His cell-phone was ringing. Why was it ringing? It was past midnight. Who would call anyone at such an ungodly hour? More to the point, who would call him at such an ungodly hour? Despite his body's protests, his mind presented the idea of it being his siblings. Groaning, he reached over and sleepily muttered, "Hello?"
Oh. On recognizing the voice, he thought; 'You, is it? It's been a while.' "I'm here."
"I – I can't sleep."
"Nor me – any longer." Like he'd said, it was late, he had only been asleep for a short while and his body was screaming for more. His temper, always short, was no better in his condition.
"I just – I really need somebody to talk to."
That tone would be the death of him. As if he didn't suffer from insomnia enough before. He sat up, propped some pillows up behind him and braced back. "I'm already awake."
He heard the sigh of relief. Absently he wondered why that was always the reaction. When had he ever not listened?
"…I suppose it's silly, really. I mean, I knew nothing – nothing could be done. He was dying for God's sake. But I still – I couldn't help hoping… I'm really stupid, aren't I? It'd been years…years and years of waiting and hoping and…. For God's sake Seto, he died. It really makes no sense to bemoan this now. But I – I haven't – I can't – I feel so… lost."
He remained silent, not quite understanding what was going on. Where was all this leading? No, the better question was: where was all this coming from? Before he could try to figure it out, he became aware of the sounds of muffled crying. Damn it.
The previous time he'd had to deal with crying, they'd been thousands of miles apart. It had been roughly six months ago and it had been… difficult. This time, not even an entire city lay between them. He may have been half-asleep but his logic hadn't turned off. The best thing to do was to close the distance and make it easier. But Hell, it had been nearly four years since they had last been face to face.
There were low, mournful, incoherent, incomprehensible murmurs emanating from the other end of the line. Swallowing, his only thought was, Screw it.
"You do know where I live?" he asked.
There was a hesitant, somewhat stunned silence. It made sense to him. This was the first time in eleven years that he had ever extended an invitation of any kind.
"Ye-yeah. I do."
"Then I expect you here soon."
"Good." He waited for an appropriate amount of time and was about to hang up when there was a murmured, "Thank you, Seto. I really… "
"I'll see you soon then."
"Later." Then he remembered, "And by the way, you're terrible when you're upset."
"I quote, 'For God's sake Seto, he died.' You are, Téa. You're absolutely horrid."
Through the tail-ends of her tears she chuckled.
Seto stared at the closed silver instrument nestled in the palm of his hand for minutes on end. Mentally, he tried to recall her face but, to tell the truth, he remembered only pieces that made a vague, blurred image. There was brown hair, blue eyes and fair skin of a healthy complexion.
His right eyebrow arched at nothing. He sounded like Ah-nuld from the Terminator. She was a healthy female of breeding age. He was going to kill Mokuba for making him watch that.
But back to the topic at hand: Téa – Gardner. No, 'Téa' was right. She was on her way to his home.
He stared at the phone some more, at his hand in which it rested, at the navy sheets under the upturned hand. Then he blinked. Sighing, he stood up and the material slid off his body smoothly. He made his way to the bathroom.
Later, he paused in the middle of brushing his teeth and looked at his reflection in the mirror. Téa Gardner was coming over. To his home. At – he glanced at the clock – 1:30 in the morning. Téa Gardner.
Had he suddenly gone mad?
"You have these too?"
It had taken her less than half an hour to ring the downstairs doorbell of his Tokyo penthouse. Seto had been somewhat surprised at it. However, he lounged on the black leather sofa while she examined his living room. Funnily enough, the unease he had expected to prevail between them seemed nonexistent.
He watched her run her slender, manicured fingers over his DVD collection – specifically over his personalized Yu-Gi-Oh set. She was no longer the girl he remembered. She had matured greatly since he had last seen her. Even when they had last set eyes on each other at the age of twenty-three, she had retained a girlish charm about her. But, he supposed, death did things to people.
"Devlin sent them," he replied just before she reached the point at which she would no longer expect an answer. "I assume you have one also?"
Deep in her eyes was buried the pain and struggle of the past four years. He desperately wanted to look away.
"Yeah. I do." For some reason, her spirit seemed to deflate and she collapsed onto the couch beside him. "Duke called me right after the first episode aired, you know."
She turned her face toward him. He waited patiently. Then she sighed. "It hadn't been two months. He'd been working furiously to get that first episode done and aired before… it happened. He wanted him to see – to see how much he meant to us. He wanted him to know that he wouldn't be forgotten… that some part of him would… live."
She closed her eyes to push back the tears he could see glistening therein. They were beautiful eyes – tragic, beautiful, blue eyes. After a shuddering breath, she continued her monologue. "He just went downhill so suddenly. No one was prepared for it… I think. But I suppose the fact that the show is called Yu-Gi-Oh says it all."
"Did you see the dedication at the beginning?" he asked. For some reason, his throat felt clogged.
"Yes, the second time I watched it. Would you think me stupid if I said I cried?"
"No." Seto remembered being unable to make it to the funeral or the reception. But he had visited the grave on his own, in the dead of night. Kneeling on the grass at the foot of his best friend's grave, he too had cried bitter tears.
With obvious sorrow in his voice, he added, "I didn't go to work the day of the premier. I… needed to see it. I remembered that particular incident from a somewhat alternative perspective. And…I couldn't use my hand for days after I left the gym."
Téa chuckled, albeit a bit shakily. "That sounds just like… you."
It was a comment that sounded so much like her that he smiled. He had been right in the bathroom. He had gone mad. The last thing he wanted to do was discuss Yugi's death with Téa. But – just maybe – they needed this more than wanted it. It was time they both talked about it. She hadn't called him since before the funeral six months ago.
"I genuinely tried to make it to the funeral but–" He was silenced by her sharp gesture of negation. He noted that her fingers were trembling slightly.
"He would have understood. He would always forgive you. When you used to irritate the hell out of all of us, he used to stop us from killing you on the spot. I mean, you and Joey were two of the most… volatile friends I've ever met." She paused and the searching gaze she fixed on him told him that he had to tell the truth. "But why didn't you come to the reception?"
"Apart from the fact that my plane landed at eleven in the night?" She nodded, answering his rhetorical question as she had always had a tendency to do. "I didn't think anyone would miss me."
"Why do you always depreciate yourself?" she asked. Her tone had become a steady, quiet melancholy. He shrugged and suggested, "Habit?"
"It's a bad habit," she insisted. "Of course we missed you. We waited for you until midnight. Tell me, do you think Duke would have included you in – made you such an important part ofthe show if you weren't … one of us?"
At this he chuckled dryly. "In case you didn't notice, Gardner, I happen to be an antagonist."
"And in case you didn't notice, Kaiba, that is by your own choice, even in the anime. Do you think we're all blind? We know you. And besides, most of the damn show is fiction anyway. There was no Yami, just the memory of an older brother. No Yami Bakura, just two very different twins. No Yami Marik, just a gang leader with a personality disorder. No Rare Hunters and no Darts. And no Millennium Items. Of course everything was exaggerated. Sometimes I can't believe you're the genius of the group!"
Seto had always wondered about the significance of the character Kisara in the show. They had known no such person. When he asked, Duke had reminded him of something Joey said once; "Kaiba, if your Blue Eyes was human you'd marry it."
So it appeared that Kisara was but a personification of their old jest. Yet when Seto had pressed the issue, Devlin had asked him to carefully scrutinize the show.
"There are only so many people with blue eyes. Three of them are girls. Which girls are they?"
The answer was simple: Kisara – obviously, Rebecca and Téa.
"And now compare the instance of reincarnation; Yugi is Atem, you are Seth, Ryou is Bakura. Who is most likely to be Kisara?"
Considering that the characters tended to be nearly carbon copies of their past selves, Seto had chosen Rebecca with her long blonde hair and baby blue eyes.
"Think about her character, Kaiba. Her appearance made her stand out. She was an object of ridicule and a victim of multiple abuses. Do you really believe that she would choose to be a twelve-year-old genius? Don't you think she'd prefer to blend in as much as possible?"
Seto had argued that Téa wanted to be noticed. Her dream was to dance on stage. She wanted fame. That didn't fit the mould.
"She wants acceptance. She wants the people of the world to love her. I think that fits Kisara better than anyone. And besides, you can't argue with me. I made the damn thing up. I am the God of the Yu-Gi-Oh-verse."
He was admittedly impressed by the amount of thought Duke had put into the characters. When Seto had asked what the implications for the modern characters were, Duke had chuckled and replied;
"You tell me."
Seto focused on the fresh, steaming cup of coffee nested in the cradle of her hands. She was talking to him about everything – about herself, her family, and their friends. He realized with some incredulity that he had missed the sound of her voice in his ear over the past six months. And as he watched her sip lightly, he wondered why he avoided meeting her face to face for such a long time. She turned back toward him, not at all flustered by his scrutiny. Her expression was bittersweet.
"I don't know if I told you but…" she caught the edge of her lip between her teeth, looking doubtful, "Rebecca's pregnant."
His eyes widened. "You failed to mention that."
She looked up at him, eyes regretful. For the first time that night, Seto got the distinct impression that she was looking at him.
"I haven't called you since before the funeral," she said. "I'm amazed I'm here." Her hand, steady once again, gestured vaguely around his apartment. "I would have thought you'd have forgotten about me."
"I could never forget about you, Téa. No one could." She tilted her head to one side and regarded him quietly, intensely. He was not accustomed to being on the receiving end of such a look. He felt compelled to add, "You wouldn't let us."
Her smile was preoccupied.
"I suppose Rebecca expects any day now," he said, returning to their original topic.
"Not yet. She still has a few months. She was only three weeks pregnant when… Everything happened so quickly – it took one week and then… She didn't even know until after the funeral." Her eyes closed and grief descended upon them. Her action seemed like a silent summons. "Sometimes I don't know which was worse – losing Yugi or watching Rebecca lose him."
Seto gently rested his coffee cup on the counter and splayed his hands flat on the marble. The cold was soothing; the pressure he applied helped to quell his hands' tremors.
"What does she plan to do – financially?" he asked. Despite her brilliance and youth, mourning and motherhood would definitely prevent Rebecca from providing for herself for a while.
Téa's eyes opened slowly and she looked him squarely in the eye. "We all intend to help. That child will not be without all the love, protection and provisions it could have, should have and would have gotten from Yugi."
A bitter emotion streaked across Seto's chest. "So everyone knew but me?"
His tone was biting. His usually collected countenance was discarded for one of anger and – for the first time in his life – he allowed Téa to see pain; real pain. The kind of pain she had once accused him of being incapable of feeling. He kept his gaze fixated on his clenched fists. A few calming breaths later and he asked, "Do you finally see what I mean, Gardner?"
A delicate hand snaked its way onto his shoulder. She angled him with surprising force for her petite frame. "All I see is my own cowardice and frailty."
He let his expression speak for him. He could have sworn that somewhere the moon was an unnatural shade of blue. She stared at one of his buttons as she spoke.
"I was… I promised to tell you as soon as I could. I tried calling you so many times but… Good Lord, Seto, do you know what it's like to look at the phone and cry? To look out the window, down the street and weep? There were too many things that I'd have to say and I was sick to my stomach of not talking about it. I haven't talked to anyone about his death. Not really. No one has cared how I feel. He wasn't just my best friend… he was my brother. For a long time, I didn't want to deal with what I felt. And I knew that in calling you, even if it was just to tell you about the baby, that I would end up doing this. I wrapped myself in concern for Rebecca and everyone else and I managed to not feel. But calling you meant… Seto, it's my fault that you didn't know. I'm sorry."
During her speech, her hand had slipped. The fingers of her left hand were clenched tightly onto the fabric of his sleeve and the other was resting limply on the countertop.
Not for the first time in his life, Seto was unsure of what to feel, what to think and how to act. When her breath shuddered, he no longer cared what was right. He gently took her right hand in his, slid his right arm around her waist, and pulled her close. She accepted his embrace wordlessly. Her free arm wrapped around his torso and she leaned against his chest. With a sense of comfort he never experienced before, he rested his cheek on the crown of her head, breathing in her unadulterated scent of shampoo, soap and powder.
"I'm so sorry, Seto. I am."
He studied Téa as she rummaged through her purse. She had told him everything about her friends, about her family but, he realised with a frown, she had forgotten to mention her career. Did she still dance? From the look of her, she was still amazingly fit. His eyes trailed to her legs – once the envy of every girl and the craving of every boy in high school. They were the only feature Seto would ever admit to having noticed about her as member of the opposite sex.
Despite convention, they had, as a group, defied all gender distinctions. They held among themselves an acknowledgment of individual integrity but it was generally accepted that their friendship had effectively de-sexed them all. At least, that was what everyone else seemed to enjoy thinking.
Seto found it ironic that many of them wound up either dating or married. Joey and Mai had a hurricane of a relationship and though neither was truly afraid of commitment, it remained unpredictable. Tristan and Serenity had dated and decided it wouldn't work. Serenity, after a tasteful period, began seeing Duke and, to Seto's limited knowledge of the situation, still was. Even Yugi had eventually asked the obviously smitten since childhood Rebecca to marry him.
That left exactly two people out of loop of specific intimacy – Seto and Téa.
"I would say 'penny for your thoughts' but you'd probably say I'm miserly," she said taking a seat beside him. He watched her fold one leg under. Now, the corner of her lips curled upward only slightly and in just that small alteration Seto could see a spark of the Téa he had graduated high school with.
Smirking, he replied, "Very few people in this world can afford my thoughts."
"You conceited son of a bitch." Though her words were harsh, her tone was kind. Her inflection was one he had heard many times; a light, teasing tone that suggested an old, established intimacy. The fact that he had had never before taken the time to define it struck him as odd because they had been calling each other almost everyday since high school graduation – that was almost everyday for the past nine years; roughly 3285 phone calls.
Unexpectedly, she leaned forward and hugged him tight. She pressed her cheek against his, making his skin tingle in a way he was not unfamiliar with. However, he was unaccustomed to responding in that manner to such a chaste gesture.
Not having let go of him, she whispered, "Thank you."
"What for?" he asked. There were so many things she could thank him for, none of which were any trouble.
She pulled away and her eyes were sad again. She answered, "For being you. For not changing too much. For letting me come here this late. For listening to me. For being solid, real… alive. For – "
His hand, completely of its own volition, had risen and cupped her cheek. His thumb brushed across the smooth skin and he had the distinct impression that he was the only man able to touch molten lava. He looked into her eyes. Startled? Definitely. Angry? No. Pleased? Slightly. Seto felt relief rush though him. And then he made up his mind.
Yugi had written him not a week before his final bout of illness. The email was typical of Yugi but there had been one new feature – a simple line that read: Téa's single again. It's been nine years. Do it for me if not for yourself.
"You haven't told me yet – are you seeing anyone?" He knew his voice was quiet but, in the silence of his apartment, it was enough.
Her eyes widened fractionally and Seto rejoiced at the glimmers of hope he found therein. "N-not really."
He frowned. He had never been a patient man. "Yes or no, Téa?"
She searched his face for a moment then drew closer to him. Apparently, she had found what she needed to find. Her reply was firm, "No."
They tumbled, entwined, onto the Egyptian cotton of his bed-sheets minutes later.
In the morning, Téa giggled as Seto told the sunrise that they had, in fact, done it for Yugi.
Author's Notes: That went in a completely unexpected direction. I hadn't even planned to kill Yugi when I started. Atem was supposed to be the dead one. I think this works, though. And no, I don't know why I suddenly chose to use the dub names in a piece based in Tokyo. I just felt like it, I guess.
And in case you were wondering: 'Sente' means 'the first move' in Japanese.
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh and make no profit from this piece of fiction.