In the book "Dune" there's a saying of the Bene Gesserit: "Beginnings are such delicate times." I think that's true for stories as well as people, so I'd love to know what you think of this beginning.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh! I do admire Kazuki Takahashi for his skill in creating such vibrant characters and for his generosity in allowing the rest of us to borrow them for a few adventures of our own.

SUMMARY: Despite the title, it's NOT a crossover! It's business as usual in the Yu-Gi-Oh! world… monsters are attacking, Yugi and friends are about to save the day and Kaiba's their reluctant ally. Friendship and trust seem irrelevant until a cat-headed goddess decides to meddle. Obviously AU. Eventual, implied Prideshipping.

THE TIMELINE: In this story, a final battle takes place after DOMA. The Grand Prix and Ancient Egypt/Memory World arcs do not exist in this story. Although this story starts in the middle of a final battle, it is NOT the final battle from Yu-Gi-Oh! Zorc/Zork Necrophades does not exist in this story.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I use the manga version of events where possible, but I also lean on the subtitled anime versions of the Virtual World, Noa's Arc and DOMA arc episodes, simply because they have a lot of the Kaiba brothers and I like them. If it becomes necessary, I'll put in a manga or anime note explaining plot or character differences from the 4Kids dubbed version.

MANGA/DEATH-T NOTE: After Yugi/Yami no Yugi beats Kaiba in their first duel, he's driven to create the Death-T tournament, and to force Yugi and his friends to enter a competition that could really kill them. Mokuba insists on being one of Yugi's challengers. Kaiba misreads this as a personal attack, and when Mokuba loses, Kaiba forces his brother to go through the Death Simulation chamber he had designed for Yami. Yami rescues Mokuba, and defeats Kaiba by summoning Exodia. As a result of this penalty game, Yami shatters Kaiba's heart, giving Kaiba the opportunity to rebuild it without the darkness that was destroying him, and leaving Kaiba in a coma until he does so.


CHAPTER 1: IT'S THE OLD SCHRÖDINGER'S CAT QUESTION

Sometimes the duel itself doesn't matter. Sometimes it's the aftermath that counts.

It wasn't surprising that no one in Domino noticed what was going on. After all, Domino was hardly the most observant of cities. And, to be fair, the abandoned warehouse looked perfectly ordinary… just another squat, boarded up building sitting on an unused pier. Both pier and warehouse were scheduled for renovation later in the month, making the dumpy building private enough to be the perfect venue for a life or death duel with a 3,000 year old Egyptian snake-god of evil.

Yugi and the gang were fighting to save the world, something that was yawn-inducingly routine by Domino standards. They'd done it before and would again (probably before the summer vacation had ended.) Yugi and his friends were used to bizarre opponents and life or death stakes. They were even used – although Kaiba would have denied it as strenuously as he would have denied the title "friend" – to mysterious ancient magic and penalty games. Even the invisible bubble – or shield – that separated them from their watching friends was familiar.

The duel was way too same old- same old to bother to recount… right up until the appearance of the goddess with the cat head. Yugi (or more accurately, the 3000 year old spirit of an ex-pharaoh currently dueling with Yugi's body), Jounouchi and Kaiba were too focused on their battle for even the appearance of a cat-headed goddess on their side of the field to break their concentration. Kaiba had an opponent in front of him, Mokuba at his back and was blind to all else. It's doubtful whether he'd even registered the fact that his opponent was a giant snake, something Jounouchi was working overtime at trying to ignore. And Yami didn't remember enough of his past to realize that when a goddess comes to help, anything becomes possible.

Kaiba, Yami and Jounouchi had just fused their three signature monsters to form the Light and Dark Dragon Sage, trying to look like they'd done it before. They looked at their newly created monster, then at each other, then at their opponent. Even Kaiba had finally noticed he was fighting an enormous snake god – and none of them was sure what it would take to win.

That's when having a goddess on your side comes in handy. Bastet began chanting and although they hadn't played a card, the vision of one appeared: Exchange of Energy. Their monster started to glow. Its form dissolved in a pure light that spiraled back to include them, radiating until they were at the center of a whirling stream of light.

Bastet shook her head, clearly dissatisfied. "Three receptacles of power are not enough to defeat our enemy. Luckily that's a problem easily solved." She waved her hand and an unearthly darkness flared out, as if a match that created the opposite of light had been struck. It ensnared Yugi, and then just as suddenly disappeared, revealing two duelists – both with tri-colored hair and identically stunned faces –where only one had stood before.

"Partner?" Yugi said, staring at the young man he'd gotten used to calling his other self or even his darkness. The slightly taller, slightly slimmer version was staring at his hands as if he'd never seen them before and was wondering what they were good for besides drawing cards. As the darkness left, Exchange of Energy flickered back to life.

For an instant the duelists were frozen in place as Yugi stared at Yami – and Jounouchi stared at them both. The serpentine-god laughed, a horrible hissing sound like steam escaping from a demented kettle.

"I don't fucking believe this!" Kaiba yelled, jumping forward and shoving more cards in his duel disk. "You two kept insisting that you were two separate people to anyone who would listen, and even to people like me who didn't give a damn. If you flake out now just because you've been proven right I swear you won't have to wait for Snake Guy over there to kill you – I'm going to do it myself! Get your asses in gear and focus!"

Bastet smiled. "Well said. A focal point is indeed what is needed." She began her incantation again, louder and faster this time. It was like throwing extra kindling on a slow-burning fire. The unearthly fires swelled around them again. Then, the quality of the light changed, became more focused. It streamed from Jounouchi, Yugi and Yami into and then through Kaiba as he stood at the tip of the pyramid formed by the other three duelists. He looked more like a weapon than ever as he stood bathed in a light that turned laser sharp as it passed through his body, as it leapt out from his spare frame to attack their enemy.

It pierced the giant snake's heart, swerved downwards to skewer his giant torso over and over, leapt up to reach into his brain. It grew more brilliant, until pieces of him started to disintegrate, like a film strip burning in the heat of a projector. No one, not even a god, was meant to hold such radiance. He shattered and vanished, leaving them once again in the cool semi-darkness of the abandoned warehouse.

As the light left his body, Kaiba crumpled to the ground. The Other Yugi caught him as he fell, staggering under the sudden weight. He eased them both to the ground and sat with Kaiba's head cushioned in his lap.

"The duel's over. Why am I still seeing double?" Jounouchi wailed, his gaze shifting back and forth from one Yugi to the other.

"You're not." Yugi's voice shook. "Partner?" he asked, afraid this was one more illusion.

The Other Yugi nodded. "I don't understand what's happened any more than you do. But I'm here."

"You're… your own person… just like you were meant to be. It seems too good to be true." Yugi turned to Bastet. "Is this real?"

"When you duel in the name of the gods, all outcomes are real. You have destroyed an ancient threat. We are grateful. Our rewards are suitably divine."

The Other Yugi looked at the tall duelist in his arms. "Then why did you hurt Kaiba?"

"Hurt him? I've blessed him – just as I have with you. Not that humans are ever grateful," Bastet answered.

"Why won't he wake up?" the Other Yugi asked, shaking Kaiba as he spoke as though jerking his rival's unconscious body around would make the situation clear enough for even a cat-headed goddess to understand.

"I needed a sacrifice to use as a spear point, but I only needed one. The three of you…" she said, pointing to both Yugis and Jounouchi, "were so closely connected, so completely tied to each other and to your faith in your friends it would have taken more time than I could spare to pick the threads that bound you apart. He made my choice even easier when he leapt in front of the rest of you."

"He was just as much our comrade!" the Other Yugi yelled.

"If that's true, you have nothing to worry about. Do you speak for your entire group?" Bastet asked, looking past him to the others.

"Yes! Of course!" the Other Yugi answered.

"Forget about Kaiba! You have your own body, now! What's up with that?" Jounouchi asked.

"I think your teammate," she said waving towards Jounouchi, "has proven my point. You named him your comrade in good faith, but even after all you've been through together, your own team doesn't fully agree and as for your high priest…" she paused and gestured to the boy in the Other Yugi's arms – and it was astounding how young Kaiba looked when his eyes weren't blazing fire and his mouth was, for once, shut. "He didn't know he was your friend. All of that made it possible to take him without touching the rest of you. .. a situation that will remain unchanged unless you all amend it."

"What's it got to do with us? Kaiba's the one who has to learn not to be such a standoffish jerk, although how you expect him do that when he's in a coma…" Jounouchi argued.

"And you think he is the only one with lessons to learn, here?" Bastet asked.

"Never mind that! You had no right to hurt him!" the Other Yugi insisted.

"I told you: I've given him a gift beyond measure. You would be wise to pay attention. I dislike repeating myself."

"You call this a gift? Remind me not to hit you up for any birthday presents," Jounouchi muttered.

Bastet turned slightly to address the pharaoh. "I'm merely finishing the job that you started." She looked at Kaiba's unconscious form and gave a purring laugh. "He even looks much the same now as he did back when you left him unconscious after Death-T."

"That was different!" Yugi protested.

"I punished him with a penalty game. But I also left a way for him to break free – and to heal," the pharaoh said.

"As did I. Don't feel ashamed that you couldn't complete the job. It was a worthy attempt," Bastet admitted. "Especially since you are merely a mortal – and a young and inexperienced one at that. But you left him a puzzle to solve for a problem that reason alone can't fix. How can one piece together a heart in isolation when the essence of a heart is that it be shared?"

"Will you all forget Kaiba for a moment? What the hell is going on? How did the other Yugi get his own body?" Jounouchi asked.

"Magic," the goddess said with a sleek, self-possessed smile that made her seem more catlike than ever.

"What the fuck is going on? Why is a big, scary cat woman talking to us?" Jounouchi said. Yugi couldn't help but think that his friend spoke for them all.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but who are you?" Yugi asked, feeling that asking, "What are you?" would be a trifle impolite.

"It's nice that one of you has manners. I'm Bastet, the goddess of love and joy."

"Please, I don't understand… well… anything," Yugi said.

"I told you. It's magic." She sighed as she scanned their blank faces. "Why do mortals always insist on questioning the unknowable?" She turned back to the pharaoh. "You gave up all the remaining years of your life 3,000 years ago when you accepted being sealed into the Puzzle as the only way for us to avoid defeat. Now the battle is finally over. Thanks to you and your friends we've won, and we are returning the remaining years of your life to you."

"What of my search for my memories? I don't even know my name," he said.

"What's to remember? You were a pharaoh; you were sealed in the Millennium Puzzle when you were sixteen. Your life was as boring as any mortal's."

Jounouchi gave a bark of laughter, and then tried, unconvincingly, to turn it into a cough.

"Did you say something?" Bastet asked, like a teacher calling an unruly student in order.

"No ma'am," Jounouchi said, showing more contrition – or fear – than he ever had in school.

"But what of my family? My friends? I must have had them," the Other Yugi insisted.

"You did. But you have friends and a family again, don't you? You had a lover as well back then." She laughed. "You've lost nothing that can't be regained… and in the same form. It's a pity you can't see the irony."

The Other Yugi frowned.

Bastet roared. They flinched at the sound. She grew until her cat ears brushed the warehouse ceiling.

"I saw in your heart that you desired this gift more than any other. Are you daring to question my actions? You can join the afterlife any time you wish! I will send you there myself as a punishment for your ingratitude."

"Let's just say thank you to the nice cat-lady and run before she turns us all into toads or something," Jounouchi urged.

"At last, someone with common sense," Bastet said.

The Other Yugi knew that Bastet had read his desires accurately. In all the times he and Yugi had stayed up all night talking, in all the times they'd worried that the future would separate them… this was the one outcome they'd been almost afraid to mention, almost afraid to hope for, since both knew it would take a miracle…

The pharaoh thought he knew what Yugi would say, but he turned to him anyway.

"Follow your heart," Yugi said, shutting his eyes as though making a wish.

"Then if I accepted Bastet's offer…"

He didn't get to finish his sentence. Yugi dived for the floor and hugged him, smashing Kaiba between them. Yugi paused and shifted so he was at his partner's side, holding on to him.

"That would be perfect. It's everything we ever dreamed of!" Yugi said, shaking his former other self (and inadvertently, Kaiba) back and forth.

The Other Yugi felt slightly awkward accepting such a momentous gift from a goddess while sitting on the floor, but somehow, standing up and letting Kaiba's head bounce on the ground, or even handing him off to Yugi, seemed the greater sacrilege.

"Thank you. I have no words to express my gratitude," he said.

"I can only hope that's true. You've taken up enough of my time with your incessant babbling, and I'm still not finished with my tasks. I have your friend's welfare to consider… although I believe I've left that problem in good hands."

She vanished before they could ask what she meant. Jounouchi breathed a sigh of relief at her disappearance. As Bastet had noted, he had a lot of common sense.

Mokuba had been pounding on the invisible barrier separating him from his brother. It vanished with Bastet, and Mokuba half-fell, half-ran towards the older Kaiba.

"Nisama!" he screamed as he reached him, almost pushing Yami out of the way in his haste to hold his sibling.

"We could hear everything," Anzu said as she and Honda joined the group around Kaiba's body. Honda, Anzu and Jounouchi looked at each other. It was official: their best friend was now two people and his arch-rival and sometime ally was lying unconscious on the floor.

"Are you okay, Yugi?" Anzu asked.

Yugi nodded, although he looked far from sure that his answer was the correct one.

"I think so," he said, turning back to his partner as if he was afraid that the person he was used to calling his "other self" had disappeared in the time it took him to look at Anzu and glance back.

They fell silent for a moment. The only sound in the warehouse was Mokuba barking orders into his cell phone, sounding remarkably like his older brother. No one was surprised to see Isono and Fubeta appear a few minutes later.

"Luckily the pier was deserted. We should be able to get Nisama into the limo and back to the mansion without this becoming public," Mokuba said to Isono and Fubeta, barely noticing the near identical Yugis in the room – much less that one of them was still sitting next to his brother and seemed no more inclined to let go than Mokuba was.

"Mokuba, your brother needs to be in a hospital," Anzu said.

"Is a hospital going to be able to fix this?" Mokuba's gaze swept the group surrounding his brother. He snorted when no one answered. "I didn't think so. Isono's getting a med team to the mansion. The last thing my brother would want is for the press to find out that the CEO of Kaiba Corporation is in a coma after a mysterious encounter. Again."

The Other Yugi winced at the reminder.

Isono nodded to Mokuba. "The limousine is here, Mokuba-sama," he said. He, Fubeta and Mokuba took charge of Kaiba's body with a territorial authority that precluded any offers of help. The gang followed them to the limo. Isono and Fubeta angled Kaiba's body onto the back seat. Mokuba perched on the seat where he could hold his brother in place. The pharaoh started to follow when Yugi called, "Yami! Wait!" It was strange to hear the name they had used in private spoken aloud. Surprise held him in place a moment as the limo door shut and it shot away.

"We can go see them later," Yugi told him.

Yami looked at him, puzzled, not understanding the need to wait. But he was used to deferring to Yugi. That hadn't changed with the sudden acquisition of a body.

Anzu, Jounouchi and Honda stared at each other. They had called Yugi's other half, Yami no Yugi, Yugi's Darkness, among themselves, but they were suddenly unsure whether that made it a name, even though Yugi had just screamed it.

"I give up, what do we call you?" Jounouchi finally burst out.

Yami turned around at that. "I still don't know my name. I guess that it, like my memories, is in the past." He looked at the four worried faces before him and smiled. "It's okay. I'm here with my partner and my friends. Next to that a name is minor."

"Well, we still need one," Jounouchi insisted. "We can't keep calling you 'the Other Yugi' or 'Yami no Yugi.'"

"Why not? Well, take half of it, anyway." Anzu said.

"Are you crazy? What kind of name is Other?" Jounouchi argued.

"I think she meant Yami," Yugi said with a sigh. He looked at his partner, but Yami had turned back to watch the road, even though the limousine was long out of sight.

Kaiba wasn't aware of anything as mundane as the mechanics of getting him out of the limousine and up to his room in the Kaiba mansion. He was equally oblivious of the medical team fussing around him, the IV being put into his arm, or Mokuba shooing everyone out.

The first thing Kaiba noticed was that he was cold and alone in a darkness that was unnervingly familiar. He had no idea where he was… beyond that he was somewhere in that strange limbo that awaited those who lost penalty games, the place he'd heard Yugi and his friends call the shadow realm. But just as he thought that he was used to being alone, he realized there was someone – or something – in the darkness watching him. He found himself hoping that his brother hadn't found a way to join him.

"Mokuba!" he yelled, relieved when there was no answer. He knew from experience that if he was in the shadow realm his brother couldn't hear him.

"Your brother is safe. It's time to concentrate on you."

The voice was low and feminine. Like the darkness it was familiar. The last thing Kaiba could remember was dueling. The outcome had hung in the balance when she had arrived, a creature more powerful than any duel monster, even the ones from the god cards… a grotesque thing with a cat's head atop a woman's body.

"Grotesque thing… creature… you're not very complimentary." There was a flirtatious pout in her voice.

Somehow this must be a consequence of that duel – like the sudden separation of Yugi from the other one, the one that appeared every time they dueled. The one he would have denied looking for with his dying breath.

But Kaiba couldn't remember the duel's end. If he was in the shadow realm, did that mean they'd lost? But if they had, where were the others?

"You won't be able to reason your way out of this one," the voice replied.

"I wouldn't advise betting against me," he taunted.

"I'm not. I'm betting on you. But you're heading down the wrong path. Trust me, this is one puzzle you won't be able to solve with reason or logic or any of the other tools you use to hide behind." She sighed. "I don't know why I waste my time giving mortals divine gifts when all they do is question them. You're lucky I have a fondness for aloof and wary things. In fact, that might be a brilliant idea…"

Kaiba had been trapped like this three times before. With Pegasus and Noa there had been no goal beyond keeping him confined and in pain. Death-T had been different. Yami had been different. Kaiba had come, however reluctantly, to understand that. Yami had been trying desperately to knock Kaiba off of the path he'd been marching down with his usual single minded determination, not caring that it led to his own damnation.

Yami had set a lesson before him then refused to release him until he'd completed the assigned task. In a way it had been like Kaiba's childhood under Gozaburo, except that rebuilding instead of destruction had been the aim. And however much Kaiba had hated the implication he had anything left to learn and had resented the teacher, there had been a way out. Yami had left him to find the solution for himself.

Hopefully this would be the same… just one more challenge to beat.

"You need to discover if somewhere within yourself, somewhere beyond logic or calculations of risk and benefit, you have the ability to trust," Bastet said, her voice as soft as a cat's purr.

Kaiba snorted. She was just like the rest of Yugi's cheerleading squad, acting as though if he'd just change, everything would be fine.

He heard a faint, annoyed hiss in the darkness. "I did not say that you were the only one with lessons to learn. Friendship without understanding or acceptance is but half-offered. It might be better if I bind that formidable intellect, since all it seems to be doing at the moment is getting in your way." Her amusement had a faintly purring note to it. Kaiba hated the sound – and wondered how she'd heard him when he didn't remember speaking aloud.

"I'd like to see you try," he snarled, trying to find and stare down his opponent.

"Don't worry. Not permanently. That would be like cutting the arms off a statue. I'll even leave you the days to puzzle things out to your heart's content. The nights however, are mine. From sundown to sunup it is the world of emotion that matters. You need to spend an equal time learning to feel without attempting to make sense of things." The voice faded with her words.

Kaiba wondered if it was night yet – and if apprehension counted as an emotion.


.

Thanks to Bnomiko for betaing another story: I can't believe this will be our fourth story together! Also, thanks for saying: "Do… it…" at the idea of actually titling a story "Hello Kitty Kaiba."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I always think about when each story should start carefully. Although Kaiba has issues (well, more like a subscription) with trust and friendship, his outlook and attitude changes from when we first meet him to the end of Yu-Gi-Oh! Similarly, although even at the end, I'm not sure any of the Yugi-taachi have Kaiba on their friendslist, how Yugi's friends feel about Kaiba changes during the course of the manga/anime.

I picked after the end of DOMA as a starting point because issues of friendship and trust are in such a state of flux on both sides. They all worked together during the DOMA arc and showed a measure of trust in each other – but there's also a sense that Kaiba isn't quite comfortable with this new state of affairs and that nobody is sure what it means for the future.

Acknowledgements: One nice thing about starting a story is that you get to say hello and thanks to people. Thanks to BnoMiko for everything and Splintered Star for listening and bouncing ideas and cat puns back and forth and EvilMidget6 for your support. Halowing and Dragonlady222 have reviewed just about every chapter of every story I've ever written. I can't start another one without thanking you for your encouragement. And Kagemihari – can't start a new story or a new year without wishing you a good one.

Light and Dark Dragon Sage Note: I realized as I was writing this that except for the legendary dragons in the DOMA arc, (and I guess the five dragon combo from the video game arc kind of counts) Jounouchi, Yami and Kaiba have never combined their monsters. Which is usually when I start making things up.

Evil Snake God Note: There really is an ancient Egyptian Snake God of Evil. His name is Apep or Apophis. He was the enemy of Ra and the god of dissolution, darkness and non-being. Even better, in some versions he was killed by Bastet.

Review Note: I reply directly to all signed reviews. I post responses to unsigned reviews on my Live Journal account. The link is on my biopage. Anyone who wants to see a summary of all my responses can also check it out. Responses to the previous chapters will be posted when a new chapter is updated.

Happy New Year! Please review. I'd like to know if the first chapter has gotten the story off to a good start or not.