Author's note: (May 25/05) I've just started the revisions on this story. Not too much has actually changed, I'm just "tweaking"

Disclaimer: Not mine. End of story.

Chapter 1


The world is so scary when observed through a window of tears. Distorted images beckon you, disturbingly recognizable like manipulated photographs. Pieces of your life stretched out, blurred, and pooled together in an alternate universe. You know where you are, you've been here before, but nothing looks familiar.

Maybe that's why I can't find you.

I reach, I call out, I fall… I meet the cold, unforgiving ground that offers no relief, no answers.

Where is my safety net? How can protection slip out of one's grasp so quietly? Subtle, it just silently vanishes while I am otherwise diverted. It leaves, you leave me nothing but the sullen ground with which I become transfixed, riveted, staring at the soil that will someday become my grave. No redemption, no forgiveness…

You can't be gone, not forever.

Forever is a long time…


Morning came slowly.

It was funny, Téa thought, how under normal circumstances it always seemed to arrive so suddenly. Obnoxiously loud alarm clocks rudely tearing blissful slumber away while she groped for the 'sleep' button.

But the world looked completely different when she was awake, watching the sunrise move at a snail's pace, chasing shadows with no real sense of urgency. It was taking way too long. There was too much to dwell on in the hours before dawn.

Each day was full distractions and busywork; college, and dancing, and people. But night held the quiet moments of dark solitude where everything she'd lost crept up on her like a stealth predator. When she couldn't close her eyes without seeing brilliant violet staring back at her, haunted and beseeching.

Her body, overworked, tired, running on empty, kept conscious by her grieving mind.

Téa had never been an insomniac. Always filled with energy and vitality, she plunged headfirst into every new day and fell gratefully into her bed each night. But then, those were happier times, when her laughter and smiles were still sincere.

Loss of sleep – a natural symptom of grief according to the pamphlets her aunt had taken to sending her since the funeral. Of course, that was just one of the many types of behaviors those in her position displayed.

Joey, for example, took the extreme in the other direction and slept way too much nowadays, dropping out of college, falling behind in life, his dreams were his refuge. Reality as it now was, too painful to exist in for too long. Tristan partied it up, driving his motorcycle without a helmet, a new 'chick' every night, too much drinking to numb the pain.

If Yugi was still here, she often thought, he would fix this. He would drag Joey out of bed to duel for old time's sake, shame Tristan out of his self-destructiveness with his quiet innocence, make her stop working so damned hard and go have some fun.

If Yugi was still here…

But that was the point, wasn't it? He couldn't make everything okay, not anymore. Not when he'd left them all in the first place. Quiet as ever while he slipped away slowly, until in one final unseen moment his heart just stopped.

It felt wrong to outlive somebody as sweet, and pure, and just… beautiful as he was. It wasn't right that such goodness could die so young, that the world should so prematurely be robbed of one of its few real treasures. There was too much left for him to do, for them to do. They were all supposed to live out their days, best friends forever, facing each challenge encouraging and supporting each other. She was supposed to have three best men at her wedding instead of bridesmaids; her kids would have three honorary uncles.

None of this was fair. But then, life rarely was, as her father was so fond of reminding her all the time. Besides, it wasn't as though her ambitions for them all were realistic anyway, full as they were of youthful idealism and naivety. And yet, none of that mattered anymore. All she cared about was the fact that she'd never see his careful little smile anymore, his hopeful purple eyes, his crazy hair.

It had been a month and Téa still hadn't completely come to terms with that. Sometimes, ridiculous as she knew it was, she still expected to answer the phone and hear his voice or open the door and find him there. It was just like when Yami had finally left for good, except he didn't die like Yugi had. He'd just… gone home.

Yugi was never coming home.

Téa fought tears as the sun began to cast warm rays into her window, filtering through her blinds. She'd always hated crying, looking at life through tears, but as emotional as she was it became hard to contain her physical response to sorrow. It was strange really, given that like most dancers she had such remarkable control over her body.

Perhaps she wasn't as strong as she'd always thought. Maybe all her strength died with Yugi.

She wiped her eyes, trying to seal the flow of silent tears while she tore her gaze from the almost completely visible sun. Her alarm clock watched her from the bedside table, glowing red digits exclaiming that it was finally 6:00am.

Bolting from bed with no preamble or hesitation, Téa raced for the shower, eager to escape her nighttime solitude. Time to lose herself in the soon-to-be hectic day.


Predictably, the apartment that Joey and Tristan shared was a disaster when Téa arrived later that morning. Every surface was littered with dishes, dirty laundry, take-out containers, Joey's video games, Tristan's tools - typical bachelor pad material really. Although with an air of melancholy that somehow made it appear less like a party house and more like the resting place of someone too despondent to care about dumb things like sanitation.

She'd just been in here two weeks ago cleaning obsessively until her muscles refused to press on; this was ridiculous. Although, a part of her was pleased that the state of the place was so gross It would give her something to do on Saturday which would have otherwise been full of quiet, miserable reflection. A prospect that still didn't stop her from sighing as she stepped over a not entirely empty pizza box on the floor.

"Damnit, Wheeler!"


Téa whirled to confront the source of the sudden voice and found Joey seated morosely on the futon in the main room, staring blankly at the TV. His shaggy blonde bangs fell messily into his eyes, the stubble on his chin was becoming a full-fledged beard, and was that the same ketchup stain she'd seen on that shirt three days ago?

"You're awake," she observed, more than a little surprised.

It was a rare occurrence to find him out of bed before late afternoon nowadays, and he didn't stay awake long either. She'd expected him to be passed out when she got there.

"Yeah well, I didn't get up at all yesterday so…"

She sighed, but bit back the reprimand on the tip of her tongue and sat next to him instead, holding out the paper bag she'd brought with her, "Have a bagel."

He didn't even glance away from the television. "Not hungry."

Téa narrowed her eyes at his lanky frame, he'd always been lean but he was looking pretty scrawny lately, "When was the last time you ate?"

"When was the last time you slept?" he countered, aimlessly flipping channels. His eyes were quiet, glassy and reflecting animated images from the screen he was fixated on.

"I think I caught about three hours last night," she honestly replied, "But that's completely besides the point. Now, I promised your sister when she went all the way across the country for college that I would look after you. That means making sure you don't waste away."

"I'm fine," he declared monotone, emotionless in a manner that reminded her vaguely of a certain CEO she knew.

"Come on, it's blueberry with cinnamon cream cheese – your favorite." Téa waved the bag under his nose enticingly.

He didn't react.

"Joey, you've lost weight."


She sighed exasperated, "Would you just make my day and eat the stupid bagel?"

"Christ!" he finally turned from the tube, snatched his breakfast out of her hand, and irritably stuffed it in his mouth. "Better?"

"Much thanks," she replied falsely. "And don't give me that look either, I worry about you."

"You shouldn't," his eyes softened, "You look tired."

"Yeah well, that can't be helped." Téa looked pointedly around the disaster they sat in the middle of, "Unlike some things."

Joey actually had the grace to look embarrassed, "I know you just cleaned it a few weeks ago."

"You guys need to get your act together," she told him, "I mean this is just disgusting. And while we're on that topic, your shirt is filthy and you could use shower."

With a sigh of resignation he stood up, "Point taken."

"Well finish your food first," she wasn't about to let him off the hook in that respect.


"I have a couple hours before my first class, so I'll do a load of laundry and get some of this clutter out of the way."

"Téa, you really don't have to-,"

"Yeah," she cut him off and shot him a meaningful look, "I do."

Before Joey had a chance to respond, Tristan stumbled suddenly into the apartment, obviously hung-over and exhausted.

Téa advanced on him, "Where the hell have you been?"

He smelled of smoke and beer, his hair was an absolute mess, eyes bloodshot, "Out."

"And you took Joey's car?"

"The Harley," apparently he felt too shitty to string together a complete sentence.

"Then where's your helmet?"

He shrugged.

"Tristan!" She threw her hands up in exasperation, "Are you trying to get yourself killed? You know how stupid that is, what's wrong with you?"

"Look Téa," he began to brush past her, "I've had a rough night. I really don't need this right now okay?"

"Well that's just too damned bad, because you're going to get it," she grabbed hold of his arm before he could go any further, "Now listen very carefully, this past month has been hell for all of us and I'm not about to begrudge you your coping mechanisms. But… I just don't think I could survive if I lost you too, do you understand?"

He averted his gaze, "I…"

"Look at me," Téa shook his arm, "Do you understand?"

Something in her eyes must have revealed how desperate and scared she really was, since a moment later he appeared truly ashamed,

"Yes. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," she said, "Just wear a helmet. And Joey, you have to eat okay? I want you both alive, I need you guys to stay alive, that's all I'm asking. Okay? Can you do that?"

Tristan nodded tiredly, Joey muttered quietly that he'd try.


An odd demand to be making, Téa knew, as if people could actually force themselves to live, like death was something that could be stopped. But she needed to hear it, had to believe that she could keep these two people she loved so much with her, here in this world, living and breathing.

Because if she lost one more, if they were taken from her too, there'd be nothing left to do but lay down right in the middle of this disaster she stood in, and never get up.


It's strange how the presence of the ones you love can change everything. The difference between standing in a vacant parking lot and a field of bright aromatic flowers. Each person you love in your life holds a piece of your heart, they live in that space, keep it functioning.

But then without warning, painfully, viciously one of them leaves. Did you know what you were taking with you when you went away? Does it keep you company wherever you are? I miss that part of myself, I miss what you took from the others, I miss you.

We're not flowers anymore. We all just stand together, grey and sullen in a vacant lot, abandoned by sunlight, snubbed by the living and beautiful, waiting for you. The shadows meet us in your place, dark and cold, smirking while we try to find you through the blackness.

But you still don't come, and we wait alone. Together, but so alone.


Homework was something Téa missed out on in college since she studied dance. It was a prestigious school of the arts she attended, some of the finest performers in the world instructing her and it was very demanding.

Daily practicing, running through endless routines, and clocking hours at the gym, she was kept very busy. But there was very little to get done by way of actual schoolwork, and she felt the absence of that which would have kept her brain occupied now that she so desperately needed it to be.

Still, she found things to keep her mentally engaged in her free time, and today's free period was spent in a cute little diner off campus perusing the classifieds. Joey wouldn't actively look for employment on his own, so she'd taken it upon herself to do it for him. After all, he still had bills to pay, and he certainly couldn't stay in bed forever. Besides that, Tristan wouldn't be able to afford the place himself once his roommate ran out of funds, so she was actually doing it for the both of them.

As it was, prospects were looking pretty bleak, but she supposed if worse came to worse, she could always get him a job at the restaurant she worked at. It was a classy, upscale place, but they were always hiring dishwashers and paid obscenely well for such an uncomplicated job. Working together would also give Téa a chance to keep an eye on Joey, make sure he didn't ditch shifts and get himself fired.

She folded up the paper and set it aside, resolving to speak to her boss on her next shift, and turned her attention to the now lukewarm coffee in front of her.

What now?

There had to be something else to do, some other problem to sort out, she couldn't be here alone with time to kill and nothing to focus on. The paper had a crossword, didn't it? She thought she'd seen one. It would keep her busy, she decided, already reaching for the discarded paper when a shadow fell over her table.

Téa looked up to find steady blue eyes calmly regarding her, heavily lashed pools of confident contemplation. Brown bangs cast shadows on the unfaltering gaze, lips full and frowning rested beneath it.

The young man was tall, strong and powerful standing over her with solid, tangible presence. She knew his posture was one designed for intimidation, but inexplicably his company made her feel safe.

She didn't know why, couldn't understand it, but Téa found herself smiling at him in a perfectly friendly manner. It wasn't just that she welcomed any distraction from her own bleak thoughts, it was something else. Like she'd needed him to be there out of anybody who might have chosen to approach her. Like somehow she had to be around so much self-assuredness, to see this impeccably dressed, clean cut, beautiful man stand there with all the answers.

Nothing made sense anymore when Seto Kaiba was a sight for sore eyes.

They were never really friends, had been enemies once, and she'd barely even seen him after High School. After the days when Duel Monsters was a way of life, an activity that forced their paths to cross on so many occasions, the last time they'd spoken was Yugi's funeral.

She'd solemnly thanked him for coming, and he'd equally as solemnly acknowledged the terrible loss. Then Mokuba, who'd of course come with his brother, had thrown his arms around her and she burst into tears.

There were no tears in her eyes now, but Téa knew she looked sad and worn; she did own a mirror.

"Well hello Kaiba," she said finally after he still hadn't spoken, "What's new?"

"You're sitting at my table," he coolly informed her.


She glanced down to see him gripping his laptop, apparently prepared to work. It was odd to think of Kaiba coming to an insignificant diner often enough to have a table preference, but she supposed even guys like him needed a break from the office now and then. And this establishment did seem like a nice, quiet, retreat.

Still, she should have been offended by such rudeness; after all it wasn't as though he owned the place… that she knew of. Under different circumstances, she would have haughtily snapped back that she didn't see his name anywhere, she'd arrived first, and he'd just have to deal with it.

But that was the pre-tragedy Téa and as it was, she was too tired to argue over something that just wasn't worth it. What spunk she had left was needed elsewhere, in class and with Joey and Tristan. She didn't have it in her to put Kaiba in his place too.

"Sorry, I didn't know this spot was reserved," she apologized without a hint of sarcasm, and stood to hurriedly collect her things, "Have a nice lunch, or you know, whatever."

Kaiba's eyes widened at her unexpected compliance; he'd clearly been prepared to argue with her which made sense considering their past run-ins.

"Wait," his voice was low while his expression lost some of its hardness.

She had to tilt her head to look at him questioningly, tall as he was.

"You can stay," he told her evenly, face impassive, "There are two chairs."

"Um, yeah sure," it still struck her as bizarre, her desire to be near his solid presence, but Téa gratefully returned to her seat. "Thanks."

"Whatever," Kaiba didn't look at her as he sat down and opened his laptop, "Just don't bother me."

"Of course not," she sighed and picked up her paper again to settle down with the crossword.

They didn't speak after that, just sat together each in their own world, letting the quiet settle between them in a manner that was somehow comforting. Téa looked up from her task now and then to watch his brow crease ever-so-slightly while he worked. Occasionally he would bite his lip and his hands moved fluidly, strong and capable.

She'd glance away before he could catch her staring, but it wouldn't be long before she'd find her eyes drifting towards him again.

It wasn't that he was so fascinating; it was just this unshakable quality he possessed. She knew this man, so young, but without the doubt, insecurity, and dumb mistakes that came with youth. She'd seen him confident and unflinching against frightening and powerful foes. He was fearless, in control, and everything she was trying so unsuccessfully to be these days.

It was true she didn't much like the guy, but today he was her hero. To be around somebody who would never lay around despondently all day, or go partying like a crazy man each night, or be too afraid to sleep. Someone who wouldn't look at her with that pitying expression everyone had been giving her lately. Someone who could in her mind, stare down death and tell it to back off.

The waiter came and Téa asked for another espresso while Kaiba ordered his coffee black with three sugars. Then it was back to work, the CEO slipping easily into an intense state of concentration, eyes glued to his laptop. Téa wasn't nearly so focused on her crossword, attention divided between it and her companion, but she was still diverted enough which was all she really needed these days anyway.

She barely kept track of time as it passed, unwilling to return to the obligations that had been so appealing to her before. If she could just stay here, silent, mind full of young businessmen and words, problems temporarily discarded.

In actuality, it had been about twenty minutes before she broke the silence.

"What's a seven letter word for fatuous?" she asked in a gentle, raspy voice.

"Puerile," he replied without missing a beat.

"You didn't even have to think about that," she exclaimed with some surprise. The glancing back at the paper, "Oh, but it starts with an 'a' though."

"Asinine." His eyes were still fixed on his laptop screen.

"Perfect," she smiled faintly, "You really are a genius aren't you?"

"Mm," he typed a few words, "You're bothering me, Gardener."

"Am I?"

"You said you wouldn't."

"Sorry," she returned to her crossword, and filled in 36-across.

"I'm basically finished here," he told her, "I'll be leaving in a minute."


She didn't want him to go, didn't want to be away from him. It was stupid, she knew that, but now that she had a security blanket it was hard to part with. Strange that Kaiba should fill the role of said blanket… but then, Yugi had always liked him. Maybe it wasn't so weird.

"Let me come with you," she blurted without thinking.

His eyes snapped away from the computer and rested on hers with penetrating suspicion. "What?"

"I… I don't think I can be alone right now," she admitted.

"So go be with your friends," he suggested.

"I can't."

He sighed with annoyance and studied her with narrowed eyes, "Why the hell not?"

A very good question - but how did she explain why he felt so safe to her as opposed to her friends who were too hard to be around when she was feeling this way? She couldn't face them again until she'd had a few more hours to regain strength.

"They're… I mean I love them so much, I'd do anything for them, and I need them, I do. But… but right now, I just need… you. I mean, I need to be near you. I don't know why."

Téa sighed, "I know it's insane, and we barely know each other and I can't even believe I'm saying all of this. But it's just been so long since I've felt so… okay you know?"

"Look," Kaiba snapped, "I don't have time to entertain a needy little emotional basket-case all day. Just because I let you sit here doesn't mean I want to be your counselor or worse, your friend. Find some other way to deal with your grief."

"No you look," she snapped back irritably, "I realize it's an insane request but I'm at the end of my rope here. Couldn't you just let me tag along for a few hours and prevent an emotional breakdown? I promise to be quiet and out of the way."

"You've lost it Gardener."

"Please?" she widened her already huge blue eyes, "Please just help me this once."

Snapping his laptop closed, Kaiba rose with uncanny grace and dignity, causing her to want to go with him that much more. He looked down at her with narrow-eyed annoyance.

"Just stay out of my way, and don't speak," he finally relented, "And try not to be so damned pathetic."

"I appreciate this."

He threw enough money on the table to cover both of them, and a sizable tip and turned for the door, "Let's go."

It didn't make sense, it was crazy, it couldn't be healthy, but Téa followed him anyway.


When you feel like you have nothing to lose, it's amazing the risks you will take. I've always been told I'm not careful enough, that my headstrong stubbornness will get me into trouble someday. You used to say that sometimes in your quiet, non-offensive way.

But I'm already in trouble, I've already lost, my balance gone with you, with the sunlight and the flowers. There are replacements for the things you took, each of us left with these self-destructive behaviors that linger and mock us. They chip away at the goodness you brought to our lives, threaten to ruin your legacy.

I don't want that, but I'm so scared, so cold. Can't I just sit by the fire for awhile if I promise not to get burnt, would that be so wrong? Can I hold onto this comforter, this blanket that soaks up my tears and chases away the chill?

I just want to know myself again, to live again… if danger makes you feel truly alive, can it really be so harmful? Or am I the one who's riding without a helmet now?

If I hang on tight, maybe this time I won't fall.