This ficlet was inspired by the prompts "Light: sudden awakening" at 20 Heartbeats, "incidental music" at 18coda, "You were never mine to begin with" at 30 Nights, and "the distant thunder of a million unheard souls" at 31 Days on LiveJournal. There are a few references to some of my other stories, but this story can be read independently of the others. Disclaimer: I don't own these characters.
There are so many people who reach out for help, but others just don't seem to notice. Téa Gardner realized that she was guilty of not noticing the plea for help on one young man. Oh, she had her excuses; he hid his plea and fears well. And if she had attempted to help him, he would have denied ever needing help. Indeed, he probably wasn't even aware that he was calling for help in the first place… or that he needed it at all. But behind the stern façade of Seto Kaiba was a human soul, like her own. She just hadn't bothered to look.
Téa glanced out of her window at the moon. And she was reminded of him; the moon was so cold and so far away… and Seto Kaiba seemed almost as unreachable at times. It was so easy to believe that he was an impossible case; that this is the way he would forever be, and nothing anyone said or did could make a difference. But she didn't believe that.
"Why else would you help us, even if you didn't believe in half of what happened?" she asked aloud. She was convinced that there was good in him; even Atem had believed the same.
And there, her thoughts dissolved. Would her feelings for Seto Kaiba mean that she was betraying Atem? Atem was another soul whose pleas for help had gone unanswered for a long time. It wasn't that no one had heard him; he had been just too busy helping everyone else to help himself. Atem had been so open, warm-hearted, and selfless… three things that Seto Kaiba was not. And yet Seto Kaiba seemed to have moved right in and snatched her heart away without her even noticing. How had it happened?
The last she could recall was that she was still missing Atem, a year after he had left. And then she has witnessed Seto's fall into the ocean, and had worried that he had been lost to them. And that was when she had realized her feelings. And she saw no excuse to deny them… no excuse, except that she still had feelings for Atem, even though he had left long ago, and would not be returning. And she would feel guilty about tossing the ancient king aside.
"What am I supposed to do…?" she asked. "I can't abandon Atem… but how can I ignore Kaiba now that I know…?" She glanced out the window again, imagining Seto, a prisoner within the very walls he had built to seal himself away from the rest of the world. He had meant those walls to be a fortress (one that would stand against his stepfather), but he had unknowingly built himself a dungeon cell (which had been Gozaburo's intention).
There was a knock on the door.
"Téa, is everything alright?" asked Mrs. Gardner, looking in. "I thought I heard you talking to yourself. Is something the matter? You really haven't been yourself lately."
"I'll be fine, Mom," she said. No one could possibly understand what she was going through (with the possible exception of Christine Daaé).
"You always say that…" Mrs. Gardner replied, with a shake of her head. She closed the door.
For an instant, Téa considered telling her everything; telling her all about Atem, and how he had left, and how Seto Kaiba, who probably was completely indifferent towards her, was trapped in that cold dungeon of his heart and mind and needed to be set free.
What would Atem say? What would he think about her feelings for Seto if he found out? Or did he already know?
"Téa…" she could imagine the Pharaoh saying. "You aren't betraying me, Téa. I am honored by your feelings for me, but is there really a point when you know that I'm not coming back? If you honestly believe that your feelings for Kaiba are genuine, why would you allow him to slip further and further into that bottomless chasm? The further he falls, the less chance that he will be willing to accept you. Or is that what you're truly afraid of?"
Téa turned around sharply; that voice had sounded so real. Was Atem here, really saying those words to her? But those words, whether real or imagined, were true. She was afraid that Kaiba wouldn't accept her feelings, and given his personality, she had every right to consider it. And they didn't exactly have the greatest history, either; nearly eighty percent of the words they had exchanged in the past were either sarcastic (in Seto's case), reproachful (in Téa's case), or argumentative (both of them were guilty of that).
And the words were also true in that the more she stood by, the more those dungeon walls closed in on Seto. And the worst part about it was that he wasn't even aware of the fact. Left alone, they would close in tighter and tighter until no trace of a human soul remained in him, and he became another Gozaburo (a fate he would loathe, but could not avoid). Even Mokuba feared that his brother would succumb to this fate, but he, too, was powerless to prevent it (though goodness knows he had tried his best to do so).
"Someone needs to save Kaiba from himself," Téa realized. "But if Mokuba can't, how am I supposed to? He'd probably think I was trying to lecture him again…"
And yet, there had been that instant in the Domino Museum, when she had let a hint of her feelings escape to him. She could sense that he had been taken aback considerably. He hadn't said anything about it; there had been no reply or confirmation that he understood and accepted them, but on the other hand, he hadn't replied in his usual caustic way.
But she had to consider what she had been able to realize. Everyone thought that Seto Kaiba had everything in order, everything working for him precisely the way he had intended. It seemed sad that no one bothered to see through the façade and see reality. Not everyone knew the truth about Seto Kaiba, and why he had allowed himself to be locked away. They didn't know about Gozaburo. They didn't hear the voiceless prayers for freedom. And even if they did, they wouldn't answer them. She wasn't going to be another one of those people, no matter what her friends thought… no matter what Seto Kaiba himself thought…
"Just hold on a little bit longer, Kaiba," she said, aloud. "You can't let this happen to you. Don't seal yourself away."
The clock on Seto's desk indicated that it was almost midnight. He was half considering to ignore it and continue on with his work. It seemed as thought the more he focused on Kaiba Corporation, the less he had to worry about anything else. And that was they way he preferred it. Life had certainly been more normal ever since that Pharaoh left, in spite of a few attempts by others to try to usurp his company, and one hocus-pocus incident set up by Bandit Keith.
A smirk found its way to his face; in spite of himself, he had almost gotten used to the perpetual craziness… the entire entourage parading around the office (and everywhere else he seemed to be)… and even Téa Gardner's never-ending lecture series…
His eyes narrowed. What was he thinking!? Just because she had caught him off guard with her veiled confession, it didn't mean that he had to go along with it at all. Did she honestly expect that all of their past confrontations were history? Obviously she didn't; why else had she been so cryptic about it?
And did she honestly even think that he had time to deal with her at all? His entire life revolved around his company. Kaiba Corporation was growing by the day, and he was steering the helm flawlessly. What more did he need? He was happy with his life… except for that forever looming shadow of Gozaburo. But he had learned to deal with it, mainly by ignoring it.
Seto had his own world. And he doubted if Téa Gardner could find herself a place in it.
And that was when he heard the trace of a voice.
"…Don't seal yourself away…"
He paused; it was a woman's voice, and he knew immediately whose voice it was.
"Terrific," he thought, sarcastically. "Even when she isn't here, I can still hear her lectures…"
And yet, he wasn't as annoyed by it as he thought he would be. What did this mean? Was he actually weakening? Was she, in fact, slowly entering his world? He didn't know what to think. In the past, ignoring her had been so easy; almost second nature…
Maybe it would be interesting to see if she could, in fact, find a way to enter his world. He wasn't sure why she wanted to take up such a challenge… or why he was willing to see how it played out. After all, what would become of him if she succeeded and found a place? And why wasn't he as troubled by this prospect as he thought he would be?
He logged off of his computer, deciding to call it a day after all. There would be plenty of time to work in the days ahead. As he departed the grand office building and entered his limo, he looked up at the sky. It was strange how the moon vaguely reminded him of her: incessantly bright.
He paused to wonder over the words she had said. Yes, he was sealing himself away, and she seemed to think that it was a bad idea. And he couldn't understand why, as he glanced once more at the silvery light.
"Try your best, Gardner," he said. And then, almost as an afterthought, he added, "I'll be waiting."