|Trapped in a Mirror
Author: SofiaDragon PM
Before everything went Zorc-shaped in Egypt, things weren't exactly perfect for Atem. What actually happened all those millennia ago as the basis for the twisted memory RPG? What if Yuugi and Ryou had a chance to change things for their spirits? What if?Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Atem & Yūgi M. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 12,110 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 01-10-12 - Published: 05-22-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4271347
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Two years later:
Yugi slipped his key in the lock nervously, almost wishing he didn't have to come home today. It looked like same door all the tiny apartments had, plain white paint and a steel handle, but he couldn't help noticing the one thing that made this door a little odd: the smoke leaking out from below it and curling lazily along the floor. The doorknob was cool, and the smoke was oddly mint-scented, but that didn't mean that there was something good on the other side. He pushed the door forward against his better sense.
The room inside was quite unlike all the other tiny apartments in the Tokyo high-rise. For one, it seemed much larger inside than the neighboring apartment doors would allow. For another, the left-hand wall was home to what seemed like a mad scientist's chemistry set from a low budget science fiction move. To the center, there was a comfortable sitting area with several tables loaded down with thick tomes that clashed with the ultra-modern décor. Toward the back, a sleek black shelving unit holding a radio, surround sound system, flat screen TV, computer, and the latest videogame platforms was obscured by tendrils of minty green smoke. Finally, there was a skinny young man with prematurely white hair hanging by his belt off a wall bracket that used to hold up a now collapsed shelf of books to Yugi's right.
"Welcome home, Yugi," Ryou said with a wave from his awkward position. "My experiments… got away from me today. Did you have a successful meeting with the developers?" The other man was trying to unhook himself by doing a pull-up on one of the other shelves, but his skinny arms wouldn't hold him if he was straight let alone at the odd twisted angle he was forced into.
"It went well," Yugi replied as he toed off his shows and got the stepstool. He was still short enough to be mistaken for a middle school kid. "They didn't like having fifty-four glitched areas pointed out to them, but it was sloppy work if you ask me. They seemed to think that because of everything else I've been doing I wouldn't have had the time to do a proper play through," he sighed and set down the faithful stool. "They were expecting a general feel and my opinion on marketability, not a verbal lashing about the terrible quality."
"You would never do a poor job, Lord Yugi," Ryou said quietly as Yugi helped him down. During the first year after the ceremonial duel Ryou had nearly killed himself three times out of sheer paranoia. He'd lived for so long with that horrible thing feeding off his and the thief's souls that returning to a normal life was difficult. Adding to that stress he suddenly had to deal with all the loose ends left behind: gangs from all over the island had some tie of loyalty or trust to him, a diary full of prayers and plans written in hieratic that he could somehow read without difficulty, a charge on his account for a storage unit he'd never seen before full of things he didn't want to know the origin of, discovering a drawer he thought was empty full of tools, his hands acting on muscle memory whenever he touched a knife resulting in perfectly cubed vegetables, an alter with small crudely carved statues hidden in his closet, all sorts of things came out of the woodwork. The final straw was when Ryou accidentally levitated his teacup just after high school graduation, resulting in him becoming convinced Zorc was back and after his mortal soul.
It started a long controversy, but in the end Yugi had insisted on moving in with Ryou. He could make sure Ryou wasn't seeing things and help himself at the same time. Truth be told, Yugi hadn't been doing much better than Ryou was at the time. While Ryou jumped at every shadow in what Anzu dubbed a 'classic example of post-traumatic stress,' Yugi was going crazy from doing nothing. So used to the danger, so used to keeping up with the determined will of a god-born king, Yugi had forgotten how to just take care of himself. He was always on edge waiting for Yami's next adventure and kept talking to himself expecting an answer. He simply wasn't used to normal, and couldn't handle being alone when his Grampa went on his trips to visit old friends. It wasn't just the epic battles, with the pharaoh day to day living had been one needy surprise after another.
Once, just after he'd solved the puzzle, he'd come home mentally exhausted from exams and let the spirit take over thinking that it was the perfect solution to let the spirit tire out his body while Yugi's mind relaxed in a sleepy haze in his soul room. He'd awoken sitting in three inches of water in the bathtub, a sense of smug satisfaction echoing from his other half, with about three quarters of his body shaved. He was informed that the king had eaten dinner for them, determined that he could not access as much of Yugi's modern knowledge as previously thought because he could not read any of the books written in English from the shelf, and cut himself a large slice of watermelon for desert. He'd gotten very messy cutting and eating the melon, so the king decided to investigate the plumbing again and managed to draw a cool bath and wash up without incident. The king told Yugi, in a tone that indicated he expected to be thanked, that once he was naked he realized his young partner had been so busy with exams and duels that he had 'forgotten' to shave his body. Being that the king was left handed and Yugi right handed, it made no sense for the spirit to risk cutting Yugi by shaving the bits of their body that were harder to reach with a left hand than a right hand. Thus proving himself to be both willful and lazy in the same stroke, the spirit left Yugi mostly shaved from the eyebrows down. Only the fact that Atem knew wigs were not common in Japan for Yugi's age group and the obvious time Yugi spent to care for his multi-colored hair saved him from becoming bald that day.
Even with no memories of the past, the disembodied king had not given it a second thought that anyone with a modicum of money would own a razor and shave everything off as a matter of cleanliness. In fact, the idea that Yugi owned a very nice bright blue razor seemed proof that it was meant to be used exactly that way. Yugi actually had to look up bathing habits in Ancient Egypt immediately, having been so completely thrown by such behavior. After several days of argument about cultural norms and the definition of 'well groomed' Yugi only gave up his point that it wasn't something normal boys his age did when the stubble became unbearably itchy. After the Atlantis incident he discovered Atem had been using a full kit of makeup and wearing a lot of jewelry, but by that time Yugi had become so used to the king's high standards of living and willful nature that it no longer fazed him. He didn't even ask how he'd bought the obviously expensive supplies, because the answer probably involved high stakes poker and risks he wouldn't be happy about. Atem had been in total control of his body for the majority of that summer break while Yugi's soul was imprisoned, and he was just trying to take care of it in the best way he knew how. The resulting rumors that he was as queer as a bent coin were just another thing to handle in a long list of complications due to sharing his life with an ancient spirit.
Moving in with Ryou gave Yugi someone to take care of, and solved the issue of Ryou being a danger to himself. Before long the white haired young man had calmed down enough to stop jumping at every little noise. With Yugi there to witness the levitating teacups he was able to switch from living a life consumed by terror to living a life consumed by curiosity. At first they wondered if this was healthy, or if he and Ryou had simply switched one dysfunctional mentality for another, but within a month they had both settled down and managed to function in a mostly normal way. Four years later they were still living together, no longer in college dorms but in a nice Tokyo apartment, with only a few traces that anything traumatic had ever happened. Most everyone thought they were lovers, but there were two separate beds in their shared bedroom. It was a line they knew they would never cross, for too many reasons.
"You don't need to call me that," Yugi reminded, pulling himself from thoughts of the past. Yugi had decided back when he first met him that Ryou's fits of extremely formal behavior were a defense mechanism. Whenever Ryou was scared, sick, or angry he spoke with so many 'O's that he sounded like some ancient royal document. "What's wrong?"
"There were gunshots," Ryou said so quietly Yugi almost couldn't hear as he helped lower Ryou to the floor.
"It sounded like gunshots when it exploded?" Yugi glanced at the minimal damage to the room in disbelief.
"No, there were sirens outside followed by gunshots. I dropped the vials I was working on."
"That's not your fault."
"I shouldn't still be so jumpy about…"
"It is not your fault." Yugi held onto Ryou's arms tightly. Ryou relaxed, his shoulders drooping slightly as the panic left exhaustion in its wake.
"I made some exciting discoveries today," Ryou said after a long moment. "I'll make a pot of tea and show you the notes."
"Alright," Yugi agreed, following Ryou into the kitchen. The large main room was connected to a bathroom and kitchen and through that was the single bedroom. It was small, but neither of them had ever needed much. Besides, a larger apartment would make it harder to pay the rent. While the teapot gurgled they came back to start cleaning the mess and crack a window to let out the pleasant smelling smoke. In short order the pair had righted the shelf and cleared a place to set down the tea tray. If there was one thing Ryou never did half way, no matter his mood, it was afternoon tea. A sharp whistle signaled that the tea was done. The outlandish device was actually a water purifier, wind-up egg timer, and coffeepot stuck together with magic and duct tape. It was the first thing the pair of them created that did not need electricity and did not blow up. Well, it didn't blow up anymore.
Ryou laid out his notes while Yugi poured, and the two of them started on a conversation that if overheard would land them both in psychiatric care. Magic may have started its grand re-entry into the world, but that didn't mean anyone believed it yet. Most anyone who believed magic was real was in the same situation as Ryou and Yugi: attempting to make things that did something without blowing up. While there were plenty of old books about magic, nearly all of them were coded, fictionalized, or flat out wrong. Most everyone they had had contact with was going the 'instinctive' route and just doing whatever felt right. Ryou, on the other hand, had latched onto a new theory in physics and plowed into the field of magical reconstruction armed with the scientific method. He was absolutely certain that the so-called 'dark energy' and 'dark matter' astronomers had come up with to explain why galaxies moved too quickly for their equations to work properly was actually magic and magical substances. Yugi wasn't so sure, the whole theory seemed like the easy way out to him, but he couldn't argue with the results. In the two years since he secured assistance from the 'old blood' families the pair of them had made more headway than any other known individual or group.
Their 'teapot' could turn anything but the most polluted water into a drinkable, perfectly brewed pot of tea. It was powered by breaking down the pollutants in the water or a small pouch of sand and using the energy from the chemical bonds to heat the water and transfigure any non-poisonous leaf into a mild green tea, with the tea's quality based on the quality of the leaf. Oddly, tea leaves were less effective than fruit tree leaves. Their security system shrieked and opened all the windows if an open flame larger than one foot tall was detected anywhere within the apartment. The main living area was a full meter longer from entranceway to exterior wall and the kitchen two meters wider from bedroom door to the living room archway than was physically possible, although how that happened they weren't sure. Yugi had figured out how to control things once they started levitating and Ryou unlocked the trick of avoiding gravity in the first place. They owned a grey fighting fish that lived in a bubble of water floating over a pan in their bedroom named Cloud.
It was an expensive thing to do, the setup was elaborate and the materials sometimes hard to come by, but neither of them could pass it up. Ryou never wanted to feel as helpless and useless as he was against Zorc, and Yugi needed something to do with himself that had nothing to do with being the King of Games. Magic was out, about, and being researched by more than just the old blood families. The destruction of the millennium items had freed up enough magic to let the hammer fall on a number of other old magical items. In some cases they had ceased to function since the days when magic was last free but still held a dangerous charge, like a collection of old magical swords the Chrysanthemum Throne had been sitting on for several centuries, now harmlessly melted down. Others simply exploded from the overload, having been made late enough in history that the sudden jump in ambient magic burnt out every power regulation. Then there were the hunters, groups of people sent out to hunt down and destroy magical artifacts now that there was enough ambient magic to do it properly. These groups operate under the idea that now that some magic is free, the best thing to do is free as much as they can before it gets sucked up again. There was a power vacuum in the area of 'great magicians' and not everyone seeking to gain a foothold on this 'new again' kingdom had humanity's best interests in mind. It was a race to figure out as much as they could as fast as they could, and there was no way of tracking the groups that didn't have contact with the same underground channels as they did.
Yugi was easily swept up in the magical work they did. It kept him from thinking about the revolution. Everything was changing. In the four short years since Atem left all of Japan was swept up in a storm of social, political, and economic reform. Honor was making a comeback, radiating out from the duelist community and changing the way people thought and acted all over the world. The idea that being disgraced was a horrible thing not to be endured had come back, with codes of conduct and ethics from days long past being dusted off and refitted to the modern world. The trend of the younger generation being less respectful than their predecessors that had stood for the last century and a half in the western world was reversing. Suddenly, the adage that 'no publicity is bad publicity' was gone. Cheaper products from a company owned by a dishonorable person were passed up by shoppers. Small town shops were taking back ground they had lost to faceless major corporations. Kaiba, with his bulletproof reputation for being an unfeeling but honorable man, suddenly found his competitors folding in the cry of revolution. Political leaders fell for corruption and fresh idealistic faces populated the campaign trail across the world. Controversial superstars suddenly found themselves blacklisted.
It had been the chaos Yugi feared it would be, and he had been forced to step up and fill a role no tournament gamer would have dreamed of years ago. Despite the history of many games as tools to instruct young princes and generals in the arts of political and tactical maneuvering, game culture had become an insular group. It had been centuries since being the best player of one of those games meant anything substantial to the wider world, but suddenly the title holders of games were revered as tactical masters. Yugi had been invited to participate in all sorts of ceremonies, tournaments, and dinners giving him an interesting cash flow and impossibly complex schedule. One notable incident happened a little more than a year ago when Yugi was invited to the Igo Association to play some 'friendly' games with the highest ranks. It was a veiled attempt to survive the social upheaval without completely reinventing themselves, and they repeatedly reminded the reporters of Igo's long tradition as a noble game. When Yugi won two of his five games against the strongest the Tokyo Igo Association could offer he'd passed it off as luck and assured the anxious men that he had no intention of trampling over tradition with his steam-punk fashion and new age behavior standards. He pledged to remain in the armature leagues out of respect for people who loved games too elegant, refined, and traditional to need technological reinventing. Yugi's spur of the moment idea of a holographic projector in the ceiling that allowed two players to play a traditional game 'face-to-face' with real stones on two traditional boards miles apart was praised as a perfect example of how the new ways could live in harmony with the beloved traditions.
Ryou's passion hadn't missed its chance at evolution either. Traditional tabletop Role Playing Games may not have clear cut 'winners' and 'losers' the way competitive games did, but it was quickly (and rather arbitrarily) decided by the revolutionists that RPGs were an artistic domain. Tabletop games were now considered novels written by many authors round-robin, and some were written out during play, edited, and published as novels. RPGs in general became the accepted tools for new age storytellers, and were adopted by bibliophiles whole heartedly. Ryou himself, having become well known as fourth best duelist in the world, attended conferences full of experts in literature and gaming to debate how to give proper literary criticism to this newly respected form of 'performance writing.' The linear adventure games were shifted over to sporty types that liked to get a workout by living in a novel and quickly developed into their own separate genera of motion-sensor driven game play; while more open-ended games became legitimate tools to explore deep issues of character development, psychology, and the social condition.
Such a dramatic shift could not possibly occur completely peacefully. Riots had broken out in several major cities. The some called it a 'twisted desecration of the samurai traditions' or brushed it off as a counterculture fad that would soon perish. Since it targeted underhanded people the movement had its fair share of violence, but on the whole Yugi was surprised at how cleanly the changes were made. It wasn't that corruption and crime were stomped out, but criminals now sported a thin veneer of civility. There had always been a hierarchy of criminals, with some crimes considered unacceptable even among the prison population. It used to be that anyone convicted of harming a child had a high risk of being killed in prison, but the revolution had enhanced self-policing of gangs. Anyone rumored to have done something seriously out of line would suddenly turn up bound and gagged on the local police office's doorstep.
Oddly, it was the actions of the Thief King that instigated that part of the revolution. He'd gotten involved with the gangs of Domino to fund his deck building and pay his 'rent' to Ryou, but the way he ran things improved life for the thieves he commanded. The idea of holding to a code of honor as a way to reduce their chances of getting caught and increase their take had been enforced by the magic power of the Ring and then spread as they interacted with other gangs. Fueled by the revolution sweeping society, even small time crooks started holding up the kind of twisted morality typical of the mafia. The crime rate had taken a significant dive along with tolerance for immorality and dueling became the accepted way to settle a dispute, but at the same time criminals became more difficult to deal with. The jury was still out on if it was a good change or not.
Ryou still had a few weak connections to the gangs the thief had organized, mostly because he feared they wouldn't let him completely back out without consequence. They were convinced even before he spoke to them that he'd been forced to quit the game by some illness or injury and he explained to them that he didn't want that 'weakness' to become public because of his high profile dueling career. They had the opinion that they should take care of the man that gave them power and stability when they were dying in the gutter, almost in a parody of his ex-tenant's attitude. He'd receive congratulatory gifts after a successful tournament and other small courtesies, with the unfortunate side effect that he sometimes received invitations to parties in smoke filled backrooms he could not decline. Over the years Ryou had become very good at the playing a former criminal mastermind forced straight after a poison-induced seizure mad him incapable of controlling his natural fight or flight reaction. He was even included in some planning meetings, where he would advise them about which targets should be considered untouchable (schools, children under thirteen, single mothers) and which were preferred prey (fat cats, gamblers, tourists) for use in their self policing efforts.
Yugi stuffed his soaking hair into a net. It was always such a fight to keep it from becoming a tangled mass of frizz. A sudden knock on the door startled Yugi. Ryou must have forgotten something, including his keys.
"Hello Yugi, I take it you're not expecting company?" Marik greeted him. The Egyptian looked as wild as ever, his cream colored windblown hair held back by a pair of goggles. A red tank top, well worn cargo pants, and some dusty boots completed the look, and it made Yugi wonder how many nights the taller man slept in those clothes by the roadside. "Surprised to see me?"
"Yes! Last I heard of you, Ishizu said you were riding through Europe on some sight-seeing tour. What brings you to this continent?" Yugi ushered his guest inside.
"My sister had to bail me out of a German jail. A lot of good beer and a very beautiful daughter of some stuck up local official came my way, and so I had to go back to Egypt for a while. I hear you two are up to some old tricks, so I thought I should swing by," Marik explained, dropping onto the couch. "Quite the set-up you have here." He gestured to the still bubbling apparatus.
"That's just water to clean it out with; we had a minor mint explosion earlier today. Ryou just ran out for some shopping, you must have passed each other in the elevator," Yugi said. "Excuse my head, by the way."
"That's some odd-smelling dye job. Decided to go full on red?"
"It's actually a prescription. I don't dye my hair red."
"You don't dye your hair, and I never went on an insane rampage across three continents looking for some hunks of overpowered magical gold," Marik joked. "Your roots have always been black."
"I have a skin condition, and about a quarter of my hair grows in translucent red. I use a medicated cream conditioner to keep it from breaking or falling out."
"You're having me on."