A/N: the obligatory reincarnation story. I just had to do it. It's not going to be long, only three chapters at most. Don't look for plot here, either. Yami/Yuugi centric, with some Seto and Jonouchi for good measure.
It was going to be a weird day.
Seto Kaiba knew this immediately from the moment his eyes opened. He couldn't explain it, but he just knew. He went through his morning routine – brushing his teeth, taking a shower, calling the bodyguard he had with Mokuba to make sure his little brother was doing all right at college, and studied his itinerary for the day.
Ah, right … he was making rounds at the Duel Academy today. Duel Monsters was a continuing success, thanks to the impressive holographic technology that Seto had developed. Now simpler, less sophisticated versions of the Duel Disks were available to almost everyone, and those amateurs whose parents were willing to cough up the money (and a few charity cases: Seto had never forgotten his roots, not really) were able to send their children to the summer camp that was Duel Academy. The game was harmless enough, if addicting.
Now, Seto found himself thinking before remembering that he didn't believe in any of this Shadow Game crap that Mutou and his friends insisted on rambling about. It had been nine years since Mutou and his friends had flown to Egypt, and when they had returned Mutou's precious puzzle was gone from his neck.
From there Mutou had gone on to win several prestigious tournaments, secure himself enough money for college, and now he was an overseer for Seto's Duel Academy every summer. The shrimp had, not unexpectedly, become a teacher. He was always instructing everyone around him … seems like that's what he was born to do.
Mutou was effective, but Seto's occasional presence helped assure everyone stayed on task. Nothing quite like your boss' boss' boss to make you keep your ass in line, especially on opening day.
Seto arrived at the 'camp' – housed, delightfully enough, in one of Pegasus' old mansions – precisely five minutes before nine o'clock. He stepped out of the limo to see none other than Mutou standing at the gates, his arms crossed but wearing a friendly smile. "Kaiba-kun," he grinned. "Right on time, as always."
Mutou was a little taller now, but he'd never quite cleared five foot six, and his hair was all black now. The punkish style he'd tended towards in high school was, of course, long gone, save for the choker around his neck. "I understand all the preparations went well," Seto stated.
"You know I always get everything done," Mutou replied. "Just admit it, Kaiba-kun. You like coming on opening day to see the new faces."
Seto didn't dignify that with an answer. "I'm going to take a look around," he said brusquely. "I'll be back in time for opening ceremonies."
"I'll look forward to it," Mutou answered, gesturing Seto inside. The CEO didn't need an escort, and Mutou had nothing to fear from these drop-in inspections.
Everything was spotless as always. The sounds of children became ever greater as the students began to arrive. Seto frightened some secretaries in the office, then moved on to randomly test a few of the provided Duel Disks. The objects were quite durable, but Seto was constantly surprised by the creative ways these children managed to break them.
"Need a dueling partner?"
Seto turned to see Jonouchi in the doorway, smirking. "Later," Seto answered, returning the Duel Disk to where it belonged. "Don't you have anything better to do than wandering around?"
"Dueling Room's all set up and the ceremonies don't start for another half an hour," Jonouchi shrugged. "I'll get to know the students soon enough. Don't you have anything better to do than wander around basking in your own success?"
"… You know, I could always fire you."
"Yeah, I guess you could." Jonouchi smirked, straightening from where he was leaning in the doorjamb. "I dunno what I'd do then," he added, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Like Mutou, Jonouchi wasn't exclusively on Seto's payroll. This was just a part-time job, and Jonouchi wasn't even an instructor – he just helped set things up while he took a few weeks worth of easy hours at his salaryman job. "Well?" Seto asked. "You have a reason for bothering me?"
"Stick around after opening ceremonies, and we'll show these kids a real duel," Jonouchi answered. "And don't forget you promised me a prototype of the new model since I won last time."
"You'll get it when it's done," Seto snorted, brushing past Jonouchi. "I'm going to go see the students."
"I swear, this year they're tryin' to top Yuugi's hairstyle," Jonouchi informed him, falling into step at Seto's side.
Seto allowed himself a smirk. "That would take some doing."
"Tell me about it …"
Jonouchi stopped tagging along when they hit the courtyard, though. The Duel Academy had a record-high number of students this year, and they were all milling around, the less local ones saying goodbye to their parents for the summer, others already cheerfully dueling each other with just cards or with the less sophisticated Duel Disks Seto had put out at lower prices. Seto rapidly saw what Jonouchi meant about the hairstyles … what was it about this game that brought out the J-Rock wannabes and punk-goth-lolis?
But there was one hairstyle that was a blast from the past amongst the rest. Wildly spiked hair with bleached bangs made Seto blink. An extreme Mutou fan? I'll have to keep an eye on that one. Imitating hairstyles could be the sign of a stalker, no matter how young these kids were.
The boy was short, but from this angle there was little more that Seto could see. He stood with his hips out and his shoulders rolled forward, his hands in his pockets as he stood silent in the middle of the chaos. Then Seto saw the boy stiffen a little, and his head turned.
Twin brown-red eyes met Seto's without hesitation or fear. Seto's eyebrows rose slightly.
The boy turned fully towards him now, his eyes widening a little, and then he started weaving through the crowd. Seto stood still with his arms crossed, relaxing again. The boy bore an uncanny resemblance to Mutou when Mutou was dueling … the hairstyle didn't help. He looked too young to remember the early days of the Duel Disks, when Seto had been a more active player, but if he was such a big fan of Mutou that he had his hair styled in the same way, then it wasn't too much to expect the boy to recognize Seto Kaiba on sight as well.
The boy finally came to his side, and Seto had to reassess. The boy's chin was no higher than his hip. There was no way he was old enough to remember those early televised Duels …
"Seto Kaiba," the boy said, "Right?"
Seto put his hands in his pockets and looked out over the students. "Yes. And you are?"
"Yamino Shiisen," the boy answered.
Seto was silent for a moment. "And are you a Yuugi Mutou fan?" he asked. "Your parents let you bleach your hair like that?"
"I don't have parents," the boy answered, and Seto blinked, looking down at the boy. But the child brushed right over the subject as if it was of no consequence. "I … I wanted to thank you, for the money," he said, his voice starting out a bit strained before confidence overtook it. "You didn't give it to me in person, but to let me come here … you don't know what you've done for me."
This kid was sophisticated, there was no mistake about that. He talked like he was three times his apparent age. "It's good the donation worked out for you," Seto answered after a moment. "Enjoy your summer." He made to go as the students began to take seats on the lawn chairs where Mutou would be making his opening speech.
It took him a few minutes to realize he had gained a living shadow. Yamino diligently followed Seto as he moved towards the front and took his seat. Seto crossed his arms and glanced back towards the child, who started slightly and tried to look busy. That kid is weird. He's going to bother me until I leave, too, isn't he?
But when Mutou reappeared from behind the makeshift stage, Seto caught Yamino's eyes lighting up. Oh, he's a huge Mutou fan. Of course, he thought, watching out of the corner of his eye as the kid settled in his chair, clutching his knees to his chest and just … smiling. Like he had found something invaluable that he would never lose again.
What the hell, why am I even noticing …
Seto's willpower was naturally nearly unbreakable, and he didn't think again of the boy while Mutou gave his customary opening speech, which included the mystical supposed origins of Duel Monsters, the life skills Duel Monsters could teach children (this was more for the parents than the kids), and how much fun everyone was going to have here. By the time he dismissed everyone, it was just about time for Seto to get back to Kaiba Corporation.
"I've got to go," Seto informed Mutou as the young man stepped down from the platform. "Everything seems to be in perfect order. As usual," he added, speaking in unison with Mutou and scowling when the other man laughed.
"Eventually, you'll learn to trust me," Mutou said. He shook Seto's hand, showing him towards the door. "Jonouchi told me you were going to duel with him today? So you'll be back?"
"He went and decided that on his own," Seto snapped. "… We'll see. Probably not, I'm very busy."
"You always are." Mutou rolled his eyes, then clapped a hand to Seto's shoulder before Seto could go. "When Mokuba's in town, we should all go out and do something fun."
"… We'll see," Seto sighed. "Now get to work. I don't pay you to make vacation plans."
"Yes, sir," Mutou answered with good-humored sarcasm. The man was frustratingly impossible to upset.
Seto climbed back into his limo and went to work, all thoughts on the day ahead of him.
It was impossible not to notice the boy, especially after Jonouchi's parting comment about the increasingly crazy hairstyles the students were wearing. Actually, it made Yuugi laugh when he first spotted the wild mop of hair styled so similarly to the way his own had been in high school. "A fan?" he mumbled to himself. "That's a little horrifying …"
Although if Yuugi was going to have a fan, he couldn't have asked for a more skilled one. The children were allowed to trade cards and build their decks and were gifted with six booster packs when they arrived, just to allow them to expand their decks and learn new strategies as their decks evolved with them. Yamino had arrived with only half a deck, from Yuugi's understanding, but using his booster packs and trading cards he'd built a rather standard but formidable Duel Deck that used his most powerful monsters, enhanced with traps and spells.
His favorite card, when asked on their initial survey, was 'Monster Reborn'.
Yuugi had laughed upon reading that. "Oh, it sounds like someone we both knew," he told Jonouchi when asked. "That was always the other—Atem's trump card," Yuugi recalled.
"You're right," Jonouchi smiled. "But don't you think the kid's kinda creepy? I mean, he does his hair like you used to, and his playing style isn't that different either. You don't think he's studied you or anything, do ya?"
"Well …" Yuugi shrugged. "I'm not very worried about it. He's eight years old, and everyone can have an idol, right? Although I'm embarrassed his seems to be me!" He laughed and rubbed the back of his head.
Yamino wasn't exactly a loner, but he didn't make any particular effort to make friends, either. Still, he was rather charismatic. The instructors and referees for his age group were impressed by how much he seemed to know about the game, given his age – and when he was asked, Yamino was always ready to give tips. He was completely undefeated in his age group by the time the first week was over. At first some of the supervisors were worried he would have made enemies of those he had beaten – Yamino had a certain arrogant streak about him, after all, and wouldn't hesitate to taunt his opponents – but instead, the other eight-to-ten year olds seemed to hero-worship him. It was unfathomably odd.
Yamino was naturally chosen to be his age group's representation in the camp-wide tournament, but that was two weeks away. In the meantime, during free hours the boy took to playing anyone at all was willing.
It was during one of these free hours that Yuugi encountered the boy outside, shuffling through his deck thoughtfully. Yuugi tried to spend as much time as he could amongst the students, but he had never actually spoken with Yamino. When Yuugi was around he would grow quiet, and one time, when Jonouchi was around, he related his observations.
"The kid just shut up and pretty much just watched you," Jonouchi had told Yuugi. "He had the weirdest smile on his face, too. I'm telling you, the kid's a little creepy."
Well, Yuugi was going to find out for himself. "Yamino-kun?" he asked, sitting down at opposite him at the bench.
The boy jumped, a few cards scattering from his grasp before he could catch them. "Ah!"
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to startle you," Yuugi winced, helping the boy collect his Duel Monsters back into a neat pile. During this entire procedure, the boy didn't say a word, although his mouth opened several times as though he meant to say something.
Finally, as Yuugi's hands neatened the deck, the boy mumbled, "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Yuugi looked for a way to break the ice. "I like your hairstyle," he teased after a moment.
The boy didn't look up at him, his gaze sliding sideways. "I – my hair is just kind of like this, but the bangs … it seemed like it should look like this. Somehow."
Yuugi tried to make sense of that for a moment before giving up. If the boy didn't want to speak through words, there were other ways. "You've done very well assembling your deck," he said gently. "I brought mine … did you want to Duel, Yamino-kun?"
But this didn't go as planned. The boy jumped again at the suggestion, and for just a second, their eyes met before Yamino's flicked back down again. "I … it's – not yet," he stammered. "Not yet. I'm just not ready for that, yet."
But Yuugi was silent, a little stunned. The boy's eyes, they were some kind of red …
Like the other me …
But there was little resemblance other than physical between this flustered child and the Pharaoh who had finally passed into the afterlife. If you discount his undefeated status … and that he's apparently teaching the other students in his age group! "You remind me of someone I knew," Yuugi found himself saying.
Yamino didn't look up, but his hands stilled on his deck. "Do I?" he asked quietly, almost plaintively.
"Yes. He was a very dear friend of mine," Yuugi continued. "He loved all kinds of games and he loved teaching others about them. We had a lot of crazy adventures together, my partner and I."
The boy's breath hitched slightly. Just slightly, his shoulders tensing and relaxing again. "What happened to him?"
"He passed on," Yuugi answered solemnly. "We were sad to see him leave, but … it was his time." It sounded so corny, Yuugi couldn't help thinking, when you tried to explain the Door and Atem's death to someone who wasn't there.
"Are you sure?" the boy asked.
Yuugi blinked, drawn out of his reverie. "Am I sure what?" he asked.
"Are you sure it was his time?" The boy's hands were clenched around his deck. "… or …" Suddenly the boy drew his cards to his chest and began to put them away, never lifting his eyes. "I've got to go," he said suddenly, and then he was running across the courtyard. Yuugi probably could have caught him if he ran like he meant it, but that would have been pretty weird.
"He is a little creepy," he mused, but not for the same reason Jonouchi thought he was creepy.
It wasn't a resemblance to Yuugi that Yamino had – it was a resemblance to Yuugi's other self!
The next time Yuugi met Yamino, it was under disciplinary circumstances. He made an unlikely pair with his fellow offender, a boy named Kensuke who was three times Yamino's size. Both boys were scratched and dirty, and Yamino was favoring his side, but otherwise they were no worse for the wear and glaring at each other with dangerous intent.
The story from the supervisor went something like this: she had been watching a game of Dungeon Dice when she heard shouts across the field. When she got there, a small crowd had gathered, one of their younger attendees was on the ground looking tearful, and Yamino and Kensuke were full-on going at it with fists. She had hauled both of them up here to Yuugi's office for their punishments.
Yuugi sighed. This wasn't his favorite part of the job … discipline was unpleasant on either end, but there was also the careful balancing act when one was taking care of kids that weren't one's own. "All right," he asked, the two of them, sitting down on the front of his desk, "What happened?"
"He was playing an ante game," Yamino started before the other could get a word in edgewise, which gave him the initial advantage. Ante games were not allowed at the Duel Academy. But Kensuke was quick too.
"She agreed to it," Kensuke protested. "And then outta nowhere this kid comes up and hits me," he declared, pointing at Yamino.
"I did not hit you," Yamino snapped, glaring. "And you were taking five of her cards! She wouldn't have been able to play Duel Monsters any more!"
"Yami-BUTTHOLE pushes me!" Kensuke finished over Yamino's protests.
"Woah!" Yuugi held up his hands. "Kensuke-kun, you're way too old for name calling." Kensuke scowled, and Yuugi crossed his arms. "All right, so your version of events is that you were playing an ante game, which you know you're not allowed to play, with a consenting player, whose name I'll need from you, when Yamino comes up and stops you by pushing you. What happened then?"
Yamino folded his arms and dropped his head forward, but Yuugi could still see him shooting Kensuke a cold glare. Kensuke wrapped up his story without further interruptions, however: "So Yamino tells me to stop, and I tell him it's none of his business, and then he pushes me again!" Yamino stirred at this, but didn't speak. "So I pushed him back, and I dunno … we just started fighting. But he started it," Kensuke added for good measure.
"You left out the whole game," Yamino protested.
"What?" Kensuke glared at Yamino.
"The game. You don't want to tell M—Mutou-san because you lost and you know it," Yamino declared.
"What game?" Yuugi asked.
"I didn't just come up and push him," Yamino said with a scowl, turning back towards Yuugi. "I mean, I did, but that was just so he would listen to me. I told him that if he would duel me and he won, then he could have my best cards, but if I won he would have to stop playing ante games." The boy smirked, and his face was abruptly very, very old. He was unguarded, unlike last time, and the resemblance to Atem took Yuugi's breath away for a moment. "I won, so Kensuke hit me, and, um … I hit back." Enough for the two of them to be scratched and bruised for a couple of days.
Yuugi considered the stories. Kensuke's was actually the more likely scenario, but Yuugi really wanted to believe Yamino was telling the truth. Duels like that reminded him of high school. "If you're telling the truth, Yamino, you were playing an ante game as well, and that's not allowed," Yuugi informed him. "Fighting isn't allowed either. So, for the both of you! No dueling for two days. Any of the duels you were scheduled to have, you automatically forfeit. Sound fair?"
Both of the boys looked at each other. Then Kensuke began to whine, pouting as eleven-year-olds sometimes do. Yamino closed his eyes, letting out a deep sigh.
"I'll have to take both your decks," Yuugi said. "I promise to return them in mint condition," he added when Yamino gave him a startled look.
Both troublemakers handed over their decks – one with a lot of grumbling, the other with a slight, upset tremor – and Yuugi sent them off to the nurses' office to make certain they were all right.
He was going to have to call parents over this – less because he was afraid the punishment didn't fit the crime, but to cover his own behind. Seto was rich enough that any lawsuit would be met with a wall of lawyers, but Yuugi didn't want anything to tarnish the school's record. Kensuke's parents were luckily in agreement with Yuugi and promised to talk to their son when they picked him up from the Academy that night (they were very local).
Yamino, however, had no parents to call. The phone number he reached was his current guardian, who had only had Yamino in his foster home for six months.
Yuugi related the story Yamino had told as well as his own theories about what had happened and what Yamino's punishment was. Yamino's guardian had agreed with every word. "He's a good kid," the man, a Mr. Sagara, said. "It's a little unlike him to get into physical fights, but the game thing sounds right on. He's been saving up every penny of his allowance to buy those booster packs every week, so the six booster packs were just as much of a gift as the summer camp."
"Gift?" Yuugi had asked. Seto had not said anything about this!
"From Kaiba Corp! Some kind of promotion thing, or maybe simply charity … Yamino won his ticket in a raffle held by our local child services center. The sponsor was Kaiba Corporation."
"That must have been quite a treat," Yuugi said, still blinking at the far wall of his office.
"Oh, very much so. You should have seen Yamino. It was like he came alive," Sagara chuckled. "Well, I'll let you – Kenichi! Off the table! – let you go."
"Good evening, Sagara-san," Yuugi answered respectfully, hanging up.
Oh, Jonouchi was going to love hearing this one.
Three days later Seto woke up to find a message in his voicemail that went something like this:
Ahahaha! You big fat hypocrite! You're really just a big softie, aren't you!? Ahahahhahaaa … next time you call me 'mutt' I'm going to call you 'marshmallow', so be careful who you insult, Seto!
"… Jonouchi, I am going to kill you in your sleep," Seto vowed.
The Tuesday before the summer camp closed was the day of the exhibition matches. The three top duelists involved with camp would play each other for the entertainment of the students: Seto Kaiba, the CEO of Kaiba Corporation; Katsuya Jonouchi, the owner of the best chance deck in the nation, and Yuugi Mutou, the man who retained the title King of Games from the Duelist Kingdom some ten years before. The students who were in the semifinals of the campwide matches were given the best seats – and that meant Yamino was sitting right next to Jonouchi while Yuugi and Seto came onto the stage, Duel Disks strapped to their arms.
The creepy kid was still a little creepy in Jonouchi's opinion, but he'd never interacted with Yamino before today. The kid was already in his seat when Jonouchi sat down, having just been defeated by Yuugi by a slim margin. Ah well, with Yuugi it was always friendly competition. With Kaiba … it was something else. He smirked and took his seat.
Yamino had been thus far curled up in his seat, his knees drawn to his chest with his arms wrapped around them, but now he lowered his feet and leaned forward in his chair, his fists on his knees. Jonouchi was a little surprised to see a kid his age so into Duel Monsters, but then again, it really was supposed to be a kid's card game.
"You having fun?" he asked, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair.
"This is the first time in – the first time I've seen Kaiba and my—Mutou-san play each other in person," the boy breathed. "I feel like I'm right there with them, when I'm this close."
My Mutou? Jonouchi scowled. No, the boy hadn't meant it like that; he had been about to say something other than 'Mutou' when he started. "Hey, kid, what do you mean?" he asked, trying to be nonchalant about it, but the kid looked back at Jonouchi in question.
Shit, he has red eyes. Now that is really creepy. "'My' what?" Jonouchi prompted.
Yamino's cheeks started to redden, and he frowned. "Nothing," he protested, and turned back to the game. Jonouchi let it drop for the time being.
Damn, this game was getting exciting. Jonouchi found himself leaning forward as well when Kaiba played his three Blue Eyes White Dragons together. "Oh, sh—" he started.
"He's going to polymerize them," Yamino was breathing. "Use the Sword of Revealing Light! The Dark Magician should be enough, together with that book of spells, to stop one of them. And you haven't drawn Dark Magican Girl yet, have you …?"
"Sword of Revealing Light!" Yuugi called, and with only two cards in Kaiba's hand, he had a 50/50 chance of success. Luck was with Yuugi, and the Polymerizaton card was pinned down for three turns.
Jonouchi stared at the kid. It was like he'd been present for every one of Yuugi's games … or even the games of the Other Yuugi …
"The sealed card, that's Monster Reborn," Yamino whispered. "Just like before, aibou. Kill one of the Blue Eyes, and wait to spring that trap."
Waitaminute. 'Aibou'!? Jonouchi felt his eyes going wide. "Yamino—"
Yuugi was doing exactly as Yamino was saying, as though they were communicating – or as if Yamino was reading Yuugi's mind. Kaiba visibly kept himself from cursing when one of his Blue Eyes were vaporized.
"Yamino!" Jonouchi grabbed the boy's shoulder, and the kid startled like he'd been shocked with electricity. His eyes met Jonouchi's, and they were red, so red, not even a little brown like Yuugi had said. "... No … the other Yuugi …?"
"Jonouchi," the boy said in a tone that wasn't very much like a child at all. "… I want to watch this duel to the end. Will you watch with me?"
"I – yes," Jonouchi managed, his tongue stuck in his throat.
The game went on for ten more turns, Yamino whispering instructions and sighing in defeat or making small gestures for victory.
Yuugi won, and Jonouchi was sure that no one cheered louder than little Yamino.