Chapter 9

"I am seriously disappointed in you, Yu-chan."

Caught off-guard, Yugi stopped chewing and tried not to gape at his mother around his mouthful of meatloaf. "Huh? What'd I do?"

"It's what you didn't do!" his mother corrected him, an impatient gesture adding emphasis to her unhappiness. "You didn't tell me about Yami. If it weren't for our broken air conditioner, it might have taken months before I got to meet my future son-in-law. You should be ashamed of yourself!"

Oh, not this again. "Mom, I'm glad you like Yami. Really. But you can't keep calling him that. He might hear you!"

"What if he does?" His mother shrugged and speared a roasted carrot with her fork. "I want him to know that he's a welcome addition to our family."

"Oh, for- Mom! Yami and I are not engaged!"

"Well, of course you're not," Grandpa agreed, looking up from his plate, where he had been constructing a mashed potato pyramid. "Your first date isn't until Saturday. I figure it'll be at least Monday before you can pop the question."

Oh, dear god, had his entire family lost their minds? Yugi glared at his grandpa. "Just because you and Grandma got married after knowing each other a whopping three days- Wait a minute. How'd you know about our date? Did Mom-?"

"No." Grandpa chuckled. "Apparently, Rebecca Hawkins is none too happy at being thwarted. She's been complaining about it non-stop to Arthur."

"Oh."

"Tch. That girl's far too young for my Yu-chan." His mom patted the back of his hand where it rested on the table. "Besides, Yami's a much more suitable match."

It took every ounce of Yugi's willpower to resist the urge to bang his head onto the table. "Mom..." he groaned. "You don't even know anything about him!"

"Good point." She patted his hand again. "Tell me everything you know."

This time, he let his head hit the table with a loud thunk. The silverware rattled.

"Yugi!" his mom scolded, while Grandpa just laughed. "Stop being silly and tell me all about my future son-in-law."

"He's not your- He's just-" Seeing the look in his mother's eyes, Yugi surrendered with a sigh. "He's from Egypt."

It was going to be a long night.

-o0o-

It was, Yami thought, going to be a long night.

Bakura had started in on him the moment he'd gotten in the car. With his head apparently trying to come apart at the seams and his muscles feeling as if they had turned to water, Yami had been in no shape to do anything but lean back in the plush leather seat, close his eyes, and let the ranting roll over him. Then they had arrived at the hotel and, thanks to Bakura telling Isis about her 'idiot brother's indiscriminate summoning', he got to listen to the same lecture all over again, this time in a female voice and with fewer swear words. It hadn't been nearly as entertaining the second time around.

Isis had demanded that he hand over his tokens in order to prevent him from taxing his depleted reserves any further, should he be tempted to summon again. Yami hadn't had the heart to tell her he didn't, strictly speaking, require the tokens in order to call upon his Dark Realm friends. Sure, the tokens - which acted as a focus - made the summoning easier. But he had been able to summon Miu since he was a child, long before he had received his first soul-token.

Lying on his bed, one arm thrown over his eyes in a futile attempt to find sleep, he recalled the first time he had called the Kuriboh to him. He had been a lonely little boy, isolated from his peers and surrounded by adults who treated him as if he were something at once precious and terrifying. It had made for a strange childhood. It hadn't helped that he was prone to nightmares so realistic it felt as if he were re-living memories from another life. (This was, in fact, the case, though he hadn't found that out until much later).

It was after one such nightmare that he awoke, sobbing, to find a ball of brown fur perched on his pillow. The furball had cooed at him, patting his wet cheek with a pudgy green paw, and Yami had found curiosity over-riding the lingering dread of his dream. In his befuddled state, he had somehow decided the creature was a very strange, round cat and so had called him 'Miu', which meant 'cat' in the old tongue.

(In his defense, Yami was only three and had never before encountered a Kuriboh. Many years later, he had learned that Miu's real name, which was unpronounceable by humans, meant "fierce Fiend who devours his enemies' entrails and thoroughly enjoys it." Fortunately, Miu thought his "Light Realm name" was amusing and treated it as an affectionate nickname.)

The bedroom door cracked open, letting in a sliver of light that stabbed right into Yami's brain, even through the shield of his arm. He groaned and rolled away from the source of the fresh agony.

"Sorry." Bakura's voice was hushed. He had dealt with Yami in this state before, suffering from a migraine brought on by over-extending his power. Yami knew that the helplessness his guard felt at times like this drove the man mad. "I brought your medicine."

With a grunt of thanks, Yami forced himself to sit up long enough to swallow the pill his bodyguard offered. He sank back onto the pillows, the down seeming as soft and comforting as a granite slab beneath his head. Bakura hovered, his need to do something almost tangible.

"I'll be fine." It came out as a hoarse croak.

"I know." If anything, the sense of the man hovering intensified.

"You could get me a cold compress for my head," Yami offered, after a long moment's strained silence. It wouldn't help the migraine, but it might make Bakura feel better.

Soft footsteps headed toward the en suite. Bakura returned a minute later and, with gentle hands, placed a folded washcloth on Yami's forehead. The cool, damp cloth felt good against his overheated skin for the few seconds before it began to warm. Anticipating this, Bakura turned the cloth over, so the cool side was once again touching Yami's face.

"I hate it when you do this to yourself." Bakura's voice was barely a sigh. "To see you in such pain and know there's nothing I can do... And for what? No good reason that I can see."

You're right, Yami thought but didn't say. It was foolish and irresponsible, and now he was paying the price for it. It worried him that a part of him felt it had been worth it to make Yugi happy. He rolled onto his side again, in a futile search for a position that would alleviate the pain. "I didn't realize that I had overused my magic to such an extent."

"Moron," came the fond insult. "From now on, no summoning without the appropriate precautions. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Mother."

"I'm serious, Atem." And he was; Bakura hadn't called him by his personal name in... ever. His voice was thick when he continued. "You scared at least a decade off my life with this stunt. My blood pressure may never recover."

"...Sorry," Yami said, and meant it.

"You're not allowed to die on me, Your Majesty. And not just because we apparently need you around to save the world or some such nonsense." Shoes scuffed against carpet as Bakura shifted. "Rest. I'll be outside if you need me."

The door closed behind the bodyguard, plunging the room back into darkness. Yami knew that Bakura would be on the other side of the door all night, ready to spring into action if Yami called for him. It was both comforting and humbling.

Forcing his thoughts to still, Yami concentrated on slowing his breathing in a pain-management technique one of Isis' pet healers had taught him. It was still a long time before sleep claimed him.

-o0o-

Yugi's day started all right (if far too early). He had a friendly chat with Ryou, who swore he'd spent a comfortable night in the stock room, and then got the shop ready to open. He had just unlocked the front and flipped the sign on the door to 'open' when the phone rang.

"Kame Game Shop Number Two, Yugi speaking." He tucked the phone between his shoulder and ear, and fussed with the card display on the counter. "How may I help you?"

"Mr. Mutou, this is Bakura Ishtar," said the unfamiliar voice on the other end of the phone line. "I'm calling on Yami's behalf."

Freezing, Yugi forgot all about the display. "Is he all right?"

"I'm afraid not. He isn't feeling well and won't be able to come in to work, today."

Oh, no. Yami's fainting spell must have been more serious than either of them had thought. Had it been from more than the heat? Had he hit his head when he fell? "Has he seen a doctor?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. It's nothing too serious, a bad migraine." Bakura's tone was brisk, businesslike. "He wanted me to extend his sincere regret for having to miss work and to apologize for the inconvenience."

"Hey, no... He needs to take care of himself. Tell him not to worry about it."

When Bakura responded, his voice sounded warmer. "I'll do that, Mr. Mutou. He should be able to work tomorrow - and he was quite insistent that I make certain you knew he would still like to accompany you to the museum reception on Saturday."

Warmth filled Yugi's chest. "Oh. Um. Me, too. I mean, I want to, too. With him, I mean."

A soft chuckle sounded in his ear. "He will be pleased."

The chime on the door announced the first customer of the day. "Um, I have to go-"

"Of course. Thank you for your understanding, Mr. Mutou." The line went dead and Yugi went to work.

Alone.

-o0o-

By the time he closed the shop for a well-deserved lunch, Yugi couldn't believe he had ever been capable of running the shopping center without Yami's help. More even than the assistance, he had come to rely on Yami's company. Just having him around made the day go by so much faster.

When Joey stopped by on his own lunch break - he was a security guard at the Domino Museum - Yugi jumped at the chance not to have to eat alone. They hopped across the parking lot to Burger World, Yugi listening with half an ear as Joey bitched about working weekends for the next month.

They ordered, found an empty booth near the window, and set about adding extra condiments to their burgers and drowning their fries in lakes of ketchup. Somewhere between the first bite of his Big'n'Cheesy and watching Joey inhale half an apple pie in one gulp (Joey was a firm believer in the philosophy of "you never know what might happen, so eat dessert first!"), Yugi's thoughts drifted back to Yami.

"Yo! Earth to Yugi!"

Blinking tired eyes open, Yugi found himself face-to-bun with his burger, courtesy of his best friend. Satisfied he had Yugi's undivided attention; Joey set the cheeseburger back onto Yugi's plastic tray and shook his head in mock despair. "Yugi, man…. You have got to take some time off. I've never seen you space out in the middle of a burger before. It just ain't natural."

Yugi groaned. "I can't take any time off. You know that."

"Huh?" Joey paused in mid-bite of his own quadruple-patty Beefinator. Dripping mayo and mustard, a pickle slid out and went splat on the table. "I thought you hired someone to help out?"

"Kind of. I mean, I hired a handyman to take care of maintenance and repairs. And he's been helping me stock and things like that in the shop, but he doesn't have any retail experience. So, I'm still doing all of the customer related stuff myself." Yugi chewed listlessly on a french fry. "He's a really great guy, too, but I'm still dead on my feet."

"So, when do I get to meet this 'really great guy'?"

It took Yugi a couple of seconds to process the question. "Uh… Why would you want to meet my handyman?"

"Why not?" Joey squinted at him. "There something about this guy you're not tellin' me?"

"What? No!"

"Then why don'tcha want me to meet him? Huh?" Joey gave Yugi a shrewd look over the rim of his Jumbo Gulp soda. "Has he got, like, an extra eye in the middle of his forehead or somethin'?"

"Joey!" Yugi's face felt as if it were on fire. He hid it behind his own huge soda cup. "It's nothing like that. I've just… never had an actual employee before. I'm not sure what's appropriate."

"Ah, c'mon. You're gonna be workin' with this guy every day. I just wanna make sure he's gonna treat ya right."

"You make it sound like I'm gonna marry him or something," Yugi groused. Which he wasn't, no matter what his delusional family thought. (Not that he would mind marrying Yami. The honeymoon alone would be the stuff dreams - and pornos - were made of.)

Joey gave a shrewd look. "So, you are attracted to this guy. Thought so."

"What? I didn't say that!"

"You didn't have to. You get that dreamy look in your eyes every time you mention him." Joey sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. "So, like I said, I gotta check him out. Make sure he's good enough for my li'l buddy."

Yugi's head thunked against a clear space on the table top between them, narrowly missing the pickle.

"Seriously, Yug', I wanna meet this guy." Joey cracked his knuckles. "Make sure he knows what'll happen to him if he breaks your heart."

Turning his head so that one eye could deliver a baleful glare, Yugi said, "You know you're not actually my big brother... Right?"

"Closest thing to." A self-satisfied smirk curved Joey's mouth up at the corners. "I'm beginning to think there's more to this than you just havin' the hots for this guy. Maybe I should bring Tristan in for the meet-'n-greet?"

"Do it and I will never speak to you again." Straightening, Yugi added, "Better yet, I'll tell your sister the real reason Duke stopped calling her."

"You wouldn't dare!"

"Try me."

"Fine." They glared at one another for several seconds. Joey caved first. "Fine. I won't play overprotective big brother with the guy. But I still wanna meet this...Uh, what'd you say his name was?"

"I didn't." Yugi sighed and took a fortifying sip of soda. "His name's Yami."

"Right. I still wanna meet this 'Yami'."

Recognizing defeat when it ground its boot heel into his face, Yugi nodded. "You're working this Saturday?"

"Yeah. They've got me on security detail for that fancypants reception." Joey fixed a skeptical eye on Yugi. "Why?"

"Uh, it's possible that I might sort of have made plans to maybe go to the reception... with Yami."

"Forget what I said. If he's taking you out, he definitely gets the 'overprotective big brother' routine."

"Joey!"

"Don't 'Joey' me." The stern expression on Joey's usually affable features shut down Yugi's further protests. "You know I worry about you."

"I'm a big boy, Joey. I can take care of myself."

"Most of the time, yeah. But you've got a big heart. Not that that's a bad thing. It just means you always look for the good in everyone and sometimes... You know you can be a little too trusting."

That blunt honesty was both one of the things Yugi valued about his friend and, also, totally unfair. He felt his lower lip poke out in what he refused to acknowledge was a pout. "That was one time-"

"Two words: Seto Kaiba."

"That was in high school! And I thought we agreed never to speak of it again."

"You thought he just needed a friend."

"He does need a fri-"

"What he needs is a boot to the head and a stick-ectomy." Joey had always maintained that Kaiba's middle name was "Stick-Up-the-Ass". "The guy's a Grade-A asshole. Remember how he reacted when you tried to be his friend?"

"Uh…" Yeah. That hadn't been one of Yugi's shining moments. Kaiba hadn't just refused Yugi's offer of friendship, he'd cut it dead, chopped it into bite-sized pieces, and danced on its grave. Yugi sighed and toyed with his straw. "Yeah, okay. That was a mistake. But Yami's not like that."

"So, you'll introduce us on Saturday?"

"I… guess so."

"Awesome. I'll hold you to that." Clearly pleased with his victory, Joey chomped a huge bite out of his hamburger. "It'll be great. You'll see."

All Yugi could do was hope those didn't turn out to be famous last words.


(Y'all would not believe the crappy month I'm having. Reviews would be like a life-preserver in the neverending sea of suck.)