You've Got a Friend
Author's Note: This is set in my Tales of the Three Realms universe and is a side-story to Undercover Pharaoh. It takes place during the childhood of Atem (aka Yami Green), who is the reincarnation of the original Pharaoh Atem.
Yu-Gi-Oh! is the creation and property of Kazuki Takahashi. (The Three Realms alternate universe belongs to Lucidscreamer.)
Trying to stop the tears, Atem twisted one chubby fist against his eye. It didn't help. He scrunched up his face and gulped back the sobs that tried to break free. He didn't understand why none of the other children liked him, why they wouldn't play with him. He had the best toys, after all, and he was willing to share, just like his mommy had always told him good boys did. But when he tried to join in the others' games, they looked at him with huge eyes and then ran away. Was he scary? Was there something wrong with the way he looked? He thought about the idea. Maybe he was so ugly they were afraid of him!
Scrubbing his face on the long sleeve of his tunic, he uncurled from the tight ball he'd tucked himself into inside his hiding spot, the biggest empty pot in the old storeroom. His stomach growled, and Atem decided it was time to go home. Mommy would have a snack waiting for him while Cook prepared supper. Standing, he reached for the rim of the pot, but it was too far away.
Frowning, he glared up at the opening high above his head. It hadn't seemed so tall when he'd tumbled in, but now, even standing on his toes, he couldn't reach the rim. If he couldn't reach the rim of the pot, he couldn't get out again! He sighed. He didn't want to call for help, 'cause his father told him he shouldn't look weak and needing help was weak. Right? So, he tried again. He jumped and stretched his arms to their limits, but he just couldn't catch the rim of the pot.
After trying for so long and so hard that his arms and legs hurt, he gave up. He had no choice. Weak or not, he needed help.
He yelled as loud as he could, but no one came. A long time passed. His throat ached from calling for help and his stomach hurt. What if no one could hear him? The storeroom was dusty and unused, far from the rooms where everyone worked and lived. What if no one ever heard him or thought to come to the storeroom to look for him? What if no one ever found him? What if he stayed here until he was a dried up mummy like the ones in the sacred tombs?
Trying not to cry, he curled up in the bottom of the big old pot. He wrapped his arms around his belly, which was so empty it growled at him. His chest hurt, too, a tightness that got worse as soon as he noticed it. It felt a little like the way his chest hurt when he woke up from really bad dreams. On some of those nights, when the dreams were so scary he thought he would die, he woke to find a plump ball of brown fur curled against his side. The thought of his friend, his only friend, made the heaviness in his chest worse. He didn't want to be stuck here, all alone and hungry and afraid. He wanted his mommy. He wanted his friend.
He just wanted someone to find him.
The tightness grew and grew until it became a sharp pain. And then it burst from his chest, leaving him panting and so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. He didn't mean to, but he must have slept. Some time later (Atem didn't know how long, but the tears had dried on his face and his nose was stuffy), gentle hands woke him as he was carefully lifted from his clay prison.
"Ah! Here's the lost little prince." The voice was warm and quiet, and Atem trusted it instantly.
He blinked up into eyes that reminded him of one of his mommy's necklaces, the one made of pretty beads carved from blue stones. The face wasn't one he knew, nor was the man's strange purple clothing anything Atem had ever seen before. Not while he was awake, anyway. "Who are you?"
"A friend." The stranger smiled at him, shifting Atem so that he rested in the crook of one arm. "Come. I'll take you home."
"Thank you." Atem yawned and let his head fall onto the stranger's broad shoulder. "How did you know I was here?"
"Oh, a little furball told me."
Huh? Blinking sleepy eyes, Atem peered over the man's shoulder and saw something brown and furry floating in the air just behind them. He grinned. "Miu!"
"Koo-ree!" Miu bounced closer, reaching out a stubby green paw to bat at Atem's bangs. "Cooo kooree cree!"
"Yes. You saved me." A small smile still on his lips, Atem's eyes closed again. Now, even his big sister would have to admit that Miu was his friend, not a bad monster. That was worth getting stuck all day in the big pot. And he'd even made a new friend, so that was even better. Wrapping his arms around the tall man's neck, Atem hugged as hard as he could. "You are my friend… right? For always?"
"Yes." The man's voice was soft. He hugged back. "My soul will always find yours, Atem."
Drifting into sleep, Atem didn't question it when he realized he knew the man's name. In a murmur that was more breath than sound, he whispered, "…Mahaad."
Carrying the exhausted child safely in his arms, the Dark Magician Mahaad smiled.