Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh or any characters you recognize from the anime and/or manga.
A/N: Here I am, back with another gender bend story. Will wonders never cease? I can only cross my fingers that this one will be as popular and enjoyed as much as my last one. It's going to be completely different, and honestly I'm not even sure where it's going but I hope you'll be willing to come along for the ride. Enjoy!
I'm a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell, I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way
I'm a bitch, I'm a tease
I'm a goddess on my knees
When you hurt, when you suffer
I'm your angel undercover
Meredith Brooks - Bitch
Even though the early morning sunlight was filtering in broken strands through the bared trees, the day was chilly. Mutou Mana shivered and drew her shawl closer around her shoulders, wishing that she had thought to wear something warmer. She shifted on the cold wooden bench and watched as a handful of young children, clearly wanting to savor the last of the sunlight before the coming storm took over, ran past her, all of them laughing and shouting playfully. The group was a mixture of girls and boys, she noted, a fact which was notable only because it was becoming increasingly rare.
She couldn't help fidgeting again as a winter wind blew, ruffling her golden hair around her face. At the same time, she heard familiar laughter. Mana couldn't help smiling as she reached up and gathered a fistful of hair, pulling it aside so that she could see. "Are you going to just stand there and mock me? You're so mean, Serenity-chan. I'd expected more of you by now!"
Jonouchi Serenity laughed again. "That's your own fault, Mana-chan," she teased, but she waddled behind the bench and took a tie from her pocket. Quickly, she gathered the gold strands together and expertly fastened the tie to keep them in place. "There. I don't know why you just don't do it before you leave the house."
"Because you're so much better at it than I am," Mana replied, shaking her head experimentally. Her hair was difficult to tame, and most of the time flimsy hair ties did little to help. Serenity seemed to have a special gift, possibly because she'd dealt with her own long, curly brown hair for so long. She studied her friend thoughtfully as Serenity shuffled back around and eased her body down onto the bench with a faint huff.
"Do I look that bad?" Serenity asked wryly, catching the look.
"No. Actually, you look good."
"I find that hard to believe!" Exhaling loudly, Serenity leaned back and rested her hands lightly on her rounded tummy. "God, it's getting hard to sleep at night. Sometimes it's all I can do to find a halfway comfortable position. I swear this kid thinks that my bladder is a soccer ball."
Mana smiled, automatically mimicking her friend's position. Serenity sucked in a sharp breath, her eyes darting from Mana's still flat tummy to her face, and Mana said quietly, "I got confirmation this morning. I haven't been to the doctor yet and Mahado doesn't know, but the ritual that I performed last night to tell me the truth worked. I'm pregnant, Serenity-chan."
"Oh," Serenity breathed, biting her lip hard. "What... what does this mean?"
No one was watching them. Mana made certain of that before she showed Serenity the inside of her wrist. There, right over the spot where her pulse beat, was the eye of Ra. Serenity gasped at the sight and Mana cringed, hiding the mark beneath a chunky bracelet. "This is what originally made me suspect I was pregnant. You can't tell anyone, Serenity-chan. I mean it. I only trusted you because you said you had similar fears when it came to your baby."
"I do." Her face going blank, Serenity looked down at her bump. "I had my doctor's appointment yesterday. It's a boy."
Normally, that would have been news for celebration. But Mana knew better. "I'm sorry."
"I was expecting it." Her lips trembled as she fought to smile. "I know that Toshiyuki will be pleased, at least. I haven't told him yet."
"It doesn't have to be that way," Mana reminded her. "I could -"
"Mana-chan, that could kill you."
"I don't care! I'm not going to let my child be taken by Kaiba Corp!" Mana hissed, digging her nails into her thighs. She wanted to yell, to scream at the injustice of it all, but to attract that sort of attention would mean death. "I know that this child is going to be a boy, and if that's so there's no other way to hide it. You know that the boys are examined carefully every single year for any sign of a mark. It's only going to get worse before it gets better now that the Pharaoh and some of the other owners of the Millennium Items have been found. But they don't even look at the girls. They're so fucking sure that a hikari can't be female. Even just for that, I would love to prove them wrong."
Serenity anxiously curled a strand of hair around her finger. "Technically, if it's a boy they are right," she ventured.
"Then I'll change it," Mana said coldly. "Even if it kills me I'd rather my baby grew up free, even if it means she will have to face all of the crap that we put up with on a daily basis. I will be damned before I allow those bastards to take my child from me. Gods only know what they plan to do."
"You're going against nature," Serenity whispered. Her face had grown pale.
"I know. Believe me, I know. I've studied all of the consequences, thought about this from every angle ever since I had that dream. But I don't see another way. And - there's more."
"I'm sure you're aware that gender spells are illegal. There's a reason for that beyond the obvious. They're really strong." Mana hesitated, not quite meeting Serenity's eyes. "It's not so bad if you're casting it on a fully grown human, but on a fetus... it won't take much. All of that excess power is going to have to go somewhere. It will have to affect more than just mine."
"Mana-chan! You have no right to make that decision for someone else!"
Mana stood up. "I know. I know! But what choice do I have?" Her hands were shaking. "I can't let them do this to my baby. I can't. I know what sort of life he'll lead. He'll be locked away without the chance to even meet the Pharaoh. The others will suffer the exact same fate. I could save them all, Serenity-chan. I could give the hikaris a chance." She paused for a split second, and then added, "And your baby too, if you wanted."
Serenity swallowed hard and didn't say anything for a minute. When she spoke, her voice trembled. "What if the others have been born already?"
"And if the Test has been done?"
"It's been wrong before."
"But what if their parents have already discovered the mark and notified the authorities?"
"No parent would do that," Mana said, but her words lacked conviction and she sighed. "Look, I know my plan isn't the best but it's all I have. I am going to do this. It's my duty to protect the hikari of the puzzle, and if I can do the same for the hikaris of the Rod and the Ring then I'm going to. I won't let any of them suffer, not if I can help it."
"And mine?" Serenity's lips barely moved.
"If you wish I can include your child in the spell, yes."
"It will make him..."
"Female. No one will ever know. Everyone will think the Test was wrong," Mana replied. "It does happen sometimes. It's not nearly as fool proof as they want us to believe it is." Her smile was bitter. "Nothing about Kaiba Corp ever is."
"Will it interfere with his - her fate?"
"No. She will still be a mate." Automatically Mana glanced at Serenity's lower half. She knew that the dragon mark had shown up on the inside of Serenity's left thigh before the woman had even been aware she was pregnant. Like Mana, it had been her first clue. "But like I said, they are so convinced that no girl can be of any worth that they don't bother to do more than a cursory examination. Even a symbol that strong could easily be hidden."
Serenity closed her eyes. In spite of all her reservations, it took her less than a minute to make her decision. "Do it, Mana-chan."
Roughly seventeen years and some months later...
"Thank you for shopping at the Kame Game Shop. We hope that you will keep us in mind for all of your future gaming needs, and have a good day." Mutou Yuugi rattled off the little speech that had become as familiar to her as her own name as the group of children headed out of the shop. None of them were paying the least little bit of attention, of course, too preoccupied in discussing the new cards that they had just purchased. She slumped gratefully against the counter as the bell above the door rang from their departure, signifying that she had a few blissful moments of quiet before the next group came in.
Not that those minutes were going to be spent the way she wanted them to be. Yuugi surveyed the shop and sighed. It was a disaster area. It looked like a couple of partner monsters had gotten into a fight when really, it had just been several hours of steady customers who didn't really care about putting merchandise back where it belonged. And Yuugi had been too busy to do anything about it before now. Obviously that was all part of working in a shop, but that didn't mean it got any easier to watch. Sometimes she just wanted to tell people not to touch anything if they weren't interested in buying.
"Oh boy," a familiar voice said from right behind her. "I think we got here just in time. Yuugi has that look in her eyes again."
"I do not," Yuugi said, smiling in spite of herself as she turned around to greet two of her best friends. "Well, okay, maybe I do. But I don't mean to. It's just..." She scrubbed her hands over her face and sighed again. "It's been a pretty long day."
Bakura Ryou gave her a sympathetic smile. "I know. Look, why don't you go in back and take a break? Malik and I will clean up, and we'll help anyone who comes in."
"We will?" Malik Ishtar said, looking like she was ready to protest.
"Yes, we will."
"I couldn't ask you guys to do that."
"You didn't, I offered. Go," Ryou said firmly, pointing towards the curtain that cordoned off the back room from the rest of the shop. "Malik and I might not have been doing this for as long as you, but I'm pretty sure we have the basic idea down by now."
"Yeah, after eight years of free labor," Malik muttered in resignation. The gold bracelets she was wearing clinked gently as she walked over to the nearest stand and began reorganizing. Yuugi hid a grin as she left the shop in the hands of her capable friends. Honestly, she had no idea what she would do without Ryou, Malik and Jou. She'd be willing to swear that the three of them were gifts straight from the gods themselves, because it seemed like one or all of them always showed up just when Yuugi needed them the most.
She found her grandfather in the kitchen, standing over the stove. He was humming softly as he poked at a large batch of his famous cheese omelets. The delicious smell made Yuugi's stomach growl, and Sugoroku glanced over at her. "Ah, Yuugi, there you are. I'm guessing that Malik-chan and Ryou-chan found you."
"And Ryou forcibly volunteered Malik to help, yes," Yuugi replied.
He smiled. "They're good girls," he said quietly, and Yuugi studied him for a few seconds without speaking. She knew that it bothered him that they had to rely on the help of Yuugi's friends to make the shop work. They couldn't afford to pay for extra help, and life would be so much easier if one of them had a partner monster to depend on. But Sugoroku's partner was far too big to be able to live with them all the time, and Yuugi... well, Yuugi didn't have one.
Well, actually that wasn't completely true. She supposed she must have a partner. Everyone did. But her partner monster had not manifested at her birth, and every year that went by without its appearance made it less likely that it would show up. Normally Yuugi tried not to let it bother her, and she did her best to ignore the often cruel comments made by people who did notice. It had become a little bit easier after she met Ryou and Malik, because they didn't have a partner either. Jou had one, but she'd never met it before and she wouldn't until she found her mate.
"I thought," Yuugi said reluctantly, because it was the only thing that she could think of that would help cheer him up a little, "I would go upstairs and work on the puzzle for a while."
His expression brightened so quickly that she wondered if she'd been had. "That sounds like an excellent idea, Yuugi. I know you're close to solving it."
"Yeah," she mumbled, heading up the stairs at a weary gait. The Millennium Puzzle. Just having it in her possession was just this side of illegal. Kaiba Corp had been searching for the Items for years, and rumor had it that Kaiba Gozaburo would be willing to pay big bucks to get his hands on the Puzzle especially. But Sugoroku had refused to even entertain the idea of passing it over to the authorities. He was convinced that Yuugi was the Pharaoh's Hikari, one of the light-based souls from the legend that would help the darkness to free the world from corruption.
Yuugi thought that was a load of crap. True, she had a small mark on her wrist that, if looked at in the right light, could be the eye of Ra. She always had it covered by a thick black band that she'd had for as long as she could remember, and only her friends had ever seen it. She'd been cautioned from the time she was young that she shouldn't show it to anyone else. But she was doubtful that it would turn out to be anything other than an odd birth mark - certainly it was like no mate mark she'd ever heard of - and she had even more doubts about her ability to solve the Puzzle.
"I hate working on this stupid thing," she groused under her breath as she entered her room. "Jii-chan's had me at it for the past four years and it hasn't made a bit of difference. It's the same thing every time - I get so far and then I have to stop and take it apart because I can't get any further. At this rate, Kaiba Corp can have it. Why not let it be their problem for a while?"
She threw herself down on her bed and stayed there for a minute, staring at the ceiling. Her complaints were unfounded, really. If anyone had actually tried to take the Puzzle, Yuugi would've fought tooth and nail to keep it. Frustrating though it might have been, working on the Puzzle was actually very relaxing. It focused her mind. When she was younger, before she'd met most of her friends, she used to come home after difficult days and hold the Puzzle in her arms. That was before Jii-chan agreed to let her try solving it, and all she could do was cry over the golden pieces and wish that things could be different.
Yuugi threw an arm across her eyes. Sometimes she still wished that things could be different. She wished that she could be the hikari from the legend and that the Pharaoh would be everything she had always dreamed of, that together the two of them would be able to save the world. More importantly, she would finally have someone who understood her, someone to make her feel whole. It was a wish that she had often thought about while she worked on the Puzzle: a secret that was just between her and an inanimate object - which actually said quite a lot about the state of her life when she thought about it.
And really, who was she kidding? That sort of thing only ever happened in movies, and besides it was common knowledge that the hikaris were male. It was just wishful thinking on both their parts, and she knew better than to ever let on to her grandfather that she'd let herself get even a little bit caught up in his stories. Yuugi was teased enough at school as it was. She really didn't need anything else that would make her stand out. Not for the first time, she told herself she would keep working on the Puzzle until, for whatever reason, she couldn't.
She sat up and reached under her bed, searching for the gold box that housed the pieces and finding it when a sharp corner pricked her finger. Wincing, she pulled it out and took the top off. A fairly large chunk of completed Puzzle stared up at her and she picked it up carefully. This was the farthest she'd gotten in a long time, and now she could actually see the shape that the Puzzle would take when it was completed: an upside down pyramid. The last piece she'd put in before falling asleep the night before had a metal loop attached where a cord could be strung through.
"Like I could wear it even if I do solve it," Yuugi said out loud, tracing the top thoughtfully. Supposedly only the Pharaoh's hikari could solve the Millennium Puzzle. So if she solved it, did that mean she was the hikari? Or, more likely, that part of the legend had wrong. Or, even more likely, the whole thing really was a load of crock that too many people had taken a bit too seriously.
She bent her head and picked up another piece, automatically turning it in all directions to see if there was a place where it might fit. Her hands had been doing this for so long that her mind was free to wander, and as it often did she began to think about her friends. Malik and Ryou had agreed to go visit that new amusement park with her later on, and Jou had said that she might join them depending on whether she had the money for it. They'd drag Jou along regardless, of course, no matter how much Jou hated what she called charity. It was never quite the same when the four of them weren't together.
After the park, they planned to have a sleep over at Yuugi's. In the morning, hopefully they would all know whether or not they'd been accepted to Kaiba Corp's Central Academy. It wasn't Central Academia, which was the school that Yuugi had always dreamed of attending, but it was the next best thing. She looked down at the Puzzle and smiled wryly. Sugoroku had promised her, once, that if she solved the Puzzle he would find a way to get her, Ryou, Malik and Jou into Central Academia. More wishful thinking, apparently her grandfather was a master at it.
"But… it would be so nice to solve you and get my wish," she whispered, holding up the chunk of completed Puzzle. Impulsively, she closed her eyes and kissed the chilled gold, which failed to warm even under the tender touch of her lips. That would never happen, but a girl could dream.
A/N: Serenity and Shizuka will be two different people.