need to answer anyway.
And so the truth came out. Yugi knew. He knew everything, now.
I wish you joy
I wish you peace
And that every star you see’s within your reach
“But,” Téa began, smiling sadly, “four months ago, I was… I thought I was in love with…” She scooted a bit closer to Yugi, a hand reaching out to touch the Millennium Puzzle that rarely left Yugi’s neck. Upon contact with the golden artifact, a tingle spread through Téa’s fingers, and she shivered, “h-him.”
And I wish you still loved me
Yugi’s eyes widened, his expression startled, “You m-mean—” his voice cracked, for a moment deepening. Yugi still sat in the same place, but, for just a second, Téa swore she saw Yami there.
“And that was so horrible of me, Yugi— to feel that way!”
“But why…?” Yugi asked softly, his eyes never straying from Téa’s. His heart ached at the thought that at one time, Téa’s affections had been returned in someway.
“Because Yugi,” Téa whispered, placing her hand on his, “he’s not you.”
I wish things were different
You know that
But I’m still happy for the times we had
You mean the world to me
Baby Please Believe
For a moment, silence reigned, and the only sounds that were heard were the faint echoes of birds chirping in the park, and ducks splashing on the water.
“He’s not my best friend… not the boy I’ve grown up with and come to depend on.”
Part of Yugi wanted to protest, but he knew Téa’s words were true; no matter how long he’d had Yami ‘within’ him, it wasn’t as if they were one and the same person. They thought differently, acted differently… loved differently.
“I— I crushed on Yami for so long,” Téa admitted, swallowing the acidic lump in her throat, “that when Battle City ended, and Yami… just disappeared, I—. I didn’t know what to do, or what to think. I started realizing as the weeks went by, that he’s a different person, Yugi. Someone inside you, maybe, someone that’s helped all of us, but not someone that can —I couldn’t possibly— I didn’t want to hurt you, Yugi!”
I wish you strength
When times are hard
Oh I wish with all my heart you find just what
You’re looking for
I wish you joy
I wish you peace
And that every star you see’s within your reach
“But I… Téa, I love you,” Yugi whispered. It was true, despite knowing that her crush on Yami was gone, and that she was now in love with Kaiba. His heart still kept beating, his feelings for her remained strong…
And I wish you still loved me
Téa dropped her head, her dark bangs covering her eyes as tears slid down the curve of her cheeks, “I don’t— I don’t love YOU, Yugi. Not the way you want. I’m— I’m so sorry.”
Losing you is tearing me apart
But a part of me will be with you
No matter where you are
Yugi remained silent, though whether it was because he couldn’t find the words he wanted to say, or because he was afraid of the words he COULD say— not even he knew. He squeezed Téa’s hand gently, wishing that he could just continue to sit there with her, holding her…
I wish you strength
When times are hard
But he couldn’t. She didn’t love him, didn’t need him. Not the way she used to.
On slightly trembling legs, Yugi rose, dropping Téa’s hand back to her own lap, startling the girl into looking up at her friend.
Oh I wish with all my heart you find just what
You’re looking for
What could he say? It wasn’t as if anything could change things right then; nothing could make Téa change her feelings.
And, even if he were the Time Wizard, even if he could go back…
She still wouldn’t have loved HIM. In his heart of hearts, Yugi knew he couldn’t be completely happy, not with Téa in love with… with a part of him that wasn’t REALLY him at all.
In love with Yami.
I wish you joy
I wish you peace
And that every star you see’s within your reach
“Be happy.” And with those words, Yugi turned and walked out of the park, leaving Téa alone, crying on the bench as the sunset closed around her.
And I wish you still loved me
Mokuba Kaiba stared at the reddening sky with an exasperated sigh.
Where was Seto?
He’d gotten out of school hours ago, and had spent a few more hours with some of his fellow club-members, working out ideas for the upcoming sports festival.
But… Seto still wasn’t there.
Mokuba knew that last night’s —well, “disaster” might be a good word for the events concerning the ghosts— events had sent Téa to the hospital. But he’d assumed that Seto and Téa had come back late at night.
But he hadn’t seen them.
Maybe they’d left for school before him?
It was unusual, but Mokuba had to force himself not to worry. If he worried, he’d lose focus, and not be able to concentrate in school. And what excuse could he possibly give his teachers? That some ghosts had attacked the girl he liked and his brother, and now she was in the hospital, and his brother was god-knows-where?
Yeah, like that would fly.
The ebony-haired boy looked up, startled to see not his brother, but Yugi Moto there.
“Um… your brother’s not coming to pick you up,” Yugi explained, a strange look in his eyes. Mokuba realized with slow certainty that it he looked so… sad. Never before had Mokuba seen such an expression on Yugi Moto’s face… and it scared him.
Téa walked down the streets of downtown Domino, doing her best to avoid all contact with other humans. Of course, it wasn’t easy, given that it was the time of day when many salarymen were returning home, schoolgirls left their afterschool clubs and karaoke get-togethers, and boys left their sports clubs and arcades.
But she couldn’t stay at the park any longer than she already had.
Téa didn’t know what to do— she couldn’t go to the station, she couldn’t go to the Game Shop, she couldn’t go home…
She’d never felt so lost before.
Téa did her best to ignore the voice; she didn’t need any weirdoes coming onto her. She just wanted to tune the world out, and wait for everything to just go away.
“I said, HEY, girlie.”
That voice didn’t sound like a guy’s. What, now she was getting hit on by WOMEN?
“Téa! Hello! Good god girl, you look like crap!”
Téa’s gaze jolted up, and she met the source of the snappish voice— Mai Valentine.
Mokuba put his cup down with trembling hands.
“He’s… where?” he asked again, his gaze glazed and fixed at some invisible point, beyond the card cases and Duel Monsters displays.
“In jail. Téa told me the police think he murdered her parents.”
“What!? But Téa knows Big Brother would never— I mean!” Mokuba protested, his shocked gaze finally reaching Yugi’s.
“I knows. And Téa knows, too. She spent all day with the police finding evidence that her parents left behind.”
“B-But if she did, and she knows who did it—” Mokuba trailed off meaningfully, wondering if Téa had told Yugi of her findings.
Yugi became stone-faced and grim; “The Big Five were behind it, Téa said,” Yugi uttered, “I don’t know how your brother could have not known they were still working for him.”
Mokuba scowled, “I bet he didn’t. He doesn’t check up on the smaller firms that they ran. He only stays on top of what Kaiba Corp. directly manages— the gaming and amusement industries, and occasionally the tech divisions that cater to hospitals and schools.”
“The police were on their way to get a warrant for arrest for someone that they suspected was involved… your brother’s name should be cleared by the end of the night. I’ll take you there.”
Mokuba glanced up at the older boy who was his brother’s hated rival… and at the same time, probably the closest thing Seto had to a best friend.
Mokuba wasn’t entirely sure of the relationship Téa and Seto shared —not after last night, and certainly not now, with Seto having been accused of murdering Téa’s parents… but Yugi didsay that Téa had helped find evidence to prove Seto innocent. Maybe… maybe everything would just work out in the end, and they would both come home, and everything would be okay.
But something in Mokuba’s gut told him it wasn’t going to be so easy.
“HE WHAT!?” Mai exclaimed loudly, her voice reaching into the higher soprano range as she slammed her palms against the Crown Café and Diner tabletop.
“Mai,” Téa hissed, her lips curving into a frown, “sit down! The whole world doesn’t need to know about my problems with Seto Kaiba.”
“They should,” Mai grumbled, “Especially if the jerk called you a ‘curse.’ Where does that ass get off? And you were right, weren’t you? Damn place was haunted.”
“I didn’t expect you to believe me so easily,” Téa said after a moment, chewing on her lower lip. She raised still-red eyes to meet Mai’s violet ones, “I thought you would laugh.”
“Well, you thought wrong. The way I figure it, why would you come up with such a cock-and-bull story if it wasn’ttrue? Besides, with all the weird stuff that’s happened to us, I’m not that surprised.”
“And the rest?”
“The murder thing,” Mai admitted, turning her milkshake straw around over and over, “was a bit of a shock. But you know now that Kaiba didn’t do it. Much a prick as he is, he’s no murderer, and we both know that.”
“Huh?” Mai asked eloquently, the straw from her shake dropping from between her rosy lips.
“When— when they first arrested Seto, I— I thought he did it. I really did, Mai. I thought Seto Kaiba murdered my parents.”
“B-But Téa, that’s— come on, that’s preposterous!” Mai protested, “Why would he have done something like that?”
“I know, I know! It’s just, I can’t stop thinking about how— how I’m supposed to be in love with him, and how this big secret is ruining every relationship I’m ever had,” Téa looked up at Mai momentarily, “sans this one, of course.”
“Yeah,” Mai smirked, “your little secrets might actually be making ourrelationship better. We never had any friendly rapports about your dirty little thoughts before.” The blonde smirked. Téa rolled her eyes and continued.
“I was supposed to trust in him, Mai. To believe in him no matter what… but I didn’t. I couldn’t.”
“But you found out the truth, Téa. Why is this bugging you so much?”
“It doesn’t matter!” Téa exclaimed sharply, sucking in a cold breath, “It doesn’t matter how long it took before I figured it all out. I doubted him —Seto, the man I’m supposedto be in love with— for even an instant. That’s… that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
“Hate to break it to you, hun,” Mai began with her brows raised, “but love never is supposed todo anything.”
“I can believe in myself. I can believe in my friends. But Kaiba, who I’ve known just as long, even though I’ve gotten to know him more than most people would realize, I still— I can’t trust him! I can’t tell the guys where I’ve been staying, I can’t tell them that I— I don’t even know what I’m feeling anymore. I’m just… God, Mai, I’m so scared.”
The older blonde wondered exactly how to phrase the words that would bring comfort to Téa. The thing was, there really weren’tany such words. Comfort had to come hand in hand with pain, and right now…
“Bakura knows. And you told Yugi. When the time’s right, you’ll work up the nerve to tell the other guys too, and they’ll just have to accept it. Kaiba did you a huge favor by taking you in.”
“Mai, you don’t get it! It’s not like I’ve even been doing my job! I’ve… I’ve crossed that line between employer and employee— even the line between classmates, or acquaintances! I think I’m in love with someone, and I can’t even trust him! He’s in jail because of me, and I know— I know he won’t ever look at me the same. Mai, I can’t go back to that.”
Mai sighed. Téa had a point… trust was a major issue where love was concerned. It was something Mai knew all too well…
“Téa,” she began in a softer voice, “if you ever need a place to crash, for whatever reason, or for however long, you just,” she scribbled her address and phone number on her placemat, ripping the corner off and handing it to Téa, “let me know.”
Téa took the scrap with trembling hands, finally looking up at Mai with watering eyes. “Thanks, Mai.”
Less than an hour later, Téa found herself back at the Kaiba mansion.
She couldn’t exactly call it ‘home’ anymore, because it sure didn’t feel like it. She felt horribly unwelcome in the place, and it gave her the same cold shivers that she’d gotten during her first unexpected ‘visit.’
‘Okay girl… this is it.’ Téa zipped up her duffel bag, packed with a week’s worth of essentials. She just needed some time away…
From the house.
Maybe what she needed to do was be by herself for a while, and sort her feelings out. Figure out if what she really felt was love— or something else. If what she really wanted was to do was take the risk of admitting everything to everyone… or to just pretend it had all been some horrible, warped mistake.
As Téa walked downstairs, she caught sight of the last rays of sunlight making their way into Seto’s office and shining onto his desk.
The tri-dragon paperweight she’d bought for his birthday present sat there, gleaming in the dying light.
“I’m sorry, Seto,” Téa murmured aloud, “for everything.”
And with that, Téa Gardner left the Kaiba mansion —the place that had, for the past several months, been her ‘home’— without once looking back.
Téa walked a bit aimlessly, though in the general direction of the Domino Police Department, curious as to if they had successfully interrogated Theodore yet.
She wanted to know what he’d had to do with her parents’ murder… and why he’d become Jacques Mode’s fashion assistant, knowingly going to the Kaiba mansion where he would see Téa…
Her cell phone rang loudly in her purse, startling Téa to the point where she nearly jumped into the air.
“Miss Gardner? This is Sergeant Konami, from the Domino City Police.”
“Oh! Oh hi… Sergeant,” Téa’s voice dropped. For just an instant, a feeling of anger boiled within her, hating the man who had inadvertently turned her life into disaster. Not Seto Kaiba, but Konami. The bearer of such horrible news…
“Miss Gardner, would you be able to come to the station now? Mr. Laroque has something he’d like to say to you.”
Téa hadn’t expected that. Nodding if just to reassure her own self, she whispered, “Okay. I’m on my way,” and then hung up.
Back to the DCPD… back to where it had all began…
‘And where it’s all going to end… all over again.’
“Is this it, Yugi?” Mokuba asked softly.
The boy beside him wasn’t even looking at the DCPD; he was staring at the last line of the sun as it disappeared under the horizon, his eyes transfixed on some invisible point in the distance.
“Yugi?” Mokuba repeated, his voice a bit louder.
“Oh, sorry.” Yugi shook his head, trying to rid his thoughts of his earlier ‘conversation’ with Téa. Things… things were different now. The sun was setting… not just on another day, but on their relationship. It could never be the way Yugi had hoped.
“I-I think you should come in with me, Yugi,” Mokuba started, looking nervously at the imposing brick structure that was the police station. He was terrified of what his brother would be like when he saw him— would he be all beat-up and bruised, like those guys that got arrested on COPS?
The two boys stepped into the building, completely unaware that Téa was just rounding the corner just behind them.
“Can I help you boys?” The policewoman at the reception desk greeted Yugi and Mokuba kindly as they entered; they were looking about the place with some level of awe and fear.
“Y-Yeah,” Mokuba stepped up to the desk, suddenly feeling rather diminutive, “My— My brother, Seto Kaiba…” he began softly.
“Say no more. This way.” The woman smiled slightly and led Mokuba and a silent Yugi to a room around the corner. The wire-and-glass windows were small, but through their transparency, Yugi could see Seto Kaiba hunched over a small table, filling out papers.
“Big Brother!” Mokuba cried out as he flung open the door, his voice echoing loudly off the hallways’ concrete walls.
Seto turned and rose to his feet immediately, barely prepared for Mokuba thundering into him.
“Mokuba!” Seto squeezed his little brother in a tight hug, even if the gesture was more reassuring for himself than his younger sibling.
There was a niggling presence fighting for Seto’s attention, drawing his steely gaze upwards, and it was then that Seto Kaiba noticed Yugi Moto standing in the doorway as if he belonged there.
Seto was about to open his mouth and demand to know what the hell Yugi was doing there, but Mokuba noticed his older brother’s expression and spoke first.
“He brought me here, Big Brother,” Mokuba explained. “He picked me up from school and explained everything to me. If it hadn’t been for Yugi, I never would have known.”
Seto was silent, wondering briefly how Yugi had even known he was in the jail. But then, that Moto boy always didfind a way of showing up when he was least wanted or expected.
“…Thank you,” Seto finally said, his gaze dropping from Yugi’s. The boy only nodded, an odd sort of sadness in his violet eyes as he regarded Seto. Kaiba wasn’t sure what to make of the expression, and so sat down with Mokuba, explaining as much as he could— hardly even noticing that Yugi had turned on his heel and closed the door behind him.
“Ah, Miss Gardner—”
Yugi froze where he stood.
“…Yeah, well it’s not like I wantto be back here. But Sergeant Konami said Laroque had something to tell me.”
He couldn’t face her.
Yugi scanned the walls and found a sign leading to a back exit. As he hurried down the hallways, Téa’s voice became more and more faint. It hardly mattered that he could hear it clearly in his ears, echoing over and over again…
“Seto. Seto Kaiba… the man I love.”
Téa found herself alone in the same room she’d spoken to Audrey and Michael just hours earlier.
It seemed like an eternity before the door clicked open and Konami walked in, two police officers gripping the arms of a skinny boy whom Téa had grown to recognize since her visit to her father’s office.
And her own re-visitation of her memories… when this selfsame boy had come to the Kaiba mansion, under the guise of Jacques Mode’s assistant…
‘Murderer!’ whispered a voice in the back of Téa’s mind as she met the young man’s eyes, blue clashing with blue like a violent storm at sea.
“All right Laroque, you’ve got one minute,” Konami gestured to the young man, offering no other introduction to Téa, who was so anxious that she’d twisted her fingers together in her lap, preferring they be stuck that way and cramp rather than allow them to shake and reveal her fright.
“I’m sorry!” Theodore blurted immediately, his eyes pleading.
“Excuse me?” Téa asked, her voice a whisper. “You might want to repeat that for me… because to me, it sounded like you tried to apologize— for murder!”
Theodore dropped his head shamefully; he knew that an apology wouldn’t change things. It wouldn’t bring the Gardners back… it wouldn’t bring Liselle back…
“That’s not how it works, Laroque— Iwana— WHOEVER YOU ARE!” Téa couldn’t fight the tears streaming down her face, leaving red streaks on her once-white cheeks.
“Gone. Gone for good.” Téa shook her head in despair, as if finally realizing how utterly permanenther parents’ death really was.
“Maybe I’m the one who should apologize,” Téa whispered after a moment, surprising everyone present. “I know you were forced into doing it, Theodore. I know the Big Five are the real culprits behind this, and they deserve to be the ones behind bars. But that doesn’t mean you don’t, too.”
The blond looked startlingly afraid as Téa continued, her voice growing stronger and her crying ceasing.
“Maybe you could have saved them, maybe you couldn’t have. Maybe if you hadn’t done anything, Liselle would still be alive today—” Theodore looked crestfallen —- “but maybe she wouldn’t be. I can’t change the past, and what’s done is done,” Téa said softly.
“But that doesn’t mean I have to forgive you,” Her voice was cold and deadly serious as she met Theodore’s gaze. Silence reigned in the small room before Konami broke it.
“Finished your paperwork?”
Seto Kaiba turned around and saw Konami standing just to the right of the receptionist desk, where he was filling out the last of his papers to ensure everything that had transpired was indeed, a mistake, and he was cleared of any and all criminal charges.
Moments later, two stocky officers with a young man in their grip emerged from a room off to the side, and Seto felt a jolt pass through him. So this was him.
“Sorry, Mr. Kaiba, but we’re escorting this guy off to where he belongs— jail.” Konami spoke up as he gestured to the two officers.
“M-Mr. Kaiba!” Theodore suddenly twisted in their arms, struggling with the officers as mightily as he could, “I did what I had to to save her! To save Liselle! I had to do anything! Surely you know what that must feel like— a man in love!”
* No one will ever truly love you, Seto. You’ll always be alone. *
‘I am alone. I’ll always be alone. It’s better that way. Safer that way.’
It was only a moment later when Seto Kaiba replied, raising his gaze from where it had fallen briefly to the floor, “No. I’m afraid I wouldn’t.”
Kaiba recognized the look of shock on Theodore’s face —the last time he saw the boy— before he was bodily forced around the corner to the jail cells.
With one last signature, that was it.
Seto Kaiba was free.
Seto was more than glad to be finally released from that dank, stinking jail. Every minute was a moment longer than necessary. And it all could have been avoided, if Téa had only believed in him…
‘I don’t need that pathetic cheerleader’s faith. I went and got out of here on my own. If I had never been foolish enough to let her in in the first place, I wouldn’t have even wasted my time here in the first place!’
“Téa!” Mokuba exclaimed in surprise, his own dark eyes meeting with Téa’s. She’d been sitting outside the Domino City Police Station on a cool, concrete bench, wearing the same skimpy shorts and sleeveless blouse as she’d been wearing over twenty four hours ago.
Seto refused to meet the girl’s gaze, despite the minor discomfort it brought him, knowing she was staring at him so pointedly. He regarded the girl with as little emotion as possible; he knew what he had to do, what he had to say… what had to happen.
“I- I’m glad that you’re out,” Téa mumbled, “I’m sorry about all this mess… I was being really stupid earlier, and I should have just said in the beginning. I know I should have trusted you Seto! I just— Maybe I think… I shouldn’t go back to the mansion. I’m sorry…”
There. She’d gone and said it… suggested that maybe— maybe it was best if they spent time apart. It was for the best, after all…
”What am I apologizing for, anyway? “I’m sorry for not believing in you from the start?” How can I say that, when he didn’t even try to believe in me… when I needed his trust the most? When— when it could have meant my death?’
Everything had gone so horribly wrong in the past few days, Téa just wanted to curve up into a ball and forget that the outside world existed. But it wasn’t so easy.
“Amazing that a foolish girl like you could be sharing my thoughts exactly, Gardner. I don’t think you should come back to the mansion, either,” Seto spoke. His gaze lowered to meet hers, and it was then that Téa realized just who she was speaking to. Not the Seto Kaiba she had fallen in love with… but a cold, sarcastic Kaiba. Mokuba stood agape, his feet riveted in place, staring from his brother to Téa, watching as tears brimmed the girl’s lashes.
While before, her tears might have stirred some feeling in Seto Kaiba, now there was nothing. Only the simple thought that he’d been right all along, and that trivialities like friendship and love were nothing more than a waste of time.
The black night wrapped itself around Téa’s frame, Seto’s gaze chilling her soul more than any night wind ever could.
But… hadn’t she expected this? She had known that he would never treat her the same way, never trust her again…
‘You weren’t supposed to agree with me!’Téa wanted to cry out. But he was right. He was always right. He was a genius, after all, and she was just a ‘foolish girl…’ Her head bobbed in a slight nod; she deserved Seto’s callousness.
“It’s probably for the best… if we spend some time apart,” Téa whispered, biting her lip to prevent the tears from falling. But it wasn’t working very well; the tears went slip-sliding down her face, even as she turned her head down, her gaze averted from the Kaiba brothers. She clutched the handles of her pink duffle bag tightly, as if they were her only lifeline.
“I’m so sorry!” Her voice came out as a whisper, a choking sob. Unable to hold her tears back any more, Téa wheeled on her feet and dashed into the inky darkness of the night, not looking back once.
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