A Vexing Situation

In Which Malik Is In Turns Both Cursed And Blessed

Christine Jorgensen was the very first male-to-female sex-change patient.


Ano – Um…
Gomen Nasaii – I'm very sorry
Iya – (Very Emphatic) No
Sugoi! – All right/Awesome!

"Okay, guys, get ready," Joey directed his friends. After checking to make sure that they were – Tristan was holding his bucket, a maniacal grin on his face; Yugi holding his with an expression that was half-exhilarated, half-worried; and Téa was pointedly standing off to the side, not wanting to be labeled as an accomplice (but still wanting to see the show) – he knocked briskly at the door.

When a few minutes had passed with no sign of the house's occupant, Joey knocked again, louder. This time a rather loud thump reached their ears, followed by a muffled curse. The sound of feet padding down the stairs and across the floor was heard, and then suddenly the door was thrown open.

Quickly ducking out of the way, Joey watched with unbridled glee as Tristan and Yugi drenched their target from head to toe with the water in their buckets.


Duke stood there, wearing nothing but a pair of half-buttoned, worn and torn black jeans and a white undershirt that was now completely soaked. The water made them stick to his lanky frame, outlining the sleek muscles in his torso. The majority of his hair had escaped the watery attack, but his face was still dripping wet.

Joey and Tristan were laughing their heads off at Duke's dumbfounded, half-asleep expression. Yugi was trying in vain to hold back his giggles, and Téa, for her part, was surreptitiously checking out Duke's chest, which was clearly defined by the wet, now transparent shirt plastered to its well-muscled surface.

Duke opened his mouth, presumably to demand an explanation, but was interrupted by the sound of a feminine voice. "What the hell is going on here?" the grumpy voice snarled. It was accompanied by the sound of someone striding towards the doorway. Joey, Tristan, and the other pranksters all craned their necks, trying to see who this girl was that was apparently living with Duke. Duke, however, had a look of mildly stunned terror on his face as the bearer of that voice rounded the corner, saying, "It sounds like a pack of hyenas is…" The voice trailed off as she caught sight of who was at the door.

When they saw who the 'girl' was, expressions of stunned shock crossed all their faces.

Téa gasped.

Joey's jaw dropped, and Tristan's wasn't far behind him.

Yugi's eyes went as wide as saucers and he uttered a barely audible squeak.

She was little more than five feet tall, platinum blond hair hanging down to her shoulderblades. She was wearing a dark purple T-shirt and a pair of plaid boxers; her feet were bare. Her eyes – which had previously been obscured by her hands rubbing the sleep out of them – were a familiar shade of violet. And her face – which had been revealed when she removed her hands from her eyes – was caught mid-yawn, wearing an expression of surprised horror somewhat alike to that of the four teens outside.

"M-Malik?" Tristan croaked.

Her 'rabbit caught in the headlights' look vanished and she appeared to deflate. Sighing, Malik said tiredly, "Yeah, it's me, Taylor."

"What…what happened?" Yugi asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep the astonishment from his voice.

Duke, who up until this moment had been silent, broke in with, "Let's get inside before we attract a crowd. Almost no one gets up this early in the summertime, but better safe than sorry."

The four teens nodded jerkily and followed the voice of reason inside the small game shop's apartment.

"I'm, uh…going to go get dressed," Malik said, obviously discomfited. "Uh…be back in a minute." And with that, she ran off up the stairs, most likely relieved to be away from the quadruple-strength stares she was receiving.

"We'll explain everything when Malik gets back," Duke promised them, before heading into the kitchen, making noises of disgust as he saw the trail of water he'd left behind him.

The four friends followed Duke silently, content to wait for an explanation, now that they had been assured of getting one.

Sighing, Duke told hold of his shirt hem and proceeded to peel the soaking wet cloth from his body. Squeezing out the water over the sink, he tossed the now-just-damp garment into an empty basket on top of the washing machine, and grabbed a dishtowel from a hook over the sink. Turning back to the group, he demanded, "What the hell were you guys thinking, huh?" while simultaneously mopping up the worst of the water from his chest, face and hair.

Téa stopped her surreptitious peeking and started opening ogling once she saw that Duke was immersed in trying to dry his hair and wasn't even looking at any of them.

"Ano… April Fools?" Joey offered, still slightly off-kilter from seeing Malik as a girl…and a very pretty girl, at that.

Duke gave the blond a pointed glare. "It's July, Wheeler."

Yugi sighed in exasperation, having finally managed to throw off his shock. " Joey got bored and decided it would be fun to play a prank on someone," he explained.

"He originally wanted to prank Kaiba, but there's a gate around his mansion," Tristan added, though from the distant tone of his voice it was obvious he wasn't quite all there yet. Some part of his brain was still focused on processing the vision of Egyptian – and surprisingly female – loveliness that had just vacated the entryway.

"Plus, he's dating Mai, and she managed to convince him to take a whole weekend off, so they're not there anyway," Téa concluded.

Duke snorted, and, taking one last swipe at a few rogue droplets of water on his left shoulder, started rummaging through the open dryer door. Pulling out a short-sleeved red shirt, he slipped it on, not bothering to do up the buttons. "Yeah, I heard about that. How they managed to keep it a secret for so long I'll never know."

"Kaiba doesn't like broadcasting the details of his personal life," Yugi said in the CEO's defense.

"No, I mean Mai," Duke clarified. "I didn't think she was the type to put up with hiding a relationship like some dirty little secret. Not that their relationship is, but it's the stigma attached to it I'm thinking of."

Any further discussion of Kaiba and Mai's relationship was cut short by Malik's return. The young woman was now wearing a pair of form-fitting jeans under the same purple T-shirt. Her feet were still bare, and her formerly bed-mussed hair had been pulled back into a ponytail of white-blond curls. Walking into the kitchen, she leaned against their counter and crossed her arms over her ample chest. Her gaze was focused on the floor, obviously uncomfortable at the scrutiny she was under. "Hey," she said softly, her voice nowhere near as husky as it used to be.

"Hey, Malik," Téa said kindly, wanting to let her know at least one person in the room wasn't freaking out. After all, it wasn't like something similar to this hadn't happened less than three months ago, right?

Except in Bakura's case, she'd always been a girl. Aside from the few years where she and Ryou had shared a body, anyway.

The corners of Malik's lips raised up a microscopic amount. "Hey, Téa."

"Are you…dealing with this all right?" she asked sympathetically.

"Better than when it first happened," Malik said honestly.

"How did…dis…happen anyway?" Joey broke in.

Malik's answer was a succinct, one-word growl. "Marik."

"Ah. The Rod?" Tristan said more than asked.

Malik's response was a curt nod.

"But why?" Joey asked. "I t'ought you guys weren't fightin' or anythin' anymore."

Malik's grimace was more cute than it had any right to be. Fortunately for their continued existence, the group managed to restrain themselves from telling her this. "The thing no one really knew about Marik was exactly how different he was from the other yamis," she started. "Marik was created when I was eight years old – and for some reason, unlike Bakura and Yami, wasn't able to draw on my knowledge as easily as they did, so he's pretty much been a kid for the last decade. It's only now that he's got his own body that he's able to start growing up."

"Yer kiddin'," Joey said, the shock on his face mirroring that on his friends'.

Raising one platinum eyebrow, Malik said, "Why do you think he wanted to become Pharaoh and take over the world? When you're a kid, all the stories have the bad guy wanting to kill the good guy and take over the world; Marik had cast himself in the role as the bad guy, therefore he wanted Yami dead, and to rule the world."

"I thought you were the one who wanted to be Pharaoh," Tristan said.

Malik shook her head. "That was Marik."

"But why did he turn you into a girl?" Yugi asked. "And what are you doing living with Duke?"

"One thing at a time," the aforementioned dice duelist said. "Let's all go sit down and we can talk about this while I make breakfast."

"Yeah, food!" Joey cheered, causing everyone to roll their eyes.

Fifteen minutes later, after Duke and Malik had fixed breakfast – completely vegetarian, as it seemed the dice duelist also wasn't fond of meat – they were all seated at the breakfast nook in the kitchen. Malik and Duke were perched on stools at the kitchen counter, the others crowded around the small table.

"So, let me get this straight," Joey said, for once not talking with his mouth full. "Marik got mad at you for spending so much time with Bakura–"

"I wasn't spending any more time with Bakura than he was," Malik broke in.

"–and decided that if you were a girl you wouldn't like her anymore?" the blond finished. "I t'ink I missed somptin'." He picked up a piece of toast and bit into it, chewing thoughtfully.

"You don't understand the way Marik's mind works," Malik said, rolling her eyes.

"Who'd want to?" Téa asked rhetorically, and they all chuckled.

"But you're right, there was more to it," Malik admitted on a sigh. "Marik is very…clingy and needy. He likes attention; surely you've noticed how he liked to make a spectacle of everything?"

The four friends nodded, Joey grimacing at the reminder of his being used as Marik's pawn.

Nodding in compassion at the blond, Malik went on, "Marik liked me paying attention to him more than anything else, and he hated it when he thought I was ignoring him. And for some Ra-only-knows-why reason Marik thought I had a thing for Bakura. Never mind the fact that Bakura is dating Ryou – and quite happily, mind you – or the fact that I'm not attracted to her at all. In Malik's mind, I was spending too much time with her–"

"And not enough time with him," Duke cut in.

Malik nodded and continued, "–and he latched onto the one thing that he thought would get me to stop quote-unquote ignoring him." Growling softly, she snatched up a rind of cantaloupe and bit into it savagely, apparently taking out her frustration at the situation on the innocent orange fruit.

"Which was?" Yugi prompted.

"Apparently Marik thought that if Malik were a girl, he wouldn't like girls anymore, and he'd be too embarrassed to leave the house as she was, so Marik would have her all to himself," Duke explained, obviously having heard this story before. Grabbing the milk jug, he poured himself a glass and went back to eating his scrambled eggs.

Rolling her eyes, Malik said, "Just more proof of his idiocy," causing both her and Duke to smile and shake their heads at some shared secret joke.

"But if he used da Rod to change ya into a girl, why didn't you use it to change yerself back?" Joey asked.

"It doesn't work like that," Malik griped. "Marik was the one who changed me and Marik is the one who has to change me back. I tried everything I could think of to get him to do it, too, but he refused. Finally he took off – with the Rod – and I haven't seen him since."

"So you might be stuck like this forever?" Téa asked softly.

Malik's headshake was full of conviction. "No, he'll come back eventually. He does this every so often; goes out and sulks for a few days – or weeks, in this case – and then comes back home and acts as if nothing is wrong. When he comes back this time he'll be willing to change me back."

The four friends didn't look convinced.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Malik said patiently, "Marik would never do anything to hurt me. At least not now. He's just…going through a rebellious teenager phase combined with the neediness and attention-seeking behavior of a five-year-old. In a few years he'll have his emotions and everything all sorted out and settle down."

They all nodded, reluctantly accepting Malik's words as the truth.

"So," Tristan started. "If Marik's going to come back home – and most likely soon – why aren't you back there waiting for him?"

Malik pulled a face and fiddled with her fork, stabbing it almost hatefully into her bowl of steamed rice. Minus the accompanying scrambled egg topping, of course. "I couldn't take Isis anymore," she revealed.

"What about her?" Yugi asked gently. "Did she…not take your transformation well?"

Malik huffed. "Well? She took it better than I did!" Rounding on the shorter duelist, Malik demanded, "Do you know what she wanted to do? Do you?"

"Iya," Yugi said nervously, frantically shaking his head.

"She wanted to take me…shopping," Malik breathed, scandalized, as if the word 'shopping' was synonymous with 'certain death.'

Of course, to a lot of men, it was…

"Well, you're a girl now, you'll probably need different…clothes," Téa said, squeaking out the last word when Malik turned her attention on her, prompting her to change what she was saying.

"I don't care how well…endowed…this body is, I'm not going to wear a bra, and she can't make me!" Malik stated petulantly, crossing her arms over her rather…overly-developed chest.

"As long as you don't go home," Joey clarified.

Malik just glared at him.

"Which explains why you're staying with Duke, but how did you two come to this…arrangement, anyway?" Tristan asked.

Malik grimaced and turned away, refusing to answer.

Duke cleared his throat and swiveled on his seat to face them. "Well, you see, I found him outside a bar, obviously drunk off his ass–"

"Women have a lower tolerance for alcohol than men – I just didn't realize how much lower," Malik interjected, adding under her breath, "Two beers. Two beers didn't even used to be enough to get me slightly buzzed, let alone intoxicated."

Flashing his roommate an annoyed glance, Duke continued, "–drunk off his ass, trying to fend off a rather amorous suitor who'd had even more to drink than she had."

"I didn't need your help, I was doing just fine," Malik said petulantly. It was obvious to the others that this was an old argument.

Duke nodded sagely. "Ah, yes, I believe your exact words were 'I can defend my own honor, you jackass.'"

Téa giggled, and Yugi snorted.

"But," Duke continued on. "I didn't know it was you, and even if I had, I still would've thrown that die at the creep's head. He was three times your size!"

"I could have taken him," Malik insisted. "Though I probably would have sprained something doing it," she added ruefully.

"We're missing something again," Tristan put in. "What happened between you getting changed into a girl and going to that bar?"

"And how did you end up staying with Duke?" Joey added, repeating his friend's original question.

"I left because of Isis," Malik reminded them. "I decided to go out and drown my sorrows, and then get a hotel room for the night so I wouldn't have to put up with her for at least a day." She scrubbed her hands across her face in remembered exhaustion.

"Was Rishid any help at all?" Yugi asked.

Malik perked up at this question. "Rishid has been a rock throughout this whole thing," she declared. "Once he knew what Marik did, he didn't stay around to try and 'help me through this' like Isis, he went out hunting for Marik so 'this' wouldn't have to last any longer than necessary. And he didn't try and treat me any different, like Isis did. He just said, ' Master Malik, I shall go out and look for Master Marik. I will not rest until I find him,' which made me feel a whole damn lot better than Isis offering to take me clothes shopping." She glowered at the mention of this last.

"Girl clothes shopping?" Tristan qualified.

Malik nodded in reluctance. "Yeah. I'm male, only a girl biologically, and out of everyone who knows about this…situation…Rishid is the only one who still treats me exactly the same as he did before." She smirked and rolled her eyes. "Of course, if he'd tried calling me ' Mistress Malik,' brother or no, I would have decked him, and he knew it." Scrunching her nose up in a frown that was still too cute to be believed, especially considering her displeasure with the situation, she sighed, tapping one finger against her chin in thought. "I still haven't figured out a way to get him not to call me that."

"Master?" Duke asked in clarification.

She flicked her eyes over to him and nodded. "I've thought about ordering him not to, but I don't think he'd listen, and it would be counterproductive to my purpose."

Nodding in agreement with the other girl's assessment, Téa prompted, "So, Duke 'rescued' you and then…?"

"And then he noticed who I was," Malik said with a smirk. "And he fell on his ass."

Duke's glare was without heat. "It's kind of shocking to meet up with someone you know who's apparently undergone a sex change, Ishtar," he said dryly. "And you threatening to 'remove my spine and shove it back up my ass until it was in place again' didn't help matters."

Joey turned positively green.

"Eeww," Tristan agreed, shoving a napkin at his friend in case the blond felt sick.

"That was a really good threat, wasn't it?" Malik said reminiscently, not noticing the four friends' distress. "I always seem to come up with the best ones when I'm drunk, and then I can't remember them later," she complained.

"But back to how you ended up staying here," Téa insisted, not wanting Malik to go off on a tangent that…creepy.

"Right, so Duke fell on his ass," Malik took up where she left off. "And after a few minutes of drunken bantering, he said I was too punchy for him to just leave me there, and invited me to spend the night in his guest room."

"I take it ya accepted his offer," Joey stated.

Nodding, Malik continued, "I was tired and didn't really want to try and track down a motel. The next morning, he insisted on hearing the whole story, and rather graciously allowed me to stay here until Marik gets back in return for helping him out in the shop."

"And Malik is a very good clerk, too," Duke added with satisfaction. "I've sold more merchandise these past two weeks than in the whole month previous."

Malik frowned, saying sourly, "It's only because all those boys keep coming in to stare at me. I keep waiting for one of them to try and touch me so I can kill them."

"Killing the customers is bad for business," Duke said blandly, but he couldn't keep the smile off his face.

Suddenly smirking, Malik said, "Fine. I won't kill them…"

"Or maim them," Duke threw in.

"I won't even maim them," Malik agreed. "If one of them tries anything I'll just tell them I'm really a guy." Her grin was reminiscent of a cat who had gotten both the cream and the canary – and not gotten caught.

Joey snorted. "What, ya can't even put up wit' a few guys checkin' ya out without wantin' ta kill 'em?"

"Well, I have managed to keep from killing, maiming or otherwise mutilating you and Taylor, now haven't I?" Malik said pointedly, voice sugar-sweet with veiled poison.

Joey flushed.

Tristan choked and loudly cleared his throat to cover up his laughter.

"And it's not the fact that guys are checking me out that bothers me; it's that they are so obvious about it," Malik went on. "I mean, whatever happened to the fine art of subtlety?"

"It got steam-rollered over by the not-so-fine act of blatant ogling," Téa quipped.

Yugi snickered.

"So you have no problem with guys finding you attractive?" Joey asked, confused.

"I am secure enough in my masculinity to realize that I look damn fine no matter what gender I am," Malik said smugly.

"But not so secure that you'd dress like a girl," Tristan cracked.

Malik's eyebrows rose in exasperation. "I'm wearing jeans and a T-shirt – which, you know, is exactly what Téa is wearing. How, exactly, am I not 'dressing like a girl'?"

"Ya were da one who mentioned ya weren't wearing a bra," Joey pointed out, taking the opportunity to not-so-surreptitiously check out the Egyptian's attributes again.

"Not that it isn't obviously apparent," Tristan murmured, joining Joey in his endeavors, though with a bit more subtlety than his blond friend.

For some reason – known only to God and maybe Malik (but let's not hold our breath on that last) – Malik turned to Téa for help. "Téa," she said bluntly. "Are bras comfortable?"

Téa blinked, her eyes widening and then going back to normal as she stared at the other girl as one would at a particularly interesting bug who'd just buzzed right in your ear. Finally her expression smoothed out into a bland mask and she coughed once before finally saying, "Well…after a few months of wearing them all day everyday…you still want to rip them off and banish them to the Shadow Realm."

"I take it that's a 'No,'" Duke drawled wryly, taking a long sip from his coffee cup.

"Exactly!" Malik pronounced. "I may have to put up with a body that's not mine, and therefore uncomfortable; I don't have to add to it with irritating undergarments. My body is already in enough discomfort without purposely making it worse."

"Is it really that bad?" Tristan asked, in a strange show of compassion.

Malik sighed and hopped up to perch on top of the counter. She grabbed an orange from the bowl next to her and began to peel it with her pocketknife. "Not entirely, no. But it's like human bodies are computers and female bodies are running on a completely different set of software than male bodies. For one thing, I can't figure out why my back hurts so much – and right in the middle, too," Malik said, abandoning her fruit and reaching over her shoulder to massage the affected area. Which consequently pulled her T-shirt taut across her braless chest.

"That's your lumbar region," Joey put in, eyes glazed over slightly at the sight. "Those 'attributes' you keep griping about put pressure on it, that's why it hurts."

Duke gave Joey a sideways glance. "How do you know that, Joey?"

An expression of mild panic crossed the blond's face before he said, "Ah, I have a younger sister, remember?"

Frowning at the answer, because even she could tell it was lame, Téa nonetheless decided to forgo interrogating Joey for continuing their conversation with Malik. "That's one of the reasons why women wear bras," she revealed. "It cuts down on the muscle aches."

A sulky pout crossed Malik's face. "But Bakura doesn't wear one," she protested.

"I know," Tristan mumbled, a similar glazed look to the one worn by Joey coming over his eyes.

Unlike in times previous, instead of joining Tristan in his salivation, Joey elbowed him in the side. "Man, ya really need ta stop thinkin' about other girls if ya ever want mah sister ta go out wit' ya."

Tristan shot him an inscrutable look. "I thought you didn't like the idea of me dating your sister?"

Joey shrugged, his affected nonchalance ruined by how tense he obviously was. "I don't. But ya like her, and if she likes ya, den I'll deal wit' it." His conciliatory words were belied by his pensive frown, but Tristan didn't comment on it.

"If you're through," Téa said pointedly, and in response to the two boy's nods, continued, "Unlike Bakura, you are, to use your own words 'well-endowed.' Bakura can get away with going au natural because she's one step from flat-chested; not even an A. You, on the other hand, are at least a B cup, possibly a C. If you don't start wearing something, your back problems could get even worse."

Malik grimaced and went back to stabbing and eating pieces of her citrus fruit. "If Marik hasn't come back in a few weeks…I'll think about it," she said finally, once all the orange slices had been eaten.

"Well, speaking of Bakura…do she and Ryou know about your transformation?" Yugi asked, sensing Malik was uncomfortable with the current topic. "I know you and Marik have been spending a lot of time with them."

"I haven't talked to them since four weeks ago Tuesday," Malik admitted. "The next day Marik did a Christine Jorgensen on me, and Bakura ended up canceling our regular Thursday afternoon motorcycle-driving lesson so I didn't see either of them then. By Saturday I'd ended up here, and aside from calling Isis to let her know and where I was and that I was okay, I haven't talked to anyone except Duke since." She appeared rather upset by that, but determined not to let it show.

"You should call them, you know, they're your friends," Duke said, his tone indicating that this was also an old argument. "They're probably wondering what the hell happened to you – and Marik."

Malik made a sound not unlike that of an angry cat. "I don't want to," she said matter-of-factly. "I don't want to explain any of this to them; I don't want anyone to know."

"Well, we know now," Joey pointed out rather unwisely.

"Yes, I know," Malik replied, voice flat. "And I wish you didn't."

"Are you really hating this whole thing that much?" Téa asked sympathetically.

Heaving a sigh, Malik said, "It's not that bad, I suppose, it's just…everyone went kind of odd once they found out about Bakura, and despite the fact that she never said anything, I know it hurt her to have you all treating her differently. Or not differently, as the case may be. She's finally starting to get over that, and I don't want to remind her of it."

Tristan quirked an eyebrow in question. "What do you mean?"

"Well, Yami crushed all the evil out of her and Marik, right?" Duke stated, obviously knowing where Malik was going with this line of thought.

"Yeah," Yugi said, and the others nodded.

"Then why do you all still treat them both as if they're evil?" Malik asked.

"I…" Joey started, but was unable to find the words to finish.

"We don't…" Tristan trailed off, also at a loss.

"Well, if you don't think they're evil, then why have you been avoiding them?" Malik demanded. "And by extension, Ryou and I?"

"We haven't…not entirely," Téa defended the group as a whole.

"Oh, right, I forgot; you went to see Ryou and Bakura about seven weeks ago," Malik said brightly. "And then you went to a movie the following weekend, and after that…nothing. This is actually the first I've heard from you since that day in the park, and it wasn't even me you were heading to see."

Téa and Yugi ducked their heads in shame. Joey and Tristan looked at a loss for words.

Malik sighed. "I know you're not excluding us on purpose; you've just known each other longer than the rest of us. Face it, you guys; you four and Yami have your own little close-knit group. Hell, even the Kaibas, Mai, and Duke to an extent are part of your little inner circle. Ryou, Bakura, Marik and I…we're all on the outside."

"I…there really isn't any excuse I can give for that," Yugi admitted.

"Don't beat yourself up over it, Moto," Malik told him. "Like I said, we know you're not doing it on purpose. You just need to realize that you are doing it. Bakura was rather pissed at the treatment she received from some of you when you found out the truth about her gender; I personally didn't relish going through the same thing."

"Treatment?" Yugi asked uncomprehendingly.

"The fact that both Wheeler and Taylor couldn't take their eyes off her breasts," Duke said candidly. "They're doing the same thing with Malik."

Involuntarily both the aforementioned boys' eyes focused on Malik's 'attributes,' before they flushed guiltily and looked away.

"Exactly," Malik agreed. "All of a sudden I have breasts and you're acting like I'm a completely different person. And Bakura went through the same thing. If I find it degrading, I can only imagine how Bakura feels. I'm not even a real woman, and once Marik gets back I won't have to deal with this anymore; she'll have to for years to come. If even you, my so-called friends can't stop staring at me, how the hell do you expect me to be okay with this?"

"Ano…we're sorry?" Joey offered lamely.

"Gomen nasaii," Tristan chimed in.

Malik pursed her lips. "Oh, that was sincere," she said sourly.

Rubbing the back of his neck nervously, Yugi said, "Ah…not that I don't think you a have a right not to be stared at, but…what does that have to do with you not contacting Ryou and Bakura?"

"I didn't want to have to deal with this!" Malik exclaimed, gesturing to the two previously chastised boys. "The more people who know a secret, the harder it is to keep quiet. When Ryou was the only one who knew Bakura was a girl, no one else did; then we all found out, and now Isis and Rishid know, and Mai found out… Not that she's trying to keep her gender a secret any longer, but I am."

"Why?" Téa asked. "I mean, who would understand about out of control Shadow Magic better than us?"

"Ah, but that's just it," Duke cut in. "We understand about Shadow Magic…but no one else does. This isn't Ranma ½ and there aren't any cursed springs nearby. How would you explain someone's gender changing to the average guy off the street?"

"You wouldn't?" Joey said feebly.

"Precisely," Malik agreed. " Isis' boss at the museum, the lady who lives in the apartment next to ours, the mailman… All those people who I run into on a regular basis, and would take one look at me and realize that I'm not 'Malik's cousin Malia, from out of town,' but, in fact, Malik herself."

"You don't want it to get back to them, but if you told any of us, then it might?" Yugi worked out.

Malik nodded.

"I see what you mean," Téa said. "But the fact of the matter is that even if anyone not in the know did find out…they wouldn't believe it," she pointed out.

"I didn't want to take any chances," Malik said. "Besides, I didn't think Marik would stay away this long; no point in explaining this to everyone if I was going to be back to my old self in a few days. I just wish you would all treat me like my old self."

"We said we were sorry," Joey protested.

"I know, I know, but it's still infuriating," Malik stated.

A loud, fast-sounding rattle followed by a small explosion reached their ears.

"Speaking of infuriating…" Duke groaned.

"Not again!" Malik exclaimed.

Sighing, Duke said, "Yes, again, I am afraid. I'll get the wrench…" He heaved himself up from the stool.

"I'll get the screwdriver…" Malik continued, jumping off the countertop.

"…and we'll meet in the living room," they finished together in a dull chorus, heading out of the kitchen and parting ways at the door.

The four friends exchanged confused glances. After a few minutes had passed, they followed the two roommates out into the living room. They found Duke underneath the window-mounted air conditioner, lying on his back, Malik perched above it on a step-ladder. The slow rattling sound that had taken up where the faster sounding one left off, seemed to be coming from the air-cooling device.

"You got it?" Malik asked.

Raising the wrench and twisting something inside the appliance, Duke gave a short nod. "Yeah, I got it."

"Okay, I'm gonna unscrew the cap, and then you twist it back around, right?" Malik inquired, voice distracted.

"Right," Duke confirmed.

Bending farther over the white plastic box, Malik twirled the screwdriver around with her left hand and lifted out a black metal plate with her right. "Go," she said.

Duke reached up and again twisted something. The slow rattling sound halted, and both he and Malik grinned.

"Okay, let me just get this plate back into place and we're in business," Malik said briskly.

"Yeah, until it happens again," Duke groused, slipping out from underneath the air conditioner and rising to his feet.

"Isn't the repairman supposed to be coming Friday?" Malik asked, screwdriver efficiently affixing the plate back into place.

"Supposedly," Duke agreed.

Malik finished putting the plate back into place, and both she and Duke closed the lid on the air conditioner.

"Ano…this has happened before, I take it?" Yugi asked.

Startled, the two roommates turned towards the four friends.

"Ah, yeah," Duke agreed.

"Six times since I've been here," Malik added.

"And twice the week before," Duke finished. "Which is the only reason I don't think she's a jinx." He chuckled.

Malik scowled. "Aside from the fact that I've doubled your sales in the shop."

Duke rolled his eyes; this was obviously yet another old argument. "Yes, dear."

Joey snorted at the expression on Malik's face: half pissed off, half scowl. She'd put her hands on her hips to glare at Duke, and this pulled her T-shirt tight across her unbound breasts. The blond couldn't help but stare.

Noticing Joey's gaze, Malik growled. "I'm not a piece of meat, Wheeler, quit salivating."

Joey started and blushed. Embarrassed at having been caught – yet again – he got defensive by going on the offensive. "You're living with dice boy; you're tellin' me he's never tried ta take a peek?" he asked disbelievingly.

"Hey, I'll have you know I've behaved like a gentleman, thank you," Duke snapped.

"But not a 'perfect' gentleman, I see," Joey countered.

"Even I'm not arrogant enough to consider myself perfect, Wheeler," Duke scoffed, nose in the air.

Tristan coughed, the words 'Yeah, right' muffled between them.

Duke's eyes narrowed. "You two are really starting to get on my nerves," he said threateningly.

"They've been on mine for over half an hour," Malik murmured, glaring daggers at the blond and the brunet while idly twirling the screwdriver.

Deciding retreat was the better part of valor – and furthered existence – Yugi said, "We should be going, anyway. I promised Grandpa I'd help him in the shop today, and you two probably need to get to work as well." He gestured at Malik and Duke.

"Yeah, I probably should go in for a bit today, even if it is Saturday," Duke agreed pleasantly, subtly herding the four friends towards the door.

Joey and Tristan wisely took the opportunity offered them and scrammed, tossing goodbyes over their shoulders. Yugi was a bit more circumspect, staying to talk for a few moments.

"I really think you should let Ryou and Bakura know," Yugi told Malik, preparatory to his leaving. "They're your friends; I know they'd stand by you. And they could probably help you adjust to this – or at least give you some semblance of normalcy."

Malik snorted. "Normal, Moto? Since when have any of us been normal?"

Yugi just shrugged diffidently. "Couldn't hurt, anyway. Besides, they're your friends; and like you said, now that we know, it's just a matter of time before they do, too."

Sighing softly, Malik gave in. "I'll call them today," he agreed.

"Sugoi!" Yugi exclaimed, before checking his watch. "Ano…I need to get going; I was supposed to be back at the shop five minutes ago. Talk to you soon!"

And then only Téa was left.

Sensing that the brunette wanted a word alone with his houseguest, Duke busied himself putting up the tools.

Téa turned to Malik, who gave her a questioning expression.

"I just wanted to let you know that if you need any…help…during this time you could call me," Téa told her.

Seeing that the other was sincere in her offer, Malik said, "I appreciate it, but I'm not planning to be a girl for much longer. And even if I am…I can deal with it." Her jaw tightened in masculine resolve.

Téa's quirked smile and small huff crowed, 'Men!', but her voice only said, "If you're sure. Just remember you have options." Giving Duke a quick nod of farewell, she too left the house.

And then there were two.

Sighing, Malik leaned back against the closed door. "Damn, I'm glad that's over."

Mirth clear on his face, Duke said, "But it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been."

Malik only raised a quizzical eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Both Wheeler and Taylor managed to keep their hands to themselves," Duke pointed out. "For a minute there, I wasn't sure they weren't going to try and grope you."

Eyes widening, a growl escaped Malik's throat and she pounced on him. They rolled over and over across the (thankfully carpeted) floor, finally turning up against the couch.

"This coming from the 'not-so-perfect gentleman,' hmm?" Malik asked sweetly.

Duke chuckled, not at all put off by his precarious position. "Ah, c'mon, Malik, even you have to admit you're a fox – male or female." He leered slightly, taking in the Egyptian's lithe form, which was clearly visible in the oversized clothing she was wearing.

The half-disappointed, half-disbelieving expression that flickered across the blonde's face for a fraction of a second was a surprise.

But not enough of one to keep Duke from taking advantage of his opponent's distraction. A quick twist of his hips and a flip, and he was perched above Malik, holding her arms down with his own.

Staring down at his erstwhile roommate, who lay beneath him, bemusement melted away, panting and glaring at him with an expression reminiscent of a pissed off wildcat, Duke did the only thing his short-circuited brain could think of at that moment. What he'd been thinking of doing almost since he first saw her…him. Malik.

He kissed her.