A full week after Bakura had been arrested, and Yugi had still not found a way to return Atem to his true self. He'd described the problem as a magical "knot," like a thin necklace chain all tangled up. Correcting the issue would take time and patient effort. Both were commodities in short supply as he attempted to put his singed life back in order.
Fortunately, Atem's prolonged transformation did ofer one advantage: using his newfound access to Yugi's expertise, Atem had been working to restore Yugi's lost research notes. As compensation for his hard work—or, more likely, out of guilt—Yugi had promised to cancel all of his debt, and pay him a little extra, besides.
Atem bound up yet another ream of papers as Yugi sat on Atem's battered wood floor, scowling in concentration. Rachel, content and idle, squatted beside him in cotton pajamas. "Five down," Atem sighed, massaging his cramped writing hand. "Who knows how many left to go. Has anybody ever told you that you desperately need a hobby?"
Yugi's only response: "Mmph." His eyes were empty and stared dead ahead. Rachel flopped onto her side, resting her head in his lap; he absently began to stroke her hair.
Atem leaned back in his seat, looking sidelong at him. "Yugi," he began, taking on a more serious tone. "I was thinking. This spell you used to alter my mind: do you think it could be adapted to help Bakura?"
Yanked out of his thoughts, Yugi turned to face him. "Bakura?" he asked.
"If you can transform my brain to add your memories and instincts, why can't you transform Bakura's mind to dispose of his evil half? Or at least suppress it," Atem explained.
Yugi frowned pensively. "Huh," he murmured. "Probably nobody's ever tried it, either."
"I'm not sure if anyone else even knows that it's possible," Atem said.
"We'd have to figure out a way to keep the good Bakura intact, though. We'd probably need a complete brain mapping, or better yet, scans from before his accident…" Yugi's eyes started to fall out of focus again. He quickly shook himself alert, putting on a scowl. "Atem!" he whined. "Isn't one problem enough? It feels like my head about to combust."
Atem laughed softly. "Sorry," he said. "But to be fair, it was, in all likelihood, your idea." He tapped his forehead.
"Yeah, yeah. Hey, come here; I want to try again," Yugi told him.
Atem knelt down, careful not to disturb Rachel, who appeared to have fallen fast asleep. "Here goes," Yugi breathed. He grabbed Atem's hand, and a stinging feeling bit at Atem's flesh. That was a good sign, wasn't it? A long moment of silence passed, and Atem barely breathed, unwilling to let anything disrupt Yugi's concentration. "What's your name?" Yugi asked him at last.
"Atem," he answered. Then he blinked. There had been no conflict in his mind, no contradictory little whisper from a foreign voice. It… was working?
Yugi allowed himself a short-lived grin, clearly struggling to keep his hopes at bay. "How long will a half-liter aqueous human-to-fox potion affect a nineteen-year-old, seventy-kilogram male?"
"About…" Atem trailed off. He knew this. Didn't he know this? "Wonderful," he muttered, rubbing his temples. "Now I'm to be cursed with this tip-of-my-tongue feeling every time your work is brought up."
"Hah! Finally!" Yugi threw his arms around Atem, squashing Rachel between them; she squeaked and extracted herself, scampering away. As Yugi embraced him, Atem felt his body shift, reverting at long last to his scarred, callused, brown-skinned self.
He sighed, clutching his stomach—his own stomach—as if it were some sort of precious treasure. "If you ever catch me complaining about my appearance again," he said, "remind me of this moment." Though it had been only a fortnight since he'd last dwelt in his own skin, in retrospect, it felt more like months.
"I'm sure Téa will be happy to hear the good news," Yugi told him. "She looked kind of queasy when she found out there was a chance a piece of me could be stuck in your head for the rest of your life."
Téa. Atem fell onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. "She looked a bit queasy with the whole ordeal," he murmured. One she would have avoided altogether, had it not been for him. She might have run to embrace him the other day, in the heat of the moment, but now that she'd had a while to think, he was probably the last person she wanted to see.
Yugi cast him a dull-eyed stare. "Atem, don't," he said. The severity in his tone was unprecedented and so startling that Atem sat straight up. "Do you know why she came to my house that day?" Yugi asked. "She came because she cared so much about you that she was terrified something would drive you apart. Something like this. Now, if it were just your feelings at stake, I'd let you sit there and guilt trip yourself as much as you wanted—"
"Guilt trip!" Atem exclaimed. "You act as though I shouldn't feel sorry, when…" When all of this could have been averted, if he'd only been a little quicker with the chains.
"You're not the only one you're punishing this time," Yugi told him quietly. Then crossed his arms, back straight as a board. "And that's why you're going to get your butt up off this floor and go let her know what's happened. And no, you can't borrow the ring!" he said, as soon as Atem opened his mouth. "You're just using that thing to kill the mood, at this point, so don't pretend you're doing it to act all chivalrous."
Atem scowled. He hadn't been scolded like that since he'd been a boy. It smarted. "You know, you can be very mean when you get going," he stated. But he threw up his hands, and deep down, he had to admit Yugi had a point. "Fine—I'm leaving. Kicked out of my own home by a pair of squatters, head hung in defeat."
Rising, he stepped outside and paused a moment to let the sun fall on his face. He'd gotten his very first sunburn while stuck in Yugi's form, and hesitant to repeat the experience, he'd spent most of the past week indoors. It felt good to be himself again, to stand in the light, and to be free of the sneaking worry that he'd never regain his own body. Even so… he wasn't ready to say he'd never transform again. After all, he still hadn't gotten the chance to do anything interesting—run like a horse, jump like a deer, soar across the open sky like an eagle.
Despite Yugi's assurance that Téa would be eager to see him, Atem was weak with anxiety when he showed up on her stoop. He tapped his knuckles so lightly against her door that almost no sound was produced. Oh well. Guess she wasn't home. He spun around and started to jog away.
He hadn't made it ten feet before a voice called out, "Atem?" Wincing, he turned; Téa was leaning out her kitchen window, grinning at him. "Yugi changed you back!"
He forced his face into a smile. "Yes," he agreed. "Anyway, I just wanted to let you know—"
"Atem, wait!" Forsaking the front door, she clambered out the window and nabbed him before he was able to bolt. "We haven't really had a chance to talk since… well, you know."
"I'd hoped to give you space," Atem admitted. "Between what happened with Bakura and what happened to me, I thought…"
"What? That I'd be traumatized and blame the whole thing on you?" Téa asked, standing akimbo and smirking. Atem glanced away, and she dropped her arms. "Atem, I'm not made of glass. As you've probably figured out over the past few weeks, most girls aren't."
"What Bakura did to you wouldn't be easy for anyone to bear, male or female," Atem told her.
"What Bakura did to me was the exactly the same thing he did to Tristan. And he tried to kill Yugi. I don't see you walking on eggshells around them," Téa retorted.
"That's not because they're men," he said.
Atem remembered what Yugi had said to him, how Téa's affection for him had given way to fear. As he stood before her, refusing to make eye contact, he realized his feelings were little different. "If Tristan or even Yugi became angry with me… I could handle it," he said. "I could believe we'd eventually make up, because we always make up. But this… whatever it is we have, it… it feels fragile."
Téa exhaled and lowered her head. "I know what you mean," she said. "But have you ever noticed that the most valuable things usually are?"
"Not diamonds," he pointed out.
Smiling softly, Téa stepped forward and brushed a hand against his cheek. The sensation of her touch was so powerful, so electric, that he shuddered. "You know what I think?" she asked him. "I think, whatever fragile thing we have—if we're patient, and we're careful, we could turn it into something like a diamond."
"Very patient," Atem commented somewhat dryly. "Diamonds require hundreds of millions of years to form, you know."
"I can wait." Her smile took on a mischievous air. "You know what else diamonds require."
"A little heat."
She pulled him forward, pressing her soft lips against his own. He froze, every muscle in his body seizing up—and then let out a faint moan of pleasure as he slipped his hands around her waist, exploring her subtle curves. Heaven, the warmth that flooded his body could have set him alight, and his heart beat so hard he feared he might faint…
Slowly, she withdrew; he leaned in toward her for one last moment of contact before they parted. Lowering her hands to hold his, she let out a giddy laugh. "That was your first kiss, wasn't it?" she asked, looking up at him.
Atem flushed. "Was it that obvious?" he asked her.
"It was like kissing a statue!" she teased. Atem chuckled, rubbing at the back of his neck. "But I think you'll do just fine with a little practice." She turned, leading him by the hand into her house.
"What are you doing?" Atem asked, staggering along behind her.
She batted an eye in a suggestive wink. "Starting your first lesson."
Hey guys! Shout-outs to everybody who's stuck with me until the end! Your comments have been very encouraging to me. I hope you've enjoyed reading half as much as I've enjoyed writing.
If any of you have developed a taste for gender transformation fiction or for Fem!Atem, you may want to stay tuned for my upcoming fluff piece Fool's Wager. After Yugi discovers he had the ability to change the sex of others, Tea challenges Atem to a bet: stay female for one solid month and she'll buy him all the ice cream he can stomach. Lose, and he'll be forced to dance ballet with her at the school talent show. Atem accepts, severely underestimating how much the change will affect both him and his friends.