Note: Initially this was written as three separate stories, hence the title "Celebrity Trilogy." Simply for the ease of posting it here, I've combined the whole mess into one three-chapter story.
The magazine is one of those that follows(makes) pop culture trends. Deciding one month, as Duel Monsters swiftly continued to gain popularity to the point of being somewhere near a phenomenon, that an article of some sort was needed. An article that wound up snowballing into a cover feature centred around the current champion.
When the magazine hits the shelves, Yugi barely recognizes himself on those glossy pages. Photos taken at a low angle to give the illusion of height, artfully lit so the play of light and shadow across his features carves away some of the softness there. Reminding him of the first time he saw playback of some of the footage from Battle City, that same sense of, "that's what I look like?" causing his stomach to bottom out. The only difference being that with Battle City it hadn't been him. Not really. And the more he stares at that slick cover the more he realizes that the photographer had been trying to make him look like that again. Not knowing the noble creature that won Battle City is long dead. The thought making him sick to his stomach and causing him to dislike the whole notoriety aspect of being the world's top duelist even more.
People only see what they want to see. Kaiba told him that once. While on a plane, a private jet, somewhere between Domino and London. He thinks it was London. It was one of the European tournaments for sure. An invitational, although the shear number of tournaments have long since begun to blur through his memories. The conversation stands out though. If only because being somewhere with Kaiba was so rare. Let alone a time when Kaiba actually held a civil conversation with him.
"People only see what they want to see. They look at you and they see the man who won Battle City." And Yugi still doesn't precisely know how to feel about that particular fact. That people look at him and see a ghost.
Jounouchi calls him up from a tournament on the other side of the world when he sees it, congratulating his friend on the appearance. "That's some interview too, I can hardly believe it's you. You sound so--"
"Nah. It's not like you're Kaiba or anything." The name spit with a only small amount of mocking irritation now. "But you sound- older. Or something. Like--"
A sudden, awkward, pause. And Yugi knows what Jounouchi had been about to say. Quickly affecting a smile (Jounouchi has an annoying tendency to sense Yugi's moods from his tone of voice alone) and forcing the conversation along like he didn't even notice the hesitation. The pair of them saying their goodbyes quickly after that.
Jounouchi isn't the only one to call him, simply one of the first. Other friends and acquaintances offering congratulations and making jokes about the whole thing. Other media outlets suddenly wanting a piece of the action when it's noticed how quickly those magazines fly off the shelves. He makes for the perfect sort of celebrity after all. Sweet and unassuming and genuinely modest. The style is a little out there, but even with the buckles and the eyeliner there's something entirely non-threatening about him. The sort of face that should find its way onto teen magazines and ultimately does. The tournaments he enters suddenly being attended by more than just the dueling enthusiasts. Shocked, and more than a little bit overwhelmed by the squealing masses that can apparently recite his height, weight, date of birth, favourite colour and shoe size on command without the slightest bit of hesitation. Not to mention the continuing offers for special appearances, interviews and sponsorship deals that leave his head spinning.
It's Kaiba that he ultimately goes to for help. Easily smiling in the face of cold distain as he tries to explain his problem. That he's exhausted and overwhelmed and he doesn't know what to do. Kaiba sneering in return and asking who his manager is.
An exasperated sigh. "Why am I not surprised."
"Well, it's just-- I didn't think I'd need one."
Within an hour, Kaiba has convinced Yugi that it will be in his best interest to work for KaibaCorp, so to speak. To allow someone in the PR department to handle scheduling the overwhelming amount appearances and interviews and tournaments. "Then all you need to concern yourself with is your dueling."
Yugi thinks it's a perfect solution, cheerfully thanking Kaiba as he stands to leave, and Kaiba assures him he'll have someone from legal come up with a contract by the end of the week. And for a while, things calm down. He's still far more sought after than he ever wanted to be, but he doesn't have to worry about it anymore. Despite Jounouchi's insistence that he's gone and sold his soul to the devil, working for Kaiba like that.
"Kaiba-kun isn't that bad," Yugi insists with a smile. "Besides, I'm not really working for him. I hardly see him. Nothing's really changing other than the fact that I don't have to worry about scheduling things anymore."
"I still don't like it." But Jounouchi doesn't push, and soon enough the difference in opinion is shoved aside.
It takes some getting used to. His life being constantly shaped and scheduled. Forever on the move and wondering if he'll ever have time to himself again. But he adapts and smiles as he always has. People are depending on him, after all, in some small way or another. Cheering him on or striving to become better than him or even something as simple as wanting to catch a bare glimpse of the man who's thought to be the greatest duelist in the world.
And Yugi hates to let anyone down.
It is this that takes the biggest toll on him. His smile slowly beginning to grow more brittle as he comes to realize that there are opponents who are going to walk away bitter, blaming him for all their failings. That there are fans who are going to become obsessive, screaming for his love in return or they'll die. That nothing he does will ever change this, and he spends far too many nights alone in anonymous (although lushly appointed) hotel rooms with nothing but his churning thoughts for company. Ending up on sleeping pills, just so he'll be somewhat rested for the next day.
He hardly sees his friends anymore. Not that he doesn't want to, more that he doesn't have time to. Even Jounouchi, who is in the professional dueling circuit as well, he only sees rarely due to the fact that they hardly ever attend the same tournaments out of a sense of fairness. And it seems ironic, that if one follows the twisting threads of logic correctly, it seems that the very thing he wished for friends upon also wound up taking them away. That if it hadn't been for the Other, and his winning Battle City, Yugi wouldn't be spending months on end flying around the globe. Defending a title he never really wanted in the first place.
When he sees Kaiba at a tournament in Vegas, it takes every ounce of willpower not to throw himself at the other man. So elated at the sight of a familiar face that he's nearly dizzy with euphoria. Smile genuine for the first time in months. Chattering happily about how it's so nice to see him again and, "Are you competing? I didn't see your name on the roster." Oblivious to the faint frown of irritation creasing Kaiba's brow.
"I don't have time to compete anymore. Although for some reason I'm still expected to attend as a sponsor."
"Then maybe you should compete. At least then you'd have more of a reason to be here. Right?"
An irritable hum is the only answer and any further conversation is cut short by the five minute warning before the tournament rounds begin again. Yugi quickly extracting a promise for Kaiba to meet him for drinks after the day's rounds are done. The other man grumbling an incoherent response that Yugi decides to take for a "yes". Still smiling when his duel starts and beaming at the screaming crowd around him in a way that he hasn't for what feels like years.
By the end of the day he's in the quarterfinals and Kaiba is waiting for him while he gathers his things. Grumbling, "I'm only doing this as a courtesy. We're not friends." And Yugi smiles and says, "I know," before launching into a steady stream of chatter. Talking about friends and acquaintances and asking Kaiba how Mokuba is doing. Carrying the entire weight of the conversation on his shoulders and not caring in the least. Simply glad to have someone who knew him Before all of this to talk to.
Yugi drinks too much that night, but he tells himself he doesn't care. Maybe if he blows it in the second day of the tournament he'll finally get some peace. Telling Kaiba as much when the man tries to take his drink away from him.
"Do you do this often?" Kaiba ultimately growls as he works on prying Yugi out of his chair and prodding him up to his hotel room.
"Do- do what?"
"Drink yourself stupid. I haven't seen anything in the tabloids hinting at you having a drinking problem, but..."
"No. Why do you care anyway?" A giggle. "You don't care. You say it all the time, right?"
"Right. I don't," Kaiba agrees with a brief nod as he guides Yugi into the elevator, thumbing the appropriate button for his floor. Deciding then and there, against all common sense, that he'll let Yugi sleep it off in his room. Not wanting to attempt to pry a room number out of his rival in this state. "But if you'll recall, your name is attached to my company now. I'd prefer that one of my biggest spokespeople wasn't a lush."
"Well 'm not." Yugi's statement punctuated with a firm nod that nearly causes him to overbalance. "Jus tired. Tha's all." A yawn and, much to Kaiba's dismay, Yugi begins nuzzling against his side. "Tired of it all."
"Why don't you quit then?" The question escaping Kaiba's lips before he has a chance to stop himself. Grudgingly allowing Yugi to continue snuggling against him as the elevator makes its slow journey between floors. "You could easily retire. Between the tournament winnings and your shares in Industrial Illusions..."
"Don' wanna disappoint anyone." The statement is muffled against Kaiba's jacket to the point that he barely hears it. "Everyone expects me to- to--"
The faint noise of the elevator doors opening stops him short. Yugi blinking hazily as Kaiba guides him into the hallway and towards his suite. Finally balking in confusion when it penetrates his alcohol clouded mind that this isn't his room that Kaiba is ushering him into. "K- Kaiba..."
"I'm not in the mood to argue, Yugi. Just go to sleep and sober up."
"A- and what if the tabloids catch wind of this one?" Yugi giggling as he stumbles into the room. Face lighting up when he notices the bar tucked into one corner and he's about to make a beeline for it before one of Kaiba's arms coils around his waist. Easily stopping him short. "Kaiba Seto and Mutou Yugi spend the night together at the Vegas Invitational. It could wind up sounding so to- torrid." A lopsided smile touching his lips, one hand reaching up to vaguely brush at Kaiba's jaw. Easily batted aside.
"You let me worry about that. I have people to make sure those sorts of stories are never given a second thought."
"Mmm. Got people. Got everything. Jus like me. Right?" Another laugh, veering towards bitter. "Got everything, but what good is it? What good is it when you're never in one place more than a week. When everyone around you wants to take it. I want-- I just want--" Yugi's voice trailing off as he awkwardly stretches onto his toes. Nuzzling at the underside of Kaiba's jaw. Questing lips making contact with skin for a split second before Kaiba pulls away. Firmly gripping the shorter man's shoulders and pushing him back. Escorting him those last few steps towards the couch and pushing him down to a seated position.
"Get some sleep, Yugi. Quarterfinals tomorrow, remember? You may say that you want to blow it, that you want it to end. But both you and I know you'll die a little if you do." Kaiba not saying another word as he turns and walks away. Pointedly ignoring Yugi's plaintive call for him to come back. For something that he wants but he'll be damned if he'll admit it and double damned if he takes it right now, when Yugi's drunk out of his mind.
The next morning Yugi is gone. Leaving behind a brief note thanking Kaiba for his hospitality and apologizing for his behaviour. And when Kaiba sees him again later that day, he's carefully distant. No scampering up to his side with a brilliant smile this time. Simply a vague nod, the faint blush tinting pale cheeks proof enough that Yugi remembers precisely what he did the previous night.
And when all is said and done, Yugi walks away with the trophy.
No one is surprised.