The Art of Mediation

A Yu-Gi-Oh! fan fiction by Hitokiri-san

A/N: I'm back into the Yu-Gi-Oh! fandom recently, and this has prompted me to try and finish the Yu-Gi-Oh! story - namely this one - I've put aside for quite a while now. I 've had quite some difficulty writing it: an erratic muse and a sudden writer's block have decided to strike together. For some reason, I find myself suddenly illiterate. Still, I tried; and I sort of hope the next chapter would come easier to me.

In the canon, Yugi and Yami's relationship is extremely close and harmonious. They never argue with each other, maybe with the exception of the Orichalcos part. But even that scene isn't a true argument - Yugi pretty much owned Yami with his verbal assault (and he doesn't mean to truly blame the darker spirit, either).

Therefore, this fic is born out of the question: what would raise an argument between Yugi and Yami, and how would they go about it? Of course, no one can escape the pharaoh's wrath: Ishizu and Kaiba get pulled (unwillingly) into the picture as well.

I initially intended this to be a oneshot, but the story is set on writing itself; the remaining parts will be put up shortly.

When questioning how the argument began, "he started it" was the last thing Ishizu had expected to hear from the pharaoh.

Yami hadn't said that in actual words – Ishizu would probably be struck speechless if he did - but had instead opted to coat the childish idea in regal language.

"Aibou has just informed me that he has little need of my protection thereafter, " Yami had told her, eyes narrowing in an expression that was half irritation, half genuine anger. The former pharaoh was sprawled out on the coach, a king on his throne; one hand absently flipping TV channels with a flick of his wrist.

Yami stopped, accidentally, at the anime channel. He scowled at the garishly dubbed characters on the screen before moving on to the next channel. Switching through television channels, it seemed, only served to worsen his mood.

"I have come to the understanding that Aibou does not appreciate my interference in any of his affairs. I shall refrain from doing so in the future. After all, he was my host and I do respect his views." The pharaoh glanced up at her, ruby eyes narrowed, and went back to pressing his remote with regal resolution.

That's basically "you know what? Don't come to me when you're in trouble next time!", done pharaoh-style, thought Ishizu sarcastically as she stood at the doorway. Closing the door behind her, she approached her lord with a sigh bordering on reproachful.

"Pharaoh. The chosen one could not possibly mean this, and you know it."

From what Ishizu knew of Yugi, the gentle teen saying that he didn't want Yami's involvement in his life would be as likely as Malik declaring that Yami was his favourite person on this world. It would probably have to take either a drastic change of character or a highly unusual turn of events to achieve that.

"I know very well what Yugi means. After all, I literally live in his mind. "

The operative tense being "lived", Ishizu corrected mentally. Pharaoh, three millennia of solitude have made you forget how difficult communication can be.

Shifting slightly to the left, she placed herself between Yami and the television, forcing the ex-pharaoh to turn his attention on her.

"I won't argue with you, pharaoh." Atem was proud, stubborn, and hated to lose – three traits that made arguing with him a daunting task. Knowing this, Ishizu promptly gave up on convincing him about Yugi's intentions. In his heart Yami probably knew that Yugi meant no harm anyway. "But please – just tell me what happened. I won't be able to help if you aren't telling me anything."

"Your help is neither desired nor needed here, tomb keeper," Yami sniped back - a little uncharacteristically - and gave Ishizu a lazy wave. "You are now dismissed."

Ishizu gave him an appraising gaze, not even bothering to tell him that he couldn't exactly "dismiss" her like he used to. This was not his kingdom, and she was not Isis. At times, too caught up in the memories of a life past, Yami tended to forget such things.

Ishizu did not begrudge him for that – for a person who'd recently regained a body along with memories of a life three millennia ago, she actually thought Yami was coping pretty well. Usually, a gentle reminder from Yugi would help the pharaoh separate the past from the present; but Yugi was currently upstairs, sulking.

"In that case, Atem, I will ask the chosen one instead. I think he'll be far more cooperative than you are."

Yami snorted, and didn't even bother answering.

Half a year after the ceremonial battle, Ishizu had come to check if the pharaoh and his light were doing well. It was meant to be a formality, something she owed them for all the troubles she'd caused them. She'd expected to find the two leading a picturesque life – Yugi watching TV on the couch, perhaps, while Yami rearranged his deck with an ease befitting his title as the King of Games. Both looking up and smiling as she entered their house.

She certainly hadn't expected to find the two in the biggest fight of the year. Yami hadn't even bothered to open the door for her – he was obviously in too bad a mood to do so. Instead, a dark tendril had wrapped itself around the door, yanking it open for the dumbfounded tomb guardian. Ishizu was about to chastise the ex-pharaoh for the all-too-liberal use of his shadow powers when she saw the pharaoh's expression for the first time.

It was a rather bizarre sight, Ishizu decided, to see her pharaoh arguing with the chosen one. Like everyone else, she'd always held the vague perception that Yami and Yugi lived in eternal harmony – Yugi was far too kind and forgiving to hold a grudge against anyone, much less his darker half; and Yami would never consider hurting his light in any way, even emotionally. The notion that the two could get into an argument in any shape or form was rather surreal.

Normal people, Ishizu reminded herself, do get into arguments once in a while. It was probably an essential part of human life, and it probably applied to Yami and Yugi as well.

The problem was she couldn't exactly say that Yami and Yugi were normal in any sense of the word.

"Yugi," she called out, gently, and the teen looked up towards her, startled. He didn't seem to be making much headway in his work; pen hanging in midair, he was staring off into space with an expression that was angry and sad in equal measures.

"Oh, Ishizu-san," he made an effort to smile at her, "you could have told me you're coming. Please come in."

Ishizu smiled back, a little indulgently. Despite the recent argument he'd had, Yugi was making an effort to be hospitable. She took a seat on his bed, noting the sheer number of duel monster plushies on his bed. Absently, she set a Kuriboh plushy on her lap.

"I was talking to the pharaoh downstairs," the tomb keeper started, and watched as Yugi's features harden slightly. It was a strange expression on the light's face, one that she wasn't accustomed to. "There seems to be an…argument?"

Yugi muttered something, suddenly very intent on the calculus problem on his desk. Ishizu thought she heard a grouchy "he started it" coming from the normally mild boy, and sighed in irritation.

"Not you too, Yugi. The pharaoh has already given me the cold shoulder downstairs. You don't have to do it again."

The teenager looked back at her, amethyst eyes apologetic. "Um…I'm sorry you have to put up with…that." He tilted his head in the direction of the living room downstairs; Yami's intense displeasure seemed to be pressing in through the open door. Even in his distress, Yugi still had the ingrained habit to apologize for every bad thing that happened, whether or not it was his fault. It made Ishizu wonder – again – how anyone, much less the pharaoh, could be mad at him in the first place.

"It's alright," the tomb keeper told him, smiling reassuringly. Yugi was incredibly easy to guilt-trip, and it made Ishizu felt as though she was leading a lamb astray. She was coaxing the truth out of Yugi for a good cause, but it didn't make her conscience feel any better. "Can you tell me what happened? Maybe I could help."

"Um," the boy stuttered again; the fight with Yami seemed to have left him stumbling over his words more than usual. "It was like this…"

Ishizu should have known. At the end of the day, the whole thing had to do with some punk, the pharaoh's over-protectiveness, and dark magic.

Kaiba Corporation was – yet again – going to introduce a newer and far more exciting version of the Duel Disk. Or at least that was what Kaiba told the media, armour-clad arm nearly hitting the podium as he swept his arm over it in emphasis. Watching the news on TV, Yami raised his brows in slight amusement. The CEO's exaggerated motions always had the effect of adding an extra exclamation mark or three to the end of his sentences.

"This is so cool, the other me!" Yugi exclaimed, half-flailing as he watched the demonstration video of the new Duel Disk with rapt attention. Where the monsters would, for the most part, float stoically over a player's field until command was given (or something was done to them), the new Duel Disk enabled them to respond to various dynamics in the game now.

Yugi gave an amused chuckle as the Celtic Guardian in the video leered derisively at a newly summoned Watapon in attack position. The difference in attack points had apparently triggered this particular reaction.

"I wonder if I could talk to the Dark Magician mid-duel with this Duel Disk?" Yugi wondered enthusiastically, still leaning towards the TV like an overexcited child. Yami watched him affectionately, reminded of how Yugi had always loved the Dark Magician card.

He didn't bother to remind his lighter half that he could, in fact, summon the Dark Magician anytime Yugi wanted. Instead, he turned his attention back to the TV and Kaiba's solo drama.

"…to commemorate the introduction of this new product, Kaiba Corporation is organizing a dueling event next Monday. Skilled competitors, chosen from all around the world, will duel each other with our latest piece of technology. The winner of the event…" He straightened suddenly, gravity-defying white coat flaring skywards as he paused for a dramatic effect, "…will get to duel Yugi Mutou, the King of Duelists."

There was a moment of silence as both dark and light blinked at the television in disbelief.

"I can't believe I wasn't even informed about this!" Yugi wailed, glaring at the Kaiba on his TV, "Kaiba-kun knows I have a test next Tuesday!"

Now that there was no desperate need to sign himself up for a bunch of Duel Monsters tournaments – because really, he'd got himself involved in competitions like Duelist Kingdom and Battle City for one important reason or another - Yugi didn't duel publicly as often. Schoolwork and daily life had caught up with him after Egypt. He had spent many hours poring over his books when it became apparent that having been locked in the Orichalcos seal, or defeated a long-dead Pharaoh in a card game, wasn't going to help his studies one bit.

His darker self, however, had built himself a new fan base under the alias of Mutou Atem in a matter of two months. Ever the supportive one, Yugi was incredibly proud of his partner's achievements and had taken to voicing out his approval every time Yami gained a new title. Maybe that wasn't the best idea; it seemed that Yami was now out to collect every gaming title that ever existed, as though he was collecting Pokémon.

However, Yugi's busyness didn't quite prevent Kaiba from calling on him from time to time. From Kaiba's perspective, he was too good of a duelist-bait to be left unused; in any given tournament, simply putting his name on the roster would attract a horde of top-notch duelists from all around the world. Tired of seeing Kaiba Corp limos appearing randomly in front of his doorstep, Yugi had finally given up and presented his timetable to Kaiba one day.

"So that Isono-san doesn't have to hunt me down all over the city every time you need me," he'd explained with a small smile. Kaiba had grunted and took the timetable, in gratitude or distaste he didn't know.

From that time on, Kaiba had taken his timetable into account and only tended to call him when he was at least available. The brunette had apparently decided that a distracted King of Duelists wasn't going to do much in terms of publicity.

"Just study earlier, aibou. Though I'm more interested in knowing why they aren't inviting me as well," Atem rested his chin on a fist, eyeing the screen with mild irritation. It was always exhilarating to duel his aibou in the public arena, and seeing them duel always sent the audience into a sort of elated hysteria for weeks.

His lighter half shot him a look. "Because, the other me, one Ceremonial Duel a day can't be good for anyone's health. It's fun, but it's practically nerve-racking! Grandpa was nearly hyperventilating on the front bench when we did the Spring Tournament duel!"

Yami chuckled at the memory. "Who said anything about going all out? We could just have a friendly duel, that's all."

"…and you're sure that you can best me in an ordinary duel," Yugi returned impishly, and Yami huffed. The truth, he acknowledged, was that he could no longer say confidently that he could win against Yugi in any kind of duel. The chances of him winning were probably 50-50.

Kaiba probably didn't include Yami in this tournament for good reasons. The public couldn't handle the stress of watching the two duel, the competitors couldn't face the despair of being up against two Game Kings in a row; in addition, the teenage CEO knew leaving him out would irk the ex-pharaoh.

Now that Kaiba couldn't duel with Yami as often – he was too busy planning yet another Kaiba Land in Europe, inventing new Duel Monsters products and developing electronic games in the same time that he simply couldn't find the time – Kaiba had subconsciously taken to irritating Yami with small, mundane things on a regular basis. It was, Yugi thought, Kaiba's way of coping with not being able to challenge Yami whenever he wanted.

"Aibou, are you doubting my prowess with the cards already? I should be insulted," Yami drawled, inciting an "of course not!" from an amused Yugi. "In that case, I'll simply have to prove my strength in this tournament."

He stood up, intent on giving Kaiba a piece of his mind via the phone. It didn't really surprise him when it rang before he could reach it, the teenage CEO calling to inform Yugi of the arrangement and offering a tutor to help him deal with the test.

"…and here comes the King of Duelists, Mutou Yugi!"

Despite the number of different titles he'd acquired in the dueling world, his first title – which wasn't really his in reality – had stuck, and he was generally known and addressed as the King of Duelists. Amidst the deafening roar of the crowd, Isono's announcement was accompanied by a sudden burst of smoke on the dueling field. Yugi's opponent – a grown man who'd battled all the way up to championship just to duel Yugi - looked like he was on the verge of having a fit. Sitting cross-legged on the VIP bench, Yami found that he couldn't blame the guy; he himself had experienced, first hand, how utterly terrifying it had been to have Yugi on the other side of the arena, determined and ready.

The crowd leaned towards the stadium as one, waiting with baited breath for the legendary King of Duelists to appear. It came as a great surprise, therefore, when the smoke eventually cleared to reveal…an empty platform.

Isono looked momentarily stunned, before explaining in a stuttering (and rather unconvincing) voice that there had been some circumstances, and that Yugi would be appearing shortly. Watching the whole fiasco in his control room, Kaiba twitched. So much for staging a spectacular appearance for the little twit. Coattails swishing, he turned on his employees with an air of a lion about to pounce on its prey.

"I want to know where the hell Yugi is. Now." His command was met with the busy tapping of keyboards, his staff checking the surveillance cameras within the premises to locate the petite duelist. Fishing his mobile out of his trousers, Kaiba entered Yugi's number. Yugi wasn't one to pull a disappearing act for no reason; this, if anything, told the brunette that something was wrong.

Yugi's phone was off. Go figure. He paused, jaw clenching in irritation, and decided to try Atem's number instead. It didn't really surprise him when it vibrated in his hand, the former spirit calling to demand where his aibou had gone and threatening magic-related punishments if anything happened to Yugi.

"Shut up for a moment, Atem," Kaiba snapped, and felt grimly triumphant when his rival abruptly cut himself off in the middle of a threat. "I have nothing to do with it and you know it. Where did you last see him?"

"At the waiting room. He was going over his deck…" Kaiba could feel the tension rolling off from the other end of the phone; it was starting to distract him as well. Damn Yami and his over-protectiveness over his little ex-host. "I'll go look for him."

"Stay put, you aren't helping," the brunette told Yami curtly, tapered fingers tapping on his screen until the image of Yugi's waiting room appeared. Seeing Yami run off in panic would probably send the spectators in the stadium into a mad frenzy, and Kaiba wasn't ready to see his tournament blow up in his face just yet.

The waiting room was empty. Kaiba frowned, about to shift the image to the corridor outside when one of the communication staff called his name breathlessly, receiver in one hand.

"Seto-sama, someone has found Yugi-sama!"

"Show me the image," he told her with a clipped voice, and she obliged, switching the screen to a corridor not far from the waiting room. Arms crossed, Kaiba gazed down at the screen.

One of his guards was bending over what seemed to be a dark lump on the side of the corridor couch. Frowning, he zoomed in on the lump, only to realize that it was in fact a mop of tri-coloured hair poking out from behind the couch.

"Well, I'll be damned," he muttered darkly. He was about to inform Yami of the new development when the once-pharaoh hung up on him with a sharp beep, having read his apprehension and no doubt rushing over to his aibou's aid.

When the teenage CEO arrived at the scene, it was to find a very agitated Yami attempting to shake Yugi out of unconsciousness, and the guard looking extremely helpless. Watching the whole scene from the side, Kaiba quickly decided that it was going to be one of those days. be continued