What Doesn't Kill You
Chapter 1: This Was Me
(Version 4.0)
A Yu-Gi-Oh Fanfiction

By: Azurite
Site: seventh-star DOT net
Conceptualized/First Written: 10/06/03
Completed/Posted: 10/10/03

Edited: 8/8/04, 3/25/05, 10/27/05, 5/31/07, 3/23/08 (Thanks Faye Zepher!)

This chapter is rated PG13 or T for angst and such… (fic as a whole is rated R or M!)

Notes: Welcome to Version 3.5 of What Doesn't Kill You! For those of you new to me as an author, the Azureshipping pairing (Seto x Anzu), or this story, please read this note.

(1) There are no slash/yaoi pairings to be found in WDKY, or any of my fics (for the forseeable future). Why? I'm just not into them for this fandom. Plain and simple as that. Please don't waste your energy trying to convince me.

(2) On that same note, this story is already established as Azureshipping (Seto x Anzu). There are other implied pairings in here, so keep your eyes peeled. However, this is not one of those "everyone gets paired off!" fics. And I will not invent OCs just to pair the "solo" characters off with. The story is planned out in its entirety; I will not change it for someone else's whims.

(3) However, I use the dub names for most characters in the story where appropriate; if I make an exception, it's because the dub screwed up the original name, not me.

(4) If you don't like Anzu/Téa, then don't read this story. Simple as that.

(5) This story is slated to be 36 chapters long. Chapter 7 has been divided into two chapters so that it fits on FFnet and MMorg. It is currently (as of the latest edit) unfinished, but still being worked on.

Disclaimer: I do not own, nor claim to own Yu-Gi-Oh or any of its characters. This fanfiction is for fun, not for profit, and the only thing I "claim ownership" over (artistic license) is the plot and any original characters.

"All right guys, see you tomorrow at school!" Téa waved to her friends as she departed from their small group, the guys heading back to the Turtle Game Shop with Yugi, while she … well, Téa hadn't decided what she wanted to do yet.

'It's not like Mom and Dad are home yet. Dad went to pick Mom up from work and then come home, and we'd have our big family dinner…' Téa's inner voice was tinged with sarcasm; being the only child of what seemed like an always-working couple meant that she rarely saw them, let alone spoke to them.

Still, once a month, Mrs. Gardner made it a point to prepare an all-out feast for her husband and daughter, and every month, the dishes were a surprise. However, Mrs. Gardner leaked to Téa the evening before that their monthly dinner this time around would be her daughter's favorite dish— and Téa couldn't wait.

It was unusual that she was so excited to go home— most days, she stayed as late as possible at the school, in the dance studio, practicing until she was too sore to even stand. Her parents didn't like her dancing all the time— they wanted her to focus on her academics more. But Téa had big dreams for herself.

Unfortunately, her parent's dreams didn't seem to include what Téa REALLY wanted. They didn't want their daughter "cavorting off in New York," or anything of the sort. In fact, they squashed Téa's every hope and dream of becoming a dancer every time she mentioned it.

So most days she tried to avoid going home.

Oddly enough, today was one of those days, despite having her mother's special meal to look forward to. But it was only 5:30 and Téa's parents weren't supposed to be home for another hour or so— especially since her parents said they had to go to the supermarket.

Téa sighed deeply and mulled over all these jumbled thoughts in her head as she wandered toward Domino Park.

The park was a small area in the center of the prefecture (despite the name 'Domino City,' it wasn't really a city in and of itself; it was just a ward of Tokyo) with benches scattered underneath trees, surrounded by bushes, and all of that framing a small lake. The lake had a single fountain that splashed up at odd intervals, never really following any schedule. Ducks quacked in their usual way in the lake, occasionally flapping up towards the brilliant orange and red sky.

'Just another sunset in Domino City…'

It all seemed very tiresome, all very repetitive.

Téa longed for something to change her life: something that would get her out of her little sheltered home so she could be free to realize her dreams and become a dancer.

'Fat chance.' Téa sighed as she leaned back on a bench. She stared up, watching the sun bleed into the horizon. She wasn't even aware of how much time passed— even as the sun finished its trek across the sky, and the sky turned from orange and red to red-violet and finally a darker blue…

"Oh my gosh!" Téa bolted upright, fumbling in her purse for her cell phone to check the time. Her fingers just brushed the plastic when it rang.

Téa grabbed it immediately, thinking it was her mother, ready to lecture her about being out so late, and not being home in time to set up for dinner.

"Hello? Mo—"

"Is this Téa Gardner?"

The voice was unfamiliar. Téa swallowed.

"Y-Yes. Who is this?"

"I'm Sergeant Konami from the Domino City Police… Miss Gardner, what is your current location?"

Well, he certainly sounded like a cop, but after all Téa had been through, she wasn't one to trust someone based on their words.

"I'm not going to tell you where I am— H-How do I even know you're a cop? You could be some random w-weirdo who got my cell phone number, and, and—" Téa kept babbling even as she stumbled to sit up and collect herself. She had to get home.

On the other end of the line, Sergeant Konami smiled.

"Wise choice not to trust people over the phone. But we've managed to trace your line anyway… I'll be over in a squad car in a moment, Miss Gardner. Please stay where you are."

And then he hung up.

'If he really WAS a cop, then he could find me… how would anyone else have tracing stuff to find me with? Should I stay here, or…?'

Téa was confused, worried, and almost sick to her stomach. She didn't like these experiences where she was unsure— after all, she was supposed to be the confident, brave one in her group of friends, always cheering everyone on, reminding them of their goals, hopes, and dreams…

'At least, with the guys, I can encourage them as much as they want and then some… their dreams, at least are reachable…' The thought made Téa rather forlorn, but she wasn't about to forget her current predicament.

'If someone other than the cops really does have tracing technology, then I'd better hide somewhere. And if it IS a cop, I'll see him first, and I can come out.'

Téa decided that was a reasonable course of action, so she carefully wedged herself between a tree and a bush and waited for the familiar red and blue lights of the Domino City Police to appear.

And appear they did— sirens wailing. A squad car stopped a mere block from where Téa had been sitting minutes before, and a police officer got out and started to look around. It wasn't long before he neared where she was— but Téa was too frightened to stand.

"Miss Gardner? I'm Sergeant Konami… if you're around here, I ask that you come out. I'm in need of your assistance.'

'My assistance?' Téa thought. 'Well, if he's a fake cop, he's a damn good one. But wh-what could the police want with me?'

Téa rose to her feet on shaky legs, her presence now revealed to the Sergeant.

The cop smiled crookedly when he spotted her.

"Hiding? Probably a wise choice. I'm sorry for the odd phone call, Miss Gardner— you ARE Miss Gardner, right?"

Téa nodded slowly, "Yeah, I am… but, what's going on? What is this all about?"

"Come with me." The Sergeant motioned to his squad car, and Téa obediently followed. It wasn't until she was halfway to the car that her stomach started churning bile, and a familiar feeling arose in her stomach— fear.

It was the same churning feeling that had overwhelmed her when Malik had taken control of her mind, the same fear that had flowed through her like lifeblood when her life had been at stake in that duel between Yugi and Joey…

She hardly registered getting into the car and buckling up, but when the car turned on its lights and sirens again, Téa started to wonder.

"A-Are you going to explain to me what's going on? I think I have a right to know. I feel like I'm being kidnapped by a cop here."

Konami chuckled, but it was a humorless laugh.

"Miss Gardner, I have some unfortunate news for you. At approximately 6:00pm on the Domino Expressway, there was a car accident." The car pulled up to a stoplight, at which point Konami looked at Téa dead on in the eyes, not a trace of humor or sarcasm in their brown depths.

"Miss Gardner, I'm afraid your parents are dead."

The world was a spinning, whirling mass of blue, red, white, and black. It would have been almost patriotic— if Téa had been American. But she wasn't, and none of that mattered or even made any sense now, because what had this crazy guy just said…? Everything had become some sort of illusion, some sort of sick joke— a trick! The guy couldn't be a cop after all, but he'd had the squad car and the tracer, and the gun…

Téa felt herself get dizzy when her eyes caught on the firearm strapped to the Sergeant's holster. She lifted a shaking hand to her head and closed her eyes to ward out the blur.

"You're joking, right?"

Konami was silent. He pursed his lips as he continued to drive.

"God… where are we going? If you're some kidnapper out to get me or the puzzle or something…"

"Miss Gardner, I have to ask you to identify your parent's bodies."

Téa fell silent.

This was real. Too real. Surreal, almost…

And the world became a silent blank for the rest of the ride.

The remainder of the night was spent wandering through a cavalcade of sensations— primarily pain. When Konami asked Téa to step out of the car, she did— awed and in fear of everything around her.

The Domino Expressway had been backed up for almost ten kilometers. And at the front of the blockage was a fire truck, an ambulance, a tow truck— so many flashing lights and signs— flares being placed on the ground by police, men wearing neon jackets directing the sluggish traffic…

But in the midst of the mess, and what everyone in their cars was staring out at, was the remnants of the Gardner family vehicle. It was just an old Honda Accord, really, nothing special… but now the entire front of the car was smashed into the guardrail— it was as if the engine block had never been there.

The windshield was smashed, cracked in a million different ways, zigzagging and crisscrossing like spider webs. The inside of the car was black— the driver's side door having been blown off by what had likely been an explosion.

On sight of the catastrophe, Téa's mind went into panic, her stomach went reeling, and her mind followed soon after.

'No no no no nononononono… this can't be happening, this isn't happening, I'm dreaming, I havetobedreaming…'

It wasn't a sick joke anymore. It never had been.

"Miss Gardner?" Konami's voice brought Téa back to the reality at hand— and her role there. She wasn't there to stare, she was there to… to…

'To confirm that those bodies are my parents.'

Téa Gardner had always been a strong person. Loyal to her friends, encouraging and bright-eyed, she rarely let even the worst of situations get her down. Many people considered her too optimistic, like some bubbly cheerleader who didn't really understand how the world worked.

And maybe, in part, they were right.

But she had seen hurt, she had seen pain— and she'd felt it firsthand. This wasn't the first time, either.

But on the night Téa Gardner's parents died, Téa couldn't cry. She tried, she really did, but she couldn't. All those years of believing that being strong would make you better, faster, wiser, ahead of the game — put a brick wall around her so impregnable that even her own tears couldn't slide down her face.

With a sharp gasp and a slow nod, she confirmed to three paramedics that the bodies —the somewhat charred, very bloody and scarred, and still sprinkled with glass bodies— were indeed her parents.

Various policemen saw her nod, turn around, run to the guardrail, and throw up.

Konami shook his head out of a mix of emotions: disappointment, anger, and frustration.

'No one this young should have to go through this kind of pain, this kind of tragic loss, this kind of sadness.'

But it happened everyday.

And it never made Konami feel more useless.

Téa spent the duration of the night answering questions at the Domino City police station. As the hours wore on, her expression became tired and haggard, but her eyes still wouldn't relax. She couldn't sleep, and she couldn't cry.

She answered all the questions without emotion or expression, in a monotone, barely even looking up as she did so.

As it turned out, her parents had life insurance, but had no godparents or any other relatives that could possibly care for Téa in the absence of their death. Even in getting life insurance, it wasn't as if they'd actually CONSIDERED the possibility of anything happening to them — so suddenly, so soon.

The money the life insurance would provide would cover for the funeral, but not much more after that, hence Téa's newfound problem: the police officers didn't exactly know what to do with her. They couldn't exactly send her home, especially given that Téa didn't HAVE the keys to her own house. It was only after she'd returned to Domino with Sergeant Konami that she'd numbly realized that she'd left them at home earlier in the morning.

The DCPD's accident unit was still getting rid of the mess on the expressway, even though the traffic had been cleared hours ago. If they found house keys amongst the rubble, it wouldn't reach them at the police station for a while now.

So the hours wore on, most of them filled with questions and forms being filled out… but little else. Téa went through everything methodically, almost as if it were school work… and before anyone realized it, it was 7:45 in the morning.

Téa hadn't slept a wink, but she didn't really FEEL the tiredness in her bones like she used to. If she were asked if she felt anything, she would have responded that she felt numb, closed off to the world and unable to really sense anything— anything at all.

Even her thoughts were sparks, bright and quick, dying as quickly as they came.

"Uhm, hungry?" Téa peered up, her blue eyes having lost their shine. They'd long ago dulled to a worn blue color.

Konami stood in front of her, looking a little less formal than when she'd first encountered him. He smiled hesitantly as he offered her a filled donut.

Téa tried to smile, but it came out as an almost sad sort of quirking of her lips. She gratefully accepted the raspberry-filled pastry and finished it off within moments.

She glanced sideways at the clock. "I— I should go. To school."

Konami looked at her dubiously. "You don't have to go if you don't want to, you know."

Téa only stared back at him.

"I have to."

She got up and grabbed the purse and satchel that had been with her for the past 22 hours, stumbled out of the police station, and headed to school.

Yugi was the first to notice that Téa wasn't herself in class— but the bell rang before he could approach her and say anything. The class periods wore on, and Téa didn't seem to show any sign of— well, anything. Not life, not tiredness. She simply sat in her seat, somewhat slumped over, her eyes glued on the chalkboard.

But her eyes, normally bright blue and full of life and attentiveness never moved, and never seemed to read what was written on the board. Yugi watched her for a while, and it seemed as though she didn't even blink. She didn't even move her head to look at him, though usually she could sense it when someone was staring at her.

Joey sat closest to her, so he flicked a paper football at her head. But Téa didn't even twitch. Joey turned and shrugged at Yugi and Tristan, across the room, but neither of them knew what was going on.

The lunch bell was about to ring, and students twitched nervously in their seats. Joey and Tristan were two of the guys that often made the race to the sandwich stand within the school, always fighting over the best rolls and buns.

But Téa hadn't moved. Not so much as a centimeter.

Yugi, Joey, and Tristan weren't the only ones that had noticed Téa's odd behavior, either. Their other common classmate, Seto Kaiba, noticed it too. But he didn't give it much of a thought, even when he walked out of the classroom to get some paperwork from the office for the teacher.

"Miss Gardner, would you step outside, please?" the teacher called, motioning towards Téa.

Téa stood up and moved so mechanically that Yugi was startled. His eyes followed her progress as his best friend walked stiffly to the front of the classroom. Once she got to the front, she wheeled on the ball of her foot and headed toward the right side of the class, where the teacher stood near the door. The teacher motioned for Téa to step outside, and he slid the door shut as he did so.

"Miss Gardner…" the teacher began in an uncomfortable tone, "I was informed by a Sergeant Konami this morning in the office about what… happened last night. To your parents. I'm sorry."

Téa's mouth was dry when she spoke, almost like the entire roof of her mouth was covered in cobwebs.

"It's not your fault. You didn't do anything." Her voice was hoarse and soft, coming out as a raspy whisper.

"That's not the point of condolences, Miss Gardner. I am not apologizing to accept blame, I'm apologizing for your loss. No one should have to experience that kind of loss."

Téa's eyes were dark as she stared at the teacher. "Everyone dies."

"But not everyone dies so young, leaving someone even younger behind to fend for themselves."

Téa was silent in response to this. The teacher continued to speak without prompting.

"Miss Gardner, in all my years of teaching here at Domino High, I have had great pleasure in watching you grow and change. Albeit you have only been here for a little over two years, I have gotten to know you, and I have seen what an incredible person you are. You are strong, enthusiastic, optimistic, and loyal. You have turned two slackers," the teacher thumbed inside, referring to Joey and Tristan, "into actual students. While I rarely ever saw them in my classes before, somehow I believe it is your encouragement that gets them to sit down, and, for the most part, pay attention. Don't think I don't notice when you tell them to listen, or when at lunch, I hear you talking about the curriculum. You've always encouraged those with potential, nurturing them."

The teacher took a breath, pausing to see if Téa was reacting at all— but she barely was. At the first compliment, her brows had raised and her eyes lowered some, but barely else could qualify as a 'reaction.'

"You are a strong young woman, Miss Gardner. You always have been, and I hope, you always will be. While it's difficult to see a bright future in the wake of your parents' death… you have some very loyal friends to help you through, Téa. You are not alone. You are never alone."

With that, the teacher stepped aside. The bell rang right on cue, and students suddenly tumbled out of the classroom in the race to get their lunches.

Seto Kaiba didn't care much for Trigonometry— the class was boring, since it was so easy, but it wasn't as if he could just drop the class. And he wasn't low enough to pay his way out of the class either. So he just sat there, did his work, and waited for time to pass him by.

Every day he hoped that his vision would selectively erase Joey, Tristan, Yugi, and Téa from his sight. He'd had more than enough of them in Duelist Kingdom, an unhealthy overdose of them during Battle City, and now, during this lull, he had to sit through every single class with them.

It was bad enough that Tristan sat only three seats behind him, but he had a perfect view of Yugi's erratic hairstyle from his place on the farthest right row, a mere six seats from the door of the class.

Back from his errand for the teacher, he approached the front door of the class. When he heard the teacher speaking to someone, Kaiba slowed down out of curiosity and respect, but the voice that responded to the teacher's muffled inquiries startled Kaiba.


It wasn't as if he was the eavesdropping type, but Kaiba couldn't exactly barge between them and go into the classroom, now could he? And he knew that the rear entrance to the classroom was blocked by a filing cabinet, so he had to wait, or…

"… in all my years of teaching here at Domino High, I have had great pleasure in watching you grow and change. Albeit you have only been here for a little over two years, I have gotten to know you, and I have seen what an incredible person you are. You are strong, enthusiastic, optimistic, and loyal. You have turned two slackers," Kaiba saw the teacher thumb inside, "Into actual students."

Kaiba scoffed to himself— the teacher was probably referring to Joey and Tristan. Them, "actual students"? Well then, the teacher's definition of 'students' was a little skewed. While Kaiba consistently got 100 percents on all of his schoolwork, 'students' like Joey and Tristan seemed ecstatic whenever they landed an 80 percent, or even a 70! Téa and Yugi, of course, were better— but barely. Téa and Yugi typically got 80s, though it was something to be celebrated when either of them got an 90s and above. Seto Kaiba never missed their excited shouts and squeals when their tests were returned to them— they were, after all, the loudest group in the class.

"While I rarely ever saw them in my classes before," the teacher said, "somehow I believe it is your encouragement that gets them to sit down, and, for the most part, pay attention. Don't think I don't notice when you tell them to listen, or when at lunch, I hear you talking about the curriculum. You've always encouraged those with potential, nurturing them."

'What is this all about, anyway? The teacher's not one to pull students out of class to give them a pep talk. Still, something has been odd about Gardner today…'

Not that it bothered Kaiba. No, not in the slightest. He just didn't have anything else to occupy his mind in this boring place, that was all.

"You are a strong young woman, Miss Gardner. Always have been, and I hope, you always will be. While it's difficult to see a bright future in the midst of your parents' death… you have some very loyal friends to help you through, Téa. You are not alone. You are never alone."

The teacher stepped away from Téa and the classroom door, and in that moment, his gaze rose to meet Kaiba's.

Kaiba's involuntary response was to suck in a sharp breath, but he didn't know why. The teacher's words sunk in at last, their meaning hitting him full force— no one had ever said such words to him, but they might as well have.

'Gardner's parents… dead?'

In all the time he'd known the girl, she had always been incredibly chipper and optimistic, even going as far to lecture him about the value of life back at Duelist Kingdom. He'd no mind to listen to her then, and didn't think that would change anytime soon.

Students suddenly piled out of the class, rushing past Téa and Kaiba as if they weren't even there. The teacher simply glanced at Kaiba, then walked down the hall in the opposite direction of the student traffic as he headed to the teacher's lounge.

Kaiba had completely forgotten about the papers he'd brought for the teacher. What he'd heard about Téa startled him that much.

'Someone like me…' was the first thought in his head, but Kaiba quickly dismissed such an idea. No, Téa had at least enjoyed a healthy, nice, childhood. He hadn't even had that.

But then… she was an only child, wasn't she? And the teacher's words came back and echoed, resounding loudly in Kaiba's mind— "You are never alone."

Kaiba hadn't been alone. Unlike Téa, his brother had always been there, been a part of his life, been a reason to keep going, keep living. Mokuba was the reason for a lot of things in his life, but…

'Gardner doesn't have anyone like that.'

True, the teacher was right: Téa had her friends, but Seto Kaiba only knew too well how far a "friend's" condolences could go.

Téa walked back into the classroom on shaky legs. She just wanted to head back to her desk and get her satchel— she couldn't think of anything beyond the immediate. When she got closer to her desk and looked up, she saw Tristan and Yugi in the seats surrounding her desk, while Joey sat in her chair. Each of them wore a concerned expression on his face.

"H-Hi guys…" Téa mumbled out softly, as she forced a smile. Joey promptly hopped out of Téa's seat and allowed her to sit down. Téa plucked her satchel off the side of her desk and rifled through the pockets, looking for money to get something to eat.

"You been out of it all day," Joey began, his brows knit together as he eyed Téa up and down, "And you look like you haven't slept in days!"

"Day, actually," Téa murmured. She stopped going through her bag and dropped it to the floor. She looked up at her friends, her blue eyes watering for the first time in over a day.

She looked from Yugi to Joey to Tristan and realized that the concern and worry on her friends' faces was sincere. Yugi, her childhood friend, Joey, and Tristan… all of them were people she had grown to love very dearly, and they'd come to mean the world to her.

'And right now, they're the only people I've got left…!'

The thought shot through Téa like a knife, no longer numbing her to reality.

"Guys, l-last night," she hiccupped, tears forming on her lash line. "Last night, my parents… an accident… they… they died. I…" The tears began their steady trek down her face, and she squeezed her eyes shut, knowing that she'd never be considered 'the strong one' again, not after this. But did that even matter anymore? She'd been their cheerleader for so long… the voice of reason, optimism, and hope… but not anymore.

Now it was their turn.

"I could really use an ice cream, and I'm kind of broke right now, so if you wouldn't mind treating me after school, I'd really appreciate it!" And even though her voice was steadily growing in volume as she spoke, her words broken by hiccups, Téa stopped caring. She cried freely now, leaning willingly into Yugi's arms when he moved to hug her. Joey and Tristan weren't slow to do so either, wrapping their arms around Téa in some semblance of consolation.

If any of them had noticed Seto Kaiba staring at them, none made any move to say or do anything to him.

"Aw, man, THAT was delicious." Téa leaned back into the booth with a contented sigh. A plate that had once held a cheeseburger and fries, a glass that had once contained a vanilla milkshake, and a parfait cup that was clean of its contents -even the maraschino cherry- were stacked in front of Téa, who looked as stuffed as a bear.

Beside her, Yugi smiled awkwardly.

"We're glad you liked it."

"Oh yeah, and it's not like we didn't get to enjoy some good eats, either," Tristan piped up as he rubbed his stomach. Of course, he, Joey, and Yugi had all eaten their fill as well. "We should totally do this more often, eating out together, I mean," Tristan finished, leaning back with a sigh.

No one really knew what to say, even though the singular topic resting on all their minds was the same — what to say to Téa? What could you say, to someone that had just lost their only family? In the span of a day, her life had changed so drastically— could any of them really claim that, the same way Téa could?

In order to fill the empty silence, Joey called out to the waitress.

"Hey, can we get the check here?" His wallet was protesting already, knowing what a huge chunk this would take out of his already meager funds, but Téa deserved it. More than anything, more than anyone, especially now.

He pursed his lips, glancing over at Téa's relaxed form— she was leaning back in the booth, staring up at the ceiling fan with an almost glazed look in her eyes. No one could possibly tell what she'd been through just by looking at her. She looked like your ordinary, gorgeous girl…

'Yeah, but she's one of them that's pretty on the outside, and now scarred in the inside.'

"Uhm, I'm sorry…" The waitress returned from the register and held a yellow receipt.

"What now? Are we gettin' charged for somethin' we didn't even eat?" Tristan and Yugi glanced nervously at the waitress, knowing that Téa had eaten more than normal, and that would probably cost them more money than they had.

"Actually," the waitress raised her eyes and grinned oddly, "You're already paid for. The lady at the cash register said some guy paid for everything."

Joey and Tristan's eyes were as wide as saucers, "WHAAAAT!?"

"Don't ask me, I didn't see the guy. Lizzie said the guy already split, so…"

Téa glanced down from her position in the booth, "Some guy… paid for us?"

"Looks dat way! Hey, I'm never one to complain about a free meal! So since we all saved all that money, what say we go see a movie, huh?" Joey grinned and hoisted Téa out of her seat.

"Whoa!" She lurched forward, nearly tipping into Joey's arms, giggling and smiling for the first time that day.

"THAT was so fake! You could tell when he was swinging with wires! Heck, they didn't even edit them out!"

"You gotta be kiddin' me! That was da best action sequence in history! When he went whoosh, and then fwoosh," Joey demonstrated with his hands, nearly taking out Yugi's eye in the process, "And he was jumpin' all over da place!"

"If they'd cut anything out, you would have seen that little black dot at the top of the screen," Téa deadpanned, "And they didn't! That was such shoddy wire-fu!"

"You're not dissin' my WIRE-FU!" Joey exclaimed, taking on an offensive stance in front of Téa. She smirked and whacked Joey a few times on the arm, finally catching an opening and poking him in the chest over his heart, laughing as he dramatically -and exaggeratedly- fell to the ground, with the cry "She got me! She got me!"

Téa rolled her eyes and helped him up. They all stopped walking as they neared her house. Téa realized she hadn't even been anywhere nearhome since yesterday morning, when she'd left the house for school…

"Well yeah, it's getting late…" Yugi glanced up at Téa nervously, but he suddenly sprang forward and gave Téa a hug. She returned the hug slowly, but sincerely, realizing that despite their having fun, none of them had forgotten why they were all together that day.

It seemed as though tragedy threw them together, even when they were close to going their separate ways. So it had been with the kidnapping of Yugi's grandfather, and so it had been with the controlling of Joey and Téa by Malik.

They were a most motley crew, of unlikely proportions -both physical and otherwise- but they were friends— steadfast, true, and strong.

'I might not be as strong as I used to be anymore… but I think between the three guys, I can more than make up for it.' She offered a timid smile to her friends and waved them off as they started to head their separate ways for home.

She waited until they were all out of sight before walking up to her house. All the lights were out, and the place seemed to radiate cold. And she still didn't have the keys.

"Augh, this is useless. I'm going to end up breaking into my own damn house…" Téa grumbled to herself. And it wasn't as if the police were just going to hand the keys back to her, anyway. They'd said that she had to stay with someone "legally classified as a guardian," whatever that meant, and she couldn't live on her own, not if she wasn't employed.

And the keys? Well, they'd probably melted. Or been blown to bits. Or maybe the police HAD found them, and maybe even tried to call Téa— but she'd turned her phone off, wanting to ignore everything that had to do with the previous night. She had the odd disillusion running in her head that if she found a way to get a good night's sleep, she could wake up and everything would be over— a horrible nightmare.

She'd be back at home, in her own bed, and her mother would cheerily wake her up and inform her that breakfast was ready… her father would be downstairs, sipping his coffee and reading the newspaper…

It was the way it had always been, and never had Téa bothered to think that it could ever be otherwise. Yes, she'd always had dreams of escaping Domino, of living out her dreams and being a dancer in New York— but that's all they were— dreams. She'd never imagined being so alone…

Téa fumbled with the door for a minute, giving up on her "luck and a rusty doorknob" scheme. She didn't have anything slender enough to be used as a lock-pick, so she settled for the next best thing she found— a rock. She intended to smash through the living room window and crawl through that way— but before she even could bring the stone against the glass, a voice interrupted her.

"Breaking and entering is a crime, you know." Téa put the rock down slowly, knowing that voice too well.

"It's my house," she began. She turned and caught sight of the speaker. "Kaiba."

"Then why don't you have a key?" Kaiba shot back. He raised an eyebrow, but his expression wasn't inquiring at all. He knew. Téa swallowed the lump in her throat, not wanting to justify ANYTHING to Seto Kaiba.

He stepped aside from where he'd been standing at the sidewalk's edge. The sleek, black limo behind him was undoubtedly his, and the passenger door behind him stood ajar.

"Get in."

Téa stared at Kaiba as if he'd turned into a Blue Eyes Ultimate Dragon, complete with three heads.

"It's a place to stay for the night, Gardner. I wouldn't turn it down if I were you." Téa walked towards him, pausing before her classmate and giving him a cool once-over before replying, "You're not me." And with that, she got into the limo.

Téa's jaw nearly hit the floor when she arrived at the Kaiba mansion. The limo had been impressive enough, seeming longer INSIDE than it was outside. With tinted windows and a roll-down separator between the driver's section and the passenger section, the vehicle was equipped with a miniature refrigerator, a small coffeepot, several magazine and book racks and pockets, a television, and a satellite linkup for Kaiba's laptop computer.

But the mansion…

'If you stacked twenty of me from my head to my feet, I STILL don't think I'd be able to reach the ceiling!' Téa thought to herself, staring up— and up, and up. As soon as she entered, a maid took her school jacket as well as Kaiba's. The CEO promptly rounded the corner behind the staircase and disappeared into a room beyond Téa's sight, but she was too awed and perhaps too afraid to move. Kaiba reappeared a moment later and tossed something at Téa.

"Whfthf?" she mumbled amongst the bundle of clothes. They were soft -silk?!- and, when Téa unfolded them, she recognized them as pajamas.

Kaiba shot her an 'it should be obvious' look, and then gestured up the huge marble staircase.

"The bathroom's the first door on the left upstairs," he said, and then he walked around the corner again.

"Just what are you implying, Seto Kaiba?" Téa demanded huffily as she tossed the pajamas over her arms. She quickly adopted a cocky stance and waited for Kaiba to respond. Kaiba leaned back from the corner, a smirk curling his lips.

"You stink," he said plainly, and then he disappeared behind the corner.

Téa stood there for a minute, digesting Kaiba's words— all TWO of them.

'The nerve of that guy! Him and that ego of his, thinking he's all that… even though he's got all this money and that company of his, and that limo… and this huge, huge, huge house… oh geez, this place is— this place is giganimous!'

Téa finally made it upstairs, almost huffing as she reached the platform, glancing left and right. The first door on the left, he'd said, right?

The bathroom was huge as well— in fact, Téa's entire house probably could have fit in there. She swallowed hard, and then realized what a blessing all this was.

Not only was the reticent Seto Kaiba being nice, but he was being nice to her. And not just to her, but when she needed it the most.

'I… guess I can cut his attitude some slack.' Téa thought to herself. While she'd never been particularly enamored of the elder Kaiba brother (Mokuba was cuter, at any rate), he'd just scored a few points by doing her this favor.

And while his honesty tended to be brutal, at least he WAS honest— candid, to the point…

Téa sniffed her underarm slightly and reeled backward.

"Well, he was right."

Not five minutes later, Téa stripped herself of her dirty clothes and piled them off to the side. She intended to find a washing machine or something later on, but for now, she just wanted to settle into the large tub filled with warm, scented water and topped with mounds and mounds of bubbles. Warm jets massaged Téa's tired muscles into relaxation as she leaned back, arms splayed out to the sides of the porcelain.

'This… this I could get used to. But something tells me this is going to be a long night.'

Can you believe I originally got this done in one sitting? Thank goddess for plot bunnies. Azurite, 10/27/05