Yugi looked out at the city of Neo Domino, with its gleaming buildings, tree-lined parks, clean streets, and brightly lit storefronts, and thought, This is depressing.
It had been a long time since he'd been in Domino. There had been no need for it. His friends had long ago graduated high school and scattered in their own directions, to take up the mantle of duelists or to enroll in school, or wherever their dreams happened to take them. Even Kaiba had gone away, relocating his corporate headquarters elsewhere. Yugi's parents were living in comfortable retirement, largely financed by Yugi's own success as a duelist. His grandfather had finally passed away at a ripe old age, simply nodding off at the counter one day and never waking up again. That had been the last time Yugi had visited his home city, to attend the funeral. He might have grieved more if he hadn't seen, with his own two eyes, that there was something else waiting beyond this life, and that sooner or later they would run into each other again, but all the same, he hadn't had the heart to come back after that.
At least, not until now. He had been sensing for months, maybe years, that some kind of power had been building in his old home in a way it hadn't since he'd been a young man, and he had an itch to see the "utopia" of Neo Domino with his own eyes. Now he was sitting near the back of a bus, looking out the window at the pristine city and feeling like a stranger in his hometown. It was a cool day, and he wore a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up to hide his distinctive hair. So far, no one had recognized him. For purposes of this journey, at least, he didn't want anyone to guess who he was.
The bus rumbled to its stop, and Yugi got out and went to fetch his luggage, which consisted solely of a well-worn canvas bag, much stained and mended. He had gotten used to the fact that whenever he traveled, he would find whatever he needed waiting for him when he got there. Whether he was visiting Anzu in New York, the Kaiba brothers in Japan, Otogi in California, the von Schroiders in Germany, Vivian Wong in China, or his fans practically anywhere, someone was always willing to supply him with a spare bed and a few good meals.
Anywhere but here, he thought, as he started his trek up the sidewalks. That was what was really depressing him. Here he was, in the city where he'd grown up, found lifelong friends, and enjoyed the best years of his life, and he didn't know a single person in it. It was one thing to be a stranger in a city he had been to before, but this had been home once, and the knowledge that it wasn't anymore weighed heavily on him.
He walked. He had no particular destination in mind; his intention was to scout out the lay of the land until he tired, and then find somewhere to eat and rest. Everything had changed so much since the last time he'd seen the city that he truly had no idea where he was, but he had a rough notion of where he was going. He was looking for old landmarks - the places that had meant something to him, a long time ago.
Now he was moving in the general direction of the place where his old high school had once been. It wasn't there now, of course, having been replaced years ago with the new Duel Academia school. Still, it was a place to start. That was where everything had begun, really, and he had a vague sense that if he could only find it again, he would find a clue as to where he should go from there.
School was letting out by the time he reached the grounds, and he had to thread his way through a mass of excited children escaping their classes and more sedate teenagers walking in clusters, discussing homework and flirting with members of the opposite sex. They were all neatly uniformed, and Yugi felt out of place in his well-worn traveling clothes and his baggy sweatshirt. He fought his way out of the crowd and left the main pathway. Only when he was safely ensconced in the shadow of some ornamental shrubbery did he relax a little and give himself over to some proper exploring.
What would it have been like if there was a school like this when I was young? he wondered. A school where playing games was the major part of the curriculum would have been a dream come true. It was funny to think that in a school like this, he might have been the most popular person in school instead of a misfit who didn't attract the attention of anyone but bullies. It was probably better this way, to have gained his fame by earning it, but still, the thought made him smile for the first time that day.
"Give it back! It's mine!"
"Mine now, twerp!"
"That's my deck! Give it back!"
Yugi snapped out of his daydreams with a jolt. Moving cautiously, he picked his way towards the sound of voices, until he found two boys standing behind one of the outbuildings. Both were wearing Duel Disks. One was older and taller than the other, and he was holding a deck of cards high above the smaller boy's head. Yugi felt his heart begin to pound.
That used to be me...
But had been different then. Now he was older, taller, stronger - and the greatest duelist the world had ever seen. He could put a stop to this.
But he didn't need to. Even as he was nerving himself for a battle, he heard the sound of heavy footsteps, and Yugi ducked deeper into the shadows, where he could watch to see how this would play out. There was no need to cause a commotion by revealing his presence if someone else was going to take charge.
Then he saw who had arrived, and he revised his position: he might have to get involved here after all. The newcomer was a uniformed man, tall and muscular, with heavy brows and a forbidding glare. He moved with the swagger of someone sure of his own strength, someone accustomed to being obeyed.
"All right, what's going on here?" he boomed.
"Nothing!" said the older boy.
"He took my deck!" the younger boy piped up.
"Izzat so? Well, we'll see about that!"
Yugi simply stared, thinking, It can't be! But there was no mistaking that face. He hadn't seen it in years, except in his nightmares, and it was showing signs of age that hadn't been there before, but there was no way he could have forgotten it.
Before Yugi could react, the big man reached for the bully's collar and scooped him up off the ground, letting him dangle from one hand. The boy whimpered.
"Now, listen here kid - if you don't tell the truth and tell it right now, you're gonna have Chief Security Officer Ushio to deal with, and you aren't gonna like that. Got it?"
"I - I didn't do anything! We were just..."
"He's lying!" the younger boy said. "He asked me to come duel with him back here, and then when I took my deck out he stole it from me!"
"Is he telling the truth, kid?" Ushio demanded.
The thief, going slightly red in the face from being held aloft that way, managed a meek nod.
"That's serious business, stealing other people's decks," said Ushio. "People get put in jail for stuff like that. You wanna go to jail?"
"No!" the boy protested. "It's just... No matter how hard I try, I never win! And he wins all the time and he's younger than me, and I figured if a little kid like him can win with those cards, then maybe..."
"I figured it had to be something stupid like that," said Ushio. He set the boy back on the ground, though he did not let go of him. "You listen here, kid. Stealing people's decks never got anybody anywhere. Dueling... it ain't just about the cards in your deck. It's about what you've got in here." He slapped a hand against his heart. "If you haven't got the right spirit, it doesn't matter what kind of cards you've got. You have the guts for it, though, you can win no matter what. You look at Fudo Yusei - he found his cards in a garbage dump, and he beat Jack Atlas with them! But the cards ain't gonna listen to a thief. Give them back."
He released the boy, who stood panting a moment, before hesitantly offering the stolen deck back to its owner.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"That's good," said Ushio. "Now, maybe if you ask real nice, your friend here will give you some pointers. Or maybe he won't. Your fault if he doesn't."
The younger boy shuffled through his cards, checking to see that they were all still there. Then he seemed to come to a decision.
"Let me see your deck," he said.
The thief took his cards out of his Duel Disk and handed them over. The younger boy studied them carefully.
"I think I see what your problem is. You've got way too many spells and traps in here. You'll never get a monster on the field like this."
"But they're all useful!"
"Why don't you try using more effect monsters? Then it's like you've got a spell and a monster all at the same time."
"But I don't know which ones to use..."
"Let's go to the library. We can look at the reference books and see.."
The two of them walked off together, one chattering confidently while the other followed behind him, still looking faintly dazed. Yugi couldn't blame him. He felt a little stunned, too.
"Wow," he said. "I never thought I'd live to see that..."
He didn't realize that he'd spoken aloud until he saw Ushio jump and look around to see where the voice had come from. For an instant, Yugi was tempted to take to his feet and run like his life depended on it. Then he thought, Why not?
"Hey, over here!" he called.
Ushio took a few steps forward, then stopped as he caught a glimpse of Yugi. He stared, frowning, like someone trying to remember something that was escaping him. Yugi smiled and pushed his hood back.
"Surprise," he said.
Ushio stared, slack-jawed. It took him several seconds to find his voice.
"Yugi?" he said. "You... you... you've gotten taller," he finished lamely.
Yugi rolled his eyes and laughed. "That's the first thing everybody says."
Ushio laughed too, carefully, as though not quite sure it was allowed. "Well, it's true. Damn, I haven't seen you in years. Not even on TV. Where have you been?"
"Oh, you know. Around," said Yugi vaguely. "Traveling, mostly. Keeping an eye on things. There's a lot of world out there, you know."
"I guess so," Ushio admitted. "But you could have gone pro - you were a superstar! You could have been rich and famous..."
"I'm already famous," Yugi pointed out. He smiled slightly. "And money isn't everything."
"Er, yeah. What you said."
He looked a bit ashamed of himself, and Yugi found himself feeling sorry for him.
"That was a good thing you did for those kids," he said.
"Yeah, well," said Ushio, looking slightly embarrassed by the praise, "that's what Security is for."
"You could have punished him. Instead, you not only helped him solve his problem, you helped him make a friend out of an enemy," said Yugi. "You wouldn't have done that, last time I saw you."
"That was a long time ago," said Ushio. "Anyway, things have been different lately."
"Oh? Different how?"
"It's hard to explain. You probably wouldn't have believed me if I told you."
"I'd believe a lot of things," Yugi promised him.
"Oh, well. I don't understand it all myself. It was weird, anyway. Why are you interested, anyway?" Ushio finished. "I'm surprised you're even speaking to me."
"You mean, after what happened last time?" said Yugi quietly. "Don't worry about it. I was a different person back then. To tell the truth, I'm just glad to see a familiar face. This city sure has changed a lot."
"Still is changing," said Ushio. "Mostly on account of Fudo Yusei."
"I heard you mention him before. He won the Fortune Cup, right?" Yugi remembered watching that on television, and remembered seeing the young man with the intense blue eyes.
"That's the guy. I know him," said Ushio, with detectable pride.
"Is that so?" said Yugi, amused.
"He's a good guy - the kind you want on your side," said Ushio. He paused, apparently groping for words. "I feel like I gotta live up to his standards, you know?"
"Yes, I know," said Yugi, smiling. "That's the best kind of friend to have - someone you can count on, and who can count on you."
"Well, they're all like that - Yusei and Crow and Jack... and Mikage..."
Something about the way he pronounced that last name made Yugi curious. "Who is Mikage?"
"She's my, um, partner," said Ushio, blushing slightly.
Yugi found himself grinning at the idea of the former terror of Domino High having an um, partner.
"Is she pretty?" he asked slyly.
"She's beautiful," said Ushio, and then stammered, "Um, I mean-"
"I didn't hear you say anything," said Yugi, assuming his most angelic expression. The years might have robbed him of some of his innocence, but he could still put on a good halo when the situation required it. "Anyway, it sounds like you've been doing really well for yourself. I'm glad."
"You started it." Ushio frowned. "Somehow. I don't know what you did, but everything looked different after you did it."
"It wasn't really me. Like I said, I was different back then."
"Oh, yeah? Then who was it?"
Yugi shrugged. "Would you believe an Egyptian pharaoh?"
Ushio thought about that for a long time.
"You sure he wasn't Incan?" he said at last. "Lately it's been nothing but Incans around here. And spooky things with names I can't pronounce."
"Definitely Egyptian," said Yugi, "and I'll tell you all about him someday, if you'll promise to tell me about these Incans."
He might have said more - perhaps even started to explain about these Incans that had been troubling him - but it was then that a voice came drifting to them from the other side of the building.
"Ushio? Where did you go?"
"Over here!" he called back.
A moment later, a pretty young woman came into view. An expression of relief crossed her face as she caught sight of Ushio.
"There you are," she said. "What have you been doing back here? Aki and the twins are waiting for you."
"Be there in a minute," he promised. "I just stopped to talk to someone."
"Oh, I see," she replied. Then she took a long look at Yugi, and her eyes widened. "Wait, aren't you...?"
"Mutou Yugi," he finished, making a courteous bow. "And you are...?"
"This is my partner, Sagiri Mikage," said Ushio. He might have said, "This is the ruler of the universe," with less reverence.
"It's very nice to meet you," she said, returning Yugi's bow.
"Likewise," said Yugi. "Sorry to keep Ushio away from you. We were just talking about old times."
"I... didn't realize you two knew each other," she said.
"We went to school together," said Yugi. Smiling slightly, he added, "He was a big influence on me, really. I think I can safely say that meeting him was the biggest turning point of my life." Enjoying both Mikage's expression and his own private joke, he continued, "Well, Ushio, I won't keep you from your friends any longer. It was great seeing you again - it really was. We'll have to meet again later, when there's more time."
"Right. You promised to tell me about those Egyptians," said Ushio. "I'm holding you to it!"
"Will do!" Yugi assured him. "Goodbye! Have fun with your friends."
He waved and strode away with a spring in his step that had not been there before. He was thinking that a long time ago, maybe on this very spot, he had stood up for Jonouchi and Honda because he'd wished for true friends he could rely on. He had wished them for himself, and for the boys he'd been protecting. He hadn't given any thought to the other young man involved, but it was good to see that his wish had come true for Ushio as well, in its own time.
He made up his mind that he was going to have to come back to Neo Domino more often. He had traveled the world far enough to know that home was wherever he had friends. Today, for the first time in years, Domino City had become home.