Mmm, what to say... This story has been sitting on my computer since January. I only recently found it again and thought 'why not?'. Bad idea, as it turned out. This fic is twice as long as I'd originally intended.

Disclaimer: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh GX, The Lion King, or any of the songs mentioned here. Aihara Yoko, Zhang Ming, Zhang Xing, and their families belong to me, though.

Lots of thanks to IcyLugia101 for proofreading and to Olynthus for reading, nitpicking and making me pay attention to honorifics and Japanese customs!


Child's Play

I.

My reign will be a super awesome thing

Oh, I just can't wait to be king!

- Elton John –

Juudai's second thought when he woke up was 'Birthday!'.

The first thought had been largely irrelevant; something to do with yellow dots and mosquitoes and things he'd already forgotten about. Maybe it had been a remnant of one of his dreams.

Whatever it was, he didn't let it bother him. There was so much he wanted to do today! He didn't have to go to school, but he was getting up early anyway. After all, he couldn't celebrate his sixth birthday every day.

The house was still dark when he descended the stairs, and he knew his parents were still asleep. They'd been working late last night. He felt a stab of something –loneliness maybe?- when he thought of his parents, but he was quite used to it. He loved them and he knew they loved him in return. What more could he wish for?

Well, cake would be nice. And maybe fried shrimp and daifuku too, and presents of course. Juudai wondered what he'd get today. Last year his parents had bought him his bike. It was a nice, shiny red and all his friends were jealous when he rode it. Juudai really liked his bike and he hoped that he'd like the presents he'd get today just as much.

Maybe Duel Monster cards, he mused while he dragged a chair over to the cupboard, so that he could reach the food stashed in it. He liked Duel Monsters. He had his own deck and he often talked to the monsters in it. He'd only mentioned those conversations to Mama and Papa once. They'd laughed and told him that it was nice that he had some imaginary friends.

"But," Mama had said, "one day you'll have to let them go. You can't talk to those cards forever. A young, nice boy like you needs real friends."

So Juudai didn't talk about the monsters anymore. But when his parents were off to work and he was the only one at home, he'd play with them. If he got new cards today, he'd have new friends too!

Food in hand, Juudai climbed back down from the chair and put it back. He went to the living room and turned on the TV. There was a duel going on. Juudai recognized it as one of the semi-finals of the Battle City tournament, which had been held earlier that year, and watched in fascination as Mutou Yugi tried to attack Kaiba Seto's XYZ Dragon Cannon, but was thwarted by Kaiba's Interdimensional Matter Transporter. One day he hoped he'd be as good as them!

It was almost eight o'clock now, and Juudai could hear his parents waking up upstairs. He jumped up and down in anticipation. Fantastic things were going to happen today, he just knew it!

"Juudai, happy birthday!"

Juudai jumped off the sofa and ran to his mother, who had to stop near the entrance of the room so she didn't get bowled over by her son. She lifted him once he'd stopped hugging her and pushed his hair out of his face.

"How long have you been awake, sweetheart?"

"Not long!" Juudai told her, "I was waiting for you!"

"Look at you, all grown up," she put one finger to his chest, "but we'll have to get you out of these pajamas before your friends arrive! They can't see you like this!"

Juudai frowned and looked at the pajamas he was wearing. Nice ones, with red and gold and little monsters on the sleeves. What was wrong with them?

"Let's get you dressed," Mama said. "Your friends will be coming soon, and I'm sure you want to open your presents."

She put him back down and let him run to the bathroom before her. Thirty minutes later he'd showered and dressed, and he was getting more and more anxious to get his presents. Papa was sitting at the kitchen table when he and Mama entered the room, and he smiled brilliantly when he saw Juudai.

"Happy birthday, son!"

His parents waited until Juudai had sat down before taking out the presents. Mama gave him a movie they'd watched a few months earlier. He'd loved this movie, and one of the songs (I just can't wait to be king) had been stuck in his head for weeks. He'd liked that song above all the others, and had sung it whenever he'd had the chance.

She also gave him a few books to practice writing kanji, and Juudai thanked them for it, but inwardly frowned. Why did he have to study so hard?

He liked his next present better. The baseball cap was red, like a lot of his other possessions, and he gleefully put it on. Papa petted him on the head before taking another, smaller present and putting it in the middle of the table. It seemed to call out to him, and Juudai reached out to take it, but his father stopped him.

"This is something you have to take good care of," he said solemnly. "I have looked long and hard to find it, I need you to promise me that you will be very careful."

Juudai looked at the small packet. He could feel its presence resonating in his mind. It was important, he realized. Part of his life.

"I promise," he said with all the conviction he could muster. He hadn't looked away from the present yet, and when his dad handed the packet to him, he removed the paper almost reverently.

It was a card.

A monster card, to be exact. Juudai looked at the writing and read the name out loud: "Yubel…"

Yes. Juudai. Finally.

Juudai's eyes widened slightly, but he was used to monsters talking to him.

"Hello, Yubel!" he said happily. His parents threw him a strange look, but decided to let him talk to the card for now. It'd be harmless, he'd grow out of it and it was his birthday after all.

Juudai… It's been so long. We're finally together again!

Juudai nodded enthusiastically, even if he didn't really know what Yubel was talking about. But there was something. They was a bond between them, like the bond with his other cards, but much, much stronger. He couldn't ever lose her!

"Thank you, Papa!" he shouted. Papa and Mama smiled and wished him happy birthday again, before letting him go to his room to prepare for his birthday party. His friends would come over in a few hours, and he still had to pick the games he wanted to play.

--

The first person to arrive was a girl who lived close to Juudai. Her name was Aihara Yoko, and she and Juudai were good friends, even though she didn't like to play Duel Monsters, like Juudai did. She hugged Juudai when she arrived, wished him a happy birthday, and ran past him into the house to greet his parents.

Who is she?

"Yoko-chan, she's my friend!" Juudai told Yubel. "She's really, really sweet!"

Do you love her?

Juudai wrinkled his nose. Love was for grown-ups. "She's my friend," he repeated.

Yubel began to reply, but at the same moment the doorbell rang and more of Juudai's friends arrived. After that, she didn't speak again for a long time, even though Juudai could feel her in the back of his head. She only spoke again when the party was already in full swing, and Juudai was enthusiastically explaining the rules of Duel Monsters to Yoko.

Are you happy, Juudai?

"Very happy!" He whispered the words, because Yoko was right next to him. She wasn't paying much attention though, only staring absentmindedly at the Beaver Warrior Juudai held in his hand.

"I don't get it," she said. "What's so fun about this game?"

"It's great!" Juudai exclaimed. "Wait, let me show you!" He took out Yubel's card and showed it to Yoko.

"What's that?" the girl asked.

"This is Yubel!" Juudai introduced her. "Papa got her for me!"

Yoko didn't look impressed: "She looks weird."

Juudai frowned and Yubel stirred angrily in the back of his mind, but Yoko was already looking for something else to do.

"Look, Juudai-kun, let's get cake!" She took his hand and tried to pull him along. Juudai followed her reluctantly, sending a silent 'sorry' to Yubel.

It isn't your fault, Juudai. She doesn't understand. She's trying to come between us.

Yoko coughed slightly, and Juudai looked up again.

"Yoko-chan, are you okay?"

"I'm fi-" but before she could finish the sentence, she coughed again, harder this time. Juudai patted her on the back, but it didn't help. Before long she was kneeling on the ground, coughing violently, and by the time his mother came to help, she looked as if she was about to faint.

"Is Yoko-chan going to be okay?" Juudai asked above the murmurs of his other friends. Mama tried to get her to sit up, but right then Yoko did faint.

What happened next never became clear to Juudai. All he knew was that something was very wrong with his friend, and that she needed help urgently. Mama was already calling an ambulance, and Papa was ushering his friends away to another part of the house.

The last image he had of Aihara Yoko was her lying on a stretcher and being carried to a waiting ambulance, unconscious and pale as a sheet.

Don't worry, Juudai. It will be okay, Yubel said. And for now, Juudai felt safe.

II.

Wǒ zài zhèr děng zhe nǐ huílai

I'm here waiting for you to come back

- Ā Niú -

The next year, a new student transferred to Juudai's class. He was Chinese, and his family had only just moved to Japan. His name was Zhang Ming, and he had an older sister named Zhang Xing, whom he called Xing-Xing. She, in return, called him Xiao Ming, which was the name everyone eventually came to know him by.

Xiao Ming was enthusiastic and liked to play, and Juudai became quick friends with him. They had discovered a mutual interest in duel monsters, and the boy wasn't afraid of Juudai like some of the other kids, even though he sometimes looked at him strangely. He had some trouble speaking Japanese, but he was a fast learner, and Juudai usually understood him quite well.

He hadn't shown him Yubel yet, even though he always took her card with him. Xiao Ming didn't ask to see her, even though Juudai could see that he was curious. One day they were sitting in the courtyard when Xing-Xing, Xiao Ming's sister, showed up.

"Xiǎo Míng, bàba gěi wǒ dǎ le yígè dìanhùa! Tā shuō wǒmen liǎngge dōu yào húi jiā qù!" she called out.

Xiao Ming got up quickly, cast an apologetic glance at Juudai and called back: "Wèishénme?"

"Nǎinai jīntiān xìawǔ lái kàn wǒmen!" Xing-Xing replied.

Xiao Ming looked back at Juudai and explained quickly: "She said that Daddy called her. Our grandmother is coming over to see us, so we have to go home."

"Oh, okay!" Juudai grinned and got up too. As he did so, Yubel's card fell from his pocket.

"You dropped something!" Xiao Ming told him, and before Juudai could stop him, he'd dropped to his knees and picked up the card.

"Is this…?" he asked hesitantly, looking from the card to Juudai and back again. Behind them, Xing-Xing made an impatient gesture, but Xiao Ming was still staring at Yubel's card.

"That's Yubel," Juudai said, smiling and taking the card back.

Xiao Ming didn't look entirely happy.

"Is something wrong?" Juudai asked.

"No, nothing." Xiao Ming smiled, but Juudai somehow knew that he was hiding something.

"Are you sure?"

"Just a bad feeling," Xiao Ming replied, just as Xing-Xing reached them. "I have to go, Papa's probably waiting for us. We're using…" he trailed off and looked at Xing-Xing. "Gāosù gōnglù."

"Highway." Xing-Xing replied.

"Yes, that. It'll be faster."

Xing-Xing started to walk away and Xiao Ming stared at the card in Juudai's hand for a few seconds before he turned around as well. "Be careful!" he told Juudai.

Juudai waved at him: "See you tomorrow!"

He watched until Xiao Ming and Xing-Xing had disappeared behind a corner, then turned to Yubel.

"Do you like him?" Yubel asked.

"Of course! He's my friend!"

"But he doesn't trust you. How can he be your friend?"

Juudai frowned at that: "He does trust me!"

But Yubel wasn't satisfied with his reply: "He looks at you strangely, he keeps staring when he knows you can't see him. Why should he be your friend if he won't even tell you what's wrong?"

"He will tell me, I'm sure!" Juudai pocketed Yubel's card again. "I'll ask him tomorrow!"

Xiao Ming didn't appear in class the following day.

Around noon one of the teachers came to tell them that his family had been involved in a car crash. Xing-Xing had died and Xiao Ming was still in the hospital, fighting for his life.

And around him, Juudai could hear the whispers: "Juudai's friend. Juudai's fault."

III.

There are plenty of ways that you can hurt a man

And bring him to the ground

- Queen -

A little while after Juudai's seventh birthday, his father got a new job. He now worked for a very prestigious firm and got paid more, but he had to work harder than ever and rarely came home before ten. His mother already spent most of the day working, so now Juudai was more alone than ever. He didn't really mind; Yubel was always with him (even though his other monsters had become rather quiet as of late). But sometimes he missed friends to play with. When he was at school, his classmates still wanted to play with him, but only when there was a teacher nearby. No one wanted to be alone with him.

There was one person who took care of him, though. Osamu lived near Juudai. He was at least ten years older than Juudai, but still he often came over to look after him. Osamu would study, and sometimes he'd help Juudai with his homework. They dueled too, and Juudai was glad to have found an opponent. His friends never wanted to duel him anymore, not after one of his opponents had collapsed right after they'd finished their duel.

He still didn't know how or why that had happened. But Yubel had helped him. She'd soothed him afterwards, told him that everything was going to be okay and that it wasn't his fault. Yubel hadn't left his side since his sixth birthday, and in a way he felt like he'd always known her. Without her, he felt like something was missing. He couldn't be fully content if she wasn't next to him, talking to him and supporting him. When he dueled, she was the monster he always tried to summon. It didn't always work, of course, but when it did, the thrill was indescribable. This was how it should be.

He hadn't managed to summon Yubel during one of his duels with Osamu yet. Osamu's deck was quite tricky: lots of low-level monsters and their support cards. After the first duel, when Juudai hadn't managed to summon a single high-level monster due to a strategically played Gravity Bind, he'd made sure to prepare his deck for the next duels, but he still lost more often than not…

But he knew he could win. If only he could summon Yubel.

"That's right, Juudai," Yubel told him. "I will help you and I will protect you. I will always be here."

And really, that was all he wanted. But maybe, if there was a chance for Yubel to become stronger… But only if she agreed, of course.

Today, Osamu had stopped studying after only a few hours, and Juudai's teacher had been absent that day, so he didn't have to worry about homework himself. Much like every other day when they had finished all their work, they decided on a duel. It was much the same as every other duel. They'd both start out summoning low-level monsters, and someone would play a few spell cards, while the other would try to counter. Today was slightly different, though. Juudai was doing exceptionally well, and even though Osamu was in the lead right now, they both knew that one card could turn the entire duel around.

And then, for the very first time ever in a duel with Osamu, he drew Yubel.

The feeling of happiness was not entirely his own, he knew. Yubel was now next to him, a comforting presence on his left side, and her card almost seemed to shine in his hands. He could summon her, he had two monsters to sacrifice. And when he did, he could win!

"I summon Yubel!"

He smiled proudly at Osamu, but Osamu merely flipped the trap card that was still on the field.

"I activate Perfect Counter Code 123! When I have three monsters one the field with levels 1, 2 and 3," he indicated the Skull Servant, Clown Zombie and Dragon Zombie on his side on the field, "I can negate Yubel's summoning and destroy it!"

Juudai called out in shock as Yubel disappeared before she'd even managed to appear completely. He didn't even see the next attacks coming until he got knocked down from his chair and fell face-down on the floor. He heard Osamu getting up from his chair, but it was Yubel who was by his side first: "Juudai… Poor Juudai."

"Yubel… I'm sorry. I couldn't summon you again…" Juudai grasped Yubel's card when it floated down to him.

"Aren't you overreacting a bit?" Osamu stepped around the table and crouched down in front of him.

"But I couldn't…"

"Think about it," Osamu laughed. "Even if you've got a high-level monster, it's useless if you can't summon it."

Juudai cried out: "That's not true! Papa gave me Yubel, she is very precious to me! And she wanted to fight, I felt it!"

Osamu smiled: "Sounds like you really love your monsters, don't you?"

Juudai nodded sadly. Yubel, always near him, whispered a 'thank you' in his ear, and for a second he thought he saw her card glow.

The next second, Osamu collapsed.

"Onii-chan! What's wrong? Onii-chan?!" Juudai ran to his friend and shook him to wake him up, but without success. Mama and Papa had told him to call the hospital if something bad happened, but it took him three attempts to reach the phone and call an ambulance, and by that time Osamu's breathing had become labored and when Juudai tried to find his pulse, the rhythm was completely off.

Juudai waited until the ambulance arrived, rifling through his deck as fast as he could just to distract himself. His monsters offered him reassurances and tried to calm him down, but Yubel stayed suspiciously quiet, and only replied when he addressed her specifically.

Only later, when Osamu had been taken away to the hospital and Juudai was alone in his room, waiting for his parents who would arrive soon, did he ask what was on his mind.

"Yubel… Why does everyone keep getting hurt?"

Yubel ruffled his hair, and even though he couldn't actually feel her touch, it still comforted him.

"They hurt you, Juudai. They don't matter," Yubel said soothingly. "Don't worry about them, you still have me."

Juudai looked at her through tear-stained eyes: "But they're my friends! I don't want to see them get hurt!"

"You are more important, Juudai. You cannot get hurt, I promise I will protect you."

Something about that statement bothered Juudai, but he couldn't put a finger on it until a few days later. When his parents had come back home, they'd hugged him and consoled him, but they had looked troubled. Two days later, they'd taken him to the hospital to visit Osamu.

And there everything went wrong again.

Juudai had entered the hospital room with a bouquet of flowers, but before he could come near his friend and put the flowers away, Osamu, who was still unconscious, jerked violently and his vital signs immediately went haywire.

Within minutes, a small army of nurses and doctors had flooded the room, and Juudai was ushered out and brought back to his parents, the confused shouts and worried exclamations still ringing in his ears.

The ride back home was silent. Mama and Papa exchanged worried glances, but didn't speak, and neither did Juudai. He stared at Yubel's card in his hands and leaned back into the car seat. When they got back home, he immediately went up to his room, and his parents didn't stop him. But later that night, when Juudai had gone back down to find something to eat, he heard them talk.

"I don't understand," Mama said. "It's like everyone who gets near Juudai gets hurt. First it was the youngest daughter of the Aiharas, remember? And then those Chinese kids, their father was an ambassador. The girl died in a car crash and the boy is still in the hospital."

"And now this…" Papa muttered. "It's like someone is hurting them. Like someone doesn't want anyone to come near our Juudai. But how can that happen?"

And suddenly a lot of things clicked into place.

"Yubel…"Juudai whispered when he was back in his room. "Is it you? Are you doing this?"

"They hurt you, Juudai." Yubel said placidly.

"But you can't!" Juudai cried. "You can't, they're my friends! Promise me you won't hurt them again!"

"I am sworn to protect you."

"You must promise," Juudai insisted. "Please!"

Yubel gave him a long look.

"You truly are Gentle, Juudai. I am honored to be here with you. You must understand, I will do whatever it takes to protect you, and I will do what is needed to grow more powerful, for your sake," she paused and put a hand on his head. "But if you really want this, then yes, I promise."

Juudai sighed in relief: "Thank you, Yubel!"

IV.

One question haunts and hurts too much,

Too much to mention

- Wicked -

Yubel held word. By the time September began, no other people had collapsed, fallen sick, or otherwise been sent to the hospital. Of course, that might have had a lot to do with the fact that no one actually wanted to come near him. He'd only dueled twice in the past two months, during group activities he always got picked last and even kids from other grades didn't want to talk to him. Rumors spread fast, and children could be vicious. Everyone in the school knew that playing with Juudai was playing with your life.

Of course he still had Yubel. You'll always have me, she told him in no uncertain terms, watching the gates of his school from behind his shoulder. But that didn't keep the children at school from shying away from him, didn't keep the teachers from looking at him funny and then calling his parents because he obviously wasn't trying hard enough to make friends. Didn't keep his parents from exchanging worried glances every time they thought he couldn't see them.

"It'll be alright," Yubel soothed. "I'm here, I will protect you."

But it wasn't enough.

He wouldn't admit it to her, but he was lonely. He hadn't seen Yoko since his sixth birthday, Xiao Ming had fallen into a coma and been declared brain dead after two weeks, and Osamu was still in the hospital. The doctors had forbidden him from visiting; Osamu's condition worsened every time he came near.

And sometimes he still wondered. Yubel had kept her promise, like he'd known she would. He trusted her in this, but he was afraid. Not of her, never of her, but what she would do if he was ever in danger, or if she ever thought he was in danger. He still saw her look sometimes. Whenever someone shunned him, whenever his classmates shouted hurtful words they didn't really know the meaning of but used anyway. She was tempted. He felt it and he was scared. He knew what she was capable of now, he doubted that he'd ever be able to get close to anyone without fearing for their lives. But Yubel… Yubel was so important to him, he couldn't just abandon her!

But maybe…

He didn't tell her. He suspected she knew, but he didn't dare confirm it. When had everything gone wrong? If only he could find some way to help her, some way to protect everyone but stay with her…

"You will know what is Right, Juudai," Yubel said, and her trust in him made him almost want to cry, made him want to scream that he didn't know anything anymore, that he didn't know what to do!

If only he could get rid of the urge to protect him… He loved her for trying to protect him, but by doing so, she made him dangerous for the rest of the world. There had to be a way. Could he make her stronger? Could he teach her to stop hurting everyone?

In the end, it was Yubel herself who gave him the answer.

"There are powerful forces in this universe, Juudai," she said as if she was just telling him a bedtime story. Maybe she was; he was in bed, after all, and Yubel was sitting next to him and raking her fingers through his hair. "But none is more powerful than the Darkness."

"Is it bad?" Juudai asked, because everyone had always told him to be afraid of the dark, to not go out alone after sunset and to not trust anyone who didn't want to show their true face.

But Yubel shook her head slowly: "It is Gentle," she replied, and those words triggered something in Juudai, like déjà-vu, but very different. Not his life, but still part of him.

"Where is it?" he asked.

"It is everywhere. But…" She looked through the window at the night sky. "It is more focused and more free in space. Here it is stifled. Only a few people still recognize the Gentle Darkness."

And then she looked straight at him.

"Can you feel it, Juudai? Can you feel this power?"

"What can it do?" he whispered, awed, because yes, yes, he could feel it. In him, part of him. Powerful, like Yubel had said. Greater than all of them and infinitely tender.

"So much." Yubel sounded wistful. "It can end wars and create balance. It can give power, but take it away in equal measure. It can heal, it can cure those with evil in their heart. It can shape the fate of the universe itself."

Juudai's eyes started to droop, but he knew that Yubel's words were important. This Darkness existed, he was absolutely sure of it. And if it could give power, would it be able to make Yubel more powerful? If it could heal, would it be able to cure the destructive side of her soul?

He was falling asleep fast, but an idea had grabbed hold of him. An idea that would, eventually, change the course of his entire life.

--

December brought the announcement of a new contest, as a way to start off the new year and as a publicity stunt for Kaiba Corporation. The contest was two-fold. New card designs could be sent in by everyone, and the winning designs would be made into actual cards and sent into space. Moreover, the winner could ask for a prize they wanted, any prize at all, as long as Kaiba Corp. could afford to fulfill it.

Seeing as how Kaiba Corp. was the leading company in game design and had known a steady increase in profit ever since Kaiba Seto had taken over the company from his adoptive father, there wasn't much it couldn't afford.

Juudai learned about the contest through an ad on TV, but even if he hadn't seen the ad, he still would've heard about it, since posters and flyers had been distributed everywhere and people couldn't stop talking about it. Everyone at Juudai's school all wanted to try their hand at creating new cards, and the hallways were buzzing with tales about what the kids would ask for if they won the contest. Juudai heard whispers about amusement parks and holidays, and even cars and boats and airplanes. Some people wished for rare cards, one or two even said they were going to ask for a Blue-Eyes White Dragon. Juudai laughed softly when he heard their wish. Everyone knew that the only three copies of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon belonged to Kaiba Seto himself, and that he'd never part with them.

"Lost love," Yubel whispered. "Those cards can only ever be with Kaiba Seto. There's a bond between them that's impossible to break."

"Like ours," Juudai said.

"Like ours," Yubel agreed.

The idea of winning the contest had taken hold of Juudai. If he won, he'd be able to execute his plan, but more than that, designing his own cards was strangely alluring. He wasn't particularly good at drawing, never had been, but this time, there was something. Something that told him to go on, keep looking for pencils and choosing the right colors and drawing until he was finally satisfied. Yubel, who'd been watching him all this time, frowned slightly, but when he asked her what was wrong, she wouldn't answer him.

His parents were glad when they saw him working on his drawings. They didn't really approve of Duel Monsters anymore, since all the accidents around him had involved Duel Monster cards in some way, but they were happy that he was having fun and spending his time on something that wasn't dueling (or organizing his deck, since no one really wanted to duel him anymore).They encouraged him to draw, even bought him a brand new set of pencils! Juudai drew until he was satisfied, and then wrote his name in English letters near the bottom of the design.

The Neospacians, he called them.

He'd designed seven of them. Air Hummingbird, Aqua Dolphin, Black Panther, Flare Scarab, Grand Mole, Glow Moss, and finally Neos. They were special too. Not quite the same as Yubel, but there was a connection, and Juudai felt it.

Yubel did, too. She was not happy about it, but she didn't stop him. Didn't say a single word to dissuade him from sending the designs to Kaiba Corporation. But she looked at him, long and hard, and Juudai had to ask.

"Don't you like them?"

"It does not matter," Yubel said solemnly. "Fate is-" But she just shook her head and stopped talking.

"Fate is what?" Juudai pressed, curious.

She knelt until she was at eye-level with him. "Fate, destiny… It exists, but not for you. Never for you, Juudai. The only destiny you will face is the one you'll create yourself. The one you're creating yourself."

She put a hand on his head and ruffled his hair. "You're extraordinary, Juudai. You will accomplish great things."

"Do you think so?" Juudai asked. Yubel had said things like this before, and he wondered what she meant.

"One day you'll be king. My king."

"I'm gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware," Juudai sang slowly. An old song, one he'd liked when he was younger. He hadn't thought about it in years.

"Yes, you will be," Yubel agreed mildly.

"King of what?" Juudai asked, because he still wasn't sure what to make of Yubel's words. Didn't you need to be a prince to become king? Papa and Mama definitely weren't king and queen.

"Supreme King," Yubel replied, but didn't elaborate, even though Juudai looked at her curiously and waited several minutes for her to continue.

"You will win," she told him a while later, when he'd posted the card designs. It wasn't meant to be an encouragement. She stated it as if it were a fact.

Juudai wasn't sure. Many talented card designers had sent in their own drawings. Some had even been on TV, showing off their designs and boasting about how they were going to win the contest.

"You will," Yubel said again. "Because you are you."

She didn't ask which prize he'd choose when he won, and Juudai didn't tell her. Sometimes he thought she already knew.

--

He won.

The next few weeks were a blur. For a few days, his status at school rose again and people everywhere wanted to talk to him. He got to visit Kaiba Corporation and watch how the drawings he'd made got turned into real cards. But most importantly, he got to meet Kaiba Seto.

Kaiba Seto had only just turned twenty a few months earlier, but he was a world famous businessman and duelist. His story had quickly become legend, and Juudai felt more than a little intimidated when he came face to face with the president of Kaiba Corporation.

"Yuuki Juudai, am I right?"

Juudai nodded shyly. Behind him, Yubel put a comforting hand on his shoulder. His parents hadn't been allowed in with him, so he was glad he still had her support.

"Congratulations." Kaiba Seto came from behind his desk to stand in front of him. Juudai had to crane up his neck to watch the man's face, and even then he didn't really dare to look him straight into the eyes. "Your designs were particularly… inspired," Kaiba continued. "Good job." He smiled at that, a half-smile that was still genuine.

"Thank you, sir." Juudai said.

"Now, about the prize," Kaiba started, but he was cut off by the arrival of Kaiba Mokuba. Juudai recognized him too, of course. Who didn't know the Kaiba brothers?

"Nii-sama, Yugi's here to see you!" Mokuba announced, striding into the room without knocking. Kaiba didn't so much as blink, so Juudai assumed that he was used to it.

"What does he want?" he asked Mokuba, but Mokuba had just spotted Juudai in the room, and grinned brightly.

"You won the contest?" he asked. "Congratulations!" he bowed for Juudai, who bowed in return, feeling a little bit more at ease now than when he was alone with the older Kaiba.

"What does Yugi want?" Kaiba asked again.

Mokuba looked away from Juudai. "Ah, something about the game shop," he said. "Want me to let him in?"

"Sure, he'll come in anyway, won't he?" He turned to Juudai. "I am sorry for this, but would you mind waiting outside for a few minutes? I'll send someone by with a drink."

"Come on, let him stay, Kaiba." A new voice came from outside the door, and Juudai whirled around, only to come face to face with the current King of Games, Mutou Yugi.

"Hello," Yugi said, stopping in front of Juudai and holding out a hand like Mokuba had. "What's your name?"

"Yuuki Juudai," Juudai quickly replied. He bowed lightly. "Nice to meet you."

"Yuuki Juudai? Really?" Yugi stared at Juudai for several seconds. "Ah, I think… Yes, of course, the future. And then…" he stared past Juudai, at the space where he knew Yubel was. "I wasn't wrong then, that time. But what brought it on?"

"What are you talking about?" Kaiba cut in. "Is this one of your magic things again?"

"Mmm? Yes, maybe." Yugi replied absently. He took out his deck. "Well, I suppose it'll become clear one day. There is a card I got recently, Juudai-kun. Would you like to see it?"

"Yes!" Forgetting his previous nervousness, Juudai eagerly stepped forward. Yugi took out one monster and handed it to Juudai.

"Hane Kuriboh," Juudai read out loud. As if on cue, a tiny spirit, identical to the picture on the card, appeared in front of him and let out a happy "Kurii!".

"Do you like it?" Yugi asked as Juudai returned the card. Juudai nodded vigorously and Yugi laughed. "One day, you might get it," he promised.

"Really?"

"Yes, really." Yugi smiled. "In fact, I am very sure that you will get this card in a few years, Juudai-kun."

"Well, if you two have finished your conversation," Kaiba said, and Juudai jumped guiltily. He'd almost forgotten where he was. "then I suggest we get back to the matter at hand. Yugi, any reason why you're here?"

"Ah, it can wait." Yugi said vaguely. "So Juudai-kun won the contest?"

"He did," Mokuba replied from where he'd sat down -on top of Kaiba's desk, incidentally- "I saw the cards, they were really great!"

"Congratulations then, Juudai-kun," Yugi looked back at him. "It seems like you are very special! So, what are you going to ask for?"

Juudai deflated and he felt Yubel stiffen. It only confirmed what he'd already suspected; she knew what he was planning to ask.

"I'm sorry, Yubel," He whispered, before looking at Kaiba again. "I have a card," he began, then swallowed and tried to find the right words. "It is a very important card."

"What do you want to do with it?" Kaiba asked.

"The cards I made, they'll be sent into space, right?" Juudai asked. Yubel had gone deadly quiet, and her usual comforting presence in the back of his mind had all but disappeared.

"Yes, indeed," Kaiba replied calmly.

"Can I…" Juudai hesitated. "Can I send another card too?"

He felt everyone's eyes on him, but he focused his gaze on a bookshelf behind Kaiba's desk.

"That is a surprising request." Kaiba responded. His face was impassive, but Mokuba was staring at Juudai with open curiosity.

"Can I?" Juudai persisted.

"Why, Juudai?" Yubel asked. Juudai didn't dare to look at her, instead opting to bow his head and conceal the tears in his eyes.

"I'm really sorry, Yubel. It's… I have to!" He didn't even care that he was seemingly talking to thin air in front of two world-famous duelists. All that mattered now was making Yubel understand, really understand. "I can't risk it anymore! I know you still want to hurt… And I want you to learn this… You can't just… can't…" His voice was breaking. He could heard Kaiba mutter: "Another one of those magic kids? I should've known…"

"Juudai-kun."

Juudai turned around, sniveling. Yugi kneeled down so that he could straight at Juudai. "This card, can I see it?"

Juudai took Yubel out of his deck and showed her to Yugi, but didn't hand her over, like Yugi had with Hane Kuriboh. Yugi didn't seem to be expecting him to either. He only studied the card intently, before nodding.

"I know she means a lot to you, Juudai-kun."

Juudai just nodded, not really sure if he'd be able to actually speak.

"And that is why you are doing the right thing." Yugi put a hand on his shoulder, and Juudai looked at him in surprise.

"She will return to you, I promise you. And she will be stronger. She will be with you again." Yugi nodded, as if remembering something. "You will be even closer than you are now."

Juudai nodded again, and walked to Kaiba, holding Yubel's card in both hands. "Can you do it? Please?"

Kaiba looked at Yugi. Yugi looked at Juudai. Mokuba looked at all three of them, curious.

"I think you'd better do it, Kaiba." Yugi said softly.

"It's not about resources, we can easily send a second capsule," Kaiba said, looking at Juudai once more. "But I need to make sure. What is this card to you, Juudai?"

"She's… She's Yubel," Juudai sniffed. "I love her."

"Then why would you send her away?"

Juudai tore his gaze away from Yubel's card and looked Kaiba straight in the eyes. The man seemed to be slightly taken aback, but didn't look away.

"I want her to learn," Juudai said, " I want her to become stronger, but I don't want her to hurt anyone anymore."

"I will admit that I have heard tales about you." Kaiba nodded. "But you tell me the accidents were caused by this card?"

"It's very possible, Kaiba," Yugi said before Juudai could reply. He walked over to stand next to Juudai, and Mokuba jumped down from the desk to look at Yubel's card.

"Powerful effect," he muttered, but nobody really seemed to pay attention to him. Kaiba looked at the card as well, frowning in contemplation.

"Let's assume that what you're telling me is true. Why do you think launching her into space will help?"

"Juudai…" That was Yubel again. Juudai knew he was the only one who really could hear her, but Yugi seemed to focus a bit harder on the card the moment she'd spoken. "Why are you doing this? I promised you, didn't I?"

"I'm sorry, Yubel…"

"Does this mean that you do not trust me? Does my word mean so little to you?" Juudai could hear the anger, but above all, the disappointment.

"I just… I know you want to, Yubel. And if you go, if the Darkness can…"

"You are the Darkness, Juudai. Is that what it's about? A story?"

Juudai shook his head vehemently, ignoring the part of his soul that agreed with her words: "I'm not! And it's not a story! You said so yourself!"

"The Darkness is powerful, Juudai. Very much so. But even it cannot change destiny. We belong together, you can't send me away."

But Juudai had already made up his mind. After all, hadn't Yubel said that destiny didn't apply to him?

"I'm sorry, Yubel," he whispered. "I'm so very sorry." He pushed the card further towards Kaiba, who seemed to be trying to decide whether he was really crazy for holding such a seemingly one-sided conversation. "Can you please send her into space?"

"Juudai, no!" Yubel all but shouted. Yugi's head swiveled towards where Yubel would be standing if she actually had a corporeal form.

"I will send her." Kaiba said after a moment's contemplation, placing one hand over the card and ignoring Yugi's frown and Juudai's tears. "But I hope you know what you're doing."

Juudai nodded mutely. Yubel, next to him now, was trying to get his attention and glared when he finally looked at her.

"Do you have any idea what you've done, Juudai?" she whispered as Kaiba got up and pocketed the card. She started to fade from view.

"The Darkness will help you!" Juudai pleaded. "It will cure you from this and make you stronger!" His voice became softer. "Then you can come back. Will you come back?"

Yubel, who was almost completely see-through by now, gazed at him steadily, as if trying to discover more lies. When she couldn't find any, she inclined her head slightly. Not quite a nod, but not quite a refusal either.

"I will come back. I can promise you that."

V.

What you don't know is that I lie awake

Wishing you were here tonight

- Monrose -

Yubel was sent into space on the first warm day of the year.

Juudai watched from afar, with his father standing next to him. His mother hadn't been allowed the day off and had apologized profusely for not being able to come. Papa's hand was on his shoulder. Juudai hadn't managed to explain why he'd wanted to send away the card his father had gotten him, but his parents had seemed to understand somehow. Juudai was just glad he didn't have to explain anything.

He hadn't heard anything from Yubel since he'd given her card to Kaiba Corporation, which was strange, because he could still feel the connection between the two of them. He knew she was refusing to speak to him and he missed her, but he felt strangely relieved as well. He wasn't sure if he could deal with her now.

The rocket launch went off without a hitch. Juudai and his father saw from a distance how the entire launch platform seemed to catch on fire. For a second Juudai was scared that Yubel would burn up before she had even entered space, but his father assured him that the flames were perfectly normal. They watched together until the rocket disappeared, and stayed until long after the crowd had dispersed.

There was a reception afterwards, and Juudai had been invited as an honorary guest. Kaiba Mokuba came over to greet him, and on the other side of the room he could see Mutou Yugi, together with Jounouchi Katsuya. Yugi waved at him, but Juudai didn't go talk to him. He stayed until right after Kaiba Seto had given his speech, then asked his father to leave. When they got home, Juudai had already fallen asleep in the backseat of the car, and his father carried him to his bed and tucked him in without waking him up.

--

His ninth birthday was coming closer and closer, and Juudai felt more alone than ever. With Yubel gone and his classmates still avoiding him, the only ones who still talked to him were his parents and the other monsters in his deck. He loved these monsters, but they weren't Yubel, and he missed the connection they'd had. He knew they were still linked, but Yubel was either too far away or still refused to talk to him. He'd tried a few times to reach her, but every attempt was fruitless.

In May, the nightmares began.

It seemed harmless at first. He'd fall asleep and he'd see flashed of white during his dreams. He woke up from those dreams feeling vaguely uncomfortable, but overall unconcerned. A week later, however, the dreams changed.

Juudai…

Juudai turned around in his sleep and tried to wake up, but there seemed to be no way to escape this dream.

Juudai, why? It hurts… Hurts so much…

More white light, too bright. He couldn't close his eyes but couldn't watch either. What was going on? It burned!

Why? Juudai!

"Yubel!"

"Juudai! Juudai, are you okay?"

Juudai opened his eyes to see his parents standing above him. Papa helped him upright, while Mama placed a hand against his forehead.

"What happened? Are you getting ill?"

Juudai shook his head: "Ah, it's fine. Just a nightmare."

"Are you sure, dear?" Mama asked. "Don't you want anything to drink?"

"Maybe some water…" Juudai leaned back against his pillow. It had been Yubel in his dream, he was sure of it. What was happening to her? What had he done?

Mama handed him a glass of water and he drank gratefully. Something was going wrong with Yubel. But what? Was she hurt? And what could he do? He'd seen light, so much light… It had hurt. Not just his eyes, but something very deep inside him. It had been a dream for him, he knew. But what if this was real for Yubel?

The nightmares didn't stop. All throughout May, he kept dreaming of Yubel, first every two days, then every day, and eventually several times a night. His parents had taken him to a hospital and a doctor had prescribed him sleeping pills, but they only made him fall asleep faster and wake up slower, which made him even more susceptible for the nightmares.

Every nightmare was more or less the same. There was light, too bright to look at, yet too terrible to look away from. He saw fire too, and sometimes he thought he saw Yubel, in the middle of it all and nearly burning up. And he heard her.

Her voice was the worst part. She screamed for him, begged him to help her, accused him of abandoning her and every night he woke up with her name on his tongue and tears in his eyes. He couldn't go on like this.

He tried staying awake, but after two days he was already exhausted and his parents forced him to sleep. That didn't help, of course, because the nightmares returned almost the moment he closed his eyes, as if they'd been waiting to invade his mind all that time. His parents kept him home when it became clear that he was too exhausted to go to school, but that only gave him more time to sleep and more time to dream.

His parents got more and more worried about him, begging him to tell them what he was dreaming about and looking frantically for a solution. Eventually, it was his father who realized what was going on.

"Juudai," he began, sitting down on the sofa, next to Juudai. "You were screaming last night. Do you remember?"

Juudai nodded mutely. He did remember. He didn't often woke up screaming, but last night's dream had been so vivid… If only he could do something to help Yubel. What had he done?

"You were shouting a name. Yubel, am I right?"

Juudai nodded again.

"Isn't that the card I gave you a few years ago?" Papa continued. "The one you sent into space?"

"Yes," Juudai whispered.

"Why do you dream about it? It's just a card. A rare card, but-"

But she wasn't. She wasn't just a card, and Juudai knew that. Why didn't anyone else realize it? Why couldn't they see what he'd done? He closed his eyes tightly, rocking back and forth to try and keep his emotions in check. No use. He could feel tears seeping from underneath his eyelids.

"She's not just a card," he sobbed. "I sent her away, she's hurt, and it's my fault!"

"Juudai! Juudai, it's okay!" Alarmed, his father grabbed hold of him and hugged him close. "You couldn't have known, it's not your fault!"

"She believed in me," Juudai cried, "she trusted me and I sent her away!"

"Juudai, this card… What do you mean, she talked to you?"

Juudai looked up. "She does. They all do, they talk to me. I can see them, it's true!"

Papa looked unsure. "You… hear those cards?"

"Yes," Juudai nodded. "I'm not lying, I swear!"

Papa leaned backwards with a sigh, Juudai still in his arms. "It is hard to believe, son, you are old enough to understand that," he paused and looked at Juudai. "But it's obvious that this Yubel is causing your nightmares." He let go of Juudai and patted the sofa next to him. "try to stay here, I have to discuss something with Mama. Maybe… Maybe it's best if you don't try to sleep. Do you want Coke? It might help you stay awake."

Juudai nodded mutely. Papa got up quickly and returned a minute later with a glass of Coke. Then he left the room. Juudai could hear him make a phone call with whom he suspected was his mother. He sipped from his glass and stared at the blank TV screen. He thought about turning it on, but he couldn't see the remote control and didn't feel up to getting up from the sofa. In the hallway, Papa finished his conversation, but he didn't come back to the living room. Juudai heard him boot up the new computer and start typing frantically.

Juudai's parents were by no means poor. They were not nearly as rich as the Kaibas or even the Manjoume Group, but they had quite a bit of money and could've easily sent Juudai to a private school. However, they had wanted Juudai to learn that he couldn't rely on money alone and that he had to figure out for himself who he wanted to be and how he wanted to treat other people. They had taught him to never judge anyone by how rich they were, and Juudai had taken that lesson to heart.

But just because the Yuukis didn't like to flaunt their money, didn't mean they wouldn't use it when they deemed it necessary. So in the second week of June, Juudai's parents announced that they had found a possible solution.

"It's a new technology," Papa explained. "It's not been used often, but it's completely safe. They can erase your memory if you want to, Juudai."

"My memory?" Juudai repeated cautiously.

"Not everything, of course!" Mama hastened to clarify. "Just the parts about this… Yubel."

"Forget Yubel?" Juudai whispered. "I can't…"

"It wouldn't have to be forever," Papa said. "Just for a few years, until we're sure the nightmares have stopped. In fact, you can leave something behind. They say that the memories can be returned if you use the right trigger. You could write a letter to yourself and hide it away? That way, you can remember later."

Juudai shook his head. "I can't just forget about her!"

"It's not forever, Juudai," Mama soothed. "Just for a while. You'll be able to sleep again. What do you think?"

"I… I would be able to remember?" Juudai asked.

"Tell you what," Papa said. "You write a letter to yourself, and we'll keep it safe for you. And we'll give it back on your twelfth birthday. Is that okay?"

Juudai didn't reply. But he did write the letter.

His parents ripped it apart and burned it the moment Juudai had left the house.

--

Near the end of July, a few weeks after Juudai's ninth birthday, his memory of Yubel got erased. It left him with a few large blanks in his memory, but the mind adapts itself easily, and soon Juudai believed he didn't have friends because he and his parents moved around a lot. This belief was reinforced when they moved again, only a month later. They ended up in a small town not too far from Domino City. Juudai entered a new school near the start of October and quickly found new friends.

"Do you play Duel Monsters?" One of his new friends asked him one day, while they were eating lunch. "You look like that boy who won that contest last year. The one to draw those new cards."

"What contest?" Juudai asked, puzzled.

"Where have you been?" his friend asked. "It was everywhere! But if you don't know about it, it obviously wasn't you."

Juudai took a bite from his sandwich and stared down at his hand. He really couldn't remember the contest.

"Eh, never mind," the other boy continued cheerfully. "So, do you play Duel Monsters?"

"I do!" Juudai nodded.

"Great! Look at this!" Juudai's friend took a card from his pocket. "Diamond Dragon, it's my favorite card! It doesn't have a special effect, but my dad gave it to me, so it's special." The boy grinned. "You've got to have a favorite too! Come on, show me?"

"Ah, I don't have a favorite card." Juudai shook his head.

"Come on, there has to be one! No special card? None at all?"

"Nope," Juudai said, picking up his sandwich again. "No one special."


Author's notes:

The quotes at the start of every part are all song lyrics. Here are the names of the songs and the artists who sung them. All songs belong to their respective artists.

I. I just can't wait to be king - Elton John

II. Táo huā duǒ duǒ kāi - Ā Niú

III. Another one bites the dust - Queen

IV. No good deed - Wicked (the musical)

V. What you don't know – Monrose

--

Also, for those people who are interested, here's the Chinese dialogue again with added translations:

"Xiǎo Míng, bàba gěi wǒ dǎ le yígè dìanhùa! Tā shuō wǒmen liǎngge dōu yào húi jiā qù!"

"Xiao Ming, daddy called me! He said we both have to go home!"

"Wèishénme?"

"Why?"

"Nǎinai jīntiān xìa lái kàn wǒmen!"

"Grandma is coming over this afternoon!"

--

Lastly (if you hadn't realized it yet), the movie Juudai refers to throughout the story is The Lion King.

Concrit very much welcomed!