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The Game Club

Chapter Text

Yugi stared up at the corkboard before her, covered in colourful posters advertising various extracurricular activities. Clubs... it wasn't something she'd put much thought into before. She'd always preferred simply going home to her games, but both Anzu and her grandfather had suggested it to her, saying it would be a good way to form connections with other people.

But now a new problem arose: she was utterly incompetent at half the things the clubs were for. All of the sports clubs were out of the question immediately, of course, considering how small and weak she was. She knew she wasn't suited for most of the culture clubs as well, since she barely touched musical instruments, didn't have the eye for art and any plants that came under her care withered almost immediately. She didn't mind cooking too much, and it was an important life skill to have; maybe she could join the cooking club if it came down it?

As she gave the board another once-over, she noticed a very particular sign: it looked as if it had been printed in the school library, simply reading "GAME CLUB" in black, bold typeface, with a room number listed underneath. Someone had scribbled a Kuriboh in the blank space on the page in pencil. It was so stark, bland and hastily put together compared to the colourful, descriptive, carefully-made signs of the other clubs she couldn't help but find herself curious. Besides, if it really was a game club... it would be perfect for her!

The room was on the third floor, which was almost deserted at this point, most of the students having either gone or to one of the clubrooms on the lower floors. Yugi wandered around the halls for a bit until she found the room she was looking for, its door closed. She took a deep breath to gather up her courage, gripped the handle, and slid the door open. "Excuse me-"

Two pairs of eyes looked up from a game of chess to lock onto her, and Yugi froze, stopping mid-sentence. Anzu was a big gossip, and when you had two people as impressive as Atem Afzal and Seto Kaiba attending your high school for some incomprehensible reason, there was always news about them flying about. She'd never really bothered trying to get close to them like so many others had, though- due to the simple fact that she was quite frankly intimidated by both of them. She'd witnessed Kaiba toss Ushio across the room as if the brute had weighed nothing, because Ushio'd had the audacity to grab Kaiba by the shoulder. He was hostile to anyone that approached him, and had made it clear to his fangirls that he found them pathetic and annoying. They had found him even more alluring after that.

Atem was rarely apart from Kaiba, considering they were cousins, and he was warm and inviting, compared to Kaiba's frigidity. Despite his short stature, he had a regal presence and a powerful charisma that was impossible to ignore, and was just as strong as Kaiba was- according to some of the boys he'd played basketball with at lunch one time, he was as solid as stone. Most of the girls- Anzu included- tittered about his looks and his smooth voice endlessly. While Yugi supposed that, aesthetically, she could understand why Atem was considered so handsome- he was lean, his muscles were well-defined, his eyes red and piercing, his cheekbones sharp, and his Egyptian heritage giving him glowing tanned skinned and an exotic appeal to most girls- she didn't find herself feeling any attraction to him like that. She'd much rather get to know a person before considering a relationship. Regardless, he was too high on the social ladder for her to even consider approaching, and she was quite sure he was tired of girls constantly crowding around him, so she'd simply decided to leave him alone and be on her merry way.

So, when confronted with these two, alone, staring at her, Yugi's brain panicked, transcended the usual anxiety and mortification she'd feel in such a situation, and turned her mouth to auto pilot. After another moment of silence, she smiled at the pair apologetically, while she screamed internally.
"Sorry for bothering you, I must have gotten the wrong room. I'll be going now." And she slide the door back shut.

Or, she tried to.

In less than a second, Atem had risen from his seat, crossed the room and gripped the edge of the door, holding it open. "Wait- are you looking for the game club?" he asked her breathlessly. Yugi just nodded, dumbfounded. He beamed at her. "In that case, you do have the right room! Come in!" He grabbed her wrist and pulled her inside; closing the door behind her once she was fully within the room. To her, it sounded like a prison door locking shut. Atem then turned look at Kaiba, patting Yugi's shoulder excitedly. "See, Seto, I told you people would be interested in the club for real!" Atem sounded completely delighted, and Yugi was amazed at the sharp contrast between the calm, regal person he was from a distance and the boy acting like an excited child before her. Kaiba looked her over and snorted.

"She's probably just another fangirl. Now she's going to blab to the rest of them and everything will be ruined. Fantastic."

Atem shook his head vigorously. "Seto, if you actually bothered to remember people's faces, you'd know that she's never been among the fangirls. I've seen her sometimes in the library and she's never approached me or squealed over us or anything. Oh, but," he looked at Yugi, "We don't know your name! So let us introduce ourselves first."

"I think she already knows who we are." Kaiba snarked.

Atem grabbed Yugi's hand and shook vigourously. "I'm Atem Afzal, class 3-A, president of the game club! Nice to meet you!" He gestured at Kaiba. "And Seto is the vice president. We're in the same class. Try not to let him get to you." Kaiba examined his fingernails as Atem spoke. "So how about you?"

"Ah..." Yugi swallowed the lump in her throat, having calmed down now... mostly. Atem's attitude made it a bit easier to speak, but she was still incredibly uncomfortable. "I'm... Yugi Mutou. Class 2-C. It's nice to meet you, Afzal-san. Kaiba-san." She bowed politely.

"There's no need to be so formal!" Atem told her with a laugh, moving over to rummage in his bag. "You can just call me Atem if you want." He wanted her to use his first name? "I don't think Seto will let you call him anything but Kaiba, though. Class 2-C... you're a year below us, then. So, tell me, Yugi, why do you want to join the game club?"

Yugi's eyes lit up. "I've always loved games! My grandpa owns a game shop, so I grew up around them. I love puzzles the most. I wanted to join this club because I never have anyone else to play with."

Atem was surprised at how suddenly the girl's demeanor changed when she started talking about games. She was more animated, open, and bolder than the timid thing that they'd been talking to up until now. It was clear that games were her passion. He gave a meaningful glance to Seto, who ignored him. They'd really found a perfect member for their club. He finally stood up from his rummaging, brandishing a sheet of paper and a pen proudly, before setting them on a desk in front of Yugi.

"You just have to sign here to join!" Yugi numbly signed her name in the spot Atem indicated, and when she was finished, he snatched up the paper and held it above his head.

"And with this, we have our third member!" he declared proudly.

"Wait, the club is just us?!" Yugi asked, as she processed the words. Given the popularity of the boys, she'd assumed there would be more members...

Atem nodded sheepishly. "We wanted to find people truly passionate about gaming, so we kept our involvement a secret...

"What he means," Kaiba cut in, "is that we didn't want this club overrun by fangirls and suck-ups who'd join to kiss our asses."

"Seto, watch your language!"

"It's true, isn't it?"

"Well, yes, but there's no need to word it like that! By the way, Yugi, do you know anyone else who would be interested? We need another member to be an official club."

"Ah," they'd turned the attention to her again, and Yugi forced herself to speak, "I don't know anyone like that right now, but I could ask around, if you want me to? Since I don't have the same reputation you guys do..."

I have about the opposite reputation...

Atem clasped her hands, his eyes shining brightly. "You'd do that for us? Thank you, so much!"

"It's no problem, really! You guys look like you were in the middle of something, and I should probably head home now, so..."

Atem looked back to the chess board as if he'd only just remembered it was there (because he had). "Oh. Are you sure you can't stay and watch?"

"No, she definitely has to leave now, it's clearly very urgent." Kaiba said flatly, making shooing motions at Yugi. "Let's get back to our game now."

"Well..." Atem deflated slightly. "I supposed you're right. But you'll come back tomorrow, won't you, Yugi?" He looked at her with anticipation.

"Uh- Of course!" Yugi inched over to the door as she spoke, before Atem found another excuse to keep her there.

"And you said your grandfather owns a game shop, right? You could bring in games for us, then! Something all three of us can play!" Atem got excited again at the prospect.

"Don't worry, I will!" Why did she keep agreeing to what they wanted?! "Um... I'll see you later, then!" She slid open the door, ducked out of the room, shut the door again, walked a few steps down the hall, and then turned to the wall and banged her head against it. "What have I gotten myself into?" Yugi groaned.


 

Atem looked up when he heard something thump against the wall from the outside. "What was that?" he asked, seating himself in front of the chess board.

Kaiba grunted. "Probably nothing important. It's your turn."

Atem moved his bishop, their match resumed. "You can try to be nice to our new member, you know." He chastised gently.

Kaiba took one of Atem's rooks with his knight. "I was being nice. She wanted a way out, so I gave her one."

Atem pouted as he moved his pawn forward. "I wanted her to get used to us! She's clearly timid. We should make her feel as comfortable as possible so she'll open up."

"Why do we even need this club, anyways? Aren't I enough of a challenge for you?" Kaiba changed the subject and took Atem's pawn with a rook. Atem looked at him with dawning realization.

"Oh, you're jealous."

Kaiba spluttered. "I am not jealous! Why the hell do you think I'm jealous?!"

"Because you don't want her to take away our game time. Seto, to be honest, as much as I love playing against you, playing against nobody but you gets tiring. I want to play against other people and see what strategies they use so I can think about how to beat them. Do you understand?" Atem moved his queen. "Checkmate, by the way."

Kaiba stared at the board ferociously, let out a growl and began to rearrange the pieces. He was silent for a long while, before finally huffing out: "I understand. Another game?"

"Of course."


 

Yugi's body carried her through the motions of walking home, greeting her grandfather as she entered the shop and going upstairs to her room. When she got there, she tossed her bag into the corner, flopped onto the bed, and screamed into her pillow. What was she going to do? She already had enough troubles with bullies as it was. If they found out she was in a club with Atem and Kaiba, the torment would become unbearable. And recruiting new members? What was she thinking, agreeing to that? Nobody was going to join a club she was promoting. They'd just laugh at her at best. She could invite Anzu to the club to make it official, but... Oh god. Anzu.

What was she going to tell her? Anzu was her oldest friend. Her only friend, really. If she found out Yugi was keeping something like this from her, their friendship would be utterly ruined. Anzu would hate her. But at the same time, Yugi knew about Anzu's massive crush on Atem, and Kaiba's words about fangirls rang in her ears. Would they hate her if she introduced Anzu to them? Would Anzu gossip? Would she openly fawn over them in the way that Kaiba hated and Atem found uncomfortable? Anzu was a good person. She wasn't shallow and vapid like many of the other fangirls were. But the situation could go wrong in so many ways... Not for the first time in her life, Yugi wished she had the ability to say no.

She jerked up as she heard a knock at the door, turning around as her grandfather opened it, peeking in cautiously. "Is everything alright, Yugi?" He asked, his voice laced with concern. Yugi smiled at him apologetically.

"Sorry for worrying you, grandpa. I'm just in a weird situation with some friends. It's nothing important."

Her grandfather hummed, deciding to drop the subject. If Yugi didn't want to tell him, he couldn't force it out of her. "Would you like to come downstairs for tea and duel monsters? It's been a while since our last match."

Yugi let out a laugh. "I'd love to." She slipped off her bed and followed her grandfather downstairs.

Chapter Text

Yugi's arm stretched out from her blanket nest to bat at her alarm clock until it was silenced. She let out a groan, and flopped out of the bed inelegantly, taking her blankets with her. Eventually, she managed to untangle herself, and stood with a yawn and a stretch. Running a hand through her hair, Yugi dug through her closet to find a clean uniform. After getting dressed, she stumbled downstairs, still trying to tame her messy mane.

"Gmornin' grandpa." She yawned out, and Sugoroku raised his cup of coffee in greeting. After popping a piece of bread into the toaster, she got to work stuffing last night's leftovers into her lunchbox. "I'm gonna be coming home late tonight, by the way."

"Hm. You're taking my advice seriously, then?" The old man seemed very pleased. Yugi shrugged.
"I found a club I might like. I'm not totally sure about it yet, though. Still testing the waters. By the way, do you mind if I bring a game of Monopoly to school?"

Sugoroku's eyebrows rose to his hairline. "What do you need Monopoly for at school?"

"Club stuff." She replied, buttering her toast. He let out a chuckle.

"Well, I hope your new friends are impressed by your Monopoly skills."

After giving her grandpa a kiss on the cheek and managing to maneuver a monopoly board into her bag, Yugi set off for school. Her gut clenched as she approached the corner where she usually met up with Anzu. She had decided to ask Atem and Kaiba for permission to tell Anzu about the club, and would be vouching for her, but she was still worried her friend would tell something was off before she got that chance. She spotted the brunette waiting for her at their usual spot. She waved enthusiastically. Anzu didn't look at her.

"Anzu? Is something wrong?" Yugi asked as she got close. Anzu jumped at the sound of her voice, turning to blink at Yugi.

"Oh, sorry! I didn't see you there. I was thinking, haha..." She rubbed her head sheepishly. It wasn't like Anzu to get lost in thought like that... Yugi wondered if something had happened. As they walked together, she thought she could hear Anzu humming. Yugi smiled. A good thing had happened, then. Yugi decided not to press her about it. She knew Anzu would tell her when she was ready. Soon they were part of a throng of students making their commute.

"So, how's your search for a club going? Anything catch your attention so far?" the brunette asked as they walked.

"Well... there is one, but I'm not a hundred percent sure about it yet, so I won't tell you what it is." The shorter girl confessed. She hoped Anzu would buy it.

Anzu, in response, stuck out her tongue. "How mean! Keeping secrets from your best friend!" Yugi's gut twisted at the playful jab. Keeping secrets indeed...

Yugi stopped in her tracks a realization struck. "We won't be able to walk home together anymore." They hadn't walked together every single day, but it was still their thing: If Yugi was held up, Anzu would wait for her, and vice-versa. But with Yugi staying late for her club... "You'll be fine walking home on your own?" She asked worriedly. Anzu was beautiful, and Yugi knew she could fend for herself, but there was safety in numbers, even if that second person was a pipsqueak.

Anzu couldn't look her in the eye. "Yugi, the thing is..." Yugi blinked at her friend, who flushed in embarrassment. "The reason I wanted you to join a club is because I can't walk with you anymore."

"... What?"

"I have something going on right after school now, and I didn't want you to be lonely... so that's why I wanted you to join a club." Anzu confessed. She looked at her feet, ashamed. "I'm sorry!"

"Anzu! It's alright!" Yugi exclaimed, then blushed as she said: "I'm... really glad, actually. To know that you care about me that much. Thank you."

Anzu smiled, then skipped ahead. "Well, we'd better hurry up before we're late to class!" Yugi laughed and jogged after her. Anzu really was a good friend.

They soon joined the throng of students commuting to school, and as they passed through the school gates, Yugi caught sight of a tall brunet standing, stiff as a board, clearly irritated. Yugi paled. If Kaiba was there, then... yes, she caught sight of Atem, who was scanning the crowd. Yugi's stomach dropped. Was... was he looking for her? He had to be. If he talks to me in public, I'll get eaten alive, she thought, and then glanced to Anzu, who was looking at him dreamily. And if Anzu finds out like this...

"Sorry, but I need to use the washroom, so I'll meet you in class, okay?" Yugi told the taller girl before dashing ahead. She heard Anzu reply from behind her, but didn't make out the words as she skirted to the opposite side of the entrance from Atem and Kaiba, then wound her way through the students ahead of her. Weaving through people was something she'd learned to do when running away from bulies, and it was one of the few times she was grateful for her small stature- it made her harder to spot. She heaved a sigh of relief when she entered the school building. She was safe.

"Oh!" Atem hopped a few times, before he let out a huff and slumped. "I could have sworn I saw Yugi... Seto, how about you?"

Kaiba, who had seen Yugi spot them, realize Atem was looking for her, and run away, said: "Let's just get to class before somebody tries to talk to us."

Yugi settled into her seat as the other students trickled into the classroom. She waved at Anzu when the brunette entered, who waved back before seating herself at her own desk, unfortunately a few rows up from Yugi's. The spots filled up, and Yuugi let her mind wander as the first bell rang and the school day began.


The lunch bell went off. Yugi's first few lessons had gone by smoothly, being mostly deskwork. She reached for her bag, but found it suddenly snatched away from her. "Hey!" She looked up and saw the grinning face of Katsuya Jounouchi, dangling her bag in front of her. "Oh." And her day had been going so well until he'd shown up, too... "H-hello, Jounouchi. Can I have my bag back?"

"I dunno, can you get it back?" He taunted as he raised his arm above his head.

"Jounouchi, please just give me back my bag." She pleaded, standing up. She couldn't reach it, and they both knew that. He just stood on his tip-toes.

"Nuh-uh, you gotta work to get your bag back."

She tried to jump, but Jounouchi would back away from her whenever she did, and she found herself chasing him around the classroom hopping like a rabbit and desperately trying to get her bag back. After a few minutes of this, Jounouchi seemed to get bored, and he eyed Yugi as she panted for breath.

"How 'bout this. If you punch me as hard as you can, then I'll give you your bag back."

"Wh-what?" Her head looked at him, eyes wide. "B-but I hate fighting!"

"Well, that's too bad! Some things you gotta fight for! Unless you don't think your bag is worth it." He began to unzip it open, as he spoke, and slipped his hand in, rifling through her things.

Yugi's eyes burned. "Pl-please j-j-just give it ba-ack." She couldn't help it, she was crying. She tried to calm her rapid breaths while the blond boy rolled his eyes. He made a disgusted noise and tossed the bag back to her, hitting her in the chest and making her squeak.

"So friggen weak... take the damn thing. But I'm keeping this cause you were too pathetic to even try to get your bag back." He held up her lunch, before turning on his heel and sauntering out of the room, mumbling under his breath as he went. Yugi watched him leave, sniffling and clutching her bag to her chest. After he was gone, Yugi rushed to the hall and ran to the washroom, where she burst into sobs.

She stayed in the washroom for the rest of lunch, trying to compose herself. When her eyes were no longer bloodshot, she returned to class. Jounouchi was already back in his seat, and she felt him glaring at her. She avoided looking at him. Class resumed and Yugi felt his attention shift away from her at last, and let herself relax a bit. I guess I didn't react as much as he wanted, she thought. So he's losing interest. She just hoped he'd leave her alone after class, too. She already had enough to worry about after school.


The last bell rang, and after bowing to the teacher, Yugi made her way to Anzu, who was packing her things. "Good luck with your thing today, Anzu!" she said with a smile.

"Thanks! You too, okay? I hope you have fun with your club!" Anzu replied, before she left. Yugi headed to the third floor, sidling against the wall as the older students passed her by to reach the stairs. After the hall was mostly clear, she ducked into the classroom where she had met Atem and Kaiba the day before. She looked around and blinked. It was empty.

How had she gotten there first? As third years, their classes were on this floor. By all rights, they should have already been there. Yugi put her bag on the ground, and then eyed the desks. Putting two of them together should make enough space for the monopoly board... but the chairs were attached to the desks, and adding a third desk would be really awkward. She spied the teacher's swivel chair. That would be perfect!

She seated herself, and then used her feet to push off the wall and towards the center of the room, letting out a giggle. She knew she was acting childish, but the classroom was empty anyways. She was allowed to have fun every once in a while. When she'd wheeled over to the two desks she'd put together, she simply spun in place, laughing out loud.

And then Atem dropped from the ceiling.

Yugi froze, though the chair kept spinning, staring as he landed on his feet with ease, then brushed some dust from his uniform and looked up. "Yugi!" he broke into a grin as he saw her before he stepped forward, and then Kaiba landed in the place where Atem had stood a moment earlier.

"Did you..." Yugi looked to the place they had come through, seeing the displaced ceiling tile, "Did you two crawl through the vents?!" she asked incredulously. Atem nodded. "Why?!"

"Well, people are always following us around, so we need to find a discreet way to come to the club!" Atem explained as Kaiba retrieved a meter stick from the front of the classroom and used it to nudge the tile back into place. "It's a bit cramped and dusty, but it's the best way we've found so far." He glanced over the two desks Yugi had put together. "Are you setting something up?" he sounded eager.

"Well, you asked if I could bring a game all three of us could play, right?" She got up and headed to her backpack, Atem watching with anticipation as Kaiba plopped down in the swivel chair. "So I brought Monopoly!' She held up said game as she spoke.

Atem's face turned ashen. "Oh god."

Kaiba actually grinned. It was an expression that would haunt Yugi's nightmares.


Atem let out a slew of hideous curses under his breath as he moved his token onto the most expensive property in the game, owned and fully developed by Kaiba. The aforementioned brunette smirked and tapped a slender finger on the wood of the desk as he lounged in the office chair. "Pay up, Atem." He said smugly.

"This is bullshit." The shorter boy muttered as he slapped the amount owed into Kaiba's waiting palm, who made a show of counting the bills and sorting them into his piles, arranged by worth.

Yugi, already bankrupt, watched the game, stunned. She'd had no idea that real-life business skills translated onto the board so well. Yugi considered herself fairly good at the game, too, but Kaiba was an absolute tyrant. Atem had only survived for so long because of his luck with the dice rolls, but he could only delay Kaiba's victory, not prevent it. It only took a few more turns for to him slump and let his head slam against the table. "You win." He grumbled, and Kaiba's smug aura became so thick Yugi could have cut it with a butter knife.

"I take it neither of you are up for another round?" the taller boy asked, still basking in his victory, and Yugi shook her head as Atem let out a groan. She began to put away the game, and Kaiba checked his watch. "Atem, let's go. We've been here long enough." He pulled his cousin out of his chair and onto his feet.

"Um!" Now was her chance! Especially with Kaiba still basking in his victory. But as they both looked at her, Yugi found herself losing her nerve. She forced the words out anyways. "I have a friend, Anzu Mazaki, who's very important to me, and I want to tell her about the club, because keeping a secret like this could ruin our friendship, so could I-"

"No." She was cut off by Kaiba, who's mood had soured instantly. "I knew it. You really are just a sniveling fangirl. Get the hell out."

"Seto!" Atem exclaimed in horror, digging his elbow into Kaiba's side. Yugi kept going.

"I-I promise she'll keep the club a secret! Sh-she's not shallow, she w-w-ouldn't..." Yugi hiccupped. Her eyes were burning. Why did she have to cry so easily? She hated it. She wanted to wither away under Kaiba's intense glare.

"Wouldn't join j-just to spend time with o-one of you... She has something going on after school now, an-nyways and-"

"What does she have going on right now, exactly?" Kaiba interrupted again, and Yugi blinked. Why was Kaiba interested in that?

"I d-don't know but it's clearly very imp-portant to her and-"

"So she won't tell you?" he grilled.

"I don't see what th-this has to do with-"

"And if you found out it was something that could affect your oh-so-important friendship? What then?"

"I m-mean she must have her reasons for not telling me so-"

"Do you not realize your own hypocrisy?" Kaiba condemned. "She's keeping a secret from you, and you'll make excuses for her about how it doesn't matter, but one secret from you will ruin your friendship, apparently. Do you not see the double standard?"

Yugi tried to argue, but her words came out as unintelligible as her stutter worsened and her crying closed her throat. Kaiba kept staring her down, and she wanted to run away, but her feet felt like lead. Why wouldn't he just stop? Why was he being so mean to her? She was jarred out of her thoughts when Atem slammed his hand down on the table.

"Seto, that's enough." His tone left no room for argument. Kaiba's jaw clenched, but he didn't say anything. Atem continued. "I know you're trying to scare Yugi away, and I won't stand for it. This attitude of yours is precisely why I made this club in the first place, so you could find other people to play against. Mokuba and I can't be your only friendly relationships. Besides, the fact that Yugi wants to clear up this issue as soon as possible is commendable. Or would you rather she keep it a secret from all of us and have it spiral out of control?" Kaiba looked down with a growl. Atem's eyes narrowed, before he let out a sigh and turned to the girl. "Which one of us does your friend like, anyways?"

Yugi sniffled, surprised and glad that Atem stood up for her. It gave her a nice feeling. "Actually, the one she likes is you, Atem." She admitted, embarrassed.

"Oh, in that case, you can tell her about us, I don't care." Kaiba deadpanned.

"Seto!" Atem said, utterly indignant. Yugi couldn't help but giggle at how scandalized he sounded. He let out a sigh. "Acting like that, only to drop it as soon as it doesn't involve you... You're impossible."

Kaiba changed the subject. "We should probably get going. If we don't tell the staff what we want for dinner now, we'll be eating late."

Atem cleared his throat loudly, and Kaiba shot him a look, before Atem nudged his head towards Yugi and raised his eyebrows. Kaiba sighed. "I'm sorry." He grumbled out.

"I forgive you." Yugi said.

"Just like that?"

"Well, how else am I going to give you a second chance?" Yugi smiled at him gently. Atem was beaming as he watched them.

"... We can play chess tomorrow. I'll decide my opinion of you then." Kaiba finally allowed.

"Thank you."


Yugi left first, since Atem and Kaiba had to wait for their car to arrive. As she walked home, she pondered the emotional roller coaster today's club meeting had been. Well, at least everything had turned out alright in the end. All she had to do was explain things to Anzu to avoid any misunderstandings that could have come out of this setup. She was glad. She kicked a pebble and watched it skid away. Maybe she could become real friends with Atem and Kaiba. Well, mostly Atem. He definitely seemed to want to be friends with her.

Paranoia welled up in her. This could just be a big prank. She'd heard of it before. The popular boy pretending to be interested in the unpopular girl, only to break her heart... Yugi shook her head to get rid of those thoughts. Atem was a good person, and he seemed to genuinely want to be friends with her. Why he did, she couldn't fathom. Besides, she wasn't even attracted to Atem, so that kind of prank would fall flat. Kaiba was a different case, but judging by his challenge, if they could match wits, he would accept her... maybe not as a friend, but as an equal. Kaiba was hailed as a chess prodigy. She found herself eager for the challenge.

Yugi froze in place. What...? She looked around, rubbing her arms as all her hairs stood on end. Was somebody watching her? She shivered, and could have sworn a pair of eyes were drilling into her, but there was no one around. She clenched the straps of her bag tighter, tensing, and kept walking. The feeling only got worse. She broke into a run, and when she reached the game shop, she slammed the door shut, gasping for breath. The feeling dissipated.

"Yugi? Is everything alright?" Yugi jumped as her grandfather spoke, having poked his head into the entrance hall as he heard Yugi small the door. She looked at him, still panting for a few moments, before she shook her head and let out a laugh.

"Sorry, grandpa. I got a bit paranoid walking home today. I thought someone was watching me."

He nodded in understanding. "It's been a while since you've walked home alone, hasn't it? You must have gotten scared." His face darkened. "Or one of your new club friends followed you home."

"Grandpa, you know I don't get chased after by boys."

"Yugi, do you know where my cane is? I may have to start beating suitors away from my cute granddaughter with it."

"Grandpa!"

Chapter Text

"... I can't believe it!" Anzu exclaimed, staring at her best friend. Yugi looked down sheepishly. She had explained her club situation to the brunette during their morning walk, and she'd thought Anzu's eyes would bug out of her head. "How can any one person be such a jerk? I should give Kaiba a piece of my mind!" she fumed. Yugi blinked. That hadn't been what she'd expected Anzu to focus on.

"It's fine... he just needs a chance to warm up to me, that's all..."

Anzu grimaced. "Yugi, sometimes people are just mean. You don't have to make excuses for his behavior."

"I'm sure that he's a good person. Otherwise Atem wouldn't be friends with him, right?"

"Atem is his cousin, Yugi, they kind of have to be friends with eachother." A sly grin crossed Anzu's features. "So, you think Atem has good judgement, do you?"

Yugi pondered for a moment. "Well... he seems like he cares about the club for real, and he's been really nice so far. He even stood up for me against Kaiba. I think... he's really earnest about wanting to be friends?"

Anzu's expression had turned dreamy as Yugi talked, and a faint blush dusted her cheeks. "Wow... he's really a gentleman. Guys like him are rare nowadays." She suddenly grasped Yugi's hands, looking into the shorter girl's eyes fiercely. "Yugi! You'll tell me everything he likes, okay? And what he doesn't like! I need to know!"

"Anzu... Isn't stuff like that... exactly why they didn't want me telling you?" Yugi said nervously. Anzu blinked at her, then released her hands.

"Oh. You're right. Geez, I'm sorry. Still, it would be nice to hear about him. As long as you don't go falling for him yourself!" She finished with a wink.

Yugi laughed. "I wouldn't ask out the guy you like behind your back, Anzu, you know me better than that! And if you really want to meet Atem, I think you should just be straightforward and introduce yourself, instead of going behind his back trying to find what he likes and stuff."

Anzu smiled. "You're right. I should just be myself and go up to him. And if things don't work out, we can still be friends that way!" She hugged her shorter friend fiercely. "Thanks, Yugi."

"N-no problem!" Yugi gasped out under the pressure of Anzu's hug.


Atem looked out the window, watching the clouds float by. He tuned out the teacher's lecture about algebra and let his thoughts drift to his afterschool club. It was the only place he felt like a normal high schooler. He knew that he was anything but normal, but it was still nice to be treated like he was sometimes. That was why he and Seto had come to this school, after all. They could have gotten private tutors or gone to a prestigious academy, but Atem had insisted on a public high school for them. It wasn't like they needed the education, after all, considering they were both certified geniuses and Seto had been running his own company with talented ease for a little under a year now, but Atem had thought they needed the chance to socialize with others of their age. Seto had fought him tooth and nail, but had eventually agreed to accompany him to the school. If Atem was honest, Seto needed normal human interaction more than he did, before he became like Gozaburo.

But despite his efforts, in day-to-day life, they weren't treated as normal teens. He saw the way the other students looked at him- seeing his title, his prestige, before they saw him. He wasn't a person in their eyes. Despite his efforts to genuinely befriend them, he could still see the gleam, the thought of using him as a step on the social ladder, or seeing him as an attractive face to be made into a boyfriend with little regard for actual emotion or compatibility. It grew tiring, and he sometimes wished he could show them what they were really messing with and watch them run away screaming that he was a person as well.

Yugi, too, had seen his status before seeing him as he was, but he saw fear in her eyes instead of greed. And that fear would be a lot easier to wipe away. She was already starting to see him as he was, and that thought made his chest lighten. He wanted those violet eyes to look at him only him and light up with joy, wanted see if her skin was as smooth as it looked while she was pressed against him and hear her sweet voice as she moaned and gasped and mewled underneath him while they-

Atem launched himself out of his seat as the lunch bell rang, practically flying to the men's washroom as he felt bile rise in his throat. He gripped the edge of the sink so hard the blood drained from his knuckles, staring at his reflection in the mirror. His brow shone with sweat and he panted for breath before he swallowed, hard, forcing his nerves to settle. After staring at the mirror for a few more moments, scanning his face, he let out a sigh and let his head drop. He'd grown complacent, since it had been a while since his last episode, and now those thoughts were sneaking in and he hadn't even realized at first- He had to be more careful.

He prided himself on his steel-tempered self-control, but two days of knowing Yugi had unraveled it. He knew that the safest option was to cut contact with her, but he'd vowed that he wouldn't let his issue stop him from enjoying life. He was stronger than his problem. He could do this.

"So, are you going to tell me what that was about?"

Atem turned his head to see Seto standing a few feet from him, arms crossed. He gave a wry smile. "Just a bit of a migraine, it's nothing to worry about."

"Cut the crap, Atem, I know that's bullshit. Something's wrong with you." Seto's eyes narrowed. "Something's been wrong with you for a long time. Did you think I wouldn't notice? What kind of idiot do you take me for?"

Atem turned his body to fully face Seto, who continued, voice venomous. "You called the Mutou girl 'commendable' for not wanting to keep secrets from her friend. I thought she was the hypocrite, but you're an even bigger one, aren't you? If you think what she does is so noble, why don't you follow her example and spill what's going on?"

"Oh?" Atem smirked viciously. "If that's what you want, why don't you start by spilling your secrets?"

Seto was dead silent, and most wouldn't have been able to tell his expression from his usual angry glare, but Atem saw the way Seto's jaw clenched and his lips thinned. "Did you think I wouldn't notice? What kind of idiot do you take me for?" He parroted his cousin's words. "I think the biggest hypocrite here is you, Seto."

"Trust me when I say that you don't want to know my secrets." Seto finally said, voice quiet and tired.

"And trust me when I say," Atem stepped forward, crimson boring into cobalt, "that mine are a lot worse."

Atem stepped away then, leaving Seto standing there as he walked out, pausing at the threshold of the washroom. "I'll be going home now. I'll tell the nurse that I'm sick."

Seto didn't turn to look at him as he replied: "You do that."


"So I heard your gramps' shop has the latest Guns for Glory game."

Yugi was backed against the wall, head down, staring at the floor and the three pairs of shoes. Hers, Jounouchi's, and Honda's. They'd managed to corner her while she was on her way to the library.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you!" A hand fisted into her hair and pulled, forcing her to face her tormentors. Jounouchi was the one holding onto her, while Honda had his hands stuffed in his pockets, watching the scene. "I'm sure dear old pops won't miss a copy or two. Mind getting your hands on it for us?"

"S...sure." she mumbled, mentally tallying up the cost of the game. She got about two thousand yen for her weekly allowance, and she's been saving up to buy a Fruit Fighters figurine that would be coming out soon, so she should be able to afford at least one copy... To her surprise, Jounouchi just spat on the ground, utterly furious.

"Seriously? You'll hand one over just like that? Tell me, Yugi, what are you gonna do when you're an adult? You still gonna let people walk all over you?" He shoved her towards Honda, who caught her in a headlock.

"Jou's told me about you, but I didn't think anyone could be this much of a doormat. I thought stealing from your grandpa would be your limit, but apparently I was wrong." The brunet said, adjusting his grip.

"I wouldn't have stolen it... I'd have paid for it..." she protested, and both boys fell silent for a solid thirty seconds.

"That's even worse." Jounouchi finally said, in utterly disbelief. Suddenly, Yugi felt Honda stiffen.

"What do you boys think you're doing?" A thunderous voice asked. Jounouchi started, and Yugi paled, and they (Yugi dragged by Honda's movement) turned to face the hulking hall monitor and self-proclaimed "bodyguard-for-hire" Ushio. He was glaring at the trio. Honda swallowed.

"Well, what does it look like we're doing?" Jounouchi's voice was strained, and he mussed Yugi's hair in a show of mock affection. "Just playin' around a bit with our good pal Yug! Ain't that right?" Honda nodded his agreement, while Yugi tried to blow her hair out of her face.

Ushio's eyes narrowed. "Really? Because it looks to me like you're bullying poor Mutou-san."

Honda let out a shaky laugh. "What? Never seen roughhousing between friends before, Ushio-san?"

Ushio silenced him with a furrowed brow. "Why don't you let your victim speak for herself?" He looked at Yugi, and she felt nothing but cold dread under his gaze. "Well, Mutou-san? Are these two bullying you?"

"...No." She knew that this was her chance to get rid of Jounouchi and Honda, but... she'd heard of Ushio's methods, and she liked them even less. She wasn't inclined for revenge. If those two would jjust leave her alone, she'd be just fine with that. She forced a smile. "They're my friends, Ushio-san. Thank you for worrying."

The giant grunted, turned on his heel and left. Honda and Jounouchi sagged with relief. Honda released his grip on Yugi, who wiggled away.

"You know, I should probably be mad at you for not standing up against us." Jounouchi said, staring at where the other student had vanished, "But you also just saved our asses from Ushio, so I'll let it slide."

Yugi just scampered away from them.


When Yugi slid open the door, she was surprised to see that Kaiba was already there and had their chess board set up. "Is Atem n-not here?" she asked as she noticed the Egyptian boy's absence.

"He got sick and went home." Kaiba replied curtly, as Yugi seated herself across from him. "I'm actually glad he's gone. Because now..." something dark flashed in Kaiba's eyes. "I can play how I like." The blood drained from Yugi's face as Kaiba's fingers ghosted over the pieces. "I find games without any stakes to be terribly dull." He froze Yugi in place with a glare. "If I win, I get to decide whether or not you get to stay in the club." He smirked as Yugi opened her mouth to protest before he continued: "I know you have no chance of beating me, so I'll be merciful. If you play well enough, I'll let you stay. But if your skills fall short," he paused dramatically, "you will leave and you will never so much as look at either of us ever again. Atem seems to like you for some incomprehensible reason, so if he approaches you, turn him away. I don't want him wasting his time with unworthy opponents when he could be battling me. And," Yugi had opened her mouth again, but Kaiba seemed to read the question on her mind, "if you decline these terms, I might accidentally let slip to some of Atem's fangirls that you've been spending time with him. Win and you can ask anything of me, within reason of course."

"... Kaiba..." Yugi took a deep breath as she chose her words. "I was hoping that this game would help us become friends. That we could bond, or at least, understand eachother..." She locked eyes with him, her violets blazing with a quiet strength that took him by surprise. "Despite what you just said... I still think that we can be friends, Kaiba. I accept your challenge."

Chapter Text

Well, she had actually managed to surprise him. Wasn't she supposed to be timid and meek? But something he hadn't felt in a long time with anyone other than Atem was welling in his chest. Anticipation. Maybe this would be interesting after all. He leaned forward. "Make your move."

They played in silence for a long time. Begrudgingly, Kaiba had to admit: she was good. She rarely fell for his traps, and if she did, it was to lure him into one of her own. But as she moved a pawn out of the way of his rook, giving him a chance to take an advantageous position, he finally decided to voice his thoughts on her style.

"You seem reluctant to sacrifice your pieces. Why?" he asked.

Yugi hesitated a moment before answering. "I think that every piece can have its use. A piece that you give up now could help you in the future. I want to make sure that every piece lost was had to be lost."

Kaiba snorted at her logic. "That's ridiculous. They're not alive. The point is to capture the opponent's king, not keep all your pieces."

"I know that! But..." Yugi looked over the board as she pondered her next move. "If this were a real battle... a real war... I could never treat real lives so callously, even for the sake of strategy. Destroying your own army for the sake of a victory would make you a bad leader."

"But the point of chess is that it isn't a real battle." Kaiba argued, exasperated. "Your pieces aren't exactly going to hold a grudge against you after they're killed."

"I know that, but..." Yugi allowed a small smile. "I think it adds a challenge, too. While we're on the subject, would you like to hear what I think of your playstyle, Kaiba?"

That certainly caught his interest. He'd analyzed plenty of people before, but he'd never heard an examination of himself. He had to admit, he was curious. "Go ahead." He allowed.

"You're good." She said immediately. "Very good." Kaiba allowed himself to smirk slightly at the praise. Of course he was good. He was one of the best. "You're very quick to sacrifice your pieces. Or, what you consider to be your weaker pieces. You have no pawns left. And you're very protective of your queen."

"The queen is the best piece on the board. Of course I want to keep it." Kaiba snapped. Yugi flinched, some of her more timid demeanor returning, before she steeled herself and kept going.

"I have to think carefully when playing against you. Even when I think I've outwitted you, you set it up so you have an advantage no matter what move I make. But..." her lips quirked up into a small smile, "if you have one blatant flaw, I'd say it's your tendency to underestimate your opponents." She moved her pawn forward- the very same pawn she'd saved from his rook- and reached his end of the board. "I promote to bishop. Checkmate, Kaiba."

He leaned back, mentally reeling, as he overlooked the board. Her knight and her rook were blocking his king's escape, and with her promoted pawn, she was in position to take it- how hadn't he noticed? She leaned forward and began to reset the board with a tranquil expression as Kaiba stared incredulously. "You were an amazing opponent." She told him with a smile. He slammed his hands on the table, startling her and making the chess pieces jump into the air and fall over.

"Don't patronize me." He hissed. He could feel anger boiling in his gut. He didn't need this stupid flimsy little girl's pity-

"I mean it! That was one of the best games I've played in a long time." She was looking at him, hurt and confusion clear in her eyes. "I thought this match was to help us become friends."

"It was to help us understand each other. I don't do 'friends', Mutou." He'd regained some of his composure, crossing his arms and glaring at her.

She pouted- actually pouted- at him. "Then you should understand that I want to be your friend."

He clenched his shaking fists until his hands turned white, then let air out through his nose and forced himself to relax. His anger drained into tired irritation as he looked her in the eye. "Why?" he asked. He'd done everything he could to intimidate her and drive her away from the club so Atem would drop this silly idea and go back to playing against him instead of wasting his time against weaklings. But she persisted, no matter how cold he was, and even wanted to befriend him. He didn't understand.

"Because I don't think you're a bad person, Kaiba." She replied, simply. Kaiba stared at her as his brain short-circuited. He'd done terrible things. Driven two men to suicide and bankrupted a third for the sake of a trading card. He owned a cut-throat multi-billion dollar corporation and made money off the crushed souls of his workers every day. He only cared for two people in the world. And to have Yugi tell him that he was not a bad person ran so contrary to his own beliefs about himself that it threw him for a loop.

"... Then you're a naive idiot." He finally said. "But you are a good chess player. I'll be challenging you again in the future. You might be handy to keep around."

"...I guess that's the best I'll get for now." She admitted. "Thank you for playing with me, Kaiba." He grunted at her. She picked up her bag and left him in the room, staring at the board, pondering her words far more than he'd like to.


As Yugi walked out the school entrance, all the hairs on her neck stood up, and a shiver made its way up her spine. She felt like she was being watched again. Rubbing her nape, she looked around the schoolyard, trying to find the thing watching her. It was deserted. But the feeling still wouldn't leave. Stifling the panic that was welling up and making it hard to breath, she kept walking forward, towards the school gate. She nearly screamed when she felt a hand clap onto her shoulder. She whirled around, eyes wide, ready to bolt away from her stalker.

"Mutou-san." It was Ushio. "There you are. I have something I want to show you." He told her with a toothy grin. Yugi pressed a hand to her pounding heart.

"Ushio-san! You scared me..." she doubted that Ushio was the one watching her yesterday. He lived in a completely different direction, after all. She probably was just being paranoid. That, or it was a freaky coincidence. "What is it you want me to see?"

His grin got wider and his grip on her shoulder tightened. "Follow me." He led her to an alley around the corner of the school. "I think you'll be quite pleased with my work." When she saw what was at the back of the alley, she clapped a hand to her mouth in shock, eyes widening in horror.

It was Jounouchi and Honda, beaten bloody, lying in crumpled heaps in the dirt. Honda was unconscious, But Jounouchi managed to crack his unblackened eye open to look at her.

"Yugi..." he croaked out, and she dropped her bag and rushed to his side, dropping to her knees next to him. The rough ground scraped her skin open but she didn't care. They were in a lot more pain than she was. "We need to get you to the nurse's... or... or maybe even the hospital-" Yugi babbled worriedly.

Ushio stood at the end of the alley, smugness radiating off of him. "So, Mutou, I trust you're pleased with my work?" Yugi turned her head to stare at him, tears gathering in her eyes.

"You... you did this?!" she asked. He nodded.

"Well? Aren't you happy, Yugi? Now they won't be bothering you anymore."

"Happy..?" Yugi repeated in a mumbled. "Why... Why would this make me happy?!" She stood up, violet eyes shooting accusations at the giant male.

"Oh? You're not happy?" Ushio scratched his chin for a moment, before a languid smile spread across his face. "I get it. You want me to beat them up some more, right? Why didn't you just say so?" He stepped forward, drawing his fist back, but Yugi raised her arms to shield the pair of boys behind her. Ushio fixed her with a hard look. "Yugi," he said, voice dangerously low, "what are you doing?"

"I... I won't l-let you hurt them anym-more!" Yugi declared. Her voice shook, but her gaze was steady as she stared Ushio down. "Why... why would something like this make me happy? This is horrible! I never asked for this! Never wanted it! You did this of your own accord!" Tears were spilling down her face as she spoke, but her eyes never left Ushio's.

"Yugi..?" Jounouchi rasped out her name again, before he went into a coughing fit. Ushio sneered at him, before returning his attention to Yugi.

"Are you protecting them? Why? What are they to you?" he asked.

"They're..." She thought for a moment, before she found the right word. "They're my friends!" she shouted. Ushio's sneer grew. He walked forward and slapped Yugi in the face, as hard as he could, sending her reeling back. A punch to her head sent her to the ground, where Ushio stomped down on her midsection, making her gasp in pain.

"Your friends, huh? You're still standing up for them? Fuckin' pathetic." He and ground his foot down into her, and she cried out. "Either way, I did my job, so I expect payment for my services. This is just a small taste of what I can do. I expect two hundred thousand yen by tomorrow morning or..." his sneer grew. "I'll give you twice what I gave to those scumbags." With that, he withdrew his foot and walked off, leaving Yugi and the other two boys writhing in the dirt.

Yugi wanted to curl up in a ball and cry from the pain, but shakily, she stood up. She wasn't the most injured person here, after all. She limped over to Jounouchi and Honda. The blond eyed her warily. "Can... can you stand?" she asked, extending her hand. He hesitated for a moment before he nodded, gripping the offered hand and pulled himself up. He dusted himself off while Yugi went to Honda's side. "He's still unconscious... do you think we can carry him...?"

"... Sorry."

"Hm?" Yugi turned to look at Jou. "Are you too hurt to carry him? We can bring the nurse here if-"

"No," the boy interrupted. "I mean, I'm sorry for what I've been doin' to you. I thought you were weak. A coward. We wanted to toughen you up to make you grow a backbone. But what you did back there... that was the bravest thing I've ever seen. So..." he scuffed his foot around, eyes lowered. "I'm sorry."

"Jounouchi..." she started, but he swooped in and pushed Honda onto his shoulder. "Let's go," he said, before Yugi could continue.

The nurse (who was luckily still at the school) gave Yugi an icepack for the bruise from Ushio's slap, which helped the swelling go down, and some bandages for her scraped knees. Honda was laid in one of the beds while the nurse worked to clean and dress his injuries, while Yugi tried to disinfect Jounouchi's split lip.

"Fuck!" he shouted as she dabbed the cotton swab against the wound. The nurse looked up, scandalized. "Language, Jounouchi-kun!" She scolded, before returning her attentions to the unconscious brunet. "Sorry ma'am..." Jou mumbled half-heartedly, clearly not sorry. Yugi let out a sigh.

"It can't hurt that much, can it?" she asked as she dabbed again. Jounouchi flinched, but did not cuss.

"It stings." He said in an offended manner. Yugi raised an eyebrow.

"The disinfectant hurts more than what split your lip open?"

"...That's different."

Yugi rolled her eyes before applying a bandage to Jou's forehead, where he had another sore.

"You two can go, you know." The nurse told them. "I want to go home too, but I guess I can watch over your friend until he wakes up. Now shoo." She waved her hands at them.

"Geez, lady. Fine, we're goin'." Jou stood and stretched while Yugi picked up her bag. "Hey, Yug, where you headin'?" he asked before she could leave.

Yugi turned to look at him. "Home, of course."

He picked up his own bag. "I live in the same direction as you, 'cept a bit further down. Wanna walk together?"

Yugi blinked. Walk together? Like real friends? She broke into a wide grin. "Sure. I'd like that."

They made idle chatter on their way to the game shop. When they reached the entrance, Jounouchi rubbed the back of his head. "Well, guess this is your stop. See you tomorrow, Yug."

"Bye bye, Jounouchi!" Yugi waved as he continued down the road until he was out of sight. Overall, she was happy. Despite her aching bruises, she'd made two new friends that day (because Kaiba was her friend despite his insistence otherwise). Her gut twisted when she remembered Ushio's threats. Where would she be able to get that much yen in one night? She couldn't possibly ask her grandfather for that much money... She shivered, suddenly getting the creeping, watching feeling again. Maybe she should just go inside and not think about these things for now.


The next morning, Yugi was on edge as she walked through the school gates, expecting Ushio to jump on her immediately and demand his payment. Her nerves were shot the entire time she went to her shoe locker and went to class, expecting the giant at any moment. She took her seat in class and shifted around listlessly.

By lunchtime, her anxiety had melted into confusion. Had Ushio forgotten about her? But while she was making her way to the library, she overheard snippets of conversation from other students.

"Yeah, he's been absent all morning..."

"... might have gotten sick?"

"...say's Ushio's not picking up his cell..."

"Not only him..!"

Hearing that Ushio wasn't there that day made her knees weaken in relief, and she almost collapsed then and there in the hallway. But only when she reached her destination did she allowed herself to slump bonelessly into a seat. Until she noticed Kaiba. She sat up straighter as soon as he walked into the room. He scanned the room, eyes landing on her. He strode over and settled at the same table as her, but far away enough that it only looked like he had randomly decided on an empty seat. He pulled out his laptop and some papers and spread them out before him. Then, with a quick flick of the wrist while no one was looking, the shoved one piece of paper across the table and to her. Yugi looked around. Nobody had seen. She leaned over and pulled the paper closer. It read:

Atem not here today. Club meeting cancelled.

-K

She wondered if Atem and Ushio had gotten the same illness. After all, Atem had gotten sick yesterday. She wondered if he was okay, but couldn't risk talking to Kaiba in public. She let out a sigh and pulled a puzzle cube from her bag. She supposed she'd find out when Atem came back to school.


Once the rest of her classes were finished, Yugi pondered what to do now. It had been a while since she'd been to the arcade...

"Hey! Yug!" Yugi turned to see Jounouchi running towards her, one hand in his pocket, the other waving at her enthusiastically. "You wanna walk home together again?" He asked excitedly.

"Actually, I wasn't going home today, I was going to the arcade... But you could come with me there!" Yugi replied with a smile.

"The arcade? Sounds sweet, I'm in!" He pumped his fist enthusiastically. "Let's go!"

It was only a few blocks from the school, so the walk was short. The day was a nice one, with warm sunlight and a gentle breeze.

"You know..." Jounouchi said as they strolled, "if you want, we could make this a regular thing. Walking home together. I could keep you from gettin' jumped by perverts and stuff!" If Anzu were there, she would have told Jounouchi that he was one of the perverts Yugi needed to look out for.

The blond noticed Yugi's face fall. "I can't." She said.

"Whu-? Why not?" he asked, concerned.

"I don't go straight home after school. I joined a club. Our meeting just happened to be cancelled today..." she said.

"Oh." Jounouchi's voice was laced with disappointment. But he forced himself to perk up. "Which club didja join?"

"The game club!"

"Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa," Jou stopped in his tracks, staring wide-eyed at Yugi. "We have a gaming club?!" He asked incredulously. "Why didn't anyone tell me about this before?!"

"A game club, Jounouchi, not a gaming club." Yugi corrected. "Like board and card games. Not video games. And it was only formed recently, and we're not very public yet..."

"That still sounds freakin' amazin'! You gotta introduce me!" he begged. Yugi pondered it for a moment. Jou was clearly a very genuine person and spoke his thoughts bluntly, so Atem and Kaiba wouldn't have to worry about him trying to take advantage of them. Besides, they did need their fourth member.

"Alright! If you join, we'll be an official club! But we'll have to see if the other members approve first." She told him. They had reached the arcade by that point, and Yugi spent the next hour completely destroying Jounouchi at the arcade machine edition of Fruit Fighters.

"Did you hear about Ushio?" Anzu asked her immediately when they met up the next morning.

"He's sick, right..?" Yugi asked uncertainly. Anzu shook her head vigorously.

"He wasn't sick! Some of his friends went to his house to check on him, and when his mom opened the door, they could hear him screaming. He just woke up like that, screaming and thrashing! His parents had to restrain him to keep him from hurting himself. He just lost it!"

Yugi went pale. Something heavy and cold settled in her gut, but she didn't know why. "What do you think happened to him?"

Anzu shrugged. "I don't know. He's in the hospital now, apparently." The brunette's brow creased with worry. "Atem wasn't at school yesterday either. Do you think he's okay?" her voice was hushed with concern.

"Kaiba didn't seem too worried yesterday, so I think so..." Yugi mumbled thoughtfully. Despite the fact that the morning was warm, Yugi shivered.

Chapter Text

"Welcome home, Master Atem." Said the maid opening the door.

"Thank you, Hitomi." Atem had to scramble for her name. He was usually very good about recalling the staff's names, but he was too far off today, too unbalanced to function. How hadn't he realized it earlier? He should have caught this before he went to school. But something had been different about the thoughts today. They never started so strongly. They usually trickled in, subtly, and he could stem the flow before they started to affect him. Was he weakening? Had something changed? If so, what?

These thoughts swirled in his head as he stepped into the kitchen, and then were abruptly halted as he saw that someone else was already in the kitchen. Mokuba froze in place, eyes wide and a chocolate bar sticking out of his mouth, arms full of candy from his rummaging in the cupboard. The two stared at eachother in shock, and Mokuba slowly put down the treats he was holding.

"Mokuba? What are you doing here?" Atem finally broke the silence, utterly bewildered. And then, realization, which turned into anger. "Are you skipping school?!"

"No!" Mokuba immediately shouted in reply, and bits of chocolate spewed from his mouth and all over the floor. The younger boy clapped a hand to his mouth, chewed hastily, and then swallowed, before looking at Atem, whose foot was tapping on the ground. "No!" He repeated, guilt written all over his face, clearly lying. He had been caught red-handed, and they both knew it. "... Maybe." He finally admitted. He then looked Atem up and down. "Well... So are you!"

"I wasn't feeling well so I came home early." Atem snapped. "Don't try to change the subject! How long has this been going on?"

"Two... months." Mokuba wasn't meeting his eye, looking at his feet while he scuffed them on the floor.

"How come your teachers haven't informed us of this, Mokuba?" Atem's words were made of fire and steel. Mokuba mumbled out something incomprehensible, head lowered. "Repeat that." Atem demanded, slamming his hand down on the counter.

"Because... I bribe them not to..." Mokuba's head remained lowered. "Please don't tell Seto!"

"Why shouldn't I tell Seto?!" Atem snarled. "Well?!" He took a step forward, and Mokuba flinched back, and when he looked at Atem, his eyes were wet with tears. Atem's mind jolted itself back into order and his insides twisted. Oh god. Mokuba was crying. Mokuba was scared of him. How could he? His mouth was dry. He collapsed back against the counter, utterly horrified at himself. He was so careful to avoid losing control around his family, but all of that had nearly come undone. Stupid. He was so stupid.

"... Atem?" Mokuba asked, taking a tentative step forward as he felt the older boy's rage dissipate.

Atem put his head in his hands. "I'm sorry, Mokuba. I didn't mean to yell at you. I don't know what came over me." That was a lie. He knew exactly what had come over him. But that didn't make it an excuse. He should have known better, reacted better... It wasn't something he could let Mokuba find out about. He'd considered telling Seto, especially after their discussion on secrets, but... He was afraid of how Seto would react. The more Atem thought about it, the more likely the idea that his cousin would hate him seemed. And Seto would have every right to hate him. But he still didn't want to lose him. Aside from his father, the Kaibas were the only family he had left... and it wasn't like Atem's father was involved in his son's life. He let out a deep sigh, and tried to look at Mokuba as gently as possible. "Listen. I'll let this go if you promise not to skip any more school. Will you feel better if I let you watch an R-rated movie?"

Mokuba perked up instantly, and he wiped his eyes quickly before staring at Atem. "With swears in it?"

Atem nodded. "Lots of swears in it."

"Deal!" Mokuba crowed.


After watching Midnight Menace III- KNIFE to Meet You- Extended CUT, and getting Mokuba out from where he was hiding behind the couch, Atem checked his watch. School had just ended. Would Seto be home soon? His phone buzzed with a text.

Challenging Mutou at chess. Will be home when finished.

-SK

Well, he supposed that answered his question. He grew worried, though. Seto was always respectful when playing against him... but that didn't extend to anyone else. His tactics were brutal, and his opponents often ended up in tears from his taunting. Besides, he wanted to challenge Yugi at chess one day himself, and watching her play against Seto would have been a wonderful opportunity to analyze her strategies to formulate his own against her. Well, he could do with a challenge. He'd love to watch her crumble as he beat her again and again and- Atem smacked a hand to his forehead. No. Bad thoughts. Bad. He mentally scolded. He needed a distraction... Perhaps he should start thinking about what they would have for dinner that night. Yes, he rarely had those thoughts when he was thinking of food, it was the perfect solution.

He was suddenly hit by a wave of tiredness, and let out a massive, jaw-cracking yawn. Perhaps after he told the staff what to make for dinner, he'd lie down for a while...


"Welcome home, Master Kaiba."

Atem awoke to the sound of Hitomi greeting Seto as he walked through the front door. He rolled off the couch, letting out a muffled "oomph!" as he landed on his stomach. After lying on the floor for a few seconds, collecting his sleep-scattered thoughts, he sat up, running a hand through his hair to shake off his drowsiness. Seto walked into the room, and just looked at Atem, who gave him a little wave as he stood up and brushed himself off. "Seto! Welcome back! How was your match with Yugi?"

Seto was silent for a moment before he nodded. "It was a good game."

"I'm glad. By the way, we're having beef stir fry tonight. Are you okay with that?" Atem made his voice as cheerful as possible.

"Stir fry is fine." The brunet's responses were short and clipped. They were silent for a few moments after that. The tension from their earlier argument still hadn't dissipated. Atem let out an awkward cough. "So, how is Yugi doing?"

Seto rolled his eyes. "She was fine."

"... Can you tell me anything else...?"

Seto let out an irate sigh. "Atem, I don't have time to entertain your ridiculous crush."

Atem nearly choked on his own spit. After he coughed and recovered, he looked at Seto with wide-eyes, cheeks flushed a darker colour. "Is it that obvious?"

"Atem, you look at her like you've never seen a woman before in your life. If she weren't so totally naive, I would question why she hasn't said anything."

"Oh god." Atem dropped his face in his hands. Seto's lips twitched upwards slightly. Sometimes, it just felt good to bask in schadenfreude.


Atem went to his room early that night. He needed the time to strengthen his mind, especially after today. If he had any less self-control, he would be a danger to his family. That was unacceptable. This was the only place he could quell the thoughts, not because his room was his sanctuary; it was the lion's den, the closest to the danger, and it was precisely that reason that made it the only place where he could shove the mental invasions back where they came from. He was expecting to feel the usual wave of foreign emotions crashing through him when he opened the door, so he was surprised when he only felt a slight buzz . Was it going to leave him alone today? That was rare. It usually loved taunting him. Well, it suited his purposes, so he wouldn’t complain.

Atem laid back on his bed, shut his eyes, and delved into his own mind.


When he woke up the next morning, his mind was a mess. He felt absolutely d(elicious)isgusting and wanted to go out and find Yugi and mark her skin with his teeth vomit as he was hit with a wave of ecstacy nausea and he leapt out of bed and dashed to the washroom, not even caring that he was still in his pajamas as he gripped the one of the knobs of the shower and twisted it as far as it would go. He let out a yell as the icy cold water hit him, but it did its job. The other thoughts quieted slightly. Or were they his own thoughts? The two were so jumbled and entwined that he couldn't tell anymore. He pressed his forehead against the shower wall as he gasped for breath, letting the chill soak into his pajamas, his hair, his skin, his bones. There was no way he could attend school in this state.

After he stripped out of his wet sleepwear and into some dry clothes, he stumbled over to his bed and dropped to his knees to dig under it. He pulled out the one-foot-square safe from its hiding spot, and mashed in the code. It popped open, and he gripped the object inside and pulled it up to his eyes, glaring at it with pure, absolute hate. The puzzle glimmered in the light, seeming to wink at him. Atem ran his finger along the ridge in the center of its face, the ridge of the missing piece.

"What did you do?" He hissed. There was no response. As much as he despised the feeling, he sent his mind out to feel the thing inside the puzzle. He jerked back when he felt it and realized- it was dormant. Sleeping. This had never happened before, not that he could remember. It was always awake, taunting him, planting its thoughts in his head and laughing at the consequences. He tentatively sent out another mental poke. It wasn't just dormant, it was utterly drained. Atem's eyes were wide. "What did you do?" he asked, this time in a small voice.

He dropped the puzzle when he felt a very sharp mental poke back. He felt the thing's emotions- grogginess at having been disturbed, before it went under again, back into its sleep-like status. Shakily, Atem rose to his feet, placing the puzzle back into its vault and locking it back under his bed. There was a knock at the door and his head snapped to the noise.

"Master Atem? It's time to wake up." It was Ka- Kaede... Kaoru? One of the maids, here to wake him up for school. He should rip out her throat for disturbing him. He shook his head vigourously, gripping his hair and pulling as hard as he could. No no no no no! He would not let this thing control him. And he certainly couldn't attend school in this state. He heard he open the door and step into the room. "Master Atem?" She called again, clearly worried. "Are you alright?" she must have seen his sorry state.

He gave the maid a wry smile. "Sorry... I'm not feeling well today... I don't think I'll be able to attend school today."

She nodded, frowning in concern. "I'll call the school right away. I'll also be sure to tell Master Seto. Would you like me to bring up some breakfast as well?"

As soon as she mentioned food, he realized how hungry he was. He craved fresh meat any food, and his stomach let out a growl. His mouth watered as he realized the closest source of meat was Kaoru. It would be so easy to rip out her throat with his teeth and NONONONO. He nodded at her. "If you don't mind, an omelette would be nice."

"As you wish, Master Atem." She took a quick bow and left, and Atem crawled back onto his bed. He shut his eyes to gather himself- just for a moment- but it seemed that as soon as he did, the maid was knocking again. He couldn't suppress the growl that left his throat, but he faked a cough to cover it. "Please come in." He told the girl.

She set a plate on his nightstand, a steaming omelette, as he'd requested, and she'd even gone through the trouble of getting him some bacon and toast, Atem saw with a gush of gratitude. He would have to give her a raise. "Thank you very much, Kaoru."

"Ah-" she started, but quickly closed her mouth. Atem frowned. "What's the matter?" He asked.

"My name is Kaori, sir, but it's alright. I'm glad you tried to remember."

Atem could feel the blood draining from his face. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry." He always made sure to call the staff by name, to show his appreciation, and now he'd slipped up. He hoped that Kaori wasn't too offended. He would forgive her if she was. She bowed and left the room again, leaving Atem alone.

He sighed and quickly ate his breakfast (it really was quite good- he'd thank the chefs for their good work when he was in his right mind) and settled into the bed, lying on his back, arms crossed over his chest. It was time he took care of his head.


His consciousness slipped down, and in the physical plane, his body went slack. When he opened his "eyes", he was in his soul room. It was large and magnificent, hewn from sandstone, with only three walls, the forth open and leading to a small oasis, the pool lined with lotus and papyrus flowers. It was a throne room, with hieroglyphs and carvings covering the walls. Two tables lined the right side of the room. One held different games, pieces scattered and worn with use, and the other supported glittering golden jewelry, among which was a winged crown with an eye in the center, a crook and flail, and a pair of scales that were always even, no matter how much weight he put on one side.

The pillars supporting the roof bore carvings of people. Atem paused to ghost his fingers along the stone face of Seto. There was Mokuba, the cracked pillars of his mother and father, and some pillars with faces he didn't recognize, which had always intrigued him. He looked to the raised platform the throne sat upon, and was surprised to see a smaller ornate chair had been placed next to it. Well, he could figure out the new addition later. Right now, he had a job to do.

He made his way over to the oasis pool, peering into it. The water was blackened and murky, swirling with purple shadows that distorted Atem's reflection into something demonic. He waded into the pool, shivering at the feeling of the shadows poking at his skin, trying to slip underneath and into his being. They felt like icy needles jabbing him. When he was waist-deep in the center of the pool, he stopped and took a breath, before plunging his hand underwater, catching one of the shadows.

It was slimy and wriggly, letting out shrill little screams and thrashing as Atem held it up. He narrowed his eyes and felt heat brand his forehead as he squeezed, and the slimy tendril burst in his hand and dissipated into smoke. One down. God knew how many left to go.


By the time Atem had finished purging the shadows from his mind as best he could (because no matter how hard he searched, some of them always slipped through his fingers and buried themselves in the smooth mud at the bottom of the pool where he couldn't find them), he opened his eyes. His body was stiff from lying still for so long. Gently, he sat up, wincing as his joints popped. He was starving, and was once again very grateful to Kaori for having brought him extra food with his breakfast. He checked his watch.

"SIX FORTY?!" he yelled aloud. He knew that de-gunking his soul room was time consuming, but it was the first time it had ever taken this long. He let out a groan. Seto was definitely going to be asking questions.

It was at that moment that the brunet opened the door to Atem's room. Atem stared at him. "I heard you yelling from downstairs." Seto explained. "You finally woke up?"

"Yeah..." Atem admitted sheepishly.

"Good. It's time for dinner." And with that, he turned and left. Atem rolled his eyes.

"Glad to see you're as caring as ever, Seto!" He called down the hall at the taller boy.


The moment Atem walked through the gates to the school, he was swarmed by girls, saying they had noticed he was gone yesterday and asking if he was sick and if he was all better now and that they had brought him a homemade lunch, would that make him feel better? He looked to Seto for help, but the bastard had just kept walking, leaving him to deal with them on his own. He would definitely get him back for this.

After assuring the crowd that yes, he'd come down with a cold the other day and no, he was fine and already had his own lunch, thank you very much, Atem finally managed to get to class and plop down in his seat.

"By the way, did you hear about Ushio?"

Atem looked at the speaker- a boy named Arata who sat in front of him- and frowned slightly. "No, I haven't. Did something happen to him?"

"Oh man!" Another boy, Takahiro, chimed into the conversation. "You won't believe this! Apparently, he went crazy."

Atem's from deepened. "What? Went crazy?"

Arata nodded fervently. "It happened yesterday. He didn't show up to school either, so people thought you'd both come down with the same illness, but that's not what happened to him at all!"

"He just woke up screaming his head off, from what I heard!" Takahiro added excitedly. "Nothing would calm him down. He's in the hospital now, I think. I dunno if he'll even be back this year."

Atem's mouth went dry, and his stomach dropped. No. It couldn't be... But there was no other explanation, was there? It explained his state this morning, and the thing's own dormancy, like it had used its energy, because it had. But that just raised even more questions, too. Why Ushio? Aside from that incident with Seto, Atem couldn't think of a single thing the huge teen had done to him. And he certainly hadn't asked for this, nor had he given the monster the power to make something like this happened. He knew that there was a piece missing, a vital clue to this incident, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what.

To find out, he would have to ask Yami himself, no matter how much the idea disgusted him. He had to know. Had to prevent this from happening again. That was why he was entrusted with the puzzle in the first place, wasn't it?