Notes: The characters are not mine,
and this story is! The title is from the Garth Brooks song. And some
explaining---this idea has been bugging me for some time, and I
finally had to relent and start writing it. It is very strongly a
Seto and Téa romance fic. It's the pairing I can never escape
from, and one of the few romance pairings I'm willing to write at
all. This is also an experiment for a possible Seto/Téa
timeline of short fics I may write off and on for the community 100
Chances on Livejournal. So if some things don't seem explained enough
here, they probably will be at some point during the claim. Also, it
does draw from the timeline crafted in my earlier YGO stories,
particularly the mystery series. So the crew lives in America, and
has gone on many more adventures than the show documented. Thanks to
Kaze for plot help!
She leaned forward under the many lights of her vanity mirror, applying the soft pink lipstick. It felt soothing against the chapped flesh. These New York winters did not help her dry skin, and her lips were suffering the most.
Her dressing room's bright lights illuminated the contents. The Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges, as well as Big Ben, looked down at her from dog-eared and crinkled posters on two of the walls. Tokyo was across the back of her door, and she could see its reflection from where she was sitting.
She loved photos. The tackboard to her right was filled with them. There were outings with her best friends back in Domino, goofing off at the mall and after school. She still had that shot of them all making "V"s for victory and being silly. They had had such good times. Oh sure, trying to stop megalomaniacal villains from taking over the world had not always been the best afterschool activity, but hey, it had to be done.
Then there was high school graduation. Joey's hat had not wanted to cooperate at all. It had kept sliding forward, backward, and to every side, until he was gritting his teeth and trying to keep from crying out in frustration. When it was time to toss their hats into the air, Joey's loud "YES!" had resulted in everyone turning to look. And the picture had been taken.
Below it was a memory of the time she had taken Mokuba to the amusement park. Kaiba had been too busy, as usual, and Mokuba had been so disappointed. So she had decided that the two of them would go, and they had had a great time on the rides and playing the games. And later on, Kaiba had actually showed up after his meeting had let out. Mokuba's eyes had literally glowed in his happiness.
And of course, there was her wedding photo. . . . Had that really been only three years ago? In some ways it seemed longer, in others as if it was only a moment away.
That picture always amused her. She had practically needed to twist her husband's arm to get him into a semi-relaxed position, and the result was that he looked more stiff than ever. If it was not a business-related photo, he did not even seem to know how to react or pose. He never had liked having his picture taken, and that had not changed.
He had wanted to have a simple and quiet ceremony, while she had wanted a large gathering in the yard with all her family and friends. And of course, the press had gotten wind of it somehow, even though they had tried to keep things as quiet as possible. That was just what happened when a multi-millionaire got married, he had remarked in sarcasm upon seeing the number of flashing bulbs outside the gates.
Sometimes, when she was feeling lonely, she would look over the pictures one by one and let her mind flood with memories.
She also had postcards, stuck to another tackboard on the wall to her left. More were spread on the edge of the dresser, both faceup and facedown. The one closest to her featured a message so badly scribbled out, she had needed to squint at it several times and had been tempted to use a magnifying glass before deciphering its good luck message. She had smirked to herself in gentle amusement when she had figured it out, and had left it sitting in its current position for the time being.
A letter, still featuring its creases from being in the envelope, was laying on its middle portion. The sides were sticking in the air, bent at angles, and if she glanced at it, she could still see some of the words written by her closest friend.
Are you doing okay? Remember, if you need anything, or just want to talk, I'm here! Call anytime, even if it's four in the morning! Would that be seven for you?
Well, anyway, I really hope I can come tonight. Grampa's needed extra help with the shop again, especially with his back getting worse and all, so I've been doing inventory and unloading the new shipments. But I should be done in time to fly out!
She leaned back, cupping the lipstick and setting it upright next to the mirror. A face stared back at her from the glass, a determined young woman with bright teal eyes and dark brown bangs that almost brushed into them. She had tried other hairstyles, but it always seemed that she ended up reverting back to the simple and comfortable neck-length tresses she had sported for so long.
A slight smile crossed her lips as she brushed a section of hair behind her ear. Yugi had always been supportive of her, when she had told him the truth about herself and Seto Kaiba. He had not even seemed that surprised. He had given a slow nod, that knowing smile coming over his features. And he had said that he was very happy for her.
The very thought of her having such feelings for a man whom she had believed was cold, calloused, and ruthless would have sounded laughable or more likely, horrifying in the past. She had despised him during the first year or so of high school. Yet so much had changed since then. They had ended up seeing a lot of each other during their escapades, and she had come to realize that there was a much different Seto underneath the facade. He cared about Mokuba above all else, and all of his major decisions over the years had involved his desire to provide for his brother.
Gradually, they had gotten close during the many misadventures and mysteries they had been involved in, though it had been almost impossible for either of them to admit how much. The day there had been a shooting at the company, when she had been so worried about him, he had acted as though it had been nothing and that there had been no need to be so concerned. He had thought that she had only been upset for Mokuba's sake. And then she had at last exploded with the extent of her feelings, screaming that she worried about him because she loved him.
It was still hard to know who had been more surprised, herself or him. She had stared him down, refusing to take back her words. She had accepted then that they were true. Not that she had ever once dreamed that he would feel the same way. She had thought that she was just one of Yugi's friends to him. He had never indicated otherwise.
He had turned away after her outburst, facing into the distance. "I see," he had said at last. "You should have found someone else." That was all; he had neither admitted or denied feeling the same. And knowing him, it was likely that he would have left it like that.
But she was not willing to let him. She had frowned, walking around to face him again. "Well, I didn't," she had retorted, her hands on her hips. "It's you, Seto Kaiba!"
And she had found herself going closer to him, standing on her tiptoes as she placed her hands on his shoulders. Before he could pull away, she had leaned in and kissed him. He had stiffened, but though he had not returned the kiss, he had not stopped her, either.
In the present, she reached up to her shoulder, moving her hand slowly over the flesh---bare around the straps of her dancing costume. As she had pulled away from him, he had reached out, taking hold of her by her shoulders. She could still feel his hands, strong as he had gripped at her. His eyes, piercing and ice blue, had searched hers for some explanation, an indication that this was the truth.
"I thought it couldn't be real," he had said at last, his tone grudging, "that what I thought I felt was all in my head." He had continued to clutch at her, studying her, as she had looked back.
"And?" she had prompted.
He had shook his head, almost looking frustrated with himself. "It isn't," he had admitted.
She still remembered how stunned she had felt then, to know that he cared for her, too. Slowly she had moved her hands up his arms, feeling the strength within them. He had held her, he had wanted her, and it was an amazing feeling.
He had placed a hand under her chin, tipping her face to look up at his. She had seen so many emotions in his eyes---of hesitation and determination, of confusion and comprehension. He had not understood why he felt as he did. All he had known was that he did.
The kiss he had then given her had been firm and passionate and decisive. He had known what he wanted, and that it was her.
Of course, Joey had been aghast when he had learned of the news. She had been reluctant to tell him for some time, but she knew that it would come out sooner or later. He could not always be kept in the dark. And so she had at last let him know, and braced herself for the fireworks.
Which had most certainly come.
"You're dating KAIBA?!" the blond had yelped, very nearly shattering an eardrum.
"That's right," she had said, amidst wincing.
"Why the heck would he come to you and wanna do that? This is Kaiba we're talking about, Johnny Sunshine, happily married to his work!"
She had smirked in spite of herself. "He didn't 'come to me',"she had replied. "I had to make the first move. He wasn't going to. He was denying how he felt about me."
And Joey had just gawked at her.
"He couldn't feel the same way you do," he objected. "And how could you feel like that in the first place?!"
She remembered how she had sighed, shaking her head. Her own doubts had pricked her again, and she had wondered if she was crazy. She had wondered it for months, years even, since her feelings had begun to develop. Many times she had tried to push them aside, and even to date some of the boys from high school who had crushes on her, but she had been forced to concede defeat. Now, Seto Kaiba had been forced likewise.
"We both just do," she had said at last.
Tristan's reaction had been much more calm and subdued. "Kaiba?" he had repeated, leaning against the counter at the Game Shop. "I wouldn't have believed it a couple years ago, but it doesn't sound so bizarre now." And he had smirked in mischief. "I mean, the way you feel' s been pretty obvious."
She had rolled her eyes at him, but had silently been grateful for his support.
And of course, she and Seto had had their share of trials and conflicts. They were both such strong-willed and stubborn people, whose views frequently clashed. Yet they had always managed to come through such incidents . . . eventually, though the paths leading to the resolutions were always varied and sometimes amusing, when looked back on later. She could never forget the time they had not spoken to each other all during the course of a day, each too stubborn on their view of the issue to even think of a compromise. Though Mokuba had made them see the foolishness of their behavior.
Mokuba had never been jealous of her. He had always liked spending time with her, and when she and Seto had told him that they were going to be married, he had been excited. He had seen it as gaining an older sister, instead of losing his brother.
Their time together had been interesting, most definitely, and also happy. Very happy.
. . . It should have just been a normal business trip. Seto had said he just needed to see how the Tokyo branch of Kaiba Corp was doing, and to speak with a prospective business client. It should not take more than a day or two. She had opted to stay at home with Mokuba, who had come down with a cold.
In retrospect, maybe it had been grim intuition that had prompted her to kiss him before he left. He was not an especially affectionate person, and she respected that, though she had managed to soften him somewhat. And sometimes she had not been able to help showing her feelings towards him, even when he did not feel like answering the embraces and kisses. But he had, that time.
She could still feel and taste the quick kiss he had given her in return. The smell of his cologne lingered in her nostrils. His arms around her warmed her even now. But most of all, she could yet sense the meaning behind it all---the love they had shared.
She slumped back in her seat, turning her head to study a newspaper article on the other side of her vanity table.
Wreckage of Kaiba Corp CEO's Plane Discovered in Pacific Ocean
There was a grainy black and white photograph of part of the aircraft, and while she could never bear to look, she also could never seem to tear her eyes away. The metal was charred and burned, evident of the explosion in which it had been involved.
She had received the call from the Coast Guard only moments before the newspaper had been delivered. She could still recall so acutely how numb she had become, inside and out, when the officer on the telephone had tried to tell her what had happened. The receiver had been clutched in a death grip, her knuckles pure white. Her hand had trembled, and somewhere in her mind she had been aware of it, yet at the same time the only thing she had been able to process were those indescribable words.
"Mrs. Kaiba? I'm so sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but . . . your husband is dead."
She had kept her maiden name, Gardner, on her quest to be a dancer---not wanting anyone to think she was trying to gain anything from her legal name being Mrs. Seto Kaiba. But at that moment, only two things had registered in her mind. She was Mrs. Kaiba, and he was gone.
She remembered slumping into the chair in his home office. It had been the closest room with a telephone, and so she had run in to pick it up when it had rung. But right then, sitting there had seemed unreal. None of the moment was real. It was a nightmare from which she would awaken. Seto was not, could not, be dead.
Somewhere in that horror, she had suddenly become aware that the man was calling to her in concern, maybe thinking she had fainted. And she had swallowed hard, running her tongue over her lips. "How did it happen?" she had asked at last. Somehow her voice had remained steady, though her heart had been pounding in her ears.
And then he had explained about the pieces of the plane. Something had malfunctioned and it had detonated, but though they were still investigating, they had determined that it did not seem to be deliberate. She had barely heard any of that.
Then Velma had screamed downstairs, discovering the news story. . . .
At least she had been able to tell Mokuba herself, without him discovering in some cruel way after leaving for school. He had not wanted to believe it. He had refused to at first, until he had seen the newspaper with its horrible picture. Then he had broken down and sobbed. And she had held him, weeping along with him.
She had known right from the start that she could not allow herself to be caught up in her grief. Not when there was Mokuba. And not when Seto would want her to go on with her own life. She had kept her determination to become a dancer, even in the face of the many trials that had followed. Sometimes she did not know how to go on, when everything piled up to the point of being overwhelming. But she had forced herself to continue, even if it meant that now and then she needed to take some time out for a day, a week, or more than one week. Whatever was necessary, she was going to do it.
And now, here she was. Tonight she was going to debut in her first show. In spite of herself, she felt the tingle of anticipation. But it was mixed with a deep sadness and longing.
Seto had always said that he would come for her first performance. He had never been personally interested in dancing, though he had always encouraged her to take part in it when it was her dream. And she had often imagined what it would be like, to perform knowing that he was there, that he was watching, that he wanted to be there to support her. That he would be there because he loved her, and because she loved him and wanted to dance for him.
And she could not help the ache in knowing that he would not be there.
She leaned forward, checking her makeup one final time before beginning to rise. Mokuba was in the audience, of course. He had come to New York with her, feeling much too inadequate to begin running Kaiba Corp. The board of directors were taking care of it for now, and she had told Mokuba to not attempt it himself until he felt ready. Seto had wanted him to have a childhood, after all. He had never wanted Mokuba to be burdened as he had been. And she was determined that his wishes would be granted.
Would Yugi have managed to come? What about Joey? And Tristan? She smiled to herself, glancing again at both the letter and the scrawled postcard. She hoped they would be there. They had been her closest friends for so many years, and she wanted to share this evening with them, as well. They had been there for her whenever she had needed them, and she for them. And she had especially needed them over the last few months. Some days they had been all that had held her up.
Something out of the corner of her eye made her abruptly turn to face the mirror again. Only her own reflection shone back at her. Yet something now was different. She had felt something. There was no question about it. Was Seto here? He would be, if it was at all possible. After the many misadventures they had experienced, she knew for a certainty that there was an afterlife. Seto's spirit lived on somewhere.
For a moment she closed her eyes, allowing herself to become immersed in the presence. There were so many things she wanted to say, and things she wanted to ask, but no words would come out. Yet somehow, she knew that she did not need to speak. He would understand what was in her heart.
She snapped back to the present. "Yeah?" she called.
"Five minutes," was the answer.
She brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. Her voice had caught as she had spoken. She had received a definite message. "Everything's alright. You'll be fine. I love you."
And she smiled through her blurred vision. In five minutes, she would go out there and dance---for Mokuba, for Yugi, and Joey, and Tristan. . . . She would dance for Seto Kaiba, as she had always planned. And he would see her. Not at all in the way she had thought, but he would be there.
Death would not keep them separated.