The rain was pouring down in thick sheets, layer meeting layer in a continuous downpour. But there was no thunder or lightning; though the rain clouds clumped together and threatened it. The air had a sharp tang to it, and the streets were painted over in a dark shade of grey from the lack of sunlight. Occasionally a gust of cold air would tumble down between the buildings, causing the people below to tighten their hold on their umbrellas and hats as they were buffeted about for a while.
There were not that many people outside on such a day, as one could imagine, but there was one individual who was running down the sidewalk. He was holding his coat over his head, trying to avoid getting soaked. But the rain had worked its way around that, for every time a gust of wind would come, the coat would flap uselessly to the side and the water would pound on his head. He was a young high school student, as could be seen from the school uniform and backpack that he wore. It was just after school, and he was racing home as fast as he could, hoping his books weren't completely soaked in his bag.
This was a teenager with quite unique looks. He had violet eyes, bold and wide, and spiked maroon hair with blond highlights. Most overlooked him, however, because he was short and quiet natured. He gave rushed apologies to every person he bumped into as he ran, gasping them out between breaths. At last he stopped in an alleyway, partly under the cover of the roofs from the two adjacent buildings, and leaned against the wall to catch his breath.
It was unfortunate that he had chosen this particular alley, as there was a group of thugs some ways further down, and they saw him as an ideal victim. The three men swaggered down towards him, pausing only to drop their cigarettes and stomp them under their feet. The teenager unfortunately did not see them coming until it was too late.
"Well, well, what do we have here," rumbled a low baritone, and the young man whirled around, dropping his coat in a puddle. His eyes widened as he realized his situation.
He held up two slim hands and waved them in front of his face in a gesture of peace. "I'm sorry, look, I don't have any money on me—" he stammered.
The three men chuckled in response. They were much taller than him, and sported a fair amount of tattoos, though only some were visible peeking out from under their coats. "Now, kid, you can't think that you can fool us with a line like that." One of the thugs reached forward and grabbed a fistful of the teenager's shirt, raising him to his eye level. His eyes were hard with malice.
"But, really, I don't! I swear it's true..."
"What's this?" The man interrupted with glee, reaching with his other hand to grab the brown cord dangling from the teen's neck. There was something golden attached to it —and gold definitely meant money.
It was an upturned pyramid that hung from the cord, with an image of a strangely shaped eye on one of its faces. It was a heavy object, suggesting it was not merely painted with gold, but made completely from it. The three thugs laughed and grinned in delight. This was certainly a prize. "I'll be taking this, I think," said the man who had grabbed the cord, and he dropped the teenager back on his feet, pulling the pyramid from around his neck.
"Wait! No, not that!" The teen cried out, and with both hands he grabbed the golden pyramid.
There was a flash of light from the object, but it died down quickly. The three thugs blinked in confusion. They were seeing something different in the teen that was even now pulling the pyramid back from his assailant, and placing it back around his neck. He seemed much taller, suddenly, with his eyes narrower and more confident, and his helpless expression replaced by one of strong determination.
"You have entered my heart's domain," pronounced the teen, "I challenge you to a Shadow Game."
The thugs looked at each other and laughed. Surely the child did not think that he could just beat them in a game and walk away with that golden object they'd decided they wanted? "Why on Earth would we want to play a game when we could just take that from you and walk away?" Said one of the men in exasperation.
The teenager only tilted his head and peeled his lips back in a cocky smirk. "Because, if you win this game, then I will not report this incident to the police. And...I will give you the Puzzle without a fight."
They exchanged looks at each other, and then one said: "Sounds like a good deal to me. Because if we lose, we can still grab this 'Puzzle' of yours, kid, and then beat you up so hard you'll have forgotten why you were here in the first place."
The teenager only continued smirking in response. "I will now explain the rules," he told them mildly. With one hand he reached into the pocket of his pants. He uncurled his fingers, revealing a coin. "I am going to hide this coin somewhere in this alley. While I do so, you will keep your eyes closed. Once I tell you to begin searching, you may, but you must find this coin within five minutes. If you cannot do so, then I win."
"Right," snapped one of the thugs, "and you'll just run away the second we have our eyes closed."
He shook his head. "If you are concerned about me running away, then you may open your eyes after ten seconds. I can assure you I will have hidden the coin by then."
Silence ensued between them for only a moment before they agreed and closed their eyes. This child was entertaining, after all. And that golden pyramid was probably the best catch they'd had in weeks. They could play along for a while.
After ten seconds, the thugs opened their eyes to find the teen standing at the entrance to the alley, as though he had not moved at all. But he said: "I have hidden the coin. You may begin your search." He rolled up his sleeve and began to watch the digital clock on his wrist with an air of relaxation.
Looking at him warily, the three men began to look around. It was not a long alley, nor was it wide, but it did have a row of boxes along one wall and some odd bits of garbage and beer bottles in the corner. There was also a trash can near the front of the alley. Two of the men started prying open the boxes and moving them around in order to find the coin. The third man dumped the trash can and kicked at its contents with his foot, looking for a flash of metal amid all of the partly decomposed food.
"Three minutes have passed," stated the teenager, looking up briefly from his watch.
A little irritated, they began moving faster, and at one point switched places, trying to find what the other might have missed. They scoured the ground for the coin. "Four minutes have passed," came the calm statement.
All of a sudden, one of the thugs dropped the box he was holding and stalked up to the teenager. "I bet you didn't even hide the coin at all, did you? It's probably still in your pocket, you little sneak." He grabbed his arm tightly, glaring at the younger man who was seemingly at his mercy.
The teen only looked at him with his deep violet eyes. "The coin is not on my person, you can be sure of that," he answered.
"Oh, yeah? Why don't we find out, shall we?" He growled in response, his anger spiking.
A laugh from one of his friends. "Yeah, turn him upside down and shake him, let's see what falls out."
The teenager narrowed his eyes. "You have thirty seconds remaining." He did not shift on his feet or pull away from the grip that was so tightly holding onto his arm, appearing to be completely comfortable.
The thug shoved him, and he fell over easily into a puddle. But the teen was not very bothered over it, because his clothes were already wet and soaking them further really made no difference. As the three men began to advance on him, he took one more look at his watch and then grinned. "Your time is up," he declared, picking himself up off of the ground.
"You think we care about that anymore?" Cried out one of the men in anger.
"Your true heart's nature is revealed," he told them, "and since you have lost, you all must face a penalty game." The upturned pyramid around his neck glowed sharply.
"What—" their retort suddenly cut short, and all of them looked incredibly fearful. They turned about on their feet, crying out unintelligibly, running into the walls and tripping over the boxes and each other. Their keening echoed in the alley terribly, reverberating against the walls and making an even louder sound.
Striding up quickly to one of them, the teenager reached down and removed the coin that he had slipped into the thug's large coat pocket. "I only said that the coin would be hidden in the alley. I assured you it was not on me, but I never said anything about any of you having it," he informed them, "now you will be trapped in a nightmare maze, desperate to escape but unable to see the way out. Once you have realized your mistakes, though, you will be released." He considered the writhing forms on the wet, hard, ground. Their eyes jumped wildly from one place to another, unable to see the truth of their scenery behind the nightmare image that had been formed. "I doubt that will be for quite a long while yet, however." He said thoughtfully to himself, knowing that they could no longer hear him.
Without a backward glance he walked away, pausing to grab his coat from the ground as he went.
After a couple of blocks of walking in the rain, the teenager came to a game shop, the sign on the door bearing the word 'closed', though the lights were on behind the glass. He pushed open the door and entered the shop. At the jingle of the bell, an elderly man came in from another room, and looked despairingly at his sopping form. "Forgot your umbrella, huh, Yuugi?" He clucked his tongue in disapproval.
Blinking, the teen gave him a startled look and suddenly looked around, as though unaware of his surroundings. He let out a half gasp and struggled to form a sentence. "Uh —yes, sorry, I guess I left it...here..." Yuugi forced a smile, and bent to remove his shoes. He was shivering uncontrollably from the cold of the rain that he was still drenched in, and he found it difficult to untie his shoes when his fingers were so numb.
"Is something the matter?" Asked the elderly man in concern, confused at his behaviour.
"No, Grandpa. I was just thinking that the umbrella was right here, um, I must have left it in my room." He managed to remove his shoes and left them at the door, walking past his grandfather into the living room beyond.
His grandfather called out to him as he left. "Okay, well, your dinner is in the fridge, you just have to heat it up. But change into some dry clothes first. And maybe have a hot shower. You look frozen."
"Sure, Grandpa." Yuugi responded tiredly. He passed the living room and hurried into the hallway and then up the stairs to his room. Quickly shrugging off his pack and dropping his coat on the floor, he pulled open his closet with stiff fingers. His teeth were chattering. Yuugi grabbed the first clothes that he could see and went down the hall to the bathroom, kicking the door closed with his foot while he pulled off his wet clothes. He lifted the brown cord with the pyramid over his head and left it on the counter.
He turned the shower on and stepped in with a sigh. At first the water was scalding to his senses, but soon it was the perfect temperature. Yuugi waited until his muscles relaxed and the tension in his body eased before he stepped out. His eyes alighted on the golden pyramid resting so innocently on the countertop.
Finding that his heart was pounding far harder than it should have been, he tried to ignore the object and towelled dry before throwing his new clothes on. He grabbed his school uniform and took it down the hall to stuff it in the washing machine. Returning to the bathroom, he reluctantly took the pyramid and brought it back to his room, leaving it on his desk. Normally he kept it on, but he found himself still shaken from the incident in the alleyway, so he was sure he didn't want to put it back on. Somehow, after grabbing the pyramid, he had lost consciousness, and the next thing he knew, he had ended up at home.
This was not the first time that this had happened. Ever since he had solved the puzzle of the pyramid, finally placing the final piece in its place, he had been having these weird blackouts. One minute, someone would be threatening him, and the next, that person would be hurt. Or worse, they went insane, crying out confusing things, unable to see their surroundings. Yuugi stared hard at the pyramid, fearfully contemplating what had happened to the thugs in the alleyway. Were they incredibly hurt? Did the Puzzle do something awful to them?
Thankfully, his stomach stopped him from thinking too hard on the matter, and so he found his way back downstairs to the kitchen, where he ate dinner.
Afterwards he climbed back upstairs and entered his room again, looking miserably at his backpack. He pulled it open and looked inside. It was just as he'd thought. His textbooks were almost completely soaked, though his notebook had a plastic covering so luckily his notes were unharmed. He set his books along with his coat over the vent to dry. Yuugi was grateful that it was the weekend. It would likely be raining just as hard tomorrow, and he didn't want to walk in the rain and the wind again, even with an umbrella.
Looking over at the clock, he decided he might as well go to sleep.
Maybe he'd hang out with his friends Joey, Tristan, and Téa tomorrow, and hopefully it'd be a better day than today.
The morning dawned bright and early. The sun came in warmly from the window above the desk, though the soft pattering of raindrops could still be heard against the window pane. The alarm clock rang shrilly, and Yuugi groaned and rolled over, slamming his hand on top of the machine to silence it. Smells of breakfast drifted upstairs and under his door. He blinked his eyes and yawned. Then, slowly, he pulled himself out of the warmth of his covers to look out of the window. It was raining, but not as hard as it had been the day before, to his surprise. Pulling on some clothes, Yuugi wandered downstairs to the kitchen.
His grandfather was just setting the table as he entered the room. "Morning, Yuugi," he greeted cheerfully.
Yuugi smiled. "Good morning," he moved to sit down, but the phone rang suddenly, and so he moved over to answer it, "hello," he called into the receiver.
"Hey, buddy, it's Joey." His friend had obviously recognized his voice. He sounded excited. "There's this great deal on duel monster cards in the shopping district, so I thought we should go. One store is offering new cards in exchange for old ones. What do you think?"
Yuugi was more than happy to hear this. "It sounds great, Joey. I haven't gotten any new cards in a while, actually, since I've been playing other games. It'd be a good chance to upgrade my deck. Should I meet you there in about an hour?"
"You got it."
Hanging up, Yuugi let his concerns over the Puzzle fade into the back of his mind as he considered the prospect of getting new cards to power up his deck. Duel Monsters was truly a game that he adored above the many others that he had played in his life, though it was just starting out as a game and wasn't quite popular yet with the public. Joey was less experienced than him with the game, but had gotten into it like Yuugi and at school they played frequently.
Breakfast passed in a hurry, and soon Yuugi was bounding up the stairs, grabbing his durable rain jacket and umbrella before shutting the door behind him and calling out to his grandfather and mother that he was leaving.
The Game Shop door shut gently behind him, its bell ringing slightly as it swung on its chain. Upstairs, left behind on the teen's desk, was the Puzzle, rain from the day before still clinging to its surface. Something changed in the air around the Puzzle, wavering the image like a mirage. And if one were to listen very carefully, they might have heard a faint shifting, like fabric brushing against fabric.
Yuugi returned home later that day in a fairly good mood. His stomach was full of burgers and fries from the fast food joint that his friend Téa worked at, and his body wasn't soaked due to the wide umbrella that he had brought with him. He wandered into the kitchen after removing his coat and shoes, and noticed the note taped to the fridge. His grandfather and mother were out getting food for dinner, it told him, and after pulling open the fridge door he decided that it was good that they had gone. There wasn't much in there for a meal. He made himself some tea, and went upstairs to check if his textbooks were dry so that he could start on his homework. His friend Joey would have left it till the last minute, but he was of the firm belief that the sooner that he could finish it, then the sooner that he would have more time to relax. He opened his bedroom door, drinking from his mug absently, and turned on the light.
Something was terribly wrong.
He wasn't sure what it was at first, only that it felt like the air was charged with electricity (the kind that could kill you in a heartbeat). Yuugi shut his bedroom light off quickly and set down the tea on his side table, wondering what the problem could be. There was something thick in his veins, he noticed suddenly, something that made him feel sluggish and cold. Standing by the bed, the air felt far more dense and it made his tongue catch in his throat, making his breath come out in spurts. Yuugi's heartbeat increased, but he was unaware of it. He was staring at the Puzzle.
It had never looked so dull in all the time that he had owned it. The gold looked splotched with a purple haze, and it dimmed its reflective quality, so much so that he almost missed it lying there on the desk. Uneasy now, though not knowing why, Yuugi approached his desk and hefted the Puzzle up by the cord, wondering what could have caused the colour change.
"Why did you leave?"
Nearly jumping from his shock, Yuugi spun on the spot and was met face to face with a person standing not two feet away from him.
His mouth opened and closed for a moment, as he tried to process what he was seeing. For there was someone nearly his identical in every way: from the skin colour, to the hair, to the outfit he was wearing. But he was sharply aware of the one distinctive difference between them: this person was transparent. Yuugi could not find a single word to say.
The man seemed to understand that, or perhaps he thought that he had been misunderstood. He elaborated, "In all the time that you have owned the Puzzle, not once have you ever left it behind on purpose. But today you did. Why?"
Yuugi's mouth opened again, and he managed to croak out, "You're...from...inside...?"
His jaw is clenched, Yuugi noted idly. Then he began to look him over a bit further, and took in the differences between them that he had not seen before. The way his eyes were shaped differently than his. The colour, too, he thought: maybe a tinge of red lingered deeper in the irises. His hair had more blond highlights than his, and he was taller, maybe, by an inch or two. And there were differences that weren't physical, too. Like how he stood with his shoulders back and his spine straight, and how he held his head, proud and defiantly.
In a voice a chord lower than his own, and much more liquid in its enunciation, the man said, "I am the spirit of the Millennium Puzzle, yes. And you are its bearer."
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he whispered, "You sound angry—"
"You left the Puzzle behind!" The spirit reminded him coldly.
Starting, Yuugi curled his fingers tighter around the cord in his hand. He still couldn't quite believe that he was actually talking to something that had existed in his Puzzle...and that still did, even. He had never really considered that there might be something possessing the Puzzle, as he had always just believed that the dark magic warned of on the Puzzle box were from the Puzzle itself, not from something inside it. Or perhaps the dark powers were indeed from the Puzzle, and this...spirit...was just using them. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to...hurt your feelings," he tried for a placating tone, but the spirit was not interested in an apology.
"I owe my existence to you, since you solved the Puzzle and released me from its depths and into a greater consciousness. I have protected you when you were in danger, I have made sure that you were always safe from any harm that might have befallen you. So why?" His hands were clenched into fists, and his eyes were narrowed like he was seeing Yuugi in a new light. Under such intense scrutiny Yuugi fidgeted, and felt several shivers make their way down his back.
Uncertainly, he wet his lips and said haltingly, "But all those people that would have hurt me, you did something awful to them..."
"You abandoned me because of such creatures...?" The spirit questioned him bitterly, his jaw slack with disbelief.
"They're people too," Yuugi responded with such emotional distress that the Puzzle spirit actually backed up a step, startled. Gaining confidence, Yuugi went on miserably, "Even if they were going to hurt me. Or steal from me. Or hurt the people that I care about. There are other ways to stop such things, that don't involve hurting them back! That's a child's reasoning —punching and kicking out just because they were punching and kicking first."
Angrily, the spirit snapped, "You would be helpless without me! All of the things I did, I did only for you. But still you take their side! Have I not made the best decisions that I could have in those circumstances?" He'd regained his former position, and Yuugi unconsciously backed up into the desk, the Puzzle tapping gently against his side.
"But you never asked me what I thought! You just took over, without any care about how I'd feel about it. You never stopped to consider if I'd be okay with all those blanks in my memory," Yuugi argued back. The spirit flinched like he'd been slapped, and for a brief moment Yuugi wondered what he'd said that could have caused such a reaction. He continued on quietly, "I left the Puzzle behind because I was afraid of all of the people that I was —you were— hurting."
Tilting his chin up and staring coolly at Yuugi, the spirit stated in a commanding tone, "I cannot risk you leaving me again, so I will have to do something about it. You have left me behind for the first and last time. There is only one obstacle standing between us, and I am going to remove it."
"And what's that?" Yuugi murmured, anxious.
"That is the control that you have over the situation, Yuugi. I am taking it from your hands. No longer will you make the decisions. Instead it will be me. I am taking your body."
Alarm spiked in his system like a drug, and he tried to say something, anything, that would rectify the sudden horrible turn that the conversation had taken. "What? You can't do that! I mean...all of my friends—"
"Rest assured," the spirit cut him off in a tone that was decidedly not reassuring, "your soul will still remain in your body. But it will be me, not you, who makes the decisions. Who lives out a life." Yuugi looked completely horrified, and he dropped the Puzzle on the ground without thinking, letting it roll awkwardly under the desk. The spirit's eyes followed its movements, and his mouth twitched slightly, bothered by the callous treatment of the object. "Of course," he continued mildly, "you could always win."
Yuugi's eyes were wide in horror, and he stammered as he spoke. "What?"
The spirit gave him a calculating look. Then he said, "I call a Shadow Game."
Darkness enveloped the room, darkness so quick and all consuming that Yuugi could not even see the desk that he was pressing against, and indeed as his hands ran over the edge of the wood, they suddenly fell out into nothingness and caused him to fall backwards. He gasped out in fear, and twisted his head, his hands hastily groping around blindly for where the furniture should have been, but instead was nothing.
Nothing, save for the Puzzle lying on the ground, its presence there only seen by Yuugi due to the odd shape standing out, surrounded by the blackened mist in the air. He tried to breathe more slowly, but recognized that his heart was racing far too quickly to accomplish that. Yuugi stood on shaking legs.
"Beat me in a game, Yuugi, and I will allow you to remain in control of your life. But if not..." the spirit warned, and Yuugi gave him a sharp look, aware that the spirit was probably using the same tricks that he used on his other opponents. The spirit pointed at him, and Yuugi stared back resolutely, trying to hide the overwhelming feeling of helplessness running through his system. "Then you will be mine."
There had to be something that he could do to give himself the advantage, something that he could do to make sure he came out the winner. Yuugi bit down on his tongue and spoke slowly to avoid stumbling over his words. "Fine," he told the spirit, "but I get to choose which game we play."
His look-alike barely seemed bothered by his statement, and rolled his shoulders as if readying himself for a brawl. "Choose, then."
Yuugi ran through every game in his head that he knew. Luck-based games were crossed off of the list instantly. He needed to choose a game that required strategy, foresight, and intelligence. Something that would be a challenge. Something that would be difficult for the spirit. He found the answer to this much faster than he had expected, and felt himself become more calm as he became assured that he would win. "I choose Duel Monsters."
The dueling mat appeared on the floor like it had been there all along, and the decks materialized along with it, settling on the deck zones of the mat like they had been dropped there by a spell. But Yuugi's eyes had left the spirit's for only a second, and he could see that the man had not done anything to cause it to be so. Then was it—? But no, the Puzzle had not moved from its spot on the floor, and did not look any different from before. Yuugi held his questions back, though he longed to know what was going on.
"This is the power of the Shadow Realm," proclaimed the spirit, and he strode forward to sit down gracefully on his side of the mat. Yuugi followed suit.
Hesitantly, he asked, "Shadow Realm?"
"This is the place that I have taken us for our game," the spirit clarified in a serious tone, "the Realm opposite the Light Realm, where we exist. This is the source of the most powerful magic. So it would only be suitable that this would be where we would duel for our lives."
Our lives. The cold that he had felt earlier in his bedroom permeated further into his skin now, causing more shivers to run through his body. Yuugi clamped his hands together and rubbed, troubled that the temperature seemed to have dropped several degrees. The spirit was watching him from across the mat, his face perfectly free of all emotion, though Yuugi thought that he'd seen his eyes grow hard for a second. "That deck is your own, just as this one is mine. Every card that I have found useful or felt a connection with up until this point has been placed in this deck. And likewise with yours. The Shadows are not unfair."
Yuugi nodded and placed his hand down on the top card, feeling the smooth surface as though relearning how to ride a bicycle. He felt uncertain as to whether it would come through for him, but as he sat there by the mat that was so familiar to him, he became more confident that he would be able to work with it. His head tilted up to look at the spirit, who was still wearing that perfect mask of his. And he said abruptly, "Shall we?"
The spirit gave him a curt nod. "Duel."
It was, Yuugi reflected while he waited for the spirit's move, the most serious duel that he had ever played in his life. Each move required a plethora of consideration, for one fatal mistake could shift the balance of the game dramatically. The reason for this was simply because they were both too good. Each thought several turns ahead of their current situation, and due to that, they also had to consider what was running through each other's mind, and how they could counteract something that had not even occurred yet. After a couple of turns of testing out each other's tactics, carefully attacking and placing traps to see how the other would respond, both Yuugi and the spirit realized that the game would never go anywhere if they didn't pull out every trick they knew. It was both frightening and exhilarating all at once, as Yuugi watched his stable playing field get turned over when the spirit destroyed the cards in his magic and trap zone, not wanting to risk attacking his face up without having done so. But Yuugi was prepared regardless.
"It doesn't have to be like this, you know," he tried to reason with the spirit softly, as a monster effect halted the spirit's attack.
"On the contrary," the spirit murmured back, his sharp eyes eyeing the duel mat like a hawk eyeing a mouse, "this is the only way that it can be."
Yuugi was motionless on his side of the mat, his fingers holding his cards gently in his hand, though his voice wavered, "I know," he began, trying to find something to say, "that we're very different from each other, but—"
"You know nothing," the spirit interjected bitingly, his head snapping up to stare at Yuugi, "about me."
Reconsidering his statement, Yuugi grudgingly admitted that the spirit was correct. "Okay. Yes, that's true." The spirit waited for him to continue, apparently expecting some sort of speech. But Yuugi was finally starting to think clearly about his situation, and now he went back over everything that had recently happened between them and reordered his thoughts. Sitting across from him was an intelligent creature, not something that he could calm down by just apologizing and looking meek. The spirit thought logically, knew what he wanted, and made quick decisions to get it. I have to stop treating him like he's an upset child, Yuugi realized. I have to deal with him differently. I can't get through this by saying nice things. I have to be straightforward about this. What I want is to win. But I don't want to hurt him, either. He hasn't ever done anything to hurt me, not on purpose, anyway. So I have to think of a way out of this where we can both be happy.
The dueling tactics of the spirit were not so unlike Yuugi's. He treated his cards with respect, used each to its fullest abilities, and never backed down from a challenge. But he dueled more confidently than Yuugi did, and as they had tested strategies on each other, the spirit had met each of his monsters with one of his own, whereas Yuugi had only chosen battle when he was sure of victory. The spirit dueled, quite simply, like he felt that fate was on his side, and this made Yuugi somewhat uneasy. As their eyes met now across the short distance of space between them, Yuugi could see no hint of uncertainty in him. How could he be so assured of winning? How could he duel like that? "Is it too late to learn?" He asked, his curiosity piqued for this spirit that he knew so little about.
A twitch of a frown marred his face for an instant. "To learn what?" There was a deciding undertone of impatience in his voice, so Yuugi got straight to the point.
"To learn a little bit about each other," he suggested, and the spirit made no move to answer him, so Yuugi went on, "you know, like what our interests are. What kinds of things we enjoy."
"I understood your statement," the spirit remarked dryly. Yuugi waited. Turning back to the mat, he said flippantly, "There would be little to no point. Unless you are attempting to work out what sort of man I am. So that you have a better idea of what kinds of moves I will make," he added reproachfully, as if he expected Yuugi to make a better attempt at gleaning insight into himself.
Still thinking about winning, huh, Yuugi observed. It never occurred to you that I'm not trying to gain the upper hand with this conversation. "I hardly think that knowing how you like spending your afternoons is going to help me win the duel," he returned carefully.
"Turn end." The spirit intoned, effectively ending their conversation.
Sighing, Yuugi returned his eyes to the field. "Draw." With a single card added to his hand, the list of moves that he could make suddenly increased, and he had to rethink through his future moves in order to be sure that he was making the right decisions before he placed a monster down on the field. For the barest of a second Yuugi wondered if he should let the spirit gain the lead. Show him that he trusted him in order to gain some leeway in their scarred relationship. But then he discarded the thought, almost irritated by it. No true duelist would duel that way. Yuugi had agreed to play him, and he intended to duel at his best. Fairly, and honourably. He didn't want to disrespect the game and the spirit by doing any less.
"Hesitation will be your ruin," the spirit told him.
He snapped out of his thoughts, equipping his monster with an upgrade. "You underestimate me." Yuugi ordered an attack on the spirit's weaker monster.
Casually flipping over a card, the spirit watched idly as Yuugi removed his equip with a slight frown and let his monster slide into the graveyard.
To their side, two large incredibly detailed creatures fought and scrabbled against each other, tearing and ripping until one fell into darkness, screaming in a high pitched voice before disappearing into nothingness. These were the representations of the cards, the holograms, Yuugi would say, only they were nothing like holograms. These were the card spirits, the cards brought to life, as real as Yuugi or the spirit, and perfectly lifelike in their appearance. The first time that his card spirits had appeared before him, Yuugi had been absolutely shocked. Between the Puzzle spirit's short explanation and the noises of the battling monsters, Yuugi had come to terms with the fact that the Shadow Realm had somehow made their monsters real. Now he winced in sympathy as his monster disappeared into the blackness of the Shadows and felt a pang for its loss. He should have expected that the Puzzle spirit would know that he'd play a weaker monster and then power it up. He should have been more prepared. But his mind had been in a dilemma, and he hadn't known what to do about it.
"It is you who underestimates me, Yuugi." Came the rebuttal.
"No," Yuugi shook his head, "you of all people I don't underestimate. Not with all that's happened since I finished the Puzzle." He said firmly.
Something changed in the spirit's expression, but it was so miniscule that Yuugi could not interpret it. They eyed each other for a second longer, and then turned their heads away, absorbing themselves in the game below them. The spirit considered the cards that Yuugi now set and listened to him end his turn. "I do hope that you will put forth more effort into our duel now." He told him.
Yuugi looked startled. "I have been putting effort into this. I take our game very seriously."
Scathingly, the spirit rebuked him. "You are distracted."
Distracted. In a game as crucial as this one, that comment felt like a slap. Yuugi nearly bit his tongue as he held back an upset cry. Because it was true, he had been distracted. For all his caring about dueling with honour and respect, he wasn't giving his opponent his best, as he had been earlier. But he couldn't help it. He was too conflicted over what he should do in order to soothe over their relationship, and Yuugi was admittedly not very experienced with troubled relationships. He had few friends, and after becoming friends with them, he had not had any serious arguments or disagreements with them. Clenching his cards more tightly, Yuugi's forehead creased as he considered the fact that his lack of experience with people was probably what was causing him so much trouble. Not the type to get into fights if he could help it, or the type to make his own opinion heard, he was therefore unprepared for finding himself in the middle of an emotional upset. And he was the cause of it. He was the one who had failed to understand the feelings of the spirit, and who hadn't been able to reconcile with him.
I got myself into this, by being so ignorant, Yuugi thought uncertainly. I should have tried to figure out what was causing my blackouts sooner. For once the parameters of a relationship were set, it would be difficult to alter them without truly understanding one another. "I'm sorry," Yuugi responded, partly thinking that the apology would be useless, "you're right. I'm too busy thinking about how to come out of this with both of us happy. I don't want either of us to be hurt."
Something settled over the spirit's translucent features again, but Yuugi looked down at his side of the battlefield again and so he missed it. He decided abruptly to put more effort into stuffing his emotions into the back of his head. If he could just focus, then he could begin to outthink the spirit's moves. Just maybe. The spirit was currently ahead of him in life points, but if he could just be one step ahead of him, just one single step...
"Even with all that you blame me for, and distrust me for, you still wish to make sure that I am happy?" The spirit questioned him sharply, warily.
It was the second time that he'd been startled out of his thoughts, and Yuugi postponed his strategy planning to look at the spirit in the eyes. He answered very slowly, seriously, "Of course I do. You've always cared about my wellbeing. Why wouldn't I care about yours?" I have to make him see that we don't have to fight over this, Yuugi thought determinedly, I have to show him that we can trust each other, even if we disagree.
"You left the Puzzle," the spirit reminded him again. As if that was the only thing that he was thinking about.
Yuugi offered him a genuine smile. "But if you tell me that you'll be more open about what you're doing while in control of my body, and why you're doing it, then I'll tell you that I believe you. I'll say that I won't leave the Puzzle behind again."
There was a tentative silence. "Your words mean little," the spirit informed him, bluntly, but with no hint of animosity, "actions mean more to me than promises."
Leaning back slightly, Yuugi stared at him thoughtfully. "You want me to prove myself worthy of your trust before you'll let me give you mine," he reiterated, slowly, as if he wasn't expecting that answer.
The spirit frowned. "I said no such thing."
"You implied it," Yuugi insisted.
There was another bout of silence before the spirit offered, "The duel, Yuugi." He wished to continue. But Yuugi would have none of it, and he folded his hand down in front of him before dropping his chin into his hands, propping his elbows up on his knees. The spirit's frown deepened.
Carefully, Yuugi prodded the spirit, "You're ignoring the real problem. Or at least, if you're not ignoring it, you're setting it aside."
Narrowing his eyes, the spirit returned in a clipped voice, "I know not of which you speak of."
"The lack of trust between us," Yuugi murmured, "a duel like this is certainly not going to help anything. It'll only break us apart even further. And when you're the Puzzle spirit and I'm its bearer, don't you think we should avoid that?"
His back was straightening further, and his shoulders were tensing up. The spirit did not look pleased at his comment. The frown had now become a thin line on his face. "A duel like this?" He asked, using the same inflection that Yuugi had used, though not understanding why he'd done it.
"I think," Yuugi said cautiously, "that a duel for fun would be more worthwhile. It would allow us to not put so much on the line, so that we could focus more on enjoying each other's presence and getting to know one another. It would allow us to take down the walls between us. Right?" He added, trying to judge the spirit's reaction, but his dueling opponent had a splendid poker face.
For the first time the spirit's tone seemed uncertain. "I have never dueled for fun before."
Yuugi smiled softly again. "Would you be willing to give it a try?"
Glancing up at the darkness above him, and the darkness all around him, the spirit wondered uneasily in the back of his mind if he'd been too hasty with his decision. Since the time that he had awoken from the Puzzle, Yuugi had shown himself to be a person worthy of bearing the Puzzle. He had an incredible heart, the spirit knew, one that was willing to care for every person he knew, and forgive someone unconditionally. Of all the people that the spirit had fought, Yuugi was the one who least deserved a Shadow Game. But how do I know you are telling the truth? The spirit thought. How can I be sure you will not abandon me? Yuugi was still looking at him, his eyes wide and hiding nothing from the spirit's gaze. He could not have lied to the spirit even if he had tried. But all he said was: "I will try."
The duel went on.
They fought more easily now, not pausing to stare warily at each other or rethink plans. Both were going with their gut instinct now, focussing entirely on their monsters, letting loose spells and traps without the slightest hesitation. But the game had not decreased in difficulty, so the spirit was assured that his opponent was putting his best effort into it. It was odd, dueling someone without issuing threats or hearing the same from the other side. It was even odder to find that Yuugi even complimented moves that he had not expected, and the spirit did not know how to handle this. He settled for silence, and Yuugi did not push for conversation, but somehow they managed to slide into one regardless of their complicated feelings towards the other.
"Don't you think that this is better? This sort of duel?" Yuugi was asking him, and the spirit responded without thinking.
"It is definitely...different." He flipped a card over. Yuugi discarded a card from his hand with an exasperated huff of air.
Shifting in his seat, Yuugi teased him, "You know, destroying my deck and my hand is not the only way to win the duel."
Raising his eyes now, the spirit complied to answer with a smirk, "No, but it is the most efficient."
"But I wonder if you can do it fast enough to stop my plans...?"
A short laugh left the spirit's throat without him meaning to. "Was that a challenge?"
Yuugi grinned. It seemed that he was sincerely enjoying himself, for he seemed to be grinning a lot, or so the spirit had noticed. "End your turn. I have things to do, spirit."
With one eyebrow raised, the spirit did so. "Make your move." Yuugi drew a card, humming slightly. It surprised the spirit to realize that the tension that had been so thick in the air earlier had all but defused, and all that remained of their conflicted emotions was now the ever present black cloud of Shadows that surrounded them. But the Puzzle bearer looked completely comfortable, as though he trusted the spirit to make sure that they wouldn't be hurt in this Realm that he was so unfamiliar with. He stomach dropped as it dawned on him what a horrible mistake he'd made. He'd deliberately challenged such a kind and innocent person to a battle for his body, mistaking his actions for something they were not. He thought that Yuugi had been trying to push him away, but all he'd been doing was the same thing he always did: trying to protect something else. Like I protect you, thought the spirit miserably. "Yuugi."
"Don't get distracted," came the teasing remark, "or you'll miss what I'm about to do."
"Yuugi," said the spirit again, more quietly now.
The teasing smile disappeared off of his face, and he murmured, "Is something wrong?"
It was incredibly difficult for him to say the words that he wished to, but for Yuugi's sake, he would do it. "I have made," he halted, and began again in a milder tone, "a mistake. I never should have gone this far. I know that now. You did not deserve my anger. And you do not deserve what I was planning for you, either. Please..." he found that the cards were slipping from his hands, dropping to the Shadow floor so much like used paper, useless to him. Unbidden, the words left his tongue, "I was only—"
"I thought that you would have realized by now," Yuugi dropped his hand too, "that there was never anything to forgive."
The spirit's eyes widened, and he choked on his next words, so that they withered away before he could speak them. After a few seconds of silence, he managed to say, "You asked for me to tell you something. I will say the words you wished for now. I will be more open about what I am doing and why I am doing it when I take over. You have my word."
"That's all I ever wanted," Yuugi told him gently, "thank-you." They sat there for a while, content to sort out their thoughts in the comfort of one another's presence. The game still lay between them, for the moment ignored. Yuugi crawled over to where the Puzzle still rested on the ground, gold now undiminished by purple splotches. He took the cord and drew it over his head, and let the Puzzle settle against his chest. The spirit felt his connection to his body return, and though he said nothing, his face showed some measure of his relief. "I just realized," Yuugi said suddenly, "that I don't even know your name."
Carefully, he returned, "Some called me the King of Games. But I have also been known as Yami."
"It's good to finally meet you, Yami. I hope we'll get to know each other better soon." Yuugi answered him, coming back over to the mat, where he picked up his cards again. He still had yet to make a move. The spirit looked down at his own cards, and Yuugi offered, "We don't have to continue if you don't want to."
Recollecting the cards and arranging them in his hand, the spirit shook his head. "I would like to. I cannot remember the last time I dueled for entertainment." He watched as a monster appeared out of the Shadows when Yuugi dropped a card into play. The game had restarted.
"Get ready, Yami, for I play..."
"I am always ready to duel, Partner."
Yuugi just smiled again.