Disclaimer: Upsettingly not mine.
A/N: Request fic for Polkera, who asked for Yami and 'book reading', and whose profile freaked me out when I saw that she was born in 1992. Feck, I'd already learned to read and write by then. I feel so old and decrepit!
Memory Written in Frozen Smiles
© Scribbler, September 2008.
All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. In this - as in other ways - they are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers. Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it. -- John Berger
"Yuugi?" Anzu paused in the doorway, a soda in either hand. "What are you doing?"
He looked up. In an instant she knew it wasn't Yuugi staring back at her. For one thing, the expression on his face was one of supreme confidence despite the fact he'd been sifting through her stuff without permission. For another, there was just something about the set of his shoulders that Yuugi couldn't emulate when he was the one wearing them.
Some days Anzu wondered how she'd ever been dense enough to confuse them when they swapped. Other days she preferred not to think about it because it made her blush, and she was too embarrassed to admit it wasn't Jounouchi's rude jokes that had turned her cheeks red.
"Oh," she said now. "Yami." Beads of condensation dripped over her fingers and onto the floor, but she didn't move. It was as thought she was waiting for permission to enter her own bedroom, which was ridiculous, but there it was.
It hadn't been him in control when she went downstairs. Her forehead creased into a small frown as she finally entered, deftly avoiding the homework spread across the floor. Library books mingled with computer printouts and sheets of paper covered in two sets of handwriting – her own slanted but precise, Yuugi's tiny and spidery, with loops that edged into other lines so you had to pause now and then to figure out just what he'd written. It didn't help that Yuugi often did his homework in front of the TV and ended up copying out dialogue from whatever show was on, interspersing sentences with catchphrases and one-liners that he had to scribble out afterwards.
"Where's Yuugi?" Anzu wasn't worried. If there was a crisis, it was unlikely Yami would be calmly standing by her bookshelf and not running down the street attaching his Duel Disc to his arm.
"He was exhausted. I recommended he take a nap."
"Really? And he agreed to that?" Anzu felt ever so slightly put out. True, Yuugi had been yawning like crazy, but that was why she'd volunteered to fetch some caffeinated drinks.
"Not initially," Yami replied, making her feeling better, though somehow she doubted that was what he'd intended. It was more of a happy coincidence. When Yami was trying to make people feel better he went for dramatic speeches and expansive gestures like saving the world. Well, either that or standing looking panicked that he was expected to connect with someone whose emotional breakdown was to him what a punch in the face was to a gentle nurse's bedside manner. He knew the value of friendship, but he still found it difficult to relate to people on a day-to-day basis.
The thought chased away Anzu's prickliness. She held out Yuugi's soda. Yami stared at it for a moment, before taking it from her hand without their fingers brushing. She chose to think of that as another coincidence, letting him see how she tugged the ring pull while pointing the hole away from herself in case he'd forgotten how to open a can but was to proud to admit it. He did that every now and then. He could operate a Duel Disc without a problem, and had mastered Otogi's computer system within five minutes of starting his first game of Dungeon Dice Monsters, but certain tiny, insignificant bits of modern life still flummoxed him. She'd never forget that time Jounouchi walked into the Mutou's kitchen and found Yami threatening a recalcitrant toaster with the wrath of a Shadow Game, having forgotten to first plug it in.
"Yuugi has been working himself too hard lately," was Yami's informed remark as Anzu returned to her spot on the floor. She paused when he didn't follow her back into Yuugi's place in front of his notes. "He tries to do too much."
"We have exams coming up."
"I know that."
"Then you also know how important they are."
"Yuugi mentioned it."
I'll bet he did, Anzu thought wryly. And I'll bet he tried to hide from you just how much rides on them.
Yuugi probably didn't want Yami fretting about how exams could determine the course of your life, especially since he spent so much of his study time researching ancient Egypt and the possibility of a forgotten pharaoh. Plus there was the recent wash of hospital appointments with the cardiologist, which Yuugi flatly refused to let his grandfather go to alone. The net result was a zombie-like Yuugi who plodded through each day with eyelids so heavy Honda had offered to turn some matches into crutches just to keep them open. Anzu didn't think Yami would blitz the school just to keep Yuugi from going mad with stress, but it was a close thing.
"It's probably a good idea he takes a nap," she said, tucking her legs under her and picking up a textbook. "I guess he has been overdoing it a little recently." She sipped at her soda, flicking her eyes to Yami when the urge to burp surfaced and she had to cover it up. Yami was a lot of things, but he was not the kind of guy who'd be impressed by a girl's ability to belch the alphabet. And anyway, ew. Jounouchi and Honda were seeping into her brain more than she'd thought if that was even crossing her mind as a possibility.
Yami's expression made her pause. He looked thoughtful, but since he hadn't sat down it couldn't have been about Yuugi's schoolwork. He was staring at the wide, flat book in his hand, which he'd plucked off her shelf along with a familiar tome on dancers of the world, which her grandmother had given her for her twelfth birthday. Anzu realised abruptly that the wide flat book wasn't really a book at all, but one of her photo albums. She'd spent many long hours carefully cataloguing and labelling her photos, sticking them down and smoothing protective plastic sheeting over them. She wanted to preserve her memories so they'd always be fresh and like they'd just been taken. From this angle she couldn't see which volume Yami was holding, but the unicorns and sparkles on the cover told her it wasn't a recent one.
"You've known Yuugi a long time."
"You know him very well."
"I guess." Actually, she'd disagree with that statement depending on what day it was. Once upon a time she thought she'd had Yuugi Mutou all figured out. Now she wondered whether she'd ever really known him at all, or whether she, like everyone else, had swallowed the simple idea of the lonely social pariah without realising the extent of the truth underneath. She shook off the uncomfortable thought, redirecting her attention back to Yami. "Why?"
"These pictures," he said, with a note in his voice she rarely ever heard from him. "They are of you and he when you were … smaller."
Anzu rose to her feet. Peering over his shoulder, she spotted the familiar duo of her pink tutu and Yuugi's bashful little-boy blush. It was her favourite photo of them together, eclipsing even the ones taken at the school fete last year when they ran the White Elephant stall together.
"How old is he here?"
"Ten. That was the dance recital my parents couldn't go to see," she explained. "Yuugi snuck out of his house and used his lunch money to take the bus and come watch me. I didn't even know he was going to be there until I spotted him from the stage. His grandpa was so mad at him, I thought he was going to burst something." She smiled. That night she'd learned that Grandpa Mutou wasn't above picking up his grandson and planting a relived and grateful kiss in the middle of his scalp, no matter who was watching.
"Shared memories …" Yami murmured, so softly she barely heard him.
"It is … strange, thinking about the life he led before he solved the Puzzle. I remember nothing of my own life before he awoke me. It is as if I simply began that day. I may as well have been born as I am." He paused. You might have called it a hesitation, if you didn't know him. "Insofar as 'born' is an applicable word. Yuugi once offered me all his memories in exchange for my continued presence in his life, since I lack a past of my own."
Anzu blinked. She was shocked at the implications of this. "He did?" she said, then berated herself for sounding so stupid. "Um, that sounds like something Yuugi would, uh, say."
"Do not worry. I refused, of course. I was touched by the offer, but Yuugi's memories do not belong to me." He stared so hard at the photo Anzu half expected it to start curling up at the edges with the heat of his gaze. "Yuugi's memories are his own. His life is his own. I simply share in it for as long as I am able. I am here to protect him, not steal what is his."
"He looks very happy in this picture."
Something dark and strange clutched at Anzu. She couldn't understand or explain the feeling. It scratched around inside her like a termite burrowing its way out of a block of wood, but oozed between her fingers when she tried to grasp it and see what it was. It changed again when she looked at Yami, pulsing like a second heart at the sight of him gazing so fiercely at the old photograph.
His face was slightly drawn, as though frozen in the middle of a wince.
Impulsively, Anzu reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. He jerked, surprised, and looked at her curiously. He was expecting her to say something, but her usual repartee about friendship and promising to help him rediscover his past wouldn't come. Instead a dry noise, rather like a cough, worked its way up from inside her throat, and she had to turn away from him to take a drink before she spluttered all over him.
By the time she looked back his expression was unreadable again. He snapped the book of photos shut, patting the cover with one hand before sliding it back onto her shelf.
"Perhaps you can explain more of these to me sometime," he said briskly, as though discussing Duel Monsters cards. It was a swift and disconcerting switch of tone. "For now, I believe Yuugi was about to test you on your English modal verbs."
"Uh, yeah. Hey, Yami."
"Yes?" He knelt on her carpet and reached for Yuugi's notes.
"You know you don't have to rely on Yuugi's memories to be, um …" To feel human, she wanted to say, but it sounded silly in her mouth. "To make you, um, y'know …"
He blinked at her, his eyes and the line of his mouth inscrutable. He looked so much like Yuugi and yet nothing like Yuugi at all.
"You're not just his protector," she said – sort of yelped, actually. "You're not … that's not all of who you are. You're a person. Maybe you don't remember a lot of stuff, but it doesn't change that. And you have new memories you made with us, right? With all of us. Of the things we've been through together, since we became friends. And we're gonna make plenty more as soon as these exams are over. Just … you should … you wouldn't be stealing …" At the last second, her nerve failed her. "Just remind me to bring my camera so I can put your new memories in my photo albums, okay?"
It was a moment before Yami nodded. "All right." No indication he meant any more than that, or that she'd been about to say any more than she had. If Yuugi was a simple mask hiding a complex truth, then Yami was the Gordian Knot personified.
Anzu sighed and sank back into place beside her schoolwork.
Yami knelt beside her and picked up an open textbook. "Past tense of 'I can't'?"
She resisted the urge to flinch. Like studying wasn't difficult enough? "'I … couldn't'."
A/N: This fic makes vague references to two other fics, one by me and one not. The night Yuugi snuck out to see Anzu's dance recital is from my old fic A Really Quite Serious Story About Hugging, and the bit about Yami versus a toaster is inspired by Lesser Deities, a dastardly clever and funny fic by Talia Ali (www. fanfiction. net/s/1029205/1/)