Hello, Yu-Gi-Oh fandom! This is my first time writing fic for this series... since I was five, at least! This is based primarily on the original manga with influence from the Japanese sub of DM- the only thing I use the dub names for are the cards, due to the fact that I also play the card game and therefore are more familiar with those.
Except for The Saint Dragon of Osiris. Slifer is a silly name.
Don't you just love it when you try to write some short flavor text for a picture and it ends up turning into a full fic? This is the second time this happened! I've been tossing around ideas for this fic for a while, though I was planning on waiting until after the release of DSoD to write it, so it could be more canon-compliant. Oh well, this happened. Perhaps I'll rewrite it after the movie comes out- I do have plans for these two extending well past where this fic ends. Thanks to KelrayTheImposter on Tumblr for the name of the fic! Without further ado:
This situation was something he'd never dared to imagine. Here in Domino, alive, in his very own body. There were times it still seemed like a dream- that first night, when he'd awoken in a strange, dark place, and it was almost as if he was back there, trapped in that unending maze for what he'd assumed was- or what could have been- forever. He'd panicked, fooled by his own mind- he'd never left the puzzle, he was still trapped in the dark and would be forever, meeting his precious nakama and recovering his memories had been nothing more than the hallucination of a desperate, lonely soul.
He hadn't realized he was screaming until it was quiet. He wasn't alone- strong arms held him tightly, and he couldn't have escaped if he'd wanted to.
"Are you in pain? What happened?"
The slight tone of panic didn't go unnoticed- it was something Atem had heard before, but never directed at him. His throat was dry, but he tried to explain that he'd simply had a nightmare and it was really nothing to worry about at all, but when he'd gotten to "I thought I was alone," his voice cracked, just slightly, and he hadn't had the chance to finish.
"You're not alone. You'll never leave me again. Don't worry."
The phrasing was odd, but it was an odd man that said it as well. And yet, he couldn't help but think that perhaps he had heard just the slightest of tremors in Kaiba's voice- and that just maybe, he was reassuring both occupants of the room.
Kaiba Seto was nothing if not proud- a facet of his personality he plainly used as a sword, lashing out to keep those he saw as below him where he thought they belonged. But not until Atem had gotten his second chance had he seen it was his shield as well- an impenetrable barrier between himself and any who dared to touch him. Atem had seen through it on a few select occasions- that day at Pegasus' castle, and in the Virtual World during the fight with Noah- yes, he'd seen through that shield, but he was never inside it, had never spoken to the kind man whose face held only affection.
In his new life, that shield had become a great deal more transparent. Atem had felt something in their duels before, a certain heat behind his blue eyes that was peculiar, and something he'd never seen from another opponent. Atem had known the two had a deep tie on a level they could not quite comprehend- a shared past. He'd assumed this was the reason- another duelist chosen by the gods, bound to him by cords of fate.
Of course, once he'd gotten his memories back, that slight heat he'd noticed could have been no plainer to comprehend than pen on paper. He knew what that look meant. Kaiba was no fool- he knew Atem knew.
Knowing was one thing. Getting Kaiba to admit he had a romantic interest was as easy as pulling teeth.
Not that Atem was well-versed in the ways of love- had he lived, he would have married Mana within two years. The fact that he'd seen her as a sister or that he had little to no interest in marriage or any of the duties that came with it meant nothing- he was the pharaoh, he needed an heir, and that was simply how things were. The prospect of not having to marry at a young age or have children, ever, if he wished was… bizarre. He'd been excited at first- but part of him couldn't help but feel… lonely. The fact that he would not be forced into such actions had made them seem so much more bearable- being held in the arms of someone he loved, though not someone he had a duty to… fondle… was a, well, pleasant thought.
And on occasion, when his thoughts turned in this direction, he couldn't help but remember the feel of those strong, thin fingers around his arms on that dark night- how that man's arms wrapped around his torso and he could feel the blue fire he'd always seen burning behind his eyes radiate off of his skin, how he'd pressed his ear to Kaiba's chest and heard his pulsing heart, beating faster than even his own. It had lasted less than a minute- but if it had lasted an hour it wouldn't have been long enough. He wanted to touch him again- and with all of those times in the last two months he'd caught his rival looking at him when he thought Atem didn't know (and how could he not, when that man's stare was as hot as Ra's fury and twice as imposing), with the oddly-phrased words that slipped through on days when he was exhausted from work and his shield flickered to glassy clearness for a brief second only to reappear the next with a sharp correction or distracting addition, the way his hand had brushed Atem's fingers when he'd dropped a card and had lingered just a second too long to be innocent, the feeling was mutual. Atem was as sure of that as flipping heads on a rigged coin.
Even at its most transparent, Kaiba Seto's shield was made of solid diamond- no matter how anyone would try to break through, no matter how assured you were, trying to shatter it would only ever get yourself hurt. This wasn't a matter of power, Atem thought, a hardly innocent smile pulling on his cheek.
This was a game.
Like a game of chess, Atem had placed his pieces with care- Kaiba was a master in his own right, of course, and for every double entendre there was a level, steel glare- for every "accidental" brush against his arm there was a sharp comment to watch where he was going, but Atem apologized of course, he was just a bit dizzy, and then- was he still dizzy? Perhaps he should lay down, no need to push his new body, and maybe Kaiba should call his personal doctor, just as a precaution-
"A little worried there, Kaiba?" Jounouchi laughed, and just like that, Atem took another piece- a pawn here, a rook there. Kaiba would never surrender his queen, but with every little victory, no matter the side, Kaiba's offense took priority over his his defense and unveiled a path to his king.
The path, as many did with Kaiba, led through Duel Monsters. He had insisted for months now he only had one interest in Atem- defeating him and becoming the "Duel King". It was a flimsy motivation at best- and everyone close to him (or as close as he would let them,) knew it. Jounouchi had called it flat-out crazy, and Kaiba had seen an opportunity and taken it. Being insanely, offensively obsessed with card games was so much more palatable to him than admitting his true feelings- one was dangerous, and danger could be used as a weapon. The other made him vulnerable. Atem's friends felt uneasy being around both of them simultaneously- Kaiba took Atem's knight.
It had seemed logical to deny Kaiba's challenges time and again, to Atem's friends. To Kaiba, it was infuriating. Atem craved a rematch as badly as he did- Atem was sitting on his hands for some reason he couldn't quite make out through that small smile. Kaiba was considering kidnapping by the time Atem came to him. It was obviously a petty, clumsy power play and it made Kaiba angry, though he wasn't sure whether it was the fact that it was so poorly executed and below what he'd thought of Atem capable of or the fact that it worked that made him more upset.
Nonetheless, Kaiba had his duel.
Atem had laid down a single condition- no duel disks. They would carry out their duel in private, with no one watching, online or in person. It had a deeper meaning, but through the steam of anger Kaiba couldn't quite make it out. He'd assumed it was a way to make it less important (he certainly didn't distrust Atem enough to assume that he'd deny a loss, but he was completely sure Atem would patronize him by concealing another humiliation of his rival,) but sitting in his bedroom, cards scattered across his folding table his heart was pounding out of his chest the way it always did when facing Atem- no holograms or audiences were needed to make their battle epic- just the two of them were enough. Kaiba felt a bit ashamed that he'd assumed otherwise- Atem knew what he was doing. His rival trusted in him to be at the top of his game with no false pretenses- that Atem thought that much of him… his blood felt as if it would burn through his veins. Kaiba honestly had no idea whether he liked the feeling or not.
This duel had gone on nearly an hour- they'd decided to play with 8000 life points, and for a bit it had looked as if the duel was going to end with a deck-out on Kaiba's end- and then, something had happened. Kaiba had drawn Monster Reborn, and had summoned The Winged Dragon of Ra out of Atem's graveyard where Hand Destruction had put it- it had 0 attack, but Kaiba had 3450 life remaining- Atem had 1000, and his only monster was Dark Magician Girl. Atem had no set cards, and he had only a single card in his hand- Kaiba had two Blue Eyes as the only cards in his hand, with no way to summon them, and no set cards as well- but he had a god on his side. A god with zero attack, but if Kaiba activated its special ability… Ra's attack and defense would rise to 3449, his life would drop to 1, and since Atem's Dark Magician Girl had 2300 attack and was in attack position, Atem would take 1149 damage…
Kaiba's hands were shaking. This was as close to beating Atem as he had ever gotten- if Atem managed to turn this around and defeat him even now, Kaiba wouldn't be surprised. Furious, disappointed? Yes. But in all honesty, he still expected to lose. But no matter how he felt, he wouldn't stop- crushing him was his goal, no matter how unachievable!
"I sacrifice all but one of my life points, raising The Winged Dragon of Ra's attack to 3449. This duel is over!" He could feel the strain on his jaw from smiling- there was nothing that could ruin this moment!
His euphoria disrupted, Kaiba looked at his opponent- and in an instant, felt ill. This was Wrong.
Atem held his single card loosely, his reddish-lavender eyes looking unfocused at a spot near Kaiba's right elbow. He seemed to fold in on himself, shoulders rounded and head drooping, appearing even smaller than he truly was. True, he had barely come to Kaiba's chest wearing one-inch heels when Kaiba was hunched, but his personality was every bit as big and wild as his hair- he'd never failed to look Kaiba straight in the eye. Not until now.
He'd never pegged Atem as a sore loser- true, he'd only seen him lose once, and that duel was a bit of an exception to the rule, but it was a trait that fit with his personality as well as ketchup and oden.
There were a thousand things he wanted to shout- he wanted to continue his attack, he wanted to sarcastically demand to know what was so interesting on the floor in a way that Atem knew every bit how offended this made him, a traitorous part of him wanted to ask what was wrong…
What he said, in the end, was; "Look at me!"
It wasn't at all what he wanted to say! His face burned, in embarrassment, in anger at Atem, in anger at himself, and from the fact that he might have actually won this time.
Slowly, Atem raised his gaze to meet Kaiba's. Kaiba's first reaction was that he looked sad, and his suspicion that he took losing poorly made his cheeks burn hotter, but neither looked away, and Kaiba felt his heart lurch- no, this wasn't sadness. He knew this expression. This was loneliness.
"It's over, Kaiba." Atem set down his card. "You won. It's over."
Kaiba's heart was beating out of his chest and his eyes were burning so badly he could hardly see. This should have felt amazing- he'd won! His ultimate goal, achieved! And yet, it hurt. His body betrayed him at every level- his lungs seemed to refuse to work, and his skin prickled like it had when he'd caught the flu as a child, his stomach tossing just as badly as it had then.
"It" wasn't the duel.
Everything was over. Kaiba's ambition to become the Duel King. Atem's reign as the unbeatable duelist. And mostly…
Kaiba and Atem's rivalry. Kaiba's reason to be near Atem.
They were over.
Atem stood. There were words to speak, that needed to be spoken, but each knew the other was far too proud to say them. It was a stalemate, a board with two lone kings and pieces strewn across the floor.
He gathered his cards. Kaiba's hand lay limp on the table, his eyes not quite focused on anything no matter how he squinted. Now his throat was burning, and Atem was leaving-
"Goodbye, Kaiba." There was a note of finality in his voice, and Kaiba hated it. He heard the footsteps stop, and he looked up- Atem's hand was on the doorknob, his head turned back.
Their eyes met. If there was ever a time to say something, to show his belly and admit what he'd been trying to deny for months to everyone, including himself, this was it. Right now.
But time ticked on, his chance passed, and Atem walked out the door.
For a solid minute, Kaiba stared at the door in shock. He was gone. He no longer went to school- his chances of seeing Atem or his peanut gallery around again soon were low. He'd been in complete denial- Atem would never leave him, they were tied to each other, he'd never walk through a door and (discard him like a piece of trash and move on) disappear.
But he had.
He was an Idiot. Of course Atem would! This wasn't the first time he'd been left behind. He wasn't worth staying for. Not now, not the way things were. He'd known that, that was why he'd made that silent promise. And he had tried, those first few days, to keep his promise- to be more open, less acidic, be someone Atem wouldn't dare to leave- but it was terrifying and awkward and it quickly became so much easier to slip back into old habits, and they had been right back where they were before, as if those six months hadn't happened, and true, it wasn't better, but nothing would change quickly, he had time. He had the rest of his life.
No, he thought, heart pounding as his feet carried him down the halls of his mansion as fast as his body would allow, he had until today.
There was a sense of unreality as he dashed through the maze he'd come to call his home- from the safety of his bedroom, where that person had just sat past Gozaburo's study where he'd spent so much of his childhood, every little mark on his skin prickling with the memory. Then past his trophy room, or where it had once been, before he'd taken a bat to the cases the first time he'd lost to Atem. And then the door where he'd met met the whole group the only time they'd been invited in, and then to the drive and he still hadn't caught up and his eyes blurred-
He tripped, his hands rubbing painfully on the stone road. He was on his feet again before he'd stopped skidding and he bolted through his gate- if he'd taken a car Atem was long gone, but there was still a chance he'd decided to walk home, and he turned- there!
Atem had barely stepped through the gate when he'd heard running footsteps and stopped. He knew it wasn't who he hoped it was, who he needed it to be, but his feet refused to move until he was sure.
And then Kaiba had nearly bowled him over. The taller man bent over nearly in half, hands on his knees and wheezing like he'd run a marathon. Atem couldn't help but notice tiny droplets of moisture on the ground below- sweat, surely.
Kaiba gasped, grasping for words like a dying man grasping for his lifeline. He had a literal book of things to say- he'd written down his thoughts in those six months, between formulas and equations were full eloquent letters and roughly scribbled I miss you's and everything in between written in the desperate hope he'd see that man again and a dozen promises he'd made to tell him every word he'd written. But his lungs and throat and nose utterly refused to cooperate and all he could choke out was a single word.
It wasn't enough, that whole book wasn't enough, and he'd known it was useless, logically.
But Atem had a way of overturning logic. The chess board was on the ground, the pieces lost in the rush to the open door, the game utterly forgotten.
Kaiba Seto's world was spinning, his eyes as good as useless and his ears deafened by the sound of his own rough breath, but then a calming presence washed over him- he felt hands on his shoulders, then breath on his neck, and he was holding his precious person again, like that night so long ago, before he'd taken that miracle for granted.
Kaiba detested being hugged, it brought back far too many memories of both his fathers, both equally painful if different, but this felt so immensely different- he could stay here, in Atem's arms for the rest of his life and he felt it would never grow old. There was so much he would tell Atem, and maybe, he dared to hope, he'd have a chance, but there was one that couldn't wait.
"Don't ever leave me again," he breathed, and were it any other day of his life he'd have cursed how weak he sounded, but at this very second he couldn't bring himself to care. He tightened his grip, a silent reassurance he wasn't speaking to a phantom. "Please."
"I'm not going anywhere, ever again," was the response. Atem had been looking for his home for over three thousand years, and he'd finally found it. This was where Atem belonged- not in ancient Egypt, not at the other side of a table or arena- here, today, in Kaiba Seto's arms. He'd never do anything to jeopardize this.
Atem smiled. That included, of course, not mentioning that his last card had been Kuriboh.