Summary: After the Ceremonial Battle, Yugi and Téa cope with their loss before they all graduate high school and go their separate ways. But for Yugi, being "only one Yugi Mutou on the world" is more complicated than any of them could have imagined. End of series spoilers. YugixTéa. (JoeyxMai will come up later)
Disclaimer: I don't own Yu-gi-oh or its characters; Kazuki Takahashi does. I'm just taking them for a joy ride. I promise to put them back when I'm done.
Rating: T for mild language, violence, suggestive content. (Actually, this prologue is K+ at most, but since the rest of the story is T, I marked this T for consistency.)
A word about continuity (such as it is): This story mostly follows the dubbed American Kids WB version because that's what I watch with my kids. So sue me. ;) That said, whenever it suits my purposes, I borrow from the original Japanese version (gleaned from episode guides on the brilliant Yu-Jyo site, Janime, and False Memories – e-mail me if you want the links) or the manga. For example, Yugi and Téa were childhood friends, as in the manga, even though in the American version a flashback shows Yugi and Joey deciding they should get to know her after the boys are already friends. Basically, wherever there is a conflict between the American, Japanese, and manga, I go with whatever I like best. :) Events referred to that have not yet aired in the U.S. (some of the Memory World/Dawn of the Duel arc) I got from Janime and False Memories.
1. The Confession
After the Ceremonial Battle
Duel Monsters is a game. In ancient times, it was a game of princes and sorcerers, a Shadow Game of power, its champion a Pharaoh of Egypt. Now it is just a card game, and its champion just a boy.
Only… for the better part of three years, it wasn't just a game and he wasn't just a boy. He was the one who had solved the Millennium Puzzle and brought back the spirit of the ancient Pharaoh of Egypt who had reigned thousands of years before, the King of Games, who shared his body and lived with him as one. Together with their friends, they had many adventures and fought against those who would bring back the Shadow Games to steal people's souls and gain power for themselves. Their last adventure ended in Egypt, a Ceremonial Battle between the two of them, the Pharaoh and the boy. It was a battle not of enemies, but of brothers; a battle of love. When the boy defeated the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh went on to the spirit world where he belonged and the boy was left where he belonged, with the living. The Millennium Puzzle and the six other Millennium Items were lost in a chasm buried beneath the ruins of an ancient temple, their purpose fulfilled.
His story was no longer the story of an ancient Pharaoh, but of a boy at the threshold between childhood and adulthood. The age of the Shadow Games had ended. Duel Monsters was just a game, its champion just a boy—a young man now. With the Puzzle gone, he and his friends believed, his life would be ordinary once more. After all, he'd only been extraordinary because he'd solved the Puzzle.
As it turned out, they'd gotten it backwards. He'd only solved the Puzzle because he was extraordinary.
It had been a week since they'd returned from Egypt. He'd expected it to be hard, for everything to be different, for the hole in his heart to be gaping, impossible to fill, but to his surprise, he didn't feel that way at all. He felt… the same. He didn't understand the sameness; after three years of sharing his body with his other self, the ancient spirit of the Pharaoh—Atem, he reminded himself, his name is Atem—he'd expected his absence to feel so different, so lonely. But he felt the same. You aren't anyone but yourself, Atem had told him before he left. There is only one Yugi Mutou in the world. It had sounded so lonely at the time, but truth be told, the absence of the Millennium Puzzle was harder to get used to than the absence of the spirit who came from it. Every morning he still reached for it and was surprised when he didn't find it hanging from his bedpost. Everywhere he went he felt almost naked without its familiar weight hanging from a thick chain around his neck. It was a little disconcerting that he felt the Puzzle's absence more than the Pharaoh's. Not that he didn't miss Atem, because he did. Not an hour went by when he didn't think of him or wish they could talk or he could ask for advice, especially when playing Duel Monsters, where he was most used to taking a backseat to the Pharaoh. But even dueling didn't feel all that different. There was no hole in his heart.
At least not because of Atem.
"Just the guys again, huh?" Tristan said, banging his lunch tray onto the cafeteria table and grimacing at its contents. "Téa still avoiding us?" He sat down, then nearly jumped up again when he got what Yugi guessed was supposed to be a furtive kick in the shins under the table from Joey. "What?" Tristan cried out, glaring at his friend, then noticed Yugi pushing his food around his tray and snapped his mouth closed.
Yugi rolled his eyes. Joey meant well, but subtlety was not his strong suit and Yugi didn't need to be babied. He knew at barely five feet tall he was diminutive and now Pharaoh-less, but he wasn't a child. "It's not us she's avoiding," he said, his attempt at nonchalance sounding pathetic even to his own ears.
Joey sighed, brushing hair out of his eyes. "Yuge, it isn't you."
"It's just weird," Joey continued. "For all of us. But especially for her. I think… I dunno," Joey shrugged at the futility of trying to explain the complex relationship the others had to the Pharaoh they'd simply known as the other Yugi.
Yugi pushed his tray away and folded his arms, looking down at the table. "Its not my fault he had to leave and it's not my fault everyone sees him when they look at me. Or me when they looked at him. Or whatever. I didn't ask for any of this. And she was my friend first," he finished, cringing at how immature he sounded. So much for not being a child.
"We know," Tristan chimed in, trying to be helpful. "She just needs a little time, that's all."
"I know, I get that," Yugi replied, feeling a little bad for having been so churlish. He looked up at his friends. "It's just that graduation is just a couple months away, and then she's off to New York to dance, I'm off to Cairo to study with Professor Hawkins, Tristan's off to the army—"
"And I'm going nowhere," Joey finished, taking his turn in the self-pity pool.
Yugi sighed. The last thing he'd wanted was for his best friend to get down on himself. "You have no idea how grateful Grandpa is that you'll be working at the game shop. He'll need the help once I leave. And you're going to clean up on the dueling circuit," he said.
"Won't be the same without you," Joey replied flatly.
"Hey, stop making it sound like the gang's splitting up," Tristan put in. "Just because we won't see each other every day doesn't mean we aren't still together where it counts." He balled his right hand into a fist and patted his chest with it for emphasis, then held his hand up to his face, showing them its back.
There was no longer any ink on Tristan's hand, obviously, but Yugi could still almost see the mark Téa had drawn there nearly three years ago, and could almost feel the one on his own hand as well. She'd drawn a happy face across their four hands combined to symbolize their friendship bond. Typical Téa, but they'd long ago stopped thinking of it as stupid or girlish because the bond it had created was very real and alive in all of them. Distance would not change that, and they all knew it, though that did little to lessen the sense of loss he felt at the thought of all of them going their separate ways after graduation. That and thinking about the happy face mark only served to bring his thoughts back to Téa and he felt her current absence anew.
"Maybe I should talk to her," he mused.
"Just give her time," Tristan said again, putting his hand down and reaching for his spoon. But with graduation and Cairo and New York looming, Yugi didn't feel like he had much time to give her.
As the school day progressed, Yugi saw Téa only briefly, in the hallway between classes, never anywhere he could actually approach her and talk to her. After school he looked for her, but she'd disappeared. He weighed Tristan's advice to give her time against his own sense of urgency to spend as much time as he could with his friends—all of them—before graduation and found himself heading away from the game shop where he lived in an upstairs apartment with his grandfather and towards Téa's house. His natural inclination, or at least what would have been his natural inclination in the days before the Millennium Puzzle and the Pharaoh had come into his life, was to let things lie and let others come to him of their own volition. Though quiet and introverted by nature, his three years coexisting with the more gregarious Pharaoh had made him a little more bold and he simply didn't want to waste any more of their precious time giving her space to grieve Atem without having to see him every time she looked at Yugi.
Téa was Yugi's oldest friend; his only friend for years when everyone else saw him as a strange loner whose only interests were games and puzzles, back when Joey and Tristan were petty bullies who liked to torment him, back when there was no Pharaoh and the Millennium Puzzle had yet to be solved. She was really the only person who had known him before the Pharaoh had changed him forever. She'd been the one to first recognize that Yugi sometimes seemed to act like a different person. She'd been the one to remind him of who he was and what he valued when the Pharaoh's highly competitive streak came out a little too forcefully, the one to see him as he truly was. It was, perhaps then, a little ironic that she out of all of them would grow to care for Atem as a person separate from Yugi. Well, okay, maybe not that ironic. Atem was, after all, everything Yugi was not. Fearless, outgoing, charming, charismatic, a born leader. And Téa was, well, a girl. Yugi at seventeen years old had never so much as had a girl look at him twice, unless you counted Professor Hawkins's granddaughter, Rebecca, and Yugi certainly did not count her, seeing as she was only eleven and her childish crush on him was mortifying. He also didn't count Vivian Wong, the slightly crazy Chinese duelist who had come on to both him and Kaiba at the Kaiba Corp Grand Championship, because she'd only really cared about power, and his power had come from Atem. He knew good and well that fearless, outgoing, charming, charismatic, born leaders were much more attractive to girls than shy, reserved, bland, followers.
That, then, was the real problem here. Téa had liked Atem—liked liked him—and now he was gone and Yugi alone was left to serve as a reminder of the person she'd lost. It was a weird situation to be in, caught between one of his closest friends and a spirit who had inhabited his body. And it didn't help that Atem's leaving had been by Yugi's own hand. It was his victory over Atem in the Ceremonial Battle that had allowed the Pharaoh to leave his Millennium Puzzle, body-sharing limbo and go to the spirit world where he belonged. The fact that they all knew he belonged there and not with them did not make it easier on them, least of all on Yugi or Téa. Nevertheless, whatever feelings she had for Atem, whatever awkwardness it created between her and Yugi, she'd been Yugi's friend first and remained one of the most important people in his life, and he wasn't going to let her go without a fight. He was a duelist, after all, even without Atem, and he always fought hard for what was important to him. Atem had taught him that much.
When he reached Téa's house, however, he almost lost his nerve, but steeling himself up (the Pharaoh wouldn't run away from conflict), he knocked on the door. Téa's mother answered.
"Hello, Mrs. Gardner," Yugi said politely. "Is Téa home?"
"Oh, hello Yugi," Mrs. Gardner smiled, opening the door a little wider and motioning him in. "I haven't seen you since you kids got back from that trip to Egypt."
"I know. The last couple months of the school year are always kind of busy, especially since it's senior year," Yugi replied, shuffling his feet. Mrs. Gardner studied him for a moment and he felt very uncomfortable under her scrutiny. What had Téa told her?
After a moment, she smiled at him and said, "Téa's in her room. You can go on up."
"Thank you." Yugi dipped his head to her and slipped out of his boots—the Pharaoh's boots, he thought, remembering that he'd never worn anything more adventuresome than sneakers before the Pharaoh had come into his life. Then swallowing hard, he headed upstairs to Téa's room and knocked softly at the closed door. "Téa, it's me."
There was silence from within. Yugi tried again. "Can we talk?"
Another silence, then he heard Téa's voice from inside. "Yeah, Yugi, come on in."
He opened the door and entered Téa's bedroom. She was sitting on her bed, leaning back against the pillows under a large poster of some Broadway musical, her knees pulled up to her chin and her arms wrapped around them. She had already changed out of her horrible pink school uniform and into jeans and a white blouse buttoned only halfway up to reveal a red tank top underneath, but despite the more comfortable clothes, she looked decidedly uncomfortable, as uncomfortable as he felt. At least she smiled at him when he came in.
"Hey, Yugi," she said in quiet greeting.
"Hey," he replied. He looked down at the floor, suddenly feeling Atem's absence more keenly than he had since leaving Egypt. He wouldn't have stood here looking at his socks. He would've known what to say. Looking up at her, Yugi made a stab at conversation. "We missed you at lunch."
Now it was her turn to examine her feet, or rather, her knees. "Yeah, I had some stuff…" she trailed off to sort of a mumble and Yugi couldn't make out the rest. Not an auspicious start.
Taking a breath, he crossed over to the bed and sat down at the foot, a respectable distance from her so as not to crowd her space. "Téa, I know you're upset with me for winning the duel and making him leave, but I really want us to still be friends," he said in a rush.
Her head jerked up and she looked at him, her eyes round with surprise. "Oh, Yugi, I'm not upset with you! You had to win the duel, I know that. It was the right thing to do. He belongs there, with his friends and family from the past, from Egypt, not hanging around with a bunch of high school kids in Japan."
"I know. Doesn't make us miss him any less, though, does it?"
She shook her head. "No." She sighed. "You must really miss him. I'm sorry for being such a baby and moping around like it's all about me. This has to be way harder on you."
"No, I understand," he said with a weak smile.
"It's just… complicated."
"I know. But I… I mean, we… all of us… we've missed hanging out with you."
"Yugi, I just… it's kinda hard to deal with, everything that happened in Egypt. I just need a little time to kind of sort through it in my head alone, okay?"
"Yeah, I understand," he repeated, "and I don't mean to be pushy or anything, but I keep thinking about graduation and you going to New York and Tristan going into the army and me going to Egypt, and… we don't really have a lot of time left and I don't want to spend my last couple months in Domino without seeing you."
She tilted her head back and stared at the ceiling. "Ugh, I know. I hate that we're all leaving, I really do. I can't stand the thought of not all being together."
"I know, me neither," he agreed. "But it's kind of exciting, too. You're finally going to New York to dance! You've been wanting to do that since, like, forever." He smiled then, remembering the time Téa had first admitted her dream of going to New York to become a dancer. "Remember when Joey and I found out you were working at that restaurant to save up money to go and you got mad because you thought we were going to give away that you were under age? I don't think I ever did get all the ketchup out of my clothes."
Téa laughed along with him. Then she sobered quickly and pulled her head back upright to look at him. "Yugi, what am I going to do without you? All of you," she added sort of hastily.
"Be a famous dancer," Yugi told her earnestly.
She smiled, but her eyes looked a little sad. "Doubtful. I'll be lucky if I get to dance chorus and don't end up waiting tables the rest of my life."
"No, you'll be a star," Yugi disagreed. "Just wait."
She shook her head, then tilted it back to the wall once more. "Arrgh, Yugi, why do you have to make it so hard?'
Now he was confused. "What? What did I do?"
"Nothing. You didn't do anything. It's just… Egypt changed everything and it's hard to figure out how to deal with him being gone, because it's not like a separate friend is gone, but like a part of you, but you're still here, so it seems like it should be the same, but it isn't and… ugh, I sound like an idiot."
"No you don't," he said, "I feel exactly the same way, not like I lost a friend, but a part of myself."
"Yeah," he gave her a small smile. "I didn't think anyone else understood. Except… I don't know, I expected to feel different after he was gone, but I don't. So I don't really know how to deal with any of this either."
She nodded. "Yes, that's exactly the problem, see? Everything seems the same, but it isn't and I haven't figured out how to deal with that yet, and then you come here and make me laugh like nothing has changed at all and somehow… that makes it harder."
His heart twisted at that. The last thing he wanted to do was to make things harder on her. But there was so little time left to spend with her. "Téa, you're my—" He paused, fishing for the words to complete that sentence. Best friend was what he'd started to say, but really it was Joey who filled that role. Téa occupied a different space in his heart, one that was very important but resisted an easy label. "—oldest friend," he finished, lacking a better descriptor. "I know everything's weird because he was sort of a part of me and I remind you of him. I don't want to make things harder for you and I understand why you need space, but I keep thinking there isn't time. I don't know how long it will be before I see any of you again after I go and I don't want to lose our last couple months before we all leave. I… I know I don't mean as much to you as he did, but your friendship really means a lot to me and I really don't want this to mess that up."
She suddenly sat up straight, her eyes wide. "Yugi, is that what you think? That he was more important to me than you?"
He shrugged. "It's okay, Téa, I get it."
"Oh no," she moaned softly, shaking her head. "No, that is so not true." She leaned her forehead on her hand in self-reproach. "Oh God, Yugi, I am so sorry. I've been so unfair to you, acting like he mattered and you didn't." She looked up at him again and he thought she was about to cry, which made him more uncomfortable.
"You haven't been unfair, I know it's all weird," he said quickly, trying to keep her from crying.
"You don't know," she insisted. "You… you mean everything to me, Yugi, okay? It is weird, and I'm sorry for avoiding you because of it, but you have to know it's not because you're not important to me."
"I know," he tried again. "I get it, Téa, I do. It's okay. It's not a competition, okay? You don't have to prove we're friends. And you haven't done anything wrong. I understand why it's hard for you to be around me. I just… I hope it won't be hard forever."
"No, you don't get it," she repeated, shaking her head. "Oh God, I've made such a mess of everything. No matter what I say, I'll only make it worse." Now she was crying, and Yugi's stomach clenched into a tight ball. He leaned forward and touched her hand, trying to comfort her.
"You haven't made a mess of anything. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make it worse for you. Please don't cry. I understand, really I do. I know he meant something different to you than I do. I know everything is weird because… I know you liked him, okay?" There. He'd said it. She liked him; it was pointless to pretend otherwise.
"Oh Yugi," she groaned, "you don't understand at all. I thought I had it worked out in my head, that I could separate you into two distinct people in my heart, the part that was my friend, has always been my friend, and the part that I…" she paused, having trouble getting the words out. "Okay, the part that I thought of as something more, like you said. But then we went to California and you—I mean he—lost that Orichalcos duel and your soul, the part of you that is you, was gone and that's when I realized I couldn't do it, I couldn't keep you separate. I knew then that it wasn't just him, it was you. Everything's weird because I like you."
This stopped him cold and he involuntarily recoiled from her, his hand flying off hers. There was no way he could have heard that right. Téa liked the Pharaoh, not him. Everyone knew it. He was everything Yugi could never be. There was no way in a million years Téa Gardner, who had been his friend since forever, could like him. Not like that.
She was shaking now, and she hugged her knees more tightly to stop the trembling. Looking back down at her knees, she added softly, sounding thoroughly miserable, "I can't separate you in my head, Yugi. I can't stop liking you both."
She started talking in a rush then, as if she had to get everything out quickly because he might bolt the room in disgust before she could finish. "Okay, I know how bad that sounds, and I feel so… cheap, like a total tramp to go after two brothers or two friends at the same time, but it's not like that, okay?" She looked up at him, eyes pleading with him to not judge her, but he was too stunned to feel anything at all.
"You have to understand what it's like for the rest of us, okay? You said it felt like a part of you was gone, so you have to understand that to us, to me, there's only you. There's only Yugi, and Yugi is part this boy I've known forever and part King of Games and he's quiet and gentle and strong and confident all mixed together and even though I know some of it is from you and some of it is from him, it's just who you are and I… I…" faltered. "I like you, okay? All of you. Except then you had to do that stupid Ceremonial Battle and half of you is gone and it's like you're not you anymore, you're only half you, which I know is a horrible thing to say and probably gets you back to thinking I don't like you the way you are, only with him, but that's not how it is, okay? I swear! It… it was the same in California when it was just him and not you, it was awful. I missed you so much I couldn't stand it. But I kept telling myselfyou were coming back. No matter how afraid I got that we'd never see you again, I kept telling myself we'd figure out how to beat Dartz and get you back. And when you did come back, God, I will never forget when you came back and I knew it was you. I was never so happy in my whole life. He wasn't him without you any more than you're you without him.
"Only he's not coming back," she went on, more emotion creeping into her voice with every word, "and I don't know what to do with that. I don't know how to be with you anymore when you make me laugh like none of it ever happened and everything's the same as it was before he was ever here, but it isn't. I know I have to get used to the fact that you and him are two different people, and I'm trying, I am, but it isn't that easy, and I know everything I'm saying is just making it a thousand times worse and I should've just kept my stupid mouth shut because soon you'll be in Egypt and I'll be in New York so even if everything wasn't so weird and it was simple and even if you did like me back it's not like we could do anything about it anyway because we're going to be apart for who knows how long and I just hate myself for this whole thing because you are totally my best friend and I'm completely screwing that up, too. But there was just no way I could let you think he's more important to me than you are, Yugi, because it's so not true, and I'd rather you go to Egypt hating me for being so stupid and such a disloyal friend than to think for one second that you could ever mean less to me than he does. You mean everything to me."
She stopped finally, though Yugi suspected it was more because she'd run out of air than that she'd run out of things to say. He had no idea what to say to her, how to reply to this confession that came so completely out of left field for him. Téa liked him? It was utterly inconceivable. But she looked so miserable, so afraid, like she thought he was about to declare her worthless and walk out on her, and nothing could be further from the truth, so he had to say something, anything to comfort her, to let her know…
Let her know what? That he'd had a crush on her for almost as long as he'd known her but that he never ever thought it even remotely possible that she could think of him as more than a friend? That the very possibility it might be true had his head spinning? That despite what she said he wasn't sure how much of it was because of the Pharaoh and had nothing whatsoever to do with him?
"Téa," he started, but he didn't have the first clue what else he could say.
"Yugi, I'm so sorry, for everything. I haven't screwed everything up, have I? We can still be friends, can't we?"
"Téa, stop," he said putting his hand out. "Let me catch up, okay? This is… it's a lot to absorb, okay? I had no idea… I…." He paused, shaking his head. Finding out his body played host to an ancient spirit was less surreal than the concept that Téa—Téa—could possibly like him. "I don't know how I'm supposed to feel about any of this."
She wiped her eyes on the back of her hand and took in a shuddering breath. "Yugi, I'm not looking for anything from you, okay? I don't want you to say anything; it's all too confused right now. And it wouldn't matter anyway because of Egypt and New York and everything. I just… I just wanted to make sure you knew, really knew how much you mean to me. And that we can still be friends."
He looked at her, astonished that she could even question that. It was like asking if he would still like to breathe air. "Téa, we'll always be friends. I couldn't live without your friendship. Why do you think I came over here? It's been awful without you. It was bad enough losing Atem, but losing you? That's been the hardest part of the last week. Not that he was gone, but that you were."
At this, she flung herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck and sobbing into his shoulders like she had when he'd come back after being lost to the Orichalcos. He was overwhelmed once more, the introvert not knowing what to do with all this excess emotion aimed at him. Even what he'd learned from the Pharaoh didn't help here; though more gregarious than himself, Atem had still been somewhat stoic when it came to emotional displays. Feeling awkward, he put his arms around her and tried to soothe her.
They sat like that a long time, holding each other as she gradually stopped crying. As he held her, he found himself suddenly aware of her in a way he usually didn't allow himself; how her arms felt around him, the feel of her smooth cotton blouse under his fingertips along her back, the fresh and lightly floral smell of her hair and how soft it was against his cheek, the sound of her breathing as it slowly evened out from gasping sobs to something approaching normal. His stomach did a slow tumble and he felt overwhelmed yet again, but when she eventually pulled away, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand once more, he found himself reluctant to let her go.
"I'm sorry," she sniffed. "You must think I am such an idiot."
"No," he said, shaking his head. He had a sudden urge to wipe a tear off her cheek, but suppressed it. That was just not a direction he needed to go, for both of their sakes. They were both too confused and the worst thing he could do would be to muddy the waters further. "I just want things to be okay between us. We've only got a little while left before graduation and I don't want to lose any more time over weirdness. I've missed you, Téa. A lot."
She smiled. "Me too." Then she chuckled softly. "I even missed stupid Joey and Tristan. I'm sorry I've been such a… girl."
"Please don't apologize anymore, Téa. Just say you'll start hanging out with us again, okay?"
She nodded. "Yeah, of course I will."
They were silent a moment, and he felt awkward again, afraid to look her directly in the eye. After a long pause where they each examined their hands in their respective laps, Yugi said, "I really need to go. I didn't tell Grandpa I was coming over here after school and he wanted me to help around the shop today."
"Okay," she said, getting up from the bed. He got up too and they walked together to the door. "Call me later so we can go over math homework, okay?"
"Yeah, I will," he said. Then standing on tiptoe to make up for the five-inch difference in their heights, he gave her another quick hug. He wanted to say more, something that would somehow put words around what she meant to him, but it was impossible. There were no words big enough, so he settled for telling her, "I'll talk to you later."
"Okay," she said again, then after a pause added, "Thank you, Yugi. Thanks for being my friend."