The same technology he'd slaved over for years to concoct a perfectly blended design of tech supremacy that would only serve to benefit people had done nothing but harm them.
Kaiba was convinced it had all been for nothing. He'd failed. Failed in surpassing the given limits of technology. He should've seen the writing on the walls. So many geniuses had tried before and failed. It was foolish of him to think he was any different.
Tea's voice took him from his melancholy. He stared up at her, observing her distrustful look. Her arms were crossed over her chest in a protective manner.
Confused by her stance, he sought out clarification, "What?" He hadn't heard what she'd asked him, he was too busy being frustrated at the fact that his invention had broken Tea and was now breaking him. Dammit all. Dammit all to hell!
"I said…" Tea removed her arms from her chest and placed them confidently on her hips. Kaiba couldn't help his face from heating up as a light blush painted across his cheeks. Even in her annoyance, with blood steadily dripping from the top of her head, her clothes unkempt after her recent fight, Kaiba still thought she looked fantastic. He kept his focus on her, making sure he gave her his full attention.
"… How can I trust you?"
Astonished she could think such a ridiculous thought after all he'd tried to explain to her. He was trying to get them out. He couldn't walk. What more could he prove to her to show her that he wasn't a threat? After taking a moment to assess their situation, he decided that he couldn't really blame her. She had every right to keep her guard up.
"Tea, you have to trust me. It really is me."
"Hmph," She crossed her arms once again and stuck her nose in the air, "yeah right, that's what that other Seto said too."
Kaiba sighed. He knew there was no arguing with her, but he had to try something. Clutching his bruised chest for comfort, he suddenly heard a soft crinkle come from his jacket's breast pocket. Reaching inside, he pulled out a small, torn photograph. Seto's eyes widened at the picture. No way— Tea's yearbook photo! But how had it made its way from the real world to the virtual world? Kaiba recalled taking it as a keepsake in the real world, but never thought his mind would upload it with him. If there was one thing he had to say about his technology, it was that it never ceased to surprise him.
At first, he was silent, choosing to quietly observe the delicate photo in his hand. But Tea had bent down and stuck her nose in his business.
"Let me see."
Inching away from her, he argued, "I thought you didn't trust me."
She got all huffy again, placing her hands on her hips, "Well, I don't. Not unless you give me a reason to." Curiosity spiked in her tone once again. "So… whatcha got there?"
Silence fell between them and Kaiba noticed the impatience on Tea's face as she waited for an explanation. He wanted to continue arguing with her but knew it would do no good. It was either die of embarrassment and tell her about the picture, or just plain die. His options didn't look good.
"What does it look like? It's a picture… dumbass."
She growled, "Urgh! I can see that! I want to know what's on it!"
"And why should I show you? I thought you didn't trust me?"
"Quit being such a prick!" She spat.
"You're the one with the temper!" He yelled back.
Throwing her hands up in the air and turning away from him, she yelled, "Fine! Forget your stupid picture! I don't wanna see it! I can't waste my time talking to you when I have to find the real Seto anyway."
This time he was the one that growled, "But I am the real Seto!"
"Oh?" She turned back around to face him, sending him a sultry glare. "Is that so? Then let's see the picture, hmm?" She held out her hand, waiting for him to give her the picture, like a mother waiting for their child to hand over their favorite toy. It was punishment.
Kaiba bit his tongue to fight back the urge to yell obscenities at her. He handed over the small photo with distain.
"Thank you," she said, carrying her head high as if she'd just defeated him in a duel or something. The smirk on her face quickly changed to confusion as her eyes landed on the photo. When she spoke again, her voice was small and unobtrusive. "What? I… I don't understand… How… How do you have this?"
"I took it from my office." There was no expression in his voice and Kaiba could tell his indifferent response surprised her. Knowing Tea, she wasn't going to accept that as a final answer.
Bashful, he looked away and stared at a corner of the closet. "Because I wanted to take a piece of you with me, even if it is just a stupid yearbook photo…"
Silence shrouded them, but only for a few short moments. From his peripherals, Kaiba could see Tea's shifty eyes, switching back and forth from the photo in her hands and the bruised and broken man lying on the floor before her.
A small smile inched its way up her cheeks. "I almost forgot how short my hair used to be… So much time has passed, yet it feels like yesterday that I had this picture taken— and I don't mean that in the rhetorical sense either— like it literally feels like yesterday," she paused to laugh, "and for everybody else time ticked on like normal… but for me…" Tea's expression suddenly shifted and her eyes sunk to the floor as she dropped her arms to her sides with a loud sigh of defeat, "time just slipped away…"
Kaiba didn't know what to say. He felt stuck. Hating when emotions were high. He couldn't quite process them like he could with facts. But what he did know was that she wasn't alone.
"I'd be hard-pressed to say Yugi felt the same way. When time froze for you, it froze for him as well."
Her body perked up almost as if it were in a state of shock and realization. "I'll admit, I never thought about that or the way my absence would make Yugi feel." Clenching her fist that wasn't holding onto the photo, Tea shook her head out of irritation, "Dammit! I didn't know my idiotic actions could lead to such a fucking mess."
"No one could have, but me…"
The look of frustration on Tea's facial features dulled into calm curiosity, "What do you mean?"
It took Kaiba a moment to respond. He didn't want to at first. To admit fault was one of the hardest things for him to do. He'd made many mistakes in the past, but people had always brushed them under the rug, no questions asked. Yet, with Yugi and his friends, it had always been different. With Tea that was especially true. She'd always called him out. Remembering Duelist Kingdom and how she shouted at him across Pegasus' rooftop, essentially putting him in his place. The memory sent a spree of flashbacks through his mind that he detested. However, he knew that admitting fault was something Tea would appreciate. He'd do it for her, without fear of backlash. Because if Tea was anything, she was nothing but accepting. Kaiba found that to be one of her most treasured traits.
"I'm the one who fucked up this time. I shouldn't have tested out this technology in the storm. I shouldn't have taken that kind of risk, and I'm…" Adverting his gaze away from the corner of the closet, he looked up at her, eyes feeling big and heavy to the point where they nearly stung, "I'm sorry you got dragged back here, Tea, I truly am…"
A deep silence settled between them before Tea blurted out, "Are you sure you're the real Seto Kaiba?"
He deadpanned, "What?"
"Yeah… since when does Seto Kaiba apologize?"
His apology had fallen on deaf ears. "I'd kick you right now if I could."
"Is that a threat?" She teased, giving him a subtle wink, "The fake Seto tried to kick me too. How do I know you're not him?"
"You've got five seconds to decide if you want to get out of here or not, otherwise I'm not helping!"
Waving her hand, Tea replied with a perky, "Oh, don't be such a stick-in-the-mud." She bent down to help him, holding out her hand containing her own picture, "Thank you for apologizing…. And for the record, you didn't drag me in here. I chose to come knowing the risk. So quit moping around and let me help you."
Taking the picture from her and tucking it away, Kaiba asked, "You trust me now?"
"Well yeah. Only the real Seto Kaiba carries pictures of his loved ones with him." Her gaze fell to the locket around his neck where Mokuba's picture had been hanging for years.
"Loved ones?" Testing her, Kaiba continued, "You think you're a loved one now?"
Tea smiled, reaching toward the back pocket of her shorts. A wrinkled, slightly torn, and soggy piece of paper was withdrawn. Opening it up with care, Tea flashed the paper his way and pointed to the words scribbled on the very bottom of the page. "See? Right there. It says: Love, Seto." A triumphant look adorned her features.
Kaiba looked away, attempting to hide his blush. Quickly changing the subject, he replied with a snarky, "Will you just help me up already?"
Tea frowned and Kaiba noticed the disappointment on her face, almost as if she were hoping for more from him. "How can I get you up if your legs are broken?"
"Are you able to drag me?"
"I…" She moved to examine his legs, "I think so…" She touched a tender part of his left leg and he winced. "Goodness, I'm so sorry, Seto." Tea said as she continued to lift him and wrap his slender frame around her shoulders. His bruised and bloodied head dangled next to hers. As their wounds bled, stray drops of blood fell and intermixed, creating a trail behind them.
Kaiba didn't want to admit it but going into an upright position made him feel woozy, like he was beginning to float in and out of consciousness.
"Tea… Can… Can you…" Words were suddenly hard, "Slow down… Just for a… Just for a moment…"
She stopped and turned her head; her face was mere centimeters from his. Her hot breath left him practically perspiring as it melted his wounded flesh. Even though he felt like he was about to pass out, he couldn't distinguish if it was from his wounds, or from finally being next to Tea after all this time. Logically, he assumed the former, but couldn't deny that the latter was more appealingly.
Hold on! Wait, no! Tea's frantic shouts sounded like they were coming from an ocean away. Noise began to sound muffled, like two sea shells were glued to the sides of his face. The world seemed to abruptly fade as his sight slipped away and the world went dark. There was nothing.
But how could there be nothing? His mind already existed in a world of nothing. What was left of him now? Was he dead? Did his mind suddenly give up on him? No… It didn't work like that, did it? If you died in the virtual world did you die in real life too? He couldn't remember if he'd created something like that… Nothing mattered now as his mind slipped away…
She was saying something again, but it was too far away. What was she saying? It sounded like his name…
As his vision cleared, he noticed her long, brown hair fell forward, dancing across his face, but he couldn't feel it. The notion seemed to startle him, and he blinked rapidly, trying to regain some form of control. He tried saying her name, but all that came out was a barrage of groans. Why couldn't he speak? He needed her to know—needed her to be reassured that he was going to be okay. If not for her, then for himself.
"Seto? Can you hear me?"
Yes, and everything hurts.
She was standing over him. His eyes hadn't yet adjusted to the light and all he could see was her silhouette. "You passed out."
Makes sense, he muses, that explains all of the bizarre sensations from before.
"You went in and out of consciousness a few times. Turns out, you had a pretty big gash on one of your legs and you were losing a lot of blood the moment I tried dragging you." She pointed to his right leg and tugged at her torn shirt, "I had to turn this little number into a crop top in order to get you a tourniquet."
He stayed silent. Not sure if he should thank her or apologize to her for her torn shirt, not that he really cared about that anyway.
"And," she continued, "only one of your legs is broken," pointing to his left one, "so I made you some really shitty support stilts from the wood off your desk. Well," she laughed awkwardly, "I had to break your desk's legs in order to heal yours." She shrugged, "Circle of life, I guess… I hope you don't mind?"
Her explanations were ridiculous. But he couldn't help the proud smile forming on the corner of his lips at the way Tea helped him when he'd passed out. "No, I don't mind. How long was I out for?"
"Ten minutes? Maybe five? Long enough for me to know why, not long enough for me to be concerned about you just yet."
"So, what'd you say we get you outta here, huh?" She smiled down at him and tilted her head to the side. His slight nod was all the response she needed to bend down and get him onto his feet… well, sort of…
"Holy shit! Ow, ow, ow!" The blood rush to his head almost made him pass out once again. The pain in his legs was practically unbearable, and he didn't have the heart to tell Tea that her dressings and fixings had made the pain worse. In the end, it wasn't her fault. He was the dumbass that made this technology so excruciatingly real.
"Just hang in there, okay?" Tea wrapped his arm around her for support as Seto hobbled on one leg. "Tell me where we need to go, and I'll pull most of the weight."
The pain was unbearable. He needed to respond to Tea, but he almost couldn't. Bile rose up and he had to tilt his head back and swallow to prevent himself from vomiting.
Seto always thought himself to be great with pain. After all of the shit Gozaburo put him through, this should have been nothing. But God, it was awful. It felt like lightning shooting up his left leg, and throbbing agony on his right. How the hell were they going to make it all the way downstairs? Even if he tried willing himself there, he didn't think his mind was strong enough to focus on changing his virtual surroundings. And even if he asked Tea, she wouldn't know what the place looked like.
"Fuck!" He yelled as they moved just a little bit. This was going to be impossible.
Tea was encouraging, as always, and kept cheering him on with a 'you can do this' and a 'just tell me the way and I swear I can get us both there, you just have to stay with me.' Thing was, he didn't think he could.
"Tell me where to go, Seto. I can carry the weight of both of us—I know I can, you just have to push through a little bit."
"Urghhh!" He winced and writhed at the pain. "Ahh dammit all!"
"Just breathe, okay? You got this. Where am I going?" She asked again and Seto knew he needed to just spit it out, but that would mean he'd have to give her directions the whole time. He could hardly manage speaking as it was now, let alone guide Tea to their destination.
"Seto, please, we need to get out of here." The urgency in her voice was unmistakable now. "We only have a certain amount of time!"
"I- I know!" He groaned, "we need to get to—"
A third voice startled them both. Seto almost forgot about his pain for a fleeting moment, but relief vanished the instant he heard that voice. The pain he felt in his legs couldn't compare to the excruciating mental scars he felt rush back into his mind.
No…. it couldn't be. Not here. Not now. Not like this! They were so close and now he was here! Oh God, please, no!
A frightening chuckle from the third voice in the room was eerie enough to propel a surge of horror-film worthy shivers up their spines.
They turned around slowly, practically tripping over their own feet. Tea had opened her mouth to ask who that was, but the horrified manifestation of pure shock and fear on Seto's face must've kept her quiet.
Seto's stomach fell to the floor as he and Tea finally turned around to face their visitor.
"It's so great to see you, Seto. It's been too long, don't you agree?" A coy, yet icy cold smile spread across the man's face.
Seto grimaced at the third presence in the room. Through gritted teeth, Seto felt like an enraged animal as he growled out the name of his despised visitor.
A/N: It's time for an explanation. I don't want this author's note section to turn into some kind of diary, but you all deserve to know the reason for my disappearance, so I'll make this short.
2019 has been a whirlwind of a year for me. I got engaged, got promoted at work, moved to Minneapolis for the job— then moved back to my home state, ran the best 10k of my life, participated in anime conventions for the first time in my life, and lost my best furry friend of twenty long and loving years.
After over a year in hiatus, I am back, and with a cliffhanger, nonetheless. I am so SO sorry for making all of you wait so damn long for this. That's not fair to all of you. I will try my best to get the chapters rolling from here on out.
If you've been checking out my Instagram, you may know more details as to why I've been away. So much has been going on in my life. As I sit here and type this, I am in a coffee shop biding my time until I move to a new place. There's been a lot. Hang in there with me, guys. I will finish this. In fact, this story is almost done.
Thanks for reading and sticking with me. Ya'll are ride-or-dies. Love you! See you next chapter!