"Are you afraid of the dark?"
It was a kind inquiry though he wouldn't look at her, his eyes trained on the dark corridor stretching out before them.
Her answer – when it came – was a lie, "No."
His eyes suddenly met hers, and she wasn't prepared for the intensity of his gaze. "Do you trust me?"
"I --," her attention wandered to the Dungeon Maze entrance as she entertained the myriad nightmares that lay in wait just beyond the shadows inside. She bit her lower lip, eyes raising to meet his once again. She was certain of only one thing: He was her last refuge in this hell.
And then he was gone too . . . devoured by gray stone and pitch shadow, separated from her by the wall of darkness built between them. She couldn't see. Her ears were filled with the sounds of her own labored, frantic breathing and the drumming flutter of her heartbeat. Cold fingers of apprehension seemed to find secret places inside her to strum delicate, overwrought nerves as the mantra, "Keep moving, Téa. Everything will be all right if you keep moving," invaded all thought processes.
She was alone, and she feared the encroaching stillness, loathed the blinding dark, hated her helpless need of him. There, the grating shuffle of a phantom rat chewing on last night's kill. Here, the creaking metal joints of the Killer Clowns laying in wait of a fresh kill just around the imagined corner.
A harsh shudder ran through her body as her tentative steps were halted, and she forced her lungs to calm in their adrenaline powered heaving breaths. Do you hear that, a ghost whispered in her ear. Can you hear insanity beckoning?
Left, right, ahead, behind. Her head swiveled this way and that, confronting only gray stone walls against the unlit black. Leg muscles became locked even as they trembled with the suppressed impulse for locomotion while tense arms came up to hold her body. She felt small and vulnerable, the smell of blood marking her as food for the dogs. They snarled in her head, ready for the hunt, hungry for her flesh.
Lips trembling, she whimpered before a high, keening wail tore from her throat. She could feel the world closing in, the faces of her missing friends finding and haunting her. Instinct forced one foot to slide back, her body backtracking and preparing for a sprint to the dangerous freedom of open air. Her foot found empty space as her weight was pushed by gravity into an unseen hole.
She screamed and prayed for her death to be quick.
The stench of blood and mildew swirled into her nostrils and cursed the woven warmth of her clothing, and she hurt too much to be dead. There was something hard yet yielding beneath her back, the porous surface of rough cement beneath her cheek. It hurt to breathe and there was a gummy sort of substance coating her left leg; but she was alive and aware of her dark surroundings once more.
"Kaiba?" Her voice was timid and hoarse, reaching out like the hand she didn't dare move from it's location sandwiched between her back and the pillow half her body rested upon. Noise would only alert their enemies. She would have to be cautious.
"Seto . . ." A whimper this time before a muted cry as she shifted tentatively. Her arm was probably broken from the fall, her leg cut and bathed in her own blood. There was a scent in the air that she had come to identify as 'Death' in the hours (days?) they had spent trapped in this amusement park turned slaughter house. She suddenly knew that she lay upon a corpse.
I'm sorry, she prayed as tears slipped free of her closed eyelids. I'm so sorry.
Carefully, she began to shift and push-pull herself into a sitting position, sliding painfully away from the cadaver that broke her fall and saved her from death before settling onto the gravel and huddling her sore arm and burning leg close to her torso.
She suddenly wanted nothing more than to see Kaiba's face, hear his harsh voice, feel his warm hand grasping hers. Choking back a sob, she could not help the throaty whine that seeped from her; and she suddenly knew she couldn't stay here. They would be after her soon to finish what her fall had not.
Dragging herself toward the wall once more, she skirted the stale corpse and somehow managed to wobble to her feet. Her left leg was cut to the bone just beneath her knee, and the barest pressure caused a most excruciating, unbearable pain to shoot straight through up to her hip and down to her toes. More alarming, however, was the discovery that the bleeding had not stopped, merely slowed. Sharp, quick breaths were pushed in and out of her lungs as she realized she didn't have enough material on her person to make even a makeshift bandage . . . but I might be able to make a tourniquet.
Gripping the hem of her shirt, Téa braced her broken arm against the pull of her good one; but she didn't have enough strength to tear even a small strip, succeeding only in causing a shot of pain to rocket from fingers to shoulder. Biting back a scream and hugging her arm to her, she re-balanced herself and tried to make out her surroundings through dark and tears.
It occurred to her that Kaiba might already be dead, but her mind balked against the possibility. If he were gone then she had no hope, not when the others were . . . Don't think about it, Téa. You have to move. Everything will be ok if you keep moving.
Leaning heavily against the maze wall, feeling weak and slightly dizzy, she began a dragging sort of march further into the cavernous labyrinth, stepping then drawing her lame foot across the ground after, trying to squint and focus on the floor for another hole . . . another level to this den of waiting death.
A shuffling sound ahead made her halt and cower, shaking with such force against the stone that she aggravated her already bruised ribs. She knew she would not be able to run, didn't have anyplace to hide. Breath coming in sobbing gasps, she helplessly lowered herself to sit on the ground, tucking in her chin and closing her eyes to whatever approaching fate the mastermind behind all of this had conjured for her.
Curling into an even tighter ball – as if making herself as small as possible would somehow protect her should this be just a figment of her imagination (or a cruel illusion), Téa swallowed heavily before croaking out an answering, "Kaiba?"
Then he was kneeling before her, close enough that she was able to make out the outline of his jaw and the shadowed width of his shoulders. "What happened?"
It was strange how she suddenly felt calm even though a trickle of awareness translated the harsh chattering of her teeth, the quick and labored sound of her breathing. Had she answered him? Where were they? Everything seemed bleached into green - a dark, menacing gooey green that darkened into a flood of red and black. An echo prevented her from making out what Kaiba was saying though she could clearly see his lips moving too fast to follow.
There was something warm and rough cupping her face then spanning her neck, but her eyes never left his face, watching the play of expressions in his eyes from beneath weighty lids. She was so sleepy, but knew she should help him with whatever occupation he was currently employed with. Something tight was wrapped around her injured leg, just above the wound, and she distantly wondered when the pain had faded to numbness. He was speaking again, and she wondered if he was whispering that she couldn't hear him now; but words like, "artery" and "severed" were in there (though it escaped her what they meant individually or in conjunction).
Fingers, longer and stronger than hers, pulled the arm she was hugging to her chest, stretching it out, squeezing and touching along the length of it, pausing at the elbow. She watched it all with a sort of hazy non-interest before closing her eyes and letting her head fall back.
A forceful slap brought her back to herself as she blinked up at angry shadowed eyes. "Stay awake." It was his voice and his eyes and Thank God --
"Kaiba?" Her voice sounded tiny and scared to her ears – so different from the authoritative strength of his.
"You're going into shock." His hands were around her neck again, rigging a makeshift sling from his belt and her socks. She noted the way he was straddling her knees with detached curiosity. Then he was shrugging off his trench coat and shifting her about (careful of her injuries), away from the wall as he moved behind her.
Coming back to herself slowly, though the bone-deep weariness remained, Téa easily accepted her position, seated between Kaiba's legs and wrapped in his warmth, the trench coat spread over them. Her breathing was still fast and labored though gradually slowing to a normal rhythm, and she was just becoming aware of the hammering heart in her chest. Her cheeks were still wet with tears, and her entire body was shaking; but she felt a little more secure now that she wasn't alone.
"We can't stay here long." It was strange - pleasant but strange - feeling his voice rumble against her back before hearing it breathe across her hair. She hummed in response, head heavy and falling back once again, this time resting against his hard chest instead of the hard wall. Twisting her neck to the side, gingerly, she pressed her ear naturally to the space just above his heart. The sound lulled her more fully towards slumber, but he nudged her with a shoulder, reprimanded with words. "Stay awake."
"Mm tired." It didn't matter that they were still in very immediate danger, didn't really concern her that their wisest course of action would be to keep moving. She felt weightless and empty, completely drained. Sleep was only a few moments away until Kaiba slapped her again.
"I'm not going to say it again, Gardner. Stay. Awake."
There was a note of . . . something (Panic? Concern? . . . Helplessness?) in his voice that brought back the terror and pain full force, and she roused herself enough to grip one of his hands where it was braced near his thigh.
"Talk to me." She needed to keep her mind active to combat the nervous exhaustion, needed his voice to keep herself grounded; and it occurred to her to wonder how Kaiba could put so much effort in being aloof yet always end up on the receiving end of someone else's neediness.
"How did you get down here?" He never moved his hand away from hers. Maybe he was just as scared as she was.
"Fell." She blinked and squinted, trying to focus her eyes, hoping the world would stop spinning. At least her breathing had calmed and her heart had begun to slow to a normal rhythm - only slightly faster than the one echoing into her eardrums; but the shaking remained like a never-ending full body shiver, and the contents of her stomach seemed to stir and tumble with rising nausea.
"Hmm. I managed to stop the bleeding, but you'll need stitches - possibly surgery. You would be dead by now if you had severed an artery. Can you feel below your knee?"
Even through the pain and fear, Téa smiled. Somehow she knew he was repeating whatever he had told her while treating her wounds even though he didn't have to, even though she had not thought to ask. "Not really. I don't . . . I don't think I can walk."
That's when reality crashed in upon her. If she couldn't walk, she wouldn't get out; and to make matters worse, Kaiba had a chance and he was wasting it here with her. Mokuba . . .
"I'll carry you." She had been too tired to be surprised at the position she now found herself in, but Téa found the strength to (at least) gasp at such kindness coming from Seto Kaiba. And though she was grateful, she resigned herself to the truth: Kaiba had to leave her. Now, he was about the only one who had even a slight chance of survival. She would not be responsible for jeopardizing his life.
Squeezing his hand, she closed her eyes. "No. You can't." It was a mistake even in the best of times to tell Seto Kaiba what he could or couldn't do. (The boy saw challenge everywhere). So Téa expected the tensing of his body the second the words left her mouth and rushed to correct herself. "I mean, if you did carry me through this . . . What if we were attacked again? You wouldn't be able to defend yourself fully if you were trying to protect me. I'd just slow you down, and we don't have the luxury of time anymore."
The body behind her shifted. Peeking up, she found herself contemplating the underside of Kaiba's chin as he had leaned his head back against the wall, neck extended and eyes looking up. He didn't sigh. He didn't make a sound, but she could feel the turmoil coiling in his muscles. "I made a promise to Taylor."
It's odd, she thought distantly. Have we been whispering all this time? "I know, and I appreciate that you actually grew a conscience and want to keep that promise; but we both know neither us have any hope if we stick together."
"We don't have much hope at all."
They lapsed into grim silence, and Téa briefly thought that maybe Kaiba had fallen asleep. Soon enough, however, she felt his hand move from under hers to grasp gently at her shoulder. He didn't have to say anything or push her away. She knew it was time to let him go.
"I'm scared." She stated, voice trembling slightly, and this time it wasn't because of pain or fear for her own safety. She was afraid for him.
"I know," he said, and it occurred to her that he had only ever used this tone with Mokuba to her knowledge.
Swallowing the growing lump in her throat, she moved as much as she could to allow him enough space to stand, but he didn't leave her right away as she was expecting. Instead, he knelt before her once again to first adjust the makeshift sling, check the cut on her leg, then smooth the trench coat more securely over her. She watched him with unsteady, tear-filled eyes and tried for a brave smile. "Do you think they're still –"
"I don't know." Dark blue-shaded-gray eyes met her own directly, the gravity of his gaze rooting her to this place and this moment and the certainty that she was going to die right here, in this catacomb, alone. "Do you trust me?"
He had asked the same question a seeming eternity ago when they were first separated from the others and forced to enter this death trap of a maze. She hadn't been able to answer him then, but she whispered an affirmative this time, certain that he would come back even if it was only to collect her body.
Turning his face away for a bare second, his eyes found hers again as he cupped her face in his hands. "They'll come for you." He said it without inflection, only raw certainty. "Don't fight them. You stay alive. No matter what happens. Stay. Alive."
His parting words were forceful, almost angry; and she wondered at the conviction in them. His thumb traced a reverent path down across her cheek before he straightened and turned to walk away as she watched, dizzy and tear stricken.
Her heart stammered as his steps ceased to echo into her ears and what little of his warmth she had managed to hold onto began to fade.
And then he was gone too . . . devoured by gray stone and pitch shadow, separated from her by the wall of darkness built between them. She couldn't see, and he never looked back.
Author's Notes: This was originally meant to be one scene in the midst of a much bigger fic, but I ended up deciding to let it stand alone. And no, it will not be continued - all the questions will remain unanswered. Make of it what you will.