Disclaimer: IT'S MINE! IT'S ALL MINE! MWA HA HA HA HA!
Yes, I am…painfully aware of how long it has been since I updated this…
This and all future chapters are being written on a brand spanking new laptop, so all grammatical tasks that my home computer has rendered itself incapable of performing can now be achieved easily. And to be honest, I think that my home computer is on the brink of dying anyway…But not to worry! I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
For now, here is chapter 4. To be honest again, I feel some people may be dissatisfied with the end…but we'll see. It was really the only practical place to stop before my brain shriveled up.
Téa kept a tight hold on her daughters hand as she made her way down the bustling street. Keeping Jessica close to her side to shield her from all the jostling people on their way to work, she cursed herself for refusing the offer to be driven to her destination. The staff that had been hired upon their return to Japan were eager to please.
Seto had once again taken the reins concerning their move, and it seemed to Téa that he had hired most of them expressly for their naiveté. The maids were young, barely out of their teens it seemed, and the chauffeur and grounds keeping staff could be no older than twenty-five. Obviously Seto had decided that they wanted their jobs desperately enough not to cause trouble.
The only exception to this was the security team, who, if Téa was quite honest with herself, freaked her out just the tiniest bit. Though Seto assured her that they were professionals of the highest caliber, they looked more like hardened criminals. Large, threatening men with shaved heads and dark glasses, she wasn't sure if she should feel safer or more afraid with them patrolling the grounds in the night.
She was jerked violently from her thoughts as a middle aged man in a suit stumbled into her and Jessica's hand slipped from her grasp. The three year old crashed to the ground in a heap and let out a startled wail as tears began to form in her eyes. Maternal instinct dominating the urge to do some serious harm, Téa turned towards her now sobbing daughter and was immediately shoved back by the same man who had caused all this in the first place.
"Excuse me, do you mind? I'm late for a meeting" came an angry voice.
"Excuse me, do you realize that you've just injured a three-year-old?" came a furious voice.
"Well, pardon me" the sarcasm was thick "But she was in my way and as I said I am very late. Now if you please"
Téa stumbled back.
Jessica let out an anguished sob.
"Hey! Where the hell do you get off shoving around little kids?" A shout from the crowd.
"Yeah! Pick on someone your own size, ya big bully!". A Brooklyn accent that was gut-wrenchingly familiar.
But Téa didn't spare the attention to process any of it. She saw only her child. As a blonde blur seized the man by the collar, Téa dropped to the pavement at her daughters side. Frantically examining her daughter for injury, her heart lurched when she saw the skinned knees and hands. Pulling the girl to her in a tight hug, she rocked her gently and tried to quiet the crying.
"Shh, it's ok baby, mummy's here, it's ok, I know it stings, it's ok, shh…"
She barely noticed the fight going on behind her or the crowd that had gathered around them until a hand touched hers. She looked up. Blue eyes met violet. She gasped in shock.
"Hi there sugar. You ok?"
Téa gaped at the woman in front of her. Still grasping the inconsolable child in her arms and gradually becoming aware of the commotion around her, she gazed at a face she hadn't seen in years, trying to say something, anything. When she finally found her voice, the only thing that came out sounded dull and hollow.
Across town, Seto Kaiba glanced irritably at his watch. The new engineer he was interviewing for a position at KaibaCorp was late.
Mai stared in pure disbelief at the sight before her. Téa Gardner, in the flesh, whom they had been discussing only the day before, sat right in front of her. Sat right in front of her holding a small child that was clinging to her as if the world depended on it.
"…it's ok baby, mummy's here.."
Something twigged inside her mind. Mai took a closer look at the little girl. Blue eyes, but not Téa's. Much too dark. Brown hair, but much lighter than Téa's. Pretty features, but again, not Téa's. Sharper, more defined. Strikingly similar to…
"…Mr. Kaiba is expected to arrive tomorrow afternoon with his wife and young daughter…"
Mai sucked in a breath and looked hard at Téa.
Téa stared at her old friend with a growing sense of dread. This was wrong. It was too soon. She wasn't ready to do this. Mai hadn't been there for the fights with her friends. She wondered what they'd told her about the situation…
A loud thump startled her out of her thoughts and she turned around to see the man that had knocked her daughter over lying on the ground himself, nursing a bloody nose. Joey Wheeler was standing over him.
"If there's one thing I can't stand it's people hurting kids. Whether they mean to or not." He spat, looking down at the man with contempt. And then he looked straight at her.
"Well, hello there" he said, his eyes softening, expression unsure.
The moment was broken by the man scrambling to his feet, blustering furiously at them.
"You won't get away with this, I'm telling you! This is assault! And on top of that you idiots have made me late for my interview at KaibaCorp! What have you got against people making a living anyway?"
And with that he shoved a few more people out of his way and disappeared into the crowd, leaving Téa alone with two people who wanted answers and a crying infant.
"Interview at KaibaCorp? Think he knows who he's just knocked down, Mrs. Kaiba?" Joey said with a pointed look. A murmur went through the crowd as the name was recognized and people began to jostle to get a look at her. Mai looked up at him in silent shock, and Joey realized too late that he wasn't supposed to know about any of this. Snapping back to reality, Téa gathered her child in her arms once more and stood up. Sighing, she looked at Joey and Mai
"Come with me" she said, before making her way through the crowds-who parted instantly for her, not wanting to be responsible for upsetting her now that they knew who she was-and hurrying up the street. Joey and Mai kept pace silently, not knowing what to say.
The followed her to a non-descript looking building, the large windows cloudy with white-wash. For all intents and purposes, it looked abandoned. They were surprised when Téa opened the door and they were led into a large foyer with a hardwood floor that was scattered with various boxes and packing crates.
"Marie!" Téa called as she bounced Jessica, who had now stopped outright crying and was now sniffling wretchedly and hiccupping, lightly on her hip. "Marie, are you—oh, there you are"
A young woman with long blonde hair pulled back into an attractive plait came out of a side door and smiled at Téa. Then she noticed the child, red faced and pouting, and started cooing in French. The two women conversed briefly in the foreign language and then headed off in two different directions. Joey and Mai followed Téa down a corridor and into a brightly lit office. It looked as if someone was in the middle of unpacking it, there were opened boxes everywhere and a pile of dust sheets sat on one of the cream leather couches.
Shifting a stack of papers out of the way and placing them on a desk, Téa popped her daughter down on the one of the couches and wiped some of the tears from her face, smiling.
"Is it a bit better now honey?"
Jessica nodded and Téa smiled again. She looked round at Joey and Mai standing uncertainly by the doorway and waved towards the other couch, absently muttering "sit down, sit down"
They did and Joey lent forward "Téa, what's—"
"In a minute Joey" He was cut off by Mai.
Téa didn't even look up at their exchange, she was too absorbed in her daughter.
"Now, I want you to give Marie a big smile when she comes back, okay? She's been so looking forward to seeing you again"
Right on cue, Marie appeared carrying a first aid kit. Téa smiled gratefully and took it. For the next five minutes the only sounds in the office were of Jessica hissing at the sting of the antiseptic, and of Marie chatting to her in French. When they had finished cleaning up Jessica's bloody hands and knees, Marie produced a small chocolate bar and offered it to Jessica. The girl smiled at her and took it with a quiet "Merci".
At last Téa turned to her old friends. She opened her mouth to say something but Marie interrupted cheerfully, saying something in her native language and looking expectantly at Joey and Mai. Téa sighed.
"Of course, how rude of me. Marie, these are my…this is Joey Wheeler and Mai Valentine. Joey, Mai, this is my assistant Marie Dupont"
They all shook hands, and Marie addressed them for the first time, though haltingly, using words they actually understood.
"I am very pleased to meet you. Forgive me, I am a little out of practice with Japanese. " She smiled in a friendly manner.
"Marie, could you please watch Jessica while I talk to Mr. Wheeler and Miss. Valentine?"
Marie nodded and took Jessica by the hand, leading her out of the room and closing he door behind her.
Téa looked at Joey and Mai, who were looking back expectantly.
"I will…try…to explain all of this in just a minute, but if you'll excuse me, I need to make a quick phone call" She took out a cell phone and dialed a number.
Seto Kaiba snapped his cell phone shut just as his potential new engineer walked through the door of his office. He smiled grimly.
"Mr. Peterson. You seem to be a little late. May I enquire as to what happened to your face? Walk into a lamppost?"
Mr. Peterson took a deep breath and sat shakily in a chair opposite Kaiba's desk.
"I'm very sorry Mr. Kaiba. I was held up by some woman and her kid, and then some punk walloped me. Mugger I think. But I managed to scare him off."
Kaiba nodded in an understanding fashion "How fortunate that you were not seriously injured"
"Do you need a moment to compose yourself?"
"No Mr. Kaiba, I think enough time has been wasted. Let's get down to business shall we?"
"Yes, let's. Tell me, Mr. Peterson, what makes you think you can treat my wife and child in such a fashion?"
"Wh…Wha…" Peterson's eyes went wide as Kaiba's hardened.
Joey Wheeler was not known for his patience. So it was safe to say that sitting here watching Téa fuss with a teapot was frustrating for him. She moved it a little to the left, and then a little to the right, as though she was trying to get it dead in the middle of the table. He fidgeted a little. Mai was sitting next to him, quietly watching Téa's nervous movements. He didn't understand how she could be so calm about the whole thing. There were so many emotions, so many questions swirling around in his brain that he thought he would go insane. The silence was deafening…
"Ok, what the hell is going on!" he broke the silence abruptly.
There was a time when Téa might have had a lot to say about being yelled at in such a fashion, but now she simply considered him, eyes quietly calm. It was a look that was eerily reminiscent of how his own mother had looked at him sometimes, before she left. It gave him a glimpse of how she had changed over the years. He forced himself to calm down and try again.
"I'm sorry, I just…Téa please. What is going on?"
Téa bit her lip nervously and clasped her hands in her lap. Taking a deep breath, he looked both her friends hard in the eye.
"Why should I tell you?"
Joey opened his mouth to protest, but Téa held up her hand
"Let me finish. Why should I tell you anything? What makes you think that you have any right to know anything about me anymore? After everything that happened, after…" she trailed off, blinking back tears. Joey swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Téa, I am so sorry for the way all of this has turned out. Things were said that…but you have to understand, it was a shock—"
"I don't have to understand anything! It was a shock? Is that all you have to say for yourself?" Her eyes flashed dangerously, the fire she still possessed breaking her calm surface.
Joey's temper began to stir again. "Téa, It was Kaiba, how did you want us to react?"
"You could have at least tried—"
"You never gave me the chance—"
"That's enough" Mai spoke up, looking at them both. "This isn't getting us anywhere. For a moment can't you both try to forget how angry you were at each other years ago and focus on the chance you have now to try to mend your friendship?"
Joey and Téa looked at the older woman and then at each other as her words sank in. She was right. Old hurts still ran deep, but here they were presented with a unique opportunity. A chance to talk everything out with no outside interference, no old rivalries getting in the way of trying to piece together the remains of something that was once dearly cherished. It couldn't ever be the way it was, but maybe they could at least sort some things out between them. Joey was the first to speak.
"So…that kid, she's your daughter? Yours and…his?" He couldn't bring himself to say the name.
"Mine and Seto's, yes." Joey couldn't quite stop himself from flinching. There was a pause as he processed this. It was one thing to see them together over a wall, but to hear her say it brought it all home. He took a breath
"Téa, I don't pretend to understand what you see in him, or why you're with him at all…but to leave the way you did, I mean why? Without saying goodbye, without ever getting in touch…" he trailed off waving his hands in a vague manner.
When Téa spoke, the anger and defensiveness he somehow expected wasn't there. Her voice was quiet and even, with a kind of sadness. But there was no apology. Though she explained her actions, she was not sorry she took them.
"Joey, at the time, I didn't see any other way. Looking back there may have been other options but…" she sighed "My family didn't want anything to do with me. My friends were against me. And…I was pregnant." She looked at her friends and for once Joey had the sense to stay quiet.
"My mother wanted me to have a termination. But can you ever imagine that I would be able to kill my child like that? I couldn't do it, I had no right. I suppose maybe I should have given everyone a bit more time to get used to the idea, but I panicked. Seto loved me. He said he'd take care of me and I believed him. So we left. We went where we could raise our child in peace, away from all of this madness"
"Madness?" Joey shook his head, not understanding. It was Mai who realized what she was talking about.
"The press. That's what you mean, isn't it?" she said slowly, looking to Téa for conformation "The media would have had a field day. 'Seto Kaiba fathers illegitimate child' or something of the like."
Téa nodded. "We didn't want to deal with it. It would be hard enough to take care of a child anyway, but doing it wit all of that? I'd like to think that our feelings for each other, our marriage, would have survived it but I know it almost certainly would have come apart. It was the best thing. We made the right choice"
"Marriage" Mai repeated. "So you are married then"
"Nearly four years now"
"Huh" The other woman nodded slowly, chewing on her bottom lip in a thoughtful manner. "So…how's that going?"
Téa gave a hint of a smile, the first real one she'd given them that day. Mai seemed perfectly accepting, if a little thrown. But then she had never had much to do with the heated rivalry that had existed between Seto Kaiba and the rest of them back in the days of high school and dueling tournaments. Yugi and the others, she felt, could eventually be brought to understand what had happened even if they never accepted it. It was Joey who would cause the problems, if there were going to be any. She decided that if she was going to set a line, now was the time to do it.
"Joey, I'm not asking your forgiveness here, because I don't want it or need it. I've done nothing that needs forgiving. I married the man I love and we're raising our child together. Even in your eyes that can't be wrong."
She looked him in the eye and he looked right back and for a long time they simply stared each other down. He was the first to give, his eyes flicking to the floor momentarily. When he looked at her again, his expression was considering. She could almost see the wheels turning in his head. He always had been so transparent, every though and emotion showing on his face.
"Téa, like I said before, I don't know why you're with him. I can't pretend to like him. But I can…try…to accept it."
She stared at him, unsure if what she was hearing was real.
"Don't look at me like that, please. I missed you so much these past years Téa. Surely you realize that you were like family to me. Something was always missing without you here." He paused, staring at his hands as he struggled to move forward. He had never been good with words.
"I know that we can't ever go back to how we were. But maybe we can get past all of this…somehow?"
Téa's mouth quirked up at the corners. She nodded jerkily, trying to hide the emotion she was feeling.
At that moment, the door opened and a blur of brown hair and pink dress flew in. Jessica Kaiba clambered into her mothers lap with much-practiced ease and handed her a pink tulip. Téa took the flower, looking a little perplexed.
"Sweetie, where did you get this?"
"There's lots of them Mama. All for you" The little girl grinned.
And Marie came through the door holding a large bouquet of flowers. Téa shook her head.
"I just bet I know who those are from" she sounded more amused than anything.
Marie nodded "Mr. Kaiba has certainly been unusually, what's the word…sweet"
Téa giggled "Mr. Kaiba has been unusually free with the public displays of affection" She leaned in and smelled the bouquet, and looked at her daughter. "What's daddy making up for then, hmm?"
Marie smiled too and took the flowers to put in water. Jessica remained sitting in Téa's lap, looking curiously at the two strangers in the office. The two strangers were looking just as intently at her. Téa cleared her throat.
"Baby, I'd like you to meet Joey Wheeler and Mai Valentine."
Jessica hopped down off of her mothers lap and held out her tiny hand, first to Mai and then Joey, who shook it with bemused expressions on their faces.
"My name is Jessica Kaiba, pleased to meet you" she said with a charming little smile. Joey stared at her, completely at a loss for what to say, but Mai seemed very taken with her.
"Pleased to meet you too. You certainly have beautiful manners for such a little girl."
"My daddy says manners are what makes you. I dunno what that means, but they're 'portant" She said with such seriousness and authority that Mai struggled not laugh out loud.
"Téa, she's lovely!" She needn't have said anything at all, the grin on her face displayed her delight. Téa smiled
"Thank you" she pulled Jessica to her "It's Important, sweetie, say it back to mummy"
"Important" the little girls face held a look of concentration.
"Good girl, now go and play while mummy sorts some things out, then we'll go home" Téa kissed the side of her daughters head and let her go.
Just as Jessica reached the door to the office, it swung open. If it wasn't obvious who the tall figure in the doorway was in the first place, the child's squeal of utter delight gave it away completely.
"Daddy look!" she thrust out her little hands, palm up to show her father "They were bleeding but I didn't cry when mummy and Marie put the 'septic on!"
Seto Kaiba crouched down to examine his daughters hands, casting a critical eye over the pink grazes.
"It's antiseptic, honey" he said absently.
"Good girl" he kissed her forehead and stood up, lifting her into his arms as he did so. It was then his eyes fell on his wife's 'guests'.
The unease in the room was tangible.
Mai swallowed nervously. She was never one to let a man intimidate her but the look in Kaiba's eyes was one of utter dislike and barely contained fury. She was only thankful that it wasn't directed at her. Joey had lifted his chin and fixed Kaiba with a similar glare but it just didn't hold the same power. Seto Kaiba was rich and powerful and he knew it. Few men could compete with him for sheer presence and, unfortunately, Joey Wheeler wasn't one of them.
"Is everything ok here?"
It was spoken softly which somehow only made it sound more menacing. Mai looked at the child in Kaiba's arms. Jessica looked from her father to the strangers and back again, obviously confused by her parents mixed reactions to them. She hugged her fathers neck more tightly, and he gave a little squeeze in return.
Téa stood up and went to stand slightly in front of Joey, placing herself between the two men.
"Everything is fine. We're just sorting some things out"
She looked her husband in the eye. Seto held her gaze and they stared at each other for several seconds. Mai got the impression that they were somehow communicating something the rest of them weren't meant to understand. Seto's eyes flicked to Joey and then to Mai, one eyebrow slightly raised as he gave them both a long, appraising look. Eventually, he gave a slight nod and turned to leave. When he reached the door, he turned back to Téa.
"I'll be right outside." It was a statement meant for Joey and Mai rather than his wife, but Téa nodded,
"I'll be five minutes and then we can go home"
Seto nodded and left the room with his daughter, closing the door quietly.
"Well, that was thrilling" Joey grunted and shifted his weight slightly. "A real catch you got there, Téa"
Téa grimaced slightly "Well, he has his reasons. He's just looking out for me"
Téa looked up at her old friend. After all that had been said that morning, it was still no different. She shook her head sadly.
"You still don't get it, do you Joey?"
"I said I couldn't pretend to like him" His tone was defensive
"You said you would try to accept him." There was a long pause. Joey looked at Téa, his expression searching. It wasn't possible she was criticizing him for what had just transpired, was it? Years of heated rivalry could not be swallowed on a whim.
Téa picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder. She made her way to the door, indicating they should follow. As they emerged into the hallway they saw that, as promised, Seto Kaiba was waiting. He still had his daughter cradled in his arms and she was fast asleep against his shoulder. Téa gently stroked back the little girl's hair and smiled.
"She went out pretty much as soon as we got out the door" Kaiba said softly.
"A lot of excitement for such a little girl"
Kaiba walked away from them, down the hall. Téa looked back at Joey and Mai, indicating they should follow. As they made their way through the foyer, Téa's blonde assistant looked up from where she was sorting through some papers. Téa paused
"I'm sorry Marie, but I have to go home. I know we didn't get anything done today, but I'll call you later with some of the details and we'll set something up for tomorrow afternoon?" The blonde woman nodded.
"Okay. I'm sorry to mess you around like this"
"It's okay, I don't mind"
"Well, sorry anyway. You can go home, there's nothing more to be done today"
"That's alright but I'm going to unpack a few more things"
Téa smiled "What would I do without you, Marie? Well, see you tomorrow"
"Au revoir, madame"
When they got outside onto the pavement, Kaiba was just finishing strapping his sleeping daughter into a car seat. It was a sight that brought Mai up short. Whoever thought to see such a thing? Closing the door quietly, so as not to wake Jessica, he walked around the back of the car to the drivers side, and caught sight of them coming out of the building.
Téa turned to Joey, "Look, I know that this is hard for you, but like it or not Seto and I are married. That is not going to change. We're together now no matter what, and things can't be different between us unless you accept my family." She fished in her bag for something.
"Here's the number for my cell phone. When you want to talk, give me a call" She handed him a card with a phone number and the words "Téa Kaiba" printed on it in elegant silver script. She gave Mai a card accompanied by a much friendlier "call me?" and then she got into the car.
Joey looked up and caught the level gaze of his rival across the roof of the car. Seto Kaiba stared at him a moment longer with an unreadable expression on his face, and then got into his car. Joey and Mai stepped back as the engine started and the car pulled away from the curb.
As the Kaiba family drove away down the road, Joey turned to Mai.
The next morning, Téa sat out on a terraced area overlooking the extensive gardens. It had rained during the night and the air was cool and fresh. As she watched her daughter play on the still-damp-lawn, Téa mused on the previous days events. It was certainly not the way she would have had them meet again, but somehow she was relieved to have it out of the way. She had gotten over the initial hurdle, and it had given her the little push she needed to get things together.
She wondered if Joey and Mai had told the others about their meeting, then shrugged that thought away. She would speak with them all very soon, regardless. Leaning back in her chair she took a deep breath and smiled as she caught a hint of her husband's cologne. Turning her head slightly, she saw him leaning against the doorframe. He smiled as he caught her eye and walked out onto the terrace, barefoot she noted with a smile, and leaned down to kiss her.
As he took a seat next to her, Téa turned her full attention to him. He had only just gotten out of bed after an extensive lay-in 'till seven-fifteen. He hadn't joined her in their king sized bed until almost four, and he looked refreshed from the extra rest he had allowed himself. While his eyes were focused on their daughter out on the lawn, hers moved over him lazily taking in the mussed hair, relaxed posture and t-shirt thrown on over some blue cotton pajama bottoms.
He eventually turned his head towards her and they held each others gaze for a moment. She saw the shift in his expression and knew what was coming.
"So what are you going to do about your friends?" She found that the question didn't bother her as much today as it had previously. She shrugged
"Talk to them, I suppose. I think I might call Yugi today. I really want to see him all of a sudden" A soft smile graced her lips.
She saw the muscle in Seto's cheek twitch at the mention of his old rival's name. She had to suppress a grin. Looking round her caught her eyes and smirked that annoyingly beautiful smirk, the one that let her know exactly what she was thinking and that he didn't care. She took it in good humor, as she often did with his more annoying traits. He sighed and looked away from her again.
"What about your parents?"
That was a sore point. Téa bit her lip. She knew that she had to speak to them, but they had cut her so deeply…she knew that they hadn't looked for her after she'd left. Too disgraced and hurt by her irresponsibility. Still, they were her parents and she missed them. She had especially missed her mother during her pregnancy. She had been young and scared, and she had desperately wanted her mother to hold her and tell her that everything—the sickness, the cravings, the hot flashes and the mood swings—were perfectly normal and that this was a magical time in her life. But she hadn't been there, and Téa had felt terribly alone. Seto had been wonderful, but he couldn't understand what she was going through and he knew it. Still, he had gotten her through, and she loved him all the more for it. Sighing, she wrapped her silk robe tighter around herself,
"I don't know. I'll have to think about how I approach that one. I mean, what do I do? Knock on the door and say 'Hey! I know I haven't spoken to you in almost four years but I'd like you to know the child you insisted I get rid of'." She sighed again. Seto took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"If you want, I'll come with you when you go to see them"
Téa smiled "That's tempting but this is something I have to do alone." Seto nodded his understanding and gently kissed her palm.
They were interrupted by a maid laying breakfast on the terrace table. As Seto poured himself a cup of coffee, Téa sliced some toast into small pieces.
The little girl ran up the stone steps and climbed into her fathers lap, taking a piece of toast that her mother had cut for her. Seto kissed her soft brown hair and picked up the paper that had been laid on the table along with breakfast. Unfolding it, he glanced at the front page and swore quietly.
"Seto!" Téa hissed, looking at their three-year-old daughter, who was now looking up at her father with large eyes, aware that he had said a 'naughty' word. Seto didn't say anything, only scanned the paper with a deep frown. At last he handed it over to his wife
"Looks like you may have to talk to your parents sooner than you think."
Téa stared at the paper in shock. She suddenly felt sick to her stomach. Right there on the front page was a picture of the three of them getting out of their car, with a smaller inset of Téa sitting on the pavement holding Jessica. The headline read:
"Seto Kaiba's wife and daughter attacked in public. Exclusive pictures on page 2"
Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed chapter 3, especially those of you who left some form of constructive criticism, it's always helpful when others let me know the things I missed.
Since review replies aren't allowed to be posted with chapters anymore, you can catch the replies at www DOT enemylines DOT livejournal DOT com.