The Evolution of Dreams
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is for Azure Week 2020, a celebration of Azureshipping organized by Azurite. This time it does take place in my main post-series verse The Pendulum Swings (slightly in the future, however, instead of where the timeline is right now), but hopefully it's okay being read as a stand-alone. The adventure Téa mentions at one point towards the end happened in my story Old Enemies, New Friends. The Big Five have long been redeemed in this verse and are trusted members of the group. I used the themes Something Human and Invitation, as per MoonlightTyger's request. We decided to write some of the prompts for each other in a mini prompt exchange to further challenge ourselves during Azure Week. Also, I use the Japanese version of what happened to KaibaCorp during Duelist Kingdom, where it was more Pegasus's fault rather than the Big Five's. 4Kids inserted a murder plot that originally didn't exist!
Téa had been surprised to receive the invitation to be Seto's guest at a business dinner that evening. Seto hated events where he had to socialize with other business people, and he had seemed even more restless with them lately. Téa was free that night, but even if she hadn't been, she suspected she would have cancelled the prior engagement to be available for the dinner.
Seto picked her up promptly on time, of course. Seto Kaiba was never late. (Joey sometimes snarked that Seto also wasn't early; he arrived whenever he meant to!) Téa bid Goodbye to her parents and hurried out the door, holding up the hem of her long skirt so she wouldn't trip on the steps.
Seto was wearing his white suit and standing with folded arms outside the limousine. He looked Téa over with a swift and approving gaze and then stepped aside as the chauffeur opened the door.
"You don't usually wear black," he mused.
Téa flushed. "I know, but this is the fanciest dress in the house and I figured a business dinner wanted fancy. It's Mom's dress, actually." She climbed inside.
Seto got in next to her. "I know. I remember." Téa had worn it to a nightclub on one of their past investigations. He hesitated. "It looks nice on you."
"Thanks," Téa said in surprise. Seto rarely delivered compliments, so when he did, you always knew he meant them. It was the same with Téa, at least when it came to sincerity. She gave compliments much more frequently than Seto. "You look nice too."
Seto nodded in acknowledgement. He had first taken to wearing the suit because it looked more professional during a time when KaibaCorp's reputation was at a serious low. First Pegasus had deliberately ruined the company by spreading the story of Seto's first defeat at Yugi's hands. Once the stocks were at rock-bottom and Seto had mysteriously left without giving a way to contact him, Pegasus had gone to the Big Five telling them that the only way to save the company was to join with him. Seto had tried to start Battle City soon after that mess, hoping to put both himself and the company back on top. It had helped to some extent, but Seto losing again hadn't impressed some stockholders, making the company easy prey for Dartz soon after that. It was after that calamity that Seto had started wearing the suit in an attempt to change the company's image. KaibaCorp was indeed back on top by now, but he still wore the suit at certain functions even though he enjoyed his trenchcoats as well.
"So where's Mokuba?" Téa had to ask. "He always goes with you to things like this. . . ."
"He's going to meet us there," Seto said. "He said he'd go straight there from KaibaCorp and you and I could have a private ride over."
Téa could feel the color spreading across her face. "Oh. . . ."
If Seto was embarrassed, or if he even understood what Mokuba had been driving at, he gave no indication of it. "The Big Five will be there promoting Penguin World, so if Mokuba gets there first, he can stay with them," he said.
"That's good," Téa said.
It didn't take long to arrive at the Royal Hotel, where the dinner was being held. They stepped out and into the overly fancy banquet room, where most of the other guests were already there and milling around. It was an event for local business people, and Téa soon spotted Duke and David talking with Dartz while the Big Five were getting in line for dinner.
Téa smiled. "It's nice to see them managing so well. They've really come far."
"They have," Seto agreed. He seemed slightly tense, but when Mokuba darted out of the crowd and joined the Big Five, he relaxed. All was well.
"Mokuba looks good in a suit," Téa smiled. She couldn't remember ever seeing him in one before, but now he was wearing a white suit similar to Seto's.
Seto nodded. "He decided he should wear one to this."
He paused, looking somewhat awkward. "Mokuba told me you're trying to get into an expensive dancing school here in town."
"Yeah, that's right." Téa blinked in surprise. She hadn't expected Seto to bring that up.
"I thought your plan was to study in New York. Are you really alright with giving that up?" Was it Téa's imagination, or did Seto actually sound troubled?
"Well, one of the teachers used to dance on Broadway, so in that way I'm really not giving up the experience of being taught by New Yorkers," Téa smiled. "Yeah, I'm okay with this. I want this. I decided that I can have my dream of becoming a dancer while staying here with my friends too."
"Heh. No more 'They're in my heart wherever I go'?" Seto grunted. They also headed for the food line.
"Well, they are, of course," Téa stammered, "but . . . when it comes right down to it, I . . . guess I really don't want to leave them. . . ."
"'Them'?" Seto repeated.
Téa looked up into his eyes. Suddenly she realized her mistake. "You're included in that too, Kaiba. . . . I mean . . . I don't want to leave you either. . . . In fact . . ."
But that was as far as she got before Mokuba and the Big Five realized they were right there.
"Seto! Téa!" Mokuba beamed as they caught up.
"Hey, kid," Seto said. "Is everything going alright here?"
"Just great," Mokuba said.
"Hey!" Crump greeted. He looked at Téa's gown with interest, just as he had the last time he had seen her wear it. Téa didn't really mind anymore. Crump had proved he could be a gentleman.
Lector smiled. "Good evening, both of you."
"Hi, guys," Téa smiled back.
Seto nodded to them. "How are things going?" he asked.
"Good," Gansley said.
"Yeah, we were kinda surprised to get the invitation for tonight, but it's great," Crump said. "Penguin World's been doing well enough that we're really recognized again as some of Domino's best businessmen!" He puffed up with pride.
"You really deserve it too," Téa said sincerely.
"Thank you, Miss Gardner," Lector said.
"Mokuba told us you're trying to get into that fancy dancing school in town," Crump said.
"Yeah, I am," Téa said. She smiled. "And it wouldn't be possible if you guys hadn't given me that job at Penguin World. It pays a lot better than Burger World!"
"And it's likely less stressful than working for Mr. Thorton at the mall every holiday season," Johnson mused.
Téa went red. "He's probably here!" she hissed.
"Oh, he's over talking to some guy and squeezing stress balls," Crump said.
That brought a laugh. "He never changes. . . ."
They reached the head of the line and started going around the table, dishing up food. Everything looked delicious.
"You are welcome to sit with us," Lector said. "The tables seat eight."
Seto nodded in approval. "We'll do that."
The dinner overall was a pleasant experience. The food was indeed delicious and Mokuba was very at ease, chatting with Lector and with Seto and Téa. Nesbitt had been largely silent, which wasn't unusual; he was even more uncomfortable with social events than Seto was. But he had greeted Téa and Seto during a break in the conversation and seemed alright with all of them sharing a table.
Téa was still running her earlier conversation with Seto over in her mind as the evening wore on. She wanted to have the chance to let Seto know the rest of what she had been going to tell him, but there never seemed to be a good moment to get into the topic. Business people from around the city were continually going up to Seto and wanting to talk with him. She could feel him tensing more and more through the hours, but he never ceased to be professional.
To Téa's stunned surprise, he finally took her wrist and led her out on a patio. "I just needed to get out of there for a few minutes," he grunted.
"Too many people?" Téa supplied.
Seto didn't answer, but instead gave her a serious look. "I wanted to tell you that I hope you're not short-changing yourself on your dream in order to stay here with everyone," he said. "They'd all tell you to follow your dream. I would too." He looked awkward but sincere as he said this.
Téa stared at him in amazement. "Kaiba. . . . No, that's not it," she insisted. "I can have my dreams right here, in Domino City."
"'Dreams'?" Seto repeated with a raised eyebrow.
She nodded. "Yeah. I have more than one now. I started realizing it that night when we rode on one of your Blue-Eyes White Dragons. I was just really starting to know you then, and I knew I didn't want that to end. I wanted to keep getting to know you better."
Seto stared at her in growing disbelief. "I'm the reason you decided you wanted to stay?!"
"A lot of the reason," Téa said. "Well, why not? That's a legitimate reason!"
From the look in Seto's eyes, he was still having a hard time wrapping his mind around the idea that anyone other than Mokuba could care about him that much. As she had on many previous occasions, Téa felt a wave of sadness. Gozaburo really had warped this once-innocent soul in countless ways. It wasn't even just in turning him ruthless and cold; Gozaburo had made him feel worthless if he didn't always win at everything.
Téa stepped closer to him. "Kaiba . . . you're a good person," she said softly. "I know once upon a time I never would have believed that, but we've come through so much since then!" She shifted. "And you know how I feel about you. . . ."
"You haven't said anything about that in a while now," Seto finally spoke. "I thought you'd probably decided it was a ridiculous idea."
"I just didn't want to make you uncomfortable when you were still sorting out your feelings!" Téa exclaimed. "I still feel the same way I did before."
Seto hesitated for a longer moment. It was clear from his eyes that he was still struggling, knowing what he wanted to do but still not being sure it was the right thing to do. But then he decided and the resolve in his eyes hardened. He drew Téa closer to him. "I've sorted things out by now."
Téa stared up at him, her hands gripping at his sleeves, her heart picking up speed. She had never thought her feelings would really come to anything and that they would have to remain unfulfilled, just as her feelings for Atem had. She had never thought Seto would . . .
"You really mean that?" she asked breathlessly.
In response, Seto bent down and kissed her on the lips. It was a strange mix of him being determined about what he wanted to do and not being quite sure what he was doing since it was his first time ever doing it. But for Téa, it was the most amazing thing ever. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed back.
Yes, sometimes dreams changed, as Nesbitt had once noted. But all of Téa's dreams, both old and new, were on their way to being fulfilled now.