Chapter 3: Getting to Know You
"Finally, for our tournament winner," Yuugi announced the next day, "Yamino Shiisen …"
Yamino stood up from his seat behind Yuugi's little podium. There was clapping and cheering for the boy, and he drank it in, standing tall and flashing a grin. Yuugi watched as parents who had come to the ceremony whispered to each other as they clapped; obviously they had expected someone older to receive the top prize.
"Yamino-kun receives two top-of-the-line Duel Disk sets," Yuugi announced, setting up the parting gift on the podium, "So he can duel his friends with all the excitement of realistic holographic imaging of each card, trap, and spell." A glance at Yamino showed wide eyes: no one had forewarned him what his prize would be. "In addition, he receives an ultra-rare first series card: the Dark Magician."
The card enthusiasts in the audience expressed their appreciation with gasps and then applause. The Dark Magician had been rare even when the first series had been the only card series available, but now it was hard to find indeed. The first series had stopped production several years ago.
Yuugi knew that for Yamino-kun, the Dark Magician would have special significance. He handed the card to Yamino in its protective cover, and the boy took it reverently. "Thank you," he mumbled, whisking his fingers over the card. "I …"
Yuugi grinned and whispered away from the mike, "Now is when you bow and take your prizes."
Yamino's head moved a little, and then the boy bowed deeply, and again to the crowd a little less deeply. Yuugi put the two Duel Disks in a bag and handed it to Yamino before the boy went back to his seat. "Another round of applause for Yamino-kun, please," he requested, and received it.
"With that we conclude the award ceremony, and this year's Duel Academy," Yuugi continued. "You've all done well this summer, and I hope to see many of you again next year. Always remember …"
"The heart of the cards!" the students chorused with Yuugi, and there were scattered giggles. Yuugi laughed. "Right! See you next year!" Yuugi stepped to the side of the podium and bowed; the students all stood and bowed back, and with that, the crowd broke up, moving towards the refreshments and each other to talk and catch up and collect errant children.
Yamino, clutching his prizes, trotted to Yuugi's side as Yuugi started down the stage steps. "You picked out the Dark Magician specifically for me, didn't you?" he accused. "You didn't give it to me out of your own deck, did you …?" By the sound of it, the thought distressed him.
Yuugi shook his head. "No; I had Kaiba-kun buy one. They go on sale online now and then." He offered the boy a smile. "I knew you would like to have one, though."
"That … thank you," Yamino said again. "I never thought—"
The boy looked up sharply. Yuugi followed his gaze to a tall man with short spiky hair, who currently had three small children in tow – one on his arm, and the other two grabbing his pants legs. "Congratulations!" the man said, slapping Yamino on the back hard enough to make the boy stumble.
Yamino looked nonplussed for a moment. "I, ah – look what I won," he said, opening the bag and holding up its contents for the man to inspect. "Rumi-kun will be excited, too!"
"Oh, two of them! He will be excited," the man agreed, but this time it was over protest.
"Daaad! Dad, I wanna have lemonade!" the girl on one pants leg whined.
"Me too!" piped up the other child, a boy with an odd birthmark arching up his neck from under his collar. It took Yuugi a moment to realize that the pocked skin was no birthmark: it was burn scars. Yuugi had similar ones, faded, on his palms and back. He was struck dumb for a moment.
Yamino offered up his bag to the man, who took it in his free hand. "I'll take them," he promised, holding out his hands. "I want some, too."
The two children took Yamino's offered hands. "Yami-niisan!"
"Don't let them have too much, or Kenichi will have to go to the bathroom six hundred times," the man griped.
"I won't," Yamino promised, taking the children in the direction of the refreshment table.
Yuugi was left alone with the man – no, Yamino's current guardian. "Ah, Sagara-san, I take it?" Yuugi asked.
"That's me," the man answered, shifting the child on his hip and still smiling. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you in person, Mutou-san." He put down the Duel Disks and held out his hand.
"Likewise." Yuugi took the proffered hand and shook it firmly. "Yamino-kun really shined at the Duel Academy. He was a delight to have around."
"I keep saying that," Sagara laughed. "I'm sorry, I'm just happy to see he's had such a great time. You can tell he's really happy."
Yuugi looked past Sagara to where Yamino was handing the little ones cups of lemonade. "Please don't take this the wrong way, Sagara-san, but are any of these children yours?"
"Not to the best of my knowledge." Yuugi gave him a slightly startled look, and the man waved his hand. "A joke, a joke! I'm married … my wife is a doc, general practitioner. It's unusual, I suppose, but I stay home with the kids. We can't have any of our own."
"But you didn't adopt?" Yuugi couldn't help asking.
"We thought about it, trust me," Sagara said. "But for now, we're just a foster home … the kids who haven't been adopted yet need homes too, after all." He shrugged. "Yamino hasn't been with us that long, but we hope he can stay until he's at least ten. After that, he has to move on; we're not certified for the older kids."
Yuugi nodded sagely, although he couldn't help but feel lost. He didn't know anything about the foster care system, after all. "Hey, I was wondering … if I could visit Yamino-kun once in a while?"
Sagara blinked. "… Lemme ask my wife before I answer that," he said dubiously.
Yuugi simultaneously felt disappointment and a fierce gratefulness to Sagara for his protectiveness. "I'm kind of glad you answered that way," he laughed. "I think Yamino-kun would like to think he can take care of himself, but—"
"All foster kids think that way," Sagara sighed. "Comes from moving around so much, you know? They learn to rely on themselves because that's the only constant … but I think you might like to know, Yamino wouldn't shut up about you or this camp when I got here. As if I know what he's talking about, with these 'Sum Skulls' and Ankh cards or whatever. It's great to see him so excited about something … I think you're his idol."
"No way," Yuugi blushed. No … I'm his aibou.
"Don't be like that. With Yamino, you've got to earn that," Sagara praised Yuugi. "I'd better go collect them, now … thanks again, Mutou-san."
"My pleasure," Yuugi answered, shaking the man's hand once more before Sagara set off across the grounds in the direction of his foster children.
Yuugi didn't look away immediately. Sagara offered Yamino his bag, but ended up hanging onto it while Yamino took the hands of the two smaller children. He was talking and smiling, and Yuugi smiled to see it. The smile faded when he remembered that this was temporary: too soon, Yamino would be moving into another home, where he would probably be the youngest child instead of the oldest.
"That his family?" Jonouchi asked, appearing with his plate piled high.
"As close as he's got," Yuugi answered with a sigh.
In a strange reversal of the usual way of things, Yuugi still lived in the apartment above the Turtle Game Shop with his grandfather. His parents, who were rarely home in any case, had rented an apartment in Tokyo as it was closer to their jobs.
Sugoroku still ran the little shop, but with the help of two assistants and over the weekend, Yuugi as well. When Honda was in town he would also help, but it was rare; his job as a business consultant took him all over Japan and occasionally overseas.
Yamino was too young to have his own phone, of course, although Yuugi obtained permission from Sagara and his wife to call Yamino 'once in a while' at the house. He lived in the heart of Tokyo, which was a good hour away from Domino City by train, so seeing one another wasn't easy, and Sagara and his wife were both understandably a bit suspicious of Yuugi's intentions.
"I'm sorry about my foster parents," Yamino said one time on the phone. "It's impossible to explain to them."
"I understand," Yuugi had shrugged, laying out on his couch after a long day at school. "You should be grateful that they look out for your safety."
"But you are you," Yamino protested. "How can they suspect you?"
"Yamino-kun," Yuugi said patiently, "They don't know me."
"They could know you," Yamino shot back.
"It's not that simple," Yuugi sighed. It seemed that Yamino, like Atem, lacked understanding of the way the modern world worked. "From their perspective, they worry: why would a twenty-six-year-old want to be friends with an eight-year-old?"
Curiously, Yamino never answered the question. After a moment of silence, he completely changed the subject.
Several months after Duel Academy, Sagara allowed Yamino to exchange addresses with Yuugi. Yuugi received several dire threats from Mrs. Sagara regarding what exactly would happen to him if he did anything untoward with that information, and they began to send one another letters. Yuugi already knew Yamino liked ice cream, but he discovered Yamino also had a soft spot for pizza. His 'siblings' were Kenichi (five), Kaorin (six), and Shinta (the baby), and apparently Yamino was in charge of taking Kenichi and Kaorin home from school every day. His birthday was in March, listed as the day he was found in Tokyo.
Yamino, unlike the other Yuugi, liked sports as well. He liked his ancient history class, but sometimes his memories were contrary to what the teacher taught. Math was his worst subject. Rumi, Yamino's best friend in school, was enjoying his Duel Disk a lot; Yamino still beat him every time they played, though.
In exchange, Yuugi told Yamino about teaching his own ancient history class. He wrote about Sugoroku and how the shop was doing, and told him about Anzu's last e-mail which had cheerfully informed Yuugi that she was actually performing as a background dancer on Broadway this season. He talked about Mokuba's schooling and how Seto was revolutionizing 'Dungeon Dice' now with his technology.
And then, in January, Yuugi received an unexpected surprise.
In Domino the winter was rarely snowy: instead it was wet with sleet and freezing rain. It was on one such day that Yuugi slogged home from his job and entered the shop (as was his custom) to find Sugoroku playing none other than Yamino Shiisen in a game of tabletop Duel Monsters.
"Aw, geez, you win again," Sugoroku was sighing, throwing his hands up in the air. "You're incredibly good at this!"
"I try," Yamino answered, gathering up his cards again.
"Yamino?" Yuugi asked, staring.
The boy's head whipped around. "A—Yuugi," he said. He slid off his stool and trotted across the floor, waiting expectantly for Yuugi to remove his scarf and coat before he pressed himself almost reverently into Yuugi's chest, hugging him. Yuugi blinked at that and hugged back, giving Sugoroku a questioning look. His grandfather shrugged back.
"He arrived around four-thirty," Sugoroku said, "asking for you. It was a pleasure to finally meet Yamino-kun after hearing so much about him."
"Yes, I'm … thrilled," Yuugi mumbled. "Yamino, why are you here?" There was no way the Sagaras had let Yamino come all the way to Domino on his own. And if he rode on a train … "Did you ditch class?"
"No." Yamino's tone brooked hurt as he pulled away. "I took Kenichi and Kaorin home before I left."
"… and did you get permission?" Yuugi asked, already knowing the answer. Yamino didn't even bother to answer; his jaw clicked shut as he met Yuugi's eyes defiantly. Yuugi sighed. "Yamino …"
"I am not just a child!" Yamino flared quietly, his voice a harsh whisper.
Yuugi pursed his lips. "Grandpa, I'm going to take Yamino to get something to eat in the kitchen. Come on, Yamino." He straightened and started towards the back of the shop, where the stairs leading up into the apartment were located. Lighter, quicker footsteps behind him told Yuugi that Yamino was following. In the kitchen, Yuugi pulled out a chair. "Sit down, Yamino."
Yamino opened his mouth with a scowl, but then he shut it again and took the seat, drawing his legs up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. Yuugi sat down next to him, turning his chair towards the boy. "Did you tell your guardians where you were going?" Yuugi asked point-blank.
Yamino's eyes dropped. "No," he said. Yuugi sighed, and Yamino scowled. "I didn't know where I was going yet, anyway."
Yuugi scrubbed his hand back through his hair. "You should have told someone," he said. "You are a child. What if someone tried to take you on the train?"
"I—"Yamino started, but Yuugi spoke over him.
"You have a kid's body, Yamino! You wouldn't be able to fight back. And unless I'm mistaken, you won't be Shadow-Gaming them into insanity in this lifetime."
Yamino had the grace to flush. "Aibou—"
"The Sagaras are probably worried sick," Yuugi pointed out. "When you and I were the same person, it was easier, I know … but we were older, and Grandpa looked after us. You have to look after yourself, which means letting other people look out for you." Yuugi felt a little odd lecturing his other self, but on the other hand, it wasn't so odd lecturing Yamino.
"… All right, I concede the point," the boy said after a moment. "Can I speak?"
Yuugi blinked when there was no argument. "Of course."
"I'm moving." Yamino's arms tightened a little around his knees. "In a few weeks, my foster home is changing again."
Clearly this was an upsetting event. Yuugi tried to think of something to say that wasn't a useless platitude, but nothing sprang to mind. "Oh … I'm sorry."
"I've been with the Sagaras for nearly a year, so it was a pretty long stay," Yamino continued, resting his chin on his knees. "But I'm going to be nine soon, and they can't take care of kids over ten. I have to move because a two-year-old is coming there instead." He paused for a moment. "I could have told you in a letter, I guess, but … I wanted to see you." The smile the boy flashed was ironic. "It seems that I still need you more than you need me."
Yuugi flinched inwardly and found himself speechless.
Yamino wasn't looking at him, and it seemed he'd reached the end of his short speech.
After a while it seemed that Yuugi was going to have to break the silence. He struggled for the right words; he didn't want to lie and say that he needed Yamino, because he didn't, although he certainly wanted Yamino to remain in his life. But Yamino needed to hear something comforting. "You're a child," Yuugi said slowly. "Of course you need me. When you get older, you'll become more independent."
Yamino barked a laugh. "Three lifetimes and you are still my elder. The gods are surely laughing at me." He was bitter. Yuugi wondered if Yamino knew where he was moving to and if he liked it. It's surely getting harder as he gets older, to remember so many things and yet still be so dependent on people who couldn't possibly understand …
Which was when a crazy idea formed in his head. Yuugi sat up suddenly as the light dawned. It wasn't something to do lightly, though, and for Yuugi it would be a huge responsibility, even if Yamino was not just any eight-year-old. Yuugi almost blurted it out anyway, catching himself at the last moment. "I—!"
Yamino gave him a startled look. "Yuugi?" he asked, seemingly jolted out of his self-pitying reverie.
"—I should call your guardians," Yuugi finished lamely. "The last train from Tokyo to Domino would have left half an hour ago, so you'll probably at least be able to stay the night."
Yamino's mood had drooped at the mention of the Sagaras, but it brightened immediately at the thought of sleeping over. "Really?" he asked with a mischievous voice.
Yuugi sighed dramatically. "Yes, although I have little doubt you're going to be in a lot of trouble. And you should be," he added under his breath.
But Yamino was getting up from the table and half-running for the stairs. "Is your room still the same one?" he asked. "I remember where it is!"
"That's an office now!" Yuugi called back, taking the kitchen phone out of its cradle and dialing a number that only a few people had access to.
"Kaiba," came the voice on the other end.
Yuugi smiled at Seto's stern tone. It was pretty late in the evening, and he hadn't exactly expected Seto to answer. "Kaiba-kun," he started, "What can you tell me about the adoption process?"
Yuugi was right about it being a big responsibility. He didn't tell Yamino right away, not wanting to get his hopes up as he learned about the process and started it. Child Services did a thorough investigation of his home life and his free time, assessing whether or not Yuugi would be a capable caretaker given that he was single and living with only his aging grandfather. Yuugi had to participate in several interviews and show his credentials with children, which he fortunately had plenty of given his job as a teacher. The entire process leading up to Yuugi's opportunity to begin his guardianship (if not the actual adoption) took three weeks, during which Yuugi was in Tokyo every weekend.
It was a Sunday when Yuugi appeared at the Sagara's front door, official papers clutched in his fingers. He raised his hand to knock when the door opened. Yamino stood there with a big bag slung over his shoulders and his Duel Disk under his arm. Sagara was right behind him.
Both of them looked up in surprise, although Sagara's shocked look disentigrated into a pleased smirk. "Well, it looks like he's already here, Yamino."
Yamino twisted to look up at Sagara, then back at Yuugi. "But that's not – that's --?"
"Your new guardian," Sagara answered. "Did I forget to tell you there was a change in plans? It must have slipped my mind."
It was a rare moment that Yuugi was able to render Atem in any of his incarnations utterly speechless. The boy stared at him, mouth half-open.
"He's not lying," Yuugi grinned, crouching. "I'm officially your guardian, hopefully to adopt." He bent his head towards Yamino's so their foreheads touched. "When I told you I wanted to help this summer, I meant it, you know."
The hug Yuugi was tackled with very nearly knocked him to the floor. "Yuugi," Yamino gasped in his ear, and Yuugi could feel his grin against his cheek. "Thank you."
'You're welcome' just didn't seem to address the grateful tone in Yamino's voice, so Yuugi just hugged him back as tightly as he could.
Six months later
"Congratulations, Mutou-san, Shiisen-kun," the judge said, smiling warmly. "You are free to take Shiisen-kun home with you."
The courtroom – populated by Jonouchi, Honda, Mokuba, Anzu (who had taken the time to fly halfway across the world at the news), and the Sagaras – broke out into applause. Yuugi grinned brightly at Yamino, who smiled back. They stood to leave, Yuugi taking Yamino's hand, and the small group filed out, laughing and talking, patting Yamino on the shoulder and slapping Yuugi on the back.
"Now you gotta call Yuugi 'otou-san'," Honda snickered, ruffling Yamino's hair and earning himself a glare in response.
"Nah, Yuugi's a brother kinda guy," Jonouchi snorted, nudging Honda in the ribs. "It's 'Yuugi-niisan'."
"What about 'aniki'?" Anzu said thoughtfully.
Yuugi and Yamino exchanged grins again, but it was Yamino who answered. "No," he said, still beaming a child's smile with old, laughing eyes. "I think I'll call him 'Yuugi'. Just … Yuugi."
And that, as they say, was that.
A/N: Well, that's done! Thank goodness, this last chapter was like pulling teeth. Trying to keep Yamino at least a little like Atem while addressing his guardianship and issues Atem never tackled was a challenge, which I'm not certain I succeeded at.
I know nothing about the adoption process in Japan or the US. Given what happened to the Kaiba brothers, the YuGiOh! world's adoption process probably isn't all that thorough anyway. Either that or Gozaburo was really good at covering his ass. Who knows?
'Shiisen' is theoretically composed of the characters 'seven' (shichi) and 'thousand' (sen). ('sennen' is lit. 'thousand years'.) Where would a family get a name like that? Maybe they were a legion of a family once upon a time. Yamino's parentage is of no consequence to the story, so I simply decided not to address it.
I'm sorry about the lack of Kaiba and Jonouchi in this last chapter. They just weren't being conveniently available enough.
Thank you for reading and thank you to everyone who reviewed this story: Cun, Talia Ali, kiki2222, FantomoDrako, and Dr. Watson. Doctor, I did correct the name of the card in the first chapter. Thank you for your input.
And now finally, THE END. Argh.