DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction produced for entertainment purposes only. Yu-Gi-Oh! and all related characters are the creations of Kazuki Takahashi.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A big thank you to Aesa Bast for reminding me of something I'd completely forgotten. I've changed the story so it's accurate now.
"Yugi Moto is here to see you, sir."
The briskly efficient voice of his briskly efficient secretary came from the intercom sitting on his desk and Seto Kaiba immediately turned from his position over by the window. Moments later, he emerged from his office.
His secretary, Miss Young, barely managed to hide her surprise behind her usual calm mask. Usually, her boss either replied for her to send the visitor in, or have them take a seat until he could see them. Up until now, the only one he had ever come out to greet personally was his little brother, Mokuba. Her estimation of the young boy standing quietly in front of her desk rose considerably. It rose even further when the boy turned and smiled, as though Seto Kaiba was simply another boy and not the billionaire corporate visionary that he was.
"Hi Seto, you wanted to speak to me about something?"
Kaiba nodded. "Yes. Thank you for coming, Yugi." He gestured for the boy to enter his office.
Yugi smiled as he passed Kaiba. His voice lowered so that only the two of them could hear what he said. "How could I not? The way you worded your call, there was no way he could resist."
Miss Young almost fell off her chair in shock as her usually serious boss chuckled softly at whatever the young boy had said to him. She jerked to attention when he turned his sapphire gaze onto her.
"Miss Young, please see that we are not disturbed."
"Of course, sir."
As Seto Kaiba closed the door, Miss Young wondered what it was about this boy that made Seto Kaiba's eyes gleam so brightly with anticipation.
Yugi sank down into one of the comfortable chairs in the informal discussion area and grinned at Kaiba. "So, what was so important that you called me down here? On the phone you said you wanted my help with organising a tournament?"
Kaiba nodded and crossed over to his desk to retrieve a file. As he came back across the room, he considered the best way to begin the discussion. At any other time, he would have had his speech already prepared, but this was hardly an ordinary situation. He didn't normally need any help for this sort of thing.
"Have you ever heard of a place called Starcrest House?"
Yugi thought for a moment. "It's an orphanage isn't it? I think I saw something about them on the news the other night."
"That's right." Kaiba sat down opposite Yugi and pushed the file to him across the low, glass-topped coffee table. "The place is owned and run by a private organisation, but they've run into quite a bit of financial trouble in the past few months. Unless something drastic happens in the next month, the orphanage will have to close."
"You want to help them." Yugi knew a little about Kaiba and Mokuba's past. Enough to know that orphans were one of the few things that struck a chord with the normally reserved young man.
Kaiba sighed, a surprisingly human sound from him. "Yes, but there's a problem. I'm looking at something long-term, but it will take time to get it sorted out. Unfortunately, time is something that the orphanage simply doesn't have right now. I've come up with something that will hold off the closure of the orphanage long enough for me to get my other plans in place, but… Well, see for yourself." He indicated the file on the table.
Yugi nodded and began looking through the information. Most of it was about the orphanage, but there were also copies of letters from Kaiba to the company that ran Starcrest House, and their replies. As he read through them, he began to understand why Kaiba had called.
"You want to hold a Charity Duelist Exhibition? That's a great idea! What do you need me to do?" Yugi looked up from the file, his wide violet eyes shining with excitement as he smiled at Kaiba. The older boy blinked at the eagerness with which Yugi had replied. A ghost of a return smile flickered across his face.
"I've made out a list of the top Duelists in the area. I believe you'll recognise all of the names," he added dryly. Between Duelist Kingdom and Battle City, Yugi had battled each of them at least once. "But there's a few of them that won't be easy to convince. At least, not if I ask them. You, on the other hand…" He trailed off, unwilling to admit out loud that he needed Yugi's help.
Yugi chuckled softly as he looked over the list, seeing Kaiba's point immediately. Most of the duelists in question were his friends. They were Kaiba's friends too, but Yugi knew that the cynical older duelist had a lot of trouble believing that. It had cost his pride dearly to call Yugi about this, and the young boy was not prepared to torment him over it. He was happy to help and would give his answer immediately, but there was one thing about the list that made him hesitate.
Slowly, Yugi raised his head, his eyes locking with Kaiba's. His gaze was serious, but his voice was as light and friendly as ever. "I think you've forgotten someone."
Kaiba raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Who?"
The moment the name was spoken, Kaiba's eyes grew cold and hard and Yugi sighed to himself. He'd been afraid of this. It was always the same. Whenever one of them heard the other's name, the reaction was always immediate and definite. The two teenagers had hated each other for as long as Yugi could remember, and they would let nothing get in the way of their animosity.
"Why on Earth would I want that insolent puppy to be part of this? He's an amateur. This Exhibition is solely for experienced Duelists." Kaiba's eyes gleamed with anger and determination as he stood up in one smooth, brisk movement and strode over to the window. He stared out, his body tense as he mentally prepared for the usual debate such comments caused.
It was obvious to Yugi that Kaiba had no intention of budging on this point, and suddenly he was tired of the same old argument. He'd heard it time after time, from both boys. He'd been caught in the middle of it more times than he cared to recall. Kaiba wouldn't listen to him, he never did, but maybe…
"If you still believe Joey to be an amateur, then you're an even bigger fool than I thought, Kaiba."
The voice, deeper than Yugi's and with a rich velvety tone to it, made Kaiba's eyes blaze in hatred. He forced himself to remain still and spoke over his shoulder, his voice cold. "I don't recall asking for your opinion, Yami. Yugi and I were in the middle of a discussion."
Yami, now in control of Yugi's body, stood and stalked across the room until he stood a few feet from Kaiba. "I know. That is why Yugi asked me to come out. He is upset," there was a note of censure in the spirit's voice, "and feels that I may be able to persuade you where he can not." At Kaiba's snort, Yami smiled slightly. "Yes, I realise that is unlikely, however I have agreed to try."
"Go ahead then." Kaiba turned and leaned against the window, his arms folded across his chest as he glared at the spirit. "Give it your best shot."
"Very well." Yami paused for a moment to consider. "You prefer to deal with facts, so let us begin there. You are aware of how little experience Joey has had with Duel Monsters?"
Kaiba snorted. "Like I said, he's an amateur."
Yami nodded once, conceding that point. "Technically, yes. He learned the game only a few months before the Duelist Kingdom tournament. You have seen him duel, am I correct?"
Another snort. "If you could call it that. He relies on luck more than skill and strategy and tactics are words that I doubt he even knows how to spell!"
Yami smiled very slightly and shook his head. "That is not entirely true. I have seen more of Joey's dueling than you have, and I have seen him use some very nice combo attacks and fusions, all of which required a level of skill that one who has played so little should not possess." At Kaiba's disbelieving look, Yami shrugged. "I would expect nothing less though, considering who taught him the game to begin with."
For the first time in the conversation, Kaiba didn't look entirely bored. "I know Yugi taught him. What does that have to do with anything?"
"It wasn't only Yugi. Grampa also taught him quite a few things." Kaiba snorted again and looked away, but his reaction merely made Yami smile. "Do not discount Grampa's skills. He is a master of the game. You know that. You have dueled him yourself."
There was only a hint of ice in his voice, but Kaiba heard it. He made no comment on it, but his eyes were shadowed slightly as he turned back to face Yami. "Your point being?"
"Joey was taught by two masters of the game. He did not merely learn to plan strategies or the best way to use the cards. He learned to play from the heart."
Kaiba glared at Yami, but there was no real heat in it. "Not that 'heart of the cards' rubbish again!"
"It is not 'rubbish', Kaiba. I think you know that by now. Just as you know the true source of the power these cards can command."
Kaiba blinked, momentarily thrown by the mention of the Shadow Realm. He eyed Yami warily. "What has that got to do with anything?"
Yami raised his hand, showing Kaiba the deck that rested on his palm. "As you know, the power of the Shadow Realm is connected to these cards. When a Duelist finds the 'heart of the cards', he or she is really touching the power of the Shadow Realm. As long as a Duelist duels from the heart, and places their faith in the cards within their deck, the cards will respond to the Duelist's will. Duelist and Duel Monsters will work as one."
Yami's eyes locked with Kaiba's. "That is how the strongest Duelists battle. It is how Yugi duels. How I duel. It is how Joey duels. Yes, he relies heavily on luck, but as long as he and his cards work as one, the odds are always with him."
"I thought you said you were going to use facts? This is nothing but fantasy!" Kaiba turned away again, but Yami merely smiled slightly.
"Is it? You want facts? Then I will give you facts. Of all the Duelists in the world, only the best were invited to be a part of the Duelist Kingdom tournament. Yugi was invited. So was Joey."
It wasn't quite true. Yugi and Yami both knew that Joey had not exactly been 'invited'. He'd been so determined to help his sister that he had sneaked on board the boat. Only Yugi's intervention, and the offer of one of his own star chips, had enabled Joey to stay. But Kaiba didn't know that, and Yami didn't feel inclined to tell him.
"I've always thought that Pegasus wasn't quite right in his mind. That just proves it."
"By the end of the tournament, all but four of the duelists had been eliminated. Those four were Bandit Keith, Mai, Yugi and Joey." Yami paused as Kaiba took that in.
"Pure luck," Kaiba scoffed, but he was listening closely now, a slight frown on his face.
"Mai lost to Yugi. Bandit Keith, despite cheating shamelessly as he had many times before, lost to Joey." Yami paused but Kaiba made no comment so he continued. "Then Yugi dueled Joey. He almost lost."
"Almost." Kaiba couldn't resist saying it.
Yami nodded. "Yes, but even with Yugi and I working together, we barely managed to defeat him. Since that battle, neither of us has underestimated him. What he lacks in experience and skill, he more than makes up for in will and heart."
"That's no substitute for ability. He barely knows what his cards do and his plays are laughably predictable!"
Yami shook his head. "What about Battle City? You saw what happened there with your own eyes and none of Joey's battles were predictable. At the end of it, when the final eight stood together, he was one of us. You cannot deny that he earned that place. Yet, of the eight of us, he is the only one not on your list."
Kaiba was silent. What Yami said was true. He couldn't deny it, even though he wanted to. Although he didn't approve of Joey's battle style, he had won his way through to the final stage. That was more than a lot of other duelists, many of whom Kaiba considered to be better than Joey, had managed to do. Yet, when Kaiba had added the names of the other finalists to the list, he hadn't given the omission of Joey's name a second thought. Uneasily, Kaiba realised that said far more about him than it did about Joey's dueling skills.
"I know that Joey's methods may seem haphazard at times, but they work for him." Yami's voice had softened now; as he sensed that Kaiba was not just listening to his words, but hearing them.
"He has faith in himself and in his cards, but his true gift lies in his heart. Remember during Battle City, when his mind was ensnared? The source of his strength became obvious then, even to those who did not already know it. He would not respond to Yugi. Not even the sight of his favourite card did more than stir his memory. But one word from his sister was enough to free him."
Kaiba stirred slightly. He did remember that battle.
"Think about this, Kaiba. If you had been in the same situation, which would you have responded to? Your favourite card, or your little brother's voice?"
Kaiba tensed. He started to glare at Yami, but one look at the expression on the spirit's face stopped him. Yami wasn't trying to goad him. He was serious. Kaiba instinctively answered the same way. He didn't even have to think about it.
Yami nodded. "Kaiba, if you truly cannot accept Joey as a duelist based on his experience or skill, perhaps you could accept him based on his heart. In that, he has proven himself worthy, time and again. The cards in his deck have long acknowledged him as their master because of it."
For several hours after Yugi left - his promise to help with the Exhibition given with his usual bright eyes and gentle smile - Kaiba sat in contemplative silence in his office. He thought over everything Yami had said and in the end, as much as he detested the thought, he knew what he had to do.
Opening the file, Kaiba took up his pen and added Joey Wheeler's name to the list of duelists.