Disclaimer: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh or any references I happen to use in this story. This applies for all future chapters.
Notes: Another SetoTéa story. This is the longest I've stuck to any pairing in months. ::shakes fist at Mamono:: Darn you and your SetoTéa fluffiness. There will be other pairings too (all het).
She'd worn that outfit yesterday.
Téa's fingers tightened over the edges of the photograph. Her favorite skirt, pleated so that when she twirled it spun from her body in a whirl of icy blue. Then that casual black tank top that she was slowly outgrowing, where a few inches of flat stomach would show if she stretched. The picture didn't show her feet, but she had been barefoot.
The photograph had caught her dancing. She should have known better than to dance in the living room, where the picture window looked out into the woodsy backyard and anyone could hide. But her parents were right upstairs, and the living room had an excellent sound system. So she'd put in a contemporary mix CD, and immediately been swept away in the pulsating music.
She'd danced for forty minutes straight. It was funny; at the end, when she struck a final pose and held it as the last echoes died away, she could have sworn she heard distant clapping. She'd convinced herself that she was hallucinating, that the last few weeks had made her paranoid.
Maybe not. She looked at the photograph again. The thin strap of the tank top had slipped off her left shoulder. She thought she could remember sliding the strap up again, but she could be inventing memories. It was getting harder and harder to tell reality from fantasy.
She flipped the picture over. There was never anything written there, but the stalker's calling card was scrawled on the back as always. A heart, dripping with blood; scribbled with jagged red lines.
Téa stooped and picked up the plain white envelope the picture had come in. Her nerveless fingers had dropped it when she removed the photograph. This was only the second time someone had taken the photo when she was in her house, her sacred home. The first time had been a blurry shot of her in the kitchen, washing dishes. Her mother had been in the background, talking to someone on the phone.
She turned to reenter her house, but hesitated. Slowly, she swiveled around to scan the neighborhood. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. The stalker could be anywhere. He could be watching her right now.
She clapped her hands over her arms and practically flew through the door.
"Did anything important come in the mail?" Aimee Gardner started to ask, but caught sight of her daughter's pale face. "Not again!" she exclaimed, dropping the cutting knife to the table and rushing over, scooping up Téa's cold hands. The edge of the envelope became slight crumpled, but neither of them cared as mother and daughter embraced.
"Oh, honey," her mother murmured. "It'll be okay, we'll think of something."
Téa reluctantly extracted herself after a few minutes. All she wanted to do was stay buried in her mother's arms, listening to comforting words. But there was something she had to do.
Silently, the girl crossed the kitchen and pulled the curtains tightly closed over the window.
Aimee clenched her hands together. "Sit," she gently urged her daughter. Téa pulled out a chair at the table, staring blankly at the half-sliced carrots. Her mother had been in the middle of preparing dinner, but now she was far from hungry.
Mrs Gardner sat down, but edged her chair around the edge of the table so she was close to Téa. "Let's see," she said, voice trembling. Téa gingerly placed the photograph on the dark wood. Aimee studied it from a distance, unwilling to touch it. "When was this taken?" she asked breathlessly.
"Yesterday," Téa answered. She swallowed, or tried to; her throat was dry. "While you and dad were upstairs putting the border in the bathroom."
"Oh God…" Aimee whispered, staring at the picture in horrified fascination.
The phone rang and they both froze. The shrill sound seemed to rip through Téa's bones. Aimee looked as if she were considering not answering it, but her face set and she made a motion as if to rise. But the phone was on the wall closest to Téa. She refused to live like this, hiding like a coward! She steadied her hand and lifted the receiver off the hook. "Hello?"
Nothing. Again. Just the breathing, God, the horrible breathing…
"Hello?" she asked again, more loudly, although she already knew the stalker wouldn't say anything.
"Téa," the voice on the other end purred. "Did you get my present?"
She screamed and dropped the phone. Aimee shoved her chair back and scooped it up. "Hello?" she demanded into the receiver. "Hello? Who's there?" Reluctantly, she pulled it away from her ear and glared at it. "Dead," she said softly, replacing it on the wall. Immediately, it rang again.
Téa whimpered slightly as Aimee snatched it off again. "Whoever you are, leave my daughter alone!" she snapped furiously, and abruptly her expression cleared. "Oh, Aaron!" she cried.
"Daddy?" Téa asked, right by her mother's side.
"Téa? Aimee? What's going on?"
"Another one," Aimee whispered.
"I was calling to check up on you." Aaron Gardner's voice was grim. "Stay right where you are. I'm coming straight home. Don't go outside. Close all the windows."
"And shut the blinds," Téa said, voice quavering.
"Good girl. Are you okay, Téa?"
"Okay. When I get home, we're going to the police. They can help us. Don't you worry, sweetie. We'll sort this big mess out."
"Okay," she choked, trying to keep her voice steady. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye. I'll see you in half an hour. Stay safe." With that ominous warning, Aaron hung up the phone.
Thirty-five minutes later, Téa heard the sound of the garage door opening. Even though she knew it was her father, her heart jumped all the same. What if the stalker had somehow rigged the automatic opening, and was making his way to the kitchen right now? What did he want with her, anyway?
As the door squeaked open, Téa squeezed her eyes shut for the split second before her father's voice rang out. Then she jumped up and hugged him tightly, before his tall frame had made it through the doorway.
Hugging her father always made her feel safe. He was big and broad-shouldered and would completely envelop her when he closed his arms around her shoulders. In this crushing embrace, the first tears that she had allowed herself to shed in five and a half weeks- since the first picture had appeared in a harmless-looking white envelope on her front doorstep- brimmed behind her eyelids and a single one escaped.
"What happened since I left?" Aaron asked, his arms still around his daughter.
"Nothing," Aimee said softly, moving up behind Téa and stroking her hair in a soothing motion. "We did exactly what you told us, and nothing happened. No more phone calls."
"There was one right before you called," Aimee answered.
"God." Aaron loosely released Téa, and she pulled away. "Let me see it."
Aimee wordlessly lifted the photo from its face-down position on the table- neither of them had wanted to look at it- and handed it to her husband. He took it and stared, face growing ruddy with anger.
"We're going to the police station," he said tightly. "We've waited long enough. This is getting serious. When my daughter can't even dance in her own living room-!" He crossed the kitchen and yanked open a lower drawer with a rattle. From it he extracted a huge yellow manila envelope.
In this envelope were all the pictures of Téa the stalker had left. The very first one, while she was walking to school. Joey and Yugi were visible next to her, but it was obvious the focus of the photograph had been on the girl. There were various others, all getting closer to home… Téa in the arcade, with her friends; Téa eating lunch outside at school; Téa in the kitchen, washing dishes. Once, in a fit of helplessness and anger, she'd shredded a picture of herself walking down the street in a light pink jumper. They'd saved the scraps of that. They'd even saved the plain looking envelopes.
Aaron opened the envelope just long enough to drop the latest picture in. "Let's go."
But as they were pulling away in the station wagon, Téa huddled up in the back, something caught her eye. She tried to call 'Stop!', but the words caught in her throat. She reached up and urgently grabbed her mother's shoulder. "What is it, Téa?" she asked, hurriedly turning around. Apparently, the thing caught her eye too, because she put her hands over her husband's on the wheel. "Look, Aaron! Stop the car!"
As he screeched to a halt and Aimee jumped out of the car and hurried up to the front door, Téa tried to shrink into the seat as much as possible. She was now certain the stalker was out there at this very moment, watching her and laughing soundlessly. "Please, God," she whispered through dry lips. "Make this stop, make him go away…"
Aimee reentered the car, shaking her head at her husband. "Let's just go," she said softly. Her eyes were more worried than before. "Do you want to see it, Téa?"
She didn't. But she held out her hand anyway, curiosity overcoming her.
It was a Polaroid this time. It showed Téa in blue shorts and a white long-sleeved shirt, clutching the edge of a picture. Her eyes were large and worried. A closer scrutinization revealed dark circles under her eyes and the paleness of her skin. She looked awful.
But that was the least of her worries right now. That picture had been taken not an hour ago.
"Miss Gardner, this is a serious problem. We will do anything in our power to protect you."
Téa nodded silently. They'd found the police to be very helpful and accommodating. When they first arrived, Aimee Gardner had taken it upon herself to outline the situation to the black-haired woman at the front desk. The woman listened silently, then had them sit down in the blue plastic chairs by the door. After five minutes, they'd been escorted into a private room by a pair of sergeants.
Officer Leliss was a young woman, not twenty-five. She had blonde hair pulled back into a French braid and small brown eyes peeping out from under dark, curly lashes. She had a surprisingly loud voice for a woman her size- which was petite- but her personality was extremely gentle. Téa got the feeling that Officer Leliss could relate to her situation better than most people. Her partner, Sergeant Sacco, was an elderly man, probably approaching his sixties. He had a comfortable aura about him, like a friendly grandfather. He seemed deeply disturbed by her situation, and his mannerisms radiated reassurance.
Officer Leliss continued what she had begun to say. "There is a standard procedure to follow, believe it or not. You're not alone, Téa. In just this city, five girls have reported stalking in the last seventy-five years. To be honest, three of them were mild cases. The photographs usually stopped after a month or two; we theorize that the stalkers got bored. Two of them were eventually caught, and the third girl moved away."
"What happened to the two others?" Aaron asked, immediately latching onto this unspoken information.
Officer Leliss began to look slightly uncomfortable. "One case of stalking lasted five months before the man was caught. However, in a different case, the girl was murdered after a year and a half of prolonged victimization. Don't worry," she said hastily, seeing Téa's eyes widen. "This case occurred over sixty years ago. And the Domino police force has grown considerably since then. There is much we can do to help you."
When all three Gardners nodded, or at least looked accommodating, Leliss continued. "Here's the plan. I'll go back with mom and dad to your house and we'll see if we can track down where the picture was taken from." She held up the Polaroid. "Téa, if you're okay with staying here alone, Sergeant Sacco will interview you and take down any information you can remember. The more you give us, the better equipped we'll be to hunt down this stalker."
"I'm okay," Téa said quietly. She turned to face her parents, giving them both a final hug.
"Téa, you know that there's no way we're going to Aruba now," Aimee whispered into her hair.
"Oh- mom." She didn't know what else to say. Her parents had been planning their second honeymoon for months now. She didn't want to prevent them from going. But on the other hand, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't tell them to go. She didn't want to be alone, no matter how selfish it was.
"There is no way," Aaron restated over his wife's shoulder. He glanced at Officer Leliss, patiently waiting, and nudged Aimee. "Let's go, sweetie. The sooner we get this over with, the better."
She nodded and planted a kiss on Téa's cheek. "You know to cooperate with the Sergeant," she started.
Aimee swallowed, suddenly unwilling to leave Téa. "Will you bring her home?" she asked Sacco. He nodded yes. "All right, then…"
When their footsteps died away, Téa turned back to Sergeant Sacco. "Have a seat, Miss Gardner," he said, smiling at her gently. She forced a smile back at him and sat down, suddenly grateful. She didn't know how much longer her legs would support her. "Would you like a drink?" he asked, sliding his own chair back slightly to the mini-refrigerator. "Water, iced tea, Coke…"
She started to shake her head no, but changed her mind. Her throat was awfully dry. "Coke, please," she said gratefully.
When Sergeant Sacco felt she was ready, he pulled out a notebook. "Please bear with me," he said, flipping to a blank page. "I'll have to ask you a lot of things you've already answered, just for the record."
"It's okay," she answered, taking a sip of soda.
"Thank you," he said sincerely. "Now. You said these stalkings have been going on for approximately six weeks?"
"A little less than six weeks, yes."
"When did you first realize someone was following you?"
"The stalker kept calling my house and hanging up," Téa whispered. "Once or twice a day it would happen. The first few times, we thought it was a wrong number, or someone was calling from a cell-phone and got cut off. Then I started hearing heavy breathing on the other end. When my parents answered the phone, they didn't hear anything.
"The first picture showed up about five and a half weeks ago. This one." She reached out and gingerly tapped the picture of herself in her school uniform, en route to class. The photos were spread out across the sergeant's desk. "They came by about once or twice a week from then on."
"What's this?" Sacco picked up one of the scraps.
Téa flushed. "I tore one of the pictures once," she admitted. "I just got so frustrated…"
"It's nothing to be ashamed about," Sacco told her gently. "I'm surprised you held out as long as you did…"
In his voice was a hint of question and Téa understood immediately. He was half-scolding her for not going to the police sooner, half-asking her why she hadn't.
"I didn't want to bother anyone," she said miserably. "I couldn't tell my friends, because they would worry. I didn't want to tell anyone but my mom and dad, because it was scary and embarrassing…"
"You thought by telling people, it would make it more real?"
She shrugged silently, tears welling up again. She tipped her face up slightly to hold them back.
Sergeant Sacco watched her quietly for a little while, then leaned back in his chair. He folded his hands together, pulled them apart, tapped his fingertips together, then refolded them. "Miss Gardner, do you have any idea why someone would wish to stalk you? Is it misguided love? A form of revenge? Did you upset anyone recently?"
Only about half the world. She swallowed. "One of my friends is… kind of powerful."
At Sacco's raised eyebrows, she resignedly said, "Yugi Moto."
"The King of Games?" Sacco asked, sitting upright. "He's your friend?" He studied her. "Now that you mention it, I believe I recognize you. Your picture has been featured in several newspapers along with him. And… were you present at the Dungeon Dice Monsters duel?"
Her eyes widened. She hadn't thought anything of that. Her connection with Yugi hadn't even occurred to her until Sacco brought it up. "Yes. And that was broadcasted live…"
"Anyone could have seen you," Sacco finished her thoughts. "It's no secret that you are close to Yugi Moto."
She fell back in her chair. Could it be? Could someone be stalking her to get revenge on Yugi? There were so many people angry with him, especially after Battle City and Duelist Kingdom. Pegasus, any of his guards, Kaiba, Ryou Bakura's other half, Marik, any of the Rare Hunters, Rex Raptor, Weevil Underwood, anyone Yugi had dueled and beat… 'I can't mention this to him,' she thought frantically. Yugi and the spirit had enough on their plates; they didn't need the concern and guilt of her meager problems.
"There are other options, of course," Sacco said regretfully. "You are a lovely young girl, Miss Gardner. Are there any boys at school- or elsewhere- who have expressed any interest in you?"
Her face flushed brilliant red. "No- no more than the usual friends," she managed.
"No boys you have met elsewhere?" Sacco pressed. "No boy inviting you out? No man expressing interest in you?"
"N-" her thoughts flew to Johhny Stepps. "Oh, God," she whispered. "I didn't even think of him. This one man- I beat him in a dancing contest, he didn't take it very well… he dueled my friend- Yugi again- he said he wanted to go out with me- thank goodness for the spirit-"
"Calm down, Miss Gardner," Sacco said, interrupting her babbling. "Do you think this man could be stalking you?"
"I don't know," she whispered. Her throat was dry again, and she took another sip of soda. "I haven't seen him since that day."
Sacco looked thoughtful. "You said you beat him in a dancing contest?"
"Yes," she said wildly, replaying that day in her head.
"Where was this dance contest?"
"Domino Arcade. Dance Dance Revolution."
"So it took place in public."
Her jaw dropped again. "Oooh…" she moaned, suddenly feeling faint. She bent down and put her head between her legs. "It could be anyone," she whispered.
"It will be all right, Miss Gardner." Sacco had risen from his desk and was patting her back reassuringly. "We're on your side now. We'll help you through this."
"Well, we think it was taken here," Officer Leliss informed Sacco.
He moved into the forsythia plant with her. Aimee struggled out of the bushes and joined Aaron and Téa, standing close together on the streets. The two cop cars were parked in front of the Gardner's house, and the two police officials were now across the street, in the woody area between the two houses of their closest neighbors.
"This looks accurate," Sacco said, comparing the angle they were at to the angle in the photograph. "And it makes sense, too. This would be the most discreet spot, as well as affording the best images of the Gardner's house."
"The only problem would be from that house," Leliss said, pointing at the neighbor to the right. "If someone were in that top room, they could probably see straight into the bushes and get a glimpse of the stalker."
"Who lives in that house?" Sacco asked Aimee, stepping over the forsythias with his long legs.
"An elderly, single woman," Aimee answered. "Mrs Dublac."
"She wouldn't be up in that room," Aaron pointed out. "That's the attic. She never goes up there; it's a rickety ladder that she wouldn't climb. I did some repairs up there a while back, as a favor to her."
"So either someone took a risk, or they did some research," Officer Leliss murmured to Sacco, but Téa heard her anyway. Her stomach clenched; did someone care that much?
"We didn't accomplish much," Leliss said grimly, stepping over to her car. "I don't know what we expected anyway."
"Téa," Sacco said, also moving towards his car. "One of us will drive by every hour. When we're off-duty, we'll send other officers to check up on you. All right?"
Téa nodded. "And," Sacco continued thoughtfully, "We'll place an officer on your walk to school. Plainclothes, just in case."
She didn't ask 'just in case' what. She just nodded again. "Thank you," she said, bowing her head. "Thanks a lot."
"Of course," Sacco said warmly as Leliss pulled away. He got into the car and turned it on, leaving the window down. "Remember, Téa: we're on your side."
She stepped out of her house the next morning and glanced around nervously, half-expecting to see another white envelope. There was nothing. Smiling in relief, she started the normal walk to school. Her parents had offered to drive her, as they had done the past few days, but she refused. She didn't want the stupid stalker to start affecting her life- at least, no more than he already had- and besides, people would start to wonder.
She passed by a parked car after about a block or two. A bland-looking man in his early thirties was sitting in it, serenely reading a newspaper. His eyes didn't lift to meet her, not even after she shot him a grateful smile, but she was sure it was the undercover cop.
When she reached the school, the first words she heard were, "Glad to see you're smiling again, Téa."
"What do you mean?" she asked Ryou, the corners of her mouth tweaking.
He looked faintly uncomfortable. "Sorry," he apologized, running a hand through his neat hair. "I shouldn't have said that. I just noticed you'd been looking awfully sad lately. It's wonderful to see you smile."
She put a hand on his arm. "Thanks, Ryou," she said, smiling directly at him. "I'm surprised you noticed, though."
He blushed and mumbled something that sounded faintly like "I'm observant." She gently squeezed his arm and moved away.
The encounter faintly puzzled her, until she entered her first period classroom. Then, she had a lot more to be puzzled about.
"Téa!" A chorus of voices greeted her.
She blinked, sitting in between Yugi and Joey and in front of Tristan. "Hey, guys. Why the enthusiastic greeting?"
"You look great," Joey said, leaning forward and grinning. When she blanched, he hastily added, "Not that you don't always- not that I mean anything- I mean-"
"What Joey's trying to say," Tristan said, punching the blonde in the arm and leaning over Téa's shoulder, "Is that you look happy again. We noticed that you seemed a bit down this past week."
"I- I guess I have been," Téa said, touched. "Everyone's noticed."
"Well, it was really obvious," Joey said eagerly. "Your skin was all pale and blotchy, and you had these huge bags under your eyes- ow!"
Tristan had punched him again, this time a bit harder. "Watch what you say to a lady," he warned jokingly.
"Yeah, like you're the master of knowing what to say to the ladies," Joey muttered.
"What's that? You wanna say that to my face?"
Téa giggled and fixed her eyes on Yugi. He grinned wanly at her. "You have seemed kinda upset. Is it anything you want to talk about?"
She hesitated. Yugi rushed on, "Some kind of problem with your family? Boyfriend? Are you sick? Is everything okay in school?"
"Yugi," she stopped him, giggling again. "My family is great, you know I don't have a boyfriend, I'm perfectly healthy, and things at school are going fine. I'm okay, really I am."
"Are you sure?" he asked anxiously.
"I'm very sure," she told him, splaying her fingers out on the cool surface of the desk. "But thank you. It means a lot."
"Any time," he said, beaming at her.
Téa smiled softly at him, but her eyes suddenly zeroed in on a person seated in front of him. Seto Kaiba was sitting at his desk, book placed neatly in front of him, hands folded in his lap. His head was turned exactly thirty degrees to look backwards. His eyes were cold and furious on his precise and tidy face, and he was glaring directly at her.
She tilted her head in confusion, hearing an explosion of laughter from Joey at her right. Kaiba's face grew even more rigid with anger.
She was about to call out to him and ask him what was the matter, but the teacher entered the class and called it to order. Kaiba's head whipped around and he stared directly in front of him, spine straight and professional.
Téa stared at his back as the teacher called attendance. What was going on now? Why was he mad at her? Was it still just the fact that she was friends with Yugi and Joey? She didn't need this now. What was she supposed to do with her life when it was falling to pieces around her?
Narrowed eyes glared at Téa as she walked home from school. Did she take him for a fool? That was a police officer, sitting in the stationary car and studiously ignoring her. He was watching over the girl- protecting her from him.
He wouldn't be caught so easily. She couldn't foil him like that. She would soon learn better than to toy with him.
First thing to do was to take care of the cops. They were swarming around her house, like flies drawn to dead flesh. They were out for him. They would like nothing better than to put him away, to keep him away from her. Téa.
He murmured her name under his breath, savoring the sound of it. The sharp 'T', sliding past the lips like sweet poison. Then the lightly accented latter portion of her name, drawn out and savory. Just like the hauntingly beautiful girl herself.
A sadistic grin crossed his face. She was trying to protect herself from him, to surround herself with power and muscle to shut him out. But he wouldn't be stopped that easily.
He was crouching in the dirt- not an activity he would normally choose to do, but he reasoned that such sacrifices had to be made for Téa. Soon enough her mind- and delicious body- would open to him, and then he wouldn't have to hide anymore. In the fresh earth, he traced the symbol that she had come to recognize and fear- at least on the outside. While he craved that fear, it was the lust that he knew was buried under there that he truly desired now.
The bleeding heart, with tainted meanings she could only guess at. Yet.
Notes: I plan to make this a lot scarier in future chapters- at least, for me it would scary. The idea for this actually sprung out of my worst nightmare in years- I figured it worked for Mary Shelley, so why not write it down? (Of course, I can't claim that this will be anywhere near as good as "Frankenstein".)
At this point, your guess at who the stalker is, is as good as mine. Well, not quite, since I do know who the stalker is, buuut… what I mean is, it really could be anyone, as far as you know. It might not be someone mentioned in the story yet. It could even be someone I've invented. Guess you'll have to wait and see, eh?
You know, if you've made it this far you might as well review and make me happy!