To The Outside
(Note: takes place shortly after the conclusion of the series. obligatory song quote: you don't get over a broken heart / you just learn to carry it gracefully - jens lekman)
After a couple years of facing down various soul-stealing and life-threatening villains, finishing summer vacation and going back to Domino High was a bit like going back to another planet. Yuugi insisted that it was kind of nice, this breath of permanent normality to clear the air, and if anybody disagreed they never said. The word better kept sticking in Yuugi's throat, dragging conversations to a halt, and eventually the topic faded away. Wasn't this the start of his own story, the one that would end in light? He needed to move on from those dark days first, find other things to talk about, so he did.
Bakura Ryou moved on as well, his desk empty after a day. He went unmissed among the scrum of students jostling for attention, but even Jonouchi was quick to notice the way Yuugi avoided looking at the blank space.
"Doesn't need the other Yuugi, my ass," he said around a mouthful of taiyaki, a week after they came back. Yuugi was in the bathroom, creating the perfect opening for—
"I don't think we should be talking about him behind his back," Anzu said, but she set aside her bento and sat up, leaning in to hear better. "Besides, it's Atem."
Honda rolled his eyes. "Same difference. Look, we all agree that he's come a long way, right?" He barely waited for their nods before pressing on. "But to have to give up something, no, somebody that's been so important to what you are, that's bound to mess a guy up."
"Yeah, look at Bakura."
"Jonouchi!" Anzu whispered sharply. "You know that's different."
Jonouchi just shrugged, but the apology was clear enough on his face. He jerked his head at the doorway, at Yuugi walking up to them, and Anzu turned to give him a wave.
"Don't worry, I know you guys were talking about me," Yuugi said as he sat in his chair, pushing away his unopened bento. "You're my best friends, it'd be rude of you not to." He laughed, the sound quickly drowned out by the chime of the class bell.
Maybe it was a bit boring, the day-to-day rhythms of school and home. Duel Monsters' time had passed, the heady days of Battle City since dropped off into small groups of hardcore gamers in room corners. Such were the ways of adolescents, but it hit the Kame Game Store hard. Sugoroku knew his business and how to stay in the black even without turning a real profit, no doubt there, but the change was taking a toll regardless. He took his meals in his room and worked constantly, lamplight squeezing under his door into the hallway well past midnight.
He wasn't the only one to eat alone. There had been a proper family dinner the first night back from Egypt, everybody seated around the small kitchen table and not saying much that didn't have to do with the food. When their plates were clean and Yuugi about to leave, his mother held up a hand.
"Just you wait, young man. It's been ages since I last got a proper look at you." Her voice was light, a slight crack midway through notwithstanding. "So what have you been up to?"
"You wouldn't believe me, mom," said Yuugi.
"Just try me. Don't forget, your grandpa is my father, as strange as that may seem; after growing up with him, there's very little I wouldn't believe." She glanced over at Sugoroku, who chuckled but said nothing.
So, Yuugi told her. Told her about Atem, about the Millennium Items, about saving the world again and again.
"Well," she said, after a pause. "I'm glad to hear you've been having so much fun with your friends."
She tried, she really did. But what could she say? "I know it's hard when you lose the ghost that you think was riding you since tenth grade?" Before long, breakfasts and dinners at Kame were solitary things; with a plate of food in his hand, every evening Yuugi knocked goodnight on Sugoroku's door, told his mother he loved her, and shut his door behind him.
"We're wanted by the principal?" Honda stayed at his desk, looking warily from the hall monitor hovering in the doorway to the teacher, who was looking more and more impatient with each moment wasted.
"Probably wants to congratulate us for putting Domino City on the map, hell, for representing Japan!" Jonouchi got up noisily and in the hallway made a show of tugging at his jacket, rumpling his already wrinkled shirt, and would have gone on to take care of everybody else's uniform as well had Honda not slapped his hands away.
"Get off!" Honda looked at him critically, then reached out to smooth down his shirt and straighten his collar before he could resist. "Look in a mirror before you start touching people, will you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jonouchi muttered, grinning despite himself. He set off at his usual pace, long confident strides, pausing only when the familiar sound of Yuugi's quick feet didn't start echoing behind him. "Come on, man. What's the matter?"
Yuugi hung back near the door, scuffing his sneakers against tile under the blank gaze of the hall monitor. "I don't know about this, you guys. It's been a week since we got back. Isn't that kind of long to wait?"
"It's okay." Anzu looked back with a smile, trying to meet Yuugi's eyes. "Even if it's not what Jonouchi's saying, I'm sure it'll be fine either way."
"How dare you?" Jonouchi gasped in mock horror. "Don't you know my word is law? Everything I say comes true!"
"Yeah, after everything else goes wrong," Honda whispered loudly, dodging Jonouchi's elbow with a laugh before letting out a whoop and racing him down the hall, followed by the now-furious hall monitor.
"All right. Let's do this," Yuugi said, looking up at Anzu. "It's like you're always saying; together, we can do anything!"
"What the fuck, man," Jonouchi said flatly. "What the fuck." The metal railing of the waterfront was cold even through his long sleeves. His uniform jacket was gone, thrown on the principal's floor, so there went the question of extra protection. "If that's his idea of congratulations I'd hate to see what he does for punishment. Asshole!" This last was shouted out at the water, turning some nearby fishermen's heads.
"Cool it, Jonouchi." Honda slouched back next to him, facing the city. The skyline had changed since he'd last been here, new buildings rising high to balance out gaps around them. "Acting like that isn't gonna get us un-expelled. If they've got new leadership and want to get strict all of a sudden there's nothing we can do. I heard they're going to start expelling a bunch more kids tomorrow."
Jonouchi threw him a glare that was half bafflement and half indignation. "Who are you? Where's the rage?" When Honda didn't respond, he slammed his hands on the railing. "Jesus, man up already—" His rising voice was cut off by a hard kick from Anzu, delivered right to the back of his knees.
"How is yelling and running around without a plan going to fix anything? Maybe you need to grow up—" Pulled up short by Jonouchi's indignant scoff, Anzu took a breath and unclenched her hands. "Sorry. I didn't mean that."
After a long pause, Jonouchi pushed himself away from the railing. Folding his arms against the evening chill, he glanced sidelong at Yuugi. "What about you? You've been awfully quiet. Done some growing up too?"
"I said I was sorry," Anzu muttered. Honda shook his head and spread his hands, expression clearly saying You know how he is.
Yuugi didn't answer right off, his face hard to read in the deepening shadows. With September almost gone and autumn reaching its prime night was starting to fall fast, but their schedules had been unusual for so long the changing weather was barely worth notice.
"At some point Grandpa's going to pass the store on to me," he said. "And you guys all have your own dreams. I guess now's the time to—"
"Don't give me that shit," snapped Jonouchi. He grabbed Yuugi's shoulders and pulled him into the light of the flickering streetlamp. "Don't you dare say we oughta go our separate ways."
"What are we supposed to do, Jonouchi?" Yuugi didn't look up. "Duel Monsters was the only thing keeping us together, that and my—"
"You know as well as I do that's a big fat lie," Honda said, shoving his way past Jonouchi. "Games didn't have nothing to do with how we became friends."
"Right. You boys bonded through pain, blood, and tears, the manly way," added Anzu, her sarcasm tempered by the fond look she gave them. Yuugi's faint smile nearly prompted her to say more, adlib something appropriate on the staying power of friendship, but his eyes were still fixed on the ground. "You know what? I think right now what we all need is a good night's sleep."
"Ah, yeah." Jonouchi let go of Yuugi, disappointment flickering across his face. "See you tomorrow. Give me a lift?" At this, Honda nodded, quick and familiar.
Before the two of them were out of sight, Anzu turned to Yuugi—but he was already walking away. It was okay, though, because they'd all had a hard time, she figured, and his had been the hardest. As long as he knew his friends and family were there for him, Anzu was sure, he would make it through all right.
"Night, grandpa." Yuugi knocked on his door, waiting for the answering "Good night, Yuugi!" before going to his own room. After the minutes dragged on, Yuugi set down his tray. Yes, sometimes Sugoroku didn't call back right away, focusing on filling in a spreadsheet just so, but this was getting to be a bit long. He knocked again, harder this time.
The house was quiet. There was the shuddering drone of a helicopter outside and the white noise of traffic, but nothing inside.
"Grandpa?!" He banged on the door, shouting without realizing it, and the light under his mother's door turned on.