Chapter 16

"You were amazing this evening."

Tea started at the deep voice some distance behind her. She knew who she would find even before she turned and she wasn't sure she could deal with him at the moment.

"Hello Seto." She mentally berated herself for her slip. ::Kaiba:: she reminded herself ::Kaiba::

Kaiba stepped away from the door walking slowly down toward her. As he did he let his gaze sweep over her, taking in every feature. She had changed into old jeans and a baby tee, and her hair was falling out of its careful coif, but she was still beautiful.

She shifted uncomfortably. "What are you doing here? I thought you'd left with Mokuba."

Seto had sent Mokuba home in the car with surprisingly little argument. But then, his brother was probably glad to see him stay. Waiting until the car pulled out of sight and Yugi and Yami had let as well he had then turned back toward the darkened center. He didn't tell her all of that though. Instead he simply shrugged.

"I needed to talk to you."

Tea turned away, pretending to check under a row of seats, but really trying to hide the pain on her face. She had been afraid of this. She hadn't seen the socialite tonight, but it was possible she had missed the woman. At any rate there was bound to be a time when they had to face this. She just wasn't sure she could handle it tonight.

A hand fell gently on her shoulder.

"Are you okay? I hear you had a rough evening?" The tenderness in his voice couldn't be mistaken and it broke her. If only it meant more than friendship.

Tears fell down her face, a silent river, and soon her shoulders were wracked with sobs.

"Tea?" Seto asked in concern, turning her toward him. "What is it?"

Unable to hold back any longer she threw herself into his arms, clutching his shirt and crying into his chest. This was becoming far too frequent a habit.

Kaiba's eyes widened in surprise, but he wrapped his arms around her and rocked back and forth gently, waiting.

For a moment he allowed himself to savor the feel of her in his arms. He imagined himself comforting her like this for the rest of their lives, though, of course, he hoped there would not be too much cause for grief and tears in their life. His thoughts were interrupted by Tea's halting voice.

"Everything just went… so wrong." She sobbed. Seto waited for her to continue, knowing that she needed to set her own pace. "First there were set pieces missing, and then the programs weren't delivered, and Joey and Tristan had to go get them. Then there weren't any ushers and some of the costumes were gone. And I had to get more of my friends to help. Then one girl got stage fright, and another couldn't come – no – TWO couldn't come. And we had to rearrange things. And Kensuke almost set the curtain on fire with that old lamp! And one of the boys called and needed a ride at the last minute. And on top of all that I think I lost my bracelet!"

He hadn't known about those last few things. How could so much go wrong in one night? He was amazed she had held together so well. But then, he thought, he shouldn't have been - she was so strong.

"Tea, it's alright," he soothed, heart aching at her obvious pain. "It was an amazing performance. You pulled through."

She sniffed loudly and shook her head. "It doesn't matter. My whole life has been a mess!"

His eyes widened. What was she talking about?

"I was stupid to go to New York. I felt so alone. My friends were half a world away and I had nothing but success to comfort me. It wasn't worth it. And now I sometimes wonder if they've all forgiven me… if I even deserve to be forgiven. And then tonight they were still all willing to help me, and I realized what a fool I was to ever think I could live without them. I mean, I can't even take care of myself! It was so stupid!"

He wanted to speak then, to tell her she was wrong. It was never stupid to follow one's dreams. And she had realized her mistake and come back. It was alright. She wasn't stupid, and she wasn't weak, and she could definitely take care of herself. She'd been doing it for years, even in high school really. But he didn't speak. In fact, he couldn't, for the next words she uttered shocked him beyond anything else he could have imagined.

"And that's not the only stupid thing I've done in my life! I was stupid about my feelings too. Especially my feelings about you."

He stiffened in surprise and glanced down sharply, though all he saw was the top of her head. Her hands tightened on his shirt.

"It's true. And even if you hate me for it I have to tell you." She drew in a shuddering breath and buried her face deeper in his chest, "I love you." She blurted out. "I've been avoiding it since high school because I was afraid. I was afraid of love, and I was afraid of rejection, and I was afraid that you would be cold and uncaring. I was still afraid even after I saw the change in you. But that was stupid because being afraid never got anyone anything. And then, when some very special people finally knocked some sense into me and I realized that I loved you and I went to find you I realized it was too late."

Kaiba had been startled by her declaration at first, but slowly a spark of hope grew in his heart until it was a full flame. But this last comment nearly dashed it. Had she given up on him? "Too late?" he asked gently, praying he would be able to refute any argument she might present.

She nodded, "Too late. I didn't realize I loved you until I saw you with her. And by then I'd lost you. Please forgive me!"

Seto wracked his mind but could think of nothing to say. Seen him with whom? The only other woman he'd talked to , besides his secretary, in days was Cynthia Hagarthy and he certainly hadn't… That's when it struck him. Cynthia had kissed him on the pier. To a casual onlooker…

He groaned.

"Tea," he whispered, "Tea." Tenderly he raised her face to look into her eyes, both hands resting gently under her chin. He allowed one finger to trace her jaw line as he spoke. "First, you are not, nor have you ever been, stupid. You are a wonderful person." A tear trailed down her cheek and he rubbed it out with a thumb. "And you haven't lost me Tea." Her gaze jerked to focus on his, "That woman," he explained, "I don't love her. In fact, I can't stand her."

"But I saw you-" she began weakly.

He shook his head, "I know what it looked like, but you've got to believe me, she initiated that kiss and I pushed her away almost immediately. I'm not seeing anyone." He smiled at her, "How could I when my heart was taken?"

Her eyes searched his questioningly and he realized with relief that she had stopped crying.

"Tea Gardner, I've loved you since high school and I knew it. I fought it, but I knew it. Didn't you ever wonder at how I acted around you? Didn't you notice that I treated you differently? I couldn't bring myself to look down on you as I did the others. You were special." He sighed, running his fingers through her hair and forcing himself to continue to look her in the eye, despite his embarrassment.

"When you nearly died in Battle City I realized I couldn't deny it any longer. So I chose to ignore it, by being even colder than before. I locked my heart away because I thought love was a weakness. And at that point I was too wrapped up in my petty rivalry with Yami and Yugi to notice much of anything else. Of course, while you were in New York I had plenty of time to think about it. And when you came back all those feelings resurfaced and I found I didn't quite know what I wanted. As I spent more time with you I realized that I truly did love you. But I felt as though I'd missed the moment. I should have told you the moment you returned from New York."

"Why didn't you?" she asked hesitantly.

"I was afraid." He admitted quietly.

She tilted her head, pulling back a little, "I can't imagine you being afraid of anything."

He drew in a breath. This was the admission he had dreaded the most. "I was afraid I'd lost you to Bakura."

Tea's brow arched in surprise. "Bakura?" she asked, confusion clear in her cerulean eyes.

He nodded, "When I saw you two hugging in the park I thought you were his. It nearly killed me. It's the reason I've been avoiding you these last months."

"But – Bakura and I – we aren't -"

He placed a finger gently over her lips, stopping her explanation, "I know Tea. I spoke with him tonight; he told me that I was wrong." She looked up at him, eyes wide and shimmering with emotion. He smiled gently, brushing her hair away from her face, "but that doesn't matter now. None of it matters." Their gazes locked once more and they were lost in one another's eyes. When he spoke again his voice was low and husky, "What matters is that we're together now." His blue eyes searched hers, "We are together now… aren't we?"

She nodded. Yes, they were. After all they had been through, all the denial and misunderstandings; they had finally ended up where they belonged. She was just glad it hadn't taken them their entire lives to figure it out.

He leaned forward and brought his lips to hers gently. Her eyes drifted shut and her arms wrapped around his neck. His right hand caressed her cheek and then slid up into her hair as the kiss deepened.

"Hey Tea!" Yugi stopped, seeing the couple. He drew back with a smile. ::Finally! I'm through playing counselor:: he quietly turned away. He fingered the bracelet Tea had handed him, for safekeeping, just before the show. He had forgotten to return it which was why he had returned to the center, but it could wait until tomorrow. He dimmed the theatre lights as he left.

Back in the darkened room Kaiba let his arms slide to Tea's waist, drawing her as close to himself as possible. Tenderly he explored the softness of her lips and she responded warmly. Tea's last clear thought before she lost herself in his embrace was one that had oft been in her mind upon her return to Domino…

::I'm finally home::


A/N:I could have sworn I uploaded this yesterday... but evidently I didn't. I'm sorry guys!!! Hope you enjoyed. Send a parting review...