Once more, this is a little shorter than I wanted it to be. Oh well! Next week things pick up. The gang comes home, there's another monster….fun stuff!
I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh.
Tea pulled out her books, sliding in the desk beside Yugi. She wondered when she had gotten to school; her memory laughed at her, somehow out of reach. She smiled at the small boy she sat by, but he had no reaction. She wondered what was wrong, wondered why everything in the edge of her vision blurred together, why none of her friends had greeted her.
Then she opened her textbook, trying to read words that scampered away, sliding off the pages and dripping onto the floor, pooling in a luscious black.
"...abnormal brain waves..."
"..might not be in time..."
Tea tried not to note how her teachers had no faces, that her classmates were always drifting in and out of reality.
She clutched her books to her, feeling them waver the slightest bit at her touch, and hurried to lunch.
In the cafeteria, she stared at a tray of nothing, nothing which everyone else seemed to have no trouble eating. She glanced at Joey, earnestly shoveling empty spoon after empty spoon into his mouth. Ryou delicately sipped from a bone-dry cup.
None of her friends had acknowledged her presence.
"...the heck did she get these wounds...unnatural..."
"...might...waste of time..."
Hurrying after her friends, Tea did not care that the school, sky, and land were blandly vivified in tones of gray, that no sun hung overhead.
Where did they go? She could never seem to catch up to them, and slowly they faded from sight. She fell to her knees, because nothing had ever hurt her so bad.
For a second, she saw red, she saw a small pink stone, an alley ringed in darkness as a boy called out to her.
Slowly, she clambered up, brown hair brushing in front of her listless blue eyes. 'What...am I doing?'
"...losing too much blood..."
"...type test not done...can't risk transfusion..."
"...wounds are swelling...turning black..."
"Cut out portions...do we...antidote?"
"..can't identify...too dangerous..."
She walked along the empty roads in a daze. Shadows of people passed her, flitted by her over walls and the ground. They ate shadow food from shadow plates, held hands of shadow, laughed shadowy laughs.
Tea moved among them, her feet sinking deeper and deeper in the pavement, until her shins were swallowed by it.
'What am I supposed to do?' In a window, a puppet danced, tutu flaring around it. Beside it lay a smile, pristine on a red cushion with a tag marked SALE.
'What do I...want to do?'
She stared at the backs of her friends. Blinking, she smiled, opened her mouth to call them, and found she didn't want to.
They were clustered around the latest Duel Monsters Tournament poster. They were laughing, talking, riffling through their cards already. There was her place, slightly behind Yugi, between Joey and Tristan. And for the first time, she didn't want to be standing there.
"What do you want?" breathed a voice over her shoulder. "What do you feel like you need to do?"
And Tea looked inside herself and knew, because the answer had been forming in her heart for years on end now, graduating from a grain of malcontent to a pearl that would shove her into a better future.
She looked at her friends again, and she smiled because they were happy. And she knew, that because they were her friends, they would be happy for her as well as she moved forward in her own way, even if it was separate from them.
Yugi turned around and looked at her, and grinned his sheepish, lovable grin, then suddenly they all were smiling at her, running to her, holding her close.
"Ready, then?" asked the voice from behind her. Tea turned and saw her own face, and she trilled out a lilting laugh that could only be a yes.
Mokuba sat awkwardly in the waiting room, in the same chair he had been in for almost sixteen hours now. His chauffer sat to his left, nervously bouncing his leg. To his right was a woman he had never thought he would meet-Tea's mother, and to her right sat Tea's father.
Surreptitiously, Mokuba peeked at the two, analyzing their features. Tea's father had given the girl his brown hair and ever blue eyes, while her mother had contributed her pert nose and delicate mouth.
He wondered if either of them smiled the way Tea did: bright and fearless and warm. Shrinking into himself, the boy wondered as well if he'd ever see that smile again.
All four of them looked up as one of the doctors entered the room. The woman looked ominously weary, and Mokuba heard Tea's mother sniffle softly.
"She's stable," the doctor announced bluntly. "I honest to goodness don't know what happened. We have never encountered anything like what you're daughter was poisoned with. One second, it was just about melting her organs-"
Tea's father gasped, and Mokuba glared at the woman for her lack of tact. She shrugged unrepentantly. "Sorry. I've been up for seventy-five hours now. Anyways, we were losing her to it, when suddenly it-it stopped."
"It stopped? Just like that?" Mokuba questioned dubiously.
The woman shrugged again, looking as though she might just fall asleep standing up. "Like I said. We don't know. In anycase, we were able to treat the rest of her wounds. If there are no further complications, she'll probably wake up sometime this week."
Mokuba sagged in relief, and Tea's parents hugged each other, her mother weeping tears of relief.
"Yay," said the doctor dully. "Now, before I pass out, I wanted to offer you a deal."
"I'm sorry?" Mr. Gardner questioned.
"You have good insurance, so that's a start," the doctor replied. "But with your permission, if we can continue to draw blood from your daughter and study it, I can wrangle the higher ups into letting the rest of your bills slide."
Mokuba narrowed his eyes at her. "There needs to be a contract," he piped up before either of the Gardners could answer.
The doctor laughed. "I like you, kid," she nodded at him. "Yeah, yeah, draw up all the contracts you want. I'll look at them later, after I've slept for a day. Or five." She tottered back out of the room, mumbling to herself.
"What a lady," the chauffeur whispered, and Mokuba kicked his shin, gagging.
Mokuba visited Tea through out the week she lay unconscious. Although he had never really spent that much time with Yugi or his friends, he felt a certain fondness for them, and Tea had always been kind to him.
Her parents were occasionally there, but her father had a demanding job that waited on no disaster, and her mother could not seem to spend more than a minute with her sleeping daughter without dissolving into a blubbering mess, so Mokuba did not see much of them. He was a bit glad of that, for the only experience he had of parents involved fear and hate and anger, and he did not know how to behave around the couple, nice and middle-aged and probably with a white picket fence, who so obviously adored and worried for their child.
He felt a certain responsibility for the girl, being that he had found her. And besides, it wasn't as though he had anything else to do, or anyone else to hang out with. Upside of being Seto's little brother, he had the most awesome sibling in the world. Downside, he didn't really have any friends.
Perhaps that was where his admiration for Tea stemmed, from her ability and willingness to befriend people. He sighed, smoothing out a wrinkle in her sheets. An inordinate number of tubes stuck out from the girl's body, and the amount of machinery in the small room almost crowded out the window. Her ragged hair fanned out around her head; bandages mummified most of her body.
"Hey Tea," he said. "When you wake up, maybe we can go do something together. It'd be nice to spend some time with someone who knows…everything that's happened. All the unbelievable things. I'll even sit through a dance recital if you want."
The stress of worrying about his brother caught up to him all at once(because there was no such thing as normal in Duel Monsters, and he knew, he knew, that it was only a matter of time before something went wrong), and he slowly nodded off, lulled by the monotonous beeping of the machines.
He slept quietly in the small plastic chair, his head laying by her side, and, really, it was Murphy's law that Tea only woke up once he had succumbed to slumber.
She stirred slowly, carefully. A wince succeeded every slight motion, even the curling of her fingers. Hazy from such long slumber, blue eyes straggled open, blinking sluggishly but profusely as their owner orientated herself.
"...Mokuba?..." Vaguely shocked, she stared at the boy, his fuzzy head laying by her. Painstakingly, Tea lifted a hand and smoothed it over his dark hair.
"Come on, Tea! You're almost there!"
Tea smiled at the energetic boy skipping around her, leaning heavily on her walker. Her face was slightly gray, pain saw fit to linger in her eyes, but it was her first time making it all the way down the hall, so she ignored the trivialities. After all, as long as the nurse never discovered her little escapade, she'd be home-free!
She shuffled around and almost groaned: the entrance to her door looked formidably far away. Sensing her distress, Mokuba hurried over to her and rested a hand on her own trembling one.
"Do you want me to go get the wheel chair?" he asked quietly.
Heart moved by the sensitive little boy, Tea ruffled his black, messy locks.
"I can make it!" she assured him with her usual bravo. Dubious as ever, probably due to his brother's influence, he propped his hands on his hips, eyebrows disappearing under his bushy bangs.
"Nice," Tea mentioned on his expression. "How long did you practice in front of a mirror?"
With a whoosh of air, he released the stance, matching her slow pace. "A few hours," he admitted sheepishly, but it was worth it to hear her laugh.
"Tea," he broached upon the subject carefully. "Are you sure that you still don't-"
"Sorry, Mokuba," she smiled artlessly, guilelessly, and thought she might want to look into acting. "I still don't remember what happened."
He slumped discreetly. "No helping that, then." He made an effort to smile, and Tea felt her heart twist in her chest at his kindness.
In the middle of all the horrible things that had happened, Mokuba had been a point of brightness. He had been one of the last people Tea had expected to see upon waking in the hospital, and when he had explained how he had found her, the girl had been beyond grateful.
He had continued to visit her in the hospital, and the two formed a strong rapport. To Mokuba's surprise and delight, Tea never spoke down to him the way other adults seemed to. Despite being in obvious pain, she was always kind and upbeat, and conversation flowed easily between them. His regard for her grew, and, in turn, Tea's affection for the younger Kaiba deepened enormously.
What had transpired never flew far from her thoughts, though, especially since she was reminded of it every time one of the doctors drew her blood for examining. Each time the needle pierced her skin, the girl was tempted to divulge her story. But each time, she bit her tongue and swallowed the words down, terrified beyond reason of being condemned as insane.
No one had asked about the stone in her hand, so Tea knew it was somehow obscured from their vision. Late at night, she pored over the gem piercing her right palm, picking at where her skin molded around it. Once, she attempted to rip it out of her hand, but it would not budge, and in the morning, her flesh had healed back around it.
So she let the freaky thing be, and focused on what she could control: her new friendship with Mokuba, recovering, schoolwork, and reports of how her friend's tournament was going.
The doctors expressed shock at how quickly she got back on her feet; Tea just smiled, ruffled Mokuba's hair, and said she had the best encouragement in the world(the boy would grin with unabashed joy at that).
And a month later, Tea went home on crutches, with her parents on either side of her, a promise from Mokuba to visit every other day, and a mission burning in the privacy of her mind: to find out what was going on, and to do whatever she could to stop it.