Chapter 1: on zexal, seafood hair, girls, and milk
Yugi tilted his head. "It seems all right, I suppose…"
Atem, whose eyebrows had lifted high enough to hide beneath his bangs, said, "I don't understand. Why doesn't this new spirit wear trousers?"
"I think he's from another universe, Atem. Maybe they have different fashion sense there." Yugi leaned back in his chair, squinting his eyes at the ending credits of first episode of the latest spin-off. "I mean, if you had appeared to me wearing Ancient Egyptian garb, I wouldn't have known what to think, either."
"You'd be thinking 'Damn, I sure am a lucky young man,' certainly."
Yugi ignored that and clicked to enlarge some screen captures of the episode. A large photo of Yuma Tsukumo expanded to fill the entire screen.
"This kid looks like he belongs in Beyblade." Atem sniffed in distaste at the thirteen-year-old. "And why does he shout 'cat bingo' all the time?"
"Kattobingu," Yugi corrected. "It means 'pop flying.' It's his catchphrase."
"What the hell is 'pop flying' supposed to mean?"
"I don't know. What does 'it's time to D-D-D-D-DUEL!' mean aside from the fact that somebody has a very bad stuttering problem?"
This did not receive an answer.
Yugi smiled to himself. They were on the living room computer in the apartment they shared with two of their friends. It wasn't a completely comfortable system, living with the other protagonists in the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise, but they managed just the same. Despite his griping about Yusei making loud noises while banging around in the garage late at night and Judai's never-ending appetite that was sure to give Jounouchi's mouth a run for its money, Yugi knew Atem enjoyed their company and wouldn't hesitate to call himself happy in this arrangement.
Besides, their room was covered in hair products, video games, and trading cards, and on the walls were painted hieroglyphics he had done himself. Yugi knew Atem didn't really have any right to complain.
Yugi closed out of the picture with Yuuma, moving his cursor over to blow up an image of the mysterious spirit that had appeared at the end of the episode. His body was silvery blue, shining, with blue jewels embedded in his skin and yellow eyes.
Atem's hand was suddenly on the back of Yugi's chair, his face pushed forward in an attempt to see the screen better. Yugi, startled and confused, looked between the pharaoh and the screen.
"Atem, what – "
"I want those earrings," Atem declared. "I don't care if they're chrome. Where do you think I might get them?"
"I have no idea," Yugi answered, rubbing his neck. "I mean, they're probably from another dimension or something, right?"
"Mmm." He tilted his head. "You know, I still don't understand how the key fixed itself," he said. "The door said he had to sacrifice something 'cherished' to get a 'great power.' The key is obviously the 'cherished' thing he gave up, since it was broken by that Ursula-haired fellow. How did it get fixed?"
"Magic?" Yugi guessed, deciding not to ask how the pharaoh had learned who Ursula was. "Maybe the writers got lazy. Or maybe we'll find out later. I mean, it's only the first episode. I'm curious to find out more about this silvery spirit guy."
"He seems all right, I suppose," Atem said. "Though I don't understand why Yuma was upset about his appearance. If I was a mediocre duelist and a great gamer that was willing to help me win my game against my rival suddenly dropped into my lap, I wouldn't be asking questions."
"That's right," Yugi said, grinning. "Life can't be so bad when you have a mystical necklace that serves as your spiritual connection to a mysterious young man that floats around beside you everywhere offering advice on duels. I mean, he'd be ridiculous to be confused about that."
"Thin ice, aibou."
"You have to admit it's ironic."
"The writers are getting lazy, is all." Atem sat back in his own chair. "I'm willing to wait to reserve judgment. I want to learn more."
"Me, too." Yugi shrugged a shoulder. "I like the opening song, though. Catchy."
"Ours was better."
"Of course it was."
"What was better?"
The pair turned. Yusei and Judai were standing in the doorway holding grocery bags. They walked into the room and Judai peered over Yugi's shoulder at the computer screen.
"Oh, that's the new Zexal show, right?" He blinked. "Did I say that wrong? Zeek-shal?"
"Ze-al. Don't pronounce the X," Yusei said. He turned to Yugi. "You two watched the first episode? How was it?"
"They keep coming up with new gimmicks to make the game more interesting," Atem complained, frowning. "Should've kept it as it is. I think the game was just fine by itself. Like Pokémon. After a while, all the new monsters just get ridiculous."
"But the new generations can be rather fun, too, if you give them a chance," Yugi said.
"What do you think they'll try next?" Judai asked. "Time travel?"
"Done," Yugi said. "Remember Paradox?"
"Well – vaguely," Judai responded, sheepish. "I think Yusei remembers that better than we do. I mean, it was an alternate time zone thing, right? Paradox crashed through my neck of the woods on his way to yours. He did more damage in your times than he did in mine, and I never was good with understanding how the whole time travel thing works anyway, so…"
"They have yet to do dueling in outer space," Yusei said. "Or competitive dancing."
"Anzu would like that."
"They'll have to really impress me with this fourth series to make me even consider studying any of the latest cards," Atem sniffed. "After three thousand years, I'm sick of these adolescents declaring they're qualified enough to become the next champion despite never once having beaten me or Yugi."
Yusei looked a bit perplexed at the pharaoh's hostile attitude. Judai blinked.
"Don't mind him," Yugi said. "He's just upset that his theory for the fourth show was wrong."
"I thought," Atem said, teeth clenched, "that the new show was going to star the four of us. We would've had adventures in Domino, perhaps, or Egypt. They could do much better with their older characters rather than making up countless new ones with recycled designs."
"That's an idea I could get behind," Yusei said, sounding impressed.
"I think they're just looking for an excuse to try out new hair ideas," Judai said, and turned to Yugi. "The new kid is following the seafood hair tradition, right?"
Yusei blinked. "Seafood hair?"
"Oh, sorry, I don't think you were here when we came up with that," Yugi said. "You had just started 5D's and we were talking about how the artists love giving us hair inspired by sea creatures. Starfish, jellyfish, crab. Looks like poor Yuma's design was modeled after a lionfish."
"That might get in the way of his eyepiece," Atem said. At the others' confused looks, he explained, "That's the new idea. They wear these eyepieces that let them see the holograms in a virtual world."
"I dunno if that'll fly with the general public," Judai said, sounding unsure. "I mean, aren't we getting a little too far into the future? A lot of this is technology most of us can't relate to. It might not be as popular as they think."
"Well, we all thought card games on motorcycles was going to bomb, too, didn't we?" Yugi pointed out, smiling. "That turned out pretty good."
Yusei cracked the tiniest hint of a smile.
"So what're you going to do now that 5D's is done?" Atem asked him.
Yusei shrugged and rested his bags on the floor with a sigh, rolling his shoulders back. "I'm not sure," he said, looking thoughtfully out the window. "I'm probably just going to keep working on the latest energy reactor project for New Domino."
"No more dueling?"
"I'm sure I'll keep it up as a pastime, but for now, I'll put it on the side," he said. "I can always pick it back up later. My D-Wheel will wait."
"Never thought I'd hear a duel champion say that," Judai joked. "I thought you were going to say you were working on making your motorcycle faster. Or running for elected office." He tossed his bags onto the couch and flopped down next to them, stretching. "Man, when are we going to have any girls living here?" he asked, frowning a bit at the ceiling. "Not that you guys aren't great, but too much testosterone gets to me, y'know?"
"The show is called 'Yu-Gi-Oh,'" Atem reminded him. "It means 'Game King.' If you're waiting for a girl protagonist, I wouldn't hold my breath."
Judai's frown deepened and he scuffed the carpet with the tip of his shoe.
"What's in there?" Yugi asked, motioning toward the shopping bags quickly enough to distract Atem from complaining about Judai potentially messing up his floor.
"Milk, of course," Judai said. "Yusei noticed that we had run out this morning and dragged me down to the mart with him to carry all of it back."
Yusei glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "Mm. Well. I'm headed down to the garage again. Need to work on my bike." He picked up the bags and carried them out of the living room.
Judai grinned. "I'd better follow him, make sure he doesn't hurt himself." He got up as well, taking his own bags, and followed Yusei into the kitchen, putting the cartons in the fridge before the two of them headed out the front door and down the stairs to the driveway.
"What's with his milk obsession, anyway?" Atem asked.
"…It's good for you?" Yugi said weakly. "I don't know. It's just something he does. Besides, you're one to talk, anyway," he teased. "Compulsively reorganizing your card collection and that fetish with leather–"
"The ice just cracked, aibou."
Chapter 2: on the internet and online scams
By the time the laptop overheated underneath his fingertips and shut down with a blinking red light and a faint whizzing sound, Atem knew he was screwed.
And okay, so excluding Duel Disks, he technically wasn't allowed to touch any modern electronics (no televisions, no MP3 players, no telephones, and definitely not anything in the kitchen) without Yugi or Yusei there to supervise. But Atem figured, since Yusei was out with Jack and Crow for the day, and asking Yugi would pretty much make the whole 'surprise' element of the thing pointless…
He was just trying to pull in a few online orders for Yugi's birthday. The new Pokémon Black and White games were out, both of which had been generously given to Yugi by Mokuba Kaiba through KCorp's connections with the distributing company. Unfortunately, Judai had been playing on Yugi's DS down in the garage last week and left it lying on the floor, and when Yusei started up his motorcycle… well, it's hard to see a tiny black rectangle when you're rushing out of the building at sixty miles per hour on a fast red blur of a motorbike.
So the pharaoh was going to get his partner an early birthday present and buy Yugi a new DS. He decided to use the funds Ishizu had given him, ones that she received from the Egyptian government for her "discovery" of the No-Longer-Nameless Pharaoh's name. It was the first time he was digging into them since she had signed the check, since he usually preferred to piggyback off of Yugi's bank accounts for his leather and jewelry (which, despite Yugi's complaints, were definitely not that expensive, okay, at least not compared to the gold jewelry he used to wear when he was king). And he was quite proud of himself for using money that was legally his, not his partner's or his family's, for the first time in history. Even if he hadn't earned it himself. It was the thought that counts.
And then the computer died. And it definitely wasn't his fault.
And he definitely didn't want to call Kaiba for help.
Was it truly his fault, really? He was just minding his own business, making his online purchases (he'd also decided to get Yugi some of the new Pokémon booster packs, even though he didn't play that card game as much as Duel Monsters), and even though he'd accidentally added an extra '0' onto his purchase, ordering 100 packs instead of just 10, he thought he'd been doing a pretty good job of not screwing anything up yet.
But Yusei had to have left his milk bottle on the edge of the desk, and when Atem had reached for a piece of paper and pencil to write down his order for personal records, he'd accidentally spilled it all over the laptop. And though the thing had hissed at him for a few seconds, it seemed relatively all right, but he wasn't taking any chances.
So he'd gone to Google (see, Yugi, he did know how to look for stuff online) and typed in "I spilled milk on my laptop," raised his eyebrows at how many other people had also asked the same question based on how the search engine filled in his question for him, and clicked a link that claimed it would not only fix his current problem, but also recognize and eliminate any other problems he had. And then something had popped up with bright text and flashing lights claiming he had won some big prize for being the thousandth viewer on the website. And it didn't seem all that harmless. So he said yes.
And now this.
He grit his teeth and picked up the nearby phone – make that two electronics he was using without permission, make another mark in his little black book – and punched in Kaiba's number, praying that he wouldn't be there.
The CEO picked up after the first ring. "Kaiba."
"You keep this between us, understand?" Atem growled into the phone. "It doesn't leave this phone call. I don't want you nagging on me for it, and definitely don't want it mentioned to any of the others – "
"Shut up and tell me what you want," Kaiba snapped at him. "Unlike you, I don't have all the time in the world to fool around in my apartment with my Yu-Gi-Oh protagonist bosom buddies. Get to the point or get out of my life."
"I think I fucked up a laptop. How do you fix it?"
An impatient sigh. "What did you do?"
His ego a bit bruised (Why did he have to call Kaiba? By Set's teeth, why hadn't he just called Rebecca, or even Mokuba, or that Bruno guy?), he explained what he had been trying to do and the trouble that had arisen from his completely innocent and well-meaning intentions.
Atem could hear something that sounded like a strangled sort of laugh coming from the other line. "And you want me to what, fix it with my magic powers?"
"I want you to fix this with your efficient technological capabilities and quick work." It was killing him, this flattery, but it was true. He paused. "Emphasis on 'quick.' Before Yugi comes home from the arcade."
"Is it possible that I could pass this off as an inevitable occurrence that isn't my fault? Maybe it broke itself."
"I doubt it," Kaiba said, and Atem could practically hear the smirk in his voice. "I'd sure be suspicious if I left my laptop at home with its full, working battery and a three-thousand-year-old technologically inept pharaoh and came back to said pharaoh suddenly claiming that the now fizzing and indisputably dead laptop 'broke itself.'"
"All right," Atem growled. "It's my fault. Now tell me what to do before I reach though the phone and strangle you with this cord."
"You still use phones with cords? You're worse than I thought."
The laptop Yugi saw laying on the desk when he arrived home that night was definitely not the one he'd left there that morning.
And Atem was nowhere to be found – but that's not plausible anyway, because Atem definitely wouldn't buy anything with a KaibaCorp logo on it and definitely wasn't tech-savvy enough to be able to order one by himself in the first place.
He frowned. He was pretty sure he'd left instructions for the pharaoh on how, if he found himself using the laptop, phone, microwave, television, oven, or any other modern-day equipment that required button-pushing or a greater knowledge of how to handle the technology, to press the 'off' button, put it where he'd found it, and walk away.
Speak of the devil.
"Home so soon, aibou?" Atem strolled into the living room, bracelets and silver clanking as they dangled on his wrist and from his belts. "Thought you wouldn't be back until late."
"The arcade got kind of crowded when someone recognized me," Yugi said. "I ducked out of there and came home before people started grabbing locks of my hair. Do you know where my laptop is?"
Atem's hand did this weird twitch as he pointed toward the new one sitting on the desk. "This is your new one, aibou."
Yugi stared. "Okay. Um. But what happened to the old one? I mean, it has all my files and music and stuff in the computer…"
Atem frowned. "In the computer? You mean you need to break it open to get these things?"
"No, I mean they're on the hard drive. They're files programmed into the laptop that I can pull up to use whenever I want. Where did it go?"
Atem's face went the tiniest bit paler before he cleared his throat and said, "Well. I wasn't aware – "
"Did you do something to my computer, Atem?"
"First off," he said too quickly to be innocent, "I had good intentions. Second off, your laptop was getting kind of old anyway. And third – "
"Other me, what did you do?"
"I spilled Yusei's milk on it," he said miserably. "And then I think I downloaded a horse."
"Yeah, a wooden horse." Atem glared at the new KCorp laptop and jammed his fists into his pockets. "Like the Greeks. When they hid inside the horse to capture a city… I'm not really sure how it works, but that's how Kaiba explained it."
"You mean a Trojan?" Yugi's voice was rising, his pulse quickening, and then he stopped talking when he realized what he'd said. "Wait. What were you doing talking to Kaiba?"
"He told me the only way to fix it was to get a new KCorp laptop. So I got it as… an early birthday present for you. Your old one's in the garage."
Yugi didn't like the new KCorp laptops, didn't want one, and certainly didn't need one. But Atem's gesture, while poorly executed, had been done with good intentions. And he couldn't ignore how Atem had gone to Kaiba for help, because that certainly must have been painful for the pharaoh to even consider.
"…Thanks, other me. I – er – appreciate it, I do. But…" Yugi moved over to the new, shinier laptop sitting on his desk. "If there's any way to repair what happened to the old one, I'd really like to do it, because I have my stuff on there…" He opened the top of the new one, looking at its elegant keyboard and shiny mouse tray – and blinked as the thing jumped out of hibernation at his touch. A trilling sound started as the computer awakened from sleep, and Yugi turned to Atem, startled. "You bought the thing when it was turned on?"
Atem, looking as clueless and miserable as ever, didn't respond.
"Atem, I think we're going to have to add some new rules for you when you're alone with technology – "
The CD drive suddenly popped open, and Yugi noticed something hidden inside it. He picked it up: it was an installation disk for an expensive anti-malware program. A sticky note was attached, with neat writing in black ink.
The software program was put on your bill, too. Instructions are in a file on the desktop. You're welcome.
Chapter 3: on card games and motorcycles
Atem decided to ask during the tennis match.
Judai loved watching the sport, even though he admitted he wasn't very good at it. He had pulled Yugi onto the couch and persuaded him into staying with a bowl of popcorn and an array of sodas that Judai had been stocking for precisely this event.
There was no way he could ask Judai. The risk of embarrassment was too high for him to even consider. And Yugi… well, his aibou was as clueless as he was on the subject, and likely had no desire to learn. But Atem was the King of Games – well, sort of, because he pretty much shared the title with Yugi, but as far as he was concerned he was still a king, so that counted for something – and that included allgames. Even stupid ones. Even this.
So while Judai and his aibou were distracted by the television set upstairs, Atem snuck down to the garage to finally ask Yusei his burning question.
Like he had suspected, Atem saw Yusei's legs first, sticking out from underneath his motorcycle with his head hidden beneath the engine. He was lying on Judai's skateboard to wheel himself out from underneath the vehicle when he needed to grab a wrench or screw or whatever else was in that toolbox near his knee. Atem hadn't bothered trying to remember all of the gizmos and gadgets they stored inside that chest, but he recognized a screwdriver, which he often used to change the batteries of Yugi's and Judai's video games. He was also vaguely familiar with wrenches because that was the object that Bakura had threatened to shove through his head on several occasions.
He was quiet as he made his way down the stairs, still uncertain how Yusei would react to his request. It wasn't until he cleared his throat and Yusei jumped, a loud bang resulting from the impact of his head hitting the underside of the engine, that he realized that, perhaps, he shouldn't have decided to ask when Yusei was with a lot of dangerous machinery in a position that could turn painful with the slightest startling.
A long string of muttered curses came from underneath the motorcycle as Yusei rolled out from underneath it, clutching his head with a wrench in one hand. He groaned, eyes shut tight, and asked in a hoarse voice, "What? Who is it?"
"It's me, Yusei," Atem answered. "Atem." Then, feeling a bit guilty, he tried to do what Yugi would have done. "I apologize, I didn't meant to startle you. Would you like me to get you some ice?"
"That – would be great." Yusei dropped the wrench, aiming for the toolbox and missing by a few inches. He rubbed his forehead with both hands.
Atem headed to the other side of the room to the large sink that they kept for Yusei to wash his tools and machinery free from the grime, dirt, and exhaust that came with his bike. He wet a clean rag with cool water and reached down into a small mini-fridge below the counter (Judai had absolutely insisted that they install one in practically every room when he had moved in after wrapping up GX) and gathered some ice cubes inside the towel.
"You're really quiet when you come into a room," Yusei said when he had handed it to him.
"I apologize. I'm sneakier than I give myself credit for."
Yusei smiled at that, but then winced as he pressed the ice to the tender injury on his forehead. "Well, what can I help you with?"
Atem paused, suddenly not feeling so sure about the whole thing now that he had caused the other pain and so very nearly avoided a major accident. "I have a request. Though if you are preoccupied, I can come back later, or perhaps…"
"No, it's fine," Yusei said. "I'm just trying to crank the motor over a few times before putting some new plugs back in. I noticed the engine was wet while I was out dueling yesterday and it turns out the thing flooded. But I think I'm gonna have to check the oil too, because it might have gotten gas down there… I may just reroute the entire oil tank, though that'd take ages…"
Atem had no idea what he was talking about, but thought perhaps it was time to make him stop.
"If you are busy, I can come back later," he said again.
"No, really, it's fine," Yusei said, standing up and walking over to sit in an old lawn chair, still holding the ice to his crown. "Sorry, I tend to go on a bit about my bike. Really, what can I do for you?"
"Actually," Atem said before he could stop himself, "I came to you because of your bike. Rather, because of D-Wheels in general."
Yusei raised his eyebrows, though half of one was hidden behind the rag.
"I'd like" – God, was he really doing this? – "to learn how to Turbo Duel. Please."
A moment's silence. Yusei was looking at him oddly, as if he wasn't quite sure what to make of him. Atem was seriously considering revoking the request and excusing himself to go sulk in his room when Yusei finally spoke.
"Oh," he said. "Sorry, that was just a bit unexpected. Um. Sure, yeah. I can do that."
Atem blinked. He hadn't expected him to agree so quickly. He had prepared himself for "Er, sorry, Atem, I don't know if I have time right now" or "I thought you were kind of busy with your standard duels to learn all the other extensions," or perhaps "I thought you said the whole idea of 'card games on motorcycles' was 'imbecilic and unrealistic fantasies crafted as a result of the media's obsession with vehicles for young women to admire and follow blindly purely for the sake of the latest bandwagon featuring men wearing tight jumpsuits.'"
And yeah, okay, he had said that once upon a time. But things were different now. This was a Challenge, and he didn't back down from anything, but that wasn't the only thing. He respected the game. Observing Yusei's various duels with Jack Atlas, Rex Goodwin, and Z-one had given him ideas for new strategies, monsters to familiarize himself with, and a whole different game field to play. It was new and difficult and utterly fascinating.
But he didn't understand for the life of him how to work a motorcycle.
"Really," he said, "you'll teach me?"
"Um." Yusei wiped his hands on his pants, smearing his trousers with splotches of oil. "Well. Yeah, I will. But I think I should teach you how to drive a simple car, first."
The vehicle jerked to a stop inches from the curb, landing in a skewed, though ultimately acceptable, parallel park between a large red mini-van and black Toyota.
"Well, you're better than Judai when he first started driving," Yusei said. "Has Yugi been teaching you?"
Atem didn't feel this was the right time to admit he had been taking Anzu's car out to drive without permission for months to go to the local Men's Wearhouse for resupplies of leather trousers and silver jewelry. "A little bit."
"Hm." Yusei watched some pedestrians wander in and out of the strip mall. "Have you ever done the highway? When you're on a bike you'll be going at least sixty miles per hour – and that's on the slower tracks. If you feel comfortable driving that fast in a car, then maybe I can ease you into the speed of a motorcycle sooner."
Atem had never touched a highway, and to be honest, he was a bit uncertain as to what one was in the first place. "Perhaps I should practice on faster lanes before trying," he agreed. "Though I have some questions about the speed of Turbo Duels before I do so, if you don't mind."
"What is it?"
Atem turned off the car and watched as a D-Wheel flew by his side, the wind ruffling his hair through the open window. "I don't understand how the cards stay on while you're driving," he said. "Don't they fly off?"
Yusei reached into his jacked it and took out his deck. Flipping out a few cards, he showed them to Atem, who noticed a tiny white strip running along the edges upon close inspection.
"Adhesive," Yusei answered. "Tiny, but powerful. And it's not like normal Scotch or anything, 'cause this is designed to only stick to similar bands of tape on my D-Wheel and Duel Disk."
"Oh." To Atem, it seemed a lot more complicated and high-tech than his own Duel Disk, which had only tiny slits for its user to slide the card's edges into and pray for it to stay in place. "That's clever."
"Yeah," Yusei said. "They keep coming up with new ideas and ways to up the last generation. It's insane to stay on top of it all."
"And now – what're they called – D-Gazers? I don't get it," he said, shaking his head. "I don't get how you keep up with it."
Atem was silent.
"It's strange how quick they are to jump to another protagonist, like they're done with us. They announced Zexal before I was even done." He paused. "I mean, Yuma's great," he said quickly, reassuring. "I do like him, really, and I'm not trying to sound like those hardcore fans that immediately reject any new material – "
"I understand," Atem said quietly, "completely."
Yusei looked at him. "Yeah?"
"Yes," he said. "And I fear I am guilty of that immediate harsh judgment you have just addressed." He gripped the steering wheel a bit harder than necessary, looking at his hands. "We are all duelists. We are each extraordinary in our own right. We all have a story worth telling."
"Yeah," Yusei said. "And maybe some people will reject that, though I guess I have to learn to respectfully accept that, but it goes both ways. I mean, I was just saying… I admire how willing you are to learn this new game even though it kind of tried to replace the one you love. Of course, I love Turbo Dueling – well, you know that – and I'm honored you would ask me to learn. So – yeah," he finished.
Atem, never one for rejecting or ignoring a compliment, nodded his head in gratitude. "Thank you. I would ask no one else. I found your talent and bravery remarkable in your own duels."
Yusei blinked. "You watched 5D's?"
"Not… at first. But yes, I eventually came around to the idea. Yugi can be very persuasive." And watching Judai glue his eyes to the television during every new 5D's episode had reminded Atem of how he had first rejected Judai's story before coming to accept him, too.
"Well. Even if it was under persuasion," Yusei said, smiling. "I'm flattered. The King of Games, watching my show. I mean – wow."
This, more than anything, warmed him. In that hot, sticky car, with the air conditioning blasting and radio crackling, Atem was suddenly reminded of the letter Yusei had sent to their apartment when 5D's first started that was now stuck to their refrigerator. Yusei had addressed all three of them, saying he admired Yugi for his strength and compassion, telling Judai how he just couldn't wait to meet him, and leaving Atem a full paragraph on how much he looked up to him. For sticking through those agonizing years in the Puzzle, going through the Hell he had for Yugi, and, finally, the bravery in his last few minutes, that last duel, the final decision Atem and his aibou had made together in the series. I'll never forget that duel, Yusei had written on an old, yellowing piece of paper he had scavenged for in the Satellite – the best he could do, back then. It changed everything I thought I knew about dueling. The game isn't about winning. It's about trusting yourself and knowing how to make the right decision. Even if it doesn't turn out how you may want, you have to believe in your deck and trust that your cards will take you where you need to go, in the end. Thank you for teaching me that.
That had been years ago. Yusei had still been a kid, star-struck, likely caught up in the moment of being chosen to star in the next Yu-Gi-Oh franchise. But still.
"Of course," Atem said now, smiling. "Anything for a friend."
Yusei, who had been staring at the sidewalk outside his window and rubbing the small bump on his forehead, looked up at him with this last word. Then suddenly, remarkably, he smiled. "Okay, yeah. Right."
Atem reached for the keys. "I think I'm ready to try the highway."
"All right," Yusei said, glancing back at the oncoming traffic. "Wait until these last few cars to pass you, and then turn on your signal and merge. You know how to do that, right?"
Not quite, but he tried, and Yusei was patient with him throughout the entire twenty minutes it took for him to learn what a turn signal was and why he had to use it. At the end of it, when Atem successfully managed to escape the confining space he had parked in and was cruising the car along the boulevard, Yusei directed him toward the nearest interstate.
"You know, Yuma sent you a present," Yusei said, then paused. "He said it was for your birthday but I think he just said that so you would watch his show, since I guess he didn't realize that even you don't know when your birthday is, but…"
Atem chuckled. "I'll see what it is. Someone should inform him that there is no need to bribe me with gifts, however. I've been watching it regardless."
"Have you? I still need to catch up."
Atem had the "Yugi made me" excuse ready on his tongue, but decided instead to be a bit more honest. "I find it interesting. A bit hard to get into, but interesting."
"How is the rival?"
"Shark? He's an asshole."
"What about those D-Gazer things?"
"A bit of an amateur idea, but I enjoy the graphics. Overall, I think it has strong potential. I like what I've seen thus far."
"And you're not just saying that?"
Atem chuckled, pulling onto the highway. "No, Yusei. Never."
Chapter 4: on harry potter and midnight premieres
At the time of this posting, it's Wednesday, July 13, 2011, a day before the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. I am a Potterhead. I am a very big Potterhead. I don't mean to make fun of other Harry Potter fans in this chapter. I don't mean to make final decisions as to which Hogwarts house the Yu-Gi-Oh characters belong in, and the results here are not what I'd ultimately choose for most of these four boys, though I tried to make it funny by seeing what Judai thought. I don't even know if Judai would be the right age to be a fan. I just really, really love Harry Potter.
Judai was a Harry Potter fan. Judai was a very big Harry Potter fan. The discovery of this had come a month before the final movie's release, when he barged into the kitchen asking, "So which cinema should I buy us tickets for?"
Atem didn't bother looking up from his video game, muttering "Dammit, Kirby, jump." Yugi turned from the fridge and Yusei glanced at Judai from his newspaper, brows furrowing. "For what?" he asked.
There was a beautiful thirty-second silence in which Judai stared at Yusei, mouth partly open in shock, and Atem's interest had been caught enough to lift his head from Kirby's adventures on his Gameboy and raise an eyebrow.
"I assume you're in shock from the fact that it's nearly noon and Yusei has yet to pick up a glass of milk," the pharaoh commented idly before turning back to the game. "I was surprised, too."
"What I'm surprised at is that you guys aren't as shocked as I am, since we've just discovered that Yusei doesn't know what I'm even talking about." Judai shook his head, closing his eyes and pressing a hand to his head. "Oh, my god. Okay. I'm just going to close my eyes and when I open them in ten seconds, I'm going to expect you all to be as excited as you should be in regards to the fact that movie tickets just became available online today. Okay."
"Excited about what?" Yugi asked.
"Don't talk like that," Judai said. "Don't even pretend you don't know the end of our childhoods isn't coming to end."
"Is Spongebob getting canceled?"
"Seriously, Judai, tell us what's going on."
"Okay." Judai opened his eyes – five seconds early – and slammed his hands down on the table, rattling Atem's glass of orange juice. "Harry Potter is what I'm talking about. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is coming out. Harry Potter is my childhood. Harry Potter is on the home stretch of its ten-plus years, after seven books and eight movies and a bajillion copies sold worldwide. Harry Potter is going up against the most evil wizard of all time in a kick-ass, awe-inspiring, absolutely devastating battle at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in which he will lose his friends, his home, and possibly his life – though you'd know this if you read the books, but I won't spoil it for you guys since I know you don't like to read, Atem – and all of this is happening in one month and you don't know what I'm talking about?"
Atem didn't think this was a good time to mention that he wasn't even all that certain who Harry Potter was in the first place, but he paused the game and set it down on the table.
"Well," Yugi said, "if you're looking for someone to go see it with, Judai, I'd love to."
Judai shook his head. "That's just it. I kind of assumed we'd all want to go, you know, like as a group. We could dress up in costumes and bring wands and camp out there and eat food and talk to other people – I think the theatre down at the plaza is going to have a band – "
"What sort of band would play at a Harry Potter movie premiere?" Atem asked.
"Wizard rock bands," Judai answered immediately. "You guys. I have so much to teach you about midnight premieres. I know I should be upset that you haven't even considered going, but – oh my god, I'm going to make you see the light. It's going to be great. I'll be right back."
He rushed out of the room suddenly, leaving his three housemates staring after him.
"Okay," Yusei said, "I'll say it. I'm not really even sure what Harry Potter is all about. Please tell me I'm not the only one."
"It's a book-series-turned-movie-franchise written by this English woman," Yugi supplied. "They're an international phenomenon, really, and even that seems like an understatement. Essentially, Harry Potter is a boy wizard that gets invited to go to a magic school, called Hogwarts. He makes friends and goes to classes and everything, but he discovers there that he's actually famous in the Wizarding world and there's a dark wizard out to destroy him. Harry spends seven books trying not to get killed by him and a bunch of other stuff, and in this last movie it's kind of like this big, final confrontation between the two."
"Aibou, have you read them?"
"Yeah. I mean, they were technically aimed at younger audiences – I was like ten years older than the ages they were written for – but I think anybody at any age can enjoy them, really. Judai was in the Potter generation, though, so I'm not surprised he's really excited about this." He paused. "Look, I know you guys probably don't want to because it's not a big deal to you, I understand, but I'm going to go."
"I just want to know a bit more of what it's about," Yusei said, putting down his newspaper at last. "I didn't really have much of a chance to read in the Satellite, and all. But I'll go. Why not."
Yugi looked to Atem.
The pharaoh frowned. Spending hours in a dark movie theatre with a bunch of rabid fans freaking out about some boy wizard battling a big baddie was not his idea of a good time. "Aibou, how do you even know the film's going to even be that good?"
"The others have been huge successes both with audiences and critics." Yugi shrugged. "Again, you don't have to go. It means a lot to Judai, so I just wanted you to know."
Judai came back into the room, hands filled with a large box that he set upon the table and began to empty out. "Okay, I have all this old stuff from the Half-Blood Prince premiere. I didn't get to go to the Deathly Hallows: Part One premiere because I was out of town, but this one has to be awesome. I have my old robes and scarf, but I'll get you guys new ones." Judai pulled out a large black cloak and a red-and-gold scarf. "Yusei, I think you'd be in Ravenclaw."
Yusei blinked. "Ravenclaw?"
"Yeah, I mean, you're brave and everything too, but you just seem so calm and cool and collected, right? You have a bunch of strategies and you're really smart, you think things through. Ravenclaws are really smart, so that's the house I think you'd be in."
"Which house are you in?" Yugi asked.
"'Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart," Judai stated, raising a hand to his heart, sounding as if this were something he had recited many times before. "'Their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindors apart.'" He put his hand down and said thoughtfully, "Yugi, I think you might be there too, but you also may be a Hufflepuff because you're super loyal and hard-working and everything, you know? But Hufflepuff has this awful reputation of being filled with a bunch of pansy losers, so I don't think you deserve that… Still, Tonks and Cedric were in that house and they're really cool. Plus, you guys are good finders, so – "
Atem didn't quite know what Judai was talking about, but he was starting to feel a bit left out. "What house would I be in?" He thought back on his various duels and battles and thought that his cunning and courage should be enough to get him into the house of the brave. He couldn't remember the last time he had done something chivalrous, but Yugi always said he could pass for a gentleman as long as he didn't open his mouth, so he figured that might count.
"Probably Slytherin," Judai answered automatically, and offered no explanation.
Atem saw Yugi fighting down a smile and made a vow to ask him what was wrong with his house later out of Judai's earshot.
"So we have one of each house, then! Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Huff – Yugi, you sure you're okay with Hufflepuff? Okay – Hufflepuff, and Slytherin." Judai grinned. "This is going to be great."
Atem narrowed his eyes in distaste. "What is that?"
"Cauldron Cakes," Judai said. "I've made them a few times before and messed up, but this time I think I've got it." He stuck his tongue out, concentrating on the flour measurements. "If you want to nab your portion of butterbeer, it's in the fridge. Better get to it before Yusei does, 'cause he'll chug down the stuff in two seconds if we're not careful."
Atem opened the refrigerator and discovered that the top shelf was occupied by jugs and containers filled to the brim with an orange ginger-looking concoction with white foam spilling over the tops. "Do we really need this much?"
"I was thinking we could share it with the others in the theatre," Judai said. "I mean, we get first dibs of course, but why not? Could be a good ice-breaker. I was thinking of making treacle tart, too, but I don't know if I'll have time. I mean, we only have – " He glanced at the wall above the kitchen door and grimaced. "Less than five hours before we need to get to the theatre. Ugh."
Atem looked at him. "I thought the movie starts at midnight."
"Yeah," Judai said, "but you always want to get their earlier."
"How much earlier?"
"At least twelve hours," came the response. "I mean, for the Half-Blood Prince, my cousins once lined up the night before. It was crazy."
So the Harry Potter craze might be a genetic thing. Good to note.
Atem left the kitchen for the living room, where Yusei was trying out his robes. Judai had bought them all sets a week earlier, along with appropriate scarves, ties, and what was apparently the Hogwarts school uniform. He had been halfway to buying four copies of Harry Potter's wand for the four of them, as well, but Yugi convinced him into saving the money for the snacks instead. Judai immediately responded that they'd be making all of the Harry Potter-themed food themselves at home before the show, of course, but he had relented. The pharaoh was just glad that Judai had been out of earshot before he had commented to Yusei that he'd simply pick a stick off of the ground before the show to pass for a wand.
Now, watching Yugi slide into his black robes and toss a yellow-and-black scarf around his neck, Atem looked down at his own. It was silver and green, warm in his palm, and had an emblem on one end, a snake on a shield with the word SLYTHERIN underneath. He slid up to Yugi and said, "Trade scarves with me."
"Something's wrong with this house that Judai's not telling me, I can just tell. Every time I ask him what it's about, he avoids the answer. I want to be in yours."
Yugi grinned. "Even if it's full of a bunch of pansy losers?"
"It has you in it, it can't be that bad," Atem said. "Though to be honest, I've always considered you to be fairly brave, so I don't think this sorting system is very accurate."
Yugi shrugged. "I don't mind Hufflepuff. Jounouchi and Honda think I belong in Gryffindor too, and Anzu things I belong in Ravenclaw, so I don't even know where I belong at this point. I'm okay with Hufflepuff, though. Loyalty and hard work is cool."
"What is Slytherin known for?"
Yugi sighed. "Okay. You have to understand that Judai doesn't mean this as an insult, okay? But your house choice is actually kind of – accurate."
"Aibou, please, just tell me."
"Well, Slytherins – in the books and movies – are known for being cunning and clever. Ambitious. Kind of like Gryffindors but with a slight edge."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, nothing at all. It's just that they don't have the best reputation." He half-shrugged. "The bad guys are usually from Slytherin, that's it."
Atem stared. "That's it?"
"Well," he said, confused, "you could say that the thief and I are both from Ancient Egypt, but that doesn't matter, does it? That doesn't mean I'm evil myself."
"Exactly," Yugi said, relieved. "Yeah, that's it. I mean, it's just a reputation, because bad witches and wizards have always come from Slytherin – aside from Peter Pettigrew, I suppose, but that's a long story – but nowadays there are a bunch of people that think it's edgy and cool to be in 'the evil house' or whatever, but honestly, it's just a normal house like any other. It's not something to be ashamed of."
He blinked. "I'm not ashamed of it."
Yugi let out a breath. "Good."
"Can you guys help me with this tie?" Yusei asked from the couch. "I never understood how these damn things work…" As Yugi moved forward to help him, he sighed. "I'll be honest, I don't understand what the hype is about," Yusei confessed as Yugi fiddled with his tie. "It must be a good book and all, but it just seems like it's for kids, you know, with all the magic and stuff. Is a boy wizard all that worth it?"
Judai's head appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and living room suddenly, glaring at Yusei through narrowed lids. "You're not a Twilight fan, are you?"
With a sigh of relief, he ducked back into the kitchen.
Yugi smiled and shook his head. "It's not just about magic. It's about the world that JK Rowling created. It's hard to explain if you haven't read it, but it's really quite extraordinary what she did. Hogwarts and the Wizarding world is essentially this whole other universe, so different from ours, but it still exists in parallel to the real world, and the creativity she used to make all these little details, plot everything out from the beginning…" He paused, as if unable to come up with the words. "Sorry. Again, it's hard to describe. But she's such a fantastic storyteller, the books really suck you in. Enough for fans to want to spend hours waiting outside the theatre for the midnight release of the movie."
"Enough for fans to want to spend tons of money on merchandise and dedicate two days to preparing for a two-hour movie?"
"Two hours and five minutes," Judai's voice said from the kitchen.
"Oh, my God," Yusei said. "Judai, how concerned should I be about your obsession for this franchise?"
"About as concerned as you should be about Luna Lovegood still believing in Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, to be honest."
"What the hell?"
"In other words, not very," Yugi said. He finished with Yusei's tie and glanced at his watch. "Okay, I think this is as good as it's gonna get. Do you guys want to head out now? I mean, we might as well. Everyone set?"
"Give me like five seconds," Judai said, and there was the sound of something being removed from the oven and shoved into a pan. "Okay, let's go. Meet you downstairs in the garage."
As the three of them headed out the door, Atem noticed a piece of yellowing paper lying across Judai's red Gryffindor robes with a sticky note on top reading DON'T FORGET. "What's this?"
Yugi glanced back, halfway out the door. "I think that's his Marauder's Map. Long story. Come on, let's get going so you can pick up your stick on the road."
Atem sighed, recognizing a lost cause when he saw one. He picked up his green robes, shoved them underneath his arm, and followed his friends outside.
Chapter 5: on scrabble and pottermore
Most Harry Potter fans are aware of a new website called Pottermore that's recently been put online as an addition to the books. You basically travel through the storyline chapter by chapter and get your own wand, put on the Sorting Hat, discover new character backstories, make potions, and a bunch of other fun stuff. The website is currently undergoing a beta period; to be chosen for this testing there was a Magic Quill challenge in which you had a week to solve a riddle and find this magic quill on the website, but the quill only went up at certain times of the day so you had to catch it at the right moment, and it was really confusing and basically accomplished nothing but get a lot of people pissed off. I wrote this while I was impatiently waiting for Pottermore to send me my email telling me I'd been let in. So just consider this an addendum to the previous ficlet, lol.
Yusei and Atem were playing Scrabble in the living room when Yugi walked in, leaned against the couch, and gave an exhausted sigh. As Yusei filled in TURBO for fifteen points, Atem glanced over at Yugi, concerned. "You all right, aibou?"
"I'm fine," he replied, "but I think something's wrong with Judai."
"He keeps refreshing that site every five seconds," Yugi explained. "I can't even check my email without him hovering over my shoulder."
Ah. Atem placed in RULER, using Yusei's U, and asked, "What time did he get up this morning?"
"Didn't go to bed," Yugi replied. "He's determined to get it this time."
"Well isn't this his last shot?" Yusei asked, collecting more tiles after filling in REACTOR, using a T from a previous move and Atem's R (the pharaoh scowled), knocking him up by thirty points. "There are only seven days to get registered, right? What if you don't get it?"
"You'll eventually get in when site opens up to everyone."
"You'd have to wait until October."
"Oh, horror," Yusei said, sighing. "So if he doesn't get in today, we'll never hear the end of it?"
"Pretty much." Yugi peered in at the board and looked at Atem's pieces. "Atem, I think you just missed a good opportunity. You could've taken the space Yusei just did by playing REGAL, see, and you would've had a triple word score…"
From the moment the Pottermore site had been announced by JK Rowling as a follow-up addition to the Harry Potter series, Judai had been checking the website and the relevant Twitter accounts daily for updates on when the website would be opened. He'd immediately typed in his email addresses to the site for updates (he'd technically used four, submitting his housemates' emails as well to rack up the odds in their favor of hearing from the site about when the early admission would be open) and had been foaming at the mouth ever since.
The challenge had opened July 31 and would end on August 6, but Judai had gone camping with Johan from the 29th through August 2nd and was unable to register himself for the first three days. On Day 4, Judai had simply collapsed in his bed, exhausted from the trip. And on Day 5, a thunderstorm hit, knocking out the power and disabling the Internet in the apartment for twelve hours. Judai had delt with his grief by eating the food in the fridge to save it from spoiling.
Day 6 there had been a mini dueling tournament down at the plaza. However much he may have loved it, when placed next to dueling, Harry Potter was, of course, out of the question.
So now it was Day 7, the last chance to get in early, and Judai was determined to stay awake until he found that Quill and saw his name written down on the list of magical students accepted. Even the trophy he had won the day before at the tournament wasn't easing his mind now. He had to get in.
Yugi had registered on Day 1 with no problems. Atem had registered on Day 1, and since he still refused to use a KCorp email, he'd used a Yahoo account, which took about eleven hours to send him his confirmation email. Yusei had slept through Day 1 and was out Day 2 with Bruno, but registered on his friend's mobile phone and got his email immediately. They did their best with the usernames they were given, as users to the site were not allowed to pick their own names, but ultimately, with CrimsonDragon5, Yusei won the award for the best handle any of them received ("You lucky son of a bitch," Crow had complained the night of Day 3 after he'd had to settle with BlackWing14).
They had already reassured Judai dozens of times over that if he didn't get in this early registration, of course they'd share their accounts with him, of course he would get in eventually, nothing to worry about. But he wanted to get in officially, however much he appreciated the offers. After getting home from the tournament the previous day, with Yugi's permission he'd taken his extra KCorp laptop, grabbed two bags of chips and a jar of nutella, and shut himself in his room, committed on staying up until the clue would go up Day 7.
Thirteen hours and counting.
"Pull up a chair," Yusei said to Yugi, dragging out a stool from under the coffee table. "We'll be here a while."
Yugi sighed again, sat down, and began to count out seven Scrabble tiles for himself.
The yell, when it did come, shocked Yugi so badly he spilled his glass of lemonade and startled Atem out of a light doze.
"IT'S UP! The clue's online! It's – oh my god, it's 'How many Horcruxes are there times three'!"
Yusei sighed and started putting Scrabble pieces back into the box.
Judai burst through the doorway with Yugi's laptop and a half-crazed look in his exhausted eyes. "Forty-nine! It's forty-nine, right? I'll type that in – "
"Twenty-one," the three of them said.
"There are seven of Voldemort's Horcruxes," Yusei explained. "Times three, that's twenty-one. Not forty-nine."
"Oh. Oh – " Judai threw himself onto the couch next to Yusei and said, "So it'd be like this, right? I add in a backslash and 21 to the end of the URL…"
"How long does this thing stay available today?" Atem asked Yugi quietly.
"An hour, maybe more," Yugi said. "Though I'm not sure how long that battery for my laptop will last."
Judai's screech came from the other couch. "It's not working!"
"Judai, you forgot the word 'quill' – put 'quill' in front of the URL – "
"Why'd it redirect me to the Sony website? I don't – "
"Just be patient, the thing will turn up, just wait – "
"What if it's not everything I thought it would be?" Judai said to Yugi, looking distressed. "What if it's just some boring information I don't care about? I mean, I want to know all the behind-the-scenes info, but it's designed for kids too and all they're going to care about is virtual Quidditch and that kind of stuff, so what if it's awful and lame and not interactive at all?"
"Have a little faith in Rowling," Yugi said. "I think she knows how to make this really engaging for everyone involved."
Judai bit his lip in anticipation. "I can't believe she was sitting on this huge secret for so long. All this hidden, background information… and we get to be sorted officially and – " His eyes widened suddenly. "What if I'm in the wrong house?"
Yusei sighed and looked at the others.
"Gotcha!" Yugi felt bad for his mouse as Judai's finger rapidly clicked on a large feather that had just floated across the screen. After a few seconds' wait, the words Congratulations floated across webpage and directed him to a new page that asked for his name and email – the registration site.
"Guys," Judai said, turning to them with a grin stretched across his face, "I'm a wizard."
"They lied to me!" he was yelling over the phone to Johan a week later. "I'm not a wizard at all! No email, no nothing! How hard would it be to tell us when we could get into the site? I registered Day 7 and nothing!" A moment's pause. "Oh – well, yeah, I mean, if you registered Day 4 then you should get in too, y'know, since you did it before me, but it's just all out of order!"
Yusei glanced up from his book, considered offering his thoughts on the matter, but decided against it quickly enough and went back to reading.
Next to Yusei on the couch, Yugi was busy peering over Atem's shoulder as the pharaoh frantically pounded at the buttons of his Nintendo DS. "Use A-B-A-A, that's a special move, it'll kick right through the wall and uncover a secret area – aww, you missed it – "
"No, I haven't heard of someone that's gotten in yet – just a few random people on the Internet I've ran into, but they were talking about potions or were complaining about getting into the wrong house – I know, ridiculous, right? I can't believe how unorganized this is – "
"Aibou, what's this dog doing here? Is it going to take me somewhere or should I just leave it?"
"You know, I don't recall if it becomes important later on. Better leave it alone, though – "
"I hear there's backstory on McGonagall and the Dursleys. I'm not sure what I'll be interested in more, though, the interactive stuff or the text. Apparently she's written, like, eighteen thousand words of new material…"
"Hey, the dog was standing over an underground door!"
"Be careful, it could be a trap – "
"Oh yeah, I bet the artwork's good too, huh? Ugh, I can't wait until October, I seriously need that email now – "
"Aibou, it's not my fault – that zombie came out of nowhere and I still have two lives left, see – "
"Guys," Yusei said loudly, "Please. Is it really that impossible to keep this place quiet for like five minutes for someone to read?"
A moment's pause before Judai murmured into the phone, "Er – sorry, Johan, I gotta go. Yeah, sure I'll talk to you later. Bye."
"Sorry," Atem said to Yusei. "Actually, Yugi, you'd better take over now – you know what you're doing in this ridiculous game, anyway…"
Judai still looked rather upset as he hung up the phone, and Yusei immediately said, "I'm sorry, you didn't have to end your conversation. All the noise was just getting to me, but you can still talk – I'll go somewhere else."
"No, I've been kind of loud with this whole Pottermore thing lately," Judai sighed, sitting down next to him. "It's just so frustrating. People who don't really care about the series getting in over those who are really into the franchise, and all because they're accepting people randomly. It's just… ridiculous."
"When's the last day to get accepted into the site?" Yusei asked, putting aside his book – it was the least he could do after snapping, he figured.
"They open it to the public in October, so I suppose the last day to get in is September thirtieth," Judai said. "But I swear, if they make me wait all that time only to get accepted a day before the world gets let in, I'm going to be making some very angry phone calls…"
"Oh," Yusei said. "Right. Well – it sucks they're so disorganized. Sounds like Rowling could've planned this better."
"I don't blame Rowling, I blame Sony," Judai said. "Rowling's like… flawless. She didn't design the site, I don't think, she just puts in the content."
"It's really that great, the whole thing?"
"It's gonna be amazing," Judai said, grinning. "I've seen stillshots and heard really amazing things about it." He sighed. "I suppose I could wait until October, but… I was really just hoping to get in soon."
Yusei glanced at his watch. "It's 5:14. Are you really gonna wait the whole day?"
"Probably not. I was gonna go out to dinner with Asuka tonight. But – I could give you my email, you know, so you could check – "
"If that's what you want," Yusei said, laughing. "I think an hour or two away from the computer won't hurt your chances, though."
"You don't know that," Atem said, interrupting. "If you're using a KCorp email, Kaiba could be holding the message and then send it to you at the worst possible convenience. It'd be just like him."
"Kaiba's not heartless, Other Me," Yugi said, tongue sticking out as he pounded away at the DS. "He's polite if you don't go picking fights with him."
"If you call degrading the general populace and sneering down at your subordinates 'polite,'" Atem grumbled. "And – what, do you mean I pick fights with him?"
"You certainly don't stop them from happening."
"I'm standing up for myself."
"There's a difference between standing up for yourself and arrogantly provoking someone, and you've become very good at the latter without even realizing it." Yugi paused. "What was that secret move Jounouchi gave us? Y-Z-B-B?"
Judai tossed his head back onto the couch and let out a loud puff of air. "I don't get it," he said to Yusei. "How can two people get into so many arguments-but-not-really-arguments so often and still not completely hate each other?"
Yusei thought back to his relationship with Jack Atlas and shrugged. "Must be that weird connection they have because of the Puzzle. I don't know."
Judai nodded. "You know," he said suddenly, "I've decided. I'm going to be cool about it. If I don't get in until October, I don't get in. It's fine, yeah? I'll be there eventually."
Yusei raised his eyebrows. "Well. What prompted this decision?"
"The fact that I have to be at Asuka's to pick her up in fifteen minutes and I'll be late if I stay here any longer. So if you really wouldn't mind checking m – "
A loud ding came from the computer; the sound of a new email arriving in an inbox.
Judai froze. "It would be just like them, to be this inconvenient."
Before Yusei could respond, Judai dove across his lap to drag the laptop to him. There was a bit of rapid typing, some clicks, and then a loud "No, I don't want any help meeting up with local duelists in the area willing to duel me, thanks!" before he slammed the laptop shut and grunted, pulling himself off the couch and grabbing his jacket as he headed for the door.
Yugi laughed. "I'm sorry, Judai. We'll keep an eye on it for you, okay?"
"Thanks, Yugi. See you guys later…"
As the door closed at the front, Yusei heard Yugi quietly asking Atem behind him, "You think Kaiba would really do that?"
"He threatened to jump off a tower if I didn't let him win a card game, Yugi. There's not much he wouldn't do anymore."
Yusei smiled, shook his head, and picked up his book.
Chapter 6: on indoor camping and sleepovers
It's raining and the power's out, so of course, the only logical conclusion is to camp indoors.
"Okay," Judai said, "what's first? Horror stories?"
"No, thanks," Yusei shot down.
"I'm not sure anyone here wants to hear anybody else's singing voice, Judai."
"I suppose we could always play a round of Duel Monsters…"
"To be honest, after ten years of saving the world with card games, I'm ready for a bit of a break."
"Yu-sei," Judai sighed, "you're ruining the fun."
"I don't understand," Atem said. "Isn't the point of a sleepover just to sleep over somewhere else? What are all these activities for?" He aimed this last question at Yugi, who couldn't answer through his laughter.
"I don't know of a single sleepover in which the only thing people did was just sleep," Judai said, frowning as he considered their options. "I don't even know if we have pillows. Just games."
"Why don't we set up the tent?" Yugi suggested finally. "We're not technically leaving the house so it might help us get in the mood."
"Tent?" Judai looked around for it. "What, you want to set it up inside here?"
"Sure, why not? It's not like we can do this outside." Yugi motioned toward the large window in the living room, which they could hardly see through due to the rain pounding at the apartment outside it. "Judai, don't you still have the tent from that camping trip you took with Johan last month?"
"Uh, I think so. Let me go check the closet for it." He rose and left to do so as Yusei flopped over onto his back on the sofa, releasing a breath of air.
The storm had picked up around seven in the evening, following a few hours of drizzling and a canceled dinner reservation due to the thunder warning. The power fizzled out at eight-thirty and Atem hunted around for a light source that didn't rely on a socket, finally managing to dig out some old fragrant candles Pegasus had sent them as a housewarming gift. Placing them strategically around the room so as to ensure their jostling was kept to a minimum but still ensuring their light spread to all areas of the large living room had been surprisingly difficult: Judai had nearly tipped over two on the television and a curtain almost caught fire.
Yusei had called up to ask when the electricity could be estimated to be back on, and the man on the other line had said they could count on it to start working by ten. That had been two hours ago.
"Found it," Judai said, announcing his return. He walked in slowly, dragging a large mass of cloth, silver rods, and tangled string behind him. "Want to move the coffee table and put this in the middle of the room?"
"How big is it?"
"It'll fit between the couches. C'mon, let's get started."
Atem eyed the cloth, wary. "How does all of that turn into a sleeping area large enough for the four of us?"
"We have to raise it first," Judai said. "Last time we went camping, Johan set it up for the both of us by himself because I was out trying to catch fish." He wrestled around in the fabric and pulled out a small booklet. It was torn in a few places but still looked relatively intact. "Ah, here it is. So I don't know how to do it myself, but these are the instructions. I'm sure we can figure it out."
Atem still looked suspicious but Yugi led him forward. "What's the first thing on the list?"
"Um." Judai dropped the tent and fiddled with the booklet for a moment, trying to find the beginning. Half of a ripped sheet floated toward the ground out of the tangled mass. He flipped a few pages, squinting at the words in the dim light. "Setting up the tarp, I think."
"What's the tarp for?" Yusei asked.
"I think it's to keep the tent clean and to keep out water and dirt and stuff."
"We don't really need a tarp, though," Yugi said. "Not inside."
"That's good, because I think we've lost it," Judai said. "Okay, now we roll out the tent and it says 'locate the door' so we know which way to enter it."
"How to we roll out a lump of plastic?" Yusei said, inspecting the clump.
"In this case I guess it's 'spread it out and hope nothing's ripped,'" Yugi said. He reached down and took a corner of the tent, then started backing up to spread it out.
The fabric rustled against itself as Yugi's corner was dragged to the couches. Yusei reached down and grabbed the side to Yugi's left, laying it out parallel to the sofa he stood in front of. Judai took the corner on Yugi's right, leaving Atem with the last end.
"Rods now, I think," Judai said, inspecting the manual. "Those are in the bag."
"Or, they would be in the bag if I hadn't lost it in the river while I was fishing. Now I guess they're kind of scattered everywhere."
Yusei reached down and looked for the thin stick-like poles he had noticed earlier. "These?" he asked, pulling out two foot-long rods from underneath the tent.
"Yeah, and we have to stick them together. We need four long poles to hold up the tent, and I think four of these short rods go into each long pole, so there should be sixteen total."
The next few minutes were spent hunting the living room for rods that Judai had either dumped or dropped when depositing the tent. With the only light coming from the flickering candles and the occasional crack of lightening outside the window, Yusei was sure this portion of the tent-preparing process was taking longer than necessary. From the sound of Atem grumbling on his left, he was not alone in his thoughts.
"Why must such a simple contraption have so many – hooks and folds and sti – OW!"
"Atem! OhmyGod, are you okay?"
Yusei looked over to see Atem furiously scrubbing at his eye and realized he had accidentally poked himself with one of the poles. Yugi moved around one of the couches to tend to him while the pharaoh muttered something very low and very unintelligible that sounded like Ancient Egyptian, muttered in the universal tone that indicated when someone was having a good, long swear.
"Atem, are you okay?" Judai said. "Need some ice?" Atem, through he grumbled, shook his head 'no,' so Judai cleared his throat and moved on. "Okay, well, I have five rods over here. How many do you guys have?"
Yusei had found three, so he held his up for inspection. Yugi found four and Atem had also managed to wrangle three others from the mess before his mishap.
"That leaves us one short," Judai said, frowning. "Weird, because we definitely had it last month. Oh, well. Let's put them together, anyway."
Yugi, satisfied that Atem was going to live now that he had stopped rubbing his eye, moved back to his corner and asked, "Are you sure we won't need that last one?"
"We'll be fine." Judai stuck his tongue out, trying to wrestle his sticks together into one long rod. "See, they're supposed to snap together like… that!" With a loud click, two rods fixed to each other and he held it up for them to see. So put four of them together – one will have three – and then we can put them in the tent to hold it up."
Judai handed Atem one of his extra poles and started snapping his together. After putting his own together, Yusei was left holding a pole at least a foot shorter than all of the others'.
"Guess you drew the short straw," Yugi said, grinning, and Atem laughed at the irony. Yusei rolled his eyes.
"I think we stick them in the tent now." Judai had abandoned the manual on the fireplace mantle behind him and looked prepared to finish the rest of the tent without it, which Yusei wasn't sure he was prepared for. "So just – find someplace good to put it, then."
It took five minutes for Yugi to notice that there were tiny flaps sewn into the sides of the tent to insert the rods in. They ran up the side and reached the top, where the rods fastened together in a plastic holder. With lots of grunting and accidental pokes, the four of them finally managed to slip the poles in the tent on all four sides and insert the bottoms of the poles into tiny hooks at the end of each corner.
"Well," Yugi said when the blasted thing was finally starting to stand up by itself, "it's not looking too bad."
Judai busied himself by tying a knot at the top to three of the poles. Yusei's stood shorter than the others, leaving a large gap at the top between it and the plastic holder. His side was bent over a bit, looking rather like part of the tent had caved in.
"What's the next step?"
"I dunno," Judai said, shrugging. "Johan spent a lot of time hammering stakes into the ground to make sure the thing stayed upright, but I don't really want to bother with that. And I think Atem might make me sleep outside if I put holes in his carpet, so I think we'll skip that."
Yusei glanced at his watch and realized that they had just spent an hour putting together a tent in the middle of their living room that now blocked most of the other entrances and exits to other hallways and doors leading to other areas of the apartment. For no purpose whatsoever other than to satisfy their boredom.
"What if it falls over?"
Atem rolled his eyes. "It won't fall over. Shall we get in now?"
"Wait," Judai said suddenly, "which way's the door? Does anybody see it?"
"It's over here," Atem said. He was pressed between the tent and a bookshelf. "So I guess we have to be careful the bookcase doesn't knock over us in the night."
"Let's pick it up and move it," Yugi suggested. With some fiddling and maneuvering he managed to turn his side to the left, which pushed the entrance to the tent more towards the fireplace near Judai.
"Yeah, but now the opening's crammed up against the wall," Yusei said. "Can we move it any further?"
Atem shrugged. "Not unless you want to step into the fireplace to get inside."
Judai stood on his toes to see over the tent to the side opposite him. "Is there any more room over there, Yusei?"
"The backs of my knees are against the couch, so no, I don't think so."
"Oh, well. In we go." He started climbing over to Atem's side and then zipped open the tent – the zipper got stuck halfway, of course – and crawled in. A long whistle followed. "Oh, it's kind of nice in here."
Yusei gave a long-suffering sigh and awkwardly pressed himself against the wall to craw in after him, followed by the other two as they each made room inside the tent. It was a bit nice, and much larger than it had looked from the outside, though crawling was a bit uncomfortable because of all the dirt and twigs that, he suspected, were leftover from its last usage. The plastic cracked and shifted as he moved his way on hands and knees to an empty corner, squinting in the terrible light.
Atem spread his legs out and leaned back against the wall while Yugi curled up in a corner next to the entrance. Judai ended up in the drooping corner with the three-rod pole hanging above him, but he didn't seem to mind. He lay himself down and stretched out, elbow on the ground with a hand supporting his head.
Yusei sat with his legs folded underneath him. He was sitting on something rather uncomfortable that was underneath the plastic. It was probably a remote or gaming console that one of they had forgot to remove before spreading out the tent. To distract himself, he eyed the dim lights from outside the tent. "What if a candle somehow gets knocked over while we're in here?"
"Should we put them out, do you think?" Yugi asked.
"Just in case. I'll go get some flashlights for us instead."
"I couldn't find any batteries for them," Atem said as Yusei started to crawl out. "The flashlights are in the cupboard over the dryer but they're out of power."
"It's okay, I'll go get some extra batteries down in the garage. I can make my way in the dark."
It took thirty seconds to make his way to the elevator, but another forty to feel with his fingers what he thought was the right button to take him down to the garage. The lights over the top of the doors that normally indicated the floor level were out as well, so he stood in silence for a few minutes, listening to the elevator rustle and creak down to the bottom floor.
Yusei stepped out of the lift and was surprised that he could see: glancing around, he made the happy discovery that he had accidentally left his battery-powered desk lamp turned on over at his workbench. It wasn't much, but it was enough light to search by.
He wasn't sure what type of batteries the flashlights took, but he quickly found two packs of extra double As and one of triple, which he figured would be enough. He started to turn back to the elevator when he was done, raising a hand to turn off the desk light.
The garage door creaked.
Yusei sighed. Either he hadn't closed it correctly last time he was down here (unlikely) or the rain was getting into the hinges. Either way, he figured, he should check to make sure it would hold until the morning and wouldn't leak.
He headed over toward the large metal door and tested the chains, making sure they were secure and holding tightly. The spring looked fine and middle guard rail seemed to be in good shape as well.
There was movement outside the windows.
Yusei raised himself up on the balls of his feet, peering to see through the tiny glass panes at the top of the garage door. But it was pitch black outside, and after a moment of looking, he told himself the scurrying figures running past the window outside had been in his imagination.
When he stepped out of the elevator back upstairs, a quiet giggling was coming from the tent.
"Okay, no, shh, he's coming back – "
"I don't think it'll work, he'll see through it right away – "
Yusei took extra care to make sure his footsteps were quiet and unnoticeable as he moved through the apartment to the washing machine and dryer. He slowly opened the cupboard and pulled out two flashlights, inserting new batteries in the dark with nimble fingers. Leaving one on the discarded coffee table in the hallway, he crept back into the living room and blew out one of the candles.
Utter silence from inside the tent. Then – "Did one of the candles just blow out?"
Yusei snuffed out another.
"That was definitely a second one."
There were three more candles in the living room that he took out with quick breaths before sneaking over to the entrance of the tent. Somebody was moving inside it, zipping open the entrance and saying, "Okay, something weird's going on, I'm going to go see – "
Yusei made a face, then clicked the flashlight on and shone it down into the tent just as Judai had fully opened it and was climbing out.
Loud screeches from the boy's mouth made the other two occupants of the tent jump and ask what was wrong while Yusei had a good, long laugh. "I'm sorry," he said a bit breathlessly as Judai rubbed his forehead, embarrassed, and Atem chuckled. "I'm had to – "
There was a sudden thump from outside the building.
Atem frowned. "You guys heard that, right?"
"Yeah," Yusei said, peering at the giant window, but there was nothing to see except rain and wind. He climbed back into the tent slowly and sat next to a corner to the left of the entrance. "Maybe it was just a tree branch falling…"
A crack of lightening flashed outside – for a brief second, it illuminated two silhouettes standing just outside the window, and then they were gone, swallowed up by the darkness again. Inside, the four boys froze.
"…Oh, my God."
"Don't make any sudden movements."
"Do you think they can hear us?"
"What kind of crazies would be standing out there in this downpour – ?"
A sudden rap on the glass, sharp and loud. Muffled voices and scuffled sounds.
"What if they're, like, here to kill us?" Judai whispered loudly. "What if they're pretending to be homeless so we let them in but they're actually mad axe men? Or those kind of terrible fans that want to eat locks of your hair and stuff you in their closet shrines?"
"Wait," Yusei said suddenly. "How are they even standing outside our window? It's not like we're on the first floor – we're like hundreds of feet above the ground."
"There's an emergency fire ladder outside that leads to each balcony on every floor," Atem said quietly. "Not many people know about it. They either have to be people that live here or they're around here enough to know about the building's design."
Yugi climbed to the entrance of the tent and poked his head outside, slowly. For a long moment there was nothing but the sound of the rain against the window, but then –
"Wait, hold on," Yugi's voice said suddenly, a bit breathless. A slight pause. "Oh, my God."
Yugi's body disappeared as he pushed himself out of the tent, taking the flashlight with him, and ran to the door that led out onto the balcony. Left behind in the pitch-black tent, Yusei and the others remained silent, waiting. After a moment fiddling with locks, there was the sound of a glass door sliding open and two people hurriedly shuffling inside. The flashlight's beam was wobbling everywhere.
"Shit, man!" It was definitely Katsuya Jounouchi's voice, as best he could tell. Or at least, it sure sounded like the blonde-haired guy that he'd seen videotapes of from old Battle City footage. "Thanks, Yug, but it sure took you long enough."
"What on earth – " Yugi started to say.
"We got caught in the rain!" another loud voice said – the sound of stomping feed accompanied it, as if their owner were making violent attempts at shaking off the water, and at this yell Yusei frowned. I know that voice. He reached over and peeled down a corner of the entrance flap. From this angle it was hard to tell, but Yugi's flashlight flicked upward for half a second long enough illuminate spiked hair and a short stature, and – yup, sure enough – Crow.
Crow Hogan and Katsuya Jounouchi climbed up their fire escape ladder at one in the morning and were now shivering in the middle of their living room and dripping on Atem's carpet.
"We were minding our business eating over at La Brea – it was free breadstick night! And suddenly the power goes out and they let us stay there to wait it out, right, but it just kept raining and when the restaurant had to close they kicked us out!"
"Yeah," Jounouchi piped up, "so we were gonna walk home but since it's like a freaking hurricane out there we decided to take a taxi. But we'd spent all our cash on the dinner and only had enough to get us to the bank down at the end of this boulevard. The guy kicked us out and then we decided, hey, this is where Yugi and the guys live, so we should go see if they're in."
"We went to the front of the building to ring the buzzer but since the power went out, I don't think it was working," Crow said. "And then we called Yusei's cell because you and Atem still need to get ones and Judai never answers his, but he didn't pick up, either."
"So," Yugi said patiently, "you decided to climb up the side of our building in pitch-black darkness against the wind and rain relying on rusty, slippery metal that's probably decades old to reach our window balcony that we may or may not have been able to see from where we were in the house? That's the most reasonable thing you could think of considering the situation?"
"We didn't exactly have many other options." A loud thump and a grunt – Jounouchi throwing himself down on the couch. A pause. "…Is this a camping tent in your living room, Yug?"
"Oh," Yugi said. "Um – "
"We were having a bit of fun while we waited out the storm," Judai said into the darkness from Yusei's left. "Please tell us you're not here to kill us."
"Kill you – ?" Jounouchi spluttered, then seemed to recognize the voice. "Judai, is that you? You're in that thing?"
Atem, closest to the door, poked his head out and stepped out as best he could, pressed against the wall. "Hello, Jounouchi."
"Atem? Wait, how many guys you got in there?"
"Wait," Yusei said suddenly, remembering something. "Were you two the ones running around outside the garage ten minutes ago?"
"Yusei, is that you?" Crow exclaimed. "Dude, get out here!"
"That might be a bit problematic. I can't see worth a damn and I don't want to step on Atem's fingers."
"I'm all the way over here, Yusei, you couldn't possibly reach. You can climb out if you like."
"To answer your question," Jounouchi said, "yeah, I think we were. We just tried the front entrance and then came around to the back for the fire escape."
"God," Yusei said, and nearly laughed with relief. "You nearly gave me a heart attack."
"What'd you think we were?"
"I don't know, burglars? Or some sort of new shadow creature, I guess."
"Don't even joke about that," Atem's voice said. There was shuffling over from his side of the corner, then the sound of the zipper as he apparently stood up and out of the tent. "All right, I don't see the point of this now that there are six of us. We couldn't possibly all fit in there together."
"Hell no, man, let's try it!" Jounouchi's voice came closer from outside and the sounds of Atem protesting were cut off by him clapping his hands together. "We fit nine people in Anzu's car last week; I'm sure we can manage six inside this thing. Well, we had to put Mokuba in the trunk, but we made it."
Yusei scooted back as two new bodies shoved their way into the drooping tent. Yugi squeezed in shortly after. Greetings and arrangements were made within seconds.
"Yeah – "
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for a spot – "
"Here, just on my right – "
"Not here," Yusei said hurriedly, "I'm here – "
"Everyone be quiet!" Atem's commanding voice rang out and everyone immediately grew quiet. "Aibou, do you still have that flashlight?"
"Yeah, want me to turn it back on?"
"Please. And if you could place it in the center facing the ceiling, I think everyone would be able to see things a bit clearer."
A few shuffles later and the light flicked on, shivering and shining upwards to the top of the ceiling of the tent. Yusei could now see Yugi had taken his original position next to the entrance with Atem next to him; on Yusei's left was Jounouchi, squeezed next to Judai, who was barely able to be seen under the drooping tent flap, with Crow between him and the pharaoh on the other side.
"So," Judai said after a moment, "we should prank call Yuma."
"Or Kaiba," Jounouchi added.
"Or Jack," Crow said.
"Does anybody even have a working phone?" Yugi asked.
"My cell phone is around here somewhere," Yusei said. "I don't know why I didn't notice it ringing when you guys called before."
"Let me try it again," Crow said, pulling out his own. He pressed a few buttons and they waited, patiently, for the ring –
A faint buzzing sounded from underneath the tent.
"Well," Jounouchi said, grinning, "that answers that. So who do we call first?"