Notes: This is a manga-based fic set after the end of the series. It was inspired by Duel 8 - The Poison Man.
The classroom was abuzz with the usual chatter. Yugi watched his fellow students mill around, feeling faintly amazed that the world could be so quiet and normal in the wake of all that had happened to it. Some days it still felt like only yesterday that he and his partner had been busy saving the world together - Yugi still felt like he would wake up and find the Millennium Puzzle and its inhabitant there waiting for him. The ache of loss had faded a bit by now, but he doubted he would ever look at the world quite the same way ever again.
"Hey, Yugi, wake up!"
Yugi jumped and looked around to find Honda leaning over him.
"Sorry, just thinking!" said Yugi.
Honda laughed. "Nah, it's okay. I just wanted to ask your opinion on something. Look here!"
He spread a catalogue out across Yugi's desk. The pages were filled with glossy pictures of various electronic items, several of which had been circled in red ink.
"What do you think?" he said. "I heard Jonouchi saying that he really wanted a new CD player for his birthday, but I don't know which one to get him."
"Oh, that's right! I'd almost forgotten he had a birthday soon," said Yugi. He leaned forward and looked at the catalogue with a little more interest. "Hmm... I think either this one or this one."
"Well, that narrows it down a little," said Honda. He scrutinized the two choices. "I think that one. If I'm going to get a nice gift like this, I might as well go all out. What about you, Yugi? What are you getting him?"
"I haven't decided yet," said Yugi, blushing. Actually he had forgotten that Jonouchi's birthday was so soon, and he hadn't thought about it at all. He felt like kicking himself - how could he have been so careless? But Jonouchi hadn't dropped any hints, or even mentioned it at all, and the date had gotten shoved to the back of Yugi's memory and gotten lost among the day to day trivia.
"I think Anzu's getting a video game he wanted," said Honda musingly, "and Ryou got him a couple of those garage kits he likes... Better start shopping fast before all the good gifts are taken," he teased.
Yugi laughed. "Right! I'd better get started. As soon as school lets out."
"Good idea," said Honda. "Whoops! Here he comes." He quickly stuffed the catalogue into his backpack before Jonouchi could see it. "Catch you later, Yugi!"
Honda hurried back to his desk, and just in time, because the teacher arrived in the room at that moment, and everyone had to settle down and start looking studious. Yugi watched without much interest as the teacher began writing out the day's lesson on the board. Instead, he mulled on the possibilities for birthday gifts for his best friend.
It really should have been an easy thing. It didn't sound like any of the rest of the gang was having any trouble at all deciding what to give Jonouchi. Yugi probably knew Jonouchi better than anybody, so it shouldn't have been hard to think of something he'd like. Actually, thinking of something he would like wasn't so hard. But it felt wrong to just give him any old thing. A friend like Jonouchi didn't come along every day - his gift ought to be something special, not just some trinket picked up on the spur of the moment. Yugi turned several ideas over in his mind, but nothing really seemed to fit.
By the time lunch rolled around, Yugi hadn't learned a single thing, nor had he decided on a gift. He had, however, decided on a plan of action. Since he didn't know, he would simply ask Jonouchi what he wanted. With that in mind, as soon as the lunch bell rang, he got up and went to have a chat with his friend.
"Oh, hey, Yugi," Jonouchi greeted. "Hang around - Nobuhiro challenged me to a duel. You'd think he'd realize I'm out of his league!"
"I'm sure you'll be great," said Yugi. "Listen, I wanted to ask... Jonouchi, what do you want for your birthday?"
Jonouchi looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he said very seriously, "I want you to get me a pair of shoes."
"Shoes," Jonouchi repeated seriously.
"But why?" asked Yugi. "You could get a pair of shoes any time you wanted to. Your birthday present ought to be something special..."
"But that's what I want you to get me," said Jonouchi. "Listen, I'll explain later, okay? I've got a duel to win! ...Yeah, hang on, Nobuhiro, I'm coming!"
When Yugi returned to his desk, he was feeling even more confused than before. Why shoes, of all things? Granted, some of the shoes Jonouchi liked were on the expensive side, but it seemed like a strange thing to ask for a birthday gift. Birthdays were supposed to be fun, and there wasn't much more mundane than shoes. It seemed a little out of character for someone as wild as Jonouchi to ask for something so mundane when he could have had almost anything he wanted. It wasn't like Yugi couldn't afford to get something fancy like Honda and Anzu had done...
"Mr. Mutou, would you please pay attention?" said the teacher's exasperated voice, cutting into his thoughts. "Card games are all very well, but spending a little time on your schoolwork wouldn't hurt you. Now, come up to the front and show the class how to diagram this sentence."
Blushing vividly, Yugi started walking to the board, vowing to pay more attention to what was going on around him... for a while, anyway.
When class was finally over, what felt like years later, Yugi reconvened with the rest of his friends with a feeling of relief.
"I'm glad that's over!" said Anzu, echoing his thoughts. "That quiz was harder than I expected! Did anyone get the answer to number eight?"
"I got x over y-squared for that one," Ryou said. "But I might have been wrong."
"I skipped that one," Honda admitted.
"I put down 'b' for that one," said Otogi.
Yugi blinked. "But there wasn't any 'b' in that equation."
"Well," said Otogi with a shrug, "the variable can stand for any number you want, right? So I choose for it to stand for the right answer."
"I don't think that's gonna go over too well," said Jonouchi, but he laughed anyway.
"Is anyone hungry?" said Honda. "I was thinking we could go to that new Chinese place that opened up next to the mall."
"Sounds like fun to me," said Anzu. "I'll go with you!"
"Count me out," Jonouchi said. "At least for now. I have something I want to talk to Yugi about. Do you mind, Yugi?"
"Hm? Oh, no, of course not!" said Yugi.
"Great," said Jonouchi. "Catch you guys later, okay?"
"Sure thing," Otogi replied. "I don't know about the rest of the gang, but I'll be hanging around the arcade later."
"Yeah, that sounds good. We can meet there," Anzu said. "Bye, Yugi! Bye, Jonouchi!"
She walked off with Honda, Otogi, and Ryou in tow. Jonouchi and Yugi walked the other direction, heading for the stairs that led to the school roof. There was no one up there at the moment, making it a good place to sit and have a private conversation. Jonouchi kicked back against a wall and gazed off into the sky. Yugi sat down next to him. He noted as he did so that Jonouchi's shoes really were in sad shape - they were nearly worn to tatters, dirty and tattered. One shoelace had broken at some point and had been knotted back together, and the other had a large hole in the front. Jonouchi noticed where his friend was looking and gave him a wry smile.
"Yeah, they're a real mess, aren't they?"
Yugi nodded. "Is that why you asked for new ones?"
"Kind of," said Jonouchi. "Remember when I got these shoes?"
"Mm-hm. They got stolen, and the pharaoh won them back for you," said Yugi, nodding.
"Yeah... You never told me how that actually happened."
"Well, I didn't know myself, at the time," Yugi replied. "But he told me about it later. The store owner tired to kill me by hiding a scorpion in one of the shoes so it would sting me when I took it, but Atemu saw him do it and put some coins in the shoe and made him take turns pulling the coins out and hoping they didn't get stung by the scorpion. The store owner tried to cheat by stabbing the scorpion with a knife and then grabbing all the coins at once... but he missed."
"I figured it was something like that," said Jonouchi, with the untroubled air of one who needs more than a tale of attempted-murder-by-scorpion to surprise him. "So that explains the hole in the front."
"Yeah, that explains the hole," said Yugi. "We really had no idea what was going on, back then. None of us, not even him..."
"Well, you can't blame us for taking a long time to figure it out," said Jonouchi. He rubbed absently at a black smudge. "Picked this up when I was fighting that chainsaw murderer at Death-T. Never could get the oil stains out completely."
"I think they give it character," said Yugi.
"Of course they do! They're a souvenir," he replied. "That was the first time we ever really got to meet the pharaoh. It's worth a couple of stains to be reminded of that."
Yugi nodded. He felt like he was beginning to understand. "What else?"
"Well... This shoelace here, the one that broke... I tore it while we were running around in the woods during Duelist Kingdom, not long after I won my Red-Eyes off Ryuuzaki. And these black marks here are burns from when I dragged you out of the fire at the Black Crown. And see this scuff here? I got it trying to haul you out of the water when Malik made us have that duel with each other. I was thinking too much about getting you to safety to worry about my shoes. And here..." He twisted a little to show the soles of his shoes, which were predictably caked with dirt. "And mixed in with all of this is probably some Egyptian sand. I guess I don't need to explain where that came from."
"I see," said Yugi. "So everything we've been through, almost since the day we became friends..."
"Is recorded on my shoes. Right," said Jonouchi. He laughed a little. "Hey, remember when I first told you we were friends? I was so embarrassed I ran off and lost one of my shoes. I can still hear you now, chasing after me..."
Yugi laughed along with him. "We've come a long way since then, haven't we?"
"We sure have," Jonouchi agreed. "And I'm not embarrassed to say it now - I am damned lucky to have a friend like you, and I'd say that in front of anybody. Of all the things in the world I'm glad have happened to me, meeting you is number one on the list, and I'd say that even if we'd never had any of those wild adventures. But since we have had them..."
"Yes?" Yuugi prompted.
"Well, for one thing, adventures are pretty hard on your feet. I need a new pair of shoes, but I don't think any pair of shoes on earth would be worth as much as the ones I'm wearing, not if they were made of solid gold. The only way they could come close is if you bought them for me. See what I'm saying?"
"Right! I get it," said Yugi, smiling. "I understand now, Jonouchi."
"I figured you would," Jonouchi replied. "You always understood these kinds of things."
Yugi nodded. "I'll get you some new shoes... but first you've got to promise me something."
"Huh? What's that?"
"That if I get them for you, we'll have lots more adventures together," said Yugi, "so you can break them in the right way."
Jonouchi laughed. "I promise. Cross my heart!" He smiled. "That's what I really wanted for my birthday anyway. Or any day, for that matter."
"Same here," Yugi agreed.
A few months later, Yugi came home to find his mother was tidying his room for him.
"Mom, what are you doing in here?" he complained.
"Cleaning. When was the last time you cleared out under your bed?" she asked in a scandalized tone. She pulled out a lumpy object, dirty and frayed, and held it out in front of her as though she suspected it might have something contagious. "I won't even ask what this is doing here." She started to stuff it into the garbage.
"Hey, you can't throw that away!" Yugi yelped. He dove and snatched it out of her hand. "That was a birthday present!"
"From how long ago?" she asked suspiciously.
"My last one. Jonouchi would kill me if I let anything happen to it."
His mother stared at him blankly. "It's an old shoe."
"Two old shoes," Yugi corrected. He fished its mate out from under the bed. "See? It's a matched pair."
"Those wouldn't even fit you," his mother said.
Yugi just shook his head and smiled. "They don't have to. Just trust me, Mom - these shoes are worth more than their weight in gold."
"Well, all right then, if you insist," she said. "But if you're going to keep those, you had better clean the rest of your room." She shoved the garbage bag into Yugi's hands. Yugi sighed.
"All right, all right, I'll get right on it."
His mother watched him a moment, making sure he made good on his claim. Resigned to his fate, Yugi got down on the floor to begin cleaning... but first he gently took the battered old shoes, holey and scuffed and burnt and dirty as they were, and lovingly placed them back where they had been. They had been through an awful lot, those shoes, and they had survived it all, and now they deserved to sit comfortably next to each other, battle-worn but perfectly matched.
Just like a pair of old friends.