Author's notes: I felt obliged to write at least one HSAU for Yuugioh, considering all the other stupid stuff I've written for the series. Once again 'Yamino' makes an appearance (first appearance was in 'Born of the Dead'), but this time as a fellow high school student.

Based on the first chapter of the manga, with a little bit of the anime thrown in for good measure.


Everyone who knew Yuugi Mutou knew him as 'that game freak in Class B'. Everyone who knew of Mutou Yuugi knew him as 'that kid with the really weird haircut in Class B'. It would be fair to say that everyone in the freshman class of Domino High either knew Yuugi or knew of Yuugi, because even though he wasn't even five feet tall, one tended to notice when a small forest of starfish-shaped hair passed by, even at waist level.

No one really wanted to get to know him. After all, who actually admitted to being a geemu-otaku in school? It was okay to like games, but when you were solving Rubik's Cubes in homeroom and that was the normal way of things, well, you were going a little too far. And with Mutou, you really didn't even want to get him started by asking about games. He pretty much ignored everyone anyway. Everyone knew that Yuugi liked games and puzzles more than people.

The one exception to this was Mazaki Anzu. She'd once been popular (and still kind of was, at least with the male population), but in the usual way of things when it came to large masses of teenagers, when she started to stick up for Mutou she rapidly fell out of favor. All her free time was spent someplace other than school anyway (everyone also knew that Anzu was something of a dance freak). When in class she spent the free time hovering protectively around Yuugi like a mother bird, threatening anything that got too close.

The ones usually burning themselves on Anzu's surprisingly caustic wit were Jounouchi Katsuya and Honda Hiroto. Neither could claim to be particularly smart (although Honda was probably a few IQ points above Jounouchi), and for some reason picking on Mutou seemed like a good pastime to them. Jounouchi had once been in a proper gang, of course, at his old school ... Honda just liked to make Yuugi do things that made Yuugi uncomfortable, like buy dirty magazines.

Of course, half the fun of that was watching Yuugi throw his minor temper tantrum, flailing when the clerk asked what an elementary school student was doing trying to buy a girlie magazine.

In another universe, Yuugi had spent nearly 8 years trying to solve an unsolvable, 3000-year-old Puzzle at this point. In another universe, Yuugi would have a piece stolen by Jounouchi. In another universe, he would stand up to a bully on Jounouchi and Honda's behalf and gain himself two unlikely friends.

This is not that universe.


"Class, we have a new student," Kiichi-sensei announced in homeroom.

Classes had only started two months previous, and the classroom was sweltering in the June sun. Since the air-conditioning was broken, the windows had been thrown wide open to allow in what breeze there was to be had. All the boys had their school jackets thrown open and busily envied the girls for their short skirts, wishing they could be wearing shorts. The girls were in their short-sleeved tops instead of their fall jackets. It wasn't helping. No one cared that there was a new student; everyone just wanted to be somewhere that wasn't so hot. Anzu was fanning herself with a folder. Yuugi wiped his forehead on his sleeve, leaving a dark sweat stain on the material.

The new kid entered as the teacher turned to the blackboard, writing his name there. "This is Nanasen Yamino." His name was spelled with the kanji for 'seven', 'year', and 'dark'.

Yuugi looked up distractedly. The new student, who was dark-skinned, had his black hair yanked back into an extremely short ponytail, but his bangs, like Yuugi, were bleached blond. They were currently sticking to his temples in the heat. His school jacket was also thrown open, and he'd rolled up his sleeves to the elbows, revealing an almost overly punkish style (for goodness sake, he was wearing rings and wrist braces!). Everything about him was sharp angles, as if someone had culled all the natural body fat from him and left nothing but blood and sinew.

But Yuugi was privately elated for the silliest reason; the new student was almost as short as he was.

Nanasen bowed. "Please take care of me," he said formally. There was a half-hearted response from the class.

"Mazaki-san," Sensei called, drawing Anzu's attention - she was the class president, after all. "Please make certain Nanasen-san is up to speed. Nanasen-san, please sit ... mm, behind Mutou-san, next to the window."

Nanasen met Yuugi's eyes for a brief moment before he started back and took his seat, and the teacher continued with roll call, and Yuugi resumed being grumpy about being hot.


Homeroom ended, and the teacher left the class, cuing the students to stand up and stretch and fan themselves and complain about how hot it was. Jounouchi and Honda stretched out over their desks and looked miserable. "It's too hot to even pick on Mutou," Jounouchi complained, which got him a swat on the back of the head.

"Don't even think about it!" Anzu snapped, putting her fists on her hips self-righteously. When Jounouchi looked appropriately cowed, she turned to her new charge.

Yuugi, meanwhile, had turned in his seat. Despite the fact that Yuugi was friendless, that had never stopped him from reaching out to people. He was always ready to be optimistic, and he knew nothing about Nanasen ... maybe he'd turn out to be a nice person.

"Hi," Yuugi said, smiling.

Nanasen had been reaching into his desk for something, and he blinked when Yuugi spoke, looking up. "Hi," he said, a little blankly.

"I'm Mutou Yuugi," Yuugi introduced himself. "Welcome to Domino High, Nanasen-san!"

"And I'm Mazaki Anzu, class president," Anzu introduced herself, jumping into the conversation. "If you need help with anything, just let me know. I can give you a tour of the school, too, if you like!"

"I'm - er. You can call me Yamino," the newcomer said, looking briefly confused. "I've been in Egypt for most of my life until now, so using last names only is strange to me ..."

"But you're Japanese ... right?" Anzu asked, looking confused.

"My family is from Oosaka, yes," Yamino answered.

"Oosaka, really?"

Everyone jumped when Miho suddenly barged into the conversation. Yamino gave her a wide-eyed look. "But Miho is confused! You don't have an Oosakan accent!"

Yamino blanched, and Anzu smacked her face into her hand. "Not everyone in Oosaka has that accent! That's only in dramas!" She pointed out irritably.

"I only lived there until I was four ..." Yamino said slowly.

"Do an Oosaka accent!" Miho demanded, batting her eyelashes. "I think Oosaka accents are so cool!"

"Uh, I don't know what that sounds like," Yamino answered. At the same time, the math teacher entered the room; his tie was pulled loose, but it was his only concession to the hot school.

"All right class, get yourselves in order," he called as Anzu directed everyone to their seats.

"Stand! Bow! Sit!"

As Yuugi took his seat again, he thought, I wonder what it would be like in Egypt.

For Yuugi, math was simple. It was his favorite class, the only one he particlarly excelled at; ever since Geometry in middle school, his grades in math had only improved. After all, math was like a logic puzzle; once you solved it, it was always the same. Formulas were cheat codes. Graphs were maps. It always just fell together in Yuugi's head as soon as he read the textbook.

So, Yuugi did what he did most of the school day; he paid no attention, reaching into his desk and pulling out the miniature keychain Rubik's Cube his grandfather had given him two weeks ago. When Grandpa had given him the Cube, it was already mixed up, and Yuugi was still working on solving it. He spent most of the school day working on it; he already knew how to solve three of the sides, but the white side was giving him trouble.

Yuugi was a little sad that he'd barely gotten to say a word to Yamino, but that was the way of things. Yuugi hated forcing himself on other people; if someone wanted to talk to him, they'd come to him. Miho and Anzu were both much more noticable people, so it only made sense that Yamino paid more attention to them. Yuugi didn't mind, although he did want to ask what Egypt was like. After all, Grandpa had told Yuugi about his expeditions to the Valley of the Kings and all; maybe Yamino had interesting stories about country, too.

Class ended soon enough, though, and Yuugi was still absorbed in solving the white side of the Cube. He didn't even look up until a shadow fell over his desk.

"You keep trying to twist the middle row to the right, but if you twist it to the left, maybe it'll work," suggested the shadow.

Yuugi turned around to see Yamino leaning over his desk, looking at the Rubik's Cube with interest. Yuugi blinked. "Yamino-kun ...?"

Yamino glanced up to meet Yuugi's eyes and shrugged a little. "You spent all of last period trying to--mmph!"

"Don't let Anzu hear you!" Yuugi hissed, his hand clapped over Yamino's mouth. "She'll lecture me!" Then, realizing what he was doing, he blushed and took his hand away. "Um, sorry, eheh heh heh ..."

Yamino's expression was carefully blank for a long moment. "So, what should I call you?" he asked, changing the subject.

Yuugi took a moment to process the question. "Oh, um ... Yuugi is fine," he stammered, a little surprised. Then again, Yamino had yet to hear about what a 'game freak' Yuugi was.

"Yuugi-kun," Yamino said. "Okay."

Yuugi lowered the Cube to his lap, twisting in his chair. "S-so ... your Japanese is very good," he started.

"We speak it at home," Yamino told him.

"Do you speak Arabic, too?" Yuugi asked, honestly curious.

"Yeah. You can't get much done in Cairo if you don't speak Arabic," Yamino assured him.

"Why were you in Egypt? If you don't mind my asking!" Yuugi hastily backtracked.

"My dad's an Egyptologist," Yamino answered with a shrug that said 'I don't mind'.

Yuugi brightened. "Really!? My grandfather is one, too. Or used to be. Now he runs the Kame Game Shop."

Yamino's eyebrows rose. "Really?" he said, very slowly -

Which was when the English teacher came in.


Lunch was after English. Yuugi had tried Yamino's strategy - which, really, was just noticing the path not taken - and he was now working on solving the fifth side of the Cube. However, he put it away when lunch started, getting out of his chair long enough to unstick his pants from the back of his sweaty thighs and pull out a few crumpled yen notes.

Jounouchi was there before he even said a word, and with Anzu already gone to make her lunchtime purchases, there was no one to stop their daily routine. "Hand it over, Mutou. It's too hot to beat you into a pulp," Jounouchi complained, holding out a hand.

"Here you go," Yuugi said to Jounouchi, placing the notes in Jounouchi's waiting hand without a fuss. He got whacked on the back of his head for the trouble, and then Jounouchi was sailing out the classroom door to get what he could before the feeding frenzy ended.

Yuugi hadn't eaten lunch at school in years. Any lunch he brought got stolen, and if he had any money for lunch, that got stolen too.

"What was that?" Yamino asked.

Yuugi was startled by the question. No one had been there to ask about the ritual before, but of course the new kid would be confused. Yuugi saw no point in lying about it. He opened his mouth to reply when Honda jumped in.

"Mutou's just generous. Aren't you?" Honda said, taking a big bite of rice.

Yuugi hesitated, then nodded, shutting his mouth again. But Yamino wasn't fooled. "I'm sure he is," he said, in a way that suggested he thought Honda was full of crap, and opened his own bento. "Hey, Yuugi-kun, I can't finish this. Want some?"

Yuugi stared at him. The only person he had shared lunch with in recent memory had been Anzu, because she always looked out for him. But this new kid ...? "I couldn't," he started to say, but Yamino interrupted him.

"I insist," he said, handing Yuugi his chopsticks. "I don't even like tempura that much, anyway."

"Th-thank you," Yuugi stammered, taking the proffered eating utensils. "You don't have to ..."

"I know that," Yamino scoffed. He picked up a pickle with his fingers and ate it. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," Yuugi said, wondering who had cooked the tempura. It was perfectly done.

"You said your grandfather runs a game shop," Yamino started, a little hesitantly. "Do you ... know anything about Duel Monsters? It's this card game th--are you all right!?" Yamino's eyes widened when Yuugi choked on his food.

"DO I!?" Yuugi bellowed when he'd managed to swallow properly. "You like Duel Monsters!?"

Yamino's eyes had lit up, and Yuugi had his answer before Yamino said a word.


When Anzu got back to the classroom, having bought enough melon bread and rice curry for Yuugi and herself both, she found Yuugi polishing off half of Yamino's bento and talking animatedly about something.

"--the Dark Magician," Yamino was saying. "But I couldn't get the Dark Ritual card fast enough!"

"It's like when I have a bad shuffle and I can't seem to get Magnet Warrior C," Yuugi bemoaned.

They looked up at her with twin expressions of surprise when Anzu started laughing.

"You two look like twins separated at birth," she informed them, making Yuugi blush and Yamino give her a perplexed look.

"Great, now we have two game freaks in the classroom," Jonouchi complained on her heels, already finishing the last of the bread he bought with Yuugi's money.


Like Anzu, Yuugi was part of the 'go-home club' of school - that is, he had no after-school clubs or activities to attend. Unfortunately for Yuugi, Jounouchi and Honda were also part of this 'club'.

Anzu had dance classes right after school, but she offered anyway: "Would you like me to walk you home?"

Yuugi shook his head with a smile. "Don't be late, Anzu," he said fondly.

Anzu offered him an equally fond look, tinged with worry. "All right. See you tomorrow?"

"Of course," Yuugi nodded eagerly. "See you then!" He waved Anzu off as she hurried to the shoe lockers, making his own way there at a slower pace as he fiddled with his Rubik's Cube.

A hand suddenly descended and snatched it from him. "Hey, what's this?" Jounouchi asked, holding up the keychain.

Yuugi made a startled, helpless noise. "Hey! Give that back!" But Jounouchi was too tall; he held it out of Yuugi's reach easily.

"Geez, Mutou," Jounouchi complained. "You really think these things are more interesting than people, don't you?"

Yuugi glared at him. "That was a present from my grandpa!" he shouted. "Give it back!"

"Nope!" Jounouchi turned away. "Hey Honda, catch!" He threw the keychain in Honda's direction.

Another hand shot up and intercepted it.

Yamino lowered his hand, holding the tiny Rubik's Cube and giving Jounouchi such a glare that it scared Yuugi. "Yamino-kun ..."

"What's your problem!?" Yamino barked. He walked to Yuugi's side and took his hand, pressing the keychain into Yuugi's palm and curling his fingers over it. "It's his property. What he does with it - play with it, ignore it - is his business."

Jounouchi was taken aback by the vehemence in Yamino's voice. "Geez, it's just a keychain," he protested as Honda came to his side, looking puzzled as well. "It cost maybe 500 yen!"

"Five hundred yen and days of work solving it," Yamino snapped. His mouth twisted. "It would take you months to get as far as he has, and even that might be too much credit for you! If you had put months of effort into something only to have it stolen, how would you feel?"

Jounouchi, who had never put more than a few hours of effort into any project, gave Yamino a blank stare. Honda's brows lowered.

Yamino, seeing no immediate answer forthcoming, pressed a hand to Yuugi's back to guide him away. "Never mind, then," he said, his voice low. Yuugi, still surprised by Yamino's interference, let himself be led off.

"Ch', you're just as much of a freak as Mutou is!" Jounouchi called after them belatedly, flipping them off as they went.

"That was weak," Honda grumbled.

"Yeah, it was," Jounouchi griped, shoving his hands into his pockets. "But that new kid sure cheeses me off!"

"Does he?" asked a voice behind them, and both delinquents turned and looked up into the face of Disciplinary Committee Member Ushio.


Yuugi shoved his feet into his outside shoes and stood; Yamino crossed the row of lockers to join him, a furrow still between his brows. "Those two treat you that way all the time?" he asked, clearly unimpressed.

Yuugi scrubbed a hand through the hair at the back of his head. "I guess so." There wasn't much to say about it. They were bullies, and Yuugi had spent his whole life being harrassed by bullies. It was easier to just forgive and forget than be angry at everyone who had shoved him, hit him, slighted him, or hurt him, because the list was pretty long anyway and Yuugi just wasn't that kind of person.

"That's terrible," Yamino announced, everything about his countenance dark. It occurred to Yuugi then that Yamino was probably his polar opposite in that respect; he probably knew the name of everyone who had hurt him in some way, and he never forgave.

"Your sense of justice is really strong," Yuugi said, abruptly. Yamino stopped being angry long enough to blink at Yuugi as the slightly shorter boy hefted his backpack. "But it's okay. I do like games and puzzles a lot. It's too late to hide it, so why try?" He tucked the Rubik's Cube keychain deeper into his pocket.

Yamino shoved his sweaty bangs off his forehead and whipped his school jacket off, half-shoving it in his own backpack. "Hmph. I don't think a taste of their own medicine would go amiss."

Yuugi just smiled. "It's nice of you to look out for me. Anzu's the only other one that does." There wasn't a trace of spite or hurt in his voice; he was just stating facts. He started out of the school building, Yamino close on his heels.

"Mazaki-san? She seems--" But Yamino was interrupted by an armful of Honda Hiroto.

The bully's face was swollen from being punched, and he had a black eye; someone had done a real number on him. Yuugi yelped and collapsed under the weight of Jounouchi, who looked no better. A shadow fell over all four of them; Yamino and Yuugi both looked up, and Honda and Jounouchi cowered in their arms.

Ushio was a huge kid; he looked as if he must have failed out several times to be as muscular and tall as he was. He cracked his knuckles and grinned down at Yuugi. "These guys were bothering you?"

"Mutou," Jounouchi groaned, struggling to get off of Yuugi. Yuugi had automatically grabbed the back of Jounouchi's school jacket; he released Jounouchi in a hurry and scrambled back, his eyes wide in the face of this new, monstrous bully.

"I'm on the disciplinary committee," Ushio announced. "And you're getting picked on all the time. So I'll be your bodyguard from now on. Personal bodyguard ... get my drift?"

Yuugi didn't, not at all. "Wh-what are you talking about?" he stammered. "Jounouchi-kun and Honda-kun ... they taunt me and ... but you - why did you do this?" Nothing Jounouchi and Honda had done to him warranted a beating this thorough!

"Because they were bothering you," Ushio said roughly. He reached down; Jounouchi cringed back, scrambling away from Yuugi on his hands and knees. Ushio grabbed Yuugi by the front of his jacket, glancing at Yamino.

Yuugi risked a glance Yamino's way as well; he was wide-eyed, but his gaze was quickly turning into a glower from the way Ushio was gripping Yuugi close. Yuugi looked away and met Ushio's eyes.

"You want me to keep protecting you, you'd better know I expect compensation," he grinned.

"What?" Yuugi breathed, his heart pounding in his chest.

"Either one hundred thousand yen tonight at midnight, at the school monument, or I take ten thousand yen out of your hide," Ushio informed him. His gaze narrowed over Yuugi's right shoulder, in Yamino's direction. "Shut your mouth, new kid. You breathe a word of this, and I'll break your body ten different ways and make you like it." He shoved Yuugi away. "See you tonight, Mutou!"

Yuugi stumbled back, only to be caught by Yamino at the shoulders. Yuugi struggled to catch his breath. "One hundred thousand yen!" he gasped. "How am I supposed to get one hundred thousand yen in ... in nine hours!?" Then he remembered Jounouchi and Honda. "Ohmigosh, Jounouchi-kun! Honda-kun!" He swiftly knelt next to Jounouchi. "I'm sorry!"

Yamino was not so apologetic. "They got what was coming to them," he said darkly.

"No one deserves this," Yuugi shot back, frowning at Yamino. "Help me out! We need to get them to the school nurse!"

Jounouchi was giving Yuugi a wide-eyed look with his one good eye. The other was narrowed to a slit by swelling. "Mutou ..."

Behind him, Yamino was contemplating Honda, who was staggering to his feet. His gaze went to Yuugi, who was struggling to get Jounouchi's arm over his shoulder, and sighed aloud, grabbing Honda's arm and throwing it over his shoulder. "Come on," he grumbled, stumbling a bit under the taller boy's weight.

Yuugi grunted and strained but he managed to get Jounouchi to his feet as well. The four of them staggered towards the nurse's office.

"Mutou ... wh' th' 'ell you doin' thi' for ..." Jounouchi asked through swollen lips.

Yuugi, who had spoken through swollen lips far too many times himself, understood what Jounouchi had said. "Ushio-kun beat you up on my account ... I'm sorry. You're not very nice to me, but I don't think you're a bad person, Jounouchi-kun," he grunted.

Jounouchi snorted heavily. It might have been a laugh. It was hard to tell.

They arrived at the nurse's office; she was appropriately shocked at Honda and Jounouchi's state. "Who did this to you?" she asked, breathless with anger.

Neither would answer, so she demanded the same of Yuugi and Yamino. "Well? Do you know!?"

Yuugi fell back with a sheepish look, and Yamino just shook his head. "I don't know his name."

"Well, you did the right thing, helping these two out. Even if they are sometimes more trouble than they're worth, Jounouchi-san," she said pointedly. Jounouchi flinched and offered a pathetic smile.

Yuugi wondered when Jounouchi had been here before.

"Off with you two," the nurse said, shooing Yuugi and Yamino away. "I'll look after them and call their parents."


Once again Yuugi and Yamino left the school building, but this time Yuugi's countenance was low. "One hundred thousand yen," he mumbled. "There's no way I can get that much money in time."

Yamino walked beside him, offering no immediate solutions. That much money was a ridiculous amount to ask for; obviously this 'Ushio' (he had gotten the name from Yuugi only minutes before) meant to hang it over Yuugi's head every day for the rest of the year. Compared to Ushio, Jounouchi and Honda were like horseflies versus scorpions.

"Yuugi-kun ..."

Yuugi threw Yamino a wan smile. "Thanks again for sticking up for me with Jounouchi-kun and Honda-kun ... and thank you for helping me with them, even though you don't agree with me."

Yamino could admit he was a little vindictive, but he wasn't feeling very repentant. Still ... "I don't know how anyone can be as kind as you are," he said slowly.

Yuugi blushed. "I'm nothing special."

Yamino shook his head. "How long have Jounouchi and Honda treated you that way?"

Yuugi had to think about it. "For as long as we've known each other, I guess," he shrugged.

"And yet you didn't wish any ill on them."

Yuugi gave Yamino a strange look. "Sometimes I do," he admitted. He scuffed his shoes on the pavement as he walked. "I think about horrible stuff happening to people who hurt me. But when I really think about it, I realize ... that if it really happened, I would feel awful. I do feel awful."

Yamino just stared. Then, abruptly: "Let me meet Ushio tonight, in your place."

Yuugi stopped in his tracks and whirled to face Yamino. "What? No! He'll beat you up! Besides, he'll know right away!"

Yamino colored slightly, reaching up to his pulled-back hair. "Actually ... I-I don't know if he'll realize the difference in the dark." He yanked his ponytail holder out, and his hair sprang up into an approximation of Yuugi's own haircut. "I got this haircut yesterday, but when I saw you in the school yard, I thought it would be weird if we had matching haircuts ..."

Yuugi gaped. "Did you go to that stylist on--"

"Beika street? Yeah."


"They do advertise punk styles there."

"Yeah." Yuugi's surprise faded. "Still, I can't let you go for me."

"What if I told you I have a foolproof way to keep him from hitting either of us?" Yamino asked.

Yuugi tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. "I'd say I'm skeptical."

"Trust me."

"Why? I've only just met you," Yuugi pointed out reasonably.

Yamino's lips twitched, like he wanted to smile but was refraining. "Because if you do, tomorrow Ushio will be a reformed man. And if he is not, I'll take what's coming my way."

Yuugi let out a slow breath through his teeth. "Yamino-kun ... you're not even involved in this."

Yamino bit his lower lip for just a second. "Yes I am," he answered. "You're my friend, aren't you?"

Yuugi blinked and thought of Anzu, and he smiled hesitantly. "Isn't it a little too early to say that?"

Yamino let out a snort of breath that might have been a laugh. "Sometimes," he said, "you just know."


The school grounds were quite dark at midnight, especially at the dirt track. The lights of the street were some two hundred meters away, and three walls of the school sheltered the space from view. Since the only security guard was usually fast asleep in his chair by ten, it was a perfect place to conduct illegal business - a fact Jounouchi, Honda, and Ushio could all attest to.

Ushio came to the grounds a few minutes before midnight, swaggering in with his hands in his pockets. He had a pair of brass knuckles tucked away there, just in case he needed extra intimidation. It was unlikely, all considered; Mutou was a well-known wimp, a total pushover.

Of course, he wasn't expecting the kid to have ten thousand yen tonight. No; that would actually make it too easy. Mutou would show up with whatever money he'd managed to scrape together in the scant hours since school had ended, and then Ushio would beat him up a little and demand the rest - with interest. It was a guarenteed money source for quite possibly the rest of the school year.

The grounds were very silent. The cicadas sang; the air was uncomfortably muggy, even at this late hour. Ushio wondered if it would rain.

And where the hell was Mutou?

"Hello, Ushio-senpai," someone said from where the light was at its dimmest, near where the vault mats were stored against the gym shed. "You're right on time."

Ushio turned to look, but it was so dark in that corner that it took a bit of time for his eyes to adjust to the poor light. It had to be Mutou; the kid standing there was short, and his hair was that crazy Mutou style. But he sounded way too confident for his own good. "Mutou?" he asked anyway.

"Who else would be here?" Mutou asked. As Ushio drew closer, he backed away and around one of the vaulting mats. It was chest-height for Mutou, so it probably looked like a decent source of protection to him. Ushio smirked.

"You bring the money?" he asked, still not taking his hands out of his pockets. He leaned menacingly over the vault mat, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dark.

Mutou twisted and ducked his head, reaching for something in his back pocket. What came out was a wad of cash. A huge wad of cash. Too much. Ushio felt his eyes growing huge. What the hell, was Mutou secretly loaded!?

Mutou held up the wad of cash, waving it slightly. "I not only brought the cash - I brought an extra hundred thousand," he said. His voice was too deep, too confident. Like there was something up his sleeve.

"Smart move, kid. Hand it over," Ushio demanded, putting out his hand. It was shaking slightly. Fuck, two hundred thousand yen! He was going to do this again!

"Ah!" Mutou drew back his hand in an admonishing manner. "What fun is that? Let's play a game for it."

Ushio's open palm curled into a meaty fist. "Sure. A game. I call it 'beat the squirt to a pulp until he gives me my money!'" He knew Mutou was a game freak, but to want to play a game for insurance money was seriously freaky.

It was hard to see in the dark, but something flickered across Mutou's face - it wasn't exactly fear. "I think it's a type of game you'll like." And that was when Mutou pulled out the knife.

That changed the situation immediately. It wasn't a very long knife - maybe three or four inches - but Ushio still didn't fancy getting stabbed by that thing. He hadn't brought any weapons except the bronze knuckles. Pressing his lips into a fine line, Ushio grit his teeth and spat out, "Fine. What game?"

"It's simple," Mutou answered. He unrolled the wad of cash, and laid his palm flat on the surface of the vault mat. Then he placed the stack of cash over the back of his hand. "All you have to do is place the money on the back of your hand like this, and--"

Lifting the knife high with his other hand, Mutou stabbed downwards, spearing a chunk of the money on the tip of the knife. He lifted it away with the speared money. "The money you get onto the knife is yours. The one with the most money at the end of the game wins. And if you stab your own hand, then it's game over." Mutou's teeth flashed in the dark. "I told you it's simple. It just takes guts."

Ushio curled his lip, feeling his insides curl as well. "What the hell kind of game is that?" he demanded, sweating a little. The idea of stabbing himself made his hands shake a little more than he would have liked to admit.

"What?" Mutou taunted. "Don't have the willpower to do it? I suppose not. Look at who you have to steal from. You probably can't even get on the kiddie coasters at the carnival."

If Ushio had been thinking properly, he might have realized just how little this sounded like the Mutou he knew. As it was, steam was coming out of his ears. "All right, you little brat! I'll play your game and I'll fucking win!" He grabbed for the stack of money in Mutou's hand, and Mutou let it go. "I'll go first!"

Mutou handed the knife over with a slight shrug, and Ushio took his first turn.

Yamino had to hide his smirk by turning his face downwards.

At first he had been worried that Ushio would recognize him; with this in mind, he had arrived early and hidden himself in the shadows next to the gym shed, depending on the darkness to hide the obvious differences between himself and Yuugi. The light was so poor here, though, that by the time Ushio could have realized that he had a different skin tone and somewhat different build, he was blinded by confidence this was his victim.

And in truth, Yamino had been somewhat worried in general. Ushio was huge; Jounouchi and Honda together had been no match for him, and while Yamino could hold (and had held) his own in a fight, it wouldn't have ended well for him. But Ushio was predictable in all the wrong ways, falling easily to taunts and afraid of Yamino's knife, drawn so completely into playing 'the game' that he had failed to realize that with the knife in his hands, Yamino was utterly defenseless.

This was disgustingly easy!

So easy, in fact, that although Yamino should have ended the game already, he let it go on for several turns. Each time the knife was passed to him, the stack of 'money' was significantly smaller; Ushio was stabbing the money visciously hard in his anger. Yamino made no effort to take nearly as much with each turn.

Most of the money was fake, collected from several board games in his own room. Again, the darkness had saved him from being found out.

"I'm winning!" Ushio laughed, but his breathing was fast. Yamino could see his hands trembling violently as he again accepted the thin stack of money from Yamino. "By a landslide! We should just stop now and save you the humiliation."

Ushio was scared out of his mind by now. It took everything in Yamino to not laugh in his face. He was scared of stabbing himself, so scared he couldn't stop shaking. Just like a bully. They can dish it out, but they sure can't take it. "Who am I going to be humiliated in front of? The gym shed?" Yamino couldn't help taunting. "The game doesn't end until the last yen note is on the end of that knife."

Ushio stared at him, then at the stack of money resting on the back of his knuckles. Yamino watched as a drop of sweat rolled down his left temple. Oh, he was nervous. Maybe too nervous. Yamino abruptly realized he'd made a mistake pointing out that there was no one to be humiliated before; after all, that ran both ways, didn't it?

It was now or never. Yamino shoved his left hand into his back pocket.


"Who am I going to be humiliated in front of? The gym shed?" Mutou asked, cruel humor lacing his tone. "The game doesn't end until the last yen note is on the end of that knife."

Ushio stared at Mutou, at that unfamiliar smirk on his face, and felt sweat roll down his temple. Shit, he was going to stab himself this time. He couldn't stop shaking.

But Mutou was right about one thing: who was going to ever know about this besides the two of them? No one. And Mutou was a wimp. Why the hell was he playing this game? He looked at the money on the back of his hand. It was his already, by right. Mutou had brought it and it was his.

Fuck this game!

Ushio threw down the knife with a triumphant laugh and went to grab the money off the back of his hand. He'd just beat the shit out of Mutou on principle now--!

Mutou grabbed the knife off the mat and stabbed it towards the money, knifing through the last of it with such precision that Ushio froze in fear. He could feel the tip of the knife on the back of his hand!

"Hm. Seems I got the last note after all," Mutou mused.

Ushio slowly lifted his eyes to Mutou's face. If he moved, Mutou might stab him on accident. Mutou looked up at him with a perfectly level face, his features obscured by the shadows cast by his bangs. "Don't move, Ushio-senpai. My hand's not all that steady right now."

"You little shit," Ushio hissed, his heart pounding in his ears.

"Don't say that just yet," Mutou advised, lifting his other arm. A black square was in it, and he raised it towards Ushio's mouth. "Now, Ushio-senpai, since you tried to cheat, I won by default. So, I'm giving you a choice." Mutou's hand trembled - or deliberately wavered - in its grip on the knife, scraping the sharp point against skin. "Either you tell me the names of everyone you have extorted money from this way, or I can stab through the back of your hand."

Ushio felt his eyes bug out of his head. "That's blackmail!"

"Hm. No, I don't think it is." Mutou's lips twitched. "Let's just say this confession is insurance against me stabbing you." The black box next to his mouth clicked and began to hiss softly, and Ushio realized it was a tape recorder. "Now, let's hear it."

For a moment Ushio was livid, but the knife was still there scraping his knuckle. He licked his lips. "You got guts, Mutou," he said in a low voice, with grudging respect, and began.

The next day came with warm, drenching rain.

Yuugi approached the school, mostly hidden under his umbrella. The sky was a depressing gray. Yuugi wasn't sure if it matched his mood yet.

He'd been in on -- well, part of Yamino's plan to stop Ushio, but he was still unclear on the details. He'd agreed to keep a lookout for Yamino at the north wall of the school, which meant he had missed all of the action between Ushio and Yamino, worrying himself sick. It had been a terrible idea from the start; Yuugi didn't want Yamino taking his licks for him, and trying to trick him with fake game money? How stupid could Ushio be?

But Yamino had emerged from the school grounds no worse for the wear, and exactly as rich as when he'd entered them, and at Yuugi's insistence they'd confirmed together that Ushio was still on his feet and going towards his home.

Yuugi couldn't believe it when he heard the tape Yamino had managed to record. "He really thought you were me the whole time?" His voice had come out as an embarrassing squeak.

"It was dark," Yamino had pointed out. "And we've got blackmail material now. He won't--"

"Turn it in," Yuugi urged.

Yamino had stared at him. "Why?"

"I don't know how you got him to record that," Yuugi had told him, "And I don't want to know. But you should turn it in. That way everyone who he's blackmailed for insurance money can get their money back."

Yamino had never replied, and Yuugi had decided not to force the issue just yet. He was still reeling from being party to something ... not exactly legal.

But he didn't see Yamino in the school yard. Nor did he see Ushio. Since it was miserably wet, Yuugi just went straight into the school building and to his shoe locker; he'd see Yamino in homeroom soon enough.

He rounded the corner and felt a hand fall on his shoulder.

Yuugi's nerves were still shot from the night before. He jumped a mile and came down facing Jounouchi Katsuya.

"Oh," Yuugi said nervously. "Hi."

Jounouchi still looked worse for the wear. His eye was spectacularly black and blue, and his cheek had stitches in it. But the smile he was giving Yuugi was totally different from anything else Yuugi had ever seen. "Hey, Mutou."

Yuugi bit his lower lip. "What did you want?"

"I just - you like riddles, right? I got a riddle for you." Jounouchi straightened from the wall a little and cleared his throat. "What is it that you can't see, but is always there?"

Man, there were a million answers for that riddle. Yuugi shook his head slowly. "I don't know." Please don't let it be a wedgie or a swirlie. Neither would make much sense in the context of the riddle, but Jounouchi - well, logic wasn't his strong suit.

"Yu-jyo,", Jounouchi answered, his mouth twitching and his face turning red. "Friendship. That's us together, right?"

Yuugi stared at Jounouchi. "J-Jounouchi-kun ... did you just make up a riddle that was a play on words?" And what he was extending! Yuugi couldn't think of a thing he'd done to make Jounouchi suddenly decide that--

"Shuddup!" Jounouchi barked, red to his ears now, before he rubbed the back of his head. "I-I just heard that -- well, you know, Ushio's been expelled, and I heard it was you, and ... you stood up for me with Nanasen, and ..." he trailed off while Yuugi tried to make sense of things. Ushio, expelled? Had Yamino turned in the tape after all? "No one's ever thought I didn't deserve what I got. I guess what I'm sayin' is, you're not such a bad guy after all."

It took Yuugi a moment to find words himself. But when he did he knew that, for once, they were definitely the right ones. "I'd be glad to be your friend, Jounouchi-kun," he said, and smiled.


Final notes: Yes, Yamino turned in the tape – after Yuugi told him he ought to.

I hope you enjoyed!