Disclaimer: If I owned Yugioh, Kaiba + Melancholy of Haruhi's Yuki would have happened. Somehow. They wouldn't even need sex to reproduce — exchanging internet data would have been enough and their babies would have taken over the world with their ability to know everything.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
We push and pull and we all fall down sometimes
But if everything keeps moving on with the dawn
I'm not letting go
No, I'll hold the other line and if everyone else goes away
I will stay
Téa Gardener paced in the otherwise abandoned house in time with her heart. She was trying hard not to think depressing thoughts, but that wasn't working so well.
Sometimes it felt as if it was just her boys against the world armed with nothing but a toothpick and their few years of experience compared to immortals with power. It was always unbelievably unbalanced and unbelievably unfair.
And despite that, Yugi…Yugi takes care of us all.
She slowed her pacing.
No matter how many times she thought she resolved and accepted, every time she had to face this fact it always slapped her face: That she couldn't protect him, couldn't protect her Yugi the same way he so selflessly did for the world every day.
She sat on the couch's arm, eyes fixed on the door while she tapped her foot. She kept crossing and uncrossing her arms, reaching over to the phone set she'd set next to her on the couch and checking the dial tone was still working just to keep herself from screaming in the silent house.
There was nothing wrong with the phone. They would have called if they needed her. She had to believe that.
All preparations aside, she still jumped out of her skin when the boys burst through the door, Joey with Yugi clamped over his shoulder in a fire-man's carry.
At the sight of him (and oh gods, even more when she saw his face), Téa yelped, leapt to her feet, and moved so fast she almost smacked into Bakura trying to see the ugly dirt, bruises and gashing cut--"Oh Yugi…" She moaned, her heart breaking.
"What happened?" She demanded, reaching for him, but Joey steamrolled right past her up the stairs. "What happened!" She grabbed Tristan's arm.
He started to speak but then changed his mind, dragging her up the stairs. Bakura disappeared into the kitchen.
They were in his bedroom, which was silent because Téa had snapped ten minutes after being alone in the house with the clipping and hearing the ghost flutters, and ended up just taping them all down (she didn't want Yugi to be mad at her if she took them down). Yugi was arranged safely, softly in his bed without a sound.
If he had a concussion she would personally beat the shit out the thing that did this. And then she would cry…shouldn't they take him to the hospital?
"Wait, wait," Tristan interrupted as Joey moved to inspect his chest, dazed because he had to do this with more than one gang buddy once upon a really crappy night. "Get his shoes off, first." The two worked together, until Yuugi's Brazilian sneakers were dropped off to the side before managing to get the unconscious boy comfortably under his sheets and blankets.
"I found a kit." Bakura said, holding up a little white box with red hiragana. Téa took it from him and searched around the alcohol swabs for something mellower so Yugi wouldn't wake up being attacked with stings, even if it would clean it better. Neosporin. She untwisted the cap and slowly, gingerly went to her Yugi's side and butterfly soft applied it under his eye after cleaning it gently with a damp cloth.
Bakura stood back and turned so out of the corner of his eyes he could see Yami.
/"It takes great energy…I thought you were…"/
It was an odd new talent to pick up in the space of so few hours. Convenient, considering his somewhat ominous track record. A little too convenient perhaps, but Ryou was a little too tired to question it. He felt, perhaps, once your soul was touched by another it could recognize that other's presence when you focused enough. Like with the voice in his head that had been too quiet lately, and yet he could always sense him there…think about that later. Now that he knew what the Pharaoh's presence looked like, if Bakura used his occultist meditations he could pick up the Puzzle inhabitant's 'vibe.'
And he found that said spirit was as far pressed into the wall away from them as he could manage (even though he couldn't even be seen), arms crossed, studying his…Yugi, with a single-minded intensity that seemed to be normal for him. Even when Téa gently wiped his face clean with a cool cloth, Bakura noticed the Pharaoh's fingers at his arms twitch spastically and his eyes narrow.
Yugi looked terrible. His face was too white — it made the circles under his large eyes and his shiny bruises stand out in ghoulish contrast, like a rag doll run over by a car in the rain. Bakura silently watched Yami shift, like an antenna up, as Yugi murmured something, too soft to be heard or matter as Téa finished and eased backwards off the bed. Yugi twitched his head a little, eyes tightening and closing like he was trying to dodge whatever was bothering him, briefly gaining consciousness, then falling into deeper sleep again.
Again, Bakura contemplated who was the lucky one here. The happy-go-lucky kid in a slump with a king in his head he was doom-ingly attached to…who would leave him. Or the solemn foreign kid with a killer in his head who never spoke to him and might be dead anyway. It was a rather difficult call, to say the least.
And there they all were, in that small room with younger toys that never struck them as nothing more than what Yugi was to them, and what they wanted so badly. They all…existed there, when Téa stood up. They watched him, so close and far away and hating it for an excruciating amount of minutes until Bakura said, "Let's go downstairs."
"I gotta watch him." Joey argued hotly.
For someone wrestling with self-loathing, now that he was here Joey was acting like the only way he could be unglued from Yugi was with jaws of death pliers.
Bakura smiled in an attempt to communicate that he might not understand, but he did see and accept Joey's point of view. "Someone else already is," He said with confidence, and the Pharaoh started in his position and looked at Ryou like he'd never seen anything like him. Bakura met his eyes briefly with a subtler smile before gesturing assuringly to the rest of the Scoobies. "Yugi will be fine, I think. Let's just…wait."
There was a stubborn pause.
Then, Téa stood up, walked over to Joey, and pulled his hand into hers. She wiped off dirt still clinging to his shirt absently, then pushed a lock of hair behind her ear.
"Come on Joey. He's not going to understand how to react to all of us. We don't want to embarrass him, right?"
Joey's movements, though sluggish, were caving to exhaustion of his previous worry and anger, and the soothing logic of his friend's simple words. "I found 'im at the…the corner at Milo's or Mad Mex. Some loser, probably. Yuge probably never saw it coming."
"We can sleep in the den," Téa agreed, "Tristan can call the school and forge excuses for us using the fax machine."
Just like old times, the sentence hung in amused bitterness.
Some started on the couch, or on the recliner. Eventually they sprawled all together on the floor by five in the morning. And here's the thing; they didn't look at each other much past gestures of 'yo dude, Oreo in your teeth', of 'lay off the texting with Duke, Téa, and get to bed.' They didn't speak much about anything life altering. They didn't beg each other for anything life altering.
It's this, these small hours when anyone else would be watching info-mercials, that Yugi's enemies never understood, that Bakura's malicious ghost always underestimated: Joey snoring but Tristan just letting it go. Téa getting handed the softer pillow. Solomon grinning at them from several silver frames around the room. A small light on in another room for Bakura's peace of mind without even a teasing shot from Joey. No one really a respectable distance away from another on the carpet had a prim adult walked in.
Only someone who knew it already would understand: they already gave each other all they had, every day.
Outside it was so hot that the roses in the courtyard already smelled as sweet as if it were afternoon. The Beatles were playing on his father's boom box as Yugi stood under the tree growing in the front garden by the driveway; his father washing the Jeep.
"I'm a Yugi." Yugi said. He didn't know how old he was, though he tried to show with his fingers until Momma smiled sometimes.
"You are!" said his father. He wiped his hands on a towel and kissed the top of his head.
"Spray me with the hose!" squealed Yugi, and he did.
Yugi giggled and wriggled in the rainbow water. Then he sat in a bucket and his father wrapped a Spiderman towel around him. He liked the way it felt to fit his whole self into the bucket, safe, and no one else his age could still do it, not even Téa. He watched his father washing his car. Daddy wore baggy plaid shorts and sunglasses that looked like the tiny Beatles records he played.
"Time for breakfast," his mother called.
Yugi didn't want to get out of the bucket where he fit so perfectly. His father had to pick him up, kicking and wiggling, and deliver him into a chair that was too big. He missed his bucket. He might not fit into it so well in a few days. His mother brought bowls of oatmeal with bananas and honey.
Yuck, thought Yugi. Too hot for oats. If he had been able to stay in the bucket he might have eaten them. He slid out through the back of the chair.
"Where are you going?" his father asked. "Come back down and eat your breakfast like a good boy."
He ran across the blue-and-white kitchen floor to the refrigerator with taped pictures of Grandpa's funny house he went to sometimes. He pulled on the door with both hands. He climbed inside, using the vegetables bins as stairs, and reached up. The bag of frozen peas hit him on the head as he feel backward onto the floor. It didn't hurt much but he cried anyway.
His mother ladled him up.
"Now why would you do that?" his mother asked, her voice growing fainter, his blurring…
And then Yugi realized just how much he hurt all over, and it wasn't from peas. Every muscle in his body ached: his head throbbed, his mouth was just plain horrible, his eyes felt sore. It was a struggle to open them — and his left was slightly swollen and not helping. He was having a hard time focusing — but Yugi could feel with his heart that intense, loud scarlet eyes that were locked on his own, too close and too far away.
He opened his eyes and found them where he knew they would be. There was the Pharaoh. Yami was silent, still; a stray fore lock swayed as he tilted his head to the side the only indication he wasn't a holographic statue leaning against the wall.
Rise and shine.
"You want to know what time it is?" Yami asked.
Yugi looked at him. The Spirit's arms were folded across his chest, his face that perpetual default of narrowed, blank eyes and poker lips.
"Okay," his voice croaked. He raised a hand to his throat.
"It's one o'clock in the afternoon." Yami didn't look like he was breathing, like he was even there at all. "Your history test ended a half an hour ago."
Yugi felt his forehead, the new band aids. He wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of Yami talking about tests and issues of non-world peril; his voice was always too dramatic for it. And a history test of all things for God's sake. Yes, the Pharaoh needed to say something about destiny. That would be more normal.
And he needed a tissue. His nose was full of dried blood and he needed to snort it all out. "Right," he rasped faintly. He probably had a cold now on top of it all. "I'll have to make it up when I go back after the lunch break."
"You're not going back."
Yugi looked somewhere unseeing. "Okay." He didn't feel like making decisions himself right now. It didn't matter. He hadn't seriously studied for anything for a year; he might as well have taken an Uzi at his GPA and ran it over with a freight train.
He had been told there were more important things. By Pegasus, by the Dark Bakura, by Malik, by Ishizu. By every possible extreme antithesis of the education system and standard life norms.
Even…by the Spirit himself.
Yugi knew his feelings weren't fair. Yami wanted to return to his afterlife where he had his own body, was rich, powerful, and had friends and family and memories around him. Here he was just a Spirit, inhabiting the vessel of a teenager, unseen and largely ignored when Yugi was in school or hanging out. So Yami had every right to go home, to have his own body and life back, even if that life was death. Yugi just couldn't cope with the fact the Spirit wanted to go.
He looked down at the Puzzle that was back around his neck. This whole mess wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been selfish for a mind of his own. He was so stupid. He looked at its surface, feeling the Pharaoh's eyes on his face. So ungrateful for everything Yami had done for him…abstractly Yugi wondered what would happen if he moved to take the chain off again. But that was as far as that thought went, because now that it was back where it had been for two years he couldn't imagine ever doing something like yesterday again. Even if it meant he was showing it off, a beacon to evil doers everywhere who wanted to kill him and his friends for it. He felt that large, powerful presence outside his closed Door and pretended it was his own strength rather than someone else he could never match or be.
He was addicted to it, and very much reluctant to let it go.
(Yugi was frightened to wonder if he was trying to replace his grandfather already.)
Yami mentally shifted. His mouth was twitching, he was twitching to do something other continue this standstill, when Yugi moved and curled up again underneath the covers. 'Don't talk to me,' Yugi's rising walls were saying. 'Don't talk to me don't talk to me, just go away…' and it felt…
"Your friends stayed all night," Yami said suddenly.
Yugi closed his eyes before he could see the magnitude of the guilt. "Okay."
The reply was agreeable, patient. Yami thought for a few moments.
Yugi would never have gone deliberately looking for trouble, he didn't have to; it was simply magnetically attracted to him. Being angry at Yugi didn't even cross his mind, and Yami gave an inward, slow, shallow exhale because he was starting to piece things together between coincidence and downward spiral.
Yugi wasn't crying all night, he was eating like he usually did; he wasn't cutting himself and he wasn't keeping a diary of how he would end his life (or, by default, Yami's), he was eighteen for gods' sake. He didn't initiate contact to his parents but that was nothing new; to all appearances he was acting like his normally, completely and abnormally well-adjusted self.
But that was the thing about true depressives and what kept the cogs in Yami's mind turning. They never acted the way you wanted them to, the way they were supposed to in the movies. Though Yugi's face was blank and calm, underneath it all…
Yami was a solitary person. No matter how many friends Yugi gained, or how much Yugi said those friends wished to see Yami more, the pharaoh usually preferred to remain hidden in Yugi's heart. Perhaps it was jealousy, bitterness; Yami was never so more aware that he could not physically express his fondness for Yugi, having no body for it to be otherwise, than when he was in their presence or on a dueling field before those who wished to hurt him in ways he couldn't diffuse with Shadow games.
It was rather pointless the true reason anyway: he only wanted to remain with Yugi, to care for him, in the fullest extent he was able. He would rather face Malik's sin, Anubis, Dartz, and the three gods all at once and alone, rather than use Yugi for his own devices without the boy's consent. He would do anything to change what he was doing to Yugi's life. Anything to change this moment he couldn't protect him from: life itself.
Don't hide from me Yugi. I don't give a damn if you hide from Joey or Téa to save face, but not me…
He readied himself. "You got into a fight—"
Yami jolted, pulling back so if he had been real his back would have hit the wall. Yugi had sat up, not looking at him. His eyes were clenched tight, his face tense, his hoarse voice ragged as his breathing, and yet he looked shockingly fragile — he didn't even seem sure of what to do with his hands. He looked as if one final tap would change him into a million unmatching pieces of glass; a glass puzzle that didn't match shattering on the floor.
Yami stilled his legs and shut his mouth, and Yugi returned to his pillow.
"You're going to anyway, aren't you?" his young, hurt voice said tonelessly.
It was quiet and still, and when Yugi turned around to check on his environment he jumped, because Yami was away from the wall and very, very close by his head.
Yami was very aware he was invading Yugi's personal space, and his gave a sharp mental message to Yugi that he was doing it deliberately when the smaller body tried to inch away into the covers. He leaned closer in challenge, not revealing anything. He studied Yugi's eyes like he was reading the secrets off Malik's back. Yugi met them, not blinking much, eyes surprisingly open normally and steady despite the swelling. He was stubborn like that.
Yugi didn't know what to do when he noticed (still not looking away) that Yami's hands were raising, deciding with gentleness and intensity to…
Yugi panicked. He had to stop this. This wasn't… and god it was all his fault, because he was selfish and stupid and making it more complicated than it should by being weak. "Don't you dare try and lecture me," Yugi rasped, quietly, a part of him afraid. "You, of all people…"
Yami froze. They stared at each other.
Then the Spirit pushed off swiftly, away, and when the Puzzle's glow around Yugi's neck dulled he was gone.
Yugi sat down to an American movie once, and Yami remembered one line from the confusing subtitles that had stuck with him ever since. According to the narrator, there came a time when a man needed to fight, and a time when he needed to accept that his destiny was lost; that the ship had sailed, and only a fool would continue. 'Truth is…' the subtitles read, almost happily in yellow Roman, 'I've always been a fool.'
It described his current situation to a 'T' of perfection it could have been ordered out by the gods, or that maybe Yugi was right when he joked that their lives were a horribly scripted B movie.
Regardless, the current situation…
/This isn't right!/
Yami was going to keep forcing this even if Yugi finally broke him into a million itty bitty pieces.
He rolled his eyes to the ceiling of the Turtle Game Shop. Hm, it was a little dirty; he'd have to fix that or risk frightening future customers with the reproduction of The Grudge leering at them from the corner.
/That's my body and you don't get to be in control of it when I say no!/
"Oh, and is this because you take such good care of it, right?" He muttered aloud calmly. Yugi's voice had cleared quickly, but there were lingering effects of the cold he'd caught laying in the damp alley of a bar all night.
/LET ME OUT!/ Yami turned over another card with Yugi's bandaged hand from the draw pile at the store front counter. But no, there was no place for an eight of spades. His eyes darted towards the door, but this was only one o'clock; it wouldn't even get modestly busy until two-thirty.
/LET ME OUT!/
"Let me think." It was amusing to feel Yugi seethe when he sent the Jeopardy song through the link and then flatly: "No."
/I'LL SMASH THE PUZZLE! I'LL GIVE IT TO VIVIAN WONG! YAMI IF YOU DON'T LET ME OUT NOW I'M DONATING ALL YOUR LEATHER TO THE GOOD WILL AND WEARING JEANS AND WHITE WIFE-BEATER SHIRTS UNTIL I'M ARRESTD BY THE FASHION POLICE, YOUR HIGHNESS!/
It was reflected how very much a good thing it was he hadn't physically locked Yugi in his real room by magic and smirked from a corporeal distance; he put the three of hearts with the two at the top. If he had, Yugi would have strained his voice by now and Yami didn't want that. Time was needed to heal Yugi's body and it was best when the one in control was stable enough not to break the incisions and bruises. /And this is supposed to convince me to let you out? If anything its making me frightened should I do so. You know how much I like my leather. Appearance is very important to me… hm, maybe it's best if I don't…/
Ouch. Yugi sent a lightning bolt of anger from his growling heart.
Yami rubbed his — Yugi's — temples, wincing. /Don't make me block you, Yugi./
/How long are you going to keep me in here?/
Flip. Draw. Move. Hmm… Yami considered his cards. /As long as it takes./
/And what is this 'it' specifically that you are waiting out?/
/Well it changes every few moments, you see, what with you constantly to irritating me while I play solitaire. Those things add to your jail time, if you will./
/You're the one who was carried home half-dead from a bar fight. You're emotionally unstable./
/Un — un—! I am not the one obsessed with fire. And chloroform, and death in general…/
Yami frowned, but it was because he reached the end and had to start over, not because he decided to let it slide or even processed the comment. Drat, he lost twenty points. He scanned again to make sure he didn't need a queen.
/Fine./ Yugi huffed. /See if I care!/ Then, less controlled, /I refuse to speak to you! I'm never speaking to you! I won't until you let me out!/
However, the furious tempest of Yugi's tantrum wavered nervously when Yami's full out laugh filled physical and spiritual planes. Really, Yami even dropped the card he picked up, grinning. And…it wasn't natural for socially-retarded people like the Pharaoh to laugh. It upset the natural order for arrogant anal Type A, stoic ex-pharaohs with enough Shadows to equate three tons of radon to take out the world…bad things. Even after he composed himself, Yami chuckled again darkly, smirking as he tapped a card against the counter, looking down at the healing cuts with resolve. /If you will remember, I was trapped in mind-numbing isolation with Shadows ripping at the very essence of my soul, pulling my memories apart, for three thousand years, dear Yugi. In absolute silence. Bring it on./
"Yugi's going to have to ask Téa for Government notes and stuff," Joey was saying. "But dat Hanasaki kid offered the AP Calculus ones since he and Yuugi are like, the only ones in it or whatever." Well, not the only ones. But he'd rather chug rat poison than enter Kaiba's breathing space, even for his best friend's GPA. Slung over his shoulder rest Yugi's backpack, taken from the locker during sixth period after he'd hacked the combination. He shifted the heavy load with ease and dropped it on the table. "So, where is the other Yugi?" Joey asked, nearly sounding casual. "I mean, Real Yugi. I mean…oh forget it."
The Pharaoh pointed to his head.
"I don't — oooohh." Joey grinned, a little nervously. He wasn't used to talking to the dead guy that lived in his friend's head that much; if anything, his heart was beating quickly solely out of habit that talking to Yami equated to someone dying. Poor guy.
"Dude, never on your bad side."
A pain struck inside no matter how many times he joked about it…
How could the Spirit even let him near Yugi? If he hadn't... if he'd just trusted Yugi's decision, if he'd just have calmed down...
Not that Yami was exactly innocent of crimes himself, despite his rallying speeches; Joey eyed him.
"It's nice to know I'm respected," the Pharaoh was saying, giving a small, uncertain smile as he looked down at the table. "Having Yugi's voice constantly asserting the monstrosities of my existence wears down on my ego after a while."
"He was actually yelling?" He took off the backpack and let it fall in one of the remaining kitchen chairs. He was actually speaking?
"He has an excellent set of lungs, or heart, if you will, since the yelling is all," he gestured to his head again, "mental." Joey decided to pretend he understood that and nodded. "This is all my fault."
Joey looked away. "Don't," he said. "It's…it's both of ours."
The Pharaoh moved to sink his head into his hands. "If I hadn't lost…"
"If I hadn't called!" Joey exploded, slamming his fist on the table. The Pharaoh's head shot up and stared at him, arms still raised to hold his head. "If I hadn't…" Joey's eyes squeezed shut. "I mean…shit..." He ran a hand through his hair and glared at the fridge. It was all coming out now. All that he'd held caged inside of him since that 'save the world part two' BS in America, all that anger, all that guilt that ate at his insides more than thinking back of hurting Yugi ever did…
"Solomon would have wanted to know," Yami said softly. "You don't…if I hadn't played that card…"
"You got him back," Joey snapped. "And then all of us. You won. You always do; I knew you'd get him back, so did Yugi. But what I did, Yami, that…that wasn't my call. He wasn't my gramps. That was stupid, that was so, so stupid and I can't believe…"
"His friend knew, Arthur Hawkins; he would have called here and said the same thing later."
"But would he have keeled over and had a God forsaken heart attack?!" Joey shoved off from the table. "Christ," he said. "Just--! Damn it." He told himself he wouldn't cry. Not in front of Téa, never Tristan, or let alone Serenity. He'd avoid Yugi and…and… "What was I thinking?" He muttered under the hand pulling down at his mouth. His eyes were hard at the wall. "What was I…shit."
"Joey," he heard the Pharaoh stand.
It was Yugi's body, but not, and that was so comforting to him because that meant it was Yugi but wasn't, so he could look at him and not completely fall to pieces in guilt and shame. When Yugi but not Yugi put his hand on his shoulder Joey didn't die like in his nightmares of late. This was like a preparation for the real Yugi when he came back. Baby steps. One card at a time.
"I fucked up." He mumbled out, "This is so much worse than the harbor."
A short, humorless laugh escaped Yugi-not-Yugi's lips. "This is so much worse than the match against Kaiba at the castle, the duel against Pegasus, the harbor, the air ship, the fire," He pulled his hand back and stared at the scars that didn't exist when he was in control, "and…Doma. Because there's nothing we can do. Joey, please believe me when I say you have nothing to be sorry about."
"I was angry," he said, staring at the fridge. "I was angry and I wasn't thinking." At you for not trying. At Kaiba for not caring. At… Oh gods, he just had to let it all out and not give an old man some time to process didn't he?! He'd just exploded on the phone that 'you're grandson is…'
Oh gods…oh gods he was so sorry…
"I did this, not you," Joey heard distantly; that rumble he so rarely picked up because the Puzzle prevented him from distinguishing differences unless the Pharaoh lowered them, "I…make it worse for him, every day I'm with him." Joey looked at him curiously. "He used to say I fixed him. But it's a lie; it's you and the others. His friends that stop everything from completely spinning out of control and support us. Without you he couldn't go on. And as a consequence, neither could I."
Joey nodded his head robotically. "Yeah," he said, "Yeah." He was done with this. He couldn't do this. He wasn't an emotion-dealing person, he was a hitting person. And he couldn't hit Yugi, he couldn't hit the Pharaoh, and no one could hit Solomon now, and those newspapers, the hurt, the guilt… He pulled back and Yugi's — but not Yugi's — hand fell.
And it was too much. He couldn't do stuff like this when the Pharaoh was talking to him with a tone and demeanor that was all-forgiving. It hurt, because it was an attribute he associated with… He exhaled out shakily. "Anything I can do to help you?" He asked. "He can be an angry little guy." And it should be him the anger was directed at, after all, Joey thought.
Yami tilted his head, eyes drifting off for a couple seconds before coming back. "I think he's sleeping now." His lips twitched. "Wore himself out when I put him in a maze."
A maze? Joey looked around quickly before locking on the Puzzle at Yami's lower chest. He gaped. "You what?"
The Pharaoh shrugged. "I said that if he could find the end he could get out."
"What wore him out?"
"It was a rotating maze."
Joey decided to leave, that Yami had more issues than the Rolling Stones, and this 'conversation' aside, it still didn't compare with everything else he'd seen these past two years.
…And was it so totally wrong that that last part didn't freak him out or decide that it wasn't just what Yugi needed? It sounded so stupid, but as he aimlessly wandered to Tristan's (his dad got fired again and he was not going back there) Joey thought about how he was sort of stuck in a maze himself, but it wasn't one he could see. He wished (and it was sick and it wasn't fair) that he had one to run down too, a physical something so that he could scream and pound at something tangible until he couldn't breathe anymore and passed out on a surface of his own making.
He grit his teeth, thinking of Solomon.
I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm...
I'm so sorry.
Yugi had been Chosen three thousand years ago. Fact, because Ishizu said he, the Pharaoh, had already planned who would solve the Puzzle.
Logically a part of him, then, must have already known everything about Yugi.
Before Yugi had been aware of him Yami had lived—did still live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound Yugi made the Spirit heard, and every movement Yugi made, scrutinized. Yami had known no other way of life since he'd woken up, and he hadn't really bothered to try anything else.
/Whoever you are little Yugi might have been better off without your interference, hmm?/
Yami clutched his fists. Shut up, he demanded, though Pegasus was gone and harmless for good…
The feeling of jealousy towards the memory of himself wasn't helping matters either. He highly doubted his heart tomb was inscribed with hieroglyphics of anything useful, like other than how Yugi was supposed to help him save the world…and instead like how to approach him without getting yelled at or needing to physically and mentally wear Yugi out before getting yelled at, for instance. That he could really use right about now.
He knew Yugi's favorite color was green, his favorite show on Saturdays after P.E. (Hikaru no Go, for humorous, disturbing coincidences when they watched it together), how Yugi would make and eat banana pancakes for all three meals if no one watched him otherwise. He knew how Yugi would sleep that night depending on how he felt, what certain smiles meant by the curve and the scrunch of his nose and his head tilt (but like everyone else, actually the Spirit was just as lost as anyone else figuring out Yugi's eyes), and his weakness during his rare funks was watching a set of old puzzle videos his father bought him for a forgotten birthday…those things…
Some people claimed that they knew someone by heart, and by that they meant they knew every line and crevice on another's body. And it was always said with starry eyes and flowers. Yami couldn't help but feel superior in the sense he was the only one who literally knew Yugi's hearts and lines.
Yes, fortunately Yami already knew Yugi by heart, and everything before and after that. Unfortunately, it was figuring out how to actuallyuse all that knowledge that was proving a pain in the ass. As was gathering up the courage to be within five feet of him, which didn't make sense considering they shared the same body.
The Spirit realized he was stalling when he was in the corridor contemplating the relevance between being twenty feet away from Yugi in his head and paralleling it to the distance in their relationship in general. Sucking in a determined (nervous, undignified) breath, Yami pushed open the thankfully slightly open Door. As he stood in the room, a nameless soul merely existing amongst a heart's attachments to the living world, he gazed on Yugi as he thought long and hard, about what was right and what was just foolish. Yami's sensibility was all that had kept him alive in centuries of darkness. If he had allowed his heart and emotions to rule himself he would have never made it out, he'd have been destroyed by the greedy Shadows instantly. Only a deep stubbornness allowed him to keep the most basic fragments of his sanity and regain it when he reached the real world. That, and the fact that Yugi had solved the Puzzle.
Solved the Puzzle. A human boy with a very naïve heart and loyal mind. A feat he'd always perceived as impossible…and a feat that almost made him rethink his lessons he'd spent three thousand years learning. So, who was the teacher at all?
And when your 'student' is learning too much too fast and you're running out of excuses, what then?
He walked through the room. It was an obstacle course of funny props and metaphors—models of cities, a robot, a suit of armor, masks, marionettes, a giant-stuffed spider in a web, a pair of angel wings.
Bundled up in a blanket was Yugi, breathing silently and deeply without a care in the world, near an empty patch of floor. He knew from previous experience a million Battle Ox could stampede through the room and Yugi could sleep right through it without a grunt. Yami allowed an indulgent smile no one else would ever see as he knelt beside him closer than he would if Yugi were awake. He couldn't help himself from brushing the stubborn bang from Yugi's forehead. Lowered eyes shifted to the Puzzle around his neck. A puzzle for Yugi and Yugi alone.
/Bakura sneered at Otogi. "A spirit like yours will be burnt and gone once you held it./
"Spirit," Yugi murmured. Then he frowned and turned into the carpet, "Jerk."
He sighed heavily, figurative storm cloud of resignation forming over his head.
Yami knew he had it lucky with his host; countless other minds would have caved to the darkness or the other promises their enemies connived. But on top of the fact that if Yami personally would have sunk it without a second thought if he started blacking out on the inheritance of ancient object, there was a whole bunch of nasty other things Yugi let him get away with, if for no other reason than that Yugi was not forgiving or patient, but 'odd' in a way that had Yami thanking the gods on a regular basis of relief.
And he just lost his grandfather, the man who raised him (wonderfully) and was the only normal, grounding element no matter how unstable everything else became. He was always there, sweeping the floor, hitting his head to do his homework, and grinning and letting him go out and get six flavors of ice cream at midnight because 'the Spirit' never had it before…
His smile froze on his face as Yugi swallowed, breathed heavily, and then sat up. He glared, and Yami spinelessly, immediately, felt wary and guilty.
"Oh," Yugi said tiredly. "You're here."
He inclined his head. "Yes."
Yugi hunched over, elbows resting on his lap as he buried his face in his hands, pulling his fingers through his dark hair. "I'm fine."
"I don't like liars."
"Well I don't like your tendency to kill people, so there."
He honestly didn't know why Téa thought Yugi was an angel. Yami tried a different, authoritative approach. "I order you to be civil."
Yugi brought up his hands, "Oooh, look Pharaoh, I'm shaking!"
Yami grabbed below them tightly. "Stop it, please."
Yugi looked away but didn't fight his grip.
Yami didn't breathe at the realization or exaggeration of his realization, in more ways than one. He just stared at Yuugi's small, slim wrists caught in his hands. The hands that waved Shadows and trapped psychics in jars and split minds apart and played evil cards. Yugi's tense but comically ineffectual fists… They had never attempted contact in their minds but now it was… He dropped them promptly and swallowed. "Don't block me out anymore," Yami whispered. "Yugi."
I don't care what you do, I honestly don't; go take over the world, or whatever normal teenagers do now when they're angry, I don't care what you do to get this out just let me sense your heart still beating close to mine…
That idiot Kaiba once stood on the edge of a castle wall, but even the length of that colossal height could not outsize the dangerous gap that was currently between him and Yugi. This was built not of man-made stone and dusting rock, but mistrust and bitterness and something Yami couldn't bear to think because if he did he'd go insane again and lose everything, like before.
Doma was like that, and before then like against Pegasus on an extended level, but Doma.And this, he couldn't stare Death at anyone on the opposite side of a field; there was only himself. Or even worse, admit Yugi was his opponent, and that was —! He swallowed. "Who hit you?"
"Why don't you just look inside my mind?" Yugi snapped defensively. "You're good at that."
Why couldn't he get a break? He was certain there was something about guardian angels getting a break. The way this conversation was going, he'd rather have a go alone against Ra's Instant Death Attack.
"I don't want to talk anymore." Yugi was saying. "I'm leaving."
Yugi realized whether it was speaking to the Pharaoh, or they were back to back deciding their next move; Yugi was always sat one-and-a-half feet away. Close, closer than the Spirit would let anyone else get, but one-and-half-a-feetaway. Subtle, yet daring, yet also distance all the same made even more pathetic because one of them was dead and that was another distance all together. He was constantly aware of this; it was how it always was.
Pattern. This was a pattern. Yugi was trapped in a hopeless, addictive pattern with the Pharaoh.
His delusion that he could break away at anytime, pattern number one.
He wasn't addicted, number two.
That Yugi was aware it would end and Yugi was fine with that: a rather disastrous, rotating variable sliding up and down and around his psyche and circular reasoning.
In their pattern, like clockwork, one of them would always end the conversation and the other would respect it. So like clockwork after saying this was over Yugi's hands and feet found themselves climbing up so he could stand, each foot having its own spot.
But Yami somehow got in front of him, barricaded the doorway to the real world with his body and using his outstretched arms on the frames as additional blocks so even Yugi's smaller, darting size wasn't an advantage.
He was breaking pattern, but Yugi should have known better anyway to be so hopeful. Much of his pattern was the unpredictability and ambiguity of the Game King when he was with others outside of Yugi: if someone moved forward, the Pharaoh wasn't the type to step back. He'd step forward just because you challenged him. And if they didn't move he'd flatten them and that's what you got for being stupid. And for the first time Yugi was no different: he'd challenged Yami, however subtle it was, and Yami was threatening back. A perfect electrical circuit. Sweetly, freshly painful in ways it should be, comforting in ways it shouldn't considering Yugi's obsession with being like him.
Téa had admitted that she had been the first to notice the differences between himself and the Spirit when one was in control. They looked so much alike, she'd explained, there were only subtle differences to the body, and the Puzzle's magic probably did something to the observer's mind to desensitize the other differences. She said the only difference that made it possible for her to see, was the shape of the eyes.
But there was nothing physically similar between them now. Yugi didn't see how the Spirit could ever have been mistaken for him, especially with those eyes, and it wasn't shape, it was color. Yami's eyes changed with his mood and right then they were nothing like the nothing-special weirdness of Yugi's; they were crackling, dangerous eyes of Mars, molten Shadows and cackling fire that made the rest of his face…
It was the face that had come out after he shoved Yugi away and played Oreikalkos.
Yugi sucked in a breath.
The thing is, the Spirit always asked for him to trust him, and even though Yugi always did, that didn't stop a little voice from telling him there might be a point zero zero zero zero one possibility that it was a Bad Idea. Yugi never listened to that voice, because it was easier to trust Yami, and he was terrified to imagine a world where he didn't.
Yami, always seeming so perfect without even trying. Yugi was so, so unspeakably terrified of a world where that wasn't true, for all his faults.
/Yugi…Stop caring…Stop… affect you—/
Who said that? Yugi could have sworn it was the Spirit, but he was losing himself lately, and becoming more like the pharaoh than he had anticipated. Time had worn him down, made him wise and tired. His eyes no longer were wide and bright, but jaded and silently warm, that you had to look deep inside of them to see happy. Yugi had seen enough of these battles, these tragic romances and anguish lifestyles. The Pharaoh would leave one day to gain his memories, but Yugi would never ever go back to being a normal school boy.
Oh well. Ironically, normal life was proving to have way more drama than his currently mystical archeology-infused one.
/Stop Yugi! Stop letting him…/
And then Yugi remembered. He tensed and his right hand covered the Puzzle, staring at Yami with a glare but inside he was about to go under in the hopelessness of his situation.
/Stop caring about the other Yugi! Stop letting him affect you!/
It was ironic, pathetic, and so many other levels of things that should never be because one day it would end. But…
I can't stop, Joey.
And the scariest part is I don't want to, either.
He noticed Yami's eyes fixed on him, and he felt, as always, as if all his weaknesses were written on his face. The Pharaoh was rarely tender and loving and soft towards anything like he was…with him, and suddenly Yugi felt it so hot in his gut: guilt. Yugioh used to be prideful and independent and now he loses his mind ten minutes after Yugi's soul was gone.
Yugi didn't mean to do it; he honestly didn't believe anyone could like him the way he was. As he was. He wasn't really trying to push him away, even though the look in Yami's eyes was partly frightening him.
Yugi forced himself to not look away. "Why do you do it?" Yugi yelled instead, stepping backwards and narrowing his eyes. "Why did you fight then for anything in this if it's so absolutely horrible that you're there with me —"
"Because I have to be with you." They were glaring, each bristling with their own anger and frustration and helplessness. He half expected Yugi to hit him, or run away wide-eyed.
But he only glared at him, challenging him and pushing him. "Sure. Right. That's normal. Go date Téa or something!"
And he decided to push back again. "When you were gone it was all wrong, I was on a train that led nowhere and going too fast because I wasn't even sure if you were that way at all. I'd have given up everything, even your own goddamned body if it meant I could see you again."
For a while it had worried him, what this strange interest in Yugi was becoming the longer he was in the boy's presence. The Spirit knew he was starting to cross that line; that he could never claim Yugi as a momentary acquaintance again, because what he wanted from Yugi was not something normal—because Yugi wasn't an angel and Yami hadn't been alone in hell. It was a process, a state of horrific mind they both had to climb out from out on their own, and just happened to brush hands past each other on the way in their weakest moments. And right now he could sense Yugi's thoughts like high definition radio waves and just who was possessing who anyway? Technically he stole Yugi's body to live but Ra damn it all —"You are my most important thing. "
"Why me! Why can't you just —"
"Because! Just accept the facts and let them be that — why is that so God damned hard for you to understand, Yugi?"
"Because you don't have to be with me, I am not your 'most important thing!'" Yugi started to laugh, "Gods, but you're such a hypocrite I—! Open your eyes: Spirit, you're leaving! You don't need me or care as much as you say because when it's all said and done you will have to go!" At some point one of them had literally shoved; it didn't matter now because they were physically struggling against each other furiously like two lost children over a toy, trying to hurt the other as much as possible when someone fell onto the cluttered floor. "You're going to leave, you're going to die and join that WONDERFUL afterlife because that's my job isn't it? That's what the main character of this stupid destiny thing does no matter how it affects…after — why are you making it so hard?"
The Spirit gained an advantage and flipped on top, hovered over him, voice angrily beginning to snarl: "Because you make it too easy! Damn it Yugi adopt a flaw, just ONE that could drive me away and it would be all I need to keep this stupid 'destiny thing' up! But it's impossible, because you are stubborn, thick-headed, and nauseatingly…just… things! And if they were in other people they would drive me insane but for some unspeakable reason it makes me have to be with you more. Not to make them go away — I never want them go away, I don't want to go away—"
"It'll be over soon so we should just give up, stop fooling oursel--"
Yami pinned his wrists and was so mad he couldn't speak and--
/UNTIL MY HEART BREAKS THIS GAME IS NOT OVER./
Yugi clutched his hands over his ears at the mental whiplash, Yami's booming voice from a memory rattling around inside his head. "And I swore," he snarled back. "That one day I would be strong and not lose to you—"
"For you?" Yami laughed coldly. "Or for Téa?"
"— So when you leave," Yugi snarled, "I can stand on my ow—!"
"I DON'T WANT YOU TO STAND ON YOUR OWN!"
Yami fumed. He was quiet. Thank RA. "Yes," Yami panted. "I want to know who I am. Yes, the consequences of that will most likely result in my having to permanently be separated form you. But you are not an innocent party, Yugi, oh no. You push me away, you force me out farther and farther from your mind and I hate it.
"I want you to feel the same things I am. You kill me and push me away, fine. Then I'll skip straight into that afterlife just as fast and hope it hurts just as painfully."
"I hate you," Yuugi whispered, and then his voice shook, the heart in his eyes froze in horror. "I'm sorry, I didn't..." His voice was that fragile and sounded so much like a broken chord that Yami wanted nothing more than to turn around and punch the wall. He hated that sound; it didn't befit Yugi, not him who should be eternally optimistic and aggravatingly young and normal and odd.
And he realized Yugi was crying and he didn't know what to do. "Yugi…"
"It's just this isn't fair," Yugi sobbed. "This isn't fair and some of me left with him but I wouldn't dream of wishing it on anyone else because it's so horrible."
"I want him to come back! It isn—isn't fair! I fought for him so hard and he's gone now because of something so ordinary!" Yugi's voice cracked, and even if he wasn't really a child to Kaiba or Ishizu or anyone who usually depended upon him for the world or a game, Yami still…
Yugi was too close to being just a boy. It was just that last stage, where you know they're really young men, but in your mind you could still see them at thirteen or fourteen. A dangerous line — plenty like Ishizu or Shaadi would be less than understanding if they found out anything that was going on right now...
But Yami has never liked them or their treatment with Yugi's destiny. Yugi was just a boy, his friend and his, and he needed to be held very badly.
In a strange twist of natural chemistry, Yami took him in his arms in way he hadn't been able to when he thought Yugi died against Pegasus, and the two of them, lying still and exposed on the edge of a crumbling mentorship, remained tired, marveling numbly at the sensation. He could tell that it was despair because only a desperate young boy will wrap his arms with someone he was just arguing against with such haste, such unbidden and hungry vulnerability as if he has nothing else to look forward to. It's odd and unsettling because a normal teenager should have a lot to look forward to: a realm of possibilities awaits him. It should be only the Pharaoh's future that was thwarted; he's the only one who should be unable to do anything. It's what the Spirit deserved, what all dead deserved, and he should tell Yugi off for ruining his future by wasting it on him; that he should forget what Ishizu said and try to pass the Puzzle to someone else.
But neither of them said anything. There were no ramifications, and there were no regrets, but there weren't any promises or sentiments either, instead only a solemn acceptance and the alarming silence that can only exist in one's heart and mind. They lay there, quietly, as though the words would shatter their one and only moment of utter understanding in a while; run a crack down the crystal fault lines of their spider-thin, uncertain fraternity, and so, they stayed silent until Yugi shifted against his shoulder, his voice steady as if he were letting something known turning in his head for a while:
"I have a confession. I want to be stronger for me, yes. But it's also mostly," Yugi paused, and then he relaxed as he said, "for you. I want to be strong enough to fight by your side."
Yami smiled and tried to pretend he wasn't by gazing pointedly in another direction, his chin tucked over Yugi's head. Subtly, he closed the link as Yugi drifted off, oblivious, and even if this was just Yugi's soul in his arms and not his flesh, it was more than enough.
Jeez that rat had done a number on him.
Yuugi ran a hand over his lower chin, wincing as his faint nails apparently found a delicate cut and opened.
And in entertainment news, yes, still no stubble here, Domino! Smiling to himself, Yugi turned around and hopped back on the bathroom sink counter, twisting around to criticize the whole of his face. Yami had taken care of most of it the ungodly hour he'd been brought home, even did his Spirit…magic...thing…where his facial tissue was repaired so he didn't need plastic surgery (joke…Yami didn't find it funny either). It was girlish, but he figured with the light, gray tinges of fading bruises he could get away with applying some of his mother's left behind cover up if he wanted to present himself today. He was going to... Yugi frowned. 'Corner' Joey seemed too aggressive, but one way or another he was going to see him today. Yugi had to. He missed him, and he needed to set things out in the open once and for all.
Despite Téa's fretting about a concussion, Yugi rejected going to see a doctor. Getting treated for third degrees burns was probably bad enough, but going to the hospital twice would be too risky. For all Yugi knew about the medical profession, a simple blood test might be able to prove that otherworldly forces has left unseen marks on his skin. The nurse would tell his parents, his parents would absolutely freak out and accidentally tell the media and before you knew it Yugi would be naked on a cold metal table while government scientists with very sharp knives and no concept of personal space experimented on his helpless form. And then the Pharaoh would probably kill people.
This train of thought explains a lot about Yugi in general and his decision-making processes in particular.
It wasn't like he would be alone for much longer anyway. Yami had a habit of seeking him out if he shut the link with him for more than five minutes unmonitored. Like when he ran Yami's mazes. Alone time when he did that definitely didn't extend past five minutes, and was usually followed by a lecture. He used to think Yami was so obsessive was because he honestly didn't think Yugi's head would still be connected to his neck, the boy was so weak.
Now…thinking of their ranting and venting match the other day, their first--Yugi blinked--ever, ...he didn't know why.
A mental knock caused Yugi to flinch and fall off the sink counter.
"Yugi?" Yami appeared, fidgeting uncharacteristically and staring at his hands before looking up. "I just wanted to — Yugi!"
"Yesff," Yugi responded, wincing from the cold hard-floor. Collecting his breath, the smaller ego lay against the carpet and turned to let his mouth greet the air. "You scared the bejeezes out of me."
"Yugi," he breathed, and knelt next to him, taking him by the shoulders and Yugi leaned back against the sink's cabinets, blinking dazedly upwards as the tiny lights faded. "I did not mean to frighten you."
"Hm. I didn't mean to lose the Puzzle to Malik in the warehouse." Yugi confessed, closed his eyes. Oh cripes, he didn't mean to say that out loud. Great. How random could he get? "Er…that was the Benadryl."
"Yugi." He reached for him again.
"Just now you didn't ask if I was all right." Yami froze; Yugi waved at the turmoil that filled his eyes at the sentence. "No, no, not that way. I mean, that was a good thing. Like, you know when someone gets hit by a bus for some reason all witnesses can say is 'all you all right?' I mean, come on," Yugi babbled, "The person got hit by a bus," he stared at Yami, who stared at him like he was a bomb. Which was ironic because Yami liked bombs. Anyway. "Er, conclusion: 'are you all right' is the wrong thing to say someone who's hurt, if anything it's a little stupid and um, that's my philosophy anyway. So. Um. Thanks for not getting me annoyed."
Silence. Yugi was thinking he should definitely stick to the directions when measuring doses of Benadryl.
"…You honestly don't expect me to say 'you're welcome' to that do you?" Yami cocked an eyebrow, a small smile on his face while he sent the Puzzle's numbing magic while Yugi applied alcohol to the cuts.
Yugi sighed. "I don't know. I don't know." He looked at his reflection, frowning and running a finger over part of his bruise and deciding he would definitely need cover up if he didn't want some nosy person in public calling child's services. "I think I'm just nervous."
Yugi looked up and saw Yami next to him in the mirror, meeting his eyes.
"I'm going to talk to Joey today," he said simply, but his face tightened at the end, showing how desperate he really was.
Yami's jaw clicked shut, sensing Yugi struggling to say something.
"I...it's about the other day."
Yami's hand fluttered over the other's shoulder, about to offer support.
"I need you to know something," Yugi began. He fiddled with the cover up cap, his face meditative and hesitant. Then,
"I don't need a father. I don't need a friend, a brother, or a new grandfather." His eyes hardened. "And I don't want a guardian babysitter."
Yami tensed, eyes widening, an invisible monster called fear slithering up his cold body.
"But I do…need and want…you," his hand tentatively put the bottle away; Yami was uncharacteristically terrified to move. "Spirit…Yami."
"Then I will be here," he said. The memory of 'you're going to leave me!' rang inside his head, biting and painful, but he shoved it down. "I… I won't leave you because…I will be here as long as you want me, Aibou."
"Don't you think that after all our time together I've got you memorized? I know when you lie, Pharaoh." Yuugi paused. "Aibou?" He asked.
Yami blinked. He'd said…oh. Yuugi tried not to smile as Yami looked off, embarrassed and arrogantly trying not to show it. "It…that's a word I heard when we…when you were out…and…once…" He almost jumped when he felt a hand on his upper arm. He looked down, nervous.
"It's okay." Yuugi was smiling with an odd expression on his face that made Yami feel light. "I like it."
"Could…" he couldn't look away. "Yugi, if I were to call you that…then there would be no roles, no guardian or mentor. We'd just be equals, partners."
"And what about your memories, Yami?"
He dodged the question. "I keep dreaming that you'll always be with me…Yugi; that neither of us will ever go."
"It's a nice dream, but it's only that."
He tried to insist the conversation further, "I couldn't…Doma, I…"
"I'm okay with that." Yugi said steadily. He zipped up his jacket; he had to get going or he'd be late meeting Joey. Yami didn't push, and couldn't bring himself to, really; he was too terrified to ask and hope for what (Aibou? Together? Leaving?) Yugi was approving.
Joey was at Burger World, and it was lunchtime. The place was jammed with kids from school, plus a few businessmen swooping in for a dash. A few workman sauntering in from their roadwork break.
It was always loud in Burger World. People ordering and people taking orders, paper crumbling, ice sloshing, plastic trays clattering, laughter, groans, yells, shouts. And it was hot. It was a weird fact of life that the colder the weather was outside, the hotter Burger World would be inside. People felt the need to crank the thermostat despite the fact that when it's cold outside people are going to be wearing coats, so the last thing they need is for it to be ninety degrees inside.
And they are going to somehow say to their best friend that they are sorry for indirectly killing their best friend's practically last relative while he was in a piece of stone tablet so his other self could do the saving the world thing. And so they were sweating off pounds as it was while waiting for the best friend to show up.
Joey drummed his fingers on the table nervously, staring at the red play paint announcement on the window for half price burgers on Tuesdays, melting a little from the heat inside.
And then there's another thing that's been bothering for a while, and made clear by the events Yugi's been finding himself in since Solomon's death. The Pharaoh has been on the verge of jumping off a cliff to his natural end since Battle City, but that doesn't — shouldn't — mean that Yugi had to follow him, breaking, tearing himself apart with his odd sense of loyalty and love that might have suicidal consequences for him. Joey was first aware of it at the harbor, sensed it against Malik, and cemented with Doma: in the next few days or even weeks, Yugi might die for the man in his head, and he might do it without a backwards glance to them.
He would die for anyone; Joey would too, for the right person, he didn't understand his anxiety but then, he was already drowning in guilt…
If it weren't for the other (Real) Yugi's faith, he might have killed both parts of his best friend — all of his friends.
It's not something easy to say. You can't just spit out: 'Dude, I'm sorry I killed your gramps. Stay alive for me though, okay?' So Joey felt he had a good reason to be jumping all the wide smiles he got from the host and waitress ordering a drink. He wished he could have a beer, but this was a family restaurant, so instead of poisoning his kidneys he was going to have to settle with eroding his liver with soda.
He hadn't realized Yugi had walked in until he was crossing to the other side of the booth and sliding in, and his eyes widened and sat up straight immediately.
"Hey Joey," Yugi said slowly, complete with his patent socially awkward smile.
"Yo," Joey grinned fakely back. "What's up?" Oh God. "I mean--!"
Joey swallowed. "…Huh."
The perky waitress even Téa would have been annoyed at sweetly asked for Yugi's drink with her white teeth. Yugi, who was normally a wall flower anyway faded even more speaking to her, and then she was thankfully gone in a swirl of her short skirt and ugly uniform top.
Joey avoided Yugi's eyes for as long as he could. He shifted in the window seat again. He wanted to tell Yugi everything...from the beginning to end...let everything about Doma and Yugi and how scared he was of losing him out--
But Joey couldn't even gather his thoughts. He couldn't make sense of what happened to him, of why it happened... or just why. "I'm so stupid," he muttered randomly. Great. No wonder he couldn't get with Mai.
"Well I'm not much better off," Yugi said kindly.
"This is why you and Tristan are always fighting for the best friend slot," Joey said before he could stop himself. "He shoves my head in the toilet when I'm being an idiot but you, you just agree and say you're there with me." He couldn't believe he said that. "I mean--Yugi, that's completely pointless and what I really want to say is that—"
Joey wasn't an intimate person. Not that he wasn't emotional, as he realized with the Pharaoh; he really was passionate, and all that girly stuff he'd rather not let Téa or God forbid Tristan know about. The problem was dealing with all he felt; and in that he was always a failure. Hello, he beat up Yugi for years never wanting to admit he was jealous that Yugi just never cared or took it personally.
So when Yugi reached over and nudged his hand, on top of not speaking or connecting to Yugi for at least two weeks now, Joey nearly had a heart attack as his brain blanked out. He looked at him, Yugi, one of his best friends, and was absolutely terrified.
I shouldn't have called your grandfather and been so selfish with my hysteria that you were dead and just hung up I gave him a fucking heart attack and there was no one there to find him and no one knew until we got back. Yugi I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry. Just say it. "Please man, just give a minute to apol—"
"Joey it's okay."
Joey stared at him.
He hadn't been able to sleep since coming home and finding out about Solomon. He'd spent the time living in a nightmare of what ifs and truths that ate him up in the cyclonic wake that had been Doma and Battle City and Mai and so many other things anyway.
Yugi not angry at him. Yugi forgiving him. Yugi's eyes saying the forgiveness was only given because Joey wanted it, but Yugi never blamed him anyway, but Joey couldn't look at that yet. Just that Solomon was dead and it was his fault--
Yugi was forgiving him.
But what if…?
Yugi — Joey felt like he was waiting for another shoe to drop — Yugi who forgave Kaiba for trying to kill him multiple times.
It's the 'what if' that made him start wishing he could fucking jump out of the booth and go get drunk and pick on his father and get swung at instead of being forgiven. Instead of this sudden unexpected fact that Yugi was — somehow — touching him, and Joey hoped for any proof this wasn't a nightmarish trick.
It was too large a concept for his brain to handle. Just the 'what if' was giving him enough trouble, thank you, kindly. He had enough trouble dealing with his sister's acceptance; and he was still frightened for what Mai made him feel. Yugi was...he was something more than just a best friend, not that it was more than what he felt for Tristan or anything; but he knew he wasn't supposed to feel this vulnerable. Like in two seconds Yugi was going to be the one to take off running this time, and Joey would know without even trying he'd never catch up to him, if Yugi decided it was over.
But looking back, Joey realized it had always been this way. Running after others, running after life and always going the wrong way against the salmon, or whatever the fuck metaphor Téa used.
There's just... there's his father, his father looking ahead. Never looking behind, never looking at him.
Not now, brat…
His mother taking his sister away. Mai dropping off the planet, again and again. The Pharaoh being so patient but always ahead out of his reach, and Kaiba. Kaiba for the win. Kaiba always for the motherfucking win and it might have become too much after all.
But then there's Yugi.
In his mind, out of the thousands of faces moving for their own future, Yugi slows. Yugi smiles and waits and behind him Solomon is there too, eyes just as forgiving and smiling and everything Joey ever wanted in a parent, a family.
Joey looked across the table and found…
This time didn't have to be his race, anymore.
"Thanks," he said quietly.
And suddenly when his hand tightened around Yugi's everything just slid off, and Solomon's ghost was gone.
"Honestly Yug', you leave me no choice but to leer at her when she walks by us to leave."
Yugi sent him an amused look. "You'd do that anyway."
Joey rolled his eyes in a 'well, duh' sort of way before looking pointedly at the girl they've been dissecting as Yugi's next candidate to relief him of his virginity, "I can't deny that. I assume that if she's got your blinders off Téa she must be a significant distraction."
Yugi looked at him flatly, and handed the ketchup bottle to Joey; their fingers brushed, but neither acknowledged the slight, gratifying touch of friends who are comfortable with each other.
"She wants you…" Joey instead teasingly sang as he dipped fries in the red paste. He continued his teasing as he spoke around his food. "Yuug', you could cut the sexual tension in here wid a knife. One of 'ese limp little white plastic knives."
"Does Mai know you talk like this?" Yugi sighed pessimistically, taking another look at the pretty brunette with a wondering expression. "You know, you'd think that with all I have to deal with, I'd be braver about the little stuff."
It sounded so easy, right? 'Hi, Kairi, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the ice cream shop next door and talk.' One sentence. Not the hardest thing in the world. The hardest thing should be saving the world; mourning his grandfather; working things out with the three thousand year old Spirit in his head. It couldn't possibly be ten seconds of oral communication. With a girl.
In either Yugi's world or the world of males, those three words changed everything. And if he couldn't say it to Téa, who would stay on a blimp and risk getting possessed to cheer him (well, Yami) on, and had stuck by him since he was a four-foot-eight punching bag, how could he say it to a person who probably didn't even know what his name was?
"Ya just need to brush up on the openin' line," Joey broke in, knowing Yugi's thoughts easily. He thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers, grinning sly. "How about this: from my angle I can see her pack, and look, it has her name on it!" Yugi stared at him blankly and Joey cleared his throat and said as heroically as one could in a whisper across the table: "Now we've cleared you from looking like a stalker, we can move on. You take her hand, go down on one knee, and say: Lovely Kairi, Babe, your name means 'new land.' I, quite literally, am 'king of games.' My king-like authority can tend your land, no matter how new, if ya know what I mean." He wiggled his eyebrows.
They stared at each other for a full second and then it was too much: the mental image of Yugi (or, Yugi gasped, the Pharaoh) saying something like that was just too much—they exploded into laughter and and one one-sided blush at the table. And as fantastically unbelievable and Lifetime it could possibly be, it was back—that rhythm and bond Yugi was willing to die for at the dock and had Joey diving off a ship was back and it was easy and there and neither of them could stop laughing for how simple and stupid they were.
Simple and stupid, in a way only friendship between stupid, simple boys could be.
A/N: Yugi's so amazing and humble I think he would be completely oblivious that everyone in Domino DOES indeed know his name. And wants to jump him. He's so cute, in dub, sub, and manga.
"My king-like authority can tend your land, no matter how new, if ya know what I mean." He wiggled his eyebrows.
K.A. Applegate; Everworld.
He missed his bucket. He might not fit into it so well in a few days. His mother brought bowls of oatmeal with bananas and honey. Yuck, thought Yugi. Too hot for oats. If he had been able to stay in the bucket he might have eaten them. He slid out through the back of the chair
He ran across the blue-and-white kitchen floor to the refrigerator with taped pictures. He pulled on the door with both hands. He climbed inside, using the vegetables bins as stairs, and reached up. The bag of frozen peas hit him on the head as he feel backward onto the floor. It didn't hurt much but he cried anyway.
Francesca Lia Block; Witzibat