She can't say she could pinpoint the moment those blinding headlights became the sun staring her down. What she did know was that this was either a really elaborate morphine dream in a hospital, or the car had actually killed her. She's not sure yet which one is correct.
She sat up, finding herself on the side of a sand dune. She shook some of the grains out of her hair, wishing she'd brought her clip. Oh well - a braid it was.
She stood, trying to get a bearing on where the hell she was. If she really was dead, she was pretty sure she didn't deserve to be sent to Hell proper. But again, maybe she was drugged out of her eyeballs instead.
The wind brought the sound of voices with it, towards the north, but she couldn't see anybody. Only the shimmer of the midday heat reflecting off the sand.
She passed her hand over her stomach, a tick she'd had since she started wearing the Puzzle-
Her head snapped down, following the chain over her chest to find it empty. The Puzzle was gone.
"Oh no." She whispered. "But that doesn't make sense! How could I lose the Puzzle and not the chain?" She stopped, rolling her words around in her mouth. They didn't sound right - not enough vowels and some hard sounds that weren't familiar. "What the?"
"The magic only allows it to exist once at any given time."
She spun around, momentarily blinded by the sun glinting off a golden crown. Once her eyes adjusted, she was met with the familiar crooked smile of Yami- Er, Atem? But-
"So I am dead."
"In a manner of speaking." He approached her, hesitating for a moment before pulling her into his arms, breathing her in. "Oh, Yugi. I've missed you."
"I've missed you too." She hugged him back fiercely, surprised by the sheer amount of muscle tone he possessed. He was solid and strong like this, living in his natural body instead of hers.
"Come. Let's get you out of the sun." He pulled off his cloak and draped it around her, pulling up the hood. "Hmm. Looks like you already got a little burnt."
She glanced down at her pinking arms, finding herself darker than she remembered.
"I'll explain at the palace." He assured, taking her hand.
"Okay." She squeezed it, letting him lead her.
She had been changed into a backless linen dress with no sleeves and a skirt shorter than she was used to, having refused to wear the skirts for the school uniform.
The sun had gone down and a small fire crackled merrily to itself on the far side of the room. A black jackal and a stripy cat were lounging on the carpet next to it.
"This will be a little cool." Atem warned.
He was at her back, wearing only his skirt and his gold, with a pot of green jelly. Mahad had said it was a soothing salve made of a desert plant.
His fingers, coated in the jelly, slid over her shoulders and down her arms. It was a little chillier than just cool, but she sucked it up, repressing her shivers because it did feel really nice and soothing to the irritated skin. She was just grateful that he'd had her bath before the sun went down.
"I'm sorry, but it will help your skin heal." He rumbled, his hands warm even if the jelly wasn't.
She shivered, this time for a different reason, and was grateful that she wasn't facing him. She coughed to clear her head, resting her chin on her forearms. "So, are you going to tell me how I got here?"
He sighed, sliding off the bed and coming around the other side to face her, dipping his fingers in the pot once more to lather her less burnt legs with. "As far as I can ascertain, it was a reward from the gods. For your diligence and loyalty, they have granted you what you want most."
"What I want the most?"
"That is what Seth said, but I'm not so sure." He pulled one leg onto his lap, smoothing his hand down the newly browned limb. "I asked Isis to look into the future, to see you back home, but you are not there. She saw you living the rest of your life here, with me."
She glanced to the side. "So I'm never going home?"
"Unfortunately, I can't even begin to guess how to return you." He murmured sadly. "I would if I could."
"How did you find me? I was just out in the desert."
"The Puzzle." He replied, his red eyes meeting hers. In the memory world, his eyes had been purple like hers, but she knew that world was incomplete, not entirely real. Otherwise he would have already known his own name. "It was dormant since I returned here, quiet. As soon as you appeared, I could feel you again. Your soul appeared inside the Puzzle again and it lead me right to you. I had the guard stay back as to not overwhelm you."
She reached down and touched his clean hand. "I've missed you, you know."
He lifted his head, weaving their fingers together. "So have I. From the moment I walked through the doors."
She blinked back the tears, trying to be as brave as she had been in the years since she was left empty.
"Oh, Yugi." He cooed, pulling her into his arms and cradling her close. "There's no need to cry. I'm here now."
She could do nothing but nod, fist folded up on his chest. The jelly had dried remarkably quickly in the dry air, his hands stroking through her hair.
"You feel different." She whispered into his chest.
"My body is different, but I am not." He replied, his chest vibrating with the intimate tone. "My spirit form was modelled on the limitations of your body. Even the magic of the Puzzle can't change a gender."
"I understand it objectively." She traced her other hand down the divot of his abs, feeling the way his arms tightened around her. "But it's still different."
He laid his head down on top of hers, his cheek pressing into the crown of her head. "What are you so afraid of?"
She was still paler than him, his skin rich under hers. "Everything."
His hand cupped the back of her neck, a familiar gesture of comfort, but the bite of the rings was unfamiliar.
"I don't know if I belong here, if I should be here, what this means." She explained, watching the play of firelight off his gold collar. "But I'm also scared of waking up and finding out this isn't real, that I've lost you again after a vision so explicit, so real."
"I am real." He stated firmly. "This is no dream, real or imagined."
"I don't know whether I want to return." She admitted finally, pressing in closer.
He was silent for a long moment, his heartbeat punctuating the thickness of the evening atmosphere.
"Look at me, Yugi."
She raised her head, meeting his gaze. His red eyes were molten, hypnotic against the play of the firelight.
"If I was never able to find a way to send you home, would you be happy living out the rest of your life here, by my side?"
She stared at him, wrapped up in him. The breeze fluttering the curtains was as crisp as the water - as clear as the stars in the unpolluted night sky. The stone of the floor would be cool to the touch, the bed's linens enough to ward off the night chill, but cool enough to not bother the heat of day. She would never want for anything here, part of the Pharaoh's household. She knew he would take care of her. He always had.
But behind her was her entire world. Her poor grandfather would never know what became of her, her friends would worry. Even Kaiba would get upset eventually, unable to contact her. She had a life, loved ones, a career and a passion back home - an entire world that she knew and loved and was comfortable in. People who knew her would forever wonder what had happened to her, if there was something they could have done.
"Yes." She breathed, letting the hand cupping the back of her head slide down to her neck, tilting her head back. She would be selfish, just this once.
His thumb passed over her lips, his eyes tracking the movement with intense concentration, like he was trying to memorize it. She felt utterly vulnerable in that moment, in a way she hadn't even when he was a ghost in her room, speaking with her as she changed. He had been with her through the worst and best moments of her life, had held her together and watched her fall apart. In all those years, she had never felt so transparent.
"Atem . . ." She loosely grasped his wrist and he halted.
"I did not understand longing until I was parted from you." He murmured, his gaze catching hers again. The fire was dying down, but it only made him seem more intense. "Now I have you again, not only as a comfort in my mind, but a presence in my arms. I could never have wished for something so wonderful to befall me."
"I always considered myself the lucky one." She traced down his forearm, caressing the barred skin.
He shook his head, leaning down to press their foreheads together. The eye of the crown pressed gently into her skin, like he'd forgotten he was still wearing it. He went to pull away, likely to remove it, but her hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"I am lucky." She stroked along the bottom of the crown, pushing his bangs aside. "Atem, my beautiful Yami . . . "
His body rippled with tension, but his eyes never wavered. "Tell me what you want."
She swallowed. An impossible desire was within her grasp - her courage couldn't fail her now. "You. It's always been you."
"My light." He rumbled, half-lidded eyes growing in intensity as he leaned in closer. Her entire body tingled. "I never want to hurt you. Tell me exactly what you want. You have but to say the word."
He closed the distance, barely enough control between the two of them to find a proper angle before fusing their mouths together. His arm around her waist tightened, the hand on her neck sliding into her hair, tangling in the purple-black strands. Her grip on his forearm tensed, her other hand pressed into his chest.
With strength he didn't possess back in Domino, he parted from her just long enough to haul her into a more upright position. She twisted, pressing her chest flush against his and abruptly reminded exactly how thin linens truly were. She wrapped her arms around his neck, winding one hand into his unruly hair, the other trailing across the breadth of his shoulders. He adjusted her legs, her thighs enclosing his, before sliding back around her waist and pressing her as flush as they could get.
"Yugi, tell me . . ."
"Yes." She dove back in, kissing him abruptly senseless. "Atem, yes."
He groaned deep in his throat, pulling her head back by the hair and latching onto her exposed neck, sinking his teeth in. She whimpered, nails skating across his skin.
"It's my flaw." He rumbled, undoing the ties that held her linens together. "To always want things I cannot have."
One of her hands wound into his hair, the other slipping in through the overlarge arm openings to slide down the smooth expanse of his back. "How long have you wanted me?"
He chuckled low, pulling her somehow even tighter. "You needn't worry - I did nothing untoward with your body, nor had I ever considered it."
"Oh." She hummed, nibbling his ear. "Disappointing."
He shuddered under her hands, biting her shoulder to calm himself down. "I didn't think of myself as separate from you. I didn't know anything other than you. I was in darkness - still, silent darkness - until you. I thought I was you. But after, when it all came together and I became me . . . I assure you, I was awash in regret. The assistance I could have offered you in the moonlight, talked you through everything I would liked to have done . . ."
"My dreams of you were bad enough." She murmured, pulling back to look down at him. He sparkled in the firelight, unreal before her eyes but solid under her fingertips. "Have I mentioned yet that you're beautiful?"
He chuckled, leaning in to steal her breath through a kiss. "Oh, my darling, I can tell you're thinking it just by the way you're looking at me."
She couldn't help her smile. "That so?"
"Oh yes. But now I believe it is my turn to demonstrate."
"We're taking turns now?"
His eyes darkened with mischief. "Are you offering a challenge?"
She shivered. "I don't know if in this game, I've got a full deck."
He grinned sharply, abruptly rolling them over. His face was shadowed from this angle, but the crown still shimmered, and he appeared to her more god than man. "Fear not. I've been known to share."
She snorted, but had little time for an appropriate retort. He slid down her body smoothly, palming her thighs and sliding up them. Her eyes widened as he bent them back towards her chest, the skirt of her dress riding down and pooling at her hips. He laid one leg over his shoulder, but pushed the other one off to the side, leaning down to press a line of kisses down the most sensitive flesh.
She must have squeaked or something, because he paused to look up at her. "Yugi?"
She covered her burning face with her hands and mumbled something.
He chuckled, reaching up with his free hand to thread their fingers together and squeeze. "You will have to use your words."
"I, uh." She swallowed, still not looking at him. "I've had a couple of boyfriends, but they never- they just kinda . . . put it in there and went about their business."
He was still under her, shocked. "You allowed men access to you who didn't have the courtesy to see to your pleasure as well?"
She flushed harder, turning her head to the side. "Cut me some slack. The guy I was in love with died."
He softened, squeezing their fingers once more. "Than allow me to make up for lost time and lost pleasure."
"You're right." He cut her off firmly. "I don't have to do anything. But I will because I want to and I died on the woman I was in love with."
She peeked down at him and he grinned, the expression a holdover from Yami's pale face. She threaded her fingers into the hair just behind his bangs, his crown. "Okay."
He winked at her and ducked his head back down, getting so close but stopping short and gently sucking a mark into the delicate skin. Incrementally, he moved around the socket of her hip, licking each one when he was done - his perfect halo of purpling marks.
She was twitching in his grip, anxious and aroused in equal measures. He stopped when her hand spasmed in his hair. He rose just enough to meet her gaze, his smirk dangerous and his eyes blown black.
"How any man could not be ravenous for your sounds, I shall never know. I could gorge myself on you, I think, and remain eternally hungry."
She whimpered - surprisingly loudly - and her hips rolled without her permission. She could actually feel the wetness, how the lack of friction was making her crave, and the new sensation was rapidly addicting.
"Oh, darling, you cannot imagine what a delight it will be to take you apart."
She huffed. "Are you always this talkative?"
His smirk sharpened before she could take it back.
"At-EM!" She squealed, hand reflexively tightening in his hair and the other slapping down to curl in the bedding.
He released a throaty groan when he got settled, his fingertips biting into her thighs to restrain her. She jerked against the foreign sensation, torn between wanting to get away from it and desperately wanting more.
Atem groaned again, wrapping his lips around her clit and beginning to suck, his tongue sliding over her with thick and hot pressure. She jerked with each hard pass of his mouth, curling in on herself enough to see his eyes shut in bliss, his own back and hips flexing with restraint. The sheets gave way under her grip, her hand snapping over to join its twin in lengthy black and red hair. He moaned this time, pulling back just enough to get her attention before rolling them over again, her kneeling over top of his face.
"Atem!" She yelped.
"Just let your body do what it wants to." He crooned, his voice deeper and scratchier than normal. "Let go for me."
It was kind of strange to interact with the Royal Guard, Seth's face in particular making her unreasonably guilty.
Left alone in the throne room, she shifted away from their gazes. Isis and the others she didn't know just looked on sympathetically, not making mention of it. The room cleared quickly when they were dismissed, but Seth hung back. She did her best to look invested in the wall murals instead of her own nerves.
Just like Kaiba, however, Seth was the persistent sort. He walked up to her, stopping at a respectful distance, but staring intently at her. "My Lady, may I have a word with you?"
She swallowed back her anxiety and turned to face him - the contours, eyes, hair, stare all the same. It was like she was confronting Kaiba, and suddenly, she was hit with a longing to see the CEO again. "Sure."
He inclined his head, then took a hesitant breath. "I have noticed your . . . discomfort in my presence. What have I done to make it so? I wish to correct my behaviour in your company."
She blinked, a little startled. "You haven't done anything."
"There is no need to be gracious in this instance. I cannot alter my behaviour if I am uninformed."
"No, you-" She took a deep breath. "It's my fault. You look a lot like someone I know. Knew. It's just a little disorienting. It's not your fault."
He looked down at himself. "If it would make you more comfortable, I will remove myself as much as I can when you are present."
"No! No, that's not necessary." She gave him her best smile. "His name was Seto, and he was . . . a very dear friend of mine. A rival, but probably the first person to appreciate me for who I am. I just . . . I never got to say goodbye to him. I don't want to alienate you, Priest Seth. You mean a lot to Atem and it would be entirely unfair to make your life harder because of some . . . memories I have."
"Is your friend dead? This 'Seto'?"
"No, he's just back home. But I can't go back there. I have to choose whether I want to be here or there and the decision is final."
"And you chose here."
She took a deep breath, turning to face him and took his hand. "I belong here. And sometimes, when you've spent your whole life helping others, you have to take what you can for yourself."
Seth squeezed her hands gently. "You were almost ready to fall in love with him."
She looked away. "I was."
"I understand." He opened his summoning disk, a Blue Eyes vainly visible on one of the wings. "I had a chance like that too. Once."
"It'll come again. It always does." Her smile matched his - tremulous, but hopeful. "Don't change for anyone."
He smirked and for a second, Kaiba was standing in front of her. "I'll keep that in mind."