Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh! is the intellectual property of Kazuki Takahashi
IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT! - This is the Yu-Gi-Oh! Yaoi portion of the Shipping List in order. Be forewarned. Some "pairings" will not be fluffy and cute. But they will all, hopefully, be believable. Rating's will vary.
Author's Note: Raise your hands if you got a notice that this fic updated and did a double-take because you'd forgotten you were ever following it. Sorry about that.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Shipping List #48
Changeshipping (Ryuuji x Malik)
When Marik Ishtar joined the tournament at Battle City, he went in with everything: purpose, determination, and confidence in spades. When Malik Ishtar walked out, he left with nothing; no direction and no destination. Reentry into society was difficult for him. Malik realized that he didn't really know how to do anything without Marik.
As much as he'd grown to despise the darkness that had dwelt inside him all those many years, Malik sometimes found himself pretending to be Marik just to get through his day because when the façade fell, he felt hollow…empty. Marik had filled him; filled him with hate, filled him with revenge, filled him with a lust for power. Malik loved his family, but that love did not fill him. He was grateful to Yugi and the Pharaoh, but that gratitude did not fill him.
And so, when Malik, while reading the morning paper over his breakfast of strawberry poptarts and orange juice, came across an opening for a worker at a halfway house across town, he thought: what better place to find direction. In a sense, Malik himself had been a prisoner of his darker half for more than six years. He was ready to learn how to live in the light.
Blue Skies was the name embossed on the plaque above the front door of the halfway house where Malik applied for the job he'd read about in the paper. The woman in charge of the home hired him immediately after the interview and Malik started work there the next day. His jobs ranged from running errands to cleaning and even cooking.
Blue Skies took in newly released convicts and helped them find jobs while providing counseling, two meals a day, beds at night, and even bus passes for those who were unable to walk to work every day. Most were grateful for that second chance but there were always those few who came through that Malik could tell were just headed back the way they came. After a while, he got pretty good at telling the one from the other. It really wasn't hard.
Rotation was pretty frequent at Blue Skies. People came and went constantly so Malik was never surprised to come to work and see new faces. Few gave him pause, in fact, until one day when an old man found him in the kitchen and asked him for the manager.
The man Malik turned to find was plump and wrinkled; at least in his eighties and calling him hideous might not have been uncalled for but he was polite. He smiled at Malik and spoke carefully and patiently and Malik couldn't help but find himself smiling back.
The man was moving in that day and Malik took time away from other things to show him around and help him get settled and afterward, sat for a game of gin rummy at the man's request.
Malik found that the man knew many games; he knew their game play and their histories by heart but he refused to play many of them. In conversation, the man spoke of his younger days; of bygone dreams and ambitions in bittersweet tones that spoke more of what was left unsaid than what he reminisced of. Malik grew to feel close to him, to feel as though they were somehow similar; that perhaps this man had made mistakes as he had and was trying to atone for them in the little time he had left.
Malik spent many of his afternoons in the man's company and came to call him…old man Otogi.
"Hey," Malik asked one day "why is it we always play gin rummy? Why not gin?"
Old man Otogi smiled the smile that told Malik he was thinking of regrets and answered "Because in gin rummy you're not hiding anything from your opponent. See?" he added, picking up a discarded jack to lay it on the table with the two from his hand. "No secrets. No lies. No deceit."
Malik glanced down at the three kings in his own hand and the king that Old man Otogi had been forced to pick up in order to reach the desired jack; the king which he was now discarding.
Malik nodded in silence as he picked up the king and laid it down with two of his own, hiding the third behind another card in his hand. When they counted up, he said they must have stuck together but old man Otogi smiled knowingly.
"I have a son, you know, who's just about your age."
Malik lifted an eyebrow in disbelief and grinned. "Don't you mean a grandson?"
Old man Otogi grinned back. "Smartass. I'm not as old as I look, ok?"
"Ok." Malik consented, humoring him. "…how old do I look?"
Old man Otogi threw one of the cards at him and Malik caught it in the air. It was the king he'd hidden and an embarrassed blush rose to his cheeks.
Old man Otogi's expression softened. "Old enough to humor an old man like me, even if it meant losing."
"Nah. I'm just good at losing." Malik knew the smile full of hidden regrets well. He'd been practicing it for a long while.
Old man Otogi took the proffered king back and shuffled it into the deck of cards. "I'm afraid I have you beat in that department."
"It's probably wrong of me to ask," Malik hesitated "and if you don't want to answer, just forget I said anything, but…what was it that you were arrested for?"
The old man continued shuffling the cards in his hands absently and Malik thought he might not reply but finally, in a solemn voice, he answered "Something…unforgivable."
"Is that why you're staying here," Malik pressed "instead of with your son? He didn't forgive you?"
Staring into the distance, old man Otogi seemed a million miles away. "…I haven't spoken to my son since that night." Looking down at the deck between his hands, he was brought back from that place. "He's better off without me in his life."
"My father was murdered when I was young." Malik said, looking out across the tiny backyard beyond their card table on the porch. "It was the only thing that my…twin…ever did…for me. Now he's gone and I'm better off without him too. But if he could have been sorry…if he could have just…I guess maybe it's not the same thing." Malik smiled apologetically.
"I write him letters." old man Otogi said suddenly. "The therapist at the prison said that it was therapeutic, even if I don't send them. My son…my son is a good son. That's why I can't send them. I mustn't send them. He deserves to be free of me."
"I think he deserves to decide that for himself." Malik countered.
"Hmm. That's because you're a born meddler." old man Otogi replied with a withering frown.
"You brought it up." Malik returned. "If you care about him so much you could at least let him know he matters to you."
Old man Otogi didn't answer and Malik excused himself, saying he had to get home.
The next day, when Malik showed up for work, old man Otogi was there waiting for him, letter in hand.
"I thought about what you said. So I…I wrote this one last night. … Will you deliver it?"
Malik took the small white envelope, properly addressed for the mail, minus the postage. "You could just mail it…"
Old man Otogi nodded. "I could. And I know it's inconvenient for you, but I was hoping you might ask him to read it. I'm sure if I mailed it, he would only throw it away. And I can't take it myself. If he doesn't want to see me, I have to respect that."
Malik nodded thoughtfully and pocketed the letter. "I'll deliver it."
Instead of staying to play cards that afternoon, Malik took the letter to the address printed carefully on its face. He found himself at a game store called Black Crown. He'd always known it was there but he'd never been inside because the Pharaoh had been associated through his light with a different game store. It was a case of loyalty.
Malik pushed open the shop's glass door to the tune of a high-pitched ding ding. There were several people inside, shopping or playing cards at one of the few tables in the center of the room.
"Welcome to Black Crown."
Malik turned at the heavily offered words of welcome to find a face he was certain he had seen before.
The man that came to stand before him, one hand resting on a protruding hip, was tall and thin. Malik took a moment to look him up and down. He wore a red vest over his black sleeveless shirt and black pants with a simple belt, perfectly balanced with the wrist cuffs that sported a simple vertical design. Gold bands encircled his upper arms. He wore a diamond design red and black bandanna beneath wild black hair that was tied into a high pony tail. From his left ear hung a white d6 and from his neck, a pendant that seemed to incorporate the logo of the store. His eyes were framed in black eyeliner and beneath his right eye ran a black line tattoo. From dark jade irises, he gazed back at Malik with an even stare and Malik blinked, his throat suddenly dry.
"I heard you were living here now. I was wondering if you'd plan on stopping in." His right hand moved from his hip to absently twirl a lock of the hair falling at the side of his face.
Malik couldn't imagine that he would have forgotten someone with this much presence.
Suddenly, the memory of where he had seen this man came to him and Malik's eyes widened as he exclaimed. "Wait. You were at the after party for Battle City!" Malik had been exhausted after his other's final duel and had slept through the dinner and most of the after party that evening but he remembered seeing this guy there, talking to Yugi, when he'd arrived.
"You're a friend of Yugi's."
The other man broke eye contact, looking off toward the wall. "Yeah..." The corners of his lips fell into a frown as he looked back in Malik's direction. "You know, I was actually there the entire time, but, ah, I'll forgive you for forgetting that, seeing as you were possessed most of that time." He cocked a grin Malik's way and Malik grinned back in spite of himself.
"Don't be." The other shrugged it off and turned, leading Malik further into his shop. "Name's Otogi, by the way. Otogi Ryuuji, and this is my game store, if you didn't know. So, what brings you? Just looking around?"
"Actually, um…is there someplace private we can talk?"
Ryuuji eyed him suspiciously and Malik raised his hands in surrender, turning a circle before the other. "No weapons. I promise."
"Can't blame me for wondering." Ryuuji muttered and pointed to a door across the room. "We'll go to my office." Ryuuji took a moment to scan the room until his gaze fell on a green-haired teen, talking with a group of people near the cash register. "Roba!" he called out, pulling the teen's attention immediately. "Watch the floor, okay? I'll be in the office for a bit."
The boy nodded and turned back to the people gathered around him, whom Malik now presumed to be customers.
Malik followed wordlessly as they crossed the room and exited the shop floor into Ryuuji's unmarked office.
Inside, the carpeted floor was checkered and lining the wall behind a large desk was a glass case with sliding doors to house a large assembly of small figures and dice. Malik could remember now, with no small amount of shame, that he had, in fact, received a brief summary on this man when he'd been investigating everyone around Yugi and the Pharaoh, but had dismissed him entirely as he hadn't then been a known duelist. He was the creator of Dungeon Dice Monsters.
Ryuuji waved him to a nearby couch and perched himself on the edge of his desk.
"So, to what do I owe the honor?"
Ryuuji was grinning but suddenly, Malik felt sick. The letter in his back pocket seemed heavier now than it had before he had realized who he was bringing it to. Swallowing, he found that his throat was dry.
"I'm actually here for a friend." He managed, retrieving the letter and holding it out to the other. "I didn't realize who you were…but I suppose that would make him your father…"
Ryuuji stared down at the letter in Malik's hand, addressed to himself, with a look akin to horror that Malik missed as he was staring at the selfsame object but that reaction faded quickly into a deep scowl that he directed squarely at Malik.
"Since when are you my father's errand boy?"
Malik looked up but before he could speak, Ryuuji cut him off, standing before him with dark, piercing eyes.
"You know what, forget it, I don't even want to know. You just take your letter back where it came from and tell my father that this shop belongs to me now. That's what happens when sanity is called into question in a police investigation."
Malik's eyes widened slightly at that, but even as the suspicions surfaced, he shoved them down. He was no one to judge the sins of others.
"If you'd just read it," he insisted "he only wanted…"
Ryuuji didn't want to hear it; couldn't hear it…anything to stop it… He shoved Malik back against the door, fisting his hands in the material of his gray t-shirt, catching him off guard. His head made a harsh thwack sound as it struck the hardwood door, to Ryuuji's horror. But he couldn't let go, his hands wouldn't let him.
"Who do you think you are?" he growled.
Malik squinted back at him through the pain and didn't know what to say.
"This isn't any of your business!" Ryuuji shouted, unable to control his voice any longer.
"I know that." Malik managed.
"Then why?" Ryuuji demanded.
"He s-said that he was sorry…"
Ryuuji's hands shook and he released Malik, stepping back as though the other had burst into flames.
"He didn't want to bother you. He only wanted you to be happy."
At first, Ryuuji only stared back, blankly, but then he laughed, a dry, humorless sound and Malik looked to find him staring off at the wall. Following his line of vision, Malik found a single framed photo, burnt beyond recognition behind cracked glass, the frame little more than tinder.
"I'm better off without him in my life."
The sound of Malik's exit moments later barely registered to his ears. In his eyes, the photograph he kept on the wall to remind him of the ashes and sins he had rebuilt this shop from was restored. In it, a raven-haired woman and a thirty year old man were smiling at a younger version of himself and they were happy. That photograph had never once brought him comfort. After it had been taken, he had never seen that man again. For years it had been the focal point of a wish that would never come true.
Looking down, Ryuuji caught sight of the letter his father had written, lying innocently on the floor where Malik had dropped it when he'd lost it.
It would be so easy to fall back into that place, where he could do nothing to please his father, but couldn't stop trying.
Ryuuji threw the letter in the trash. He couldn't go back there.
The lingering pounding in Malik's head had given him the distinct impression that he'd overstepped a boundary or two getting into other people's problems. He hadn't meant to. He'd only wanted to help but in the end, he'd had no idea what he was asking of Otogi Ryuuji. He'd only seen that do-not-cross line and sailed right over it like it was so much fluff and stuffing.
The look in Ryuuji's eyes, like he was haunted was a look Malik remembered well enough from the bathroom mirror. It wasn't a look he'd meant to inflict on anyone else.
Huffing in frustration, Malik buried his head in the cushion at the end of his couch.
He didn't know anything at all about Ryuuji. Not a damn thing; except that his father had done something unforgiveable to him and he quite possibly hated Malik Ishtar.
He knew why he'd done it too, and that only made things worse. He'd been thinking about his own father. He'd been feeling the guilt again. The if onlys had been running through his head again: If only he'd not disobeyed his father that day that he and Isis had snuck out into the world above. If only he'd had more time with his father. If only he could have seen the world through wiser eyes than those of a child. These were the times when logic left him; when he wanted to forget his father's abuse and disdain and objectification of him. Even after his father was long dead he wanted to hold onto the pathetic hope that things could somehow have gotten better; given the right circumstances.
Malik sighed deeply. His entire life was one long succession of failures and lose-lose situations.
He had thought at the time that he'd been trying to do something that wasn't completely selfish, that he had been thinking about someone else's problems for once, but now, he wasn't even sure anymore. Maybe he was incapable.
Still, the tone in old man Otogi's voice resonated inside. He didn't want to hurt Ryuuji, Malik believed that. He'd only wanted his son to be happy…and maybe to understand that he was sorry. Even if it was impossible to atone for past sins, it was important to try. He hoped he could at least convey to him that having tried counted for something.
Old man Otogi didn't ask about the letter as Malik sat across from him with the 52-card deck the next afternoon but after Malik had shuffled them for five minutes, he had an answer anyway. He laid his hand over Malik's, stilling the repetitive motion and smiled when Malik looked up.
"Thank you for trying."
'I was useless again!' he wanted to cry, 'Don't thank me for it!' but no sound escaped him and old man Otogi patted his hand and took the cards from him, dealing them out sagely.
They played in silence for a while and all the time Malik was trying desperately to grasp something to say to the other; something that wasn't 'What happened between you and Ryuuji that made him react that way?'. It finally came to him as he was dealing out what would probably be the last hand of the day.
"I kind of knew your son…Ryuuji."
Old man Otogi looked up at this, intrigued.
"I didn't realize it until I went to Black Crown but I knew him from Battle City. He was there at the finals with some mutual…friends."
"How was he," Otogi asked, now that the subject was breeched "when you went to see him yesterday? Did he look alright; like he'd been eating enough and sleeping enough?"
Malik nodded. "Yeah. He looked okay."
Otogi nodded back, satisfied. "I'm glad."
Nothing more was said of the matter until, as Malik was leaving for the day, old man Otogi clapped him on the shoulder and, with the same sympathetic smile he'd worn as he'd thanked Malik for trying, said "You're a good boy. Don't give it any more thought."
Malik tried to return the smile but he knew, he didn't fake them as well as he used to and when he turned away again, descending the front porch steps, it dissolved entirely.
"You're wrong. I'm really a selfish bastard."
It was Friday night so Malik knew the Black Crown game shop would still be open for late night local tournaments when he got there. He could see the crowd of people through the glass front door and he could see Otogi Ryuuji.
The door dinged as Malik walked in and watched as Ryuuji turned to welcome him and seeing him, frowned instead.
"If you're here for the tournament you're too late."
Malik crossed the space between them quickly and stopped abruptly in front of him. People were staring as he bowed before Otogi Ryuuji.
"I had no right to come here the way I did yesterday, clueless and thoughtless of your feelings. I need you to know that I'm sorry for that."
When Malik straightened, he found that Ryuuji's face was scarlet red and just as whispers began to pick up around them, he turned away, snatching Malik's arm and dragging him behind him toward his office.
Malik was a little confused as to what was happening when Ryuuji shoved him into the room and slammed the door shut, turning on him.
"Why can't you just leave me alone?" Ryuuji pleaded, sounding annoyed and almost desperate. "The general public already thinks I'm gay enough without scenes like that."
Malik blinked back. It took a moment of mental rewinding to figure out what Ryuuji was complaining about.
"Are you gay?"
Ryuuji had to take a deep breath to calm himself and afterward leveled a deep scowl at the other. "Is this going to become a regular thing?"
"I think so."
Ryuuji stared back uncomprehendingly.
"I don't know if you know this but I killed my own father, who carved the memory tablet into my back. I don't remember doing it. The dark spirit created by my own hatred had full control of me at the time but it was me who fed him those feelings and it's me who's responsible. My father was a harsh and unfeeling man and on a good day, I'm glad to be free of him. But sometimes I still wonder if I'd done anything differently, could things have gotten better? He was my father and I will live with those questions for the rest of my life. I don't know what Otogi-san did to you, or how terrible it must have been, but I know that he is sorry for it. He's trying to reach out and if you leave things as they are, you're going to hate yourself some day; even if you were in the right."
Ryuuji looked away from him, his eyes sliding to the floor and roaming until they came to rest on the photograph on his wall.
"In the ashes of the past I once had a family." His voice was far away, lost in a past that only he could see. "After my father changed, after he was filled with revenge and hate, and even after my mother died, I spent years holding out hope that the father I loved would return someday. I was killing myself, becoming something I never wanted to be. You don't know how hard it was to let that delusion go, to think about my own well-being for once in my life! I'm not strong enough to go back now. It would break me."
Those words stayed with Malik after he'd gone home that night. He had no idea what he was doing anymore.
"Otogi-san, the trash in your office is piling up."
Ryuuji paused, inventory clipboard in hand, as he heard Roba exiting his office behind him. Tournaments were over for the day and there were only a few people hanging around playing at the tables.
"Do you want me to take it out for you?"
"No, just leave it. … Just…get me another bin will ya."
"You should invest in a shredder." Roba stated sensibly, walking away from him. "It's easier to recycle that way."
"I hate shredders." Ryuuji whispered.
Ryuuji looked up as the door dinged to find Malik entering the shop. Somehow, he wasn't surprised.
"Before you say anything to piss me off, I should probably apologize for the other day." Ryuuji wasn't looking at him. His gaze was resting instead on the items on the shelf in front of him. "I, uh, I'm not usually violent." He kept his voice down so as not to draw the attention of his customers.
"I deserved it." Malik answered, shrugging it off.
"That isn't the…" Ryuuji turned back with irritation only to find Malik standing right next to him "…point."
Malik grinned back in amusement. "So what's Nuts?"
"I mean the game." Malik elaborated, pointing to the shelf with an amused grin.
Ryuuji looked back to find the Nuts card came at direct eye level. He only had two boxes left. He'd just written that down.
"It's about squirrels. The object of the game is to grab the other player's nuts." he answered dumbly.
Malik raised an eyebrow.
Seeing his reaction, Ryuuji frowned. "Aren't you going to bring up my father? Just get it over with."
Malik straightened and made a show of coughing into his hand. "I've learned that regret is unhealthy so I forgive you for your transgression." he answered as though he'd rehearsed the lines and grinned back slyly.
Ryuuji's frown darkened.
"This is a business, you know. If you're going to come here, buy something." He threw the Nuts game at Malik, who caught it with ease, and walked away toward the counter.
"Play it with me." Malik said, following behind.
"It's a group game." Ryuuji answered. "You can't play it with two people."
Malik sat the game on the counter when they got there, all but forgotten. "What about Dungeon Dice Monsters? Can you teach me to play that?"
Ryuuji paused and turned back to Malik, his right hand rising subconsciously to twirl a lock of hair. "Look, don't take this the wrong way but…aren't you pretty big on the dueling scene? What are you trying to do here? Spending more time around you is not going to make me change my mind about my father so…you don't have to…"
"It's not that…" Malik answered, saving him the awkward explanation as he moved his gaze out across the floor. "I…I haven't dueled since that day. I kept thinking I want to build a deck that's me, you know, the me now…but I…I guess I don't know me very well…" Malik turned back to give Ryuuji a grin but he found his own reflection in the depressing gaze that Ryuuji returned to him. "It's hard to fix something you have no experience with."
Ryuuji nodded. It was a silent agreement between the two. They each had their issues, deep-rooted uncertainties that neither was able to face but somewhere between them was a neutral ground where maybe they could forget for a while and offer each other something that they couldn't get on their own; even if it wasn't, maybe, what the other needed. Ryuuji had explained his own situation. He didn't want Malik's help; couldn't deal with it, and he was hardly in any position to offer help of his own. So Ryuuji nodded and called for Roba to watch the shop as he nodded Malik toward a back room.
Malik expected the room to be a store room but it was entirely empty save for a large gaming table directly in the center; the room's only light shining above it. The table's surface was gridded with dots and Malik recognized it from the shop floor.
"Isn't there one just like it in the front room?"
"If we use that one, we'll draw a crowd." Ryuuji explained, taking his seat at the far end of the table and leaving the closest seat for Malik.
They didn't talk about Ryuuji's father again. Malik found that he liked Dungeon Dice Monsters, though he lost to Ryuuji more often than he won. But as much as he enjoyed DDM, it was yet another thing that did not fill him. He still played cards with old man Otogi at the end of his shift, but that time had become stifling to him, because he didn't talk about Ryuuji either. He often thought, it would be okay to tell old man Otogi what his son was doing and how he was getting along but he knew that Ryuuji wouldn't have wanted him to and somehow, meeting Ryuuji afterwards for a game of Dungeon Dice Monsters had become the focal point of his day.
At night, Malik returned to his empty apartment and wondered why. Why didn't he feel right anywhere? When he hung out with Yugi he felt somehow inferior. He couldn't get past the guilt over what he'd done while Yugi was smiling at him. And he knew it was in himself. The problem was him. There was guilt with Ryuuji too, while he was not talking to his father before he came to not talk to him. There seemed to be nothing he could do about it. When he closed his eyes at night, he felt as though it were emptiness rather than sleep that he fell into.
Ryuuji twirled his hair as he waited for Malik to dimension his dice. He was concentrating harder than was necessary on it. The game was nearly over. Ryuuji could only see three spots left for him. He told himself that sometimes he missed things but the shadows under Malik's eyes were proof enough that it wasn't a difficult decision holding him up. Ryuuji tried not to pry and he chewed his lip as he watched Malik trying to think through the next few turns.
It had been just over three weeks ago that they had made a routine of this and Ryuuji had found that, as time passed, he'd started to look forward to their meetings. Malik was intelligent and witty and Ryuuji enjoyed his company a great deal. He valued Malik's steady presence more than almost anything, even if he failed entirely to show it. But Malik had been growing quiet lately. It seemed he said less and less the more they met and Ryuuji had begun to wonder if the luster had worn off and Malik was growing bored with him. His own feelings for others had always outweighed their feelings in return. But he couldn't blame Malik for that.
Putting that aside though, today Malik just looked tired; as though he wasn't sleeping well and Ryuuji couldn't help feeling a little concerned. Was coming here, doing this, really something that Malik needed? Was it helping him at all? Was it really okay for him to keep meeting Malik like this…when he couldn't even ask what was wrong without opening doors they had mutually closed?
"Dimension the dice."
Ryuuji knew that if the thing Malik was looking for was himself, he wasn't going to find it in the dice. But he'd known that from the beginning.
He was afraid, Ryuuji realized, as he watched Malik walk away from the Black Crown, head down, hands in pockets; afraid that getting close to Malik would bring him closer to his father so he kept Malik at arm's length. It was…a cruel thing to do and less than the other deserved. And Malik had been right. Ryuuji hated himself for it.
Malik heaved a sigh as he let himself into the Blue Skies halfway house. He'd been thinking about quitting lately. Instead of helping him to fix himself, this place had only reminded him that he had yet to succeed at anything. Even as he thought it though, Malik knew he wasn't going to quit. If he quit, he would only be sitting at home with nothing to do again; his sister would be trying to talk him into leaving Domino again. But succeeding here, in Domino, had become a fixation of Malik's. He felt that somehow, if he just tried hard enough, he could find himself here and he was afraid that if he left without doing so, without moving forward, he would fall back into darkness again. Malik was too afraid to give up. That darkness; not the underground or the other personality he had created, but the darkness inside himself, where nothing and no one could reach him; the place where Malik wanted to curl into a ball and hide himself away until he ceased to exist, terrified him. He couldn't ever be in that place again.
Malik hung his coat in the closet and thought ahead to the day's coming events in an effort to distract himself from heavier thoughts. He was on kitchen duty today, so maybe turkey for dinner and then cards; late night at the Black Crown but no tournaments so maybe he'd ask Ryuuji if he wanted to go to the movies instead like he'd been thinking of doing for the past week. It was a weekday so Roba could close the shop, if Ryuuji wanted to go. Malik didn't think Ryuuji would mind seeing a movie with him.
By the time Malik had finished fixing supper, he had almost gotten himself in a good mood. He sat between his boss and old man Otogi at the dinner table and Otogi told him how he'd gotten a janitorial job at one of the local malls. He would be starting work the following week. Malik was happy for him, even though he seemed a bit too old to be working, in Malik's eyes. It was still hard for Malik to imagine old man Otogi as Ryuuji's father, rather than his grandfather. For a brief moment, he wondered what Ryuuji's grandfather must look like and imagined a half-mummified little old man scolding old man Otogi. He couldn't help but snicker.
After dinner, old man Otogi went out onto the back porch to wait for him while Malik washed up the dishes.
"You seem to be doing well here." his boss commented, taking one of the plates from him to dry.
"Do you think so?" Malik countered. "Sometimes it's hard to tell who's supposed to be helping who."
"That's exactly why I think so." she answered and Malik snorted, smiling down at the dishwater and suds.
"Thank you, Chieko-san."
"Oh?" she replied good naturedly, smiling back at him. "For what?"
"…For enduring me."
As Malik was finishing with another plate, reaching out to pass the wet dish on, one of the house residents came running in and Malik looked over his shoulder to see the panicked look in the man's young face.
"Hey, that guy on the porch just collapsed. I think he's havin' a heart attack."
The dish slid from Malik's wet fingers to shatter on the floor. A heartbeat later he was crushing and slipping on the shards as he ran past the man, his boss not far behind, her cell phone already in hand.
Vaguely, as he burst through the open glass doors onto the porch, he could hear her requesting an ambulance and relaying the address.
Old man Otogi was lying on the porch next to his overturned chair, curled in on himself and clutching at his chest.
Malik nearly tripped crashing to his knees at the elder's side. He reached out, at first afraid to touch him because Otogi seemed to be struggling to breathe, but then clutched fiercely at his shoulder.
"It's okay." Malik assured the other firmly with a strength that had manifested entirely for Otogi's benefit. "You're going to be okay. Just try to stay calm. An ambulance is coming."
Old man Otogi looked up at him and managed to nod his head. Groping, he caught Malik's hand, squeezing tightly. Malik watched as the tears began to splash down over their hands - when had he started crying? - …and broke.
"I'm sorry!" The sobs wracked him. He couldn't stop. "Sorry."
Chieko pulled him away as the ambulance arrived and Malik watched helplessly as they covered his face with an oxygen mask and loaded him onto the gurney.
"Are you going to be okay?" Chieko asked him, her hand resting comfortingly on his shoulder.
Malik could barely feel it there. He felt like he was going numb. Flashes of his father's funeral were assaulting his mind unwelcomed; the smell of burning flesh and the white hot pain of confliction twisting in his chest.
"Malik?" Chieko sounded worried.
"I have to be there." Malik answered her and Chieko nodded. "I'll call you a cab."
Malik's hands were trembling as he pulled out his own cell phone and dialed the number he'd programmed in only last week.
Ryuuji had been pulling items for online orders when the shop phone started to ring. Setting the cardboard box he was filling on the floor, he made his way to the front desk. He paused briefly as he passed by his office, where he could hear the ring echoing from within. He hadn't actually been in his office for a few days. He'd been finding excuses to stay out of it lately. He didn't like Roba questioning him about the trash bin.
Reaching the front desk, Ryuuji picked up the telephone and answered cheerily. "Black Crown. What can I do for you?"
Malik's voice sounded odd from the other end.
"Hey. … Can't make it today?"
There was a pause and Ryuuji heard Malik pull in a ragged breath.
"He…he's had a heart attack."
Heart attack. Ryuuji felt the world grind to a stop. They hadn't spoken of him in weeks. Ryuuji had tried to put his father out of his mind; a constant struggle thwarted every day that he thought about that letter in his office. He couldn't throw it away. The most he'd been able to do was leave it there, enshrined in his trash bin, untouched, haunting him day after day.
He was my father. Malik's words came back to him now. He could never escape, because on some level, deep inside where he tried to ignore it, he didn't want to.
Ryuuji's eyes burned.
He'd only ever wanted his father back. The love and security he'd had as a child… The burning was in his chest now. His father had turned away from him so many times, hurt him, called him worthless and still, despite it all, he had never…been able to stop…
"Ryuuji?" Malik's searching voice yanked Ryuuji back to the game shop around him; the phone in his hand.
He opened his mouth to say he couldn't. He couldn't deal with this. But no words came out; no sound at all.
"I'll…be there at Domino General." Malik said, still with that voice like he was the one in despair.
Several more seconds of silence followed wherein Ryuuji clung to the phone and prayed that Malik would say something else to save him from answering before Malik finally said "I…have to go. The taxi's here."
When Ryuuji didn't answer, the line went dead and Ryuuji listened to the dial tone blare in his ear until it sounded like the flat line on a heart monitor and dropped the phone with a start, further startled by the sound of it hitting the floor at his feet.
He backed away; his vision blurred, and was halted by steadying hands.
Ryuuji looked back to find Roba there, worry etched into his steady gaze and pulled away.
"Are you alright, Otogi-san? You look like you're about to be sick."
"I'm…sorry. I have to go." Ryuuji groped in his pocket for the shop keys and hastily handed them over to Roba who looked like he might protest in worry. "Close up for me."
Ryuuji didn't stick around to hear Roba's reply. He couldn't stand there another second longer. He needed air.
Ryuuji was several paces down the sidewalk before he realized that he wasn't heading in any particular direction and slowed to a stop, his mind clearing in the open air.
Ryuuji remembered vividly the event that had resulted in his father's arrest and their separation. It had all been planned down to the letter; a game store to lure his enemies in, a game that Ryuuji had invented to give them every advantage short of cheating, and finally that game to take his revenge.
Ryuuji's relationship with his father had always been…complicated; "You're worthless!" followed by "I'm sorry.". Always the 'I'm sorry' had followed after sporadic beatings and insults and Ryuuji had wanted so badly to believe that the 'I'm sorrys' and 'You know I love you, don't you?' had been his father's true face, that he had convinced himself that they were real and the abuse and obsession over revenge was something that could be overcome; that his father could return to normal if only he held out long enough. But when he'd seen Yugi, carried from the blazing inferno of his father's shop, unconscious in the arms of his friend, the ugly purple chain link bruises marring his neck, he had known that all those years he had only been fooling himself. He'd gotten it backwards. His father's true face was the one who'd done that to Yugi, not the one who pretended he still loved his son. He'd known it all along. He'd only lied to himself that he hadn't. So those bruises on Yugi's neck…they were as much his fault as his father's.
Looking back at the Black Crown now, Ryuuji remembered the sight of Jounouchi emerging from the flames, Yugi small and motionless in his arms and the tears slid down his face.
How could his father have changed now? After all the damage had been done. How could he still want so badly to go to him? What was wrong inside of him that after everything that had happened he couldn't let go?
Malik had never had the experience of sitting in a hospital waiting room before. Now, having had it, he knew with absolute certainty that he never wanted to have it again. When he'd first arrived, the receptionist had pointed him toward the waiting area and kindly promised to tell him the minute there was news. So Malik had sat in the silent room with three other people who steadfastly ignored him and, copying them, pretended to read the magazines strewn about the room. After an hour had passed, he'd returned to the receptionist's desk to inquire about old man Otogi; and again after two hours, and again after three at which point, after having been scowled at and informed in clipped words that he would be informed as soon as there was anything to inform him of, Malik sat himself in his waiting room chair and quietly withdrew from society.
By two o'clock in the morning, Malik was sure he had been forgotten, but he no longer had the will to return to that desk and ask again…just in case he was asked to leave - but also because with each passing hour, he became more afraid of finding only bad news there.
Malik remembered the kind way that old man Otogi had smiled at him and how he'd needed that so bad and hadn't even known. Ryuuji had no idea what that was worth. Maybe, instead of sitting on his ass all night, he should have gone to the game shop himself and brought Ryuuji here, made him understand somehow.
But it was hours since he'd called Ryuuji and far too late to think of such things now.
Malik remembered what Ryuuji had said; that releasing himself from his father had taken all of the strength he had. Then maybe he had been wrong to ask Ryuuji to come; dragging him back down into whatever it was he had worked so hard to escape from. Malik didn't understand. He knew that. And he couldn't judge Ryuuji. But at the very least…he had had some small hope lodged in his chest that Ryuuji might be there…for him…
Malik's head sunk further as he leaned over, arms resting on his knees.
He really didn't want to be alone.
Ryuuji looked down on the figure hunched over in a chair near a small corner table, one hand still holding the waiting room door open. He could still leave, leave Malik alone here. He'd put himself in this position. Ryuuji did not have to share it with him. Ryuuji could walk away. But then, perhaps sensing him there, Malik looked up and Ryuuji found himself staring into questioning violet eyes and he let the door go in defeat.
"I thought you wouldn't come." Malik's voice was small in the silence of the room.
"So did I." Ryuuji answered honestly.
Ryuuji didn't have an answer for that but dealing with interviewers had given him a knack for spouting bullshit so he went with that.
"I never asked how you fell in with my father but I figured if you were going to wait here it must be something incredibly stupid. I guessed you probably needed to be saved from yourself." Ryuuji seated himself lightly in the chair beside him and Malik eyed him a minute before speaking.
"I work at the halfway house where he lives."
Ryuuji seemed to mull the information over and nodded.
The silence stretched between them as Ryuuji watched a middle aged woman across the room stand up, stretch, and walk out. The sound of the door closing behind her seemed to amplify the silence somehow. The room's only other occupant, a businessman in his late twenties, had dozed off. Ryuuji had an urge to wake him but quashed it, clamping down firmly on the difficult words he'd determined to say. He was done hiding from this; not out of determination, but more of exhaustion.
"I always thought…if I were to ever stand before my father again, that I could look at him with a mature understanding of who he was. I wanted to be a strong man who no longer needed his affection or approval; someone who had risen above the influence of his mind games. … But I don't feel that way."
Ryuuji drew in a ragged breath and Malik stared at him, haunted by the echo.
"I feel like a child again. Insecure…and afraid…"
Ryuuji's hand lay on the arm rest between them and Malik lay his over it, threaded his fingers between Ryuuji's. Neither of them looked at the other or spoke as tears slid silently down Malik's cheeks.
When a nurse finally did come, it was not the one Malik had spoken to. She informed them that Otogi was awake and stable. He could see visitors now. Ryuuji looked to him and Malik forced a weak smile, releasing his hand and shoving it away. Old man Otogi was going to be okay. Malik could wait.
For a moment a flash of panic lit Ryuuji's eyes but he swallowed it down, nodded, and stood, following the nurse out without a backward glance.
Ryuuji followed his guide on autopilot, fear gripping his gut. What would he say to his father? Would his father apologize? 'I'm sorry, Ryuuji. You know I love you, right?' He didn't think he could say anything to that. He would nod. Forgive. His father would tell him that what he'd done was alright; that it was okay now. He would forgive; open his arms. 'Let's start over now, okay?' He wanted it so bad. But Yugi's grandfather still had his game shop. And Yugi had surpassed him – far surpassed him. Dungeon Dice Monsters wasn't as popular now as it had been at its start. It could never overtake Duel Monsters. There was nothing…nothing left to satisfy his father. Nothing to show for years of animosity and obsession.
Bile rose in his throat, heart racing, as Ryuuji envisioned a future cloned from the past. His vision swam and he reached out a hand, finding the wall nearby to steady himself.
A hand at his arm told him that the nurse had noticed him stop and her worried voice echoed in his ear.
"Sir? Sir, are you alright?"
Ryuuji pulled in a breath, nodding. "I'm fine. I'm just…feeling a little light-headed, that's all. I haven't had anything to eat since I heard the news."
She looked him up and down, giving him a pitying look. Perhaps I should take you to the cafeteria instead. You can visit after you've gotten something to eat."
Ryuuji shook his head. He felt like puking as it was. "No. I'll…I'll be fine. I'll eat after."
The nurse nodded but didn't look convinced. "Alright but try not to push yourself. His room's right there." She pointed down the hall to a room two doors down.
Ryuuji nodded and waited for her to leave, watching her go before he crossed the hall and stood before the door of his father's hospital room. Did his father know he was here? Had they told him that his son was waiting? He grasped the door handle, just letting his hand rest there a moment. Thoughts ran circles in his head. He could leave now, but he would regret, just as Malik had said. If history repeated itself he would regret then too. The small spark of hope in him that things could get better, kept alive in the trash bin in his office, wasn't strong enough to take flame. He'd never read the letter. Now he wondered if he should've or if he was better off not knowing.
For just a moment, he didn't think he had the strength to push the handle down, to open the door and walk through it. He just couldn't feel it within him at all. Then he remembered Malik's fingers pressing between his own, grounding him, and the door was open and for good or ill, he'd already taken the first step inside.
He could only see the foot of the bed at first, the rest of the room hidden around a corner. There was a computer desk to his right with a chair pushed up to it, out of the way. A few more steps brought him fully into the room.
His father lay on the hospital bed covered to his chest, eyes closed. He'd seen his father so few times without the clown's face mask he'd once worn but he remembered every wrinkle, every line and how the face had contorted in rage whenever his father had shown it to him. He knew that it was shame that had angered him so but now, he seemed to have gotten used to being without it. His features were lax; his elderly face sagging and withered. He looked every bit his altered age.
Ryuuji was on his way to the chair positioned neatly against the wall at his father's bedside, when the elder stirred and opened bleary eyes in his direction. His father started at the sight of him, struggling to pull himself into a sitting position as he stuttered.
Ryuuji's feet had planted themselves in the floor beneath him, driving any thought of leaving from his mind, mercifully silencing his doubts and leaving him empty and clear-headed.
"Ryuuji…my boy…come, come sit here." His father scooted slightly, patting the edge of the mattress, never taking his eyes from Ryuuji, as if he might vanish otherwise. "Let me have a look at you."
Ryuuji obeyed mindlessly, drawn by the reverence in his father's voice.
"I didn't…think you would come." The elder Otogi reached for his son's hand, scooping it between his own without resistance. "I was afraid…I might never see you again. When you didn't reply to my letter…I thought…"
"I didn't read the letter." Ryuuji's quiet words silenced his father and he carefully slipped his hand from between his father's hands. He missed the look of pain that crossed his father's face as he clasped his hands together in his lap and focused his attention there instead.
"I worked hard…to pick up the pieces after you were gone. I rebuilt the Black Crown. Rebuilt me too. I'd like to think neither one is the same as it was before."
"That's good. Good." His father folded his own hands over his lap and Ryuuji, expecting him to reach out instead, turned to stare at them.
"There's been a lot of that going around. Ryuuji, I know that…there isn't any way I can ever make up for the way I treated you. I used you…and I don't expect to be forgiven for that. And I'm not asking you to forget it."
The words left a bitter taste in Ryuuji's mouth as his eyes strayed to the thin, white blanket and unfocused there, offering his brain only a nonsensical blank blur with nothing to pull his thoughts away from the remembered emotions of the past and the new painful tumult they'd become.
"What I hoped, was that as you're building your new life, you might be able to find a little room for me in it. Whatever amount you're comfortable with is alright with me, even if it's just a get together for coffee or breakfast on Tuesdays. Ryuuji…"
The careful touch at the side of his face drew Ryuuji's attention and he looked up, meeting his father's eyes for the first time in he didn't know how long. The hand retreated as his father continued.
"I was such a fool back then. I had a wonderful son who loved me so much, enough that he would do anything I asked of him, even if what I was asking was unreasonable, even if it hurt him in doing it, and I threw that boy away without even realizing…that he was the only thing that mattered. Ryuuji, I know that now. My relationship with you is the only thing that matters."
When Ryuuji returned to the waiting room, he found Malik asleep, slumped down in the same chair he'd been in when he left. A slow smile tugged at the corner of the dice master's mouth as he took in the sight before finally lowering himself into the chair next to him and sat there a moment, staring out at the now empty room.
Eventually, he turned in his seat, bringing one leg up on the cushion and reached out a hand, gently patting the blonde on the shoulder.
Malik jerked awake, eyes wide in panic and turned to Ryuuji even as he pulled away. He calmed instantly as recognition set in and sighed.
"Sorry. I must have dozed off. I thought you were the nurse."
Ryuuji gave the other a lopsided grin, one eyebrow raised in amusement. "You have a phobia of nurses?"
Malik reached up, rubbing his right temple with two fingers, indicating a headache, probably brought on by a lack of sleep.
"Nurses, hospitals, small windowless rooms and the color white after today." he answered, his tone giving away exhaustion. "How is old man Otogi?"
For a second, Ryuuji found himself staring back into concerned violet eyes and wondered how often he'd seen that tired, worn out look lately. If he counted the times in the mirror it was too many to count, surely too many to be healthy for either of them.
"He's okay. I'm gonna head home." Ryuuji said, standing, looking back at Malik. "Come with me. Get a shower. I'll wash your clothes for you and we can come back down in the afternoon after a few hours' sleep."
Malik stared up at him blankly and Ryuuji extended a hand.
"Come on. We'll do that and afterward…I'm going to help you build that deck."
Malik accepted the hand hesitantly, still trying to piece together the conversation in his sleep deprived mind. The darkness seemed to be gone from Ryuuji's eyes and something in them told him that everything was okay now. Malik offered the other a pale but teasing grin.
"What do you know about dueling?"
They crossed the room and Ryuuji opened the door, holding it as Malik walked through, then joining him on the other side.
"Next to Yugi, almost nothing." he answered, then stopped, catching Malik's gaze. "But I know you."
Malik smiled and he could honestly not remember a time he had ever felt as at ease. He thought perhaps, he never had. As they walked together down the halls, side by side, Malik stole a glance at Ryuuji and found an absentminded grin playing at his lips, a look he had never seen on the other before.
"So…things are going to be okay…between you and your dad?"
Ryuuji's father had always been a taboo subject. Now Malik held his breath, waiting for his friend's reaction.
The large sliding doors of the hospital's front entrance whooshed aside as they stepped out into early dawn light and Ryuuji looked up at the sky, the smile never leaving his face.
"I think maybe they will."
3 Weeks Later
Ryuuji flipped through the latest issue of Duelist's Digest as he sat on Malik's couch listening to him talk with his sister on the phone; mostly a long string of "yes, sis" from his end, never forced or strained as Malik was in a good mood. Ryuuji wondered what it was like to have siblings. It was hard sometimes to get to know people and to make friends that were always there for you so siblings, Ryuuji figured, were like freebies in that area. Despite their penchant for enabling, Malik's siblings were probably better than most. They were always there for him, anyway.
"Yes sis. Yes. That's what I've been trying to say. He's here now. We were just on our way out the door. No, we're not late. No, it's okay. I'm glad you called. I was missing you after your last trip was postponed. Yes, I'm fine. Actually, I probably do have to go now. It's later than I thought. Yeah. Okay. I'll see you then. I love you, sis." Malik paused, grinning at the phone. "I have to go, okay? I'll talk to you later. Okay. Bye."
Malik hung up the phone and turned back to Ryuuji. "You don't think we'll be late, do you?"
"We'll definitely be late." Ryuuji grinned back despite his reply, tossing the magazine onto the coffee table in front of him. It landed on top of a haphazard pile of Duel Monsters trap cards and knocked a few dice onto the floor. "But that's okay. I think he'll understand."
Ryuuji stooped to pick up the fallen dice while Malik grabbed their coats from the hall closet and the two exited the apartment.
"Old man Otogi's shift starts in an hour, right?" Malik asked as they made their way down the stairs.
"That's right." Ryuuji confirmed. "We should still have time for the early lunch we'd planned by the time we get there."
Ryuuji hailed a taxi when they reached the street outside and Malik double checked the time on the watch at his wrist.
After they'd seated themselves, Ryuuji gave the driver their destination and the taxi pulled away from the curb and smoothly into traffic.
The weather outside was chill and Malik's fleece coat kept him warm enough but Ryuuji had sat close, his arm resting against Malik's own and the warmth Malik felt from the contact seeped into the limb, distracting him and making the rest of him feel all the more chill for the lack of that warmth.
"The theater in the mall is having a marathon showing of Lord of the Rings." Malik said, stopping himself from turning to face his friend, but his eyes strayed left anyway.
They'd seen movies together and they both enjoyed an outing now and again, but Malik had found himself thinking about them more and more of late. When he stepped back to take a look at it, Ryuuji was really the only person his own age that he hung out with, or talked to, or enjoyed being around. Malik knew that he had a tendency to be needy so he'd been trying to spare Ryuuji from dealing with that personal flaw. The problem was, he didn't know where he should draw the line. He wanted to be considerate of Ryuuji but whenever they did anything together it just never seemed to be enough and he found himself thinking about things like Ryuuji's arm, pressed ever so slightly against his own in the back seat of a cab or that same arm draped over the back of the couch while they were watching movies or the sway of his hips, the intensity of the green color of his eyes when he asked "Hello, anyone home? You've been doing that a lot lately you know. Are you trying to see the reflections of the cards in my hand in my eyes or something?", or the way he'd found cards for Malik's deck that suited him perfectly and had to explain to Malik how. Ryuuji had even taken into account his flaws while helping him construct his deck.
Malik blinked, realizing he'd zoned out again, mid thought. He hadn't even asked if Ryuuji wanted to see the movies with him yet.
"Why? I thought Roba was handling the shop today."
"He is. This isn't about me. It's about you. I've asked Yugi to meet us so you can run your new deck against him in a friendly match."
The thought of dueling Yugi literally made Malik sick. In the handful of times he'd been to Yugi's shop or hung out with him and his friends post Battle City, Yugi had steered clear of the subject of dueling like it was taboo. Malik kind of had the impression that Yugi was trying to spare his feelings somehow, since he'd abandoned the deck he had…his yami had…(there had been a great big blur between the two of them in the time frame just before the Battle City finals) constructed and at the time hadn't built a new one. But Malik also knew that his yami's duels were a touchy subject with Yugi and the hatred that Yugi felt for his yami was spared from him only by Yugi's philosophy of second-chance forgiveness.
'But I don't want to duel Yugi.' He wanted to say it so bad but in the end he settled for "Why Yugi? I mean, doesn't he have…I don't know…better things to do?"
Ryuuji raised an eyebrow, glancing in his direction, a look that plainly told Malik how foolish he sounded, as if he hadn't heard himself saying it.
"Because Yugi is the expert on Duel Monsters and because I cut back my Duel Monsters inventory for just such an occasion."
"What do you mean?"
"Well you don't think both of our shops could stay in business if we sold exactly the same merchandise, do you? When I rebuilt my shop I agreed not to sell any strictly Duel Monsters related merchandise except for a small quantity of the cards and in exchange, they don't sell any DDM related merchandise. That way our two shops can coexist without my larger store putting the Kame Game Shop out of business. It's good to have that olive branch hanging there, not as a business venture, but as a token of friendship."
"So you leveraged your friendship with him to ask him to duel me?" Malik's stomach was turning sour.
"No. I thought about it but as it turns out I only had to say you needed the help. That's Yugi for you. So in answer to your question: no, Yugi doesn't have better things to do than help his friends."
Ryuuji turned to study Malik, who was staring down at his knees and considered putting his hand there but refrained. "I know what it means to you, to duel him again. But you have to, to move forward, you have to get past the memory of the last time you dueled him. It isn't enough to accept it. You have to let it go."
Malik met his friend's emerald gaze. His lips stretched painfully into a smile that never quite made it to his eyes. "Is this a little of my own medicine, from when I told you you'd regret not meeting with your father?"
"I hope so." Ryuuji answered, his own smile smaller but genuine. "It was pretty good advice back then."
Malik snorted and leaned over, resting his head against Ryuuji's shoulder. The dice master had a way of making him feel vindicated for letting his selfish streak run wild.
Ryuuji let him lay there, focusing his attention on Malik's hand that lay draped over the duelist's leg.
"You're not…very much like Yugi, you know."
"Umm." Malik agreed, not wanting to move his head to address whatever Ryuuji was trying to say. "My growth spurt came when I was twelve." he added, grinning.
"What I mean, smartass," Ryuuji replied and Malik could hear the grin in his voice "is that you don't make relationships the way he does."
"Yes, well, I'm still waiting on that emotional growth spurt, you know." Malik replied, frowning. "It's a bit harder to measure that against Yugi's in a locker room."
Ryuuji brought his hand up, covering Malik's mouth securely. Malik jerked back but Ryuuji's hand moved with him and Malik's narrowed eyes, more questioning than angry, met Ryuuji's serious green ones.
"This could have led gradually into my question but since you're so impatient I'll just cut to the chase. I enjoy hanging out with you. Having someone to talk and play DDM with casually is great. In fact, I would consider you to be an important part of my life right now which, quite frankly, scares me since, like you, I actually have very few important things in my life. Since we are similar in that respect, it got me to wondering how important I am to you which is a subject that no person should ever think of no matter what the circumstances because the way we think someone else feels is never, ever the full extent of how that person actually feels and in reality we probably wouldn't actually want to know if given the chance. For example, while I can say that I do love my father there are a myriad of emotions leading to that simplified expression that would probably take up the better part of a Harry Potter sized novel to lay down. But thinking of what you might think of me, I had to wonder what it is that you get out of watching so many movies with me. We've actually been to the theater four times in the past three weeks along with the two movies you rented and the three we caught on the tv at your apartment. Originally, I passed it off with a vague understanding of your upbringing but now I'm wondering if it's really something else."
Ryuuji grimaced, pulling his hand back slowly, a wet streak glistening on his palm. "I can't believe you just did that."
"First of all," Malik began, ignoring Ryuuji's mild disgust, "if that was cutting to the chase, I'd hate to see you give a lecture. Secondly, I might have run out of ideas for things to do that don't involve alcohol or long distance travel. Like you said, I am not a social butterfly. And lastly…it's possible…that I might have…a tiny…completely consuming desire to kiss you."
Ryuuji paused, wiping his hand on his pant leg. "If you don't mind my asking, is there some reason you didn't just… go for it the minute it popped into your head?"
"I've been trying to be less selfish." Malik answered indignantly but for some reason, it sounded less intelligent when he said it than it had when he'd thought it. He blamed Ryuuji for that.
Ryuuji nodded slowly, noting as he looked out the window that they were nearing their destination. Malik's confirmation was in line with his guess. He grinned, trying to keep the reaction to himself.
"How's that working for you?"
Malik shrugged, looking away out the window. "It isn't right to expect you to be everything."
The cab pulled over in front of the Domino City Mall and Ryuuji paid the driver over the seat before he and Malik filed out.
As Malik was about to head in, Ryuuji grabbed him by the arm, halting him.
"I understand you have personal issues to work out. I have too. … Maybe it's a bad time…"
Ryuuji frowned, looking out over the parking lot into the horizon. Malik waited. A cold wind had picked up, blowing their hair over their shoulders and slipping in through the fibers of his coat. Malik watched as the long strands of Ryuuji's raven hair curled around his face. He'd always wanted to pull it loose from the binding Ryuuji kept it in, just to see how he'd look with it down. The truth was, Malik didn't know what to call all that he felt for Ryuuji. He didn't know what Ryuuji wanted or even what he was capable of.
Ryuuji turned back, locking his gaze with Malik's. "But missed opportunities are missed opportunities, you know?"
Malik didn't reply, instead he reached out and dragged the band from Ryuuji's hair, marveling for a moment at how the wind seemed to instantly possess it, whipping it out away from him in black tendrils. Then he cupped the side of the dice master's neck and met his lips in a bruising kiss. Ryuuji returned the gesture, pressing back, gripping Malik's arm tight and encircling his waist, pulling them flush against one another.
When they parted Malik noticed that a nearby group of school girls were giggling at them behind their cell phones.
"Looks like we're a spectacle." he whispered, still close enough to Ryuuji that the other could feel the breath on his lips as Malik spoke.
Ryuuji chuckled. "Might as well give 'em something to look at." His tongue slid across Malik's before their lips collided and Malik groaned, burying his fingers in Ryuuji's loose hair.
"I thought you were worried about the general public thinking you were too gay." Malik panted as Ryuuji stepped back to retie his hair.
Ryuuji grinned back. "Oh, that ship sailed a long time ago. When I said that, I was just afraid they'd get the wrong idea about us."
"No chance of that happening now." Malik muttered, grinning and keeping pace with Ryuuji as he turned to head into the mall.
"I should hope not. That kiss is going to be all over the internet in five minutes. I'd like the caption to read 'Dice God and Battle City finalist in liplock! OMG! Hottest couple ever!'" Ryuuji gestured the headline by spreading his arms wide in front of them.
Malik laughed, the sound echoing off the walls of the food court as they walked through the mall's inner sliding glass doors, drawing even more attention but he couldn't stop.
Ryuuji's grin softened as he glanced sidelong at Malik. Somehow the duelist had worked his way into Ryuuji's life. His stubborn, selfish streak had been Ryuuji's salvation. When he hadn't even realized how isolated or cold he'd been, Malik had been a warm light, showing him the way and when he'd been too afraid to take that path, Malik had stood by him like no one else ever had. What that meant to Ryuuji, he couldn't even begin to explain. The sound of Malik's carefree laughter at his side fed a warmth in him that he was certain he'd not felt since he'd been a very young child, a warmth he'd been convinced that he would never feel again, but alongside it there was also a new flame, growing steady and sure with each touch and each smile returned in Malik's lavender eyes.
As Ryuuji looked out across the room, he noticed his father, waving them to a table with three chairs and reached out, catching Malik's hand. Malik returned the grip, using it to pull Ryuuji close, latching himself to Ryuuji's arm as he tried to control the abating giggles and Ryuuji shook his head amusedly, waiting for the sound to die down before he whispered.
"After our visit with Yugi, I have to take care of some paperwork at Black Crown. Come back with me and when I'm finished we'll put in a movie we've both seen a dozen times."
He didn't have to look at Malik to imagine the sly grin on his face.
"Let's rent something really crappy with tons of explosions."
"Sounds good to me."
A few notes:
I've learned through research, that the game we, at my house, call "gin rummy" is also referred to as "500 rummy". As card games are passed down in families, their names sometimes change from the proper names they're referred to in rule books. House rules also sometimes replace original rules without people even being aware of the fact.
Here, Gin Rummy refers to a game in which 7 cards are dealt to 2 or more players. The players then take turns drawing from either the discard pile or the deck and discarding with the intention of laying down at least three cards of the same suit in a run or at least three cards of the same value (for example: 2,3,4 of spades would be a run that could be laid on the table and three 4s would be able to be laid down also). The players can play off anything already on the table and can pick up cards from the discard pile as far down as they want as long as the last card picked up can be played immediately. The game ends when one player exhausts their hand and the value of all cards each individual player laid down is added in that player's favor while any cards that remain in the hand are deducted from that value in penalty.
Alternatively, Gin is a game played much the same way but with some important differences. Only two people can play Gin. The dealer deals out 10 cards to themselves, 11 to the opponent, then the opponent must discard one to start the game. No player may pick up below the top card in the discard pile and all card pairings are kept in the hand until the entire hand can be laid down at which point the player declares "Gin".
Strategies for winning both games involve knowing to some degree what your opponent is holding in their hand and keeping the cards they need from them when you can.
Nuts is an actual game, by the way. I was able to play it once in the game shop with a bunch of other people. I kind of want to buy it because it was so fun but I wouldn't have anyone to play it with. I recommend it, though.
The after party that Malik remembers doesn't take place in the manga or anime. It makes sense that Seto would have had one set up for them after their return to Domino so that a hand-picked selection of reporters could interview the duelists in a controlled environment. I imagine that this would bore Yami to no end and he and Jou might have snuck out for their after-Battle City duel.
Post whatevers: I am now a fan of this pairing. Excuse me while I go cry because there is almost no fanart for it... Next up: Seth/Touzokou/Bakura/Seto. Since I've started this project, new shipping names have been added to the list. This both makes me happy and pisses me off because at some point I'm going to have to double back for the ones I've missed and it's going to throw off my chapter numbers. As always, if you liked, please review. ^-^