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Divine Sky

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Part I: Visitor

"Why am I doing this again?"

There was a soft chortle of pure amusement behind him and he snorted in annoyance at the lighthearted sound. When he turned his head to look over his wing, he felt his entire body quake with the effort and he thought he might tip sideways. The thought scared him more than he could put into words and immediately he turned away again. He spread his claws and tried to keep his weight evenly distributed, his wings flapping frantically for a moment. His eyes were wide, panicked, as he looked downward. The air was so stiff and cold up here that he was truly amazed his body heat had not disappeared entirely to leave him frozen.

He supposed he could truly thank his Fire Dragon genes for this small mercy.

"Because, little Gandora, it is absolutely necessary for one to know how to perform an aerial ambush inside of my territory. It's the best battle technique for this terrain. As you might have noticed, being in the clouds offers better camouflage than the stone and dirt that form the cliffs. And the trees are only as tall as us and they are not thick enough to cover us completely. Besides, if you are able to fly this high, most dragons will not be able to get to you afterwards should the fight turn in their favor."

"I wasn't made for this kind of flight," he muttered glumly in response. He wasn't made for this type of combat either. And he was knocked breathless a second later as he tried to judge the height they were hovering at. His belly lurched and twisted, his hearts pounding violently for a moment.

The clouds were all but nonexistent around him, by far thinner than they had ever looked from the ground below. And they seemed like large pockets of drifting mist more than they appeared anything else. It was amazing to him, stunning truly, and it was gorgeous to see them so thin and soft as they were now. When he flexed his sharp claws, they seemed to separate before him and he thought them light ribbon-like tendrils of mist.

It was beautiful.

But it did not stop him from worrying.

He could not hold this altitude for much longer. His body was not meant for it in the slightest. And if he truly lost his balance and fell, it could break a bone in his wings or shatter his forelimbs. He did not think that it would kill him, simply because he was sure his flailing would slow the descent if only somewhat. But he could get far more hurt than he cared to admit and the realization was nothing he wanted to truly consider for more than a heartbeat at the moment…

"No, but you can still learn. And it is hardly as if I am torturing you, Yugi."

"How would you know?" he scoffed. "You're the Sky Dragon."

"Because I am fairly certain that should I do such a thing you would shriek in panic."

Yugi snorted in delight before he could truly stop himself. "That's very true," he laughed. But he felt as if he were about to fall again. The frigid pressure was acute as it encompassed his wings more than ever. He did not think even the burden of desert heat was so powerful when he'd been beneath it before. This was all-encompassing and his body was wracked with the finest of tremors. "I don't think my wings can take this cold any longer, Atem. This altitude is too high up for me."

The Sky Dragon hummed behind him. "Press your claws together, tip the ends of your wings backwards, spread them as far as you can, tuck your paws against your belly, flap, and then dive as quickly as you can."

Yugi blinked, startled by the instructions. He had thought that Atem might ask him to remain there a moment longer. Perhaps he had assumed he might ask him to do so in order to gain more endurance. But the Sky Dragon was sweet, thoughtful.

And it was not as if he were strong enough physically to remove him from the air as it was. He could have thrown him downward with a rapid spiral from overhead. But he could not have helped him to fly down as Yugi could have should the situations have been reversed.

Atem was a lightweight dragon.

Yugi was the heavyweight between them.

In fights between the two, heavyweights often had little to worry about. They could usually subdue a lightweight rather easily. It was body mass alone which enabled this, however. A lightweight fought with accuracy and speed and shallow attacks meant mostly to slow their heavyweight opponents down. The heavyweight, however, attacked with power and ferocity.

There was no waste of energy. They often did not even wait for the lightweight to slow. And oftentimes the heavyweight would go for the first opening they found. Most often the fight would be over within ten minutes. The lightweight would be pinned, thrown onto their back so that their softest body parts were fully exposed. The heavyweight would hold them there effortlessly.

But that was only if they were fighting for less than something of a territory dispute.

When territory came into question, oftentimes the dragons would kill each other. The heavyweight would rip their throat open or simply hold them down and tug until their necks broke and they could all but decapitate them.

Had their roles been reversed while they remained airborne, Yugi could have grabbed Atem by the shoulders and helped to lower him more slowly. However, with Atem several tons smaller than him in weight—and that difference would only grow more abundant as Yugi himself matured fully—he could hardly slow him if he were to plummet.

Atem had the magic to do it, however. The Sky Dragon was a third Wind in genetics. And that could have done him well to stop Yugi being harmed at all should he have lost his balance or his wings grown too cold. It was only this way that Atem was able to help him in any manner. He was a God Dragon, but he was too physically small to be able to stop him. Atem was not even fully matured either. He was not completely grown and would perhaps mature to be double or triple his current size before then. Maybe if he were that size now he could have been capable of doing so. But for now he was too small and he was far too aware of his own limitations to help him more than mere instruction.

He could do nothing else, Yugi knew. He was incapable of doing much more. He could not risk his physical condition in any manner either. He was still sought after, regardless of being mated. He was a God Dragon and lots of dragons wished to claim him.

If he was not in perfect physique when a challenge should come his way, he'd suffer various injuries that could potentially prove themselves fatal later.

Yugi grunted, somewhat flustered by the thought—everything would have been so much easier if they were the same species—and quickly tucked his claws together. The immediate effect was that he lost his balance altogether.

But he trusted that Atem was not trying to harm him in any way. And he knew that the Sky Dragon would most certainly know the best way to get out of the clouds they were hiding in as it was. So he shook his fear away and forced himself to remember his equilibrium. He balanced his wings, flexing his claws, and remembered his core remained in his chest while in flight. That was the main sense of direction and balance for any dragon, though many species were natural born fliers. He himself was not.

In an instant he flicked his wings back. He straightened them like swords of polished black and silver, then pressed his front paws into his belly. He flapped quickly, tipped his weight forward, and shot downwards like a plummeting stone.

Atem watched him a moment longer. The hybrid was feet away from him in all of a heartbeat. Atem did the same seconds later, body as straight as an arrow in order to gain as much speed as possible. And, moving so quickly as he was, the world was one immense wave of blue in his peripheral. The ground was a rapidly approaching blur of soft gold and granite speckled with greenery and brown.

It took him only a quick and powerful bank to the right to maneuver out of his downward spiral. His body lessened its tension immediately and he spread his paws to hover, flapping his wings only enough to remain airborne.

Atem stiffened, startled. His mate was performing something of a similar action. And the Sky Dragon might not have been alarmed by that had it not been for the sound of a soft snarl. But Yugi had tucked his wings back and his claws were hooked downward like a bird's talons. Yugi's teeth were bared, he realized, his claws opened and spread to latch upon something beneath him. The Sky Dragon looked down quickly, bristling with confusion and bewilderment. But it was not hard to see in this position what the Gandora was plummeting towards.

The beast below the black dragon was entirely opposite in color, a sharp contrast of brilliant white like pure virgin snow. Gold colored the center of a smooth crest of scales along its head, where the helm of its skull was sharp with a large blue horn protruding upwards and a pale white one just behind it. On either side of its jawbones was a set of scales much akin wings, a deep purple that was all but transparent and giving him an almost smoky appearance against his pale plates. But Atem was puzzled, looking at what seemed to be a long branch of golden appendages that looked much akin a bird's feathered wings. Its wings were huge, looming, with a fragile appearance like feathers, the scales layered but with a thinner formation than Atem was used to.

"Yugi!" he cried, alarmed. He was heading for a dragon that Atem did not recognize at first glance. And he was going to land on a serpentine-like dragon. If that were to happen and Yugi did not heed caution in his ambush, things could turn out terribly.

Atem would have attempted to dive towards him, to intercept and knock him aside, but the Gandora was far heavier than he could ever hope to be. And he was falling faster than Atem was capable of matching in a dive from his position. And the angle would only slow him further. A diagonal cut through the air was not the best for velocity for him, not when he was no longer plummeting straight down.

The alarm in his tone was enough to make Yugi startle rather violently. But this did nothing more than make him wobble in his flight, nearly losing his balance entirely and plummeting harder. His wings just barely prevented him dropping like a stone through the air.

Yugi wasn't experienced enough with aerial drops. And Wind and Fire Dragons were not known for their speed when it came to magic. Atem himself could not aim for Yugi alone. He was too close to their uninvited visitor. He could not simply support Yugi with a pocketed air current as necessary. It would knock the white dragon to the ground and wind them entirely.

The collision was violent.

The black dragon slammed into the newcomer. He yelped. The white dragon screeched. It tried to writhe out from beneath him, but Yugi's weight was too much. It, like Atem, was a lightweight species and the two of them hit the ground with an immense thud and a cloud of dust twice their size rising into the air.

Atem cursed viciously, spitting the words, and hurried for the ground as well. He hovered for a moment longer, flapping his wings with a powerful beat which cleared the air quickly. The dust was gone immediately, drifting away and dissipating entirely from his face. And, before him, to his shock, Yugi lay sprawled pitifully across the other dragon's back. He was sideways from the impact, and clearly winded as his sides struggled to expand with air. The white dragon looked worse for wear, however, laying beneath him in what seemed to be an unconscious state.

The thought was disconcerting. Either this white dragon was younger than Yugi and Atem themselves, or the Gandora had potentially harmed an elderly dragon.

The Sky Dragon landed unceremoniously, disbelieving and confused, as he approached the two cautiously. Had Yugi truly knocked this dragon out? He frowned and tilted his head, angling it downwards to look with widened eyes. He lowered his head and drew in a deep breath, scenting the dragon in front of him for more information.

It was male, about three hundred years old. And it smelled of another male as well, though of an entirely different species. And there were no other traces of scent to exist on it.

But Atem realized now that the dragon before him was glaring straight into his eyes. The helm of its skull had been large enough to shield its eyes from his sight at an overhead angle, but now Atem could see a golden orb blazing as it bore into his own.

Atem bristled for a moment, studying the anger in the single visible cold eye, and curled his lips back to show the ridges of his teeth in a more pronounced manner. When the dragon's pupils grew enlarged the Sky Dragon lowered his chin further towards the ground and let out a guttural snarl. Yugi roused at the noise, pulling himself up on unsteady limbs, and turned to him with bewildered eyes.

The Gandora scrambled to his side immediately, wobbly with a momentary limp that lasted but a few steps, and brushed up against him minutely. He was snarling and spitting before Atem had even fully noticed it. His blue-violet eyes flared at the newcomer as he lowered his head and arched his back slightly in a defensive maneuver. But Atem was not blind to the puzzlement and mild excitement in his gaze there as well.

The white dragon huffed, pulling itself to its paws and shaking itself out. The scent that came through the air now was mild, like that of pine burned for incense in a human ceremony. Atem bristled further, nearly jerking away with anger. The pheromones this dragon released were stronger than usual, one much akin what another male would express when attempting to challenge him for mating privileges.

It was meant to overwhelm or entice the dragon they wished to court. Atem had often been forced to press his tongues behind his teeth and close his nostrils forcefully. It was a technique used by Water Dragons in order to stay beneath the surface of rivers or lakes for large amounts of time, as none of them possessed gills upon maturing fully. And Atem hunted mainly fish, which had given him reason to keep this skill sharp. The fact that he had been forced to use it against suitors was simply disgusting to him.

But Atem did not think that this dragon was inclined towards such a thing. He could no longer smell the other male on him, but he doubted it had been on him for any true reason. He thought the trace of male scent had to be some kind of indicator that he'd been with the other as their mate.

The white dragon looked more amused than anything, though they were clearly still shocked. And, as it turned to Atem, the first words from its dark purple-gray mouth was a friendly declaration of, "Howdy, y'all!"

Yugi blinked wide, confused eyes. His head snapped towards Atem and he bristled indignantly. What the hell did that mean? It had sounded friendly enough, he supposed. But the way this dragon stared back at Atem made him incredibly wary. And he did not know how to judge this.

Was it a threat?

Was it an insult?

Yugi would kill this male if it was.

The Sky Dragon seemed to consider the white male a moment or so longer. He did not seem to be alarmed in any manner. But when he glanced at Yugi, his curiosity soon became surprised and then confused before his eyes shone with amusement. The red male leaned forward, whispering almost into his ear, "It is the southern dialect from the human tribes in the lower territories. He is saying hello."

Yugi blinked wide eyes and frowned as he shook his head. "He couldn't have just said that like a normal dragon? He couldn't have just said hello instead?" he demanded in the same quiet volume Atem had spoken. "I don't understand…"

Atem smiled at him. His golden eyes were alight with laughter and the gem on his forehead was all but glowing. Yugi felt his body losing its tension as he saw his mate's ease. "He must have lived in that region for a long time," the Sky Dragon explained. "I suppose he forgot that most dragons do not speak as humans do."

Yugi chortled and barely resisted the urge to nuzzle and pounce on him playfully. Instead he turned back to the white dragon again. The newcomer was staring at them both curiously, no doubt wondering at what they'd been talking about.

"Hello."

"Rough landing, huh?" the white serpentine male commented with a soft chuckle. He rose on thin yet muscular legs that were covered in gray scales that looked like melted metal and traced with gold at the elbows. Atem noticed only then that his largest wings were covered in a similar gray metal scale, like a shield upon its back along its shoulders. Beneath he could see the golden faux wings, looking more akin whiskers than feathers. He shook himself out after a moment, then looked over at Yugi with bright golden eyes. They were startling and brilliant against his dark purple-gray muzzle and Atem could see two canines which protruded oddly from his mouth, out of alignment with the rest of his teeth. His muzzle was made for sharper striking bites, unlike those of a Slifer's which was made for crushing bones and holding prey in a death lock.

But the more Atem studied him, the more he found himself curious about the white dragon. He could see pupils within his eyes, vertical as they should have been upon meeting them now that he locked gazes with him. There was no animosity to be found and he was not fearful of them…

He should have been fearful. He was in a new territory, he had not asked for a blessing, and he was standing before a God Dragon. And Atem had the abrupt feeling that this dragon knew such a thing, for surely he could not miss that. Atem was the name that didn't get spoken, but whose physical appearance was spoken of in whispers due to his ferocity in dealing with suitors.

This dragon had to know who he was and in whose presence he stood.

There was no way he didn't…

"We were practicing aerial ambushes," Atem supplied after a moment. He was looking at Yugi, however, watching him rather than the newcomer. The Gandora seemed to be okay. But a wave of uncertainty swept through him and he felt mildly ill.

Yugi had yet to look away from the dragon in front of him.

And, to add insult to injury, the younger male was staring at him with something almost akin appreciation. It was a sense of admiration and even something much akin lust, something Atem recognized from many of his suitors before he'd killed them.

His hearts were racing at the realization. And all he wanted to do now was lash out as violently as he could.

But he did not know who it was he should strike out at. He was growing too irritable to think it through rationally. The newcomer angered him simply by grabbing his mate's attention so keenly, but Yugi upset him by showing him so much as it was.

And he knew that Yugi claimed to love him.

But his species was known for having multiple mates. Both species he was created from had several mates each season and fathered perhaps over a hundred hatchlings every other year. Gandora dragons themselves were not entirely faithful regardless, however, as they did not often mate with the same partner twice. And they were known for flying many miles in order to secure a new mate.

Atem would never be surprised should Yugi turn to him and say he wanted more. He would most likely not even find it in himself to blink. Most likely he would simply strike him down then and there.

But for now…

"You just happened to be flying beneath us when he was diving."

If it did not sound like a violent attack aimed for the other, if it did not come off as purposeful, it was more likely that this newcomer would not retaliate. Atem would not have cared if he did, however. He had fought his species before.

Ice Dragons were rare and his first two fights had not been a suitor looking for courtship but territory spats. But Atem had still known immediately how to fix the problem. He'd subdued them in mere minutes. And he could subdue this male in front of him just as easily should it be necessary.

He also knew the safest, easiest way to unbalance and kill him should he have to. So, if he chose to fight, the Sky Dragon then only had to worry about watching to make sure he did not hit Yugi in the meantime.

Because he knew well enough the Gandora would leap into the fray as well. Yugi was incredibly protective of him, after all.

"That sounds awesome!" the white dragon exclaimed. His eyes were wide and glowing brightly as he turned to Atem immediately again. In an instant his pupils dilated, his eyes narrowing, as his head tilted slightly to the side. The muscles along its jaw flexed for a long moment, as if perhaps tasting the air without flicking his tongue as a weaker species might. Atem could see the muscles bunched along his jaws, twitching as he flexed them and the protrusions beneath his bottom row of teeth were long and sharp. They were almost akin thorns in their design, but he could see that they were simply muscle meant to help strengthen a snapping bite when he turned to attack. "You're a God Dragon, right?"

Atem blinked and looked over at Yugi again. Now his mate was studying him, head tilted and blue-violet eyes narrowed in question. He seemed bewildered but confused and curious as well. But he also seemed mildly troubled somehow, as if he were unsure of what to make of the attention Atem was getting at the moment.

"Yes. I am the God Dragon of the East."

Somehow, abruptly, that title seemed almost meaningless once more. He felt as if he were years younger, side crippled by his brother's violent claws. He felt stupid and small and much akin a hatchling as he had so long ago.

Yugi was still watching him, but he could see that his attention was caught more pointedly on the white dragon than ever. He looked enamored, and that was something Atem was not quite sure how to deal with.

Would Yugi turn to him sometime later that very day perhaps and tell him he wanted more? Would he tell him he wished for more than just what little Atem could provide him?

In truth, the Sky Dragon could not imagine it. But he wanted more than ever to simply demand if that was how Yugi felt. He wanted more than ever to snarl at him to go and never return if that should truly be his desire.

"Great! So I'm headed in the right direction!"

The words caused Atem to lose this train of thought entirely. He narrowed his eyes minutely and flicked his tail. Yugi was more alert now, bristling faintly as if with alarm.

The Sky Dragon considered the white male for a moment.

Had he not meant to come across him? Was he simply moving about the territories? Was he perhaps fleeing as Atem himself once had?

But this dragon seemed to be in perfect health. His muscles were not wasted. His body was not unshapely. He did not appear to be wounded. Yugi's claws had apparently failed to even truly nick him. And Atem could detect no weakness.

The dragon, in truth, seemed all but oblivious to the very real danger that the God Dragon before him posed. It was both amusing and troubling.

Had the rumors stopped now that he was mated to Yugi?

Or was it something else entirely?

"It depends on where you seek to go and what you hope to find."

The dragon shook himself out again, then took a seat and stretched his neck back and flexed his claws. His back limbs were a similar design to his forelegs. His claws were a bright, glowing blue, and his body was littered with gems of varying colors. Each plate on its body was smooth like fish scales and tipped with gold to match the spikes along the edges of its sharp jaws. The dark gray metallic scale along its wings looked like the saddle which some humans in other regions used to ride their horses, Atem realized. And it was dense, sharp and unshapely and large, as if it were meant to keep any dragons from being able to pluck its wings from its body.

Atem blinked and tilted his head. This dragon was not native to his lands by any stretch of the imagination.

And he had been right in assuming him to be an Ice Dragon, he realized. He had merely guessed it moments before, thinking it more to be the shape of his body to pronounce it. But now he saw him and the sleeker design of his body and the layered scales upon his wings and he knew perfectly what dragon it was that he was.

And he still knew exactly how to kill him as well should it be necessary, he reminded himself. He had to remember that more than anything. If it came to combat, Atem would destroy him.

"I'm looking for you, of course!"

Yugi bristled now. He pressed his weight forward and moved a step closer to his mate. Whatever curiosity he'd harbored before was long gone now. The Gandora snarled when the white dragon did not seem to notice and the response was immediate.

The widened golden eyes fell on him, blinking as his pupils flipped slightly and then seemed to grow thinner.

Atem felt the smallest twinge of bitterness in his belly.

Now Yugi noticed him again.

Now Yugi realized he was uncomfortable.

Now Yugi seemed to care to do more than stare at this dragon in front of them.

He swallowed the overpowering emotion away as it began to well up further. It was not Yugi's fault. He was part of a species that did not care to mate for life. He was the result of two such species mating and producing a clutch.

He did not know he'd bruised him so terribly.

He had no idea that Atem felt he might as well have struck him.

So the Sky Dragon forced himself to remain silent.

"Why are you so angry? I haven't even done anything."

Atem huffed. "He's a Gandora. What did you expect?"

The spiteful tone was enough to make Yugi blink and look over with hurt in his eyes. Atem was not oblivious to this in the slightest. But he did ignore it. His own words frustrated him somewhat, but another part of him relished in the very simple fact that Yugi now felt similarly to him. It was spiteful and angry and stupid, he knew, but he had always been arrogant when it came to emotional pain.

Living with his brothers had made him that way. And he had not managed to outgrow it while he had been with Timaeus either. The Wind Dragon had often found his childish anger to be more amusing than anything.

He had called him out on his words when it had mattered. But he never cared in the slightest to make him rethink his statements when he was angry. Oftentimes Timaeus would burst out laughing, realizing he had hurt his feelings, and apologize with a lick to his forehead to make him squeal and dash away.

He shook the thought off.

Perhaps he would apologize to Yugi later.

Perhaps not.

"I would consider you stupid if you are unable to figure it out," he growled instead, focusing solely on their guest. "It is not hard to ascertain."

But Atem did wonder then if he no longer smelled as strongly of Yugi as he should have. They had not mounted in a few days now, after all.

Perhaps they no longer smelled of each other at all. Sleeping beside each other hardly did anything in terms of swapping scents and merging pheromones.

Dragons did not swap scents as easily as a pair of mammals could. Close proximity and lying wrapped around each other hardly did anything to alter scent. It was likely that doing so would make their scents linger for no longer than a couple of hours at the most. Their bodies were too heavily armored and the scales were meant to completely smother their own definitive smells.

In truth, their scents were only truly detectable by saliva or urine or excretion. One could detect the smell of a certain dragon from any carcass found that was dug into. Then one could trace the smell of a dragon's health and lifespan by manner of the urine or excrement that could be found.

As hatchlings, they possessed nothing of their own scent. They smelled of whatever it was they nested in or played in that day. The reason why was so that dragons of other species could not detect them and hunt them for food while they were so incredibly defenseless.

It was a rare occurrence but a starving dragon was desperate. And sometimes it happened. But by the time the dragonets possessed a scent of their own, their armor was growing in to protect them.

No dragon in existence had a heavy enough scent that they were entirely detectable. Unless they marked their territory or they were constantly exposed to an abundance of pheromones, they did not often have much of a scent. There were glands on the center of their paws and between each toe, sometimes on the base of the tail or the bottom of the tip, and around the cheeks and just beneath the jaw. Beyond these areas, one could sniff another for hours before they might be able to detect something beneath the smothering effect of their scales.

Unless they Claimed one another, a pair of dragons often could not be identified as mates. It was hard to detect even the faintest touch of another on a dragon.

But Atem was in no hurry to place a Claim on Yugi. It was not that he did not desire to do so sometime in the future, but he considered it far too premature at the moment to be warranted. Yugi had barely been his mate for more than two moons as it was. And the Gandora might have been comfortable with the offer to let him Claim him, but Atem himself was incredibly daunted by that aspect altogether.

"You don't have to be so aggressive," the newcomer scoffed. He seemed more dismissive toward Yugi, however, with his attention set keenly upon Atem himself. The Sky Dragon bristled, wondering if he had read him correctly the first time and he was looking to attempt to court him. If Yugi's scent was truly gone from him, then it would make no difference to this dragon that Yugi was there or not. Of course, Yugi would most likely kill him before he'd even let him challenge him, but Atem wasn't going to tell him that. "You seem pretty inclined to chase me off without listening to what I have to tell you."

Atem snorted, disdainful. "You have had plenty of time to explain your being here and yet you have held your tongue."

The white dragon blinked, then huffed loudly and looked at him as if he had grown an additional head. He fluffed up, bristling in annoyance, and scowled at the red male as Atem fought back laughter. He looked absolutely flabbergasted.

"He knocked me out of the sky. Of course I'm not telling you both immediately what I'm doing. Are you crazy?"

"Perhaps my eternal wisdom makes my brain totter between madness and sanity," the Sky Dragon drawled. Yugi snickered at his side, then butted him in the shoulder playfully. But Atem could not find it in himself to look towards him.

He was still raw around the edges. Yugi's attention paid so wholly to a stranger did nothing to help him calm again. And he was far too arrogant to face the source of his pain so soon. He knew himself well enough to understand that of all things. This shortcoming was nothing new to him.

And it had grown into more of a bitter defensive maneuver when he had been on his own after he and Timaeus had gone separate ways. He had been bigger and frustrated after all of the abuse and he had been angry enough that he could not deal with it all.

So he had learned to avoid the thing which upset him most. Of course, doing so had made him more of a target, however, and so he'd turned to killing that which angered or scared him. It was yet another reason he'd jumped to the task of brutally slaughtering his suitors for their disgusting transgressions.

"Are you the same species as Jaden?" the newcomer asked, eyed wide with something like growing excitement. Yugi stiffened beside him, clearly surprised by the inquiry, but Atem found himself snarling.

"You're an absolute fool."

Yugi looked between them, clearly uncomfortable now and more than slightly confused. He was studying Atem for a moment, though he wound up quirking his head to the side as he narrowed his eyes. "Jaden is a Fire Dragon, isn't he? He's considered the Phoenix…right?" he asked quietly. He stared at Atem solely now, ignoring the newcomer as if he had never existed to begin with.

Atem lashed and thumped his tail violently. His head snapped towards Yugi and then to the Ice Dragon once more. For a moment he thought to leap forward and box the pale dragon across the side of the head. He could knock some sense into him that way.

But he forced the impulse away, if only to keep Yugi from getting harmed. "Yes, the Eternal Phoenix," he snarled, huffing loudly as he turned away from the Gandora, "said to rise from ashes and born to heal any who have suffered."

And, abruptly, his aggressive stance made all the sense in the world to Yugi. The younger male turned away immediately. He flexed his claws into the ground and bristled faintly. His hearts ached and he felt sorrow crash through him.

Atem had been hopeful at some point. Perhaps he had not realized that to put an end to his own suffering he would have to find Jaden himself. Maybe he had assumed that, like the Sky Dragon Shadi, the God Dragon would come to find him.

He had to have hoped that Jaden would help to heal the wound on his side and potentially right the emotional pain inside of him…

"He is not a Fire Dragon," Yugi snarled harshly. He stalked forward, wanting nothing more than to lash out as violently as he could at the moment.

It wasn't fair.

Why did Atem always end up getting the short stick?

Why could he never have any good things?

Yugi had ruined his chances of having a nest. And even mating with him caused Atem unnecessary harm. He couldn't fly as high or for as long as the Sky Dragon could and so then he was burdensome when Atem mounted him. They could not stay airborne. They could not remain in the air for much longer than it took for Atem to knot and hook inside of him. And when they were on the ground, Atem could not disengage properly and the time it took to let him come to completion spent too much of his energy. Atem was all but exhausted and starved by the time that happened and sleeping only made him hungrier than ever.

Yugi wanted to scream for a moment.

Atem truly gained nothing from their union.

He would eventually have to move into the valleys with him when winter came. And he would have to learn to become used to having another dragon around him so constantly. He could not survive off of Atem's core diet of fish or birds. And the Sky Dragon could not fly or swim properly when he ate red meat for long amounts of time.

It would damage his stomach to remain on a red meat diet for too long as well. To do so would destroy much of Atem's stomach's lining, because it was not as strong as his own. And red meat was so much denser. It made the Sky Dragon sluggish when he ate it, he knew, and sometimes he would be fine for a few minutes after, then immediately fall unconscious. Sometimes he could go longer, but it depended on when the last time had been that he'd eaten and how slowly he digested it. But Atem had no control over that, unlike Yugi who could store food and water for moons in his belly, and so he could become sick at a second's notice from the change of diet.

Yugi felt now as if he had simply chained Atem to him like a human's dog. It infuriated him. It made him miserable. It made him want to lash out. It made him want to scream and beg forgiveness. But it mostly made him want to hit the newcomer hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. He crept closer, flicking his tongue at the white dragon as his eyes narrowed faintly.

He snarled low in his throat, the noise deep and reverberating violently. It was enough to make the white dragon spin around to look at him with huge, horrified eyes. He bristled in turn, backing up a step from the Gandora.

His paw was held up. His eyes were wide. His mouth opened and closed twice. His wings tucked firmly into his sides. He was clearly too startled to even think to attack him.

Yugi nearly purred at the realization. If he hit him now, the dragon wouldn't recover until he let up on his attack. But he didn't move any closer. He wasn't so violent or mindless, though the thought lingered a few moments longer. It was a Fire Dragon instinct, he knew, one brutal and embedded in his genetics. They lashed out when they were angry.

He had seen it more than once between Jonouchi and himself when they'd hunted together. His mother had attacked his dad once, but she'd only done it when they'd fought over him when he'd gotten himself hurt. It had been as simple as that. And then they'd acted as if nothing had happened to begin with.

But Yugi had always shunned such instinct.

He did not want to possess such traits when he was with Atem. It was not only a reminder of the dragon species that had so often troubled Atem before, but it was also something that made him incredibly dangerous to the Sky Dragon. He could easily overwhelm him in the split second that he could get his claws into his flesh. He could easily force him to the ground and hold him there and lash out until he couldn't anymore. Atem would certainly kill him afterwards—which was the only punishment Yugi would take for such an unforgivable act—but until he'd knock him off…

Yugi didn't want to think about it. He had power in his first few minutes of attack, but he slowed quickly. And Atem was built for deadly accuracy and speed. He was not as strong, but he was powerful enough that he could deal a blow to him that might break him if he truly invoked his temper.

"But that doesn't matter. I want to know what species you are, actually," he snarled low in his throat, forcing away the thoughts. He would never lay a claw on Atem. He'd made that vow long before he'd come to court him. He'd made that promise and swore to every god in existence the night he'd seen his mother attack his father. It had been so long ago, but it'd horrified him and he'd never forgotten it. Fire Dragon genetics be damned, he would never hurt him if he could help it. "Because I've never seen a dragon like you before."

"I have a name, you know."

"Well, you haven't said it yet."

In the corner of his eye he could see Atem turning curiously towards their spat. Yugi thumped his tail and snarled louder when the other dragon faltered. The white male had looked towards Atem as if for support, but now he spun back toward him. The Ice Dragon huffed, rising to his paws, and tipped his beak into the air.

"It's Jesse."

Yugi truly wanted nothing more than to knock the arrogance out of his stance. His beak should have been lowered submissively rather than raised as it was now. He was trying to show a lack of fear and Yugi was truly ready to ruin him for it.

He'd upset Atem enough.

And now he was staring at the Sky Dragon as if Atem were indebted to him. His eyes had grown sharper, annoyed and demanding. Yugi bristled further, slamming his rail into the ground forcefully. He pressed his weight closer to him, snarling and opening his jaws.

"He's a Rainbow Dragon," Atem stated quietly. The words startled Yugi enough to make his head snap around in bewilderment. He blinked, puzzled, and slowly tilted his head.

Had Atem meant to stop them fighting?

Was that why he was talking now?

Because he was hardly paying them any mind as it was. He seemed to be staring off into the distance, beyond the green tops of the pine trees and into the blue of the sky. Yugi did not see anything there and that unnerved him more than he cared to admit. And he knew that Atem was not inclined to look away at any point either.

In his peripheral, Jesse seemed to be trying to find Atem's source of attention as well. His eyes grew narrow, his head tilted, and he seemed to be squinting at him as a human might.

Were Rainbow Dragons close-sighted?

Or was Jesse somehow under the illusion that Atem was focused on something airborne?

"He's an extremely rare little Ice Dragon," Atem continued, turning to Yugi now. He had clearly chosen to ignore the concern that Yugi knew he was showing him. "They're known for gracing the winters with aurora patterns. That's why he has those gems in his scales. They help him absorb sunlight and reflect it into the sky."

Yugi blinked, eyes stretching thrice their usual size with his growing excitement. He spun on Jesse, leaning forward as a hatchling might upon being told a story. And he knew how foolish it made him look, but he could not find it in himself to care. "Really?" he demanded, bouncing on his paws and trembling with exuberance. "That's amazing! I've always wanted to see an aurora!"

Atem fought back a sneer, turning away and clenching his jaws so tightly shut that pain lanced through his muscles. He resisted the urge to snarl, bristling instead now. He wanted, for the briefest of seconds, to lash out and bite at them both.

"It's pretty cool," Jesse bragged, focused entirely on Yugi now. Atem knew this only because he no longer felt his stare on him. But he did not turn to look as well. "I'll show you sometime."

Atem blinked.

Jealousy and rage came through him in a rush. His body trembled once. And then he slowly turned his head, the speed such a crawl as to rival the descent of the sun from the sky. He trembled once more and his bottom mouth opened slowly. His gums were tingling. His teeth felt sticky for a moment. His tongue flicked forward. His tail scraped through the dirt. His paw rose an inch or so from the ground, claws flexing.

"Atem," Yugi murmured, his voice coming out soft and pleading. The tone was just enough to allow him to turn his focus on him. But it did not calm him in the slightest. And he could not physically remove his eyes from where they were locked on the Ice Dragon. The white male was frozen in place now. Horror marred his features brilliantly. His eyes stretched several sizes too wide with fear. "Hey, relax. It's okay. He was just offering to show me. You know it means nothing."

Atem could not help but peel his lips back further. The ridges of his immense white teeth showed. The action made Jesse stiffen and sit up. The fact that his face could even become more horrified was enough to amaze Atem. It lasted only a moment, however. His hatred was far too abundant. But the Ice Dragon was bristling faintly, realization that he had somehow overstepped crossing his features immediately.

Atem still bore down on him, however. The hatred burned his skin like fire. He was full of the power which came with such an emotion. And Jesse still appeared oblivious as to why he was so aggressive towards him.

Truly the Sky Dragon began to wonder how it was that he had survived to adulthood at this rate.

Yugi came closer to him, pressing his forehead into his flank gently. It was a split second touch, but it was affectionate enough that Atem found himself unable to keep his rage intact. It melted to soft annoyance. And he calmed enough that he was only bristling when Yugi licked and nuzzled his cheek.

Jesse was gaping when Atem looked to him again. Then he recovered himself, just enough to look away with wide eyes. He was shifting his weight awkwardly, reminding Yugi of a scolded hatchling.

"I did not realize you were mated!" he blurted out. Atem snarled quietly, more annoyed than anything else, and Yugi licked at his cheek again in reassurance. Jesse bowed before them, chin to the ground and belly lying flat. Yugi pulled away, startled from his reassurances, his blue-violet eyes wide and startled. But Atem merely snorted, flicking his tail. "My apologies. I had no intent to court him."

The Sky Dragon snorted again, turning away. The action loosed much of the tension in his body as he sneered, "Stand up. I do not care to strike you down for your transgressions."

Jesse raised his head from his submissive, vulnerable position, and the gratitude was clear in his golden eyes. But he did not make any move to stand again. Instead he focused on his paws, licking at them nervously for another long handful of heartbeats. Atem paid him no mind after this, but did glance to Yugi once more. The Gandora was eyeing their newcomer curiously, though he seemed to be prepared to leap at him as well. He was curious but incredibly put off. Atem thought he almost seemed offended on his behalf that Jesse had overlooked their union.

"Uh, what species are you?" the Ice Dragon asked after a moment, raising and turning his head to Atem. He kept his eyes respectfully lowered, however, so as not to provoke Atem any further. "I've never…exactly seen a dragon like you before."

Atem could not help the scorn that came through his tone now. "I could not expect you to have," he snapped coldly. He turned to face him now, knowing his expression to be terrible and harsh, and stared at him. He wondered if the gem in his forehead had turned cloudy, the shadows spiraling like darkened storm clouds as he felt his thoughts were. "I suppose I am one of the last of my species in that regard. Not many Slifers remain as it is."

Yugi leaned a little closer to him. The soft touch was enough to make Atem turn back to him, but he was not sure what it was that was reflected back to him in those blue-violet eyes. They were warm, he knew, but he thought he saw something akin sympathy there as well and Atem could not help but bristle faintly at the thought.

"It's you!"

Atem tilted his head slowly to the side.

Bewilderment came through him as they considered each other, though he saw Yugi blink wide eyes beside him. But the Gandora remained leaning into his side, blinking at Jesse and glancing at Atem sideways as well.

"You're the Sky Dragon!"

Atem could do nothing more than blink. The outburst was startling and confusing to him. His scales rose and fell in a bristle as he stared at the other dragon.

Had he expected otherwise? Had he expected another dragon? Had he truly come there with no concept of who it was or which species of dragon he might meet?

He frowned, both mouths pulling downward. It was bewildering to him to consider why the Ice Dragon might be so excited and yet incredibly puzzled. He tilted his head the smallest degree further. He wished he could have said he understood his excitement as it was, as if it might have helped him to understand Yugi's exuberance as well.

"You're the one that Yusei and Jaden mentioned before!" He exclaimed it in that same excited tone. And he was trembling with the emotion in his voice. Atem bristled furiously, startled by the idea that either of them might know of him as it was. The bitter resentment was coming back in waves. "You're the first Sky Dragon to be a God Dragon in over a thousand years. And you're also the only God Dragon to strike down his suitors so violently like that."

Atem bristled visibly now. The resentment was harsh and cold in his belly. He moved his wings to tuck along his flanks, the tips pressing into his flesh. It was a comforting sensation for him, something that he had not done in what felt like a lifetime. It reminded him of being within his egg—which he remembered vividly and cherished more than anything at times—and it was the only reason that he did not leap at Jesse then and there.

"You would be wise to shut your jaws. Now."

Yugi looked between them now, alarm causing his pupils to flip to a horizontal position. He looked between them, startled and confused. And Atem knew he was reacting solely to his mate's growing aggression. But Jesse had grown so amazed that he seemed unable to stop himself any longer.

"You're the one that Jaden warned me about!" the Rainbow Dragon continued in a burst. Atem lashed his tail, his eyes glowing with such intensity that Jesse would have shuddered had it not been for his growing fascination. "But he didn't know that you'd found a mate yet. And he wasn't sure if you were actually the God Dragon. He just said that you would likely kill me on sight the moment I set paw in the territory."

"Well, it is not too late to do so now." His voice was furious as Atem bore down on him viciously. He shifted his weight but it was not in a move to shield himself. Jesse bristled furiously now, clearly terrified of the threat. But then, as Jesse tensed himself and readied to attempt to dodge away when he lunged, Yugi spun suddenly.

The impact was in his side. Atem was nearly thrown sideways. The Sky Dragon bunched his muscles. He clawed at the earth with immense spears of keratin. And then he twisted his hindquarters just enough to hold his weight. He barely kept himself from falling. He did not roll. Nor did he budge but for his legs sliding minutely. His left wing arched and draped downward. It slammed into the ground, absorbing much of the impact.

Yet, Yugi did not look aggressive in any manner. He landed gently, in fact. But Jesse would never have assumed such a thing had he not been so close. The violence Atem had displayed in holding his own ground had been horrifying.

The Gandora touched his shoulder and wing joint. His paws pressed lightly upon them. And then he sprang away once more. The black male landed a few feet away. Then he spun around with a wiggle of his rump.

Atem hesitated for what looked to be an eternity.

His body remained stiff, almost fearful in fact. He peered at Yugi as if he expected more backlash. He looked almost as if he awaited the pain to set in. Then he blinked. He was clearly stunned. And very abruptly his head snapped to the side, regarding Jesse.

For a moment he feared Atem would simply dispose of him regardless. Yugi was out of his range now. He could hardly stop Atem if the Sky Dragon attacked. And he was no longer within range of being struck by accident either.

And Jesse knew more than ever that this was what Atem had been worried about. It had not been with how he might strike out. It had been whether Yugi might be caught in the melee if he was not careful around him.

The Rainbow Dragon readied a scream in his lungs. He'd call for help before he'd fight. Atem was a God Dragon, yes, but he could still at least harm him before he had to face Yugi as well.

He had no delusions that he would win. The two of them were dragons that Jesse knew had to be violent and willing to kill—

He was winded. His legs shook.

Atem had turned back to Yugi. The Gandora wiggled his rump again. The invitation was clear and his eyes were bright and sparkling.

Jesse was shaking, more thankful than ever. He'd fought a God Dragon before. And he'd nearly been killed in the midst of it. Had it not been for his own species and the capability to dislocate their bones and even shed layers of scales and skin at their bidding…

Jesse shuddered to imagine it at all. He had overstepped in failing to ask for a blessing upon entering the God Dragon's territory. And the God Dragon had been much more violent than Jesse had assumed he would.

He shivered.

Atem had been extremely close—perhaps a breath away from it in fact—to attacking him in his anger. He had most likely been upset enough to kill him. He had most likely wished to gut him for so much as looking at him in such a manner.

But he'd been expectant of the reaction as well. He'd known from Yusei and Jaden that it was likely he'd lash out. They'd said he was violent without reason and he had a great many triggers which brought about his wrath. How true that was he couldn't be sure, however. He'd triggered his rage in so stupidly thinking to offer his mate something that an Ice Dragon would use for a courtship ritual. And then he'd upset him further in the fact that he'd spoken of him in that manner.

But now the red male was incredibly focused on Yugi. And, despite the aggression he had seen mere seconds before, he did not fear for even a moment that Atem might harm him.

The two of them ran a few feet away, locking in a mock battle. The Gandora was on his back, claws hooked lightly on his mate's shoulders. Atem bore down on him with sharp teeth and glowing golden eyes.

But then Yugi would kick at him just enough to make Atem back up. And he would dart away again, pouncing on him seconds later. They would roll a few feet, pin one another and then run away again. They locked in mock combat every few minutes, separating almost immediately after. They would growl mockingly, playfully pawing each other off balance and running away.

Jesse could not help but watch these antics in surprise. Most dragons bonded this way in infantry. It was a common trait for clutches and siblings.

But it was also incredibly strange for adult dragons to do such a thing. And, as far as he could tell, they were both sexually mature if not physically. They had to be sexually mature. There was no way that Atem would have agreed to allow Yugi to call him his mate if he was unable to do something as basic as mount him.

That was a must for any dragon pair in existence. If they could not mount, it was a useless bond and they would soon find themselves resentful of each other.

Or so was said of Fire Dragons. Wind Dragons were another story, but they were not far behind them. And Water Dragons were the most vicious in this aspect. They would torture a mate that could not provide such primitive solutions for them. They'd hurt and scare and sometimes even brutally mutilate each other for such weakness.

But these two were rolling around in the dirt.

And Yugi was constantly pulling away, lashing his tail and pouncing again. He would land on Atem's face, the Sky Dragon using the momentum to flip him onto his back with a sharp jerk of his head. The Gandora would land winded, blinking, and Atem would launch himself at him. They'd roll, Atem would pull away again moments later and then pounce immediately…

The bonding ritual was strange to say the least.

A fight between mates that was physical was often seen as a battle for dominance. Especially when it came to two males.

Blood was often drawn. And one would surrender only when they'd been hurt too badly to continue, and the victor would then force them to lie on their belly while being forcefully mounted. They'd often be bitten violently in the neck to show that they'd been pushed to such a stance by their own doing. It was meant to be as humiliating as it was painful. And, only when the victor felt satisfied they had learned their lesson, would they stop the mountings and let them nurse their wounds.

He had never heard of such a thing with a Sky Dragon pair, however. They, much unlike other dragons, were capable of finding compromise without physical altercations. Blood was rarely shed when it came to a pair such as theirs. They were often so willing to please each other that they never had to lift a claw or so much as threaten to do such a thing.

But Fire Dragons were especially notorious for it when it came to single-sex mates, as short as their time together might be. They'd get violent to find out who was dominant. They'd often almost kill each other.

And Yugi was half Fire Dragon.

Yet, somehow, Atem hardly seemed worried.

He even let Yugi bat him in the shoulder. He rolled a few feet and let Yugi pounce on him again. He'd let the Gandora land on his back, pressing on his wings, and bite at his neck. He'd let him leap away again afterwards. He'd let him do all these things, some of which a bystander would have assumed to be aggressive, and never thought twice about it. Atem had, to his amazement, simply sprung up to follow him, growling and lashing out comfortably.

They returned to his general proximity—he realized it had to be an area they spent a lot of time in or else they would have simply left him there—a couple of hours later. Yugi was panting but he was in the lead, head high and paws steady. Atem was behind him now, his expression similar, and his eyes were brighter than Jesse had ever seen them before.

However, when Atem spotted him there, his eyes lost whatever brightness they had harbored before. His gaze darkened and he slowed a few steps behind his mate. "You are still here," he growled out somewhat dismissively. He stopped a few feet away from where Yugi stood, shaking himself out and watching him with a cold expression which shook Jesse to his core for a moment. "Why?"

The single word was harsh enough to make Jesse flinch. But he managed to keep his voice even. He did not want a repeat of the fight he'd had with the other God Dragon. And, from what he remembered, much of the rumors surrounding Atem were more violent than that of the other…

"I didn't tell you why I'd come yet."

Yugi blinked and nodded. "Right, you never told us why you were here."

"Do I honestly care?"

The Gandora snorted and bumped him in the shoulder. "Stop being so mean." He licked his forehead and turned back to the newcomer. He was clearly the more tired of the two, panting as he took a seat and wrapped his tail around his paws. "Well?"

"Jaden is calling a meeting of the God Dragons."

Atem blinked long and slow. "A meeting?" he said softly, blinking again and then snorting. "And that would be because…?"

"We need to decide what we are going to do about the clutches that Keith fathered."

Yugi startled at the name alone, eyes stretching wide. Alarm and dread filled his belly as he turned to Atem. He had forgotten about the various nests which Keith had procured before he had come after the Sky Dragon.

And no doubt there had been more than he'd initially assumed. Yugi himself had heard rumors soon after the fight, though he'd shared none of them with Atem. Jonouchi had told him much more of them than he'd even cared to hear before they'd parted ways again. Keith had bred with hundreds of females. And most clutches were anywhere from two to ten hatchlings. There could be an army of them for all they knew.

"Everyone to have attended the fight and witnessed it will be expected to come. And we are inviting several of the Clan leaders in the nearby territories as well. We want as many dragons involved as possible."

"Why must we do anything about them at all?" Atem scoffed. Yugi blinked at him, surprised by the words, and tilted his head curiously. "They shall come to rot on their own. Death does not care when it claims lives."

Jesse blinked, clearly startled and stunned. Then he huffed and shook his head angrily. He was on his paws in an instant, lashing his tail. "They're a threat!" he spat.

"But they are of no concern to me."

"You're a part of this world, aren't you? If something happens and they are too violent to be controlled like their father proved to be, it will be your problem more than anyone else's, won't it?"

"Perhaps then, yes. But they are not a threat to me now."

The Rainbow Dragon bristled. When he lunged, Yugi sprang. He barred him off, head tipped up and teeth bared. The Ice Dragon froze, realizing himself only then. Yugi only needed a second to sink his teeth into his throat. If he only came forward a step, he'd have blood dripping down his throat.

Yugi thumped his tail, the only warning he would give. And he could feel Atem watching him now, though what expression he wore was a mystery to him.

"Now I understand." Jesse was trembling, his voice enraged and hateful. Yugi thumped his tail again, bristling furiously. "I understand why Jaden told me that you were dangerous. You are not only a bastard. You are not only bitter. You're more arrogant than even Keith was!"

The words were met with an immediate reaction.

Jesse spat and snarled. He flailed violently. His claws hooked in flesh. But the impact winded him. He could not breathe. Teeth were caught in his throat, pressing on his windpipe. He screeched but it came in a gurgle. He kicked and flailed again, snarling. And then he tried to squirm away.

He panicked and kicked and writhed. He gasped and blood soaked his tongue for a moment. He felt claws cutting at his own face. The impact was enough to make him all but faint. He gasped and sputtered and snarled. But the gurgling was all he could hear. And the blows kept coming—

His vision was spiraling. The darkness was dancing there. He could only flail and kick. He was writhing harder than ever.

"Enough!"

The outburst was painful in his ears. But he could hardly hear it. His hearts were racing too hard. And he could hardly see the sky any longer. Yet, as he thought this, a painful tearing came through him. Jesse screeched, the gurgling high in pitch and hideous.

His throat was aching, blood gushing. He gasped for air. Then he opened and closed his mouth. He tried for his paws, amazed and terrified. And absolutely furious.

He lowered his body to the ground, snarling and bristling. His tongue flicked from his mouth. But then he froze in place as well.

"I have said it is enough," the red dragon snarled. He thumped his tail and looked at Yugi with terrible anger in his eyes. The Gandora was snarling, his mouth bloodied, but his eyes were confused and perhaps more fearful than anything. He blinked after a moment, then lowered his head a fraction towards the ground.

But then his attention snapped to Jesse. The Rainbow Dragon snarled and spat, amazed that he was not dying. The wound was a deadly one that Yugi had delivered. Had he bitten any further down…

Yet, as Yugi pressed forward, so too did Atem.

The Sky Dragon stepped between them in an instant. His tail thumped, his eyes glowing hideously. "Enough, Yugi," the Sky Dragon snarled again, but now there was something pleading in his tone. "It is done and over with. Stop."

Yugi blinked. His pupils flipped, distress visible there, and he looked at his mate with a horrified expression. Then he glanced at Jesse again, trembling with his rage. "Get out of here," he hissed. "Get out of here before I rip you to pieces."

Atem kept his eyes locked on Yugi. "You'd be wise to listen to him. Timaeus is to the north. When you enter his territory ask him for a blessing. He will honor that. If you do not, he'll most likely end you where you stand." He pressed forward a step. Yugi blinked and looked at him with wide eyes, somewhere between bewilderment and perhaps the smallest degree of fear. "He will meet you at the border if you wait long enough. I would suggest you follow the river. You can use it to heal some as well."

Chapter Text

Part II: Faults

Atem watched Yugi a few minutes longer. He could not think of the words he might need to help him relax again. And the Gandora looked miserable, head down as his wings drooped visibly at his sides. He had not looked at him in what felt like a great many hours. The young male looked as if he might vomit, in fact, flexing his claws with visible distress. Atem hated the submissive stance that Yugi showed him now.

He hated the vulnerability Yugi was displaying to him more than ever.

He wanted to snap at him to grow past this. He wanted more than ever to tell him to stop. He wanted to tell him to raise his head and snap at him in turn. And he loathed himself for such an instinct.

It reminded him too much of his brothers.

It reminded him too much of the raw dismay and despair and pain that he had suffered at their paws.

And it made him want to tremble.

But to do so would mean to display weakness and he could not do so when Yugi was in such a state as well. If he were to break, he did not know what might happen.

But, gods, if Atem was not exhausted…

He shook his head and moved his tail to wrap around his paws. He did not coil it around himself, however, and the lack of action made it feel almost like a mockery of the usual comfort it carried.

"What has upset you so much, little gem?"

Yugi flinched violently at the use of the nickname. When he breathed, he was trembling but it was not with fear or misery. Atem recognized the anger in his stance. He knew the way Yugi growled so softly and huffed out a breath from behind his large teeth. He was still considerably upset, perhaps more so than ever now that he had no target to take his aggression out on. He shifted his weight and clawed restlessly at the ground for a long moment.

But he never spoke and so Atem decided to fill the silence for himself now.

"You were worse than my mother when she could not stop fretting about my late hatching," the Sky Dragon teased after a moment. The words sparked instant curiosity from the Gandora. Yugi's head rose, his blue-violet eyes wide and bright with wonder. Atem thought he saw the smallest degree of excitement as well. And that was enough to wind the Sky Dragon.

He had never truly shared much with Yugi, had he? He had never truly told him much about his life before he'd crossed paths with him, had he?

Much of it had been terrible, but an almost equal amount of it had been good as well. And he wondered how much damage it could do to reveal some to him and hide more than he told.

It was a terrible consideration. And Atem wished more than ever to look immediately away. But it caused him to reconsider as well now.

Yugi deserved to know such things. He had come to him without all of this knowledge. He had come to him knowing only that which he had managed to stumble across when he'd witnessed it. He did not know much else. And that was something that Atem knew he needed to change.

But it could never be an instant thing.

And he was not sure he'd be one hundred percent comfortable with it. But he could put in the effort, he was sure. He could at least try to eventually reveal to Yugi later as much as the Gandora was willing to him.

He felt small and vulnerable before this new determination, however. It was enough to make him want to turn and flee if only his paws could carry him fast enough or his wings hold him long enough.

He wrapped his tail a bit more pointedly around himself, but it lacked its usual comforts.

"You hatched later than your brothers?"

Atem flicked his wings and flexed his claws uncomfortably. Yugi was aware of the fact that he was the youngest of the four of them. And even if he had not been, it could not be too much of a surprise with the way they'd treated him. Yugi had seen it before when he was younger and he'd witnessed it mere moons ago when they'd entered his territory. Yugi had nearly mauled them for their efforts to insult him, after all.

But he had a feeling that Yugi had always known of the fact that he was youngest. He had a feeling even if he had not seen them playing and the way they bullied him or their heights compared to his, he would have known. But he had clearly never considered that Atem might have been far behind them in their hatching.

Atem had formerly forced himself to lock those thoughts away. He had not wanted to taint the few good memories with the numerous instances of bad. And it made him nervous and uncomfortable to think back on them. He did not know that he might be able to keep it good if it was measured against the bad as well. But he had also locked much of it away in pure disdain.

He had hated the role of the God Dragon.

It had made him spiteful of his younger years.

And it had poisoned many of his memories of his life back then as well.

"I hatched a moon or two after the others, on one of the false full moons."

He looked away, unable to face Yugi any longer and he was not sure if it was shame or distant frustration which made him do so.

It was considered an omen of good luck if an egg were to hatch on a true full moon. But it was one of illness and famine when it hatched on a false one. The fact that his own had hatched after the true full moon, the day of which it had begun to wane, had always made Atem incredibly nervous to admit.

And he would not have blamed Yugi should the Gandora have become alarmed with the news. He himself was beyond such simple superstition at this point. He had grown past it, had become frustrated enough to all but shun it, but another dragon might have cowed before such news. And his being a God Dragon on top of it most likely would have made them flee to others for protection.

The fact that his parents had not chosen to kill him in turn was amazing. Superstitions were large in many dragon species. And the first thing to happen among many nests was judgment of their likeliness of survival according to their birth. Atem had shown various weaknesses upon being born. His parents could have taken his day of birth alone to simply kill him as it was.

And the fact that Yugi was so quiet now made him incredibly nervous. Atem had the abrupt urge to crawl away on his belly, somewhere between dizziness and anxiety. He shuffled his paws and stared at the ground pointedly. He wondered if the fish he had swallowed earlier might come to make a second appearance.

"My mother had been worried I was dead during the time it took me to hatch. She was in an absolute panic." He couldn't look up. His voice was quiet and he felt as if his hearts were lurching and dancing and beating far too fast in his chest. "And my father kept telling her to simply relax and give me the room necessary to become acclimated with the temperature before I hatched."

Yugi blinked and Atem noticed him leaning forward with increasing interest and curiosity. His hearts seemed to rattle in his chest. "She thought you were dead?" he muttered.

Atem kept his eyes on his longer claws, flexing them nervously as he drew in a breath. "She certainly did not expect that I might hatch in the middle of the night when they were all fast asleep." Atem frowned, remembering the way his parents had woken only when he had come to poke his head out. He had been trying unsuccessfully to crawl out of the opening.

But he had also been two sizes smaller than the usual dragonet, perhaps only the height of his mother's paw and twice the length. His mother had been all too eager to welcome him into the world. She had helped him by way of hooking her claws and pulling the egg apart for him. Her face had lit up when she had spotted him trying to struggle his way out, his father's eyes wide and amazed…

Atem glanced at Yugi, surprised by his silence. He had assumed the younger male was perhaps lingering more than anything on the fact that he'd admitted to the bad omen that was his birth. But it was then that he noticed Yugi was staring at him with wide eyes. And Atem swore he saw something almost heartbroken and dismayed within his expression.

Atem blinked, startled and unsure. Had he said something to invoke such an expression? He rapidly sought through his words, puzzled, and then stiffened.

Yugi was staring at him in this manner because he was horrified. And it was not the day of his birth which had done it. It was because he had never even considered that it had been suggested he might not have survived to birth.

Atem looked away again and shifted his weight. He felt abruptly too large, exhausted and just overall lengthier than he wished to be.

"My mother watched me for the first two moons I was born. She did not leave my side for the majority of it." Atem blinked, long and slow. A knot began to form in his throat as he considered it. None of those things had gone over well with his siblings, he remembered. Her kindness in helping him to hatch, her remaining at his side when he was born and choosing to lay with him over them more often than not, her scolding them when they got too rough with him…

When she had finally grown restless of being in the den and had left his side…

Atem turned away from the memory instantly. It was painful, clawing hideously at his insides. Yet, somehow, he found himself glancing up and turning to Yugi, watching him anxiously as he faced him in turn.

The Gandora looked absolutely crestfallen. He looked as if he still could not get past the thought that at some point Atem had once been considered dead. But he also seemed somehow slightly determined. Atem tilted his head, puzzled by the emotion in his beautiful gem-like eyes. He wondered if Yugi was perhaps under the assumption that he would be able to ensure that such a thing was never thought of again.

"That is beside the point, I suppose. Regardless, you are reminding me of her now, Yugi. Why were you so terribly upset? There was no reason to be."

Yugi was silent for a long handful of moments. He looked more inclined to ignore the question, though there was clear consideration put behind it as well. He paused, studying him for a moment, then searched his face instead. "Did they know immediately that you were a God Dragon?" he asked instead.

Atem blinked. The words might have distracted him any other time. But now he noticed a slight tremor in the Gandora's wings, a shiver which made him tilt his head. Yugi was still upset, something which Atem had not quite considered at the moment.

Whatever it was that Jesse had done had left a deeper impact than Atem had initially assumed.

So Atem took this change of conversation with ease.

"They knew," he answered after a moment, tilting his head the smallest degree. "My father was stunned. He cursed a few times in his shock and then he became extremely excited. And my mom was very protective of me once I hatched."

He supposed it went without saying that she had cared before he was born as well. She had often checked his egg and continued incubating him much of the time that it had taken for him to hatch after his brothers. Atem wanted almost to smile at the thought; he'd heard her little mutterings about how he needed to come out of his egg to see what the sky looked like and the way the world around him would change with the seasons…

His father had often laid with her at night, sometimes asking if she thought he would hatch. Other times he had gone about introductions of his brothers despite Atem's inability to see them as of yet. He'd told him of Seto being the oldest, of how his scales were a glimmering gold like the metal and his eyes a shade of blue so light they seemed silver in the sun sometimes. He'd told him of Marik being a deeper golden shade, how he was brighter and had wide lavender eyes like the petals of blooming wildflowers. And he'd mentioned Bakura, how he had scales of silver that looked dark gray in the shadows and eyes like mud puddles when there was fresh rain. He'd talk afterwards sometimes about the way the river felt when a dragon splashed into it, the way Sky Dragons were special dragons altogether and he should be proud of his heritage when he was born.

The thought made him tilt his head. He'd never minded being a Sky Dragon. He had sometimes been bitter that he was not as heavy as the many suitors that had come to challenge him for mating rights. But he had never been resentful of his own species. But, as he'd laid with his father once when his mother had gone hunting and his brothers were fast asleep, he'd asked him about it.

Atem, unlike many dragons, had been able to recall his time within his egg. He'd been able to listen and understand and memorize those words long before he'd hatched. Atem did not know if it was because of his stance as a God Dragon that had caused this, but either way it was what he had grown to believe to be usual for him. When he'd found out his brothers did not remember their time in their own eggs, he'd realized it was perhaps not something he should mention to another dragon so long as he lived.

But he wondered now. When he'd asked his father about it, inquiring about why he should be proud of his heritage and what there might be to upset him, he'd stared at him in surprise. And then he'd told him that Sky Dragons were the best of the species, the usual nonsense said to hatchlings to make them feel special. But he'd also told him he especially needed to remember it, though at the time he had not told him why or what might have made him say such a thing.

He'd been about a hundred before he'd known the truth of it, as Timaeus had finally come to explain it to him. The Knight Dragon had blinked at him, surprised by the question, then smiled and come to lay down with him to explain. And he'd told him almost everything there was to know about a Serpent of the Sky. He'd told him gently about the history that so many did not wish to acknowledge. And he'd groomed him around telling him that just because it had happened before did not mean it would again.

The Gandora dragon flexed his claws, the sound jarring his thoughts and making Atem turn his head towards him in surprise. He blinked and Yugi looked slightly nervous as he peered back at him. "Do you ever think you were so small like that because your siblings were born?"

Atem could not understand why he would ask such a question for a long moment. Then he blinked, realization coming through him as he frowned at him in consideration. He raised his head the smallest degree as he remembered the lore he had so often chosen to abandon for the sake of ignorance.

Yes, he remembered such a story.

It was something that Atem had never quite applied to himself. It was said that the God Dragons possessed the ability to deny the birth and growth of their siblings. And some, like the Leviathan, truly seemed to have done just that.

The giant Water Dragon had been born within a clutch of seven, a considerably large nest for his species. None had hatched but for him. Atem did not know if it was the stress that had to have been put on his mother due to their mating rituals. Water Dragons tended to mate underwater, the male constricting around their mates until there was an egg to be produced. And, if the mother was not fast enough, the father would eat the egg and then repeat the torture of forcing her to produce another until they were exhausted.

The Sea Serpent species, however, produced about two or three eggs at one time, the fathers fertilizing them when they constricted the mothers. And oftentimes the females were able to paralyze the males through excreting a small toxin from their scales. It was enough to numb them, to leave them frozen and unable to move for a few minutes at a time. It gave the females the chance to move the eggs to a safer spot. And, considering the size difference in the two genders, where the female could fit into crevices, it did not always ensure the male could join.

The Leviathan, however, had been born larger than was natural for any dragonet Atem knew of. He was said to have been almost three or four times the size he was meant to be when he'd hatched, something that Atem was not sure to be truth or mere rumor. But, regardless, it made him incredibly wary.

The Leviathan had always seemed somewhat malicious to Atem. He'd seen him only a handful of times in passing as the Water Dragon liked to move north during the hottest days of summer and Atem would often see its huge leathery wings and sharp claws. And Atem always felt he sensed malice rather than benevolence.

It had been something that had made him narrowly suppress the urge to cower and snarl in his mounting fear. And he might have outgrown such instinct but the impression of fear was still fresh whenever he spotted the other male in the air.

Atem could not truly tell if this was superstition or raw instinct on his behalf. He did not like to consider himself superstitious in the slightest—he'd love to pretend he was above it, in fact—but he had to wonder. The Leviathan was a Water Dragon bigger than his own father at a young age. He could not imagine that this was somehow natural…

And the rumors surrounding the Sea Serpent had no doubt lent a paw in making him see more anger in him than he truly possessed. Between the legends that he'd emerged from the water the day he was born—something unheard of with Water Dragons, as they were born aquatic with gills and special scales to absorb oxygen into their lungs—and the fights he was said to have participated in, Atem could not know. Anything to do with the Leviathan made him want to simply hide.

He had never attempted making contact with him. The Leviathan traveled from the west and to the northern climates when it became too hot. And when it became too cold there he traveled back. And Atem saw him twice a year due to this, knowing almost the exact moment he would do so. As the Leviathan never attempted to land, Atem had never had a reason to interact with him. The sky was free domain for each and every dragon, no matter the species or their lifespan or anything of the matter. If they could fly, they were welcome to travel in it.

As they all lived beneath the same sky, saw the same stars and the same sun, none of the dragons had ever been so foolish as to attempt ownership over it. But the moment a dragon was to set paw on the land beneath, it was considered encroaching on another's territory. And from there they could be punished relentlessly. Atem had always been increasingly cautious of such a thing, though Timaeus had told him he was always welcome into his territory. He was north of him, miles away but close enough that it took perhaps a mere hour for him to make the journey at a leisurely pace. At top speed it took only a few minutes at the most.

Regardless, he had never taken him up on the offer. Timaeus had told him the exact way to find his nest if he should ever need him, something Atem had done in turn as well. Timaeus knew exactly where his nests were scattered about, though he was well aware the Knight Dragon would never come to any of them. He'd likely settle nearest the one he sensed him more closely at and wait for his acknowledgment. And Atem was so used to his signature that he did not have to worry in the slightest when it came to knowing where he was in his territory the moment he passed over the border.

The Leviathan had never set paw in his territory. And Atem did not know if that was because he had decided it was not worth the detour, or if the rumors had done well in hiding him from the war god. From the rumors, the Water Dragon was uncharacteristically vicious and always willing to shed blood. He was constantly prepared to attack and all but kill his enemies and he doubted that rumors of disposing of his suitors would slow the God Dragon from approaching him should he so desire.

"I've never considered it, no." Atem tried to shake the heavy shadow of power the Leviathan so often cloaked him in. But his lungs felt slightly tight and his claws flexed in distress. Speaking in an even tone was harder than he cared to admit at the moment. He was just thankful he was not trembling as of yet. "I had always assumed that it was simply because I was smaller than them and had hatched so much later."

"Oh." Yugi was watching him, concern and curiosity brilliant in his bright eyes. "What do you think now then? Do you think maybe that could be why?"

Atem blinked and narrowed his eyes into slits. "No," he grunted with a shake of his head.

Because, had that been the truth of it, his siblings should never have come out to be such monsters, right? The lore said that siblings to the God Dragons were meant to be extensions of them, their souls and powers. And if that were to be true, then they should not have turned out as they had, not unless Yugi were truly wrong and he had been right formerly. Unless his nature, at its core, was truly malevolent and more ferocity than friendliness or hope as the God Dragons were meant to be. Yugi had said it was his temper when he snapped and lashed out at another, but for that to be true…

Atem flexed his claws again, feeling sick to his stomach. He'd had this train of thought one too many times growing up. And it had been enough to all but overwhelm him on several occasions. According to the lore, God Dragons were meant to be able to change the world due to their even minds and grasp of hope even within the darkest of times.

He had done his best to shun this aspect more often than not. The darkest times had passed centuries before he had been born, however, when the species had all turned on each other. It had been a terrible ordeal, one that had all but wiped each species from existence. A few species truly had gone extinct during that war. And, from what Atem knew, no such thing had been repeated and current times laws were in place amongst the dragons to prevent such a thing ever happening again.

Sure, the lore alluded to more than simply that time back then and more towards the time in which the God Dragons existed in general. It meant to say that at their core they were the ones who held the most hope. But he did often wonder. It did not feel like that in the slightest for himself.

And he doubted the Leviathan harbored much time for something so small as that…

"I do not think that."

Yugi sighed, and the look on his face was more akin disappointment than melancholy as he'd expected. But it lasted only a split second before he shook it away and sprang to his paws. "Well, I think so," he declared with a small smile. He raised his chin and peered at him with bright eyes. "I think that's why you were born so small."

Atem frowned, considering him with a tilted head. He wanted to look away from Yugi altogether, perhaps to even run or fly on his own for a moment. He could put a couple of miles between them before Yugi would even be able to catch up. And it would have been easy to do so.

But his hearts were aching with memories he'd disregarded formerly. And now his stomach rolled more painfully as he lowered his eyes to the ground for a moment.

Yugi had only ever seen him when he was but a few inches smaller than his brothers. He had not seen when he was a mere speck of red versus their lumbering metallic forms. He had not seen them growing rapidly and his own stunted performance in catching up with them.

He had never seen when his wings were three sizes too small or his paws too big and his head too large for his awkward and scrawny neck. He had never seen his wings grow from too small to one day too wide and all-encompassing of his body. He had not seen him with short stubby legs and large paws which made him fumble and fall every other step…

Atem tilted his head.

Well, now that he thought of it like that, it was no wonder his brothers had found it so much fun to tear into him as they had. They'd probably suspected he wouldn't make it a full decade before he died, regardless of his parents telling them he was a God Dragon.

Atem shook this thought away. But the burden of considering it after so long ignoring it made the weight of it heavy and cumbersome. And he could not think straight for a moment. He was small and tired and everything about him simply ached.

Maybe if he could have blamed everything on the lore, it would have made his life easier. He would be ecstatic to do it, in fact. He'd have no reason to feel so broken and exhausted all of the time.

"Jesse irritated me."

Atem blinked and looked up, confused and bewildered. Who…?

"He didn't know what he was talking about and then he's just going to say something like that?" Yugi's tail slammed into the ground loudly and Atem eyed it in surprise. It was rare that Yugi looked so incredibly angry, though he had witnessed his attack against Bakura and Seto. It had been violent because he'd aimed truly to kill them both.

Atem nearly smiled at the thought, affection sweeping through him. Yugi was a little tornado of desert heat and ferocity when he was upset. He'd attacked Seto the moment he'd spotted him in the sky after Seto had answered his war cry and he'd gone after Bakura the moment he'd harmed Atem himself. The Gandora was fast when he first started fighting, and he'd pinned Seto in seconds and torn Bakura almost to pieces in a matter of minutes. But, by his own admission, Yugi was prone to slowing down after the first few minutes he fought.

He wondered briefly how terribly Yugi might have carved Jesse up had he not grabbed him. When he'd caught him by the back of the throat, he'd expected the Gandora to lash out. But Yugi had seen him right before he might have swung, realizing himself, and then backed away submissively when he'd released. He could not imagine the destruction Yugi might have inflicted on the Rainbow Dragon before the Ice Dragon could have reacted. Yugi was designed for short bursts of power, to kill in those few minutes he had such speed, and then to be able to recover steadily when his opponents tried to fight back.

Atem had never personally fought a Gandora before, not one of the first generation nor one of the alternate hybrids that were far different in physical design to what Yugi himself looked. But he had heard the rumors and he'd been fearful of their ability to catch on fire as violently as they did. They were overwhelmingly powerful in every manner when it came to this technique. Yugi had displayed such a technique against Keith in the fight at the cliffs, when Keith had come to kill Atem or perhaps forcefully mount him. He did not truly know; the Barrel Dragon had claimed both at one point or another, he knew, so he did not know which would have been more likely. It was not impossible to assume that he would have mounted him and then attempted to kill him afterwards.

"He deserved to be boxed upside the head. His jaws really needed to cease moving. He should never have said such a thing about you. He had no right to call you bitter."

It took a long handful of heartbeats for the words to properly make sense in his head. Atem blinked a few times, confused, flicked his tail in shock, and then tilted his head slowly to the side. "That is what upset you so much?" he scoffed, nearly laughing with surprise. He blinked again, staring blankly. He shook his head slowly and stared at him with darkened golden eyes. "He is not the first to have named me such, Yugi. It has always been a description for me."

The Gandora bristled, shaking his head furiously and flicking his tongue. "And I hate every one of them to ever say it!" he spat wholeheartedly, trembling with his rage. "They have no idea what you went through. They have no right to say anything! None of them know what happened. None of them have any idea. They don't have any right to talk about you in any way!"

"But it does not offend me."

"That's because you're used to it!" Yugi burst out, snapping his teeth fiercely. Then he faltered, breathing hard and snarling for a brief moment. A wave of shame and grief came through him a split second later and he looked down at his paws. He flexed his toes anxiously, the long hooked claws digging into the dirt as he breathed hard and trembled with anger. "And I hate that too. I know that you were just trying to survive but I hate that you settled for letting other dragons call you a bitter killer."

Atem tilted his head when Yugi glanced up at him but Yugi barely noticed it as he looked back down at his paws quickly. He didn't look upset but he wasn't sure he could trust that kind of thing. Atem had been scared for years and no doubt had learned to mask this behind indifference when he dealt with his suitors. If that was the case, he could not afford to take this expression to be a sole indicator of his emotional state.

"It is not a problem to me, Yugi." A heartbeat passed, then a second. Yugi almost trembled. "Little one, I do not mind that others speak of me in any manner. It was inevitable that someone might speak of me at some point. I am a God Dragon."

The God Dragon stayed quiet for a moment. He watched him with those solid golden eyes for a heartbeat. Then he scooted closer, paw rising and stretching out.

It landed on Yugi's shoulders, tugging him closer to his side. Yugi blinked wide eyes, startled. The paw flexed and his claws tickled the joint of his wing. He almost laughed despite himself, but turned his head to stare at Atem with wide eyes.

Was he upset with him? He had to wonder. Atem seemed rather tired more than anything. Maybe this conversation was something he should have left for another day…

He blinked as a bright blue tongue ran over his forehead. The red male leaned forward immediately, running his rough tongue over his face and Yugi snickered. He squirmed as a hatchling might, enjoying every moment of it as he watched him from whichever eye was furthest from his mate's tongue. He let him groom every inch of his face, snickering all the while, and settled as Atem butted his shoulder and nuzzled him gently.

"I am grateful," the Sky Dragon stated after a long minute. He shifted his body to press into Yugi's side and the Gandora nearly trembled at the touch. He raised his head and turned toward him, surprised and full of warmth that made his entire body feel alight with happiness. Atem butted him in the shoulder again, rubbing there for a moment, and then flicked his tongue. "I am grateful that you care so much about me that even an insult should upset you so. But the truth of it is that I do not care in the slightest. They shall say what they wish and I will always be the same dragon I have always been. It changes nothing that they simply say things, little gem."

Yugi bristled again, unable to force away the onslaught of frustration that came through him. He was trembling before he knew it, snarling as he prepared to speak again. And, yet, as he opened his mouth to snap, Atem ran his tongue over his face again.

He snickered, tickled by the affectionate action, and trembled with satisfaction when Atem licked at his neck and rubbed along the underside of his jaw. "You might not be concerned about it, but I hate it. They have no right to say anything about it. None of them know what happened. And they shouldn't have the right to say a godsforsaken thing if they don't know what made you so violent. It's not as if you were born some crazy wild animal that needed to be struck down!" he snapped, voice somewhere between a snarl and sneer. Atem had stopped moving and Yugi feared he'd upset him but he could not stop now. "And some of the rumors go that you went so far as to eviscerate your 'victims' and leave their corpses dangling from trees!"

Atem blinked long and slow. He tilted his head, clearly startled, and considered him with wide eyes. "Well, that would have kept quite a number of suitors away," he commented in a somewhat surprised and thoughtful tone. Yugi watched him as he turned his head to look over his shoulder at the trees beyond them. And Atem wondered if the trees would have even been able to hold such weight as many of his suitors had possessed. Many of them had been heavyweight dragons, hoping to use their additional body mass to suppress him and force him to the ground.

But he did not think that the branches would have been able to hold it and he wondered at the picture which formed in his thoughts. It was not a kind image, one which made him nearly bristle before he shook it away effectively. It was not as if he would have desired to litter his own territory with any carcasses of this kind. He would leave that to the humans beneath the mountains. They did such strange and unbelievable things, after all.

Yugi was laughing when he leaned forward to lick his forehead. "Well, once we get around to marking the territory again, I'm sure my scent will scare them away just as well," he teased.

Atem wondered at the thought as he turned back to Yugi with a blink. Would he have to mark everything with him? Or was it possible that his juvenile form might release more of his scent—enough to keep such a thing from being necessary?

The colder temperatures of the mountain cliffs did well to suppress much of his own scent from carcasses or excrement. It was harder for his suitors to truly find him unless they knew of where he sunbathed near the river. Of course, Yugi marking it as he had that day two moons prior to his challenge had done well to make it harder to miss such a thing. Atem had considered it a blessing, however, as the Gandora had been so excited he'd marked quite excessively and in doing so it had scared several suitors away.

It had been amusing, in fact, to see how quickly they turned tail at the smell. Atem had perched nearby out of sheer curiosity, somewhere between territorial interest and amusement, and watched to see if he'd find the perpetrator. But Yugi had hidden away again with the humans, he was sure, and he had simply watched for any other dragons which drifted through.

It was only by the way they stopped, scenting at the markings and looking alarmed and confused, that he'd known none of them had done anything to mark his territory. And it had been more amusing than ever when they'd backed up, bristling and looking around as if they expected some sort of demonic creature to be lurking in the shadows ready to pounce on them. They would search a few minutes, terrified, and then turn and flee.

Atem had been happy to lounge about near the markings, assured that no one would cross them for sheer fear of the unknown. Yugi's juvenile markings had been stronger and highly concentrated, his sexual maturity highlighted but his physical immaturity making it hideously dense and overpowering.

If it had been a desert terrain or anything akin such a climate the smell would have been a million times worse. Atem could only imagine it being strong enough to make him close his nostrils for days at a time. He wrinkled his lips back a degree further so that the ridges of his teeth shone bright white and snorted.

"They may just see you and simply run."

Yugi blinked wide eyes, then startled and gaped at him. Atem tilted his head, staring at his blue-black tongue curiously. "Are you saying I'm undesirable?" he sputtered with a sharp shake of his head.

Atem snorted loudly, surprised by the expression of pure shock on his face. He wondered if Yugi might feel more ashamed or if perhaps he was afraid that he truly thought such a thing of him. He had never been keen upon mating to begin with, which perhaps would have highlighted just how terribly Yugi felt at the moment amidst his misunderstanding.

"You're very desirable," Atem answered, hoping to assuage the horror in Yugi's eyes. He leaned forward to butt him in the shoulder again.

And he did think Yugi was desirable. He had no scars to mar his features and his personality was one of an excited hatchling. He was extremely gentle and beautiful and in general Atem thought him more amazing than he truly found himself able to articulate. But he also thought him naive and sometimes that angered him. As with Jesse, Yugi could become easily surprised and single-minded when he was curious. And, despite himself, Atem did not like seeing Yugi's attention elsewhere when it came to other dragons.

He knew the Gandora was faithful, had been since before Atem had even come to know of his existence. But it still rattled him at times, despite how much Atem tried to claim otherwise.

He studied him for a moment, curious as he tilted his head and blinked long and slow. He could not tell what he could see in Yugi's eyes at the moment as it was. "I simply mean that some species are still scared of yours."

Yugi was quiet for a long handful of moments. That was true. Many dragons still did not know what it was they were meant to do with a species regarded as Dragons of Destruction. But a lot of them did not know what to do with the Serpents of the Sky either. The fact was that many dragons came to court Atem for the sake of mounting a God Dragon.

Most likely none of them had known he was a Slifer or how rare he was in that regard. Not many of the Serpents actually existed any longer. There were a few that looked a small degree like them but none which possessed the exact features.

The Slifer dragons had been abundant at one time in the past, but that had long since ceased. They had turned on each other at one point, a rather violent incident in fact. The Serpents of the Sky had become overabundant and violent due to territorial needs and the larger nests they produced—their minimum seemed often to be six instead of three for most, their maximum anywhere from ten to twenty.

And it did not help that they had turned on each and every other dragon that crossed their paths due to the overpopulation. They'd attack anything and everything that entered their territory and during other species' mating seasons it became absolute slaughter. Due to this and the sheer prowess they naturally possessed from jaw power and wing strength alone, the God Dragons had become involved.

From what he understood, they had come immediately to deal with them. They began to kill them relentlessly, though several of the other Sky Dragon species had intervened. It was only due to their mercy that the God Dragons had been swayed…

Oftentimes a Slifer was considered a stain on Sky Dragon history because of their violent nature and many of them were rather nervous upon coming to cross paths with a Serpent of the Sky. He and Atem's species were both regarded as incredibly dangerous when it came down to it, he realized as he considered it now…

And, as it was, the truth of the matter was that Atem's name had not been known among many of the dragons. He had hidden himself so well away from public eye that none of them had had the right to know it. Many of his suitors had come simply at the call of a God Dragon and the rumors of his killings had been greatly exaggerated in an effort to scare away the younger dragons looking to carve a name for themselves through Atem's hide. Yugi had known it only from his siblings saying it when they would mock him for squealing when their games became too rough…

If he had not been so close to their nest and play area, Yugi would never have even known it. The thought was disheartening to the Sky Dragon for a moment. But he shook it away as Yugi spoke again.

"Well, as long as they're not only scared of me."

Atem smirked at him in amusement, then thumped his tail playfully before pouncing on him. Yugi let out a startled squawk of a noise and flailed upon their collision. Atem knocked him onto his side and growled, flicking his tongue to run it over the Gandora's beak. When Yugi laughed at the ticklish sensation, Atem moved to drape across his side and pin him there with a deep rumbling purr of noise. Yugi snorted and looked up at him with bright eyes.

"You're the scarier of the two of us."

Yugi put a paw on his chest lazily and tipped his head up to lick beneath his chin for a moment. Atem allowed it for only a second longer. Then he trembled and rose quickly to his paws again. He shook himself out and there was a distant gleam to his eye as he moved a few steps away. Yugi blinked, confused, and then stiffened in surprise.

Atem had not expected his teeth so close to his throat, he realized, a sense of horror and sickness crashing through him in a wave. It had been okay if he was nuzzling and licking from the sides, but from beneath scared him. Most likely he remembered the fights he'd had to aim in a similar manner in order to kill various suitors who had refused to heed his victory.

Yugi hesitated when he got to his side. "Uh…so… Are we going to be attending this meeting?" he asked softly, hoping more than ever that he had not somehow alienated them by doing such a thing.

He had only wanted to show him affection.

He had only wanted to love him.

Atem had settled for biting at his wing, preening some of the scales and making it glossier in the way of licking away any remote trace of shedding skin. Now he paused. His eyes stretched comically wide and he turned his head with an expression of pure bewilderment. He blinked at Yugi a few more times, tilted his head slowly, and folded his wing away to tuck into his side as he had the other.

"Meeting?" he echoed. He peered at Yugi curiously, confused and puzzled and more than slightly unsure of the question. "What meeting?"

Yugi snorted and smiled at him warmly. "Between the God Dragons and the Clan leaders and all of the dragons involved in the fight," he reminded him softly.

Atem blinked again, confusion making his eyes a shade darker. "I am sure they would rather listen to Jaden than they ever would me," he sneered softly, shaking his head. "After all, he is the Neutralizer, not me."

Yugi tilted his head, puzzled by the anxiety he could see in his mate's frame. Immediately he leaned forward to lick at his face again, instinct bidding he try his hardest to calm him. But Atem let out a low snarling noise that made him halt before sighing softly and taking a seat unhappily in front of him. He hoped he looked as crestfallen as he felt and his mate felt bad about it, because he was decidedly not a happy Gandora at the moment.

And, just as he'd expected, Atem blinked and lowered his head guiltily. His eyes darkened faintly and his head tilted away a fraction as the gem in his forehead became cloudy. Atem flexed his claws and tilted his head and huffed out an unhappy breath.

"Why are you so upset, Atem?"

"Why am I so upset?" Atem snarled, nearly roaring with his outrage. He spun on Yugi with such intensity it reminded the Gandora of a sandstorm, an immense dangerous form of bright red scales and hideous sharp claws and terrifying teeth.

And Yugi almost wished he might have denied his anger, turned to him and simply said he did not know what Yugi was saying when he asked that question. But the more prominent part of him was incredibly proud. Atem had not backed away from the confrontation, nor had he attempted to suppress his emotions as Yugi had initially feared he might. He had been scared Atem might turn away from him entirely, attempt to force it away so that he could instead handle it alone.

He was so proud of him in that moment Yugi nearly trembled. He would never have blamed Atem had he decided to do so. He was aware of the fact that he had been relatively alone for the better part of his life and so he had most likely learned to ignore the things that troubled him the most. So if Atem had simply said he wasn't upset Yugi would have asked one time more and then left it at that. He would never force Atem to do something he did not want to. And if Atem wished to hide from the potential conversation, Yugi would have gladly allowed him to do so.

"Because I thought that it was over. I thought that upon killing Keith I would have no more to do with it," the Sky Dragon spat at him, lashing his tail. "And, yet, somehow this continues. Somehow he haunts me even now, because apparently I am not allowed to ignore the dead."

Yugi blinked, then shook his head slowly and inched closer. He was not foolish or brave enough to get any nearer him than this, however, as he knew that Atem was struggling. He remembered the way he had trembled and snarled and simply quaked that day on the cliffs, right after killing Keith and challenging the few dragons that remained of his so-called army. He had been too hurt to properly tell friend from foe, nor mate from abuser, and so he had snarled and prepared himself to leap at Yugi all the same.

Had it not been for his own instinct and Timaeus telling him to stop and back away as slowly as possible, Yugi was not sure he would have made it out of the situation in one piece. Atem had been so scared and angry, so ready to lash out at him because he got terrified when he fought. His suitors had conditioned him to be fearful even when he'd killed them, making him think that any near when he tried to recover were a threat.

He had, after all, relieved Timaeus of his eye when the Wind Dragon had gone to check on him too soon after he'd killed another suitor. And Atem had been so fearful he'd hurt Yugi as well that he'd spat and snarled and glared at him until he'd backed away as Timaeus instructed…

He sighed softly. "It's not about him anymore at this point, Atem. It is about whether or not we should kill innocent dragons for the sake of their bloodline," he protested in a gentle tone. He did not want to upset Atem more than he already was but he could not stop himself from continuing as softly as he could. "After that, it will no longer have anything to do with you or me or anyone else. It simply has to do with the sake of saving or destroying."

"Because of the unfortunate circumstances that they are the hatchlings of Keith," Atem snarled. Yugi wondered at the tired tone and the disgust which made his voice sound so incredibly weak. "It is because they are his that this is under discussion as it is. Had he never come to be so determined to kill and breed them into existence, this would never have been an issue."

And then Yugi understood.

And his hearts broke into a million fragments.

"This isn't your fault."

The God Dragon bristled violently, head snapping up. His lips curled back to show off brilliant white teeth, his gums at the root of them a splash of blue-black much darker than his sky blue tongue. The Sky Dragon thumped his tail once, then twice, and finally he snapped his bottom jaws at him as if to scare him away.

And Yugi might have fled when he was younger. But now, heartbroken by the burden Atem had placed on himself, he simply shook his head and stared at him.

"This. Is. Not. Your. Fault."

Atem lashed out at him and missed. His claws were mere inches from his beak. But he did not make contact. And Yugi knew from a great many rumors that Atem did not miss when he meant to strike out. And so Yugi knew too that it was only by Atem's own core nature, as benevolent and beautiful as it truly was, that he had not been struck.

The God Dragon trembled hideously for a long moment. He bristled so harshly that both rows of scales upon his back rose upwards, shuddering and fracturing at their bases. Yugi watched him warily, considering for a moment the defensive mechanism Atem was displaying. He had always known certain species of Sky Dragons were capable of doing such a thing. Their scales would elongate and in the pressure of breaching the surface of their armor they would snap from the force.

From there the fractures would further split the scales and the very tips of them would break. They would shatter outwards like the base of a broken limb, and, when the Sky Dragon aimed and swung their tail or their opponent leaped at them from behind, they sank straight through armor and flesh. And, much like a porcupine's quills, they latched. They would lodge in the muscle upon connecting and they would hold there. It was almost impossible to dislodge them. It was incredibly violent and difficult and often times it caused extreme internal bleeding where they lay in the muscle. It would take weeks for full recovery when the quills were removed…

He had used them against Keith as well. But the other male had been so odd in his genetics and his species altogether that he'd been able to pull them out almost effortlessly. Of course, Atem had merely meant to use them to judge the force he'd need to crack his armor, but it had still been horrifying to Yugi altogether.

And Yugi was watching them now. He saw them rise and splinter further, as if perhaps he meant to utilize them against him. And yet, as Yugi watched, Atem began to pant. He was far more fearful than he was angry, and finally he seemed to snap away from this panic. He shook himself out, forceful and nearly staggering from the action, and finally simply calmed enough to stop his tremors as well.

"Keith only grew into such a huge threat because he got away from me during that fight," the Sky Dragon ground out from behind his sharp teeth. Atem scowled at him, then shook his head violently. "If I had just killed him then and there, this would never have happened. He would not have found the way to gaining more magic as he did, he would never have gone after Clans and killed so many of them in cold blood. He wouldn't have killed my potential family and he would never have—"

Atem stared at him for a long moment. He seemed startled by whatever he had been about to say. Yet, when he blinked again it seemed to be long gone and his momentary discomfort was nonexistent. He looked away again rather abruptly, breathing in deeply and sighing.

"He would not have made it this far."

Yugi shook his head. "You never had any idea that this was going to happen! In fact, why is it that you feel guilty when it is Jaden and Yusei who can see the future? They could have put an end to it before it even began!" he snarled, crestfallen further when Atem merely blinked at him as if he were unsure of how to respond.

Yugi wanted for a moment to move closer, to draw him into him and lay his chin on his head until he was sure Atem felt calmer and safer and happy. He wished more than ever that he could do such a thing. He wished he could truly offer Atem such comfort in a way that Atem would accept and understand.

"The Leviathan can see even further than they can! He can see at any time he wishes just by staring into the surface of still water! And he is rumored to be the strongest God Dragon in existence. He could have done something at any time and he never even considered it, did he? At the end of it, you are the only one of them who got involved in it at all. You are the only one who was truly willing to fight him."

"He was my responsibility regardless," Atem growled in return, shaking his head slowly. "I am the one he was truly after. They had no reason to interfere as long as I was breathing, Yugi. You are being emotional, and that is not what you should do. You know that when it comes to threats, no matter who you are or what species you may be, if it affects only you at the core of the situation, it is you who is meant to take care of it."

That was something Atem had truthfully always been rather thankful for. The reality of it was that he would have perhaps died of shame had any of the others within the territory thought to check on him upon hearing his pained cries. Had they seen him struggling to get away from Yugi, begging and pleading that he let him go, upon their consummation he did not know how he might have survived the shame.

And he knew that they would have heard him. As a Sky Dragon, his cries traveled far and fast. Most likely Timaeus had even heard them from the northern tip of his neighboring territory. Atem would not have been surprised in the slightest. He assumed that they had not reacted due to the fact that he was the God Dragon and had probably prayed instead that nothing had happened to him.

Atem shrugged the thought away, peering at his furious mate now. The anger was still there in him as well, but it was fading rapidly with this thought. Had they prayed for him? He wondered. As a God Dragon, he had not done the more spiteful things that the Leviathan did while sharing his territory. The Leviathan had decreed that once a moon every dragon in the territory but for those too young to hunt was to bring him homage. He would gorge himself on the food they brought and then let them go along on their way without further interruption.

Atem himself had been shocked when the first pair of mates had brought him homage, a large buffalo leg which he had gaped at stupidly. When they'd declared eternal loyalty to him he'd nearly spat with his shock. And then he'd shaken his head and told them to take it for themselves because he was younger and he was capable of providing for himself, that they were looking to nest and he was not. He'd refused to back down from the stance, because the female was already swollen with eggs that she'd soon lay and he'd been healthy. He'd had no need for their gift and had reminded them of such several times. But they'd also asked him for a Blessing before they'd left and so he'd performed that and told them to take their offering as well.

Atem tilted his head a fraction. That had been the first. But it had not been the last. Similarly he'd dismissed the ones to follow, telling them he did not need the offerings and homage was not necessary. All of them had pledged allegiance to him, however, and so he'd told them that all he asked was that they come when he called. But he was not sure even then what it was that he would need to do to summon them should he ever have necessity to.

But he'd been told they would pray for him. And he had often heard this each and every time they crossed paths with him for the purpose of paying homage. He had not been sure what it was that truly meant for him. But he also knew the humans in the village beneath, which he had heard called Domino on more than one occasion, worshipped him as well.

They'd created straw replicas of him, burning them twice a year during the solstices, littered with the freshest oils so that he could smell them from his place atop the mountain. He had always enjoyed watching them, especially as he had loved to see how each design differed. They had never truly seen him in great detail. And so they had never quite gotten his features right.

The year before, however, during the summer solstice, the replica had been extremely alike him. The wings had been huge, the body long, the two mouths, golden berries used for his eyes and a single small pile of blue feathers for his gem.

Atem could understand it now. He had been rather confused and shocked when he'd initially seen it. But Yugi had said himself, upon their consummation, that he had been there four moons short of a year. That would have explained everything as far as Atem was concerned.

"That's for territory skirmishes and mating rights!" Yugi snapped at him, puffing up angrily and bristling. He looked three times his size with his wings flared out as they were and his body bunched so tightly. He was almost trembling with his anger, Atem noticed. "That has nothing to do with life and death struggles that so clearly involve others! That's why the Clans exist, because of the fact that they offer protection in numbers. When a dragon is too wounded they'll find aid in the surrounding Clans and then they'll be allowed to rest until they are strong enough to fight again. And oftentimes they won't have to do it alone anymore!"

"They also are normally one of the native species to that Clan, all of them amongst the same family lineage as well." Yugi was shaking his head angrily. Atem smirked, snorting at the Gandora's adamant denial of his words. "Yes, Yugi, they are. I am well aware of what a Clan is. Just because my species is accepted into three doesn't mean anything. I'm considered Lightning, Water, and Wind. And I could surely get a place among any of them just for my species alone. But it still changes nothing. They are a family unit and they are often—"

"I know what a Clan and a family unit are too, believe it or not," Yugi snapped in turn, glaring at him now and shaking his head again. Atem found him almost adorable in his ferocity. He was a ball of scales that shook and snarled and glared with brilliant glowing blue-violet eyes and gleaming white teeth. "But that doesn't mean that outsiders aren't accepted into them just as often—"

"That also does not mean that they are not just as often denied entrance."

Yugi faltered, visibly startled, and Atem hated himself for hissing at him as he had. "Atem…"

The Sky Dragon flicked his tongue, somewhere between amusement and frustration and bitterness once more. He had never turned to a Clan for aid before and as far as he was concerned, Timaeus had been Clan enough for him when he'd needed him. It was simply that Yugi was overlooking it all in his necessity to make a point.

He was trying too hard and it was frustrating to him.

He had not needed the other God Dragons to intervene. He had never cared for them to do so when he'd met Timaeus. And he no longer cared for any of them. Whether they even existed any longer was something he did not even wonder to find out more often than not. They could have been struck down recently and he still would not find it in himself to care.

"It does not matter," he said quietly. "God Dragons are not the same. We have different laws, different truths. Our situations are not the same as many others' at all. We are expected to be powerful and stand on our own at all times. We are never meant to rely on each other or anyone else to solve our problems. And that is why none of them interfered."

But he didn't know that for sure. That was his speculation. And it came more from what his suitors had said than anything else. It was that they spoke of how strong he was meant to be in their jeers when he was quiet and simply listened. And it was more that they were sneering about the rumors of his forgiving nature in letting those in his territory coexist without homage.

"That's cattle dung," Yugi snarled at him, staring at him with a sense of disgust and bewilderment. He shook his head sharply, eyeing him, and then huffed so forcefully his body shook. "That's absolute cattle dung. None of them bothered to help you because you all are God Dragons? Atem, you're centuries younger than all of them. You are not even a portion of the Leviathan's age, nor that of Jaden's. You're closer in age to Yusei and even then he's got about twenty centuries over you! You're still a hatchling compared to them and you're not even physically mature! One of them should have helped you!"

The statement rattled him. He had never considered the age difference between himself and the other three God Dragons. He was by the far the youngest and he'd always known that. But when Yugi put it in such terms he had to wonder why it was that they truly hadn't come to his aid at any point.

He truly was but a hatchling compared to them. And every dragon was bound by the lore to aid a dragonet in need. Every dragon was meant to put a hatchling before themselves or to help in any way they possibly could…

"Perhaps we do not work that way," he answered after a long heartbeat.

He couldn't figure it out now that Yugi had said it. It made no sense. He knew the God Dragons were not always friendly with one another but they had always come to each other's aid when they were needed. He remembered that in many of the myths he'd heard as a hatchling.

They should have been there at some point or another. He was the youngest. They were older than him by centuries, perhaps even millennia in all reality. And any of them were capable of doing so.

Jaden and Yusei and the Leviathan all had the gift of seeing into the future. All of them were capable of running interference at anytime had they so much as wished it.

And yet none of them had done it. Atem had been forced to endure the abuse, had allowed only Timaeus to see the damage that had been done, and ensured that he survived. He had rallied himself to kill the dragons that so often threatened him in their attempts to court him and he'd done so without qualms after the first handful of deaths…

"I do not know that I will bother to attend, regardless."

Yugi blinked and tilted his head. "Why not?" He got to his paws, bristling now and staring at Atem with pure determination in his blue-violet eyes. Atem watched him as he glared at him, nearly smiling in amusement. He recognized that gleam to his gaze from the day he'd challenged him for courtship. It had nearly cowed the God Dragon back then, but now he almost welcomed his fiery temper against his own. Yugi was beautiful when he was so upset. "Why not show them just how much stronger you are for the fact that they never helped you to begin with?"

It was adorable how ruffled Yugi truly was. It was as if he was personally affronted by the fact that the other God Dragons had not come to find him at some point.

But there was one problem and it made Atem snort with laughter.

"We can't."

"Huh? Why not?" The petulance in Yugi's voice made the Sky Dragon chortle. Yugi huffed and glared. "Why can't we?"

"Yugi, we never got any news of where this meeting is meant to take place. You got too upset with Jesse to allow him to continue, remember?" he teased in a soft tone, smiling wider when the words connected for Yugi.

The Gandora gaped at him stupidly for a moment, eyes huge. Then he lowered his head, ducking awkwardly, and whined as he flexed his claws in embarrassment.

"Oops."

Chapter Text

Part III: Mates

"But there has to be some way to…" Yugi trailed off, still visibly distressed. "I mean, surely we can still find a way to get there, right? It wouldn't make sense for us not to go! You're the one who killed him after I managed to knock all of his teeth out!"

Atem snorted, delighted with the little Gandora and all his righteous anger. He leaned forward just enough to lick his beak affectionately before butting him softly in the shoulder. "Yes. No one can ever forget that you hit Keith hard enough to make him lose his teeth, little gem." He laid his chin on his head, not the least bit surprised to feel him trembling with affection. He was so excitable it was amazing to the Sky Dragon. "I suppose the best option would be to find Timaeus. I told Jesse how to get there before he fled. That being the case, I would assume that he went to speak with him already and he will have the information necessary to tell us where we are meant to go."

"Oh! That's true!" the Gandora cried in open delight. He pulled away from Atem and sprang into the air much like a deer might, trembling again with his happiness. His eyes were full of satisfaction when he turned back to Atem. "You're right! And since you and Timaeus are such good friends we won't even have to worry about him trying to attack us to keep us out."

Atem chuckled, watching him and shaking his head. Yugi truly was the most adorable dragon he had ever come to cross paths with. "Timaeus is a Wind Dragon," he reminded him gently. "He checks his borders often and he's inclined to run others off. Although he is far more lenient if he has to come across confrontation. He's never killed from what I know. And after the beating you gave Jesse, I'm sure he got out of there without any issues."

Yugi hesitated for only a moment, then bounced happily once more like a deer. He peered at him with bright blue-violet eyes, the words obviously shaken off. But Atem had to wonder if he was bouncing now out of excitement or if he was simply doing so for his amusement.

"So when do we go?"

The Sky Dragon chortled and moved to wrap his tail around his paws, lazy and smiling at him. "Well, as excited as you must be to share your story of knocking Keith's teeth out"—He ducked when Yugi playfully swatted at his head—"we should wait a little while longer. I do not personally feel inclined to see Jesse again so soon should he still be there."

In an instant Yugi lost his excitement. He bristled, glaring, and thumped his tail hard against the ground. Atem stared at him, surprised and bewildered by his change of demeanor.

"I think it's best that we wait then," Yugi decided, nodding and ducking his head when Atem continued to stare at him with growing bewilderment. He flexed his claws uncomfortably and kept his eyes lowered to the ground. "I don't want to see him any sooner than absolutely necessary. I think I might claw his face open again."

Yugi didn't get a warning. Atem simply snorted. And then he felt paws crashing into his shoulders before lifting. Yugi stumbled forward, eyes huge, then spun around. Atem had pounced away from him, watching him with growing amusement.

Yugi scrambled for his footing again. Then he turned on him and pounced. Atem growled softly, crouching. The blow landed on his shoulder but his weight was enough to toss him. They tangled in a knot of limbs for a moment.

"You're a violent little Gandora, aren't you?" Yugi huffed and swatted at him. When Atem raised a paw to swipe at him, the Gandora nipped him lightly. Then he jumped away. Atem spun around immediately after, growling and crouching. "You almost took my paw off!"

Yugi laughed in delight as Atem waved it in an exaggerated motion.

"I'm also convinced I was right about what I told Timaeus before, how you're so vicious that you'd rip his throat open."

Yugi snickered and wiggled his rump before pouncing at him again. "I might!" he crowed, leaping at his shoulder and pawing him there. The two of them stared at one another for a second longer and then Yugi jumped over him and ran a few feet away. The Sky Dragon watched him with such a blank expression that Yugi nearly wondered if he'd lost interest or perhaps he might have somehow hurt him.

And he was incredibly worried, convinced for a moment that he truly had somehow hurt him. He'd been so sure that he'd only lightly tapped him, yet he was fearful that perhaps he might have somehow cut through his scales. And he could not shake this. His claws were made for evisceration, for the task of finding the smallest crevices between scales so that he could rip through flesh with ease. If he had done something to Atem—

Yugi burst out laughing, somewhere between disbelief and relief. Atem had pounced while he was worrying over this. And he'd landed near his shoulder, extending a paw to push him off balance. Yugi stumbled, still laughing, and turned to paw him in the forelimb. But then he noticed that Atem had taken a seat and realized he would not be getting up again; the game was over.

It made Yugi wonder for a moment if perhaps he had cut him or dislodged some of his softer scales where he'd tapped him. Atem did not have the heavier armor that Yugi himself did; he had softer ones, which were slippery to the touch rather than hard. He was able to slip out of his opponent's grip for the most part, if he only tried. It was his chest and the raised scales along his back and tail which were harder, stronger and sturdier. They were almost impossible to damage, while the rest of him was easy to cut and scrape if someone were to try. He bled easily, but he also seemed to heal faster.

And, as Yugi considered it, if he'd hurt Atem, he'd need to help stem the wound, wouldn't he? Unless it was so shallow that Atem did not even care for it in the slightest? But the timing made him incredibly nervous.

Atem was moving, Yugi noticed. He hasn't realized it at first, but the Sky Dragon was staring at him keenly. And, when Yugi peered back at him stupidly, the Sky Dragon leaned forward. His rough tongue ran over his forehead between his eyes and the Gandora forced himself to relax, nearly falling over with his relief.

"Do you ever still think about me Claiming you?"

Yugi blinked a few times, startled by the question and unsure he had truly heard him properly. It seemed odd to him that Atem might be asking him such a thing now. And so he simply stared at him, unsure, then tilted his head and considered him a moment longer. "Think about it?" he muttered, uncertain and gentle in his tone. He didn't want to say anything to upset him in some way. "I don't honestly think about it, Atem. I don't think about it because I don't believe you want to do it yet. So I'm not going to get anxious about it when you're not in the same state of mind as I am."

The Sky Dragon stayed quiet for a moment and Yugi could see the various thoughts churning behind his eyes. The gem in his forehead had become slightly cloudy for the moment. He was going through thoughts and ideas and various concepts which Yugi was not privy to as of that second…

"Would you still let me?"

The Gandora moved to stand. Then he tipped his head up and away from him, exposing the bottom of his jaw to let him sink his teeth into the soft flesh there. But Atem simply studied him for a long moment, considering him, as Yugi had known he would.

Atem was not one to rush such a thing. He would rather see if Yugi was still willing before he'd do anything. And so, satisfied, the Sky Dragon turned away abruptly and flicked his bottom tongue.

"Do you ever actually consider it, Atem?" he asked quietly, watching as the God Dragon turned to face him with a tilt of his head. "Or are you just curious about it?"

"I like to see if you're truthful," Atem admitted, "because it makes me feel as if I am not as unlovable as I originally assumed myself to be."

Yugi blinked, shaken by the words and shivering as his hearts ached and his insides rolled and twisted uncomfortably. He hated the idea that Atem was so terribly unhappy with himself. But he was not able to think beyond this at the moment. Atem truly didn't care what the other dragons said about him. Because he believed much of it. His suitors had only reinforced the many tragedies and pains his brothers had inflicted on him.

Yugi forced the thought away, determined to fix this at some point. He'd do that if he did nothing else. But he could not shake the misery which blanketed him either, and he knew his expression was still incredibly crestfallen when he looked at Atem again.

"I'll happily let you do it if it would make you feel better."

Atem shook his head slowly, though Yugi could see that the thought seemed both intriguing and troubling to the Sky Dragon. He wondered if it bothered him that he was willing to do that. Or maybe it was the phrasing, that he would do it for him at any time. It was something that he wanted to assure him of, but he had to wonder if perhaps saying it as he had could have alarmed Atem…

But then, he also wondered if perhaps Atem thought it to be something of a trap to make Yugi remain by his side. He had told him once he was unsure he could love Yugi in return and that probably made him more than slightly uneasy about the subject. Yugi was unsure of what made Atem so doubtful, but he hated it more than he could ever put into words.

"I love you, you know," he said softly, leaning forward to nudge him slightly with his beak. The Sky Dragon blinked at him, curious more than anything, and the Gandora smiled in amusement at his expression. "You're far more amazing than you think you are."

Atem scoffed noisily, staring at him as if he did not know the appropriate way to tell him he thought he was lying through his teeth. And then, when he seemed to find words, he abruptly deflated from his anger and turned away, flexing his claws and folding his wings nervously into his sides. "I would think that leaving a couple of hours before sunset would allow Jesse to move on to find any other dragon he might need to speak to."

Yugi blinked, flustered by the words and somewhat undone all the same. "That's probably a good idea." That should have given the Ice Dragon enough time to be long gone before they arrived. And it would still take about thirty minutes for them to travel to the northern territory at a leisurely pace.

Atem had managed the feat in less than ten the day of the fight on the cliffs. But there was no such urgency in their flight now. There was no winded and hurt dragonet with huge eyes begging Atem for help and unable to properly speak due to his exhaustion. And there were not three other Sky Dragons to leave before them in order to fight Keith and his army at the cliffs. Atem was not angrily demanding to know where Timaeus was when he realized who the dragonet's father had to be.

"You think Timaeus will be expecting us?"

"I have never entered his territory but to help him with the fight last moon," Atem said, clearly confused by his questioning. He peered at Yugi as if he did not understand why he might have assumed otherwise. "I cannot expect that he would ever think I would want to be there at any rate."

The Gandora felt the smallest sense of satisfaction and cold relief flash through him at this thought. He had not considered that Timaeus was the only one to travel to check on Atem. He'd thought formerly it was both ways around, that one moon Timaeus might come to see him and the next Atem might do so.

It had never occurred to him that Atem would not have left his territory for the sake of venturing into his friend's. Perhaps he was wary of the Clan that lived near his friend's borders. Or maybe he just had not been inclined to do so due to the terrain and climate that it housed.

The windy, open plains and tall grass would never have been enough to shelter Atem in the slightest. The grass was not as tall as he was, not like the pine trees and the various evergreens beyond the cliffs. He could use these to cover for himself, especially were he to trigger his camouflage genes. Should he do that he could very easily duck away and hide, using the various shadows to simply keep his scales' distorting qualities unnoticeable for the most part.

Yugi could not imagine Atem being happy in a place of rolling hills and grasslands. He couldn't imagine that the harder winds would do well for him either. He had a softer climate here, where the air was crisp but not too cold and the open cliff face was easily navigated to higher ground or to the trees for shelter. He had a strategic vantage point in doing so. The rains would make the grounds harder to traverse. The snow would make any dragon cower and hide away. The crisp air put pressure on heavyweight dragons looking to fight him in the air. And the cliff face itself gave a good view of much of the village beneath and the territory beyond it.

No doubt he used this spot as a way to keep track of the other dragons in the area, should he ever have need to.

"Okay."

Yugi was ashamed, though his relief put this sensation aside for the moment. He wondered if Atem recognized this on his face as the red dragon continued to stare at him curiously for a long moment. Then he seemed to shrug it off and the smaller male relaxed at the thought that perhaps Atem did not quite recognize it for what it was. "Well, then that's what we'll have to do! We'll go find out from him!"

The God Dragon eyed him uneasily for a moment. Yugi considered this with wide eyes, unsure of what he might have done to put such an expression on his face. He seemed somewhat skeptical or perhaps more alarmed and annoyed than anything else. And Yugi wondered at this, concerned and extremely unnerved.

But when he leaned forward to press his beak to Atem's, the tension seemed to dissipate entirely from the Sky Dragon's frame. The thought rattled him that Atem might be so unhappy, that he was well aware of the emotion he had read on Yugi's face but had decided against commenting on it. But then the God Dragon ran his tongue over his forehead and there was a glint in his eyes that spoke of forgiveness but also of bewilderment.

Yugi was not brave enough to speak about it at the moment. So he simply nodded slightly and looked away.

"Timaeus will likely be more confrontational after that fight with Keith's son," Atem mumbled, considering. "And he might be twice as aggressive seeing as he has a clutch to consider. But then, Wind Dragons grow faster than the other species. It is possible he won't be as aggressive as a Fire or Sky Dragon due to it."

Yugi blinked at him, eyes stretching wide in surprise. "Would he be aggressive towards you?" he asked in bewilderment, a new thought clicking into place. Atem had never ventured into Timaeus' territory because of the Wind Dragon mating seasons. They varied some years, as they took place on the coldest day of the year and the warmest as well. Most often those would have been a time in which Atem would have been risking multiple fights simply for drifting too close.

But there was some small part of him which questioned whether Atem might ever be in danger of such a thing. He could not picture Timaeus turning on Atem in any sense. It was bewildering and strange to him in every way. It seemed impossible to him that Timaeus might ever turn on Atem angrily or even so much as snarl at him.

He seemed so incredibly patient and he clearly adored Atem in the way a family member might. He clearly cared for him more than he did others. And he had even forgiven him for the fact that he'd attacked him and crippled him in terms of destroying his eye. So he could not imagine Timaeus turning on Atem in an aggressive manner in any way.

"I am more concerned about the mother," Atem admitted calmly, though his eyes flashed and he tilted his head slightly. "If she snaps at us, I am sure he will react. He will follow his instincts to help her to aid his hatchlings. He is not above instinct, even if he is far more mellow than most males of his species."

The words were spoken quietly and Atem seemed almost shaky in the way he turned away and his eyes grew wide. He did not look at Yugi again for a long handful of minutes.

"I do not truly anticipate a fight, however. They should be old enough or large enough at the very least that neither parent will react to our being there. But with the fight that happened…"

Yugi tilted his head. That was true. The Wind and Fire Dragon species tended to grow at a rate almost five times faster than a Lightning or Water dragon. And that was almost ten times as quickly as the Sky Dragon. Their lifespans were much shorter as well, however. He knew that.

And the fact was that their easy, quick growth did well to help them to be independent much sooner than many other dragon species. It was actually the only reason Yugi had been able to find Atem so soon as it was.

If he had been a Sky Dragon he would barely have been Atem's size and far from sexually mature. He would have been perhaps a fifth of the Sky Dragon's size, if even that. And he would still have over another hundred years before he'd be sexually mature.

So perhaps he was right in saying that Timaeus might not react as his hatchlings should have been at least twice as big as they had been before. But then, with how little time had passed since that fight, it was possible that alone might trigger more of a reaction from them as it was. But Yugi doubted that Timaeus would strike out at Atem. It just seemed utterly impossible to him.

They were too close. Timaeus cared about him too much. And Atem was clearly loyal to him regardless of his status as a God Dragon. He'd gone to help him when Keith's son had attacked their den. If Atem wasn't loyal to him, he would have simply let it happen regardless of Critias seeking his help, which only further proved Jesse a fool for believing such things about the God Dragon.

"I cannot be sure that she would react to you in any manner, however. You are the one who helped Critias that day, after all," Atem continued in a soft voice. He tilted his head and seemed to consider Yugi for a long moment. Then he shrugged it off and reached out for him.

His paw stretched out, then pressed upon his shoulders insistently in order to make him lower himself to the ground on his belly. A small trill ran through Yugi, though it was neither of fear or anticipation of any kind. It was pure bewilderment which surged through him now.

The action truly made no sense to the Gandora.

Most often if a dragon were to do such a thing with their mate, it was for the purpose of declaring dominance in a mounting. But Atem simply stretched out and moved closer, plopping down at his side. Yugi tilted his head and Atem ignored his questioning expression to begin licking at his neck and picking at a couple of scales.

Yugi whined and flexed his claws unhappily. Atem must have been eyeing those scales for days now. His molting had been terrible and he'd tried to maintain his appearance as well as possible but he did not know that he'd done too great.

"I hate getting near shedding season," he whined, angling his jaw upward. It helped give Atem the proper room and direction to clutch one of his scales and pull harder. When it came away, the red male spat out a large dulled black scale about the length of one of his toes. It made a dull thudding noise as it hit the ground and Yugi reached out for it to place between his paws. His skin was tingling where Atem had begun to lick at his scales again, grooming them back in place.

"Yes, well, little one, just wait until the moment that you should see me molt," Atem grunted. He pulled another, larger scale from where it rested loosely near his wing joint. Yugi huffed, surprised to see it was twice as large as the original. He flexed his claws anxiously and nearly whined again. Shedding was so incredibly embarrassing. "You'll wish I only shed like you."

The Gandora laughed in delight, turning to him. "You don't shed or molt!" he chortled, bumping him in the shoulder with his beak and purring happily. "You're a Sky Dragon! You guys don't do either!"

"It's a well maintained secret," Atem teased. "We molt."

"I almost believe you."

Atem chuckled and licked his face once. Then he sniffed lightly along his side and around his neck. When he could find no others on this side, he moved to the other and settled there for a moment. He stretched his neck out, sniffing for a small handful of minutes, and opened his jaws to catch one of the more misaligned scales that lay out of place. He tugged one, then the next, until they were lying on the ground beside him and he could lick at the others on Yugi's body and smooth them out.

Yugi was oddly complacent throughout, simply flexing his claws and looking at him. He did not appear anxious nor upset. But he was clearly embarrassed and that was something that would have made most dragons up and flee or lash out angrily. The fact that he was allowing him to do this was amazing in and of itself. Fire Dragons were especially privy to lashing out when something ruffled their pride. And Yugi might not have been so focused on his pride as Atem was forced to be as a God Dragon, but he was still proud regardless. He groomed vigorously, with both paws at times, and would do so for hours before Atem would even wake up.

"If I was not in the sky so often, I would molt," he answered after a moment. He plucked another scale away and then dropped it, looking him over with the smallest gleam of pride in his golden eyes. Yugi nearly melted at the prospect of being the subject of such an expression. He was looking at him almost as if he were absolutely precious. "You'd be horrified. You'd probably run for cover."

Yugi laughed again, then turned to face him fully for a moment. "I would not!" he snickered, smiling at him. "I saw you guys molting when you were younger!"

"Then it's a wonder you came back to court me," Atem snorted softly. His tongue flicked from his bottom jaw in a teasing fashion as Yugi squirmed and hurried to nudge him in the side of his mouth with his smooth beak. "I would have been disgusted and fled as fast as my tiny paws could carry me."

The black dragon let loose a rumbling purr of delight and shook his head. "You were too adorable for that," he teased, licking his forehead. "And I shed so terribly as it is, I figure I can deal with a yearly molt from my mate."

The God Dragon flexed his claws and tilted his head a moment before licking at his neck again. Yugi nearly squirmed and pulled away, huffing. Shedding was a disaster. Atem would be picking loose scales from his skin for weeks at this rate.

"You shed twice a year," Atem commented, sounding content with the job he was doing, "and it will be several times harder for you in a few more years when you're truly physically mature. Then you'll be all raw muscle and hard plates and you'll be able to give any dragon a run for their territory."

Yugi laughed, butting him in the shoulder as he pulled away slightly. "I can't wait!" he laughed. He flexed his claws as another small scale was tugged out of place and Atem's tongue ran over his neck once more.

It was true.

Yugi couldn't wait to be that strong. He couldn't wait to look as mature as the other Gandora Dragons did. He was sexually mature, as many dragon species became long before they even grew into their final physical definition.

He could mate with Atem, but if he were ever to fight a challenger or got into a battle much like that of which he had Keith, odds were he would not get out of it unscathed. He did not even know if he could survive a second encounter like that. If it hadn't been for the fact that he had been trying his hardest to slow Keith down before he got to Atem, he was not sure he would have even been able to get up again after he'd caught himself on fire.

Using his body heat as he had was incredibly dangerous. It was one which could have killed him with Keith and should have done far more damage to the other male. He'd knocked the trophy teeth and claws Keith had reinforced his paws and jaws with, but he had seemingly barely winded him as well. Yugi himself had risked one of his hearts doing it, because using his body heat as he had, when he was still so young could have rotted his organs and forced his primary heart to burst.

But, had he been physically mature, there would have been a bit more internal padding to prevent that kind of damage being done to himself. As long as he ate red meat at least once a week, he'd be able to store fat around his organs and it would be this that would be harmed. He wondered if it was only Atem's insistence that he eat that deer meat the night before that had saved him.

He angled his neck for Atem to grab at another scale along the bottom of his jaw. If he had been physically mature, Keith would never have been able to shock him as violently as he had either. Had he his proper scales and plates rather than harder muscles and softer plating, the shock would have been stunted by far. And his scales would have ignited further and the blast would have been far more powerful when he'd used that last defensive measure…

"Can you even imagine what a shed would look like for me?" Atem commented thoughtfully, cutting into his thoughts entirely. Yugi turned to him in surprise, watching him place another dulled scale down and flex his claws. He was watching him with bright eyes, clearly on a different path of thought than Yugi himself had been. "I'd have to be in my Origin Form for days until it would properly shed away. And it would be massive. I'd probably be able to cover half of my favorite river with it!"

Yugi laughed and shook his head. "You'd cover the river and the banks for their entirety!" he crowed.

The Sky Dragon growled playfully, narrowing his eyes into near slits. "Did you just call me fat?" he demanded. He peeled his lips back far enough to show the ridges of his large white teeth. The Gandora began to snicker, tensing his muscles expectantly.

The red male moved at him in a lazy fashion. He pressed lightly upon his shoulder to push him onto his back for a split second. And then he snarled in his face aggressively, boring down on him.

Yugi laughed harder, flicking his tongue out to lick his beak. Atem blinked, eyes stretching comically wide in bewilderment. Yugi shrugged him off in that moment of confusion and pinned him in turn. He threw himself to lie across him and licked his face happily, laughing at Atem's startled expression all the while.

"You're not fat! You're just incredibly pudgy!" he teased, licking the gem on his forehead as Atem scowled at him.

"You're a funny little Gandora," Atem sneered. "It seems my lungs are too strained to breathe I'm laughing so hard."

The black dragon snickered harder, then moved to nuzzle him, the wry statement making him smile wider. "You're not fat," he said after a moment, in a tone he was not sure didn't sound almost like a promise. The Sky Dragon hardly seemed upset in the slightest, but some part of Yugi truly worried that he was perhaps wounding his ego with such teasing. He had to know that Yugi did not care what size he was or his weight in the slightest, but Atem did not seem to have as much confidence as Yugi would have liked. And so he was not comfortable enough to simply let this rest without further comment. "You're at the perfect weight."

Atem blinked at him as if he could not understand why he might say that. Then he smirked at him, both mouths curling back deviously. "You're right. You're fat enough for both of us," he joked, earning a swat to the shoulder as Yugi let out a low squawk of outrage. The Sky Dragon snickered in delight and moved to sit up after a moment, shaking himself out and flexing his claws.

"Timaeus will likely wish to speak to me before we attend this meeting," he said quietly, voice somewhat disturbed for a brief second. Then he shrugged it off and turned to his mate again with a small tilt of his head.

He wondered for a moment whether he should ask him to mount him. It would be a way of scent-marking him, after all. And if he were to do that, any potential suitors lying in wait at that meeting might be smart enough to reconsider…

Atem shook the thought away. It was petty. He could take on other suitors if they were stupid enough to attempt to speak to or court him at the meeting. He was not without defenses. He was not without wit. He could easily knock them around, regardless of whatever climate and terrain they were to meet within.

"I assume he will be curious as to what my opinion is of all that has happened."

Yugi tilted his head. Then he frowned after a long moment. "What is your opinion on it? I never even thought to ask you before now…" Atem turned to face him with a confused look. "I mean…a-are you okay after…?"

Atem blinked wide eyes, confused. Then he slowly shook his head and butted him in the shoulder. "I did not mean it in that manner, Yugi. But I am fine. It did not bother me to have to kill Keith."

He watched him for a moment, skeptical that his words had truly sounded as sincere as they were meant to. And then he straightened in his seated position and slowly tipped his head back to allow his neck to pop softly. The noise seemed to startle the Gandora but he also appeared relieved. No doubt he was looking at the spot where Keith had managed to sink his teeth in and dig about an inch into his flesh.

It had healed perfectly, as it had been rather shallow compared to what the Fire Dragon could have done. But he knew Yugi so often looked there as if to reassure himself. He had seen him when he would sunbathe at times. Yugi would lie closer, then look along the underside of his neck. He would sniff every once in a while, eyeing it when he thought Atem was asleep.

In the corner of his eye Yugi leaned forward. Startled and somewhat alarmed, Atem turned his head to face him, blinking and bewildered. He angled his jaw downward, considering him, but the movement did nothing to block the Gandora from pressing his beak into the flesh there. Yugi's beak was warmer in temperature than his own scales, managing briefly to startle him.

The lack of rejection was enough to make Yugi purr, pulling away from him after a moment. His eyes were soft and warm, startling him further, but the Sky Dragon did not feel the need to respond beyond looking at him curiously.

Yugi was looking at him almost as if he were proud of himself for achieving a feat that most others could not understand the immensity of.

And Atem supposed he was not entirely wrong in this train of thought, should that truly be where his mind had gone. He would never have allowed even Timaeus to do such a thing and he would have most likely snarled if his parents had thought to do it either.

"I'm glad you're not upset," Yugi said after a moment, smiling at him brilliantly. He leaned forward again, nuzzling at his neck once more. And then his tongue flicked over his scales there. Atem allowed him to do this for another handful of moments. Then he paused, blinking once, and slowly reached out a paw to press upon his shoulder in an effort to lower him to his belly. Yugi hesitated a moment, seemingly confused, and then slowly did so.

Atem turned to his wing, picking at the loose scales there where the shedding was a pale patchy formation. It was small, barely the size of a pebble in truth, but Atem was still somewhat bothered by it. Yugi flexed his claws in front of him, clearly flustered and unnerved, and laid his chin upon his paws. It gave Atem more room to pick at his scales without the threat of turning his head and hitting him.

The gesture was small but incredibly kind and powerful to him. Atem almost shivered at the thought. Yugi had more kindness in him than he imagined a million dragons did. The Gandora was soft and sweet and gentle, his hearts a thousand times bigger than his physical form altogether.

And Atem wondered at what it was he was meant to do with this. He himself was not soft and gentle like Yugi was. He was not easygoing and often he lost his temper with his own actions. He had memories burn through his mind so fiercely that it made him flee. He had done this many times, regardless of the fact that he knew it was just Yugi there with him rather than his siblings.

Atem had the feeling Yugi was suspicious of his behavior towards his shedding. It wouldn't have surprised him in the slightest. Atem had picked at every little dulled scale and licked at any patch of molting skin with vigor. And he knew it had to seem odd to the Gandora.

But he couldn't put into words how hard it had been shedding when he was younger. His siblings had not tortured him during that time. But he'd gotten himself caught in his excess shed skin and he'd hurt himself several times attempting to shake it away. But regardless of this, Atem had handled the situation rather well upon his mother helping him to discard the scales and skin when he'd whimpered pitifully for her aid. He'd been too small to kick it away by himself and his underdevelopment had caused him to almost suffocate in it.

But it was not this which upset him so much. It was the nightmares. He didn't like to consider them. But he knew that Yugi had seen him react to them in his sleep. He'd pant, occasionally peeling his lips back further to show the line of his gums. Other times he would wake panting, eyes snapping open in confusion as he blinked in bewilderment and shook his head. He'd climb to his paws and slowly shake himself out, glancing at Yugi only once before turning to wander away on his own.

Yugi had never asked him why he would do such a thing. He never asked him what it was that haunted him so much. And he would look at him with clear relief when Atem would return from his ventures hours later, exhausted from chasing fish underwater and flying after birds when they tried to flee from him. Yugi would merely lick his head and nuzzle his beak when he lay down beside him again.

"I think I've managed to get it all," Atem muttered as he forced the thoughts away entirely. He looked his flanks and tail over for a long moment. Then he remained quiet for a handful of heartbeats, turning to Yugi and searching his face. "I do not see anymore scales. Can you think of anywhere I might have overlooked?"

Yugi considered him in turn for a moment. Then he got to his paws and turned about himself several times in an effort to examine every inch of his body. He lifted his paws slowly and flexed each toe in a thorough examination. Then he turned around to inspect his tail and eventually along the inside of his back legs.

"I don't see anywhere," he said finally. He turned back to him with a tilt of his head. Then he leaned forward to lick his cheek and nuzzle him. "Thank you."

Atem nodded slightly, then leaned forward to butt him in the shoulder again. "I can't allow my mate to fail to look as gorgeous on the outside as he is on the inside," he answered in a voice that was somewhere between snide and proud. Then he seemed to realize his tone and licked his forehead. But there was a distant gleam in his eyes and Yugi wondered at this idea. "I'm sorry. You're my beautiful little gem."

The Gandora shook his head slightly and leaned forward to nuzzle him. "And you're my cranky Slifer." He smiled at him gently and Atem looked away as if he'd been struck. Yugi moved to lean forward into his shoulder. "Why are you so upset, Atem? Is it Jesse or the meeting in general, dear heart?"

The Sky Dragon was silent for a long handful of moments. He turned to him with a tilt of his head, an annoyed expression crossing his face. "Both," he hissed in frustration. "I do not wish to see Jesse again and I do not understand why it is that I must take more time to deal with Keith. I killed him and yet he continues to have an impact on my life."

Yugi frowned. "It'll be dealt with. It's not as if this will be something that stays like this forever, Atem. I promise you that much. You won't have to worry about him or his clutches again later, just for right now. It's because it's so soon after his death…" He hesitated, inching a small degree closer to him in order to lick at his forehead. "After this is over, he shouldn't even be an issue to be discussed ever again."

Atem blinked and then stared at him, studying him closely. "I think you might be a little too optimistic about such a thing."

Yugi frowned at him now, tilting his head curiously and studying him in bewilderment. "You're all doom and gloom today," he commented playfully, though he wondered if he was okay beyond this conversation. He wondered if Atem was upset about something else entirely, if he was frustrated by something Yugi might have overlooked.

Atem flexed his claws and narrowed his eyes. He scratched lightly at the ground and looked at him rather pointedly. Yugi considered him curiously for a moment, tilting his head before he got to his paws and came to his hindquarters. As he'd expected, the Sky Dragon moved to lift his tail and pull it away to give him more room. Atem didn't look back at him at any rate, but he braced himself and flexed his claws as if to keep from leaping forward and fleeing altogether.

Atem still had instincts of self-preservation, Yugi knew, despite his initiation. He would bristle and hiss and tense up as much as he could. Yugi would have to then lessen this by way of relaxing him through careful positioning and softer licks to the back of his throat.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Yugi asked softly. He ignored the annoyed look Atem shot him from over his shoulder. His golden eyes were more furious than Yugi cared to admit. "I mean, we don't know if the meeting is tonight. If that's the case, you might not want to do this. We don't know if any of them are going to be in a good mood or not about this either."

"Between Yusei, Jaden and the Leviathan, I am rather certain that I am able to kill at least one of them should it come down to it." He snorted when Yugi shot him a horrified look and smirked widely as he shook his head. Atem studied him for a small moment, then flexed his claws again. "I'm kidding, little one. I just meant that all of them would likely be more complacent than me regardless."

"The Leviathan is not complacent."

The Sky Dragon looked at him for a moment, then moved to take a seat on his haunches. Yugi pounced away from his hindquarters immediately, as if he were somehow concerned Atem might sit on him. The God Dragon burst out laughing at the sight, the thought alone making him smirk. A moment passed before he tilted his head curiously. "You're so adorable," he commented, facing him with bright golden eyes. "You act like I'm going to claw you up for getting near my hindquarters."

The Gandora was quiet for a moment, then ran his paw over his muzzle, embarrassment making his eyes wide as they darted towards him. "I thought you'd changed your mind. I didn't want to seem as if I was pressuring you or anything." He felt incredibly stupid saying it now, as Atem blinked and peered at him in clear bewilderment, tilting his head after a long moment. "I mean, I… You get nervous every now and then when I go behind you. And I didn't want you to feel like I was…"

The Sky Dragon remained quiet for a long heartbeat. "I had not suspected of you to attempt to do such a thing," he said quietly. He tilted his head again, narrowing his eyes the smallest degree. "I am sorry if I ever made you feel that I suspected you of that…"

Yugi shook his head vigorously. "You haven't! I just didn't want you to feel like that at some point. I…" He hesitated, flicking his tail and narrowing his eyes. "I just didn't want you to think I was going to take advantage of you since we're mates…"

Atem blinked, tilting his head. It was always surprising to him when Yugi would move away from him. It wasn't that he got too close to the red dragon's hindquarters and he would get angry and try to scare him off. It was that he himself would initiate and then abruptly change his mind.

Yugi would immediately move away and take a seat himself or come to groom his face until he thought Atem was more comfortable with it all. Then he would lay beside him without a word about it, nor the smallest hint of discontent towards his mate's refusal.

"I never truly considered you might," he admitted. And he hadn't. Yugi was extremely sweet and softer around the edges than he'd expected a Gandora to be after hearing all of the lore for the species in question. They were meant to be incredibly vicious and headstrong, to the point of being extremely territorial and pushy. And Yugi was the exact opposite of what he had initially expected to see of a Gandora had he ever crossed paths with one.

"I didn't really think you had," Yugi hurried to reassure him, feeling incredibly stupid now for even insinuating such a thing. "No, I just meant that I didn't want you to ever have to feel like that. I mean… I just remember your brothers jumping on you from behind and I didn't want you to think I was…"

He didn't want him to think that he was going to leap at him from behind or forcefully mount him. He didn't want him to assume that he might hurt him in any manner. Or to think that anyone moving behind him was meant to hurt him. He didn't want him to assume any of those things. And he didn't want Atem to suffer new terrors of any kind. He didn't want him to fear him whenever he moved behind him. He didn't want him to feel that he couldn't allow Yugi to step behind him for any reason…

Atem considered this curiously for a moment, then huffed and moved to lie back down again. Yugi hesitated when the Sky Dragon failed to so much as glance at him but relaxed again as the older male stretched his chin out to lie upon his paws. With this he moved his wings to brace at his side, folding them to lay perpendicular to each flank, and let them press into the dirt there. The Gandora hovered a moment, unsure, but the position was self-explanatory for any dragon.

"You're sure?" he repeated, though he felt it unnecessary at this point. Atem blinked and raised his head just enough to look over his shoulder before he lowered it back to his paws. "I'm not offended or upset or anything. I swear I will never hold it against you if you don't want to."

"No, I didn't expect you would."

He sounded almost sleepy and Yugi hesitated again. Briefly he thought to simply curl up beside him, but the idea of upsetting him by not mounting him made him hesitate further. It was not that he truly thought Atem might become upset; it was simply that he did not know if it might make him feel as if he'd been rejected. And that was never anything Yugi wanted him to feel…

So he moved closer, nudged at his hips with his beak to make him lift his tail, and licked at his spine. The action made Atem tense briefly, then relax as much as he could. The initial pain hadn't faded as he'd hoped it would, Yugi knew. So the Sky Dragon would bury his face against the dirt, breathing raggedly, until the Gandora could lift his hips and press his weight into him. When he was able to do this, he could alleviate the pressure from the barbs he possessed and Atem could begin to enjoy their mating as well.

Yugi would have to thrust up and down and pull Atem's hips with him to keep him from feeling as much pain, but the Sky Dragon didn't seem to want to complain about the situation. And he had not fled or so much as attempted to as he had the first time. He had not even writhed as terribly as he had then, though he still panted and sometimes rolled about, breathing hard but forcing himself to relax in some way.

Yugi had found this comforting, even if he worried as to how quickly Atem seemed to adapt to this. It was slightly concerning to him. He didn't know if this was a good thing or a bad one. Either Atem was ignoring the pain or he was adapting. He hoped it was the latter but it seemed impossible. They'd mounted twice at the most with Yugi being dominant in the role. But they'd mounted twice as many times with Atem as the dominant dragon between them.

Atem had no barbs. He had a small hook but it was much like a teething dragonet biting his flesh, soft and cool due to his body temperature. They simply had to be airborne in order for Atem to disengage their mating before it stretched for too long a period of time. The problem was that Sky Dragons were lightweight, were capable of holding each other in air for hours on end. They would lick and nuzzle and simply bond—something that other species did not do—and eventually they would separate naturally when the swelling receded and the hook disengaged itself from the female.

However, Atem could not do this with him. Yugi was about three times his weight even now, when his juvenile form was at its lightest. He could not physically hold him in the air for long enough to disengage naturally. And so, as Sky Dragons had learned long before, Atem had implemented the rapid dive downward and twisted swiftly in order to disengage them. Yugi had allowed him another mounting in the den a few days after the fight with Keith in which the Sky Dragon had only been able to withdraw entirely when half a day had passed. Atem had been so exhausted that he'd slept for another handful of hours and Yugi had been so drained in turn that he'd remained resting there for several hours with him as well.

But he'd been determined not to sleep at that time. He'd been determined to stay awake for the sake of guarding the den, as Atem had been wounded. His forelimb had been shaky and barely capable of holding his weight. The reality of it had been horrifying to Yugi and so he'd been frantic in his desires to make sure his mate was not hurt and remained safe after. When Atem had gotten up hours later, uncurling from a tight ball as slowly as a leaf in autumn, he'd told him he would go to find food for them both. Yugi had initially attempted to follow him but it had been too exhausting to try to get up and chase him so he'd been forced to wait for him to return with a huge amount of fish and a couple of small deer.

"You sure?"

"Go ahead."

Atem squirmed for a moment at the sensation, but he made no noise of anger or frustration. And, as the seconds passed, his movements lessened entirely. Yugi leaned forward to lick his neck again before pivoting his weight lightly forward.

Atem hissed at the light intrusion but did not bristle or snarl. Yugi did not expect him to do so in the slightest, but he did worry that the Sky Dragon pushed harder than necessary at times. He was so eager to make Yugi happy on occasions that the Gandora feared he'd eventually hurt himself trying to make him feel better than he himself did. And so he often watched more pointedly for muscle tension and the way he flexed his paws. If he was so stressed that he might sink his claws into the dirt, Yugi would move further along his back and simply crouch, grooming him rather than mounting as had initially been instigated.

This had only happened twice but Yugi had not cared in the slightest beyond moving and licking him until the slight tremors in his wings would stop. But he'd come into this knowing that Atem would have trouble with it all. He'd been attacked relentlessly by his siblings when he was a hatchling. He'd had his side carved open violently and it had gotten infected due to Atem's inability to clean it properly at his young age. He'd had his wings broken for moons due to one sibling knocking him out of the air. Sometimes he'd been tackled from behind hard enough to roll a few feet and have to catch his breath for several awkward minutes under his siblings' spiteful eyes.

But that had not been the worst of it. Yugi had only come to realize the threats that most Atem's suitors had spat at him after he'd won the challenge to mate with him. And they were far more violent than they had any right to be. Keith alone had threatened to kill him and bring him back by sharing one of his own hearts, properly enslaving him as his mate should he have gotten the chance. Another had threatened to tear his wings off should he have squirmed too much during their mounting.

Understandably these were things that made Atem nervous. At times, if Yugi brushed against his wings when he stretched across his back, the Sky Dragon would stiffen and then start trembling when he moved away from them. Other instances occurred when he moved behind him when they were hunting. Atem's head would snap around, eyes narrow and mouths opened slightly as if to snarl. Then, once or twice, he had thumped his tail in warning when Yugi had gotten too close to his side during a different hunt. Atem had a lot more trust issues than Yugi had originally been prepared for. But the fact was that they were well-deserved and he could not blame him for them. And the moment that the Sky Dragon would see him he'd recognize him, but the warnings would already have been given and his eyes would be sharp and terrible for that brief second.

Yugi threw the thought aside, pressing a little further into him. Atem kept relatively relaxed, though his spine shivered with a bristle, scales rising and falling and shuddering. The smooth backwards formation of them rose as if he were about to break them and then began to rapidly sink back. He had done this each time they'd gotten close to mounting, however. And Yugi could not tell if it was truly nerves or a mixture of this and excitement.

"Still okay?"

Atem flexed his claws and shifted his weight as if he might pull away from him. Then he drew his back legs slightly up as if he were stretching and lowered them again, dragging Yugi with him. "Fine." The response was short but did not sound angry, and he seemed more amused than anything.

And so he was clearly comfortable, Yugi knew.

The red dragon didn't argue when he pressed forward again and so the Gandora moved until he could no longer. The feeling of his barbs sinking in was instant, his stomach rolling with fear that it might make Atem struggle. But the Sky Dragon was rubbing his face anxiously against the ground instead, claws flexing and wings quivering with tension. The Gandora immediately lifted his hindquarters again, pivoting his weight into his forelimbs, and Atem panted gratefully, the shivering continuing in his wings but his rubbing ceasing. His heavy breathing continued for a moment longer before Yugi pressed his weight further into his hindquarters and began to lift Atem's again.

"Does it still hurt?"

The Sky Dragon shook his head slowly and flexed his claws again as if he might further relieve his stress this way. "No," he muttered.

But he wasn't purring yet. He didn't look as comfortable as Yugi wanted. And he wasn't voicing his pleasure as he had formerly. He was not moving his hips in time with Yugi's or quivering with excitement in the way he had the first time. He had been so pleased after his initial panic and trying to flee, after Yugi had shaken him limp and they'd struggled to stand up properly, that he'd begun purring and rasping softly when he would say "Yes." Now he seemed more uncomfortable than anything. And the Gandora wanted to hiss with displeasure at the thought.

He leaned forward to lick at his neck again, then angled his hips to bring them off the ground further. Atem flexed his claws again, though he did not purr yet, and instead turned his head to rub beaks with him for a moment. The action was enough to startle Yugi, his blue-violet eyes stretching wide with surprise, and the Gandora eagerly nuzzled him in turn. He'd never quite expected Atem to initiate that kind of comfort when he himself had upon letting the Sky Dragon mount him.

Yugi wondered if perhaps he was making sure it was really him back there—because something in his eyes seemed distant at the moment—or if he was simply looking for some kind of physical contact beyond Yugi's body draped over his. Sky Dragons were the only species to truly mate for life by choice. When they sought mates, it was not for one breeding period. If their mates were to die, they did not replace them and often lived in solitude without so much as a companion to be seen within the territory. They were the only species to love their mates for an extended period of time that did not involve simple mating cycles. They lived the duration of their partnerships with their mate, as close as possible at first and then more comfortable with distance. But Yugi had yet to see a pair of Sky Dragons that did not love each other so wholly that they weren't together almost constantly.

Atem was having trouble balancing his need for space and his desire to be near him, Yugi knew. The instincts he had were for close physical proximity to him, but his self-preservation was stronger than these oftentimes and he would snarl and back away when Yugi got too close to him for too long an amount of time. They could be fast asleep next to each other and Atem might startle awake and move away from him to the other side of the den to sleep more.

"I love you."

Atem hummed at him, a soft melody of noise from deep within his throat. Then he closed his eyes and tipped his head to the side lazily. Yugi moved to lick at his jaw and along his muscular cheeks, nuzzling him under the soft flesh between his jawbone and his neck. Yugi could feel his shoulders moving beneath him in this position, the raw strength he possessed as he flexed his claws and shifted his weight forward in a steady motion. He was moving to tip his hindquarters up again, Yugi knew, and so the Gandora forced himself to do the same, though he felt slightly cold at the loss of Atem's muzzle against his. The Sky Dragon had turned away again and put his chin on the ground once more, eyes closed.

But now Yugi could hear a soft and steady purr as well. Atem was no longer panting and his wings' tips were quivering with growing delight. The dragon beneath him was letting out the softest rumbling purr that Yugi had ever heard one of their species generate, almost like distant thunder but as easy as a babbling brook as well. Yugi felt an immense warmth in his chest at the realization. Atem was enjoying himself already…

Yugi licked at his neck again, then along his shoulders between his large wings. The red male let out a small breath of appreciation towards this soft affection. It was so low and buried beneath the purring that he almost would have missed it had he not been listening for it. The Gandora almost quivered with happiness at the thought that he was pleasing the other male so much. As long as Atem was happy at the end of it, he didn't care about much else.

The higher Yugi positioned his hindquarters, the louder the purring became. Atem had begun clawing at the dirt and releasing small contented breaths, so relaxed that the Gandora was almost winded with his mounting delight. The Slifer turned his head just enough to look over his shoulder and allow them to rub muzzles again, and the Gandora licked at the bottom of his jaw as he rocked his hips just enough to perform the up and down pseudo thrust that Atem seemed to enjoy so much.

The Gandora wondered what it would have looked like had someone been coming to see them at some point. If they stumbled upon the sight, would they assume he was a Serpent Night Dragon as Seto had?

Or would they realize he was a Gandora and Atem a Slifer?

Would they realize Atem was a God Dragon at first glance?

And what of the positioning? Would it be assumed he'd bettered Atem and forced him to lie upon his belly? Or would they hear the purrs and automatically know?

Yugi shook it off after a moment.

It wasn't worth worrying about. What he became more concerned about was whether Atem would react as he had the last couple of times. Would he writhe as terribly as he had the first time? Or would he be more subdued as he had the second? He didn't want him to scream and scramble as he had the first time. But the second time he'd laid there as if he were almost comatose and had not moved for what had been hours beyond occasionally scratching his side against some stones.

It had been more that he'd dumped himself into the river and lay halfway in and out that had scared Yugi than anything. But Atem hadn't had his eyes open either, and he couldn't see him breathing as well as he could have had he remained on land…

"Little one?"

The words startled him from the thought. He blinked, head turning just enough to see the God Dragon peering at him with a confused expression. The gem on his forehead was slightly cloudy and his eyes were a shade darker than usual, widened only a fraction. "Huh?" he muttered before he could stop himself, blinking again and frowning when he saw the relief that crossed the other's face. His hearts hurt at the sight. Had he hurt him somehow? "What's wrong?"

Atem blinked at him, then tilted his head. "I was always okay," he commented, much as he had the night after the fight when Yugi had startled awake from his nightmare to the red male pleading with him to wake up. The simplicity in his tone relaxed him somewhat now. "It is you I'm worried about. What are you thinking about so hard, little Yugi?"

The nickname made him feel warmer for a moment. Then he shook it off. "Nothing important," he promised, though the words tasted foul on his tongue.

The red male considered him with that same tilted his head, though now his eyes narrowed faintly. "Then why have you stopped moving?" he asked slowly. Yugi blinked, startled by the question. "You haven't moved for a few minutes now. I thought you would have snapped out of it before I might have to ask but you did not."

The Gandora felt a small wave of shame and embarrassment crash through him. Then he rubbed his beak against his and moved to raise his hips again. "Sorry, it was just something I was thinking about. I didn't mean to worry you," he murmured, running his tongue from his beak to the crest of the red crown of thorn-like scales upon his head. The gem was oddly warm now, as if Atem's concern had caused the temperature change. He pulled back slightly to look at it, finding it strangely cloudy and darker than usual, and Yugi felt sick for a brief moment. He'd truly worried him more than Atem cared to admit, hadn't he?

"Are you sure you're all right?"

The Gandora purred and bumped his muzzle with his, following it with a lick to his cheek. "Absolutely, Atem!" he said warmly, licking him once more and turning away after a moment. He pressed his chin into the base of his shoulders and nestled into his scales for a brief second.

Atem didn't ask again, nor did he bother to speak after this confirmation. It bothered Yugi only when the Sky Dragon slipped away from him upon his release and immediately disappeared in the direction of the river. Yugi shook himself out, legs much like weak tree limbs, and hurried to follow him, exhausted. When he got to the river, Atem was already submerged and hidden under the water. He hesitated, then moved to take a seat, panting heavily and watching the river.

The Sky Dragon came from beneath the current a few minutes later, raising his head above water and moving to swim to the bank. But he didn't pull himself entirely onto the soft sand. And Yugi was surprised to see how much darker the gem on his forehead was. He looked somewhere between frustrated and curious.

The Gandora scooted closer to the water, though his strongest instinct was to remain away from it. Being half Fire Dragon did him no good when he was near a body of water. And the current's stronghold and the harsh crashing sound of its water as it coursed through the territory was enough to make him bristle slightly. He drew in a deep breath, however, forcing himself to ignore his self-preservation in order to check on Atem instead.

"You're still okay?" he asked, exhausted but firm in his demand. The Sky Dragon drew himself halfway out of the water, much as he had before, but now he no longer lay on his side and rather stretched out upon his belly. Yugi looked him over, but he didn't see any punctured muscle as he had initially worried. He hadn't grabbed him hard enough to cut his flesh. "I didn't hurt you, right?"

The God Dragon blinked and flexed his claws. The water that fell from his scales soaked the dirt into a muddy paste and his claws punctured it easily. "I am fine," he assured him, "tired but fine."

Yugi nodded, though not entirely satisfied with the answer. "Are you worried about the meeting?" he muttered after a moment, drawing in a deep breath as they looked at one another.

Atem blinked and lowered his chin to his paws. His voice was a little deeper from this position as his neck was pressed so heavily against his limbs, trailing out of his top mouth now. But Yugi was admittedly relieved that it did not sound as his voice had when he'd been in his Origin Form when he'd come to challenge him. Then Atem had sounded as if he had a million voices merged into his own, all of them roaring and snarling and speaking in tangent and dancing in the air like snow. But it was closer to that sound than when he spoke from his bottom jaw. He wondered if Atem even noticed the difference. Maybe it was an intimidation tactic…

"The meeting is of no consequence to me. We may attend but I do not see much coming from such a thing. I doubt Yusei or Jaden or the Leviathan will be too happy to see me as it is."

Yugi tilted his head and thought to inch closer but his legs were so tired beneath his weight that he forced himself to lie down instead. He'd need more strength to get to Atem's side. This would do him no good as he was now…

"Why wouldn't they want to see you?"

The red dragon was silent for a long handful of minutes. Then he moved his wings to arch them almost delicately along his flanks, peering at him with darkened eyes. Yugi thought he could see hesitation sparking in them, as if he were unsure he should tell him the answer to such a question. "None of us have properly met before," he finally grunted.

Yugi stiffened. "Wait, what?" he demanded. The God Dragons were all supposed to meet upon knowing the existence of each other. It was a law of some kind, though he was not sure which. But all God Dragons were meant to meet at least once upon knowing of another's existence, if only solely for the sake of identifying them in some manner. "I thought… But Jesse said that Jaden and Yusei both knew of…"

Atem shook his head. "I do not think that they entirely knew," he answered after a long heartbeat. "I think that it came down to chance that they even heard about me at any point. I think it was more the rumors that told them I even existed. But having two mouths doesn't entirely mean that someone is a God Dragon and I don't think any of them truly acknowledged that there was a fourth God Dragon until recently. Perhaps because I dealt with Keith they are more inclined to believe that I am a deity as well."

The Gandora bristled. "That doesn't make any sense!"

"I'm a Sky Dragon." Atem stretched his limbs, burying them in some of the mud. He was shimmering in the sunlight where it touched him, and his dried scales looked like flame where the light bounced from them. "We can be born with deformities and it does not ensure divinity. It just means that we're more prone to having an extra set of wings or more claws than usual or a longer tail. It doesn't make us a god."

Yugi jumped to his feet, snarling. "But you've been spoken about for years now! And they just ignored it?" he spat. He trembled, legs threatening to fall out from beneath him. Atem eyed him warily for a moment, considering something. The Gandora almost wished he would come closer so that he could use his weight to brace himself. "And it might not be common for a Sky Dragon to be a deity, but it doesn't mean it's impossible!"

Atem was silent for a moment. Then he moved to raise his head and get to his paws. When he shook himself out, the droplets were like a miniature rainstorm. Yugi almost hurried back but couldn't find the strength to, the water hitting him almost immediately. "Most of those Gods could heal," he commented dismissively, moving to his side. He reached a paw out and lightly tapped Yugi's shoulders to make him lay down before following suit. He leaned forward and began grooming before Yugi could think to argue that he'd already gotten the loose scales. "I do not harbor any ill will towards them for neglecting to meet me, Yugi. It was never my intention to get their attention as it was. And my doubt of being a God Dragon did nothing to make that easier."

The Gandora hesitated, flicking his tail unhappily. He still couldn't believe that Atem had doubted himself so much. It was incredible to him, how seemingly self-destructive Atem's confidence actually was. He was confident only in the manner of attacking and killing when he was threatened. Otherwise he seemed hesitant and more likely to back down. He did not even seem to have much confidence in knowing that Yugi was willing to let him mount him. He often hesitated, sometimes even questioned him, and rarely he would move away entirely from him as if he thought Yugi might strike out against him.

He knew, of course, that that behavior had much more to do with his suitors than just his lack of self-confidence. But it still made him wonder. Because Atem could put on a facade like no one else when it came to shrugging away stress. But he would slip up when he slept, twitching and snarling and breathing too hard to be ignored.

"Well, it's still stupid that they never put in any effort to find out what was going on. I mean, they had to have heard the rumors, Atem."

"But for all they know I could have been like Keith and saying that I was a God Dragon when I'm clearly not." He hesitated, then leaned forward to lick at his neck beneath his jaw. He breathed out heavily against his softer scales and Yugi thumped his tail with excitement. The action was enough to make Atem tense for a split second, startled by a movement that was normally perceived as aggressive in nature.

Yugi felt his hearts shatter for a brief second at this thought.


"And here we are." Atem shook himself out and flexed his claws for a moment as they landed. He bristled, folded his wings tightly along his sides, and began moving forward. Yugi hurried to copy his body language, wondering for a brief moment if perhaps it was critical to a Wind Dragon as he had never seen Atem take such a position before.

When he glanced around much of the area was gently rolling plains, clear bright green grass with some frayed yellow ends. There were a few random green bushes scattered about, none of them particularly clumped together. And the hills seemed never-ending but for where they faded into cliffs before the face of the sea. The forests were miles behind them when Yugi turned his head to look and he knew instinctively that this area was windy and could easily be overcome with water should harder rains push through.

He looked at his mate curiously. Atem was picking his way across the territory expertly, as if he had always known this place. He did not seem to pause in even the slightest. And Yugi wondered if he was being truthful when he'd said that he'd only entered this territory that one time to aid Timaeus. But then, he had no idea where it was that Atem had sought shelter when he was wounded. Most of the prey he mentioned lived in grassy plains such as this…

So it was possible that they'd been closer to the water, near the cliffs. But Atem had not implied that Timaeus was with him in the time that he'd been near the alligators while his side was still infected. He'd mentioned nothing of the Wind Dragon then. It was possible that Atem had hidden near the forest, near a larger area of water for easier access. He wasn't entirely sure, but he knew that Timaeus had lived with him near a cavern where there were a few trees. He'd said that when lightning had struck a trunk near him he'd fled into the cave with Timaeus, screaming like a hatchling.

Due to that, he had to assume they were in an area where the forest slowly but surely spread into the rolling plains of Wind Dragon territory. He had to assume that they had remained there for the most part from then on. And from there they would have gone their separate ways.

Timaeus would have gone further north, on the very edges of the Wind Dragons' Clan territory. Atem would have traveled southeast, to the heart of the mountains nearest the human tribes. It was a deterrent, Yugi knew, as many dragons were simply suspicious of the human species altogether. Humans could be volatile sometimes and that was enough to scare many. But it had not been a big enough one to keep his various desperate suitors from him.

Atem had layered his dens with various deterrents.

He was near a large river which cut through half of his territory in the way it weaved and stretched about. This would scare any Fire Dragons or Earth Dragons who were too inexperienced around water. He was at a high altitude due to the mountain peaks he'd chosen as his home. This was enough to put pressure on any dragons that were not used to such things, as well as being high up enough that many would simply turn tail. He was near enough to the human tribe that worshipped him that oftentimes one could see their fires without effort in the darkness.

Atem had defended himself as much as he could…

"Well aren't you a sight for a sore eye?"

Yugi looked up, startled, and blinked in surprise. He had not even noticed that Timaeus was sitting nearby, waiting for them silently. He had a small, genuine smile on his face, his single amber eye sparkling. The Gandora hated himself for how jealous he felt at that moment.

"Hello," Atem greeted warmly, hurrying his pace. When he got close enough, they bumped heads and Atem nuzzled his side as if he were a dragonet before his parents. Yugi slowed awkwardly, tilting his head, and hovered at the edge of their union, feeling small and much like an uninvited hatchling.

"Yugi," Timaeus murmured, moving to butt heads with him as well. The Gandora paused, startled, and then hurried to do the same. The Wind Dragon chortled and Atem smiled warmly at the younger dragon. Yugi was flustered at the acknowledgment, though he smiled bashfully and took a seat with his tail around his paws.

"What brings you two here?" the Wind Dragon asked curiously, looking between them and focusing on Atem when the God Dragon moved to take a seat closer to his mate. The red dragon came within a couple of inches of him, then sat down with his wings tucked into his sides and his eyes half-closed with relaxed features on his face. Yugi beamed at the thought of being chosen over his older friend but then a small wave of shame filled him as well.

He was being petty again.

"The Rainbow Dragon, Jesse, did he come by here?"

Timaeus considered him for a long moment. "He left a couple of hours ago," he admitted, watching him and then tilting his head. His eye flickered briefly towards Yugi and then back slowly. "I didn't think you would want to attend this meeting."

Atem grunted. "Yugi convinced me," he muttered, casting a quick glance towards the Gandora and nuzzling his neck for a brief heartbeat. When he pulled away again the Gandora nearly whined with dissatisfaction.

The Wind Dragon turned to Yugi. "I assume you'll be attending as well then?" he teased. The youngest male opened his mouth, the words "Of course!" on his tongue before he startled. There was a small flicker of movement in his peripheral. His head snapped around and Atem sat up with a more curious expression beside him, visibly confused by his reaction.

The little dragonet was a few yards away, crouched low to the ground in preparation to spring at him. It was pale, a soft violet shade that was barely apparent against the whiter scales of its soft underbelly. Yugi grinned, snorting, and turned to face them with a wiggle of his rump. Atem snickered and Timaeus smirked when he pounced at the hatchling. It paused, eyes growing huge as Yugi landed. Then it reared back, squealing as if it'd been struck, spun around so fast it tripped over its tail, and hit the ground. It shook itself out, sprang to its paws, and ran away as quickly as it could.

Yugi gaped after him, horrified. Then he remembered Timaeus was behind him, as well as Atem. And his head snapped around in a panic as the thought occurred to him that Atem would turn on Timaeus if the Wind Dragon lunged at him as they'd spoken of earlier. He was breathless as he blurted out a panicked, "I didn't mean to scare him so much!"

But, to his relief, Timaeus was laughing with a bright amber eye, shaking his head and beaming at him. And Atem was so relaxed Yugi could have melted just seeing how clear the gem in his forehead was, the way he had lost any sense of tension and was smiling at him warmly.

"Mahado often tends to bite off more than he can chew when he decides to stalk around," Timaeus explained gently, looking past him towards where the dragonet had so quickly retreated. "I promise you haven't scared him any worse than the rabbit did yesterday."

The Gandora blinked wide eyes. "Rabbit?"

Atem snickered and immediately Yugi turned back to him, searching his face. "I'm sure it's similar to my experience with that frog."

Timaeus blinked, then tilted his head curiously, considering them both with a questioning look. Yugi was satisfied with the idea that perhaps he knew a bit more about the Sky Dragon than Timaeus did. But the Wind Dragon hardly seemed upset with such a thing, smiling goodnaturedly. "He went after a rabbit yesterday, but when he caught it, it screamed. So he screamed and ran as fast he could. Critias teased him about it all night."

Yugi sat up, adrenaline crashing through him. "How is he?" he demanded. "Is he okay? I hope he wasn't too frightened by all the fighting?"

"Well, now you're making me feel like a bad father," Timaeus laughed. "You seem more worried about him than I was when I took him home!"

Yugi laughed, but he noticed now that Atem was no longer paying attention. His golden eyes had blinked and his head had turned the smallest degree. He was looking past him, to a large tunnel with a lip barely visible against the long grass. He could tell by the darkness of it, the way it seemed like the bottom of a large pool of water beneath moonlight, that it branched off in several directions. It was much akin a rabbit's warren, he realized curiously.

He narrowed his eyes, searching once more. Near the tunnel were several lower bushes and the grass was long enough that it could have covered a dragon crouched down amongst its frail blades. He bristled, flicking his tail. He knew the feeling of being stared at too well to ignore it.

He tried his hardest to pinpoint the direction, turning his head and focusing his attention as fully as he could. But the sunlight was stronger than he was used to and the grass seemed to dance with a light wind. The shimmering blades gave off enough light to remind him of rippling water and he nearly snarled at the disadvantage. His eyes were made for sharper colors to help him see underwater as the rivers were often dull with shadows but the dark like an abyss towards the bottom and the fish often had scales of soft silver and shiny gray and heads of pink. His eyes were made for distance but not for constant movement.

He had trained himself to predict when an opponent might move in the slightest. But he could not detect it with movement so swift around him as well. The blades of grass moving as they were could almost overwhelm him.

And then he saw her.

It was only because of her pupils. They had flipped, shifting position, and now he could see the blackness like a pool of blood against ice. He considered her, flicking his tail tip uncomfortably.

The Wind Dragon lay several yards away, using it to blend in with her pale, shimmering yellow scales. She was the shade of the grass blades, perfectly blended in as if she were invisible amongst them. Her eyes were a light brown, barely darker than the grass surrounding her. But it was so little in variance that Atem knew if her pupils hadn't flipped he would have had no chance to spot it. Her legs were a black color, almost akin his brother Seto's and her features were much akin those of the Felgrand now that he considered it. She had a smooth head, a body of soft ridges indicative of the Wind Dragon species.

And she was watching Yugi like a hawk.

"Yugi," he warned softly, tilting his chin towards her now. The sound of his voice cut his mate off from what he was saying to Timaeus and immediately he turned away to look as well. It took Yugi less than a second to spot her, his eyes made for such a thing due to his nocturnal nature. Hunting in the dark was almost impossible for Atem but for his electroreception in the water. On land he was more useless than a gutted fish.

But Yugi's eyes could see shades of shadow and differentiate between them. His eyes could tell apart the movement of wind from a body shifting weight and walking through strands of grass. His eyes were made for darkness, but by no stretch was he blind in any manner. His eyes were adapted for harsh sunlight and camouflage due to the desert terrain that should have been his home. He was made equally for nocturnal activities and hunting throughout the day.

"Oh!"

Yugi shot him an incredibly embarrassed and ashamed look, as if he were horrified that he could have forgotten their mother might be nearby to watch her clutch. Atem studied him for only a moment, then leaned forward to lick his forehead. He didn't mind in the slightest that the Gandora was so playful or sweet in nature. He didn't mind that he was so excited to see a playful dragonet that he'd forgotten himself for a moment.

What he did mind was the abrupt thought that crossed his mind.

He knew nothing of Kris's temperament. He knew nothing of how she might react to them there. If she saw Yugi go near the den, she was sure to react. And if she did, would she try to kill him or simply warn him off?

Atem did not entirely think it bad for Yugi to be surprised by her should she leap out at him. It was something that all dragons needed to learn. Yugi couldn't just leap into a game with another dragon's nest and forget their parents might be around. But if she was deadly and fierce…

Atem wasn't willing to risk it.

"Critias is fine, however. He's actually so proud of the little scratch on his side that he runs around and boasts about it to anyone who will listen. We've all heard about ten different stories about how he got it." Timaeus smirked, though now he looked to Atem for a single moment. The God Dragon tilted his head faintly in the female's direction and Timaeus looked over as well, but he did not show any visible discomfort. He did not seem alarmed as if she might be a true threat. "And I'm sure any minute now he'll come running out to tell you all about it as well."

Atem grunted, looking over again. "Will your mate be okay with that?" he demanded in a curt tone, one that he had never truly taken with the Wind Dragon before. Timaeus turned to him without a hint of surprise in his expression, however. "She's looking at Yugi as if she plans to gut and eat him."

Yugi stiffened in surprise, eyes wide. Timaeus snorted and shook his head. "Kris is extremely protective of them. They are her first clutch, after all."

Yugi turned to him with huge eyes now. "But not yours?" he asked curiously. He watched the Wind Dragon with kneading paws. Timaeus would be the first dragon he'd ever crossed paths with that had failed to mate for life. He had grown up with both of his parents, of two species that went against their own nature to remain mated for life.

And he had chosen Atem from the very heartbeat he'd seen him upon turning six moons and spotting him playing with his disgusting brothers. And Atem himself naturally mated for life, something that some species considered a curse while others thought it a blessing.

Yugi definitely considered it the latter.

"I've had three."

"You're not getting around much," Atem teased, giving his mate a sly look that made Yugi immediately grin. With a sideways glance at Timaeus, he continued. "Are you functioning properly?"

Timaeus laughed and swatted at his head. He missed by several inches and smirked, eye shining as he thumped his tail playfully. "Yes, you little snake, I'm functioning properly." He grinned fondly at his snickering friend and Yugi wondered briefly if he and Atem would ever be so close.

"Well, you would think that your friendly Sky Dragon neighbor killing everything that moves would do you well to have the females flocking to you."

The Wind Dragon snorted and swatted at him again. Atem nudged Yugi, snickering against his throat. The Gandora trembled with delight at the sensation. "It's done well to scare some males away but some of the females get too panicked to come this direction after realizing that you're south of here." He rolled his wings, shrugging at the younger male. "But I also haven't done much with mating either. It's burdensome going back and forth between mates. Remembering names and all that."

Atem burst out laughing. "You're ridiculous." Yugi smiled and tilted his head curiously. His mate nudged him again gently. "It is a burden, however. I sometimes forget his name too."

The Gandora huffed. "You couldn't forget my name if you tried!"

"What was that, Yogi?"

Yugi whined and butted him in the shoulder. "Dog-brain."

Atem ran his tongue from his beak to his crown and then turned back and faced his friend. "I think I see a certain hatchling running over here as we speak," he commented, smirking and turning his head.

Yugi turned immediately, hearts quickening and eyes widening as his wings tucked along his sides. "Critias!" he called in delight as the pale hatchling came running forward as quickly as he could.

"Look at my scratch!" the dragonet crowed immediately. He bounced, bounding about the grass and its tall strands like a fawn jumping. He was trying his hardest, Yugi noticed, to show off his little wound. The Gandora couldn't see it very well, however, with the way the dragonet sprang in such uneven intervals. He smiled and moved to meet him halfway.

But he got only within a yard of him.

His mother sprang.

Yugi jumped backwards, horrified. He bristled and gaped at her. Critias crouched low to the ground, hiding in the grass.

Yugi couldn't see either dragon more than a heartbeat, however.

Atem was in front of him. His legs were braced for a lunge. The front half of his body shielded Yugi entirely. His wings were raised and folded, arching from his sides. If he flapped once, he could get more speed, Yugi knew. His head was lowered, his tongues flicking from between his sharp teeth. He was snarling, spitting, and the scales on his back rose and fell. But Yugi did not hear the blades of his tail unsheathing.

And he thanked the gods for this.

Kris was bristling in turn. Her pose was a direct mirror of his. Her teeth were bared. She was quivering with tension. Her claws tugged anxiously at the grass beneath her paws. Her tongue flicked as she sized him up.

Atem could see her positioning herself to protect Critias more pointedly. But the hatchling was cowering so low to the ground that he was invisible. And he didn't need to look to know that Yugi was still staring in shock.

Atem made no move towards her. He would not harm her if she did not attack first. He respected her for at least trying to protect her hatchling. That was something he could not be upset over. In truth, he did not want to hurt her to begin with. But if she turned her teeth on Yugi he'd likely kill her for it.

"Hey, okay, Atem, relax!" the Gandora pleaded at his side. But his words simply made Atem bristle further. Kris had turned her head slightly. She was trying to spot him past Atem. He flicked his tongue, snarling. Her eyes shot back to him immediately.

Timaeus, however, simply moved between them. Atem growled in annoyance. But the Wind Dragon did not look at him even slightly. He was facing Kris instead.

"It's okay, Kris. Atem and Yugi wouldn't hurt him. Atem is the one I sent him to find to help us, remember?"

The female Wind Dragon stared at him almost blankly for a moment. Atem could see the thoughts churning behind her eyes. She was torn between the instinct to protect Critias and to listen to her mate's words. He knew she recognized him. It was why she was trembling faintly even now.

But she looked to Atem a moment. And then she turned her head and he knew instinctively that Yugi was no longer behind him. He'd moved to his side, was trying to get between them if a fight did break out somehow. But her eyes were uncertain and Atem knew she had to be considering the lore surrounding their species. Critias was still laying flat on his stomach, staring with wide horrified eyes. He did not look inclined to get up.

"But he…"

"He's the one who hid him before he left to fight. Yugi is the reason Critias is still alive and Atem is the reason we survived the entire ordeal."

The female watched Timaeus for a long handful of seconds. Then she stared at Atem for a few heartbeats. She seemed to be studying him more than showing aggression. But Atem still found himself bristling aggressively. He was frustrated as he watched her.

"All right."

Her eyes flickered to Yugi. Atem snarled, flicking his tongue. She turned immediately to him again. And Timaeus looked at him with a tilt of his head.

"She's not going to hurt him. You can stop snarling now, Atem."

The Sky Dragon ignored him for a moment. It wasn't that he thought she'd turn on Yugi any longer. It wasn't that he wanted to aggravate the situation any further. It was simply that he hoped to make sure she knew he would defend Yugi no matter what.

Yugi tapped him on the shoulder with his beak, coaxing him to disengage. The God Dragon ignored him as well, snarling low in his throat. But Yugi simply nudged him again. And he could feel his anger melting as he slowly straightened to his full height and turned away with a huff.

"I'm okay," Yugi said gently, assuring him with a smile. Atem glanced at him sideways, tilting his head, and nodded.

"Now, little dragon, what was that about your scratch?" Atem asked, turning to Critias with a small smile. Kris blinked, straightening, and looked at her son. The dragonet was staring up at her with a hesitant expression. When she did not object, the hatchling sprung to his paws and angled his side to show Atem with bright eyes. He stretched his wings upwards, displaying a bright pink mark along his flank from elbow to hip.

"It's a battle wound!" he cried. He made sure that Yugi was watching too before he straightened and looked at him proudly. He raised his head and turned his body to display every inch of his side. "There were these huge dragons that came a little while back to attack us! And Mahado and Ishizu and Hermos were too afraid to come out of the den. But not me!"

Yugi was already laughing, watching him with brilliant eyes. "You're so brave," he said softly, tilting his head the smallest degree. "You were willing to come out to help your mom and dad fight, huh?"

"Mmhmm!" Critias sat down with flourish, angling his head up in a proud and extremely exaggerated manner. He beamed at Yugi with bright, pale eyes. "I came out the moment the fighting started! One of them tried to eat me so I clawed them in the eye and hit them with a fireball!"

Atem was snickering now as well. In the corner of his eye he could see that the other hatchlings were coming to see the two visitors in question. Mahado was in the far back, watching Yugi with huge, pale bluish eyes and dilated pupils. In the middle was a small female with pale beige scales and wide bright blue eyes like ice. And in front was an orange-red male with a tilted head and curious brown eyes.

"That's amazing. I couldn't even form a fireball when I was your age," the Sky Dragon commented, turning back to Critias. The hatchling preened beneath his attention now, as if the statement made his storytelling all the more important now.

"I took him down!" he crowed. Yugi nodded, giving him an immensely focused and fascinated look as Critias paused to make sure he was paying attention as well. Atem nearly burst out laughing. There was no doubt who his favorite truly was. Timaeus was smirking and shaking his head now. "He was bleeding everywhere and turned tail. So then I went after the next but he got me in the side so I had to stop and recover."

Yugi glanced sideways at Atem. The Sky Dragon was smirking wider than ever, trembling with suppressed laughter. Yugi couldn't help but smile. "You're as strong as the Leviathan," he murmured, turning back to Critias. The hatchling trembled with excitement, the praise making him let out a cooing sound of pure happiness.

"Surely a God Dragon," Atem agreed, smiling as he studied him. But something inside of him ached hollowly at the words. He glanced at the other three hatchlings who now sat a couple of feet away. They watched him with wide, gorgeous eyes.

And he wondered, feeling sick, if any of them might be jealous as his own siblings had been. But their fascination was acute and fixated so completely on their brother that they hardly seemed to notice him or Yugi any longer.

Thank the gods for such small mercies…

"Mom and dad were surrounded! So I had to jump in to save them after that! So I hit another one with a fireball and they went 'boom'!" Now he pounced at Yugi who pretended to be surprised, jumping and flattening himself to the ground with widened eyes. Timaeus snickered at his dramatic antics and Atem smirked a little wider.

"You're so brave," Yugi said again, shaking his head with an amazed look. "I would have been terrified. I don't think I could have dealt with that at all!"

Atem looked at him for a moment, laughing, but his hearts ached as well. Yugi was never going to get his clutch. He was never going to have a nest to tell stories to or offspring to play with…

Critias went on, pouncing at his siblings as they squeaked and moved aside. Hermos batted at his brother, however, and quickly the two of them dissolved into a mock battle. Yugi remained lying at his side, relaxing and smiling as the two of them lunged at one another. Atem watched him a moment longer. He rose to his paws and shook himself out to lose what little tension remained in his limbs.

"So, how much of that was true?" he asked curiously.

"Not a thing," Timaeus laughed, shaking his head. "He's exaggerated all of it."

The Sky Dragon snickered. "I had guessed as much." He took a seat to wrap his tail around his paws. "He's got a lot of you in him, hmm?"

"He's got his mother's temperament," the older male answered with a smirk. "Very excitable, very dramatic. He's got my senses though. He knew to duck and hide when I told him to find you."

"So how did he end up caught then?"

Now the Wind Dragon grimaced. "Yubel poked a paw in. He bit her and broke a toe but she got him in the side," he answered with a shake of his head. "And then Keith's bastard son tried to get him when he squeaked. Kris fought him off long enough for Critias to run while Yubel turned her back and pretended not to see it."

Atem nodded slowly. "Do you think it will scar?"

"I doubt it. She hardly did any damage. He bled a lot due to his soft flesh. He was not too deeply wounded however."

Yugi looked over now as well. "That's lucky. He could have gotten a lot worse."

The Sky Dragon glanced at him. But Yugi's blue-violet eyes were no longer focused on him. He was looking at Timaeus. And Atem saw them both as they swapped brief, fleeting glances. He sighed loudly, shaking his head, but did not comment. He knew what they'd been communicating silently like that. He wrapped his tail around his paws again, ignoring the urge to snarl in annoyance.

"I'm impressed he attacked her though," he admitted. "That's more than most newly born hatchlings would do."

"He's a very brave little dragon." Timaeus looked down at his hatchling fondly. And, as if to make his hearts ache, Yugi turned to Critias with similar fondness. Atem felt as if he'd been gutted; no doubt Yugi was attached to him. "He didn't want his siblings to get hurt. I'm honestly lucky that Yubel didn't cry out when he bit her and none of his siblings said anything or made any noise. He was going to dig them up but I lied and said Critias was the only one in the clutch."

Yugi nodded, turning back to him. "That was a good idea."

Timaeus nodded in turn. His eyes fell on the clutch for a moment before he turned to Atem. "I honestly think he takes a lot more after you than he does me. Considering his running around like a little brat. I think you rubbed off on him somehow."

Atem burst out laughing, eyes shining. "That's a delightful little lie." He smiled at Timaeus when the Wind Dragon butted him in the shoulder affectionately. Then he looked away to face Kris once more as he watched her offspring pounce about and tire themselves out for a handful of seconds. The female turned to him after a heartbeat or two, as if she had been summoned by his attention.

When she realized he truly was staring at her, her head rose slightly and she sat up the smallest degree straighter. It was as if she expected him to react violently to her presence. The Sky Dragon smiled faintly.

"Kris, correct?"

Yugi blinked and looked up from where he'd been watching Critias. In the corner of Atem's eye he saw his head turn back and forth between the two of them almost expectantly.

"Yes." She hesitated. "Atem, right?"

"Atem, God Dragon of the East," he answered with a nod. Her eyes widened slightly at the statement then her head snapped towards her mate as she hissed, "You didn't say he was a God Dragon!" and Yugi snorted loudly.

"I assumed you knew."

"Why would I know that?"

"The God Dragon lives south of here, has a second mouth, kills all of the dragons that challenge him for mating rights?" Timaeus blinked at her and snorted. "Besides, he came to deal with Keith's son. And I told you my best friend is the God Dragon."

"I thought that was some kind of stupid line to make me want to mate with you."

"I'm a stud. Why would I need to do that?"

Atem snorted loudly and turned away when Timaeus shot him a dirty look. Kris swiped at him playfully but Timaeus dodged away with a snicker. He trotted a few steps, turned around with a smirk, and plopped down beside Atem as if the Sky Dragon might protect him.

"Keith's son even addressed him as the God Dragon!"

"Keith's son also called Keith a god," she sneered. Her tail thumped and she turned away with a huff. "Besides, I did not consider that the God Dragon would have a male mate of an entirely separate species. And I came from north of here. I didn't have reason to hear stories about him until you mentioned him. The most I ever heard about was a Sky Dragon that was unusually temperamental and violent. Sometimes they called him the Red Death and others they didn't. So, no, I didn't go around assuming any red male Sky Dragon I met would be a God Dragon. Besides, he's a Slifer. And I've never heard of a Slifer being a God Dragon before."

"He's the first in that regard." Timaeus grinned at Atem for a split second, then turned away. "It doesn't matter, though. Atem is Atem. He's not going to hurt anyone until they give him reason to."

"Then I suppose I'll make sure not to give him a reason."

Timaeus laughed out loud. "That's easy enough. All you have to do is make sure you're nice to Yugi."

Yugi smirked in amusement and tilted his head curiously. Atem looked over at him, then bumped him gently in the shoulder with his beak. When Yugi turned his head, his tongue came over his face and the Gandora melted into the touch.

Chapter Text

Part IV: Understandings

"I have to admit, I'm surprised you've decided to attend, Atem. I had assumed that you would not wish to do so." Timaeus tilted his head, single amber eye glowing for all of a brief moment. Atem ignored him for a minute, watching him from his peripheral but keeping his main focus caught on the sight in front of them.

Yugi was chasing Critias across the grass. The hatchling was clearly delighted to have a partner to do so with. He was faster than his siblings. Atem had seen that several times already. The other hatchlings had turned and raced after and in front of and beside him. But they'd all eventually stopped when Critias either overtook them or he dashed back in the opposite direction in an attempt to make them go faster.

Yugi had taken to chasing him around soon after Hermos had settled for pouting out his frustration. Kris had gone to comfort him and Timaeus had given him some mild encouragement before coming back to Atem. And so Yugi and Critias had been running for little over an hour now, he supposed.

"Yugi convinced me to," he answered in a dry tone, annoyed by the confession. If it were not for the fact that he trusted Timaeus, he would have lied. He would have said that somehow he'd wound up interested in doing so. The problem of it was that he did not want anyone to know that Yugi had such power over him. It was dangerous to admit such a thing… "I could not care less as to what happens to the disgusting beasts spawned before his death. And I care little for the neighboring dragons that might have been involved in the fight. I have done my part. So I hardly need to remain involved with such things."

"Then how is it that he managed to convince you?"

Atem was silent for a long handful of moments. "He was incensed that the other God Dragons have never come to meet me," he muttered quietly.

The Sky Dragon watched as his mate sprinted with Critias hot on his paws. Yugi was only a few feet ahead of him. The hatchling was panting, pushing himself to keep up with the larger male. But he slowed after a few seconds, panting heavily and peering up at him with huge, shaky eyes.

He was barely able to stay standing for more than a few seconds and finally the dragonet gave up. He took a seat and shook, panting and groaning softly.

Yugi stopped a couple of yards away. His eyes grew wide, then softened, as he turned to face him once more. He trotted over and paused in front of him. Atem could not hear what he was saying, but Yugi licked his forehead and lay down after a moment or two.

"He said that I should go, if only to show them that I survived without their interference at any point."

Timaeus tilted his head curiously, watching him for a moment. The Sky Dragon could feel his stare even as he continued watching Yugi groom the hatchling as if he were his own. "Yugi must be extremely protective of you then," he commented. The God Dragon blinked, glancing at Timaeus in surprise. "I mean, first he went after Keith in order to slow him down for when you got there. Then, from what you're telling me, he attacked Jesse simply because of the fact that he called you bitter. And now he's saying that you should show up at this meeting just to make sure the other God Dragons know that you're there. I'd say he's a lot more protective of you than you might have initially assumed."

Atem returned the amused look and turned away again to glance over at his mate. He did quite enjoy the fact that Yugi was so selfless in his desire to help and protect him. But it only made him want to bury his face in some river sand or beneath the pebbles in the den. He'd never lift his head away again.

Because he might have loved the way Yugi reacted to threats to him, but he did not know that he might be able to love the little Gandora himself.

And Atem had to wonder at this. He couldn't stop the cold fear which crashed through him. Was it possible that he'd never learn to love him? Because he could not help but acknowledge that his affection towards Yugi's attention and his wonderful temperament did not spread much further.

"Why do you suddenly look so troubled?"

Atem blinked and glanced sideways at his friend. He could feel the anxiety rising and falling rapidly through his nerves for a moment. His eyes flickered and focused on Yugi again, but his voice was low and almost inaudible as he spoke.

"He cares deeply for me. I know this about him. And he tells me very often that he loves me. And I do not doubt this." He fell silent for another handful of minutes, then bristled and shook himself out. "But I cannot claim the same, Timaeus. It makes me wonder if I am even capable of saying I should love him in turn."

The Wind Dragon blinked once, long and slow, clearly startled but trying not to gape at him. His lips curled and he huffed out a breath as if petulant before tilting his head and staring at him for a minute. "Do you truly believe that you're incapable of loving him?" he asked in growing bewilderment. But Atem thought he sensed an undercurrent of anger there as well. "Are you honestly saying this to me right now?"

Atem flicked his tail, ignoring his eyes on his face. "Clearly I am."

The teal male leaned slightly closer to him, eye narrowed, and shook his head as he bore his teeth viciously. "You are telling me that you fear you cannot grow to love him."

The Sky Dragon growled low in his throat. "Yes."

"I've never heard such a foolish thing from your jaws before," Timaeus sneered, shaking his head roughly and glaring at him. He scowled, peeling his lips back further to show his teeth. "You don't honestly believe that! Just because you're a little wary and more than slightly concerned about it all doesn't mean you are unable to love him. It just means you're going to need more time to get used to having a mate to begin with! It means only that you are still learning to be with another dragon in any sense. You were only with me long enough for your side to heal before you decided to stake out a territory and hide away. That was perhaps a year at the absolute most. You came to trust me enough to feel some kind of affection, did you not?"

Atem was silent for a long time, watching as Yugi chased Critias now. The hatchling had a yard of space between them and Yugi was keeping his pace carefully slow to maintain that distance. Atem felt sick.

He truly had ruined that for Yugi, hadn't he?

"I did," he answered Timaeus, looking away and to the Wind Dragon. "I thought of you much as the brother I never quite got."

"So why would you think that you can't love now?"

The Sky Dragon watched him, then glanced at Yugi and back before bristling faintly. "Because I was a lot younger when that happened, Timaeus. And now I'm grown and I'm different from the hatchling I was before."

Timaeus blinked. "I'd be willing to pledge Critias on the fact that you are not so far removed from who you were then. You're much more tired and far more wary but it is not as if you've turned into some terrible monster looking to kill any and every other dragon that comes across you."

Atem tilted his head, then narrowed his eyes into slits. "That's a bold statement to make," he commented wryly, though he fell silent again moments later. "And I am not sure how I should respond to this…"

The Wind Dragon huffed. "You're always so skeptical. But you should realize that while you do not see a reason for him to adore you as he does, others might. And I do not think for even a moment that you will not learn to love him in turn, Atem. He's just different from what you are used to and I understand that you're scared of that. I know that you don't properly understand why he adores you or why it is that he might be so kind towards you when your other suitors were so terrible. But you're fearful for a reason you needn't be. He'd move Paradise or Purgatory for you. You can see it just as well as I. You need to relax and wait for this to happen. Don't rush it, don't doubt it, and simply wait for it to happen that you fall in love with him."

The Slifer turned away with a snarl on his face, but it melted away immediately as he turned to face Yugi once more. The Gandora and Critias had taken to resting. The black hybrid had his tail curled to the side and his eyes were focused on the other hatchlings. Mahado was chasing the female and Hermos was rolling around with his paws in the air, using his wings to continue spinning himself.

Atem nearly burst out laughing at the sight. The little dragonet looked incredibly happy and proud of himself. Kris was smiling at him indulgently and the others were laughing with delight.

When he did not respond, Timaeus sighed loudly and turned to look at the sky pointedly. "He is not wrong in saying that it would be a great display of strength for you to show up at this meeting." He watched the Sky Dragon as he slowly turned his head towards the male in front of him. "If you should do that, it would be more akin a declaration of your independence regarding whatever choices they might ever have made to begin with."

Atem blinked and nodded slowly, watching Timaeus for a few heartbeats. Then he turned to Yugi again as the Gandora began to chase Critias across the clearing again.

The Gandora was going at a trotting pace, slower than ever. Critias had slowed down drastically as well, but Yugi attempting to keep such a pace with him made him look awkward and clumsy. The Sky Dragon smirked and shook his head slowly, fond as he watched Yugi crouch and pounce at the hatchling.

Critias squeaked when Yugi caught him by the tail. Mahado and Hermos both looked up and Ishizu paused in grooming herself. All three of them considered the picture, then seemed to size Yugi up. Hermos crouched down, wiggling his rump, and sprang at him.

He landed on Yugi's back between his wings and the Gandora immediately sat up. His eyes were huge when he spun around. Hermos rolled down from the sudden action, landing in a heap sprawled on his belly with his paws splayed out. He blinked huge eyes at Yugi who stared at him in shock.

"Besides, their lack of interaction with you will make that even more of a statement than anything else."

"I suppose." Atem tilted his head. Yugi had helped Hermos to his paws. Critias had sprung on him. Mahado and Ishizu were both coming to attack him as well. "I do not know if I quite care to make such a statement, however."

"No, you might not. It's not a big deal to do such a thing, I suppose. But he's not wrong in that it might make them reconsider your importance should they have ever overlooked it before."

Atem tilted his head, curious. Had they ever overlooked him? Was that why none of them had ever come to meet him before?

"I never desired for them to cross paths with me after we met."

The teal dragon remained silent for a handful of minutes. Then he nodded slowly and closed his eye tightly. "You wanted them to come to you before we met because of the rumors that Jaden could heal wounds and emotions, yes?"

The Sky Dragon ignored him for a long moment. "Yes."

"But you still recovered on your own, when you doubted that would be possible, right?"

Atem looked sideways at him for a long moment. "Yes, I suppose so," he said quietly, breathlessly, feeling extremely winded for a split second. He almost thought he could not remember how to breathe for a long moment. Then he blinked and turned to face him entirely, the pain subsiding as he considered his friend. "I recovered without their help but a random Wind Dragon's."

Timaeus smirked, butting him affectionately in the shoulder. The little bit of fear that had encompassed the red dragon was gone in an instant, he noticed with relief. He'd seen it, even if Atem was a master at hiding it from unsuspecting eyes. But he'd known the moment he'd spoken that it would bring back memories that would rattle the Sky Dragon. But watching his words and hiding behind fabrications had never been something Timaeus had been able to do, regardless of who it was involved. "I'd like to say that it happened for a reason. But I do not know any longer. Maybe one of the dragons in Paradise decided it was necessary the two of us should meet."

The God Dragon snorted. "Maybe I decided I was lonely and needed a friend," he scoffed. But he did not sound scornful and rather seemed amused and perhaps even grateful. He was not sure. Atem often shielded his emotional state when he was nervous and Timaeus could tell just by looking at him now that he was in such a state. He was clearly nervous and upset and did not seem happy in the slightest. But he was not snapping at him. He was not snarling or glaring at him in any manner.

He was not turning away from him entirely and attempting to ignore his existence altogether.

Had Timaeus been anyone else, he was sure Atem would have implemented these behaviors. He would have lost his temper by then and snapped at him fiercely. And Timaeus knew this because he'd done such a thing when he was younger. When he'd first come across him, Atem had been too terrified to interact with him for over a moon. He'd panicked and snarled and tried to flee on several occasions. And when Timaeus had offered to let him eat from his kill, he'd been forced to let him try to steal it.

Atem had gotten only a few feet away, his side had ached, and then he'd tripped over his own paws and landed in a pathetic heap on his belly. When he'd gone to help him to his paws and reclaim his meal, Atem had bitten at him in a rage, drawing blood even as he tried to claw him open. But he'd tired out immediately after the first few attacks and lay there exhausted. He'd laid there, prepared for Timaeus to end him then and there, curling up to protect his side but leaving his throat vulnerable in his pathetic position.

He'd sat with him for a few minutes, teasing him gently about his state. He'd said he was the cutest little thief he'd ever met, that Atem had a lot to learn if he wanted to make a living out of scavenging. And then he'd convinced the little Sky Dragon, by some miracle, to join him in eating. Atem had stared at him, refusing to open both eyes and lift his head, as if he was afraid it was a trick of some kind. And then, when Timaeus had dragged the kill over to him and taken a seat on the other side and told him to eat from the one nearest him, Atem had finally gotten up. He'd been incredibly skittish at first.

When Timaeus had so much as lifted his head to glance at him, Atem would flee as fast as he could. He'd crouch behind a bush for a few minutes, then creep out again when Timaeus was only watching him from his peripheral. When he'd eaten his fill, however, the Sky Dragon had been too exhausted to keep running. And so the Wind Dragon had gone about lying next to him and grooming him until he'd relaxed completely. And, from there, Atem had been all but glued to his side. He'd let him clean his wound later that night, allowed him to apply a poultice made from some leaves he'd watched humans use for battle wounds. And he'd let him do it every night that they'd remained together.

And Timaeus had never told him, but he'd loved his antics before he'd even officially made friends with him. Atem had been something of a curiosity to him before they'd even spoken and he'd spotted him trying to hunt before failing twice as many times. He'd mortally wounded some prey and left it for him to finish off, snickering when he'd see how delighted Atem would appear when he'd catch it.

Atem had always been rather childish in that manner, prideful but somehow humble as well, even as a hatchling. He'd been vicious but so terrified he'd quaked when he'd lashed out. And it had only served to make him more adorable than ever to Timaeus. The Wind Dragon had tried more than once to win his favor. And he still thought he was the most adorable little Sky Dragon from then on. He still found some of his antics hilarious and more adorable than any other dragon could ever hope to be.

But, on the opposing side of this, he worried about him. Atem was damaged, regardless of how well he'd healed from much of it. And he knew that Atem utilized that as a weapon as well. He'd fought with him verbally more than once, and the red dragon may have gone quiet during the worst of it. But Timaeus had always felt it. He'd felt that hollow, icy stare, the one of the God Dragon Atem could have become.

He'd seen the glacial expression, the way his eyes had become frigid, his gem abruptly clear and glimmering blue. He'd seen the way his thoughts had seemed to circulate, his jaws clenching fiercely, his head angling towards the ground.

And he'd known those few times that Atem was more dangerous than he'd taken into account. He'd acknowledged then that while Atem was his friend, he was not helpless. And Timaeus' own life could very easily be snuffed in his rage. When he'd taken his eye out, it had been but a reminder how fragile the control was that Atem possessed. And it had hurt him more to see the devastation that Atem had worn that day than it did to physically experience that excruciating pain.

Now he studied him frequently. It was not out of fear, but respect and acknowledgment. He knew Atem had never forgiven himself for his lapse of control. And he knew he was more afraid of that destructive instinct than he was anything else. He knew that, buried in the deepest part of him, there was another God Dragon that put power before everything else. One that desired nothing more than to be left alone by any means possible. And he knew this was what Atem struggled with the most.

Because it was that part of him that convinced him he could not love Yugi.

It was that part of him which convinced him that he was not meant to have a mate, to experience any true happiness. It was that part of him, the one that was still haunted by his brothers and the large shadows they'd cast over him, that had stopped him so long ago.

Atem would never admit it, but Timaeus knew it to be true.

The reason Atem had not found Jaden had not been because of the fact that he'd found Timaeus instead. It'd been because he had given up. It had been because of the pain in his soul, the burden in his heart, the thought that he was as worthless as his brothers had claimed. And that little bit of resentment and hatred of himself had buried its claws in him and grown, becoming something of an instinct he hid behind when he was at his most afraid.

Timaeus sighed softly, wondering for a moment if Atem might react negatively should he try to comfort him now. He wished more than ever to groom him, to help him relax and settle even if it only lasted a minute. But the Sky Dragon would merely distance himself, he knew; he wasn't that small hatchling anymore. He'd grown, even if sometimes Timaeus wondered if he'd done it in the wrong way.

Perhaps he should have stayed with him longer. Maybe he should have tried harder to help him. If he had not been so stubborn in his views, optimistic where Atem's had been cynical, would it have helped? Would it have been beneficial of him to have tried to show him the better side of the various things he'd feared? Allowing him to live on his own, despite it being his wish after so long together, had damaged Atem more than anything, he knew. Because the suitors had come in waves and Atem had adapted as necessary, burying his more innocent side beneath a creature that showed only blood on its claws and bit through scales with teeth too terrible to be described.

If he had remained with him longer, perhaps another year or even maybe two, would Atem be better? Would he not be so closed off? Would he not be so scared all of the time like this? Would he believe then that he was not meant to be all-powerful and dangerous like he'd forced himself to be?

He looked away from the Sky Dragon, attention wandering to his hatchlings. Critias was lying on his stomach, biting at the air in front of him. Hermos was pawing at his beak eagerly, wiggling his rump and growling playfully. He would tap his brother and the other would crawl a step, bite at the air, and the two of them would laugh and start again. Ishizu and Mahado were curled up together, fast asleep a few feet away.

Yugi was running over to them, panting. His wings were tucked into his sides and his eyes were brilliant, shining with laughter. "I love your son," he declared. He plopped down into a seated position in front of them. And then he looked at Atem, came closer, and ran his tongue from his beak to his forehead. "He's so full of energy!"

"Most hatchlings are," Timaeus snorted affectionately, watching them in amusement. Yugi had licked Atem again and the God Dragon seemed incredibly confused by his show of affection. He looked as if he could not understand in the slightest why Yugi was licking him like this. "Although Critias does seem to have a lot more than most. His siblings can barely keep up with him as it is."

Yugi smiled, looking away from Atem for the first time since he'd gotten to their side. He sat up straighter, eyes bright. "I could hardly keep up with him either. One second we'd be running around playing tag and the next he'd be chewing on my tail when we were supposed to be resting!"

Atem snickered, smiling and tilting his head. "He sounds like me when I was teething."

The Wind Dragon snorted. "He likes to chew on things. Not so much just someone's tail. He'll bite you on the beak if it seems satisfying to him."

Yugi glanced at Atem warmly, searching his face with affection. "You chewed on your parents' tails when you were teething?"

The Sky Dragon smirked. "It was twice as bad with two mouths," he murmured, eyes half-closed as Yugi licked him once more. Timaeus nearly snickered at the contentment in the God Dragon's stance at the moment. And he thought he couldn't come to love him? Atem looked as if he were melting beneath his very touch now that the surprise had faded. "I think they probably wanted to box me upside the head a few times. I was chewing on them constantly."

The Gandora smiled a little wider. "I can't imagine you toothless."

"No, I had a more traumatizing experience than being toothless. My teeth fell out two at a time at the most. My jaws were incredibly lopsided for a long time with such a slow rate. My secondary teeth came in on one side and my hatchling teeth remained on the other. It was horrifying." He huffed when Timaeus snorted and then cast him a glare. But Yugi simply smiled at him and he felt weak for a moment, somewhere between pleased and flustered with his attention. He wanted for a moment to duck his head and bury his muzzle beneath his paws, shame flaring through him for a split second at the thought of sharing such vulnerability. "And my secondary teeth were twice as large as any primary. So I couldn't even shut my mouths properly. My parents were having so much fun with my teething process. It was terrible."

Yugi laughed in delight. He had only ever seen Atem's teeth when they had already fallen and replaced themselves. But imagining the beautiful little Slifer from his memories at six moons old, with a lean body so incredibly small and snake-like in his Origin Form and immense teeth too large for his face, was more adorable than Yugi could ever put into words. He almost trembled, laughter and happiness sweeping through him. But he could imagine even more a small red dragon with a head and paws and wings too immense for his serpentine frame.

His eyes were huge, beautiful glittering golden gems. The sapphire-blue gem on his forehead was gleaming and clear. His teeth were larger on one side and on the other they were like needles and thorns, thin and small but tall and sharp. The effect of it was an awkward gaping smile that made him all the more gorgeous to the Gandora.

"But then the tusks came in," the Sky Dragon continued. He groaned and reached up to cover his face with his paws, making a noise that sounded almost strangled with remorse. "And, by the gods, it was the most excruciating pain I have ever suffered through. My gods, they just… Ooh, I shudder to remember it."

Yugi laughed softly and tilted his head, eyes soft and warm and full of such extreme adoration it nearly threatened to knock the air from his lungs. "That bad?" he teased, searching his face and smiling when Atem looked up again. And Atem could almost see the question behind his eyes, guess as to what he was wondering.

He wanted to know if it was still the most terrible pain he'd ever known. He was wondering if he'd weighed it against the ache of their mating as well.

"I didn't even know they were going to grow in!" he huffed indignantly. But he doubted even then the experience would have been any less painful. He hadn't had a spot for them to grow in and they'd dug through flesh and bone. They'd tunneled through his skin and scales and it'd been so painful he almost sobbed simply thinking about it. "And they came in about a moon after the rest of my teeth! One day I woke up to this terrible burning pain on either side of my jaw and I spent another moon and a half just rubbing my face against anything I possibly could. I brought branches home and into the den so that I could rub against them all night because I couldn't sleep with them growing in like that."

Timaeus snorted. "How happy I am that I was not related to you. You could have whipped me in the face with a branch while I was sleeping."

Atem glared at him, bristling slightly and growling as he flexed his claws in feigned threat. "I can whip you with my tail now if you would like. I promise it will only knock you unconscious."

Yugi burst out laughing. The sound startled Atem so violently that he jumped, spinning on him in surprise. Timaeus blinked his widened eye, peering at Yugi in surprise. His head tilted and Atem found himself mimicking him in bewilderment. But the youngest of their little trio shook his head and looked down, laughing harder than ever. "'I promise it'll only knock you unconscious'," he muttered, shaking his head again. "That's the best thing I've ever heard."

Timaeus snorted, turning to Atem and butting him in the shoulder. The red dragon turned to him with a tilted head, confused. "He told me one time he was going to poop on my head when I tried to make him lay down and go to sleep."

Atem snickered, delighted. Oh yes, he remembered that. "In my defense, you deserved it."

The Gandora gaped for a moment, then laughed harder. "You monster!" he teased. He looked up with sparkling eyes, mischievous with his delight. He leaned forward, licking his forehead, and snickered happily. "You're terrible!"

"He was trying to act like my dad. So I reminded him he wasn't my father and told him I would poop on his head if he kept telling me what to do." The Sky Dragon smirked wider than ever. "It's not my fault he was trying to parent me like that."

"What did you do when he said that?"

"Oh, I sat on him until he tired himself out from struggling and finally settled down for the night." Timaeus looked smug and Atem shot him a dirty, flustered glance. He shouldn't have been so happy about that. "I wasn't having a tiny red Sky Dragon run away in the middle of the night and possibly get himself killed because he was so happy about his wound healing."

Yugi lost his affectionate look. His scales rose and fell in a shuddering bristle, clearly startled and unhappy with the very thought. He shifted his weight, stiff in his position, and narrowed his eyes. "Well, thank you for that," the Gandora muttered finally, for a moment seeming flustered before he turned back to Atem. "You're still mean for threatening to poop on him though."

Atem tilted his head towards him, nearly laughing, and snorted loudly. "Well, I'll have you know, Yugi, if I hadn't done so, he most likely wouldn't have sat on me. And then where would we be?" But now Yugi noticed that the Sky Dragon looked somewhat unsure of himself, almost as if he didn't quite know if he truly believed he'd have been okay without Timaeus there. "I wouldn't have given him a reason to if I had not said that."

"No, I think I would have sat on you regardless," Timaeus said with a brilliant smirk. He shook his head, butting him in the shoulder again. And Yugi realized with surprise that the Wind Dragon meant to cover for the uncertainty Atem had displayed seconds before. "You were just too cute when you were trying to dig your way out from under me."

The Sky Dragon bristled and snorted, glaring at his friend in frustration. But Yugi wondered if he seemed mildly upset now, if his words had reminded him somewhat of his suitors. "You would not!" he protested, scowling at the Wind Dragon.

"No, I most likely would have just knocked you away from the den entrance if you'd have tried to escape. You tired out far more easily those days." The teal male flicked his wings, beaming at Atem. "Although now I'm sure you could take me on and an army afterwards."

Atem huffed. "You're not aggressive enough for me to fight. You suck at combat."

Timaeus stared at him for a long moment or so. Then he huffed, turning immediately to Yugi now. "You should beat him up for me," he announced as the Gandora sat up with wide eyes. Yugi tilted his head curiously and considered him for a long moment. "He has the idea that you're super aggressive. He even called you Yogi. Bite his wing. Cripple him."

Yugi burst out laughing, delighted by the idea. He turned his head, unable to stop himself from guffawing harder. Atem was so shocked both mouths had fallen open, eyes wide with shock at the suggestion. "He's way too cute and sweet for that. I'm not laying a claw on him," the Gandora protested, snickering.

"Whipped him with your tail, huh?" Timaeus snorted to Atem.

The Sky Dragon abruptly shook off his surprise and narrowed his eyes into a furious but playful glare. He shook his head, growling and bristling faintly. "You need to be boxed in the ear," he grunted, flustered and annoyed as he flexed his paws. "Trying to make my mate turn traitor!"

"Oh, please. He didn't even think before he answered, Atem. He didn't even let me try to tell him what I would give him in return."

"There's a reward for beating him up?" Yugi asked, tilting his head with feigned interest.

"Don't look at me like that," Timaeus snapped, voice full of laughter as he glared at him. "You're just pretending now!"

Atem was snickering as he moved to lick Yugi on the forehead, butting him in the shoulder seconds later with his beak. "You should beat him up for suggesting you beat me up. How about that? Knock him around a few times for me?"

The Gandora looked at him and then slowly to Timaeus. He made a point of studying him for a moment, clearly sizing him up. Atem burst out laughing, delighted by his mate's eagerness. The Wind Dragon stiffened slightly, then growled playfully and clawed at the air lazily.

Yugi eyed him a moment longer, growled in a manner that could have been perceived as aggressive from an onlooker, and sprang at him. Yugi knocked him in the side. Timaeus tottered, startled. Then he growled in turn. Yugi wiggled his rump. He lifted his paw, hit him in the shoulder, and sprang away.

Atem snorted. "What is this play fight? I want blood!" he snickered. But he sprang at Yugi in turn. Timaeus laughed, pawing at him. He hit the Sky Dragon's wing lightly. The Gandora was laughing in delight. Then he swatted at Atem's shoulder.

The three of them rolled about in a mass of colorful scales. Timaeus had tangled with Yugi. And Atem leaped away. He was winded. His hindquarters stung and burned. His legs felt weak for a split second.

He knew it was only from their earlier mating, however. But it was uncomfortable enough that it hindered him. And he did not want to move any further. He took a seat. And, had he been home, he probably would have groomed himself. He would have tried to dull the ache at least slightly.

He looked over his shoulder now. The Gandora and Timaeus continued rolling about. The Wind Dragon had managed to knock him away. He was breathing harder than Yugi. And he crouched with a growl. Yugi flexed his claws, low to the ground as well.

Atem watched them when they rolled about again. Timaeus had managed to land atop him. And Yugi was growling and writhing. Atem turned away when Yugi used his wings to flip them. He heard Timaeus grunt. But it was not enough to make him turn back.

His embarrassment made his belly ache. And so he raised his wing and folded it in front of his face. His tongue ran over it, grooming it. It was not as if the appendage hurt in any manner, but it did well for his embarrassment. He did not like having such obvious weakness. And he almost wished he had not pulled away.

It took Timaeus and Yugi a few more minutes to settle down. Atem had long since stopped grooming himself. He was instead sitting with his tail curled around his paws. He was watching Hermos and Critias wrestle instead. They were trying to duplicate the play fight Timaeus and Yugi were in the midst of.

Critias was even barking at his brother that he was Yugi. And Hermos was barking that he wanted to be Yugi instead.

"I got him, Atem!" Yugi crowed. He came bounding over to him immediately. There was only the smallest, slightest hint of concern in his eyes. But the rest was all laughter. He got to his side, pouncing forward to tap his shoulder gently with his beak.

"Oh?"

Timaeus huffed as he wandered over as well. He shook himself out and took a seat. "He boxed me right upside the head. No warning, no notice," he grumbled, shaking his head in annoyance. "No anything. I was about to pounce and then ow."

Atem burst out laughing, butting Yugi in the shoulder. "That's my brilliant little gem," he purred, laughing harder. The Gandora seemed to melt upon hearing his nickname, cuddling into his side and shuddering with happiness.

"I'm insulted. Not only did a bastard dragon beat me only two moons ago, now my best friend's mate has gone and done it as well."

Yugi used Atem's shoulder as a way of peaking over the God Dragon's wings to look at him. "Well, Atem did say that you're a terrible fighter," he muttered softly. The Sky Dragon burst out laughing once more, moving to thump him gently with his tail. Yugi grinned at Atem and turned back to Timaeus. "Sorry, but you were asking for it when you tried to talk me into fighting Atem. All threats must be eliminated."

"See? I told you he could be violent."

Timaeus smirked and stared at Yugi pointedly now. The Gandora tilted his head in bemused curiosity after a moment. "Violent?" the Wind Dragon scoffed loudly, peering at Yugi with his amber eye.

Yugi could see clear fondness and laughter there. And it was enough to absolutely wind the Gandora. His hearts raced in his chest and his claws flexed as they dug into the grass and loose dirt beneath his paws. Did he like him so much because of what he meant to Atem? Or did he truly like him so much because of him himself?

"He's about as violent as a leaf! Even when he was fighting at the cliffs, he wasn't too terribly aggressive until he ran into Keith, I'll bet."

Yugi bristled faintly at the mention of the bastard's name. He shivered and Atem turned his head to look at him in concern but the Gandora ignored him. He forced himself to feign stretching his neck, laying his chin on the Sky Dragon's crown comfortably.

"That's not entirely true. It's not entirely wrong either though," Yugi admitted after a long moment. He flicked his tongue and Atem remained relatively still beneath him to let him remain in this position. "I mean, Atem went to help you and I went to help his brothers. And when I got there I had to fight Jonouchi and I knocked him aside instead of killing him when I recognized him. If I'd been so angry then as I was when Atem's brothers were around him, I don't think I ever would have realized it was him and would have killed him."

Timaeus looked at Atem with something knowing glinting in his bright eye. Yugi puzzled over this for a long moment. He risked a glance at his mate. Atem looked mildly troubled for a split second before blinking it away. The Gandora wasn't sure he liked the way Atem seemed to be closing himself off…

"Well, I will say once more that I was surprised to see you taking on Keith by yourself," Timaeus said abruptly, turning to him with a small smile. He watched him and tilted his head, searching his face. "I was pretty amazed. And I'm sure all of the others that were at the cliffs were too. I don't think half of them even knew what kind of dragon you were."

Yugi frowned, mildly puzzled by the statement. He knew that Timaeus had not meant it in any way beyond friendliness. But he still felt mildly dizzy for a moment.

And a new thought occurred to him as he looked at Timaeus.

Because the Wind Dragon was not wrong.

Most of those dragons at the cliffs had not known him in the slightest, from his species to his name.

"Keith knew exactly what I was."

Atem bristled beneath him. The scales along his back rose into an elongated state, much like those of a porcupine. Yugi pulled away immediately, startled but frantic as well. He did not wish to risk an accidental spearing. He had no doubt that Atem could shear through his scales and flesh and bones with little difficulty if he were to only try.

He had seen how easily some Sky Dragons could dislodge the scales along their back and tail in combat. The barbs would sink through armor and flesh and the impact alone was often enough to break bone. And then, when they made contact with blood, from what Yugi understood, they seemed to expand. They would swell slightly and hook into the muscle violently, tearing and ripping through flesh when one tried to remove them.

Timaeus seemed to notice Atem's response but made no remark about it. Instead he turned to Yugi again, watching the Gandora as he took a seat a couple of inches from the Sky Dragon. He was studying Yugi now, amber eye caught on his face for a long moment. "Yes, well, Keith was a special case," the teal male murmured dismissively. But, as he began to turn away, Atem's tail lashed and the Sky Dragon moved to sit up. Timaeus turned his head to face him curiously.

"Atem?" the Gandora mumbled in a confused tone, shifting his weight uncomfortably. But the Slifer turned to him, staring as Yugi stiffened and blinked wide eyes. His golden eyes flashed as if with fire and the gem on his forehead was cloudy and dark with something akin hatred. He looked furious, far beyond anything Yugi had ever seen before. And the realization horrified him. "What? What's wrong?"

Had he done something?

Yugi bristled faintly.

Had he hurt him more than he'd thought with the mating? Was that a possibility? He felt sick as he considered. Had Yugi harmed him more than he'd thought initially? He trembled.

Atem was silent for so long that Yugi almost thought he would fail to answer. But the Sky Dragon got to his paws, stretching himself out fully. He flexed his claws and dug a little into the dirt by his toes, more or less annoyed. And then he turned his head again.

Critias and Hermos had given up their reenactment of the fight between Timaeus and Yugi from moments before. Mahado and Ishizu were playing and grooming each other around swatting one another. Kris was lying nearby still, studying them with lazy brown eyes. No doubt if Atem made a move towards them she'd have leaped to her paws and watched. He knew she was still on the edge about him. He knew she was still considering the rumors surrounding him.

"I guess it might do me well to tell you now," the God Dragon mumbled softly, "so that you are not surprised should it be mentioned at the meeting."

Yugi stiffened in confusion, glancing to Timaeus in bewilderment. But the Wind Dragon was steadily ignoring him and had instead stared at the ground as if the grass were his salvation. Instantly Yugi turned back to Atem, watching him with darkened blue-violet eyes. "Atem…"

"The way a dragon gains another breath is a rather…disgusting ordeal." Atem remained silent for a long moment. Then he too turned to look at Timaeus as if for help. But the teal dragon was staring at the grass more pointedly than ever. He refused to so much as look over at him. The red male huffed and turned back with a slightly flustered gleam to his eyes, the gem on his forehead cloudy. He looked distressed now, Yugi realized. "Keith was one of the only dragons truly…delusional enough to do it. But… Hmm…"

Yugi tilted his head, studying him more pointedly. "I'm kind of lost," he admitted in a soft and uncertain voice. "You're not quite making sense, Atem."

Timaeus snickered softly, shaking his head and studying Atem with a small smile of amusement. "Atem is having trouble saying it," he laughed in a singing tone.

"Clearly," Yugi quipped viciously. He did not know how to mind his tone any further. And he nearly snarled at the thought that someone else might witness Atem struggling to find words. He hated the idea of someone else seeing it, if only because he knew many would take advantage of this perceived weakness. And he grew furious at that thought alone.

But then he remembered that Timaeus was also his very best friend. He had to know that sometimes Atem struggled for words. No doubt he'd watched him do such often when he was younger. But he'd also had to have seen that sometimes Atem was awkward and unsure and mildly immature as a dragon.

And Timaeus had to have known this far longer than Yugi himself had come to…

"Sharing hearts to revive another dragon gives them the ability to mend whatever wounds formerly killed them, yes?" Atem continued abruptly.

The words startled Yugi out of his thoughts, eyes growing wide as his head snapped back towards him. The God Dragon had wrapped his tail around his paws again. And he was staring at the hatchlings once more. The Gandora was more confused than ever now.

What did this have to do with anything?

"And sometimes they are said to share every ache and pain from sickness to mortal wounds, yes? And should the dragon to offer their heart die it would bring on the death of the other, yes?"

"Yes," Yugi said uncertainly, nodding slowly and tilting his head in confusion. It was legend to most, but a truth for the ones who had done it. Sharing one's heart was a messy ordeal. It tended to bring out the truest nature of a dragon, depending on what purpose the heart was given.

He'd heard of it going terribly wrong before, of a dragon being forced to ask a human to kill him in order to stop their friend's rampage. It could be violent, or it could be wonderful from what he understood. When mates shared their hearts, it was usually in order to save the other from a mortal wound and from what he understood of it, it usually only brought them joy later.

And, as he considered it, he wondered what would have happened had Keith managed to kill Atem and bring him back. Would Atem have truly become the dragon that was spoken about in rumors? The "Red Death" as Kris had referred to him earlier? Keith's desire had been to overpower and conquer; if he had used Atem as his vehicle in order to do so…

Yugi fought away a tremor.

It hadn't happened.

Keith was dead.

Atem was alive and well beside him, anxious but not vicious beyond reason or some kind of great and terrible monster.

He was Yugi's mate. He was…hopefully happy.

"That's what I know of it…"

"And, sometimes, when the dragon is strong enough, it allows the one they share their heart with to possess a portion of their strength, right?"

"Yeah, but…"

And then Yugi blinked. His head snapped towards Timaeus. The Wind Dragon refused to look at him. Slowly he turned back to Atem. The Sky Dragon was staring at him now. He felt winded as he locked eyes with him. The grim truth of it shone back to him and Yugi nearly stumbled. He struggled to remember how to sit down before his legs collapsed beneath his weight. His tongue was numb for a moment. His saliva glued his jaw shut. His eyes stretched wide, burning with horror. And then he quivered violently.

Yugi locked eyes with him again. He felt dizzy and sick. His hearts ached within his chest. Atem peered back at the Gandora with blank eyes. It was a horrifying sensation to be beneath such a simple and cold gaze as what the God Dragon projected to him.

He couldn't truly be telling him what he thought he was, right? Surely there was no way that he could possibly insinuate…

"He… He…ate…them…?"

Atem was silent for a long moment. Then he looked to Timaeus and back, bristling faintly. "It is the only way I know of that one is able to acquire a series of breaths and abilities outside of their original species. And Keith was a Fire Dragon. The Barrel Dragon might appear to be more akin a Lightning Dragon but they are solely Fire Dragons. He shouldn't have been able to mate outside of that species either. And yet he somehow managed it. The only thing that I can think of is he ate multiple hearts and it mutated him to the point of giving him mastery of those breaths and the ability to mate with those outside of his species."

Timaeus had turned his attention to Yugi now as well. And Atem swore he saw the faintest gleam of pity in his single glittering amber eye. "And, in order to mutate as far as he did, with so many evolutionary gaps filled as they were…"

"He would have had to kill and eat the hearts from other hybrid dragons." Yugi was staring at the ground now. Atem wished he could reach out and draw him to his side. But another part of him was too unsure.

He didn't know how Yugi might react. After hearing such news, in his place he would hardly wish for comfort. He'd likely lash out, clawing and biting in his rage. And he did not know how much comfort he might be able to offer him as it was.

So he stayed as he was, watching his mate. He could not stop the relief which surged through him, as spiteful and selfish as it was. Yugi had not been found by Keith as the others had. He was still alive only because of his own cunning and ability to hide in plain sight.

But with this relief came disappointment as well.

If he could not even stand to comfort Yugi, then what kind of mate was he truly?

"Including Gandora…"

Timaeus nodded beside him. Atem ignored the glance he cast in his direction and instead moved to wrap his tail around his paws loosely. He didn't want to tell him that Keith had most likely planned to do the same to him when he'd cornered him on the battlefield as he had. From what Yugi had told him of his fight with the Barrel Dragon, Keith had even hinted at it. He'd asked Yugi if he knew what he had done to his species, if he'd like to experience it himself…

Atem blinked, forcing himself not to snarl. The hatchlings were so close nearby and Kris was still watching them. He wouldn't have lashed out, but why cause unnecessary fear for any of them? He flexed his claws repeatedly, then forced himself to calm some. But the thoughts kept coming and he couldn't help it when he bristled…

Keith would have harvested Yugi's teeth and claws immediately after. But he would have eaten his heart for sure, Atem felt. And that was especially so if he had realized Yugi was his mate. Atem knew the pride Keith so clearly harbored would have been enough to make him furious. He would have forgotten the rest of the fight if only to attempt to destroy Atem in every way he possibly could. It didn't matter if Yugi was truly an innocent in this mess; it was only of significance that he'd somehow managed to take what Keith had felt belonged to him.

But killing and cannibalizing other dragons had led to various issues as well. While Keith might have grown stronger and been able to breed with more females, it had also caused more problems.

His hearts had all morphed together, becoming a singular unit within his chest. He had not been able to move as quickly. His armor had become uneven, with softer flesh in some areas and harder and plates in others. He had no longer possessed true wings. Only the upper bones had formed the length of them and the Lightning magic had expanded from them in order to form their replacements enough to fly.

He had lost much of what had made him a Barrel Dragon. He had taken on much of the characteristics of the dragons he'd eaten. That was why he had become primarily Lightning by the time he'd been killed. He'd become more akin the breed the Barrel Dragons were often mistaken for…

Atem shook the thought off, breathing heavily for a split second. Timaeus cast him a worried glance from the corner of his eye, but he ignored it. "From what I remember of the situation, there was talk of another dragon killing Gandora dragons for a while," he finally admitted quietly. He flicked his tail, thumping it against the ground.

Yugi looked up at the sound, locking eyes with him once more. He was mournful, Atem noticed, but he seemed relieved as well. No doubt the Gandora had come upon the same line of thought as Atem.

"I assumed someone had waged a personal war of some kind. It is not too terribly uncommon. After all, there was that Ice Dragon that turned on Fire Dragons for a little while. They'd tried to kill some Red-Eyes for whatever reason and gotten knocked around for their troubles so it is not entirely unheard of. And I doubted that they were going to come after a God Dragon that's been killing suitors so it was something I dismissed."

Had he come to know of Yugi sooner, he was not entirely sure how much the situation might have mattered to him regardless. When it came down to it, the only reason Atem had ever come to allow Yugi to get close to him in any manner was because he had challenged him and won. Had it not been for that, he would never have cared to do such a thing.

And he did not think Yugi had been wounded for any long while as he had formerly, so he doubted he would have felt a desire for mercy should he have entered the territory as the others had. The fear alone would have driven him to chase Yugi out if nothing else. He was so young. For that alone Atem could not picture himself killing him. But he could definitely see himself chasing him angrily and trying to make him leave the territory in a fit of rage.

It might have worked, it might not have. Yugi might have been brave enough to simply live on the outskirts. Or he might have pleaded with him until Atem felt he was too exhausted to fight him any longer. He didn't know that he would have raised a claw against him, if only because he did not like to lash out without being provoked. And he may have been territorial at times, but it was over food and not truly land as so many other dragons acted.

He was extremely thankful now that Yugi had been as tactful as he had. The Gandora had hidden with humans, covering his juvenile scent with a berry and mud paste, and shadowed them until he'd been able to use a net. That alone had to be the only thing that had saved Yugi from his wrath altogether. Otherwise Atem was sure he would have simply killed him then and there if he was older. But then, as he had told Yugi formerly, he could not be sure what he might have done.

True first generation Gandora dragons were extremely rare. He could not imagine killing Yugi when he was so young and his species so incredibly unique. Not that he was sure he could have killed him in the first place had Yugi turned that destructive fire attack on him as he had Keith.

That alone might have been enough to save him.

Atem had trained himself to be resistant to all of the magic and physical blows that other dragons could throw at him. But it had not helped him as fully as he'd been hoping. It had done nothing to prepare for something that a Gandora possessed. They were called the Dragons of Destruction for the sole purpose that their fire and wind attacks were almost always three times as strong as natural. And when they set themselves on fire, it was one of the most violent and powerful and dangerous attacks they had, which made it all the more deadly.

How Keith had survived it with such minimal damage was only more an indication that Keith had done these things, killing and eating them and enjoying every moment that it happened. But it also only reinforced the fact that Yugi was so incredibly young. It was something equally weighted between a burden and simply a lack of experience. And Atem could not be sure he knew which one to better consider it when it came to the fight he'd narrowly interrupted that day.

Keith could have killed him.

Atem hadn't let himself think about it for longer than a few minutes before now, but he couldn't stop it now.

Yugi could have been killed.

And for what?

Atem would have gladly thrown his brothers to deal with Keith and get eaten alive if it would have saved him. That fight was not even one he had cared for. It may have been his fault that he had not killed Keith before he'd found such strength but it was never something that he'd wanted to risk Yugi's life over.

And, to think, Yugi had never known of Keith going about and killing Gandora dragons. If that was the case, then he would never have known to hide himself had it not been for the fact that he had been evading Atem…

"Do you know anymore about the meeting than I?" the Sky Dragon asked abruptly, turning to Timaeus pointedly. The Wind Dragon blinked, startled, and then glanced between Yugi and Atem for a brief moment.

"The Ice Dragon mentioned that it has to do with every dragon involved in that fight as well as Clan leaders nearby. I assume that means that they'll have foregone bringing the clutches he fathered and they will simply discuss them instead. I should hope that is what happens. I do not know how it is they might deal with this in any other way."

Yugi was staring at him now, blue-violet eyes wide. "Do you think they'll end up killing them immediately if that's what we all vote on? Or do you think it'll be more drawn out than that?"

"I think it would take longer than that, Yugi." Atem shook himself out beside Timaeus and the Wind Dragon was amazed by how easily the God Dragon got up to move closer to the Gandora. Yugi was watching him when he brushed flanks with him before plopping down at his side. Timaeus smiled faintly. "We'd still have to locate them, after all. And I'm not sure any of them are quite brave enough to show their faces or announce their heritage."

Timaeus tilted his head, curious as he considered the two of them. "What will you do when you cross paths with your brothers?"

Atem scoffed and lowered his head to his paws as his eyes closed. "Pretend there is no family relation to them."

Yugi laughed softly. "Good choice." He paused. "I don't promise not to knock them around if they get too close though."

Timaeus snickered. "You're an aggressive little thing."

"I don't care for them," the Gandora growled. "They can rot for all I care."

Atem snorted and sighed softly and Timaeus wondered at the relaxed yet frustrated expression marring his face. It was possible mentioning his brothers had done this, but something about his sigh seemed to dispute this. The Wind Dragon considered him for a long handful of seconds.

Then he shifted his weight and shook his head slightly. If Atem wanted to speak to him about whatever was going on with him, then they would do so later. For now, they'd discuss what the God Dragon had asked about. "The meeting is west of here, in the Badlands." He shrugged when Atem's eyes snapped open to regard him in bewilderment. The Sky Dragon blinked at him, clearly startled, and tilted his head the smallest degree. "I guess it's the focal point between territories?"

Atem scoffed loudly. "It's amazing how that works. They chose somewhere no better than the cliffs themselves."

Yugi was bristling, but Timaeus could tell it was not with unease. His eyes were too bright for that. "That's where I grew up the second time my parents moved the nest!" he exclaimed, excitement making him tremble. Atem turned his head to look at him, his eyes blank and unreadable. Timaeus shivered; he hated when his friend wore that expression. There was also something cold and untouchable whenever he looked at someone with it. "Oh! That means Jonouchi will be there too!"

Timaeus looked away when he saw the way Atem blinked twice and his expression became clearly lost as he lowered his chin to his paws again and refused to face his mate.

Chapter Text

Part V: Family

Atem startled at the touch to his hip. At first he thought perhaps Yugi was trying to move him in his sleep. He could have gotten too close to him, pressed too far into his scales. The Gandora could have felt crowded and so was attempting to move away from him. It wouldn't surprise him if that were what had happened. Yugi might have needed him to move simply because he was not comfortable. And he wouldn't have been surprised to find the Gandora attempting to do so without waking him. Yugi was nothing if not considerate and he knew he would try to let him rest before he'd wake him for something so small.

But another thought came after that, on the very heels of it, and this was one he refused to give life to. Still, alarm made him he sit up immediately, stiff-limbed as his head snapped around. He felt dizzy but he was not unable to lunge should he need to. And for a moment he truly feared more than ever that such a thing might be necessary.

He blinked, disoriented, and stared in growing bewilderment at the bright teal face which peered back at him so lazily. Some part of him was incredibly stunned. He was visibly shaken, tired, and his mind spun for a moment.

Timaeus had done this often when he was younger. Whenever he'd had a night terror the Wind Dragon would nudge him awake. He'd groom him until he was calm again and lay his chin on his head when Atem tried to go back to sleep. He'd helped him fight off a lot of terrors that way. And now, to see him in such a similar way, was startling and nearly numbing. He thought briefly of his side, a phantom pain arising as if beckoned, and he wanted almost to tremble.

"Come on, Atem, it's time for us to start moving," the Wind Dragon murmured. His voice was kind and soft, soothing. He must have realized he'd startled him so badly. But Atem couldn't process the words, staring at him blankly as confusion tore through him.

What was he talking about?

What meeting?

Atem blinked, then struggled to calm his racing thoughts. It took a long handful of minutes. And then he recognized what it was that had happened. He got up, stretching himself out, flexed his claws, and craned his neck back. The clouds overhead were heavy, as if a storm were coming, but he could see no gray to them. It was merely a dense covering of bright white, like a field of dandelions in summer. He blinked and turned his head, considering Timaeus for a moment as he realized the sun would be setting soon enough.

"The Badlands, huh?"

"I don't know why they're called that," another voice commented, startling him further. The Sky Dragon stiffened, somewhere between alarm and bewilderment, and turned to his mate with wide eyes. The Gandora sat a few feet away from him. He was scratching at his jaw lightly with his back paw, head tipped to the side and wings arched faintly with pleasure. He got up after a moment, shaking himself out, and bounced forward a step. "It's not a terrible place. It makes it sound terrible."

"The immense heat is enough to cripple a dragon," Timaeus quipped.

"There's barely any plant life," Atem added.

"There isn't any cover to hide in."

"Fire Dragons are cranky."

"Fire Dragons are vicious."

"There's little water."

"The prey is half dead."

"Everything is forced to be nocturnal."

"It's not even cool enough at night."

"Noises echo."

"It's too hot to fly so you have to run everywhere."

Now the Sky Dragon stopped his own list to look over with a skeptical and amused expression. "Timaeus, you're complaining about flying. You don't even actually like flying!"

Yugi was laughing now. "He just turned on you, Timaeus."

"Traitor." The Wind Dragon growled playfully, pretending to claw at the air between them. He butted Atem in the shoulder again, laughing at his skeptical snort. "Anyways, I think we've made our point, right, Atem?"

"Okay, fine. But what about how the moon makes the dirt silver and blue? Or how the lack of clouds shows millions of stars and the moon in all its glory? What about how the stray water is always glowing at night? Or how the rains are long and heavy when they come?" Yugi demanded, sitting up straighter. He was watching Atem more than Timaeus, however. "What about all of those things? They're gorgeous! And you guys have never seen it!"

Atem tilted his head, eyeing him for a single long second as a new thought occurred to him. His eyes flickered across Yugi's, searching briefly. "Yusei is a Stardust Dragon. That probably means he'll be at his most powerful like this. His species is rumored to be able to absorb strength from direct star and moonlight." He turned to Timaeus now, curling his lip lightly. "Maybe they really do think I exist. It makes no sense otherwise for them to do this. They're lessening my strength alongside the Leviathan's. They're making Jaden and Yusei the strongest of them."

They were making the two most level-headed the strongest of the four of them. The Leviathan was prone to picking fights for the fun of it. He was the strongest and his species made him highly territorial. Yusei was an Ice Dragon and he was incredibly calm, though Aten had heard rumors that he was a fast attacker and extremely vicious in a fight. Jaden was a Fire Dragon, powerful and able to manipulate the dragons he fought with. He would likely rip someone else to pieces if they were deemed violent enough.

"I had not considered it," Timaeus murmured, blinking in surprise.

"They're using the heat to keep me in check. I'm a Sky Dragon. Two of the species I'm created from need damper environments to move as fast or as easily. And the third tends to live in drier but windier places…"

Yugi stiffened, staring at him with wide and alarmed eyes as he snarled, "I'll kill them if they so much as think about hurting you." Atem startled violently, head snapping around. The Gandora was watching him with dark, stubborn eyes. They glinted with pure determination and his jaw was set in a fierce expression. "I don't care if they're God Dragons. I'll kill them."

Timaeus made an uncomfortable noise, though Atem thought he was trying to smother laughter and had choked on his breath. He shifted his weight, the edges of his mouth curled into something of a small smile. No doubt he was enjoying seeing how fierce the little Gandora had turned at the thought of Atem being harmed. "Yugi, I don't think they want to fight him—"

"They never bothered to meet him!" the black dragon spat, turning on him furiously. He was bristling, quivering faintly, and his eyes were narrowed in his mounting anger. "They have no idea what he's like! They're going by rumors about him being too vicious to see reason. And Jaden and Yusei are just judgmental bastards!"

Atem snorted so hard that he ended up coughing out his second laugh. Yugi turned to him with huge eyes and a concerned expression when he cleared his throat to get rid of the tickle. "Little gem, it's okay. I'm not worried about it. You forget, Yugi"—the Gandora blinked and looked at him more curiously now—"that I can control the weather, the air pressure and anything else. I can make it colder or moist enough to enable myself."

The black dragon blinked, tilting his head. "Okay, but would you?" he asked stiffly. "Because the last time something got uncomfortable you didn't exactly help yourself by making it easier."

Atem scowled at him. Timaeus snickered. The Sky Dragon shot him a furious look. Then he turned back to Yugi with a growl. "It was not important that I attempt to do such things for the sake of winning when I am capable of doing so without outside influence."

"All right, well, they don't play fair like that. Clearly they are not even slightly considerate towards what's fair. They're trying to weaken you. If a fight breaks out—"

"I highly doubt a fight will break out, Yugi," Timaeus said, attempting to soothe the quaking younger male. Atem watched him turn to the Wind Dragon with a furious expression, peeling his lips back further to show off the ridges of his large teeth. The red dragon flicked his tail, considering them curiously for a long moment. Timaeus looked slightly surprised. Yugi was still rigid and angry. "They may be taking precautions to ensure no one is harmed but I do not believe that they will allow a fight to break out."

"No? They can see into the future and they knew what was happening with Keith! And not one of them tried to help us then. I don't think for a second that they're going to be peacekeepers!"

"Then we shall have to do so for them," Atem said softly, making both of them turn back to him with wide eyes. He kept his gaze locked with Yugi's. "You forget that it will most likely be my presence which will alarm them. If that's the truth of it, all it takes is for me to ignore it and play the part of the peacekeeper. It's not a problem to do that."

Yugi was shaking with frustration, snarling. "That's not fair that you have to fix things for them when they never wanted to help you in the first place!" he snapped furiously, tossing his head and glaring. "I hate them!"

Atem startled at the declaration, eyes stretching thrice their usual size. The Gandora glared back at him, tossing his head angrily once more and baring his teeth. "You don't need to hate them," the Sky Dragon muttered before he could think it through. "I'm sure there are others who hate them enough for you."

Yugi bristled and thumped his tail. "I hate them."

He cast a helpless glance towards Timaeus but the Wind Dragon was having far too much fun with the potential argument that was sparking between them. He was watching them with laughter in his eye, studying as they continued speaking. Atem sighed softly and looked back to Yugi.

Useless Wind Dragon.

"All right, well if you are so incredibly insistent upon this, then allow me to remind you that many others probably hate me in turn. I've struck so many dragons down when they came to court me that I would not be surprised in the slightest should one of their family or friends despise me and wish me dead." Yugi stiffened before his eyes. Atem watched him blankly for a moment, ignoring the horrified expression crossing his face. As long as Yugi did not become so angry or aggressive as to attack them on sight, then it was fine enough. "But they hate me in a different, more justifiable way than you yourself seem to hate any of the others."

"I don't need to justify my emotions," Yugi said, but now he sounded uncertain. And it reminded Atem all the more of how much younger he was than him. He wanted to reach out and draw him closer, to perhaps lick and groom him until he was calm again. "But I guess I won't tell them I hate them."

Atem snorted and nudged him. "If that's all you take from this," he laughed, getting up and shaking himself out. "Anyways, point being, I don't like the Badlands. They're too dry and grotesquely hot."

Yugi huffed. "That's because you're used to forests and high mountain peaks. If you were in the desert region for a little while, you'd love it."

The Sky Dragon glanced at him for a moment. Then he tilted his head. "That is likely true," he relented after a long moment. He did not want an argument. And he hated the way this discussion only served to remind him that their species were so vastly different. He did not need more reminders of such a thing when he was often so incredibly aware as it was. "But I don't plan on that happening anytime soon."

Yugi didn't look upset by this in the slightest, instead perking up at the statement and smiling at him brightly. "The forests are prettier most of the time anyways. You're not missing a lot."

Atem noticed the dubious look that crossed Timaeus' face but ignored it pointedly. He did not want to see in his eye what he himself had already realized. He knew just as well as Timaeus suspected that Yugi had simply said this in hopes of appeasing him. The thought made him anxious.

He did not want Yugi to feel he had to lie just to make him remain calm or to stop an argument of some kind. He would rather Yugi argued and fought with him if he truly felt any way opposing him.

He did not want him to simply roll over as he had growing up.

Yugi was too full of life for that.

He had too great a soul for that.

Anything that might smother it in any sense—especially caused by him—made Atem want to flinch away and hide.

"We should get moving in a few minutes," Timaeus commented quietly with a small shake of his head. It effectively drew the other two out of their thoughts, though Yugi noticed Atem still seemed slightly troubled. The Sky Dragon would not look at him now. And the gem on his forehead was darkened and cloudy as if with a personal storm raging beneath its surface. "I'm sure that half of those expected to attend will be there by the time we get there as well."

"Only half?" Atem snorted. "I expect them all to be there by then."

Yugi tilted his head. "Why would you say that?"

"Because Timaeus isn't the most punctual dragon in the world. He tends to take far too long doing things at times."

"Quality is what you should always aim for."

"There's no quality involved in attending a meeting." The Sky Dragon cast his friend a smirk and Yugi couldn't help but grin. His eyes were so bright… "You just like to be late because then you don't have to make friends."

"You should be agreeing with me wholeheartedly. You don't like making friends either."

Yugi laughed in delight. "So I'm the only friendly one out of the three of us? Is that really how that goes?"

Atem looked over, then butted him in the shoulder. "But of course it is. We need to use the element of surprise on our enemies by making sure the Gandora is the nicest and the Wind Dragon is an absolutely vicious creature just like the Sky Dragon next to him. And then when you get violent, it'll be even more entertaining!"

Yugi laughed and tilted his head. "So that's our new battle strategy from now on?"

"You say that as if you anticipate a lot of fights," Timaeus commented curiously.

"You know as well as I do that there are going to be a lot of dragons not so happy with the two of us being mates. I figure I should prepare for them before they catch me off guard."

The Wind Dragon nodded slightly. "You're certainly not wrong about that. I'm sure the stir from the two of you at that fight was monumental. It's amazing no one has challenged you already due to it."

Yugi thumped his tail, jumping to his paws. "I'll beat them the moment they come into the territory!" he growled. His mate turned his head to look at him with wide eyes and Yugi raised his chin. "And then they can spread the word and—"

"I'm sure if you just pee on everything like you did with the river"—Yugi whined pathetically, covering his face with his paws as he shook his head; Timaeus was laughing at him now—"none of them will bother to come any closer to the territory than necessary."

"You peed in his territory?"

"I'm excitable!" the Gandora whimpered, lunging at his mate seconds later and nipping at his cheek. "You aren't supposed to tell anyone about that!"

Atem burst out laughing and pawed him in the side to knock him away gently. "I made no such agreement, little gem."

"But that's like— It should be common knowledge that I don't want everyone knowing about that!" he sputtered, forcing himself to ignore it when Timaeus laughed harder than ever. He looked as if he might choke from guffawing too hard. Yugi shook his head and growled for a moment before lunging at Atem again.

The Sky Dragon was snickering when he pawed Yugi in the shoulder. The Gandora yelped, knocked off his paws and onto his back. Atem pounced away, laughing, as Yugi huffed and kicked his paws in the air with a growl. "You dog-brain!"

The God Dragon smirked at him brightly, padding around him and towards Timaeus again. Yugi huffed again, then rolled over onto his paws. He was growling before he could stop himself, glaring at the red male and leaping at him. Atem deflected him downward with a smooth arch of his wing so that Yugi hit the powerful membrane and slid to the ground unceremoniously.

"Not fair!"

Atem snickered again. "You're adorable when you're upset, little one." But he looked back to Timaeus almost immediately. The amusement was wiped away entirely as he faced him now. "How many are likely to show up?"

"Some of them are probably recovering from the worse wounds, honestly. So I'd say about a third of who were actually involved in that fight."

Yugi blinked. Was that so? He knew that a few of the dragons had been beaten so badly they'd almost died. He'd seen a thousand other bodies lying about on the cliffs as well. Some had been gutted. Others had been lying on the ground struggling for life, necks cut and bodies covered in blood and dirt.

Yugi sat up again and shook himself out, forcing the images out of his mind again. Jonouchi would be there for the meeting. That was a given! He lived in the Badlands, after all. So, even if he turned his nose up at the idea of attending, Yugi was sure he would still find some way to find him.

He, like most Fire Dragons, had a good sense of smell for tracking. He'd only ever had to use it a few times in order to follow Atem from one part of the territory to another, however. It had been nearly impossible to keep up with the God Dragon when he was scarcely ever on land to begin with…

He'd had to find stray markings. He'd had to measure the faint impression of claw marks upon stone within his memories to the length of which most Sky Dragons possessed. He'd had to find what remained of old carcasses from dragon and prey alike to catch any small hint of his presence. He had been scouring for moons on end with little break but for food and sleep. And then he'd finally looked up one night and spotted him against some of the darker storm clouds. Atem had been asleep at the top of the mountain they both called home, draped across it in his Origin Form. But the darkness had distorted much of his features and the flashes of lightning had been too blinding to judge his weight and size from that distance.

But he'd been stunned just by the fact that Atem actually was there as he'd been so hopeful. The Sky Dragon had not stirred throughout the storm, and Yugi had watched him for much of it, fearful that should he look away Atem would no longer be there. He'd fallen asleep watching and wondered if he'd been imagining things when he saw that the God Dragon was long gone. But then he'd caught sight of a fresh kill, a mangled headless corpse, and the smell had been that of something like pine and fresh air and snowflakes newly formed. And he'd known it was truly him there.

So he could definitely find Jonouchi with much less difficulty. The weather would make the smell harsher and more prudent, the desert heat definitive in the way it made scents much worse than usual. The smell of a decomposing piece of prey could travel for miles upon miles of the flat land. And the hotter it was, the heavier a burden it would be for dragons outside of the Badlands to move about.

Atem and the Leviathan would most likely be stunted to a speed no faster than tortoises with this burden of heat to their bodies. He was speedy due to his light weight and the fact that he did not live in too hot an area. If he was lagged down by the heat, he would be weighed down by the heavy armory of his plates and wings and he'd be slowed so much that he'd likely be the definition of lamed prey.

He supposed that would not be much of a difference for one such as Timaeus, as the Wind Dragon's body was not built for speed as Atem's was. And he could not imagine that the Sky Dragon would be too incredibly happy when they got there…

He blinked, confused, as he noticed that both males were now studying him with a curious expression. He sat up a little straighter and tilted his head. "What? Is something wrong?"

Atem studied him for a moment, then snickered and butted him in the shoulder. Yugi had the feeling he did not know how else to assure him but to do this for the moment. "We were asking if you were ready to leave."

"Oh!" He leaped to his paws again, nodding. "I'm ready!"

The red dragon snickered and ran his tongue over his cheek. The touch made Yugi nearly purr but also startled him as well. He was not used to such a rough tongue, no matter how many times he and Atem sat about and groomed each other.

"Then let's go."


Atem landed lightly next to Yugi but the Gandora was already searching their surroundings, blue-violet eyes wide with excitement. His gut clenched. Yugi had to have been looking for Jonouchi. The acknowledgment made him bristle, bitterness coating his insides for but a brief moment. The Sky Dragon shook himself out, flustered and annoyed as he turned away. Beside him Timaeus was taking category of anything that could possibly be perceived as a threat.

It was highly unlikely that a fight might break out.

But Atem had learned long ago that "unlikely" was not the same as impossible. Just because one might perceive there not to be a threat meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. And he had no measure of the attitudes the God Dragons might truly possess. He had only rumors to go by, and some of them he was sure were as unreliable about them as they were himself.

Jesse had mentioned Jaden and Yusei when he had visited. He'd said that both had told him Atem was incredibly violent and would likely kill him for setting paw within his territory. If that was the truth of it, there was no doubt that the Leviathan believed such as well. The three of them might not have been as closely knit as rumors dictated, though he had heard for a long time that Jaden and Yusei had been mates for a few seasons and went back and forth at times. That had not made them absolute allies, however; Atem had known that long before he'd known much of anything else to do with them. From what he understood, for whatever reason, Yusei and Jaden had turned on each other violently in the midst of the Gandora edict, however, with Yusei nearly gutting him in a surprise ambush to stop the reckless bloodshed. The Leviathan, from what he had understood of it, had simply carried out the order to kill until Yusei had forced Jaden to stop.

But the Leviathan was by far more battle-crazed than the other two were. Rumor had it, he had taken on a fight when he was barely four moons old and won. He was the creature that so many feared in his territory. They'd thought him to be exactly like the Water Dragon. They'd assumed he was violent and terrifying and demanded homage of them and to be aggressive. He was the creature that they should have feared, not Atem.

Atem shrugged this off, turning his head when he saw movement in the corner of his eye. Yugi had taken off running towards another dragon. It was not hard to recognize the bulky, heavyweight form of the powerful juvenile Red-Eyes Black Dragon. It was hard to mistake that sharp, powerful head and broad muzzle bridging the lean form of its beak. One would have had to have been blind and without a sense of smell to mistake it for anything else.

But the Red-Eyes was watching him with a nervous expression, Atem realized. He was saying something to Yugi, but his eyes were locked on the Sky Dragon. And so he raised his paw and growled, playful but intimidating as well.

The Red-Eyes flinched as if he might have truly struck him. He reeled back a few steps, bristling. His head was lowered, his back arched defensively. His wings were tucked forcefully into his sides. His tail lashed once.

But Yugi burst out laughing. Atem could hear it even from that distance. He turned around with the brightest of eyes, beaming at Atem with open delight. The Gandora turned away only a few moments later.

"So…is that Jonouchi?"

Atem blinked, lowering his paw after a moment. He looked over at Timaeus with a small tilt of his head. "I suppose so? Yugi mentioned that he was a Red-Eyes and I remember one being nearby when he was checking on me after the fight. But I did not get an introduction and I hardly paid him any attention, truthfully." The Sky Dragon paused, considering him a moment or so longer. "I was more worried about Yugi than some random stragglers that might have been standing about nearby."

Timaeus smirked at him, shaking his head. "So, then why not go meet him now? He's clearly a dear friend of Yugi's. Shouldn't you meet the friend he's so close to?"

"He is afraid of me. You can smell his fear-stench from here." Atem flicked his tail towards the two black males after a moment. He turned his head again, meaning to look over at Yugi. But Jonouchi was still watching him. And he looked more alarmed than ever, as if he expected him to lunge at him with his claws and teeth braced for him. "And I am not inclined to make Yugi upset with him for being so cautious. You know as well as I that Yugi does not take well to someone being afraid of me."

Timaeus blinked, studying him for a moment. "That's true, I suppose." The Wind Dragon took a seat and Atem watched his mate as Yugi began to speak animatedly. The Gandora was bouncing on his paws, tail flicking about as if he were wagging it. His wings rose and fell once, as if he were a hatchling attempting to fly. Atem turned back to Timaeus after a moment, tilting his head curiously. His amber eye was locked on him and Atem bristled faintly as he moved to take a seat as well. "You look upset."

"No." Did he? Atem had been so hopeful that it would not be visible. He had not wanted to deal with Timaeus' curiosity. Nor did he want to struggle through the pain of feigning disinterest. "Why would you say that?"

"Because you are. And it does not take a God Dragon to see it, Atem."

The Sky Dragon huffed, flicking his tail and ignoring him for a moment. "Shut your mouth," he spat. He flexed his claws and turned away with a frustrated glare. "I do not want to hear a lecture."

"You must realize that Yugi most likely feels the same whenever he sees the two of us together, yes?"

The Sky Dragon blinked once, long and slow, and tilted his head. His voice was spiteful as he snapped, "I've never exactly run off to see you when he's around. And I introduced you."

"Not quite, but I'll hold my tongue any further."

Atem huffed louder than ever, scowling at him for only a split second. His anger melted immediately and he looked away, ashamed as his insides felt awash with ice. "That is not the point, Timaeus. I mean to say that I have never run off to see you when he is around as he has chosen to do with Jonouchi."

"You don't think he's nervous every now and then when the two of us are together like this? He probably feels extremely excluded."

"I don't try to make him feel like that."

Timaeus shook his head. "No, and I know that. But you are also much older than him. And he's probably not even fully half of your age, in truth. Give him some leniency," the other male said gently, smiling at him. "He's a happy little hatchling who loves to play more than anything else. He's extremely excitable, as he admitted himself. You know he doesn't mean any harm."

"I never claimed he did!" he snarled, voice rising with anger. His head snapped around, alarm coursing through him. But, thankfully, Yugi was pouncing about as a fawn. And Jonouchi was laughing his heart out as the Gandora continued to make a fool of himself. "Whatever. It does not matter."

"Atem—"

"You came?"

Atem startled. His scales rose and fell in a jutting bristle and he spun around to face the newcomer with a low, hideous snarl. He felt sick and confused, alarmed by the voice he'd so easily recognized. In the corner of his eye he could see that Timaeus had sprung to his paws as well. The teal dragon was snarling at his side, tail lashing.

Timaeus might not have beaten Yugi in a mock battle and he might have let Atem win each of their play fights when he was wounded, but he was a great fighter, in truth. The Wind Dragon had the sheer body mass and the jaw power to strike fear in any dragon.

Knight Dragons were one of the strongest species of Wind Dragon. They were harsh in battle, usually strong enough to puncture armor with well-aimed blows. Their jaws were strong enough to break bone when they got a good grip. They were tenacious, powerful enough that it was almost impossible to shake them should they latch on. Each of their unique forms, from Timaeus' to Critias', had powerful jaws and heavier weight. Timaeus lacked the long claws that Critias would come to possess, but he had larger paws to make a blow harder from sheer impact. His wings were larger than his son's would be, stronger and capable to take a blow without phasing the teal male.

Atem had seen him fight before. And Timaeus was dangerous when he felt the need to do so. He'd bid his time during that fight, found the best spot to strike out against the Red-Eyes that had come too close to their den. And he'd hit the female only once. But it had been a direct, lethal blow to the back of the head. The Fire Dragon had collapsed, unconscious from the force, and then Timaeus had grabbed Atem in his mouth and fled with him before she'd gotten up again. He hadn't wanted to fight, Atem had known even then. But she'd pressed too close to the den, had spotted Atem and she'd been clearly starving. She'd tried to bite at him and Timaeus had stepped between them just in time to keep him from becoming the Red-Eyes' meal.

Timaeus had never been one for unnecessary bloodshed, though. It was one of the things that Atem had taken to heart in learning from him. The Wind Dragon was plenty dangerous, had the ability to kill any dragon that got too close or posed a threat. And yet he'd let many of them walk. Even when he'd had to fight Keith's son and his brigade, Timaeus had not been aiming to kill them. That was the only reason he had gotten hurt, though Timaeus had been wise to back down from the attempt to kill then. Keith's son had been lethal, even if he had not been a match for Atem.

"I am the one who got rid of your mess," the Sky Dragon sneered at the newcomer, bristling more fiercely than ever. "I thought it only right that I come."

The lie was heavy on his tongue. The dragons at this damned meeting could all go to Purgatory for all he cared, in truth. He could not have cared less what happened to the clutches. He could not have cared less if they all met to speak of peace or war. It only mattered to him that he and Timaeus and Yugi got out of the situation safely, should anything come to truly happen.

"My mess?" the newcomer scoffed. "He was after you more than he was anyone else. If anything, I saved you by coming to speak to you. You were warned far ahead of time."

"Saved me?!" Atem all but roared, spitting with hatred. His top tongue flicked and he bunched his muscles together to keep from springing at him in anger. "You must have the two of us confused, brother."

"Must we fight?" a softer, more lyrical voice questioned. Atem knew without looking that it was Kisara beside his older sibling. Her pale scales gleamed light blue in the darkness and he could see her eyes like cobalt gems in his peripheral. The Blue-Eyes sounded far healthier than she had when Atem had initially met her, though he had no doubt that Seto had found some instinct to dote on her as necessary. At least he had some kind of nurturing instinct for her. "This is meant to be a peaceful meeting."

"Then tell Seto to keep his godsforsaken jaws shut." Atem blinked, startled. His head snapped around, eyes wide. Yugi was bristling beside him, snarling and flicking his tongue. He could see the tightened muscles beneath his frame, the way he was ready to leap forth at any second. His claws were braced in the dirt, his eyes dark with hatred. The finest of tremors gripped his form and his teeth were shiny with saliva. "If he knew how to do that, there wouldn't be any animosity in the first place!"

Seto began to bristle, bright blue eyes glinting silver as he stared at Yugi. He had raised his paw and backed up a small step, moving closer to his mate. Atem blinked at this, delight crashing through him as realization came on the heels of this thought.

He was afraid of Yugi!

He was afraid of a friendly little Gandora not even half his own age!

The laugh left him before he could smother it. Yugi startled, head turning immediately. His eyes stretched wide, confusion making them lighter than ever. He blinked, tilting his head. And Timaeus stiffened from his place at Atem's other flank. His single amber eye was confused when he looked at him as well. Atem shook his head and lowered his eyes to the dirt. He struggled to swallow his laughter again, snorting as he reached up to paw lightly at his muzzle.

The Gandora continued to stare at him with that extremely puzzled expression. But he turned back to Seto after a moment, bristling and snarling once more. "Why are you even here? I thought I had made it clear to you that if you came close to him ever again—"

"You really think you could protect him if someone were to attack him?" Seto snarled, bristling further and arching his wings slightly to protect his flanks. Atem raised his head slightly, peering at his sibling curiously. Had the Felgrand forgotten the pain Yugi had inflicted upon him when he'd entered his territory that day? Had he forgotten that Yugi had nearly beaten him to death so easily? "You're barely old enough to be his mate to begin with! And I could take you down if you—"

Now Atem stepped forward.

Seto turned to him immediately. He stopped short, bristling. He blinked, staring blankly. And then he backed up a step, staring at him. Atem waited a moment longer, until Seto lost the tension in his body and simply stood there without any aggression left to be shown.

And finally Atem took a seat once more. He wrapped his tail around his paws and looked down at the blades before him. "I do not think you should make threats like that when you are clearly unable to follow through with them." He shook himself out after a moment. "Now, need I remind you that I will cut your head from your body if you dare to threaten him?"

His oldest brother huffed, looking at Yugi. "You weren't even involved in this conversation."

"You're talking to my mate. I'm involved the moment you speak to him!"

Atem snorted. "Enough. I am not going to spill blood during what is meant to be a gathering for discussion of what could potentially be a forced extinction."

"Forced extinction?" Kisara asked, moving slightly past Seto to consider him curiously. Atem had never seen her so closely before. And he had to admit her eyes were darker than a normal Blue-Eyes'. And her muzzle was a bit broader, her cheeks fuller with her softer outward scales, the tusks there rounder where the ends of her mouth were shielded from sight. She was truly beautiful for a Lightning Dragon. "What do you mean?"

"Jesse didn't mention it?"

"Who's Jesse?" the Blue-Eyes queried. Her gaze flickered across his and she tilted her head further. Her wings tucked into her side and her body seemed to glitter faintly as if with a personal brush of star and moonlight. "We spoke to Yusei."

Yugi tilted his head. "We were told the meeting is because we're going to figure out if we're going to kill all of Keith's offspring."

Seto flicked his tongue. "He deserves nothing less."

"He is dead," Atem sneered. "He has been dead for a moon now. We are here to discuss potentially innocent—"

"Nothing that bastard created is innocent!"

Yugi blinked wide eyes. "You can't just condemn them for being related to him! It's not as if they asked for him to be their father!" he objected hotly. He was bristling again, glaring at him now. He drew his lips back and snarled a little louder. "That's not fair at all."

"They'll be judged and condemned by others if not by me," Seto spat in turn. He rounded on Yugi, paw lifted as if to strike for a split second before he flicked his tongue resentfully. "It doesn't matter what they want. They will always be remembered as his offspring and none of them will ever be fully accepted. You know that just as well as I."

"That may be, but casting judgment is different than executing one for their heritage," Atem interrupted brusquely. He lashed his tail. Yugi looked over at the Sky Dragon, opening his mouth again. But the God Dragon lightly tapped him on the beak with his tail, drawing his attention away from his argument. The Gandora blinked wide eyes, peering up at him with surprise and affection. "If it were so true that they should be killed for crimes their father has committed, think for a moment what our species are considered. We're nothing but stains for the Sky Dragon lineage. Both your species and mine should have been wiped from existence if we were to all live by your belief of such a thing."

Seto fell silent now, staring at him angrily. Kisara had turned her head to look at her mate. Yugi was studying Atem once more. And Timaeus was anxiously pawing at the ground. No doubt the thought of Atem being erased from existence had upset him more than not.

"Slifer and Felgrand dragons were hunted to near extinction, remember? Because the Slifer dragons were dangerous and began to fight bitterly. And your species was considered a scourge for the fact that it created war soon after the Slifer species lost their momentum and numbers. Imagine, then, if it had been decreed that all Slifer and Felgrand be killed." Atem shifted his weight, not at all angered but with mild disdain. He eyed his older brother who was scowling at him more angrily than ever. "Mother and Father would have been forced to kill us both upon our hatching. Do you understand that?"

But the conversation was abruptly lost to him.

Something frigid and tumultuous moved through his veins. Alarm made his scales stand on end. He stiffened, lashing his tail, and turned his head. He looked about them rapidly, searching for the source of his discomfort. His claws sank into the dirt and he snarled softly.

But the only alarming thing he found now was that Jonouchi was a few yards away. He was pressed stiffly to the ground, eyes wide and peering overhead. A few dragons beyond him were whispering to each other. All of them were staring overhead as well.

And so Atem tipped his head up, lashing his tail harder than ever before.

Yugi slowly looked up as well, stiffening faintly as he dug his claws into the dirt. The dragon overhead was one immense long shape, towering high above their heads, a great form of dark scales against the pale stars beyond. They were wingless but for a few long strands of what looked almost to be feathers or patches of fur. But they disappeared into the thick armor of the dragon and seemed to shimmer into nonexistence as the seconds passed.

He shivered.

It felt almost as if the darkness in the world was being draped upon his body and forced through his scales to his bloodstream. He instinctively moved to flatten himself to the ground. His wings moved to droop at his sides. His limbs shook for the briefest of moments.

And, yet, it faded as soon as he looked towards Atem.

There was something dead and hollowed out in his eyes. It was almost as if he was transfixed and staring, at a loss as to what else he was meant to do. And it made Yugi nervous to consider just how stiff Atem truly was as he looked at the dragon overhead.

And, so, seeing Atem as he was, he sat upright, stiff and nearly shaking as the confusion grew.

The dragon overhead began to slowly but surely glow, a soft white and bluish shade of color which glimmered and fell away again into nonexistence. The other animal became a third of its former size. Where it had seemed legless before now it had long limbs that far surpassed Yugi or Atem's, its toes webbed and its paws large where its long claws seemed to stretch the length of them. The dragon landed a couple of feet to the right of Atem, making Yugi bristle as his mate watched the creature as well.

"I must say, I have never seen a Sky Serpent before." The dragon crept forward, so dark that it almost seemed to blend into the inky darkness of the desert around them. Its eyes were a striking gold like the smoldering metal, burning into Atem's as it came closer once more. Its claws were immense and shiny, sparkling like fish scales, and they shimmered beneath the starlight like ripples of water.

Its body was longer, thinner than even Atem's own. Its physique was one of a serpentine formation, much like that of a Serpent Night Dragon. But the dragon's coloration was not the same stunning shining black like shadows beneath water as a Serpent Night Dragon's was.

Standing before Atem, the dragon stood a good four times larger, looming over him as if he were nothing more than a bug before a buffalo. But they were almost complete inversions in design.

The newcomer had a predominantly dark gray color to its scales where Atem had such bright, vibrant red. And where the Sky Dragon's belly was black as the night sky overhead with pale glimmering white stripes beneath each scale, this dragon had some the color of a salmon's flesh.

Its face was framed by reinforced scales, ones that glimmered like polished metal. The chest of scales was a single long, backwards-facing spike which came several inches from its head. On both sides the spike was mirrored by one similar spike. Beneath the back of this unusual protrusion was what looked to be feathers, pale and almost glowing in the moonlight, layered thrice as it trailed a short distance down its huge back. Along the length of its immense body, the feather-like strands were bushy like tufts of fur and they were bunched about the body like fins on a serpentine fish. They were so long as to look like gaping wings, extending a few inches from his smooth serpentine flesh. Yugi could see it in a smaller, more consistent patch towards the base of its tail, almost like a pale shimmering moss upon its scales.

"I never assumed I would."

Atem stared up at the other dragon as if he did not care that it loomed over him. He looked at it as if it were but an inconvenience in the way it stared down at him. "We are referred to as the Serpents of the Sky, not Sky Serpents, unlike you. You are the Divine Sea Serpent, are you not?" the Sky Dragon growled. He spoke through his sharp teeth, though it was only through this manner that Yugi realized he was unnerved by the beast before him.

The newcomer moved to take a seat in front of him. Its tail was a long, draping thing, much like the tapering fins of a fish. It had a flowing quality, transparent at the end where the fur made a long tapering design. It peered down at Atem as if it could hardly understand him, more amused than anything.

Yugi had the keen urge to press closer to Atem now. He wished he had some way to offer him some kind of strength. But he was too shaken to make any such movement. And so he remained perfectly still, staring blankly forward.

"Regardless," Atem replied in what had become a somewhat arrogant tone, "it is rather strange that you go by your species name of the Leviathan rather than a given one."

"My given name is not fit for me." The dragon stood one more, moving just long enough to shake himself out. The long tufts of fur along his body seemed to ripple and shiver beneath the moonlight, flowing as if they were small embodiments of water. His jaws, Yugi noticed, were tusked along the bottom where the bones were reinforced with armored scales. He did not appear aggressive for the moment, however, but Yugi found himself unable to relax in the slightest. "But I am to assume yours is a perfect match for you?"

Atem was quiet for a moment. "I tend to believe so."

Yugi flicked his wing tips as dark golden eyes, shades from his mate's and somehow perhaps deeper like a well or bottomless pit, flickered to him. He almost flinched and backed away, barely restraining from instinct due to the realization that to do so would leave Atem alone with this dragon.

"And a Gandora!" the dragon growled in a tone that was both amazed and full of hideous scorn. "A Sky Serpent and a Gandora! How beautiful. I have never seen two such species so close to one another. It is amazing to see that you both seem so terribly familiar with one another."

Yugi stiffened, bristling fearfully. Atem growled softly after a moment. And the Leviathan turned his head. His golden eyes were sharp and cutting, boring into his. When he pulled his lips back to show off his teeth, they were much unlike either of theirs. They looked nothing like Yugi's own, which were heavy and folded slightly backwards to tear chunks of meat off with little effort. And Atem's own were sharp, straighter in formation, and perfectly scissored so as to cut through scales and flesh like they were nothing more than a simple leaf. The Leviathan had teeth that were small and fine and sharp, much like the thorns of a rosebush, hooked slightly like Yugi's claws. But they were also short and small, almost like what Yugi remembered of the single time he'd seen of an eel's jaws…

"You reek of him." The Leviathan inched ever so closer, a challenge becoming clearer in his eyes as the seconds passed. "You smell of a Gandora, little God Dragon. How curious."

Atem stared at him silently in response. And then he slowly rose to his paws as well. The size difference was all too apparent now as he stood before the Water Dragon. The beast stood so high off the ground as to dwarf Atem. The Sky Dragon being juvenile and far from fully grown made that knowledge all the worse…

Yugi didn't even want to imagine how much smaller he himself was…

He was a few inches shy of Atem's height. And if he was shorter than Atem, no doubt he looked all the worse for it before the Leviathan.

"He's going to get himself killed."

Yugi spun on Seto angrily when he heard him mutter those words softly. He cast him a furious look, baring his teeth. But the Sky Dragon was watching the Water Dragon with a sneer on his face. Yugi stiffened, curious; was Seto saying that Atem would survive?

Had he misunderstood his words just seconds before?

Yugi turned away again immediately.

Atem and the Leviathan had begun to stare at one another. Both stood on their paws, their golden gazes boring into each other. Atem's wings were arched downward, his tail sliding slowly about in the sand beneath their paws. He was clearly furious. And the Leviathan looked more amused than ever, flicking his forked tail and showing his tongue between his needle-like teeth.

The two God Dragons seemed to be testing each other silently. They seemed to be trying to find the weakness in the other, as if the quiet might break them.

"You couldn't just wait to start a fight?" a new voice commented. Their tone was exasperated and they seemed mildly irritable in that sense. But it did nothing to break the two of their hideous staring contest. The Leviathan responded in a snarl of annoyance, however, flicking his forked dark salmon-colored tongue. "Leave it alone."

Yugi bristled as his head turned to regard the newcomer. He blinked, confused, and bristled further as he spotted the golden male a few feet away. The dragon looked like nothing Yugi had ever seen before. It was a metallic shade, so golden it was like the sun, and its scales glowed with the same vibrancy as flames in the darkness.

The dragon had six wings, all of them furled like autumn leaves, the edges curled inward slightly. Its joints along its back were thin, almost wispy, and its shoulders were broad beneath the first set. Its body was a smooth formation like a golden brick, beautifully and elegantly carved to make thin scales. Each front paw had three toes, the claws long and sharp. Its skull was almost completely smooth and both sides of it sprouted a single horn that rose the length of a human's arm. The jaws were straight, angular like a bird's beak, its teeth fine and thin much akin the Leviathan's own.

"Seriously?" a slightly more familiar voice commented, sounding incredibly flustered. Yugi turned his head to the dragon beside the golden male. Those red eyes were burning like blood boiling beneath the sun. And beside them, to Yugi's utter amazement, stood Jesse. The Rainbow Dragon was simply watching the two of them with a shake of his head, scowling. "You can't just be friendly for once?"

The Leviathan did not turn from Atem for a long handful of moments. Then, finally, relenting, he turned and raised his head. He eyed the two newcomers and Yugi looked back to him. The Sea Serpent looked utterly disgusted, unimpressed and irate, and his golden eyes flashed in the darkness.

"I suppose I should bow before the Great Equalizer," the Water Dragon snarled, sneering as he thumped his tail heavily on the ground. "But I have no desire to play the hatchling this time around. You have already chosen this climate to dampen my strength."

"It had nothing to do with you," another voice commented. This one was much deeper, far stronger than that of the golden dragon.

Yugi stiffened, turning around quickly. This male was a shimmering silver and white, with an undertone of blue. There were gems along the center of his chest plate and shoulders, the blue of them shining brilliantly as if with galaxies beneath their surface. He strode forward with a confident and easy appearance, amused more than anything else.

Yugi could not help but think that he looked like some strange cross between the Serpent Night, the Slifer, and the Leviathan in shape. The neck was tall and thin, with only about three long downward-curved scales much like his own. His skull was elongated on either side and stretched back from his muzzle with a somewhat wispy formation much like thin billowing puffs of smoke. But his beak and jaw was nothing like he had ever come to see on a dragon before.

He had a smaller mouth, with teeth much akin those of the Leviathan. But they were nearly a whole foot behind where his large beak ended. It was a strange shape as well, something that reminded Yugi immediately of a human hunter's spearhead. It sharply jutted at the bottom in a formation much like an arrow. Its wings looked similar to the Leviathan's fin-like sails along its flesh, as if feathered but with a more ragged appearance like draping icicles. The scales on the base of its wings were sharp and folded inward, pointing towards its spine, and where the wing joints displayed the folds of the membrane were three large spears of keratin that rose a few inches from the bone. The bend of its back legs were covered in light blue scales like ice, sharp and jutting to protect what had to be fragile bone joints there.

Each paw was similarly colored light blue, with the same glimmering ice-like sheen to them. The front paws possessed five toes, each one long and narrow, and its claws were inches high from the ground, with slightly hooked ends. He could eviscerate, but not as easily as Yugi himself could, he realized. And its tail, long and tapering, with an end that almost looked like a star, white and like blades of keratin but definitely not lethal and perhaps more club-like in design.

Yugi shivered, unnerved and yet excited as well. The three of them were all new species, even if he had met Jesse before. He didn't know anything about the Rainbow Dragon or the Stardust Dragon or the Prime Material Dragon. He knew only the name of their species and the identity that corresponded with it. He knew Jesse was the Rainbow Dragon, Yusei was the Stardust, and Jaden the Prime Material.

"It was for him."

Atem flicked his tail, snorting disdainfully. Yugi snarled, bristling angrily as he considered them. All three sets of eyes had turned to focus on Atem. But his abrupt aggression made them each turn to him. Jesse looked alarmed, though not so scared as he had upon their first meeting. Yusei looked surprised and then increasingly shocked. And Jaden eyed him with a bewildered expression before tilting his head slightly to the side.

Atem scraped his tail across the ground. Yugi bristled and spat at them. And the Sky Dragon seemed to stare at him now as well. He could feel his eyes burning into his scales.

"What a brave little hybrid you have there, Sky Serpent," the Leviathan hissed in a cold tone. He flicked his tongue, sounding more amused as the seconds passed. "I am surprised he has managed to survive so long with how insolent he appears to be."

"Do not ever threaten him."

Yugi stiffened, startled. He glanced quickly over his shoulder. The Sea Serpent was smirking widely, teeth little thin blades. His eyes were glowing sharply, embers of bright gold that reminded Yugi of the first few sparks of a human's fire.

But he turned away immediately when Atem snarled. The Leviathan's mouth pulled back into a hideous smirk. His aggression stretched it tenfold, cold and terrible. He did not know if it was inexperience or frustration. But Yugi found himself unable to choose which was more of a threat to Atem at the moment.

The Sky Dragon had turned away from the three newcomers altogether. And that made it easier for any of them to launch themselves at him. Atem could easily be blindsided should any of the three of them think to leap at him. But the Leviathan was staring straight into his eyes and growling softly in response to the threat that Atem himself truly posed.

Yugi cast a quick glance between all of them, unsure of himself now. Should he leap in between them if the Leviathan lunged? Or did he guard his back on the off chance that the other God Dragons sprang at him in the meantime?

He blinked, eyes flashing as he considered the two situations.

He didn't know whether he should be more wary of the Divine Sea Serpent or the Stardust Dragon. The Leviathan was more battle-hungry and vicious, but Yusei was a deadly opponent in a fight from what stories he'd heard. All of it could be a terrible mess, no matter which way he looked.

"Enough," the golden dragon snarled now. He came forward a step, scowling at him coldly. "Leave him alone, Leviathan. There will be no bloodshed here. We came for a meeting, not a quarrel."

"I don't give a damn what you came here for. I came to meet the mythical little beast that's apparently been labeled a heartless killer," the Sea Serpent sneered. Yugi could see that his focus was caught entirely on Atem once more. His hearts squeezed in his chest for a moment and he fought away a furious bristle. "I don't give a damn what this meeting is for."

"Leave him alone," Jesse growled after a moment. Yugi turned his head to look at the Rainbow Dragon once more, eyes sharpening. The Ice Dragon was shaking his head and glaring at the Leviathan with a hideous bristle. "He's not doing anything wrong. You don't need to antagonize him, all right? He's not challenging you!"

"Would you shut your stupid jaw?" the Leviathan snarled, rounding on him. He had such speed and power to the action that Yugi felt almost winded. And, when he raised his head and bore his sharp teeth, Yugi almost trembled. His glare was not even directed at him but it still made the Gandora feel as if he were being skinned alive. "You're only alive because you have him as your mate. If not for that, I'd have ripped you to pieces long ago for your ignorant little attitude."

"Ignorant?" Atem inquired. And Yugi turned his attention to him, relieved when he saw the mildly considerate expression on his face. But the Sky Dragon also moved forward a step and the Leviathan turned on him with glowing eyes. Atem stared up at him, tail snapping back and forth violently enough that it whipped the air. "What an interesting choice of words."

"Atem," Yugi muttered, head snapping back and forth between the two potential fights. He did not want to be caught in the middle. And he did not know which he might be inclined to jump into first. He supposed it depended on who was foolish enough to move.

He did not want to risk leaving Atem alone to get hurt. So he braced himself after a moment. He was bristling, snapping his jaws at any of the dragons that moved. The golden one had come forward a step, and Yugi snapped so hard it made Jaden jerk his head towards him in surprise.

The Leviathan looked more amused than angry now as he flicked his long tongue. With the clouds overhead blocking the light, Yugi found himself staring at a forked black muscle, something that was wet enough that it looked like an oily fish. But Atem merely snarled a little louder, thumping his tail violently once more.

"Get him, Atem!" a new voice cried.

Yugi spun around, snarling louder than ever with disdain. He arched his back hatefully, raising a paw as if to lash out at them. The golden dragon was recognizable only by his lavender eyes. Had Yugi not have been so tense and his adrenaline so high, he would have taken his details into further consideration. But all he could see now was the lavender eyes glowing.

"Rip him to shreds!"

"You idiot," the dragon beside him sneered, eyes locked on Yugi now. He slowed as they got closer, raising his head and craning his neck as he lashed his own tail. The gleaming silver tip looked like a stunning, shining hook to match his shorter claws. Not once did he remove his eyes from Yugi. "That's the Leviathan, Marik. He'll get himself killed."

"Yeah, right," the golden dragon scoffed. He stopped a few feet from Yugi. He seemed incredibly surprised that the Gandora was even there. But he heeded his warning when Yugi snapped his teeth violently at him again. "He's not strong enough. Our brother is a little killing machine. Or did you actually forget what he did to you?"

Marik and Bakura, Yugi reminded himself. But that meant that all three of Atem's brothers were there. And they were a threat that Yugi was not willing to overlook in the slightest. But then there were the three God Dragons and Jesse and his brothers. There were three different threats and they came from four directions, encompassing them completely…

And the question became which one he could protect Atem against…

Jaden was peering at him in immense curiosity now. He looked as if his eyes were caught between bewilderment and absolute confusion. He had stayed still now, considering him for a long moment, and then his red eyes—which now looked more a rustic orange than anything else—widened. They shot to Atem and then his head snapped around to face Jesse as if somehow the Rainbow Dragon might be able to explain whatever it was he had overlooked formerly.

Yugi watched the strange wordless exchange with wide eyes. Yusei was staring at Yugi as if he were some kind of mystical creature before him, though his face remained calm and considerate. But, after a moment, Jesse had turned his attention back to Atem, something both excited and curious in his eyes.

"Atem…?" Yugi finally mumbled, unsure of himself. He cast an anxious glance over his shoulder at the Sky Dragon but Atem was staring at the Leviathan with cold, unyielding eyes. Yugi was almost shaking, he was so tensed up, claws braced in the dirt and head lowered slightly. He snarled low in his throat again when he failed to get a response from his mate.

"Leviathan," Jaden snarled violently. The power in his voice was enough to make Yugi want to bow to the ground. It felt as if the Fire Dragon's will were being pressed upon him forcefully, pushing so harshly that Yugi thought of his limited time in the clouds. He snarled again after a moment, snapping his teeth when the other male stepped closer. But the Fire Dragon ignored him, staring at the Leviathan. "I said enough."

The dragon behind him snarled. Yugi could hear him moving now. His eyes grew wide and he turned around immediately. He went to lunge, but faltered, amazed.

The Leviathan was shaking hideously, snarling with hatred. His golden eyes had dulled several shades, however, and now his chin moved slowly toward the ground. When it touched, his weight changed. His paws clenched at the dirt, anxious and kneading. And he lowered himself heavily to the ground, salmon-colored belly odd against the red clay. His jaws shuddered with his snarling and the muscles in his face jumped hideously. He breathed harder than ever, trembling, and his eyes glowed with hatred.

Yugi blinked, visibly stunned. He spun around to look at the Fire Dragon again, fear crawling through him. Those orange eyes glowed brilliantly for a moment longer. And then it dissipated abruptly.

"Stand down."

Yugi turned back to Atem. He hadn't done anything to him, had he? He relaxed faintly, hearts racing. Atem stood tall, golden eyes curious. His head was slightly tilted and he was staring down at the Water Dragon. The tension was lost in his body and he did not seem to care much that such a thing had happened. The Gandora hurried to his side, confused, and looked down at the Leviathan as well. But the Sea Serpent was glaring at the golden dragon and seemed to have forgotten them altogether.

"You may rise now," Jaden said curtly, shaking himself out. Yugi looked at him for a moment, stunned. He'd forgotten that the Fire Dragon was considered the Great Equalizer due to the fact that he could press his emotions and will on other dragons around him. Fights could be ended in seconds if he so willed it. He was dangerous in this sense, though Yugi was sure he could fight as well. He had not heard much of the Prime Material in battle, but he was sure if he was able to suppress someone's natural instincts and emotional stance, he was capable of holding his own no matter who it was. "But if you turn on him again, there will be consequences. Understood?"

"Understood, Oh Great and Powerful Bastard," the Water Dragon spat hatefully. He got up immediately after, shaking himself out. He ignored Atem now, head snapping towards the other two God Dragons.

"Atem?"

The Sky Dragon blinked, turning to him with wide eyes. "Hmm?" he asked in bewilderment. He blinked again, nudging him in the shoulder with his muzzle as he turned back. His tongue ran over his head after a moment and his golden eyes were warm. "I'm fine. Don't worry."

Yugi nodded, exhausted as his adrenaline finally began to fade. His hearts were still beating erratically in his chest. But he had calmed somewhat regardless. He took a seat, looking between the four siblings. Bakura was still watching him with cold eyes, cautious and hateful and full of disgust. Seto was watching the Leviathan and the other two God Dragons. Malik was staring at Atem with bright eyes, excited as a small human's puppy might be. And Atem did not seem to care in the slightest that any of them were paying him any mind.

The hybrid looked over to see Timaeus seated a few feet away. He was watching them with interest but he had clearly drawn away when the Leviathan had gotten so close. Yugi felt anger crash through him as he looked the Wind Dragon over for a moment.

Had he moved away in order to ensure he was not caught up in the potential fight? And, had he, what kind of loyalty was that? He should have been willing to help Atem!

"You're alive?"

The statement was said with absolute amazement. Yugi blinked, startled, and turned his head curiously to see who the God Dragon might have been speaking to. He had assumed they meant Atem, but those dark blue eyes stared pointedly at him. The Gandora bristled faintly, backing up when the God Dragon came closer.

"Uh… H-have we met before?" he questioned, confused and bewildered. He felt sick as the other dragon peered at him. He frowned, struggling to think of an instance where he might have ever seen him. But he did not know the Stardust Dragon in the slightest; he knew him only through rumors and stories. He had never even wanted to cross paths with him in the first place.

Yugi glanced hurriedly towards Atem, hoping with everything in him that the Sky Dragon might come to help him ease his fear. And, as if he could hear his thoughts, Atem picked his way cautiously to his side. He did not appear aggressive in the slightest, but he was clearly puzzled. He brushed against Yugi's flank, a reassuring and affectionate gesture that made Yugi nearly tremble with relief. But then Yugi noticed the stare as Yusei turned to look at Atem as well, finally releasing Yugi from his gaze. But the Stardust Dragon snarled, bristling in surprise. His back arched, his wings folding to his flanks, and his tail thumped once as he backed up a step. He spun on Jaden now, spitting.

"He's a Slifer?!" Yusei snarled. His tongue flicked, a bright blue much akin the odd patches of scales on his body. Jesse was staring at Atem with wide eyes, Yugi noticed in bewilderment. The Rainbow Dragon tilted his head, studying the Sky Dragon curiously for a moment. Atem moved to dip his head, sniffing at Yugi for a moment as if he were attempting to reassure himself that he was not hurt. "Jaden, you said that you have never seen another God Dragon!"

Atem looked at them for a long moment. Then he blinked and nudged Yugi pointedly in the side. When the Gandora looked back at him, the Sky Dragon watched him curiously a moment. And then he nudged him gently in the side, dipping his head in silent assurance that he would not wander too far, and turned to speak to Timaeus. Yugi watched them with wide eyes as the Sky Dragon began to talk. But he stopped short and spun on his siblings when Seto spoke, growling before turning to trot off. Timaeus chased him immediately, though he glanced with a snarl at the other three Sky Dragons.

Bakura hovered, turning his head and snarling at Yugi for a split second. He blinked his dark brown eyes, glancing towards Malik. The threat was clear in his expression. But he did not turn back again, following the golden male instead. Yugi watched them for a moment, flexing his claws anxiously. But Atem had not wandered more than a couple of yards away, head turned enough to watch Yugi and the other God Dragons from his peripheral.

"What…uh…w-what did you mean when you said I was alive?" Yugi asked, turning back after a moment. Yusei was still watching Atem and Jaden looked curious and cautious as he stared at the Sky Dragon. Jesse, however, was hovering now, studying Yugi as if he thought he might lash out at him at any second. But the blue-violet-eyed dragon did not care to pay him that much attention as it was. "Why did you sound so…surprised?"

"Is he the God Dragon of the East?" the Stardust asked instead. For a moment he simply stared at the other dragon. And then he turned to Yugi with a pointed look, waiting for him to answer. His blue eyes glinted like ice and Yugi nearly snarled, distress coming through him in waves.

"I had come to assume there was not one," Jaden grunted. He sounded bewildered and slightly irritable, though Yugi noticed he seemed more curious as he stared at Atem. "I never saw him even once…"

Yugi looked back over his shoulder again, fearful but content when he saw Atem was clearly unharmed. The red dragon was growling at his siblings. And Timaeus, thankfully, was seated beside him. His eye was locked on Bakura, burning into him. Malik was nudging Kisara as if she were his new best friend and the Blue-Eyes looked extremely puzzled. Seto, however, looked as if he might rip the other golden dragon to pieces, a permanent snarl on his face and his lips drawn back furiously.

"Having three God Dragons with the ability to see events to come is something that has never happened before," the blue-eyed God Dragon said slowly. Yugi failed to look back, staring straight at his mate once more. He wanted more than ever to go to Atem's side instead, or at least to make sure that nothing happened to him in the meantime. He did not want them to hurt his mate. "So, we have taken to assigning ourselves with the tasks of watching certain events and species of dragons. I watch the Gandora species."

Yugi blinked, bewildered, and glanced back at Yusei for only a second. Then he turned immediately to face Atem again. The red male had taken to lying down, tail tip twitching. Timaeus was so close to him now that he was touching the edge of his wing. And Yugi realized with surprise that he was distracting Kisara and Bakura, speaking so that they were keen to pay him attention at the moment. And it surprised him that the God Dragon was speaking calmly with Seto who had moved slightly closer. Malik sat simply aside from them, licking one of his paws and looking at the Wind Dragon curiously as he continued talking.

"Jaden watches over the other God Dragons. And the Leviathan watches battle events and the possibility of war." Yusei paused, considering him for a long handful of seconds. "But all of us were unable to see Keith and his choices after he made a certain decision. At one point each and every one of us became blind to anything to do with him. We had all come to assume he was dead."

Yugi nodded slightly, but his attention was still incredibly split. Atem was speaking now; he did not look upset, seeming more intrigued than anything. Kisara was excitedly kneading at the ground in front of her, trembling slightly. Seto sat straighter, blue eyes like silver ice from the distance. Timaeus was staring at his friend with a considerate, surprised look. Bakura and Malik were both staring at Atem as if he had grown a second head

"I lost sight of you about a year and a half ago."

Yugi blinked, tilting his head in puzzlement. He startled, almost scoffing at him that perhaps he should have tried harder then. But the realization crossed his mind immediately after and he stiffened in shock.

He had been in Atem's territory by then.

"So…then…" Yugi turned his head. He considered them as he noticed the connection, eyes narrowing briefly. Perhaps the God Dragons did not but he was abruptly aware of it, hearts pounding in his chest. The Stardust Dragon was staring back at him blankly for a few moments. "None of you are able to see him then…"

Jaden blinked. His orange eyes were glittering as he turned to Yugi. "Him?"

"The Slifer," Yugi answered after a long moment. He gestured at Atem with a jerk of muzzle. He realized, a small splash of anger crashing through him, that none of them knew his name yet. He had spoken too low for them to hear him say it when he'd checked on him after the confrontation with the Leviathan. But he did not think he had said it even once in front of Jesse so they would never have heard it from him in the slightest. He narrowed his eyes. "None of you can see him."

"You have been with him?" Yusei spat, clearly startled by the declaration. He bristled, confused, and turned to look at where Atem was as well. He narrowed his eyes faintly, then shook his head slowly. "You have been living with the Sky Dragon this entire time?"

A small surge of satisfaction came through him.

"I have. Which means that all of you are blind to him and any decisions he ever makes." Yugi smirked and turned to look at Atem once more. The red male had come to sit up now, was still speaking to Seto as the Felgrand stared at him with eyes almost twice as large as usual. "So, none of you know a damn thing about him then."

He spun on them again, bristling and sneering, "Good!" before he turned tail. He took off at a full sprint to get to his mate's side.

The reaction was instantaneous. Atem turned his head. He got to his paws immediately when Yugi was within a yard of him. And then he hurried over to him, nudging him in the side with his muzzle and sniffing him all over. "You're all right? Nothing happened?" he demanded in a sharp tone. "They did not harm you?"

Yugi gave him a grin. He shook himself out and licked his forehead, beaming at him. "Perfectly fine!" he answered. He butted him in the shoulder, rubbing for a moment, and then backed up a step and peered up at him with bright eyes. "Nothing happened at all, dear heart."

Atem studied him for a long handful of minutes, as if he could not quite believe what he was saying. He sniffed him twice, and looked him over for a moment. Then he nodded slightly, turning away and repeating the action with more affirmation than he had before. He huffed out a breath.

As long as Yugi was okay…

"What is it that I missed?"

"Nothing. Timaeus was saying that he should have asked me for a Blessing when Kris laid their clutch and Kisara asked me to bless her newest."

Yugi blinked, his blue-violet eyes stretching wide with surprise. Atem smirked in amusement and shook his head. "That's amazing! You said yes, right?" he demanded, trembling with excitement.

Atem laughed softly. "Yes, I did."

Kisara was bright-eyed, her smile brilliant. "You're welcome to come to see them as well, Yugi."

Yugi trembled harder. "That would be great!" he exclaimed. He had turned to Atem again. His eyes were brighter than ever and the Sky Dragon tilted his head curiously. "How many? How many!"

The red dragon felt flustered, unsure of how to answer him. He had not once even bothered to ask them. He'd just agreed to do it because Kisara had asked him so sweetly, had been so nervous to do it. Seto had paced back and forth while she'd asked, then stared at him in shock when he'd said yes.

In truth, the clutch itself had completely gone over his head. He had forgotten to ask about the number of eggs.

"There are six," Kisara replied, laughing softly. She smiled at Yugi with the brightest of eyes and the Gandora turned to her with an excited wiggle. Atem smiled wider than ever, unable to suppress a small snicker. Yugi truly had to be the most excitable dragon in existence. "I laid them just yesterday and asked my parents to incubate them until I could come back."

"Yesterday?" Atem echoed in surprise, turning to her with huge eyes. The scales along his back rose into a mild bristle of shock and he shook his head in alarm. "But that's dangerous. You have to be exhausted, Kisara."

The Blue-Eyes offered him a gentle smile. "I wanted to be the one to ask you. I didn't know if Seto would be too proud and spiteful to do it or not." She shifted her weight, but showed no sense of shame for the fact that she had called her mate out so pointedly. The Felgrand huffed softly in response, growling and shaking his head. But he did not respond to the jab at him. He glanced over at his mate, then to his brother, and finally turned to his paws. He stared kneading the ground, his long claws digging up large piles of dirt for a moment.

Atem was amazed to see that he knew how to look so bashful in the first place.

"I would have visited had you simply sent word."

"Seto is the only one who knows the way to find you." Kisara hesitated, blinking and looking rather embarrassed now herself. Her blue eyes flickered across Atem's for a moment. But she did not seem bashful for herself. Instead she seemed more amused than anything, though flustered by the fact that she'd said such a thing about her mate. "And with what happened at the end of the fight, I didn't want to risk you becoming further upset."

Yugi bounced on his paws next to him, eyes shining more than ever. "This is amazing! Ooh!" He butted Atem in the side once more, closing his as he trembled once more with growing happiness. "This is so amazing, Atem!"

Seto snorted, voice almost a sneer. "You act as if they are your clutch rather than ours."

Atem looked over at him again. He wondered briefly if Yugi had some kind of attachment to the idea of this Blessing simply because they would never be able to procure a nest of their own. The thought was enough to make him want to lie down and press himself into the dirt. It was almost shameful that he could not do such a simple thing for him.

"I can be excited about it as much as I want to! They're going to be my family!" Yugi scoffed, glaring at the Felgrand for a brief moment before turning to Atem with bright eyes again. "They're going to be our nieces and nephews!"

Atem smiled at him, though he still felt his hearts burning in his chest. He shook his head and looked away. "That's a true evaluation," he said softly. And he felt as if there were claws gripping at his scales for a moment, suppressing a shudder. He hoped to the gods that none of them would be as terrible to each other as his siblings had him. The thought was enough to make him anxious for a split second. But he forced himself to consider Kisara, the kind-hearted female who so often spoke softly and seemed more docile than vicious… "They will be family."

"And you'll be free to visit them as you like," Kisara promised, smiling at them. Seto did not object, though his eyes fell on Yugi for a long moment and he gazed at him with something incredibly critical in his expression. Atem ignored this, for he knew otherwise they would go to blows. And Atem was not sure what might happen should they do so. The other three might get involved and he did not truly know enough of their individual strengths and mentalities to know if he could make it out of a fight unscathed. And Yugi would get involved and he did not know if they'd kill him for his interference or not…

He turned to the Felgrand, growling softly. Kisara looked up at him with soft eyes. And Yugi turned to him attentively, as if he expected him to lash out at his brother at any moment. But the female simply tilted her head slightly to the side and smiled at him a little wider.

"I'm hoping that it will be often, Atem."

The red male startled at the words for a split second, glancing at her for a moment. She was so hopeful, peering at him with bright eyes that made his hearts squeeze in his chest. He could not commit to such a thing. He drew in a deep breath and turned back to Seto with a pointed stare. "You will likely have to remain outside of the den, Seto. You know as well as I that you most likely will not be happy with me around your eggs when they are so new," he said slowly. Seto blinked, looking him over for a split second before huffing loudly. "And it would be stupid to risk the eggs getting crushed or anything of that nature because you might be overprotective of them."

Seto grunted. "I promised to stay outside anyways. She made me agree to that before we left."

"Good." Atem turned back to Yugi. The Gandora was still bouncing excitedly beside him. The Sky Dragon smiled faintly, shaking his head slightly, and nudged him gently in the shoulder. "I think your friend is waiting for you over there."

"Huh?"

The Gandora blinked and turned his head just as Atem gestured with a small jerk of his muzzle. Then he blinked again, sitting up straighter, and took off in a sprint when he spotted the Red-Eyes laying a few yards away speaking to another Fire Dragon. Jonouchi jumped when Yugi barreled towards him and the other dragon startled so violently that they sprang into the air and bristled, snarling in alarm. Yugi ignored them and Jonouchi burst out laughing at whatever it was he said in greeting. The other Fire Dragon hesitated a moment, then settled to take a seat and watch the two of them as they snickered.

Atem nearly flicked his tongue in annoyance. Yugi truly had no idea just how frustrating it was to watch him take off running like that. It was not as if Jonouchi were his mate. If he should have been running towards anyone like that…

He felt as if his hearts were breaking with the realization.

They might never be so close…

"You got rid of him? Why?"

Atem ignored him for a long handful of seconds. Then he blinked, looking over at his brothers. Bakura was staring after Yugi with an interested glint in his eyes, cruel and calculating, and Malik was considering Seto now. He shook his head, shaking himself out a moment later, and murmured, "Because our parents happen to be here. And I wished to speak to Mother and Father for a moment."

He did not glance at either of them when he got to his paws. He trotted off before any of them could object. But he nodded in departure to Kisara and Timaeus, and hoped that neither of them might take his decision personally. He just could not bear to be around his brothers any longer. There was so much tension in his bones and his thoughts were becoming a terrible tsunami of anger. He did not want to consider the various memories that tried so hard to dig themselves out of the darkness of his mind.

When Atem got close enough to his parents that he might call a greeting, it was his father to notice him first. The sky blue male blinked dark red eyes, looking over, and his face lit up. He was clearly surprised, startled by his sudden appearance, but he smiled and tilted his head with a purr. "Atem!"

The God Dragon slowed a few steps away from them, hesitating. Then he came a couple of paces closer, taking a seat. He wrapped his tail around his paws. "Hi," he murmured, studying them both for a long moment. He shook off the impulse to get up again and tuck his wings into his slender sides. It was the fact that he had only seen them perhaps twice before this upon fleeing that made him so terribly cautious now.

"Atem!" his mom cooed, delighted to see him. He offered her a small smile and flexed his claws, uncomfortable for a single moment. He had not seen them together beyond their brief interaction when he'd killed Keith. And that hardly counted. Before that, his mother had come to find him and they'd spoken for about an hour before she'd left and promised that he was welcome to come visit them at anytime he might wish. "How are you?"

"Fine," he answered, tilting his head. And he wondered if such an invitation still stood now that she knew he was mated to a Gandora dragon. He could not blame her if she chose to revoke it now that she knew of Yugi's status at his side. And he knew she was just as aware as he was that, should he travel so far, the hybrid would be coming with him. He would not leave him in his territory alone when it would take several days just to travel to his parents' territory even without frequent breaks… "Yugi and I are both fine."

"Where is he, by the way?" she asked, immediately craning her neck to look around. His father blinked once. And his mother frowned slightly in curious bewilderment, tilting her head in turn. "I didn't see him with you?"

Atem looked over his shoulder, searching for a moment. Yugi was still seated with Jonouchi, talking animatedly. He was on his back legs, leaning back much like a meerkat, paws up as he continued talking. But the Red-Eyes was not paying Atem attention in the slightest. And that comforted him considerably to realize. He appeared to be truly enjoying the story Yugi was telling. And he was glad to see that both of them looked so at ease for the moment.

Of course, there was jealousy within his belly as well. But it was impossible to suppress such a thing. And so he looked away.

"He is speaking with an old friend of his." Atem sat up slightly straighter, considering his parents for a moment. His dad had failed to take his eyes off him for even a moment. Atem looked at him and wondered somewhere in the back of his head mind if his father was afraid he might disappear if he took his eyes off him. And he wondered how badly he had taken his departure when he was younger. "But he's happy and healthy. So I assume I am doing well as his mate."

His mother laughed softly, his father blinking in surprise. He glanced past Atem and over to the spot that the Gandora sat. The God Dragon turned now as well. His mate sprang at Jonouchi, playing pawing at his side as if to make him mock fight with him. But Jonouchi looked uncomfortable more than anything. And Atem was not oblivious to how his attention shot immediately to the God Dragon, pupils flipping to a horizontal position in a single heartbeat.

"He's full of energy, huh?"

"He's my little Gandora," Atem muttered, not sure if he sounded bitter or just quiet at the moment. "Full of life and energy and fun."

His mother turned back to him, then lightly butted him in the shoulder. "He's adorable."

"He is," he agreed, turning away from Yugi and flexing his claws again. "He's great. He's amazing, actually."

"Have you met the others?" his dad asked after a moment, excitement coloring his tone. His red eyes were bright with curiosity, his pupils enlarged with wonder.

Atem blinked, then flicked his tail somewhat nervously. "Yes, I met the other three. I am not impressed. And I don't think the Leviathan was either." He paused, then moved to tilt his head and scratch at the back of his jaw with his hind paw. A small tingling came over the end of his tail. He blinked, confused, and continued scratching at his jaw. The slight itch was relieved and he settled comfortably for only a moment, bewildered. "I don't suppose it matters, how…ever…"

He had assumed it to be a phantom touch at first. He had been convinced he had touched a rock or something of that manner, moving his tail away.

But it was persisting. It would not stop. And that was more frustrating than he could put into words. He was not used to anything touching his tail. He was always so careful when he so much as coiled it around himself. The bundle of nerves at the end, where the blades rested, often became itchy when he dragged it on the ground too often. They were too sensitive to not heed.

Atem slowly lowered his eyes towards the ground. He blinked, flexing his claws. And his head slowly turned to consider where his tail lay. He blinked once more, confused, and slowly lifted his tail from the ground.

The sight stunned him for a moment, eyes growing owlish with surprise.

"Well, I've never had this happen before."

His mom sighed, exasperated. His father snickered and watched him with bright eyes. Atem barely noticed, however. He was stuck staring at the small dark green dragonet. It was mouthing on the concealed blades, teeth soft and small. He would have been amazed he could even feel the bites, because clearly they did not have their primary fangs as of yet, had it not been for the spot they were chewing.

"Oh my gods!" a new voice cried. He blinked, recognizing the paw steps and soft laughter. He turned his head immediately. The Gandora was at his side in an instant. His eyes were wide and bright with excitement. Atem smiled, glancing to Yugi and back to his tail again.

"That's adorable!"

Atem's mother let out a soft sigh. "That's…not what I was hoping to see today…"

The God Dragon opened his mouth to respond, turning to her. But his eyes blinked to thrice their usual size. There was a soft thud on the ground, followed immediately by a weak whimper of dismay.

"Ow, ow, ow!"

Atem snorted, looking down. His tail tip wagged slightly, wiggling in the hatchling's mouth. It squeaked, holding firm even as Atem leaned forward and shook his head slowly. "You know, little one, my tail is not nearly as tasty as you might think," he murmured, narrowing his eyes slightly. The nerves were itching, but he was hardly going to raise a paw to move the hatchling.

"She's so adorable!" Yugi cried, jumping up and down excitedly. Atem blinked at him, then chortled and smiled when he turned back to him. "You're her new teething toy, Atem!"

The Sky Dragon snorted and lowered his head to the other dragonet lying on its belly. It was a deep blue color, with a pale belly of tan scales. It had covered its head with its paws, rubbing unhappily. It remained prostate before him and Atem smiled a little wider. No doubt the hatchling had winded himself in his attempt to headbutt him in the chest like that. And it occurred to him only then that he had likely been trying to protect his sister from him.

He was smaller, with a shorter beak that made his eyes look larger than ever. His horns were soft and smooth on his head, arched upward almost akin Atem's own nest of thorny scales. His legs were short, his wings above them short and the membrane thin and nearly transparent like a shallow puddle. His claws were short, small and blunt like all hatchlings possessed when they were less than a full year old. His scales were shiny and slick in design, blue like a lapis-lazuli, his eyes dark and light blue like their father's scales. His paws were small, with five toes each, and his tail was longer than his sister's.

"By the gods, Mother, what have you been teaching them?" he teased.

But a new thought occurred to him and he stiffened. His head snapped up and turned to them, hearts thundering in his chest for a second. He nearly trembled with relief, realization coming through him. His parents did not look aggressive in the slightest. They did not even seem mildly upset that Yugi was there. His parents did not even look surprised that he had come dashing over like this.

It was almost as if they'd simply known and expected it.

He nearly collapsed with relief. He had not wanted to hurt them. He had not wanted to lash out at his own parents for Yugi's sake. He would have done so had it been necessary, but he had not wanted it in the slightest. Sky Dragon parents were known for being one of the most dangerous. They were more likely to protect their hatchlings than they were even themselves. And the sight of a Gandora rushing forward to meet their offspring would have made any others turn on him violently.

It must have been only the fact that Yugi was mated to him that had saved him then. It must have been only that he was so young that had gained their mercy. He knew that they would have killed had it been deemed necessary. Even Yugi had known that. His parents had warned him of such a thing when he was growing up in their territory. He'd held that close to his hearts when he'd seen Atem getting picked on by his siblings, he was sure. His parents would have come to protect Yugi had his siblings turned on him if he'd intervened and Atem's parents would have killed them in turn.

It was instinctive. Sky Dragons tended to be tightly knit in their family units. They would kill the moment they thought their offspring threatened. Atem would have never have been able to stop them had such a thing happened back then. But had they turned on Yugi now, he would have been forced to.

He was almost shaking when he turned to Yugi. The Gandora did not seem to realize just how close he'd gotten to that point, however. He was simply happy to see the little dragonet hanging from Atem's tail.

And Atem could not tell if he should find it cute or be alarmed and furious at him for such a thing. He had potentially thrown himself into an extremely dangerous situation had they assumed him a threat. He could have gotten himself easily in trouble and hurt for the action.

And it was not as if he had not done the same just the day before when he'd met Kris for the first time. Had he learned nothing from the experience then? Atem nearly huffed, but the sweet expression on his mate's face made his anger melt and he sighed softly before he could stop himself. He might as well have just been a hatchling himself, excitable and kind and gentle and full of life that Atem wondered now if he'd ever truly possessed.

"I told them never to go up to random dragons. Apparently that did not quite translate to them that it meant not to chew on random dragons as well." His mother was clearly flustered, shaking her head and sighing loudly. Atem smiled in amusement and Yugi snickered in delight, kneading at the ground in his excitement. "Mana, release your brother."

The small dragonet, with eyes the shade of tree bark and splashes of fallen pine needle, whined. Her voice was muffled against his tail. "But I'm not biting Valon!" she protested. Atem was amazed she was not struggling to regain her grip on him. She was hanging limping from his tail. And she did not look the slightest bit winded by this.

She was a brilliant sea green color, with scales of bright gold to line her underbelly. Her wings were wispy like smoke, her scales curled inward almost like feathers, and her head was the biggest thing about her, her legs short and stubby for the moment. Her tail was long, with a feathery plumage at the end the color of her underbelly. Atem watched her as she continued her nibbling.

She looked far more Wind Dragon than anything else.

"She's a Wind Typhoon Dragon," his dad said after the moment, as if he'd sensed his curiosity. Atem glanced at him now, blinking at the declaration and nodding slightly as he continued. "Or at least she resembles one almost perfectly. She's got the longer Sky Dragon body though."

Yugi was still watching her with glowing eyes, grinning. "She's adorable!" he cooed. He bounced up and down once more, trembling finely.

Atem snorted and wondered if the little Gandora could ever grow exhausted. He'd been so happy and bouncing around since Kisara had asked for his Blessing and then he'd dashed off to speak to Jonouchi and come back. He couldn't imagine having so much energy anymore. "You're saying she's cuter than me?"

"Never! Of course not!"

The God Dragon smirked, then shook his head. "You're a traitor," he teased. "You like my sibling more than me."

"Mommy! He's enormous!" Mana cried now. She sank her blunt claws into his tail, struggling to get a better grip now. Then she scrabbled up to a standing position. She was panting by the time she found her balance, eyes huge as they peered into his. Atem tilted his head curiously, studying her, and she crawled forward a few more steps. She crouched, wiggling her rump, and sprang at him. She hit him in the center of the head and nearly fell.

But Yugi was already on his hind paws, stretched out completely. His paw was pressed into Atem's chest plate between the keratin scythes on both sides. And he butted her gently on the rump. She caught her balance due to this, standing up on shaky legs and then beaming as she looked around proudly. Atem shot Yugi a dirty look and tapped him hard on the side with his tail. Yugi laughed and looked down after a moment. Valon was staring up at him with huge eyes now.

"Oh, are you okay?"

Atem snorted in laughter. "You didn't hurt him. He tried to headbutt me and fell back down again."

Yugi blinked, then looked at Atem with wide eyes. "Oh!" he laughed, turning back immediately once more. The dragonet was on his paws immediately, staring up at Atem with bright glowing blue eyes. He looked as if he had never once hurt himself when he'd rolled those few feet from the headbutt. The dragonet huffed a breath and hurriedly jumped from one limb to the next on his front paws.

"I'm tough!" he proclaimed without a second look. His bright blue eyes bore into his for a moment and Yugi smiled at the smaller dragonet when he looked over at the Gandora. Then he whined and tried to reach at Atem with his paws stretched out, leaning upward from his haunches. "I want up there too!"

Atem snorted softly, smirking and lowering his chin to the ground to give him better access. But the hatchling had such dull claws that he could not grip his scales properly. And so Yugi butted him gently on the rear to raise him over Atem's second mouth. Mana squeaked and then pawed her brother and the two of them immediately sprang at each other. When they fell over both sides of his head, Yugi burst out laughing.

"I should have you watch my clutch at home," Timaeus snickered as he came closer. He, unlike Yugi, kept a yard or so in distance between himself and the clutch. He, unlike Yugi, had his eye more trained on Atem's parents than Atem or the hatchlings themselves. He knew that the Wind Dragon wouldn't turn his claws or teeth on them, would simply show a submissive stance than fight back had they turned on him, but Atem wondered at the idea. Were his parents brave enough to take on a Knight Dragon? He could not imagine the battle by any means, but he wondered if they'd ever fought a species similar before…

"You make me chuckle," the God Dragon bit at him, glaring playfully now. He shook his head and scowled at him with a huff. But his irritation melted immediately when he saw how warm his amber eye was. Timaeus looked as if he adored them just for being his siblings and Atem smiled at him faintly in turn.

There was a small, short snarl, a warning noise which made Atem turn immediately. Malik was seated a few feet away from him, Bakura between himself and the golden dragon. He was snarling low in his throat, glaring at something near his paws. And it took Atem only a moment to realize that it was Valon. The little blue and tan hatchling was trying to make him pick him up, stretched out and whining as he had done with Atem. His paws were flexed out, his eyes huge with the plea to be picked up.

The God Dragon watched for a moment longer. Valon squeaked for attention, trying again to get Bakura to let him onto his head. But the Hunter Dragon snarled louder, showing his teeth in a hideous sneer, and backed up a few more steps. He looked as if he might lunge at him at any moment. And so Atem snarled in turn, glaring at him and bristling as he flexed his claws.

Malik looked over as if he had not even realized that their newest sibling was in front of Bakura to begin with. He blinked, purple eyes stretching wide, then glanced at Atem and quickly to his parents as he shook himself out. It was clear he wasn't going to intervene if something came to happen. Should their parents turn on Bakura, he'd simply step aside. If Atem were to do so, he'd likely do the same…

But Atem noticed with a snarl that his father was watching Bakura with dark eyes. The red orbs were narrowed, his head was tilted, and his lips were drawn back to show each of his brilliant white teeth. Seto was staring at Bakura with a snarl in turn, as if he could not understand in the slightest why the Hunter Dragon might be so dismissive and hostile towards their little brother.

Atem lowered his head to the ground, snorting out a breath. He didn't trust himself to speak. If he did, he was sure he'd spit and scare the little hatchling. But the noise was enough to make Valon turn, startled. The little blue male crouched down, wiggling his rump several times, and then sprang. He landed between Atem's eyes expertly, and Atem smiled in amusement.

Valon was running about his head when Atem straightened now. He bounced about, kneading with nonexistent claws, and purred with contentment. He settled for the gem on his forehead, sitting atop it and purring louder.

Atem had no doubt that Valon would be the one to learn to fly first. Between the two of them, he had the better aim and skill to leap than Mana seemed to. But he was also smaller and Atem wondered if he'd hatched a couple of days later than she might have. The fact that he did not communicate verbally as much as his sister did only proved that point. Dragonets often whined and purred and used visual cues to express themselves, because they were too young to form enough words to speak for a long time.

The fact that Mana could even speak so well was somewhat surprising to him, in truth. Usually it took about two and a half to three years for a dragonet to develop proper speech patterns like she seemingly possessed…

"I want up there too!" Mana protested, cutting into his thoughts. Atem blinked, looking over. She was chewing on his tail again and he wondered how he had missed such a thing. Somehow he'd been so caught up in his thoughts that he'd overlooked it.

She stared up at him with huge eyes now. She pawed at the air, trying to jump, and missed by a few inches. She didn't even truly land near his muzzle, he noted in surprise. She had been focused on it, but she'd miscalculated and landed near his back leg. She was in a heap before him, jumping immediately to her paws again.

She shook herself out and huffed. Her eyes narrowed and she whined loudly. When she trotted forward to face him, this time she simply stretched herself out and waited impatiently for him to let her up as he had Valon.

Yugi was the one to react.

Atem had been trying to find the best way to grab her. A paw would have been too careless. Her scales were too soft. He'd cut her for sure. Leaning forward would have sent Valon flying. And to try to use his tail was dangerous. If she moved the wrong way, she could press on his nerves. And his tail could open. He could have grabbed her in a coil, wrapping it around her, but if she slipped through…

The Gandora had lowered his mouth, as if it were an instinctive action. Atem stiffened. His head snapped to his parents. His lips drew back, prepared to get between them. But Yugi had abruptly stopped, he noted. From the corner of his eye, his mate had clearly remembered himself. He halted, his head snapping up and away. And he turned to Atem's mother and father with an inquisitive look.

Both of his parents were eyeing him. Their eyes were slightly colder than before. And his father had considerably tensed. His lips were curled the smallest degree. But his mother was statuesque, watching him. For a moment, they simply stared.

And then she smiled slowly. "Go ahead," she mumbled, nodding at him. And, abruptly, his father lost his aggressive stance. He relaxed, settling. And Atem felt his own muscles lose their tension. He turned back to Yugi, thinking for a moment to swat at him.

The dog-brain was going to get them into a lot of trouble one of these days.

But he couldn't do so when Yugi grabbed Mana in his mouth. He grabbed her so delicately that she didn't even seem to notice. She was still whining, but her eyes stretched several times wider. And then she flexed her paws and squealed.

"Look! I'm flying!"

"No!" Valon protested hotly. "He's holding you! That doesn't count!"

Atem snorted. Mana huffed and glared. Yugi placed her there in front of Valon. And the two hatchlings glared at one another for a moment. And then the green female raced off to the top of his crown of spikes. Valon huffed again, bristling and lashing his tail as she preened about being higher up than him.

Yugi took a seat in front of Atem. His eyes were locked on his siblings. And Atem could see his tongue flicking from the smallest gap in his teeth. He was working frantically to detect any blood, he realized.

Atem felt as if his hearts were breaking for a moment. Yugi truly thought he'd hurt her. He butted him gently in the shoulder, smiling softly, and the Gandora immediately forgot the task. He turned to him with huge, glimmering eyes, and beamed at him. Atem licked his cheek and then paused halfway through a second, blinking. His eyes narrowed into slits and he growled a quiet, "Really now?"

Yugi burst out laughing. He bounced on his paws, trembling. Then he began kneading, eyes so bright with laughter that Atem huffed in frustration. But his mate showed him no mercy in his laughter and Atem glared at him petulantly.

"She's teething almost as badly as you did!" his mother laughed. Her eyes were bright, warm and affectionate, as she looked back at the God Dragon. Atem watched her for a moment, then huffed exasperatedly in turn. "Of course, she doesn't have the two mouths. Thank the gods. Your teething phase was an absolute nightmare."

"But I am still a dream compared to the other three," he scoffed.

"I'm not commenting," she snickered, turning quickly away. His father burst out laughing and smirked at his siblings. Bakura was scowling at him, resentment making his eyes almost black. Malik huffed and glared at them both. And Seto had begun to sneer, flicking his tongue.

"Well, at least your teeth grow back almost immediately. I lost mine and they didn't grow back for another moon," Yugi whined, huffing. His face broke into another wide grin when he looked at Mana and Valon, however. "Now, that was a nightmare."

There was a single loud snicker. Atem blinked, turning his head. Yugi paused, startled, head snapping around. Timaeus snorted. And Jonouchi laughed harder, having crept closer to them but not much too much so. He was a few yards from Timaeus, closer to Yugi than anything.

"Toothless Gandora," the Red-Eyes snickered.

Yugi blinked, then scowled. He growled and leaped at him. And Jonouchi dodged him, laughing. Yugi chased him, swatting at him. The Red-Eyes sidestepped. And bumped straight into Atem's side. He yelped when he looked over, then hurriedly scurried to Yugi's side. He was behind the Gandora in an instant, as if to use him as a shield.

For a single second Yugi looked stunned. And then he burst out laughing and smirked at his friend. "Ha! You wimp!" he crowed. He turned to Atem with bright eyes. "We need to find more dragons that are scared of you. I'll corner them and chase them towards you and then they can try to run away like he did!"

Jonouchi snarled, scowling at him. "It's not funny!"

"What was that about him being so incredibly vicious, Atem?" Timeaus chuckled. He stretched himself lazily and smirked at the God Dragon.

"I stand by it," Atem growled stubbornly. He nodded when Yugi and Jonouchi both looked over, huffing a breath and then pretending to claw at the air. "He'll rip you to tiny pieces if you upset him. He's the most vicious Gandora ever."

His mother snorted loudly. His father chuckled and shook his head. Timaeus laughed loudly. Seto growled. Bakura sneered. And Malik simply stared at Yugi for a moment. Jonouchi, however, seemed to consider this for a moment.

"He does a really good job of clawing someone up if they upset him, that's for sure," he mumbled. He blinked. And then he turned to Yugi, grinning widely, and nudged him with his paw. "You did a huge number on Keith!"

Yugi shook his head slightly. He frowned, growing still and uncertain for a moment. His eyes remained locked on the Fire Dragon beside him, a grimace on his face as he shook his head. "I just distracted him long enough for Atem to get there," he muttered. He glanced at Atem for a moment, and the God Dragon wondered for a moment if he was thinking of what Keith had threatened to do to him, if he was remembering how close he'd truly come to being killed and having his hearts eaten out of his chest…

"Your new hatchlings are monsters," Atem said, turning to his mother now. He saw Yugi lose some of the discontent in his expression in mere seconds. "They're really chewing on me!"

"The middle spike on his head is super tasty!" Yugi chirped. He bounced up and down, grinning at the hatchlings and snickering.

Atem swatted at him, tapping him in the shoulder with his long claws. "Don't you dare encourage the little beasts!" he growled.

Yugi butted him in the shoulder again and turned to Jonouchi with bright eyes. "He's so mean! I'm not even allowed to enjoy it when his siblings are biting him!"

Atem snickered. Jonouchi cast him a cautious glance and then looked away again. He shivered and seemed to fold in on himself. The Sky Dragon opened his mouth to speak, but his voice was drowned out when another called out, "Let us hold counsel now."

Chapter Text

Part VI: Counsel

Atem was not surprised in the slightest that Yugi moved to take a seat so close to him like this. It was a wise power play, in truth, as it made it clear that Yugi was who he was mated to. It also made it clear that Yugi had forcefully placed himself there among the God Dragons in an effort to stand in a more united front.

What did surprise him, however, was that the other God Dragons failed to say a word in argument. Not even the Leviathan so much as spoke against it. And, even when he tilted his head and wondered at it, none of them said a word. Yusei simply looked at the two of them and then away, Jaden watched Atem for a few moments and then glanced to the Leviathan, and the Divine Sea Serpent watched Yugi with interest. Beyond this, none of them acknowledged it. And Atem could see Jesse sitting beside Jaden, though a much more respectable distance back from his mate.

The Gandora was seated extremely close to him. He could have reached out and touched his tail with his paw. He could have stretched his neck out and licked his wing or butted him in the shoulder. He could very easily leap forward and lash out should someone make any movement that he did not like. But they were not touching. And the distance between them felt extremely wide, like an immense canyon, and Atem wanted that physical contact more than he did anything else at the moment. He missed the touch so much that he might as well have had his own wings stripped from his body.

And so he did not have the heart to remind Yugi that if a fight were to break out, it was more than likely that Jaden would simply put an end to it. He did not have the words. And he did not want Yugi to leave his side. So he remained silent, blinking tired eyes in the dark. The starry moonlit sky overhead was truly a blessing, as it was likely the only reason he could see as it was. His eyes were not made for such darkness; while the ground seemed to shimmer, he did not think that he would have been able to see in the slightest had there been clouds overhead…

He was at a disadvantage should they hold counsel so often at this time of night. He would be blind if they skies were not clear. But to clear them himself could cause devastation in another part of the world. He had struggled with that when he was younger. At times, when he would become upset, before Timaeus had crossed paths with him, the sky would darken and lightning would strike and heavy downpours would come. And, elsewhere, a drought might strike a predominantly rainy terrain. It was a blessing that he was not the only Sky Dragon in the world, that all of them were able to control weather patterns. But he knew he could overpower them easily enough.

And the problem was, without the moon overhead, the starlight did little to give him enough light. If the others chose to hold counsel on a new moon, he would be all but blind. His electroreception would help to keep him safe, he knew; he'd sense any little movement close enough to him that it entered the range of the sensitive nerve bundles on his paws, wings, tail, or beak. But it was a weakness as well. He could only detect something if he focused on it completely. And he could not always tell apart an aggressive movement from a simple twitch of the paw.

Shadows were indistinguishable to him at times. Most often he had to strain his eyes and remain extremely still to truly see something if it was more than a few yards away from him. And then he would struggle to differentiate one shape from the next at times. The effort to do so was absolutely exhausting and Atem just thanked the gods that he could even tell Yugi apart from the shadows in their den at times.

The heat bore down on him as he continued to look around. The air was stifling and all five sets of his lungs ached from breathing in them alternatively. He was trying his hardest to store and sift through reservoirs of fresher air, so that he was not rendered incapable of maintaining his body heat. If he lost that ability, he would soon see himself losing the strength to move. And if that were to happen, he would be a lamed oxen before these three God Dragons.

Yet, as he looked, the Leviathan was shifting his weight in discomfort. The heat was bearing down on him perhaps worse than it was even Atem. At least Wind Dragons could endure heat for the most part. They were not built to remain in the desert, but they were capable of moving about and traveling expanses should they have to. Atem had, thankfully, never had to move about in the desert before, but the strip of terrain he'd lived in with Timaeus had been enough to want him to avoid it at all costs. Timaeus had had to carry him more than once, and he'd had to dump Atem in watering holes in an effort to keep him hydrated and healthy enough to keep moving. The place between the planes and the mountains was not quite desert, but the lack of coverage had nearly killed him more than once. They had not moved dens often, but Timaeus had been extremely cautious after the Red-Eyes that had drifted too close. He'd changed their den every two or three moons for the year they'd been together.

Being dumped in mud puddles because Atem could not summon rainstorms or even so much as spit water into the dirt had been a disaster. Whenever they'd gotten to a mud hole or a watering hole he'd drop him in, roll him in the mud and cake it to his scales, and then they'd move along again. Timaeus had been relatively unaffected by the heat. But Atem's former wound and his young age had made him an extreme hindrance for the Wind Dragon. But Timaeus had hardly seemed to care, carrying him around, grooming him clean of mud at night.

They hadn't traveled at night because of Atem's inability to see properly. And Timaeus himself had been partially blind. He'd been scared that Atem might wander too far if he got curious, that he'd get hurt and the Wind Dragon would be unable to help him…

Atem shook it off. The Leviathan was nearly panting, he noted. But he did not open his mouth. And he himself struggled to alternate between his lungs once more. His primary lungs were too heavy. And his chest felt as if it were constricting. Atem was not sure in the slightest that he could produce enough perspiration to keep his scales sleek and slippery as they should have been. He didn't have enough water in his system to do so, he realized unhappily.

He should have rested in the shade rather than in the sun when he was with Timaeus. He should have asked where the nearest river was, swam about and drank as deeply as he could. He could have stalled this response to the intense heat. It was too close after sunset. Maybe in a couple of hours it would be cooler…

"This is your first time holding counsel with us," the white and blue dragon said quietly. Atem startled, head snapping around. He blinked, confused, and the Stardust Dragon smiled faintly as he tilted his head and watched him. "I suppose then that introductions are in order, yes?"

The Sky Dragon tipped his head into a small, curt nod. It was hardly something he cared for. In truth, he knew their names already. He knew them because of the species of each of them, from the rumors that surrounded the three of them. And that alone was enough to make him want to huff in disdain and turn away. It was not as if he truly had something against them, but it was not as if he were unable to figure out who they were by his own cunning.

Then again, perhaps it was best not to show them his intelligence for the moment. They had already fed into the rumors surrounding him, so why not let them to continue to think that he was brainless and murdered regardless of intent in his territory?

But he would rather they not have his name. Just the idea of saying his own name and allowing all of these dragons in this clearing to know it made him anxious. A name was, in truth, simply a name. But he was so used to fighting other dragons and refusing to give them even this morsel of himself that he could not truly comprehend doing such a thing now.

"I am Yusei, the Stardust Dragon and God Dragon of the North." He dipped his head respectfully and Atem mirrored him, if only to show his manners. He was not stupid. He had been taught that if another dragon nodded to him he was meant to do the same. It was a sign of respect and an acknowledgment of power between them. To fail to do so could potentially cause any of the dragons to lash out should they so desire. "Beside me is Jaden, the Prime Material Dragon and God Dragon of the South. Sitting before you, though you've already met, is the Leviathan, God Dragon of the West."

Atem nodded and rose to his paws. "I have had the pleasure, yes," he confirmed. The Leviathan smirked at him, a mouth of strange need-like teeth. Atem moved forward a step, looking briefly at the crowd of dragons that were sitting together beneath their little plateau, and then turned back to the other four that were watching him so intently. Jesse had huge eyes, was staring at him as if he were some kind of sight to behold. "I am Atem, God Dragon of the East."

Yugi shivered as Atem took his seat again. The red male cast him a curious sideways glance and the Gandora smiled at him. Whispers were cast about immediately, some of them skeptical of a Slifer being a God Dragon. A few asked why he was up there with them when he clearly could not be one. Someone else hissed at them that he was the one who had killed Keith. And others sneered that the God Dragons wouldn't just let him sit with them unless he truly was a God Dragon himself. No one seemed to notice Yugi up there, however, and he was grateful for that.

He glanced away from Atem for a moment. And his eyes flickered down to the crowd. Mana and Valon were seated beneath their mother and father respectively. Their heads were craned up, their huge eyes struggling to see everything. Valon was staring at Atem with an awed expression. Mana had turned to her mom and was asking in a loud voice if they were really related to a God Dragon. And he watched as her mother shushed her with a short glare but gave her a quiet "Yes" immediately afterwards. When Mana squeaked with excitement, Valon turned to stare and their father gently rubbed at the blue male's head to make him relax and lose his curious stance. Valon was clearly tired, Yugi noted, because he was yawning and shuffling around staring at Atem.

"We offer apology for not meeting with you sooner," Yusei continued after a long moment. The other dragons had finally fallen silent again. Yugi searched the crowd for a few seconds longer.

Besides Atem's siblings—Bakura was glowering, Malik was staring at the Leviathan, and Seto had moved to let Kisara rest her head on his paws where she was lying down—he saw no other familiar faces. Shizuka had not come with Jonouchi and the Red-Eyes male was stretched out near Timaeus who was sitting up and paying rapt attention. The Fire Dragon Clan leader was not anywhere; so Yugi wondered if Honda had been hurt in the fight and so was still recovering. Likely he had sent someone else to attend in his place, but he did not know who it might have been.

Yugi sat up a little straighter after a moment, movement making him stiffen. The Divine Serpent's tail had begun to lash from side to side aggressively. The forked formation was much like a tongue, but it reminded Yugi more of a wild dog's large teeth. He stiffened further and risked an uncomfortable glance towards Atem.

But the Sky Dragon hardly seemed to notice or to care in any manner. He was facing Jaden and Yusei at the moment. And, had Yugi not known how capable he was or how well-tuned his muscles and instincts were, he would never have realized Atem was still watching the Leviathan. He looked, Yugi knew, as if he might be unprepared should the Leviathan lash out and attempt to attack.

"We were not truly aware of your existence prior to hearing you had done away with Keith." Yusei looked flustered for a brief moment, blue eyes flickering as his pupils flipped to a horizontal position. Yugi wondered at the sight for a moment, but quickly turned back when the Leviathan shifted his weight. He looked angry, but not as if he might lash out at either of them for the moment. And that made Yugi feel slightly more comfortable.

"I am not concerned with matters of the past." Atem sounded calm, voice strong and carrying across the clearing without issue. The still wind and hot air made him sound exactly as a God Dragon should have, full of natural strength and power far surpassing his various witnesses. "Let us discuss what we are gathered here for."

"Very well."

Yusei did not seem upset by the dismissal. Instead he turned his head to regard Jaden, nodding slowly in a respectful incline of his head. The Prime Material Dragon studied Atem a moment longer, then stepped forward. Yugi noticed only then that Jesse was close by, the Rainbow Dragon watching Jaden with a tilted head. He was pointed in his stare, Yugi noted, and his insides twisted for a brief moment.

"We are here to discuss the future of the offspring that Keith fathered before the war he tried to wage. I am told those encountered in battle were all but impossible to kill at first, that they were far more powerful than they should have been otherwise." The golden dragon's head turned to regard Atem now, his stare just as pointed as Jesse's seemed to be moments before. But there was not that keen affection in his stare that the Rainbow Dragon harbored for the God Dragon before them. It was mere study. And Yugi could see his pupils now thin slits of dark black against the glowing orange of his irises. "You fought one, did you not, Atem? Are the rumors true?"

Atem remained silent for a long handful of minutes. Then he slowly tilted his head and considered him thoughtfully. His eyes flickered to Yugi for a brief moment, focusing there and boring into his skin. The Gandora tilted his head the smallest fraction, wondering at the sight, but it was over again a mere second later and the Sky Dragon turned away again almost instantly.

"His son was harder to kill than most Red-Eyes I have fought, yes," he finally said, considering the words for a long moment. His eyes narrowed and Yugi swore he could see the thoughts behind them, making them darker than usual and perhaps harder as well. He thought his eyes looked like the gleaming surface of his long claws. "But he was not all-powerful. And he was much younger than I would have assumed he would be. Keith brought them into this fight prematurely. And I believe he would have been far harder to kill had he been stronger and allowed to fully mature."

Yugi blinked and shivered. The Wind Dragon had been too powerful to kill immediately as she should have been. Her armor had been reinforced. And it had taken both himself and Jonouchi to truly kill her…

She'd survived what should have been a death blow.

She had died only when Jonouchi's fireball had made contact. She had not been killed from the wounds he himself or the Red-Eyes had managed to inflict. But she had been nothing more than a Harpy Dragon. And, yet, somehow she had been powerful enough to sustain herself throughout. She had winded Yugi with a hit the flank. And she had held her own when Jonouchi had rushed her.

Her scales had been unusually reinforced where they should have been much weaker. But her wings—which should have been the most powerful—had been extremely weak. They had crumbled and broken and torn where Yugi had bitten them.

"Then they are dangerous," Jaden surmised. His voice was cool and his eyes expressionless as he peered back at Atem studiously. He did not seem upset with the mild answer or the quiet tone the Sky Dragon had used, however, and Yugi felt relieved to realize such a thing. "This is why we hold counsel today. We must decide if they are dangerous enough that they must be killed or if we might simply allow them to live."

Yugi shivered. His scales rose into a mild bristle and he struggled not to shift his weight awkwardly or to press gently into Atem's side. His attention shot to the red male and his mate remained oddly still beside him. An icy claw ran itself over his spine and Yugi nearly trembled, uncertainty crashing through him.

Would Atem just listen to them declare an execution without argument? He might have argued with Seto about the entire thing, but was it possible that now that he was among the other God Dragons he might buckle? He had stood up for them before, but did that mean he would do so now? Or might he simply sit there and listen to them and follow through with their plans when they demanded it of him?

Was it a strategic maneuver? Was he afraid of fighting them like this? Atem was dangerous, yes, and Yugi knew that he had never truly lost a fight before. Had he, Yugi would never have been able to mate with him as it was. But, if that were the truth of it, was he afraid of the God Dragons before them? Was he afraid that they might attempt to kill him or harm Yugi in turn?

Perhaps that was why he did not speak out at the moment.

But something else clawed at him and he shivered. Was Atem simply going to listen to them and let them call the shots? If he were to do that, what would come of this meeting? And how much blood would lie on Atem's claws by the end of it?

Yugi was almost trembling now. Atem's face was expressionless. And his eyes gave nothing away. He could not see the gem on his forehead from this angle. And he was afraid to try to see it in case Atem's gem showed nothing as well.

Jaden turned to face the dragons beneath their plateau now. His eyes were narrowed, his six wings tucked into his sides firmly. They truly looked like autumn leaves, curled inwards and dying beneath the sun. But, even beneath the moonlight, their color was so vibrant that he thought they were made of burning, glowing sunlight.

"Does anyone else wish to speak of their encounters with them?"

There was a long minute of silence. Glances were cast at one another, but they all seemed to cower. One dragon lowered their head entirely and refused to look at their friend. Another pretended to groom their wing. And another simply kneaded with their head down.

Yugi wondered at the uncomfortable atmosphere, if they were afraid to speak to a God Dragon or if they were simply too nervous to do so. And then he wondered if maybe it was their pride, wounded and broken, that made them so uncomfortable now. But, he wondered, was it also superstition? Perhaps they assumed if they were to speak up about their encounters, they might have to relive them later.

Yugi had heard of such a thing before. He'd heard stories about it when he was younger, how sometimes incurring the wrath of someone could cause such a terrible thing to happen. They would relive their terrors or come to suffer in Purgatory due to having acted against another due to something of that nature. If any of them had killed another dragon, most likely they did not want to admit to such a thing…

Finally, to his surprise, a sleek Fire Dragon with red scales rose to their paws. Yugi struggled for a name to their species, but nothing came. And finally he settled for simply watching as they spoke just loud enough for all of them to hear.

"Honda, leader of the Fire Dragon Clan, sent me in his stead. He's recovering from a fight with one of Keith's daughters. She was an Ice Dragon, if I remember correctly. And she had jaws too strong for her species and scales far too powerful to be punctured or dislodged in the first hit." She was quiet for a long moment. And her eyes abruptly shot to Atem, as if she were afraid he might lash out at her at any moment. But Yugi could see his mate from the corner of his eye. And the Sky Dragon had closed his eyes, tilting his head towards her as if to listen better. "Much like the God Dragon of the East said, she was far younger than any dragon brought into war before."

Yugi felt the smallest bit of ice in his blood at the pronouncement of his mate's title. Something about the way she said it was in awe or perhaps disbelief and it made him nearly bristle. But when she took a seat again, there was only silence.

Timaeus, Yugi noticed, stared at her for a long time. His head was tilted, his eye thoughtful, but he made no move to stand. He did not so much as blink again. And, instead, he turned to look at Atem again, as if the female were not inches from him nor had ever come to speak to begin with.

"Thank you for your testimony," Jaden murmured after a moment. And his orange eyes abruptly focused on Yugi, as if he were trying to hear something that the Gandora had not said. He peered at him, studying, but did not make a move to speak. And, after a moment, he simply took a seat. His eyes were on the clearing beneath them again. And Yugi wondered how often it was that Jaden had held counsel like this, how often the dragons as a whole voted on things like this. How often could he have had to suffer through reluctant statements made for the better good? Or, had he simply gone by his own instincts and refused later to regard others and their experiences? Yugi could not know. He'd never been to a meeting like this. And the legends surrounding the Fire Dragon were mixed as far as demeanor went. "If there are no others who wish to speak of what happened, then we shall decide our actions between the four of us."

Yugi wondered suddenly if perhaps the God Dragons were putting on a show for Atem. Perhaps they thought to make a power play in doing this, as if to make him feel uncomfortable and secluded for the moment. But he wondered then, if perhaps Jaden was trying to make everyone feel better and more comfortable in the act of sharing as necessary.

"They…took my mate from me."

It was a mumble and Yugi couldn't find who said it. When he looked down, everyone was pointedly staring at the ground rather than facing one another.

"And my son."

"My entire clutch was killed."

"They disemboweled my friend."

"My mother was decapitated."

A small flurry of these statements continued for a long handful of minutes. Yugi glanced at Atem, wondering at the way his mate had remained entirely still and refused to so much as open his eyes. He wondered if he was remembering his own fight with Keith, or if he was thinking of the various bodies he'd scattered around the mountains they called home.

And then there was an uneven silence, deferring to the God Dragons once more. Jaden had his head tilted, listening to them for the moment, and turned away without speaking anymore.

The silence stretched a few minutes longer.

And, finally, Jaden and Yusei looked at one another. Yugi couldn't see what passed between them, but he saw the irritation on the Leviathan's face when they turned to him as well.

"I vote that we simply kill them," the Divine Serpent sneered. His tail thumped once. Yugi cast a glance towards him, nervous as he felt a snarl beginning to crawl into his throat. He really did not want to face this monster in a fight. The thought scared him too much to think straight. His sheer height difference and his species alone were enough to give the Gandora worry. But if he were ever to make the mistake of springing at Atem, Yugi would kill him for it. "It is the quickest and most effective way to put an end to the potential threat without the loss of lives."

"Do you understand what you are asking of us? You are suggesting that we root through various nests and find the places that Keith once traveled in order to pick out who we might then assume to be his offspring," Atem said slowly. His voice carried powerfully over the clearing and Yugi turned to him with wide eyes, startled by the sudden declaration. The Sky Dragon, however, was not paying attention to any of them. His eyes were raised to the sky overhead and his focus was on the moon and starlight overhead. Yugi could not tell what he was truly staring at, if it was the moon that shown so perfectly and reflected itself brilliantly upon the gem on his forehead, or if it was a particular cluster of stars in the sky. "That is a burdensome task and could take moons or years to properly perform."

"That is easily rectified. We ask those who crossed paths with him to come to us," the Leviathan stated, snorting and flicking his tongue at Atem. The Sky Dragon blinked and lowered his head to look at him now. And the Sea Serpent glared angrily. "It is as easy as decreeing a law for them to present themselves and their clutches to us."

"For a slaughter?" Atem hissed in turn. He bristled faintly, flexing his claw, and narrowed his eyes. "You should truly be so foolish as to believe it could be so simple and easy? Have you forgotten that they could all fly? Let alone considered the love a mother fosters for their offspring?"

"You say that as if they might be able to look on those little monsters with affection."

Atem narrowed his eyes and shook his head slowly. "Did you ever know the love of your own mother?" he asked in such a soft voice that Yugi knew he would never have been able to hear him had it not been for the other dragons being so silent. "If you did not, I feel sorry for you. But I will be the first to tell you that no mother worthy of her clutch would hand her offspring over for the sake of execution."

Jaden was studying them both now. His eyes had sharpened, darkening to almost red shade. He seemed as if he might step between them at any moment and Yugi was almost relieved to see that. But, to Yugi's utter amazement and disbelief, Yusei shook his head and flicked his tongue. His mouth worked a moment later, his voice soft but carrying in the dead air around them, as he murmured, "I rather wish to see this, Jaden."

The Prime Material Dragon spun around, sneering, "And if the rumors might be true? You and I both warned Jesse of him before we let him leave to find him. And he returned wounded, remember? If he should slay the Leviathan—"

"They are not merely rumors," Atem growled now, but he did not turn from the Leviathan. And Yugi felt winded as realization crashed through him a split second later. Atem was distracting them. Because Jesse had not told Jaden who had hurt him. He had not said it was Yugi who had lashed out. And Yugi did not think he had even said Atem had harmed him. "I did kill many of my suitors. And I destroyed Keith for his mere stupidity of attempting to return to my territory. I have no qualms doing such again."

"You have the ability to stop it if it gets so far," Yusei said, ignoring the two other males. Yugi saw his eyes locked on Jaden now. The dark blue gems were all but glowing in the dark. And Yugi saw Jesse staring at the other Ice Dragon with a small frown of puzzlement.

"You're an imbecile," Jaden spat. "There is no reason for blood to be shed here."

Atem turned away. Yugi shivered and flexed his claws. The Leviathan thumped his tail. Atem snorted softly in amusement. Jaden bristled and glared. Yusei snickered. Jesse tilted his head.

"I am the War God," the Leviathan snarled, staring back at Atem with growing hatred. His golden eyes were blazing in the darkness. "If I should fight you, I will carve your carcass hollow."

Atem snorted, laughter bubbling into his voice now. "I do not abide by such frail threats, Leviathan," he returned, smirking. "Nor will I ever make one in turn. Should you fight me, it will be the end of you."

"Atem…" The Sky Dragon turned to him immediately. His eyes were wide, puzzled, the gem in his forehead oddly clear, and his head tilted in bewilderment. Yugi frowned and shifted his weight uncomfortably. He wanted nothing more than to lick his face, to whisper for him to calm down and to relax and comfort him until he was no longer so riled up. "We don't need a fight to break out. It's not worth it."

The words made Atem blink. And then he snorted loudly and turned away without a second glance. The Leviathan thrashed his tail, claws like human swords when he flexed them in the darkness. Yugi stiffened and looked between them both nervously, feeling sick and nearly winded.

If they were to truly strike at one another, he did not know who might win. It was not as if they were at their fullest strength to begin with. The heat was too immense. Atem's scales were dried out, looking almost flaky beneath the moonlight, and his wings had begun to droop at his sides. And he looked duller, his natural gloss stripped from him due to the heat. Yugi couldn't help but think of a fish that had been baked in the sunlight or put atop the flames of a human fire.

But then…

Atem had also survived multiple attacks from various dragon species. He knew he'd fought Fire Dragons most often, but he was sure Water Dragons had attempted to court him as well. It was not as if they were above such greedy intentions. And he was sure Atem had been subjected to various torments when it came to potential mates that had so often tried to seduce him and win his favor. Between the fighting, the leering, the anger, and the hate that he himself had developed, Yugi was sure he could handle his own no matter what happened.

But…

How many of his suitors had been nearly as large and powerful as the Divine Serpent before them?

"You act like a miserable little hatchling," Atem hissed abruptly, flicking his tongues. He was sitting straighter, Yugi noted, and his stomach churned. His hearts began to beat frantically in his chest. He didn't know how fast the Leviathan could move. He had no idea if he was fast enough to get between them when it came down to it. The heat might barely manage to slow the Water Dragon… "You are the second oldest of the four of us. Should you not be attempting to set an example for me?"

The condescension in his tone made Yugi shiver. He looked over just as the Leviathan snarled. Those darkened golden eyes were locked on Atem. Yugi bristled, bunching his muscles. He could at least slow him down, he was sure. He could do as he had with Keith, though he hoped more than ever not to have to catch himself on fire as he had before. But he found himself nearly shaking.

He could not fathom the enormity of leaping between them.

And the sneer on Atem's face did not make this realization any easier.

Atem was truly looking to fight the other God Dragon.

Yugi was shivering again. He flexed his claws, struggling to keep himself in place. Then he tightened his muscles further. He forced himself to stay still. He couldn't leap out at the Leviathan before the Water Dragon moved. It would look as if he were the one trying to pick a fight—

Yugi barely saw it.

Atem flicked his tongue.

The Leviathan launched himself, a blur in the moonlight.

Atem took a moment longer. Then he sprang forward. He was in front of the Leviathan in an instant. And then he dodged, sidestepping.

Yugi would have missed it had he blinked.

Atem moved again.

The Sky Dragon shot towards the Water Dragon's right back leg. His weight was balanced expertly on his haunches. And every muscle was tensed. He crouched back. His left paw hooked beneath the limbs. His claws curled around it.

And then he reared up.

The leverage sent the Leviathan flying.

The Water Dragon snarled. He spiraled in the air. Then he landed heavily on his back. There was a large cloud of dust. But it was not blinding. And Yugi could clearly see his salmon-colored belly like a snake's pale underside.

The Gandora gaped. He had barely been able to track the movements. And he had not realized before how powerful Atem's front limbs were. He had never considered it before.

The Leviathan struggled for his paws. The Gandora was unsure what triggered it. It might have been the threat from earlier. It could have been how he'd looked at the Sky Dragon. It could have been his sneering. It might have just been a likeness to what Atem had gone through with his suitors formerly.

But Yugi heard it. And he recognized it.

The sharp click made him stiffen.

Yusei and Jaden both blinked, confused. Their heads snapped up, turning. Both sought the source of the noise. They considered each other in bewilderment. Then they glanced at Jesse. But the Rainbow Dragon was staring in confusion.

Yugi saw them in his peripheral.

But he was still focused on Atem now.

And the Sky Dragon blinked lazily. The gears were turning behind his eyes. His body was rigid. His head tilted minutely. And his focus sharpened. The gem on his forehead turned blindingly clear.

He was taking aim…

Yugi launched himself forward.

Panic made him faster. But it made him clumsy as well.

He did not stop as he'd meant to. He'd meant to get to his side. He'd meant to tell him not to do it. Instead he tumbled over his own paws and skid. And he hit Atem hard in the side, falling over again.

Atem spun on him. His paw was raised. His claws were curled inward. His mouths were opened. He snarled somewhere deep in his chest. And he aimed for Yugi's throat with deadly precision.

And then he blinked.

Yugi peered up at him. It took everything in him not to squeak. Terror reduced him to the natural instincts of a hatchling. He tried not to tremble.

He had never gone against Atem's instincts like this. He was more than shocked. He was more than chilled. Atem stared down at him. He had been so angry. His eyes had been cold, hideous and fierce.

But now he blinked again. And he lost the aggressive expression.

And Yugi nearly shook with relief.

Atem recognized him.

He'd trusted him to stop, but it had left him terrified all the same.

And his trust, he realized, had truly paid off.

Atem blinked once more. His paw lowered to the ground. His tail slammed hard into the ground. Dust billowed up from the force. Yugi could hear it scraping across the ground. Atem stared at him, lashing it several times more. And then Yugi heard the soft clicking and grinding of his bones as the keratin blades were sheathed again.

He relaxed. Atem hummed softly. Then he nudged him in the shoulder with his large beak. Yugi blinked and Atem leaped over him to make his way back to his seat. The Gandora scrambled for his paws, then hurried to chase him.

His mate took his seat as respectfully as he had before, pristine and beautiful in his position. He sat straight, with no sense of embarrassment to be seen on his face in the slightest. His stance was proud, calm and collected as always. And Yugi found himself relaxing further as he took his spot beside him comfortably.

The Leviathan, on the other hand, was shaking himself out. He looked startled, more or less stunned by the attack. But he was not upset, Yugi noticed in surprise. And, when he glanced around, he felt almost sick. All of the dragons were staring with huge eyes. But he doubted that they had seen Atem's tail. He did not think that any of them had recognized it in the slightest. And, when he looked at the other God Dragons, none of them seemed to know either.

Atem's tail was wrapped around his paws in soft coils. And Yugi shifted his weight as he got more comfortable beside him. The Leviathan looked somewhat rattled as he took a seat in front of them again. He did not seem furious in any manner, however, and Yugi noticed that both Atem and the Leviathan had lost the tension in their muscles altogether.

"Well," Yusei snickered, sounding delighted, "now that our youngest brother has knocked some sense into you, how do you feel?"

Yugi snickered, leaning forward to touch Atem's flank lightly with his beak. It was gentle and soft, almost affectionate, he knew, and he nearly shivered with dismay. As he had suspected, Atem had no moisture left to make his scales slippery. His scales were dry and uneven beneath his beak. And, more uncomfortable than ever, he noted that Atem was far hotter to the touch than he should have been. He had known before that Atem required water and humidity in order to keep his body heat regulated, to keep his scales slippery, and now his stomach tossed.

What if the Leviathan proved faster the next time? If they truly went to war with each other in this clearing, would it harm him? It was possible that Atem's victory at that moment had been a fluke. And if it was…

Yugi didn't think he had the speed to match the Water Dragon. In fact, he was not unsure of it. He knew for a fact that he could not match him. The Leviathan had proven himself lethal regardless of the heat. And now he realized that Atem might not either. Had that been why he had hesitated that brief moment before lunging forward?

Atem turned just long enough to glance at him sideways. His claws dug into the dirt for a brief moment. His eyes had darkened and the gem on his forehead was clear. But he smiled at Yugi after a moment, as if hoping more than ever that Yugi might relax. The Gandora rubbed his flank again, wishing somewhere in the back of his mind that he had a pair of water lungs. At least that way he could have given him some relief from the heat…

Jaden was staring at Atem now, however. Yugi shivered, turning to him, and fought away a bristle at the way those orange eyes glinted briefly. And, after a moment, Atem turned to look at him a swell. "And now that we are all aware of just how short his fuse is, I would suspect you to be satisfied, yes?" the Fire Dragon sneered at Yusei wryly, staring at him rather pointedly. But there was the smallest glimmer of laughter in his eyes behind the wariness, Yugi noted, and he nearly bristled at the sight.

"I would hardly suppose to believe his fuse is so short. I think he was just trying to scare him," the Stardust Dragon snorted, laughing as he turned to Atem. His eyes were almost glowing with amusement as he tilted his head to stare at him. "I doubt he would argue against the clutches' deaths were he going to simply kill the Leviathan immediately after."

Yugi felt sick to his stomach, though he almost barked out a furious laugh at the thought. His eyes shot immediately to Atem again. The Sky Dragon might not have lost his temper, but he'd certainly been close to killing the Leviathan. Something in the time that it had taken him to throw him had triggered the response. Yugi didn't think Atem had gone into that little quarrel with the intention to truly hurt him in any manner.

He thought Yusei was right in that assumption.

But something had happened.

Something had made him think to do so.

Yugi wondered at the idea, but there were too many triggers to do so. He could have been unnerved by his brothers. He could have been angry because of the leers. He could have simply thought he was amongst suitors and dragons looking to carve their names through his hide. He could have simply forgotten himself in the heat of the moment.

But there were far too many things that he could account the response to.

"He just flipped him!" Jesse cried excitedly. The Rainbow Dragon was on his paws, standing with huge eyes and his mouth open. Yugi thought he looked like a hatchling that had just fired its first elemental breath. He tilted his head as the Ice Dragon jumped from paw to paw excitedly for a moment. "He literally just flipped him and threw him onto his back, Jaden!"

The Fire Dragon looked at him with a startled expression, then sighed and shook his head slowly. But his eyes had softened and he was smiling slightly as he rubbed at his muzzle with a paw.

"That's the best attack I've ever seen in my entirely life!" the Ice Dragon continued. Yusei was snickering beside him, eyes fond with laughter. His head was tilted and he was smirking when the Rainbow Dragon spun on Atem with huge eyes. "Do it again!"

Jaden snorted a laugh. The Leviathan grunted and shook his head, glaring. Atem snickered. And Yugi laughed before he could stop himself, only slightly flustered when he saw the God Dragons look at him for a split second. Atem refused to look up at him, however, the Gandora noticed unhappily. His golden eyes were locked on the ground in front of him. And his tail was wrapped rather tightly around his right paw.

"Learn to put a net on that damn Ice Dragon's snout," the Leviathan snarled in a hateful tone. But he looked more annoyed than anything for the moment. He shook himself out again after a moment, scowling at the Ice Dragon. His tongue flicked and Yugi nearly flinched. Did Atem's tongue look so dry as his? The heat had clearly overpowered the Water Dragon completely, losing what little saliva he possessed. The Leviathan took a seat, shaking his head. "I get so terribly tired of hearing him speak."

Jaden shot Jesse a slightly flustered glance, clearly exasperated by the younger male's enthusiasm. But he turned to the Leviathan with a look of blank, cold indifference, tone low and voice full of disinterest. "I do not suppose that you might come to learn tact by the end of this meeting. Perhaps Atem might have need to flip you again if you persist in threats."

Atem blinked, raising his head in bewilderment. Yugi smiled and shook his head next to him. But the Sky Dragon looked briefly to Jesse, frowning, and then shook himself out as he glanced at Yugi sideways. But Jesse hardly seemed to care much, looking at the Slifer with that same excited expression. Yugi wondered how many times Jaden and the Leviathan argued, how often it had to be to make the Ice Dragon so at ease with it.

"All right, all right," Yusei laughed. He was shaking with suppressed snickers, turning to Atem with a small smirk. "Let's get back to the reason we are holding counsel at this moment, yes?"

"I thought we were basically in agreement," Yugi whispered beside him, clearly confused. Atem blinked and frowned, turning to him. "They don't need to be killed just for the sake of killing them…"

The Slifer considered him for a long moment. His mate had an increasingly upset expression on his face, as if he wished to speak but did not know how. "I had assumed we were all in agreement," he announced after a moment. Yugi might have been too nervous to speak out before the others, but he himself hardly cared. "No one had any objections beyond him."

"Agreement? I remember an argument."

"I do not recall flipping anyone else."

The wry response provoked laughs from all of them but the Leviathan. The Serpent flicked his tongue, growled low in his throat, and watched him with cold eyes. Yugi snorted, expression mildly horrified, and covered his muzzle with his paw. Atem laughed beside him, watching as his blue-violet eyes shot to his mate again. His gaze was sparkling, full of laughter, and he butted him gently in the shoulder.

The red male rose to his paws after a moment, shaking himself out and turning to face the Leviathan again. He watched the Water Dragon as he raised his head the smallest degree and narrowed his dark eyes.

"I think it a waste to spend more time and energy and resources searching for nests of dragons. And it is not as if you will be able to recognize them at first glance. Unless they all have the same eyes as the son that I killed, they will manage to blend in effortlessly. And no mother would give her children for a slaughter like you have come to suggest, Leviathan."

He fell silent for a long moment. He thought of Keith's son, of those terrible electric blue eyes against the classic face of a Red-Eyes. His scales had been terribly thick and powerful and Atem had been almost amazed to have been able to sink his teeth into them. He did not have the strongest of jaws. His species had some of the most powerful jaws among dragons, but that was only when they had a single mouth. Atem had two and it made his jaws much weaker between the divided forces of them.

He couldn't cling to prey like his brethren could. He could not have dug his teeth into the male and held him down until he could no longer struggle as one of them could have. But he'd poisoned him. Somehow, despite his genetics, despite his growth and sexual maturity, he had managed it.

And he should never have been able to.

Poison for Sky Dragons was universal across the species. It was a defense mechanism for the hatchlings. The poison was dangerous and uncontrollable and it reacted to blood so terribly that it burst vessels in the muscles upon making contact. But the longer it was exposed to air, the less potent it became.

But Sky Dragons lost that ability within the first fifty years of their lifespan. By that same strain, Atem himself had lost it. He'd lost it for years. And then, fighting that Red-Eyes, somehow he'd triggered it again.

Atem couldn't imagine what the other God Dragons might do with that information. Were he stupid enough to speak about it, he was sure they would lash out. And he was sure they might try to hunt and kill him just as the Leviathan suggested they do with the hatchlings Keith had produced.

Atem turned his head, eyes narrowing. In the crowd Seto was glaring at him angrily. And he locked eyes with him with a soft snort. He wondered if his brother might leap to his paws and object. He had a right to, had a reason to, after all. He could have told them of what Keith had done to his first clutch, he could have spoken of how terrible the pain he'd experienced upon the eggs being killed and Kisara forcefully mounted.

But the Felgrand stayed quiet and Atem watched him as murmured, "The only threat they may pose as of this very moment is speculated. There is no reason to simply kill for something that might never come to fruition. All of the Clan leaders are capable of monitoring what might remain of them. All of their mothers are capable of watching them until they reach maturity."

He was quiet for a brief moment. And then he turned to Jaden, something cold in his blood as he considered the Fire Dragon.

"And I do not recall ever crossing paths with a hatchling that did not change when they grew older," he said softly, narrowing his eyes. He thought briefly of Seto, who was holding his tongue rather than lashing out as he would have mere years ago. He thought of Bakura who was simply sitting there watching, waiting and analyzing rather than sneering and calling him a coward. He even spared a thought to the disinterested, indifferent Malik who was clearly listening without much care but for the chance to soak his claws in blood. "Maturity is considered a gift for a reason. From what stories I know of you, you were quite foolish when you were younger as well, Jaden."

The Prime Material Dragon startled, blinking wide orange eyes. He looked away after a moment, letting out an awkward laugh as he nodded slowly. But there was something that had turned hard and cold in his eyes and Atem wondered at it. "Very," the Fire Dragon agreed quietly, though now he tipped his head the smallest degree towards him and peered up at him from beneath his brow. His lips were drawn back slightly to show his smaller, needle-like teeth. "I was perhaps the most foolish dragon to grace life."

Atem blinked, studying him for a long moment. And then he turned to Yusei, ignoring the cold feeling that came through him at the attention the Fire Dragon still granted him. "And you, Yusei, you were—and still occasionally are—excitable to the point of disregard. You might be level-headed more often than not, but when you were younger you caused trouble. You were mischievous and you liked to irritate your elders. Your parents had trouble keeping you under their claws when you would turn around and fight with anyone you deemed a bully."

Yugi snickered from behind his shoulder. Yusei shrugged and smirked, nodding, eyes glowing with laughter. His gaze was full of amusement and fondness of whatever memories the words had brought back.

"Yes," the Ice Dragon agreed with a snicker. "Oh, yes, definitely."

"And you, Leviathan," the red dragon murmured, turning back to him and feeling oddly comfortable in the way the Water Dragon simply stared in response, "you used to pick a fight with every dragon that so much as looked at you without asking your Blessing. Rumors about you were that you killed anything to move if it was not in deference to you. You've calmed down from that spiteful little hatchling you once were."

"Spiteful is not quite the word I would have used," the Divine Serpent chuckled. "But, yes, I suppose you have made your point."

"Action should only be deemed necessary when things change," Atem mumbled, turning to look over at Timaeus now. The Wind Dragon was silent, watching him studiously, but his face was so familiar it made him lose what little tension he'd been carrying at the moment. "When they have matured, if they wish to know of their father and the horrors he brought, then they should be told. They should be reminded not to become what he did. All any hatchling needs is a guiding paw and some patience."

The Sky Dragon almost shivered. Timeaus was smiling, head tilted the smallest degree. And Atem wondered for a brief moment what might have happened if they hadn't crossed paths. It would have been so easy for him to turn into something akin Keith himself. He was violent and terrible at times, he knew. And he had the capability to put what destruction Keith had laid about to shame.

He could not have forcefully mounted females for the sake of breeding, for his genetics would have stopped him then and there, but he could have killed without a second thought. He could have maimed and murdered and eaten the hearts from thousands of dragons. And the God Dragons might never have reacted.

Because he was a blind spot to them.

He was invisible to them.

His decisions were his own, hidden away and meant for only him.

Had he never crossed paths with Timaeus…

He spun on Jaden again, snarling. "Until one of them chooses to take revenge, there is no reason to punish them for curiosity or to hate them for their bloodline. To condemn them for their father's choices is not something we have a need to do. It is foolish and stupid to leap to such a conclusion." His eyes strayed to Yusei for a moment. And he pictured the Stardust Dragon covered in blood, claws freshly sharpened and teeth glittering. He remembered the way he'd heard stories of his faithful obedience in the Gandora edict before he'd lost his stomach for it. He'd killed with little remorse, had not bat an eye at the loss of those lives he'd taken. And he had done so for years before he'd come to his senses enough to fight Jaden over it, to push the Fire Dragon into submission to his will. "Or has history taught us nothing?"

Mates or not, the two of them had turned on one another violently. And how Yusei had managed to beat Jaden into such violent submission was nothing Atem had the answer to. But the Stardust Dragons had been able to, had pushed Jaden all but into the ground and carved his hearts from his chest. Atem did not even know what had triggered the change in his decision. But he'd been born soon after the event, when the fourth God Dragon had seemingly ceased existence.

And no one spoke of those days, for the Gandora population was still too small and nearly diminished to be of any true strength. He risked a small glance towards Yugi, almost shivering at the thought.

Had it not been for Yusei making that decision, the little Gandora would not exist.

And then who might he have wound up with?

His mate was bristling, alarmed by his tone, no doubt. His eyes were sharpened with tension as he looked about. And his expression was puzzled but furious, as if he were trying to figure out which of them was the truest threat to Atem himself.

The God Dragon looked away again.

Second generation Gandora dragons were a problem. He'd learned that early in life. It had been a story he'd heard from his father, though the blue dragon had been so careful not to tell him anything about the edict against the Slifer dragons as well. Second generation Gandora dragons would lose their minds slowly but surely as they matured. If a sexually mature second generation Gandora was to make it to full maturity, it was by a miracle of some kind.

His hearts squeezed in his chest.

It had not been a lie when he'd told Yugi that true Gandora dragons were rare.

It had been impossible to ignore that Yugi was a first generation Gandora. His markings and scales were perfect, obsidian and ruby-encrusted, and no second generation tended to possess such a thing. They did not retain them. They usually came in a grayer shade, their gems larger than usual, and the tusks on their faces were usually incredibly long and with little luster or use. They were too long for a dragon to sharpen their teeth against as Yugi himself could.

Atem glanced at Yugi sideways once more. The Gandoras often chose to mate with other Fire or Wind Dragons, mixing and diluting their bloodlines further than ever. They were no longer a hybrid because for a dragon, a hybrid was meant to bridge the gap genetically between two species of dragons. When more were involved, they became a mixed breed of some kind.

But it was far too dangerous for a first generation to breed with another.

Second generation Gandoras were too dangerous. They became feral. They lost their reasoning. They began to deteriorate the more years they lived. And then they would lash out and violently attack anything and everything around them.

They had become so immense a threat that the God Dragons had taken to elimination.

They had done so in order to neutralize the potential bloodshed.

But it had not been strictly the second generations they had slaughtered. They had turned on the very source, destroying first generations without much care and then they had gone as far as to kill any Fire and Wind Dragons that took the other species for their mate if they found them together and mated, they were slaughtered like human cattle.

They had stopped about four hundred years before Yugi's birth. And it was still relatively new that Gandora dragons were no longer hunted.

Atem wondered abruptly, facing Yugi for a single moment, if perhaps his parents had been fleeing such an edict. The Gandora had never said and he'd simply mentioned that the stress of traveling had rendered him the only egg to hatch. Atem had assumed formerly that it was perhaps a spiteful dragon that had chased them after their union. A mother laden with eggs was a weak one that could be easily picked off, after all. And his father could have been slaughtered if there were enough attacks…

But now Atem wondered at the idea. Had it been to get away from the possibility of a second edict? If that were the truth of it, it was a powerful motivator to hide among an entirely different species of dragons. It made sense why they would have fled to the mountains rather than the deserts in order to lay their clutch. And it would have made sense as to why Yugi had been raised so close to Atem's nest altogether.

Atem considered this for a moment, then blinked.

Jaden and the Leviathan and Yusei had all been involved, as had the fourth God Dragon, though Atem no longer knew—or perhaps never had known—who they were. And Atem had always heard of Yusei being a troublemaker when he was younger. He'd wanted to protect everyone, had gone so far as to lash out at anyone who so much as said something rude or scathing to someone else. It was no real surprise to him that the Ice Dragon had gotten involved, perhaps simply due to his pride and former desires.

But it was a dangerous game to play.

And now Atem wondered at the sight of the Ice Dragon before him. Atem was hardly stupid. In fact, he prided himself in being able to think ahead of his opponents or those around him. He prided himself in his ability to understand where someone else might lack such a thing.

There were only ever four God Dragons at a time. And he had been born at the end of the edict, towards the very cusp of its climax. It had been perhaps a decade after it all. And the fourth God Dragon was not a name Atem knew. He had no idea who it might have been…

It was not impossible to consider that the Leviathan or Jaden had decided to kill them for their lack of support in the decision. But that did not make as much sense as he might have considered before that moment.

Who had Atem replaced?

Atem had only ever known of five God Dragons at one time before. And that was only when the dragons had first come into existence. Legend had it that they had all been the ones to create their species—a Lightning Dragon, a Fire Dragon, a Wind Dragon, a Water Dragon, and an Earth Dragon. From them had come the rest—Ice from Water and Wind, Sky from Lightning and Wind and Water.

He shivered.

Of the five, only four had survived beyond the original creation of the dragon species. Those four had separated to live in different regions of the world, watching over the east, west, north and south.

Atem ruled over the east now, Yusei the north, Jaden the south, and Leviathan the west. If that were the case, as Atem knew it to be, he could not have been born until the fourth had ceased to exist. But Yusei could not have been born before him until the third dragon had passed.

Perhaps they had simply gone into hiding and lived their days out peacefully from there. But something in his mind recoiled at this thought, as if provoked by the sheer foolishness of it. There was something not quite right in the arrangement of the dragons in question.

Jaden had taken upon himself to watch the other God Dragons.

The Leviathan watched the possibility of war.

Yusei had his eye on the Gandora species

Were they truly keeping the peace?

Or were they just awaiting a reason to finish what they had once started?

Atem considered them for a long minute.

His species had been persecuted too. The Serpents of the Sky had been viciously attacked and left to die more often than not. They'd been killed on sight for the longest of times. And mothers had been forced to leave their hatchlings to die in the wilderness for the rest of their clutches surviving to see a sunrise.

But the Slifer dragons had been far stronger than the God Dragons had assumed. They'd underestimated. They'd gone to fight them, to dispatch them, to eradicate their entire species, and they'd failed. The Slifer species as a whole was incredibly vicious. They were an opposition of the entire Sky Dragon species' temperament. They were violent and nasty, not afraid in the slightest to shed blood, and they killed as easily as they breathed…

And so they had begun to fight back.

They were raised for combat, breeding copiously in order to bring forth numbers that could compare to an army.

The fighting had stopped only when the former God Dragon of the North had put an end to it. But he did not remember who they were. He did not remember the name, nor the species, or even the gender. And that war had been over for thousands of years. It had happened long before the lives of all of the God Dragons attending this meeting now. Even Jaden, the oldest of them and perhaps over a thousand years old, had not been born yet…

It was possible that God Dragon had managed to live their life in peaceful solitude until their death. But somehow he doubted the God Dragon he'd come to replace could have been. It seemed all too suspicious. The timing of the edict and the point in which he had come to be born…

Perhaps they had killed them for the sake of saving one another. Perhaps they had done it to end the fighting altogether. But Atem did not know how that might be true. And this was why he stared at Jaden again, eyes cold and scales raised along his spine in a minute bristle.

"Let's not begin another war without reason. Learning from past mistakes is how one survives," he growled. He lashed his tail once, staring at the Prime Material Dragon blankly for a long moment. He narrowed his eyes and peered at him pointedly. He flexed his claws and struggled not to lash out at him. "The task of hunting them all down is a burdensome one, no matter how much one of you might argue. I am in no hurry to do this for the sake of avoiding a war that might never come about without an attack on them."

There was a slow, still silence that descended over the clearing. The dragons below them did not seem particularly cross, but none of them appeared particularly happy. But they seemed to consider his words, for none of them objected for the moment.

Yugi found himself relaxing at this realization. He was not entirely sure what he was that he had truly expected. Maybe he had assumed someone might leap up and try to argue Atem's divinity. Or maybe he had expected a fight to break out then and there. Perhaps he'd thought his brothers might leap up and snarl and snap and lash out. Or maybe he'd assumed that the God Dragons might begin to snap at one another in turn.

But none of this happened.

The clearing stayed quiet. When he glanced at the God Dragons, all of them were watching Atem. The moonlight overhead continued to drizzle down through the cloudless sky. The stars twinkled like miniature suns within the darkness. The other dragons simply blinked at one another, perhaps curious or maybe uncertain.

Seto had his eyes half-closed, staring at his brother. Bakura had that same cold confrontational expression on his face that he always did. Malik was watching the Leviathan with hard, glowing eyes. And, further off to the right, Timaeus was watching Atem with a soft eye. And, a couple of feet away from him, Jonouchi had come to sit up with his head tilted to the side and his eyes wide with shock.

He looked troubled and stunned. But Yugi did not know why or what he might have been so confused about. Maybe he had been thinking of that Wind Dragon female like Yugi had formerly. Or perhaps he was simply trying to wait the meeting out so that he could leave as soon as possible.

He had never been one for crowds, Yugi remembered. The Red-Eyes wasn't entirely solitary but he was not one to reach out and befriend someone else either. It had taken Yugi trying every little trick he knew of to make Jonouchi even remotely friendly towards him.

But then…

Jonouchi had at one time considered Atem to be an absolute monster. He had bought into each and every one of the rumors about the red dragon. And Yugi had told him more than once that he was most likely too vicious to speak with reasonably. He'd claimed Atem would kill Yugi the moment he so much as entered his territory. He'd told him that Yugi would die by his claws the second he realized he was there, because he was vicious and cruel and he wanted nothing to do with other dragons aside from decorating his mountains with corpses.

It had been the number one fight between them, as Yugi had up and left him and Shizuka to fend for themselves not long after. He had not been impressed with his hateful words nor had he cared in the slightest to continue hearing them. So Yugi had left soon after their argument and he had never once bothered to look back.

It had been by mere coincidence that they'd even met up at the cliffs during the fight. When Yugi had left Atem to find Timaeus, following Bakura and Seto and Malik to the fight, he'd almost immediately run into him there. Jonouchi had joined Keith in an effort to save his little sister from being forcefully mounted. Shizuka, from what he understood, was still too young to go into heat yet. And Keith would have killed her had he done so earlier than absolutely necessary. So Jonouchi had fought on his side, though the moment they'd crossed paths again the Red-Eyes had turned his back on the Barrel Dragon to help him.

In truth, however, Yugi had been prepared to never see Jonouchi again. He'd made peace with it the moment he'd left, in fact, but he was willing to give him a chance if he was open to at least being courteous towards the God Dragon. If he was unwilling to do so, Yugi would cut him from his life just as he had the first time and he would never look back on that decision poorly.

In all actuality, however, it was likely that Jonouchi was troubled he'd bought into those rumors when Atem clearly did not match them. He realized that regardless of his doubt in the Red-Eyes' judgment more often than not. If it were the truest representation of him, the Sky Dragon would have turned on anyone and everyone at this meeting. He would have supported the destruction of Keith's offspring without hesitation.

He would have agreed the moment the idea left the Leviathan's lips.

"I think he's probably right." Yugi turned his head immediately, startled. Jesse looked uncertain as the God Dragons turned on him collectively. But he noticed, surprised, that he was staring at Yusei as he spoke. "There's not really a reason to do all of this when they haven't even shown any aggressive tendencies just yet…right?"

The older Ice Dragon blinked, then smiled at Jesse. He reached out to tap him with his paw, then turned to Jaden when Jesse did the same. Yugi noticed the two God Dragons lock eyes for a long handful of moments. They stared at each other pointedly and he swore the air crackled with tension he didn't know how to navigate. He nearly bristled, unsure of himself, and the Stardust Dragon smirked with a nod.

"It seems we are all in agreement," he announced. His eyes shot to the Leviathan and his smirk grew tenfold. When he leaned forward, he was laughing. "Unless you have an objection, Leviathan? He can flip you again, if you would like to voice it."

The Water Dragon shot him a furious look. "We are in agreement."

"Are there any objections?"

Yugi glanced at the surrounding dragons. He truly expected that at any moment one of his mate's brothers or even Jonouchi might leap to their paws. He expected someone to lash out and snarl angrily. But the Red-Eyes had his gaze glued blankly to Atem. And the Felgrand hardly seemed worried in the slightest. And, to his shock, as Yugi looked him over, Seto turned to glance at him slowly in turn.

Yugi bristled, startled and confused. He was ready to fight him off if he so much as cast a glance in Atem's direction, however. But the Sky Dragon hardly seemed to care. Seto blinked once, lazy and disinterested, then looked away. Beside him Kisara was watching Atem with rapt attention. But Yugi had to wonder at the thought. Was it because she was curious about him and his temperament? Or did it have to do with the fact that he'd agreed to bless their new clutch that kept him silent now? He would have thought him to be the first to oppose his youngest sibling.

He shook his shock away. Then he turned back to Atem quickly. The God Dragon was looking at the Leviathan. The Water Dragon was glaring at Jaden, eyes narrowed into slits and lips drawn back slightly into a snarl. But he did not object to what was being said.

"Then, in agreement with our youngest brother, we shall wait and see if they are to cause anarchy of some kind," the Fire Dragon surmised. He shook himself out and Yugi was amazed by how easy his expression appeared now. "If they should fail to do so, they will be left alone to live out their days. But should they ever think to turn their teeth on another, they will be struck down."

The phrasing made Atem spin on him now. His scales rose into a furious bristle and he narrowed his eyes, voice low and guttural. Yugi nearly flinched, feeling almost as if he were back in the moment he'd challenged Atem for courtship. The God Dragon's Origin Form produced a voice that sounded as if it were millions woven together and dancing about in the atmosphere. It was great and powerful and it had made him tremble.

And now, to his amazement, it was close to that. His rage was full force, so powerful that it was overwhelming to his ears.

"And should it be an isolated incident?" the Sky Dragon demanded. "What then? Say it is but one that should turn out like their father. What should happen then?"

Yugi blinked, realization creeping through him. His hearts hammered hideously in his chest. The questions in his mind swirled, almost panicked. His stomach lurched and danced for a moment. He was calling him out on his lack of specification, he realized. Atem was calling him out on his likelihood of another massacre.

He wanted to hear him deny it.

And Yugi felt winded.

Jaden had simply turned his head. He was staring at Atem blankly, eyes sharp and terrible. He did not seem as if he had any idea how he was truly meant to address him or answer the question. He did not seem as if he could understand why it was that Atem might even suggest such a thing. But he seemed to be considering him now more than ever.

The Leviathan was sitting upright now. His eyes had sharpened in turn. His tongue flicked and he smirked faintly. Yusei, however, was staring at the Fire Dragon. A cold expression had come over his face. His blue eyes were dark and chilled. And, beside him, Jesse looked mildly uncertain.

"You do not think that if one should turn towards vengeance, another will not?" Jaden demanded slowly. He stared at Atem with cold, dark eyes. "If one is so mentally unbalanced, what is it to say another will not be? Should we have to kill one, what shall guarantee that the others will not rise to the occasion to take revenge on us for it?"

"Free will was granted every dragon the moment the world was born," Atem spat. He was glaring, tail lashing violently. "Because one is upset does not mean another will be as well."

Yugi shivered, looking between them all again. Yusei had tipped his head to the side. But he was still staring at Jaden. His attention was caught on the Fire Dragon, blue eyes cold and narrow. The white male flicked his tail, narrowing his gaze, and his long claws flexed impatiently.

"If they are as dangerous as to hold their own against yourself or another dragon, what is it that you think will happen? If you could not even kill them in one attempt"—Yugi bristled, snarling at the statement and baring his teeth—"what is it to say that they will not be powerful enough to hold their own against one such as the Leviathan? Are you so foolish as to consider that they will not have harmed someone else mortally?"

"That does not justify murder of innocent dragons," he snapped in turn. Yusei was lashing his tail harder than ever now. Jesse was blinking wide, horrified eyes as he seemed to realize a fight might break out. "Each dragon has free will to make their own choices. Because one is violent does not mean another will be. It does not matter who they are related to. It matters what they decide to believe in for themselves."

Yugi flexed his claws, unsure for a moment. The Leviathan was smirking tenfold now, eyeing Jaden with a darkened gaze. Jesse had turned around from his mate. His beak was pointed towards the ground. He looked physically pained, as if perhaps the Fire Dragon were somehow hurting him.

Something about the pain in his expression made Yugi wonder at the sight. But it was impossible to know what it was that might have come over him at the moment. And he could not keep his focus there for long. Jaden had raised his head and was glaring at Atem pointedly. The Sky Dragon was flexing his claws furiously.

"Is that so?"

"To kill without reason is to send oneself to Purgatory," Atem snarled. He was bristling when he drew his lips back further and narrowed his eyes. "None shall kill a dragonet for the sake of their soul."

Jaden blinked, then straightened slightly. "You…quote the Lore at me?" he muttered. He sounded stunned, though Yugi thought he saw the smallest gleam of admiration in his orange eyes. And his voice was full of amazement. "I have never had another God Dragon think to quote the Lore to me."

Atem lashed his tail and Yugi felt it whack harshly against his side. It made him stumble slightly off balance but he did not move beyond this. It winded him, but it was not so terrible that he was sent flying as he had done with Keith. "None shall impose their will upon another without true intent of survival. None shall kill without reason invoked by the many. No one dragon will come to appropriate a problem not voted upon by majority. Majority shall rule all decisions concerning the souls of dragons deemed innocent by many." Atem was snarling viciously now, eyes glowing with hatred for a moment. He thumped his tail harder. Yugi stumbled from the force of the whack to his flank. It was accidental, he knew, but it was painful enough to wind him once more. "You have no right to go against the Lore when it was built for this very reason. No God Dragon has that right."

Yusei nodded slightly from behind Jaden, Yugi noticed. Jesse had curled in on himself, wings tucked hard into his sides and head all but touching the ground. The Leviathan sneered with his laughter.

"You dare to harm innocent dragons and you are to be disposed of yourself." Atem tossed his head, snarling and glaring more furiously than ever. He narrowed his eyes and let out a sharp sneering breath. "If you lay a claw on innocent dragons—regardless of heritage—for the sake of one misguided hatchling, you cannot go to Paradise when you die. And, by decree of the Lore, you will have to die in turn."

The Leviathan burst out laughing, throwing his head back and smiling in amusement. "This is beautiful," he sneered. He turned to Jaden with a spiteful expression, flicking his long oily tongue at him. His head tilted slightly to the side and he growled softer than ever. "He's quoting the Lore at you and everything. I love this Sky Dragon. He's officially my favorite God Dragon to ever exist."

"How terribly touching," Jaden snapped in turn, bristling and glaring at him in annoyance. He shook his head and bore his teeth. "That is so good of you, Leviathan. Now, as it is, Atem, I trust you to listen."

"Trust me to listen to what?" the Sky Dragon growled, flicking and lashing his long tail. "The truth of it remains the same. If you should turn on them as you so propose, your soul and resting place are to be forfeit."

Jaden tilted his head after a long moment, studying him. And then, with darkened orange eyes, he said, "And what of your conscience, Atem? If they should kill, what shall you do? Can you live with the consequences?"

"I shall kill the perpetrator myself," Atem snapped. Yugi bristled and flexed his claws anxiously. Atem looked as if he wished more than ever to simply leap at the Fire Dragon with his claws braced and his jaws open to bite at the older male harder than ever. "But until then, outside of those isolated incidents, there will not be a massacre. I will not allow genocide to take place like what was done with the Gandora dragons or the Slifer or the Felgrand."

Jaden narrowed his eyes. "They were all threats."

"The God Dragons are threats too," Atem sneered. "We have too much strength and powers and abilities. We are stronger than any of the dragons here. You cannot be so foolish as to disregard such a thing."

The Prime Material Dragon studied him for a long handful of minutes. He watched him as if he did not understand him in the slightest. And then he blinked and narrowed his eyes into slits.

"We were given those strengths and abilities," Jaden said slowly, almost hatefully for a brief moment, "in order to keep the balance."

"The balance? The balance of what, Jaden? Life and death and the cycle of power?" he growled coldly. He lashed his tail again, narrowing his golden eyes and baring his teeth more pointedly. "You want to know how that is truly balanced? By free will rather than bloodshed brought on by dragons like us."

"If that is what you wish to stand by," the Fire Dragon hissed, "then I will not encroach upon it. But I will say that if things blow out of proportion as they did before, I will put an end to it regardless of who decides to stand in my way."

Slowly his head turned towards Yusei and his lips peeled back into a snarl.

"Do you understand that as well?"

The Ice Dragon shot him a smirk in turn, looking at the Leviathan with a small snicker. He tipped his head to the side and smirked wider. "What about you, Leviathan? What do you think?" he snorted. "You think you can back your new favorite God Dragon if things get out of hand?"

The Divine Serpent paused for a long handful of moments. He studied Atem a long heartbeat. His needle-like teeth were sharp and almost glittering in the moonlight. And then he snickered, lashing his tail and raising his head. "Sure. Why not? Things get out of hand and I'll help get rid of the dragons that break the Lore."

Yugi sat up straighter, eyes wide and startled. He'd expected more a fight from the other God Dragons. He'd expected them to lash out against him. Atem was new there. He wasn't well-known or highly respected as the others themselves were. It made no sense that they were deferring to him now.

But Jaden was letting up on his decree! And Atem had the support of Yusei and the Leviathan, he realized in a rush. And, perhaps he had only gotten the latter due to his spiteful nature towards Jaden, but it still made Yugi almost breathless with delight. If Atem had the other two to help him, Jaden held no chance if they were ever to fight. That was, of course, assuming that they held true to that. If they were to turn on Atem for whatever reason…

Yugi would kill them. The Gandora huffed. He didn't care if they were God Dragons. He'd eviscerate each and every one of them if it came down to it.

"I won't let it get out of hand," Atem said coldly. He shook himself out and Yugi was amazed by how comfortable he looked at the moment. "I refuse to let such a thing happen. And I will kill the dragons that become too distorted to save."

Jaden flicked his tail, turning to him with a furious expression. His orange eyes were burning and cold, his pupils mere pinpricks of black. "Then I will hold you to that," he snapped. But he turned abruptly to Yusei again, bristling and glaring. "Just as I will you. And I expect that you will help him if things should get to such a point that war might take place, yes?"

Yusei nodded, flicking his tail lazily. "You know that I am against useless bloodshed." He shook his head, drawing his teeth back, and tilted his head almost lazily. "You know I think everyone worth something. As Atem said, it would be stupid of us to punish all of them for the possible actions of one."

"Yes, yes, you've always had such ideals," Jaden spat at him. He nodded and turned back to Atem after a moment. "Then we shall allow them to live. We shall let free will rule them and see what decisions they come upon making."

Atem took a seat after a moment. Yusei chuckled, looking at Atem almost fondly. The Leviathan shook himself out and his eyes became half-hooded. Jaden huffed, hissing, "Very well, anything to happen now will be on your paws, understand? Regardless, we'll see how this all comes to pass. This meeting is over, yes? Or does anyone else have anything else they would like to add?"

"I do not believe there is much more to be said," Yusei answered. He was still smirking, however, and Yugi found himself unnerved by the laughter he continued to show. And, the longer he looked at Atem, the more he seemed curious about Yugi himself as well. He looked towards Jaden once more and for a moment they simply eyed each other. Then, finally, almost reluctantly, the Fire Dragon made his way over to him. The two of them turned and trotted off together and Yugi could see Jesse watching them both.

But the moment they were gone from sight the clearing slowly became engulfed in noise once more. And Yugi was relieved to see how much tension had disappeared now. Atem was calm and did not seem frazzled in the slightest any longer. The Leviathan was not even looking at them at any rate. He looked unimpressed and mostly tired now.

Atem turned to Yugi after a moment, gently nudging him in the side. His voice was low and soft as he said, "I wish to speak with my parents a few minutes longer. You and I will leave with Timaeus, if only to make sure he gets back all right, is that okay?"

Yugi blinked, surprised by the question. "Of course!" he agreed, nodding immediately and tilting his head. Had Atem expected him to argue for some reason? Perhaps he truly hadn't done so well to hide his jealousy towards the two of them together…

He licked his forehead, beaming at him, and watched as the red male jumped down from the plateau and trotted towards his parents. Valon was on his back legs once more, stretched out so that Atem might try to grab him again. He clearly wanted on his head again and the God Dragon hesitantly did so, allowing him to climb atop. Yugi turned away again after a moment, smiling and moving to pick his way down the little plateau as well.

Atem truly was the cutest, sweetest Sky Dragon in all existence.

Yugi hesitated for a moment as he looked around. Atem's siblings had seemingly moved away from their parents. Seto and Kisara were the only ones close and he thought he could see Bakura and Malik preparing to leave. No doubt they'd stayed just long enough to know if they'd be spilling blood or not.

"Jonouchi," he called, heading towards the Red-Eyes. Even if Jonouchi failed to care for Atem in the slightest, if they had at least one last conversation together, Yugi thought he'd be happy enough. It had been miserable the first few days that he'd turned his back on him. And while he might have gotten past it now, he still sometimes wondered what it would have been like had they stayed in contact.

But wondering did not change the fact that he wouldn't tolerate it should Jonouchi keep his prejudice against Atem. He'd sooner eviscerate him himself.

The Red-Eyes looked up from where he'd been staring at Atem and his younger brother. Then he got up and hurried over to him now. He looked unnerved having been so close to the Sky Dragon to begin with and now he seemed slightly more comfortable than he had formerly.

"Hey," Jonouchi muttered, sounding unsure of himself. He paused a few steps away, casting a small glance over his shoulder towards Atem, and then took a seat in front of him. "So, are you really…you know…mates with him?"

Yugi blinked. "Did you not think I was?"

Jonouchi glanced uncomfortably over his shoulder at Atem and then turned back. His lips peeled back slightly and he snorted out an uncertain breath. "I figured you would have gone to find him," he answered uncertainly after a moment. He narrowed his eyes into near slits. "And I figured that maybe he'd been drawn into that fight for some reason or another. I figured it was Keith that made him fight."

Yugi tilted his head. "Well, it was only about eight days before the fight that Atem and I became mates. So it was really hard to know what we were," he admitted after a moment. By the time of the fight, Atem did not even smell of him anymore, he knew.

"He, uh…surprised me."

He narrowed his eyes. "With his speech form a few minutes ago?" he asked in a wry sneer. He frowned at him after a moment, then shook his head slowly. "You thought he'd go along with the Leviathan's choice for needless slaughter, huh?"

Jonouchi huffed, scowling at him. "And it didn't surprise you, Yugi? He was killing anyone and everyone to enter his territory. He was stringing their corpses up by the tree branches." He shook his head slowly and narrowed his eyes. "I know that you always said otherwise, but I don't think for a moment that all of those things they said about him were just rumors, Yugi. There's no way! No one would be so crazy that they'd exaggerate that much."

Yugi bristled angrily, jumping to his paws and glaring at him. "They are all rumors, Jonouchi! I would know if that was all actually true. I lived in his territory right beneath his beak for little less than a year before we crossed paths. If you're so foolish you'd like to continue to believe that, then fine." He shook his head. "But he's not a monster. You can fight me on that, but I told you once and I will tell you again. If you think to say something stupid about him in any manner, I won't lie down and take it. There is enough going on without more rumors to combat. He's my Sky Dragon and I want him happy. I'm not going to listen to dragons saying stupid things about him."

Jonouchi flexed his claws and huffed a breath, shaking his head. "Yugi, you just watched him flip the Leviathan. He's dangerous."

"Any dragon is dangerous when they're cornered and forced to fend for themselves." He curled his lips back further to show the ridges of his teeth. "And Atem is a prime example of that by all means. But he's never hurt anyone without being prompted to do so. Atem is very gentle otherwise and if you bothered to get to know him at some point, you'd see that too."

The Red-Eyes stayed silent for a long time. He lashed his tail, getting up and looking over his shoulder towards Atem once more. "I'll try sometime later, when Shizuka is not so reliant on me," he finally grunted. He turned back to Yugi now. "I don't want to leave her alone for longer than necessary. But I will eventually try to meet him and speak to him on my own sometime."

Yugi blinked, hearts racing for a moment. His eyes grew bright with happiness and he nearly purred with his growing excitement. "Good! I've missed you so much! It'll be nice to have you around again!"

Jonouchi frowned at him, studying his face as he slowly shook his head. "You were serious about that, huh?" he finally muttered. "That if anyone was against Atem, you'd cut them from your life entirely? Is that what you're planning to do then? Cut me out of your life for his sake?"

"I did it once," Yugi reminded him. He lashed his tail and narrowed his eyes, hateful for a split second. "And I won't hesitate to do it again."

The Red-Eyes stayed quiet for a long handful of minutes. Then he nodded slowly and lashed his tail, turning away. "Right," he murmured softly, "Right."

The Gandora hesitated for a moment, then turned away from him, bristling furiously. "I don't want tot argue with you like that anymore. I don't want to be rude to you. I'm just telling you the truth of it. If you don't want to get to know him, then you won't be welcome in my life."

Jonouchi opened his mouth, but no words left his jaws. Instead, abruptly, he was on his paws, bristling slightly. His head lowered and he snarled, raising a paw aggressively. He peered at something over Yugi's shoulder and at first he almost assumed Atem might have come to see him. But then he saw him from the corner of his eye. The red male was still with his parents, Valon on his head and sleeping in the spikes that jutted along his neck directly behind his crown. And so the Gandora spun around, snarl rising in his throat, but paused, hesitating, and frowned as he reconsidered.

Jaden was in front of him now, a mere foot away.

He bristled, startled. The golden dragon peered at him curiously, orange eyes oddly soft. He stood the smallest inch or two taller than himself. Yugi watched the Prime Material Dragon as his tail lashed once and his eyes became more and more studious. And then his beak slowly tipped towards the ground. Yugi thought he was trying to look less intimidating.

But it still remained that he was a God Dragon. And that alone was enough to make Yugi nervous and uncomfortable.

Atem was a God Dragon, of course, but he was the one that Yugi had been rather obsessed with throughout his entire life. The moment he'd spotted him, he'd loved him more than anything. And, as it was, had he never come to know of Atem before, he would never have crossed paths with any of them. He would never have thought to care much about the deity dragons as it was. And being near one that was not Atem simply made him more nervous than ever.

Yugi shook himself out, trying to discard his unnerved stance. He shivered, looking to Jaden more pointedly. The Fire Dragon studied him a moment longer, tilting his head, and queried, "Yugi, yes?"

The Gandora paused. He felt flustered as the God Dragon continued to stare at him for a moment. He wondered at the sight of him before him, though he did not speak as he had assumed he would. It took him a moment before he recovered, his nerves straining even as he murmured, "Uh, yes, that's me. Um… Am I in trouble or something?"

Jonouchi looked confused when Jaden turned to him. The Prime Material Dragon snorted, eyeing him for a long moment. "I wish to speak to Yugi alone for a moment, Jonouchi," the dragon requested softly, politely. Yugi felt sick to his stomach as he glanced over at his friend again.

He was visibly bristling, startled by his name on his tongue, Jaden was sure. The Fire Dragon was struggling to puzzle out the reason he wanted him nearby, he knew. His black scales seemed almost to shudder as he looked between them uncertainly.

"You okay with that, Yugi?" he asked after a moment. His voice was sharp with tension and his eyes were narrowed. He was uncertain, nearly quivering with the emotional stance. And his head was tilted to the side as he peered blankly at the God Dragon.

"Uh, yeah, I guess so." Yugi looked unsure but he did not seem as if he might lash out. He glanced at his friend, then turned back slowly with narrowed eyes. "I think it'll be okay. If he does anything, I'll scream."

It was meant mostly as a joke, but a part of him was serious in the statement. His eyes made that clear, the blue-violet orbs somewhat cold and darker than usual. Atem would come immediately if he so much as raised his voice. All it would take would be a burst of noise from his lungs and his mate would come immediately to help him, Jaden knew. Sky Dragons were notorious for their mating bonds, for their protective instincts. If Yugi were to simply yelp, the red male would come.

But Jonouchi sounded strangled when he tried to laugh, as if he too understood the threat that lay beneath the comment. Jaden fixed him with cold eyes for a moment, studying the Red-Eyes for a long moment. He was a juvenile, he realized, and he was perhaps only a quarter of a hundred years old at the most. Jaden wished he could have judged whether he was closer to Yugi's age or not. But he did not bother to ask. It was hardly necessary to know. He did not even need to know Yugi's age, in truth.

He turned his attention to Yugi now, and ignored it as the Red-Eyes trotted off on his own again. He watched him from the corner of his eye only long enough to see Jonouchi disappear entirely. And then he focused on the Gandora solely, blocking out much of the noise of the other dragons speaking nearby. He breathed in deeply as the two of them considered each other.

"I wished to speak to you about something."

Yugi bristled, turning on him with a shake of his head. He bore his teeth and stared at him. "You said as much a second ago," he reminded him softly, narrowing his eyes. He shook his head again. "What happened? What did you want to know?"

Jaden flexed his claws, unnerved by the way the younger male eyed him so pointedly. He seemed confused and anxious for a moment. But the seconds passed and he frowned as he considered the Gandora a moment longer.

Yugi was nervous, but he still seemed friendly enough for the moment. But he also seemed uncertain and perhaps mildly fearful as well.

"I was simply curious about your mate."

Yugi bristled and glared at him now, flexing his claws. His wings rose and arched to shield his flanks, his back arching faintly in a defensive and aggressive expression. He shook his head after a moment, scowling, and narrowed his eyes. "What about him?" he demanded reluctantly, voice nearly quivering with suppressed anger. "I won't tell you very much about him, Jaden. I refuse to tell you anything that might hurt him."

He blinked, studying him a moment, and shook his head slowly. "Something that might hurt him?" he echoed softly, narrowing his gaze the smallest degree once more. "Do you worry so much about him? Truly, Yugi? He is powerful enough that he can hold his own in a fight if it should ever come to such a thing."

Yugi shook his head furiously. "I don't care that he can! I don't want him to have to. I want him to be safe and happy, Jaden. I don't care if he's capable of holding his own. It's the fact that he might have to later that upsets me."

"And you suspect that I might turn on him."

"I don't know you or Yusei or the Leviathan from Keith," Yugi snapped, voice sounding bitter now. He shook his head sharply and glared at him once more. "As far as I am concerned, you're all possible threats, yes. And I won't allow you to hurt him if that's what you hope to gain from this."

Jaden blinked. "I had no plans to harm him."

The Gandora did not speak for a moment. His eyes narrowed further and he peered at him with blank distrust. "Then I trust that you'll understand why I'm going to tell you I don't believe you." He scowled, shaking his head. "But what did you want to know?"

"How long have you known him?"

"A moon and a half."

"You challenged him to a fight and won?"

"No. I could never hope to hold my own against him in a fight like that. A full-out physical brawl with him would have gotten me killed in a heartbeat. He's too strong for me. And he's too fast. I don't have enough stamina for that." He paused, studying him in turn now. Jaden saw the light flickering behind his eyes as he considered him a few moments longer. "I won a game against him and he held his half of the agreement and named me victor. So I'm his mate now."

Jaden eyed him for a moment, chuckling. "You have a very brave spirit, Yugi. I can see you trying to convince yourself not to attack me. I scare you so much you're shaking with tension as we speak."

"I told you," Yugi huffed, "I don't believe that you're meant to be so innocent in asking me questions about Atem."

"Right. It's admirable how faithful you appear to be despite your heritage." Jaden flicked his tail and tilted his head. He studied him for a long handful of moments. And then he shook his head and smiled at him. "A hybrid of Fire and Wind Dragon genetics and you've turned into a rather loyal little mate. I find it interesting that a Gandora might have taken to such vows."

Yugi bristled again, but the tension had faded slightly in his muscles. He was clearly more comfortable speaking of himself than he was of Atem. "I know it's different," he proclaimed, eyes cold, "I know it's not normal. But I love him."

"Yusei told me of you when you were younger. He said you interested him a lot. You were far kinder than most hybrids and very gentle," he murmured. He flicked his tail once more, studying him more pointedly. Yugi looked startled by the statement, eyes wide and head tilted in bewilderment. "He did not know of you when you hatched, but you appeared in his visions one day when you were about a year or two old. You were in the desert with your parents before they'd come across a little jungle oasis."

Yugi nodded slowly. "Right," he agreed. "My parents moved the nest when I was about a year and a half. We lived there another twenty before we left again. Was Yusei watching me from then on?"

"Yes. He especially watched you. He was curious about you. He watched you from the moment he spotted you at one and half until you went missing from his sight a year and a half ago." He paused and shook his head after a moment. He smiled faintly, narrowing his eyes. Yugi had been the subject of conversation a great many times. Yusei had often found him adorable and fascinating, especially due to the color of his eyes and the gentle nature he possessed. He was, in Yusei's eyes, one of the very reasons that any dragon was worthy of life and free will regardless of species. He'd believed that forever, even before Yugi's birth, but it had become especially apparent after he spotted him. Yugi had become something of a son to him, for Yusei was uninterested in breeding purposes. He wanted nothing to do with any female dragons of his or any other species… "When you went missing, Yusei was rather devastated. He was so used to monitoring you that he often forgot to watch the other Gandora dragons. But it does not quite matter now, does it? You are alive. It was a pleasant surprise to him, I know."

Yugi tilted his head. "Oh…" He ducked his head, clearly flustered. "I was not expecting that. I was really surprised when he seemed so glad to see I was still alive."

Jaden nodded slightly. "Yes, he was very glad to see you healthy and alive." He fell silent again, studying him a moment again. He shook his head after a moment. "So, I am to assume that you were in the Sky Dragon's territory even when you were younger?"

The Gandora eyed him for a long handful of seconds. Then he huffed and snarled, "You know his name! His name is Atem. If you wish to speak about him, then you're going to use it or don't bother to talk about him at all!"

"I was not sure that you wished to hear me speak his name," the Fire Dragon admitted quietly. He flicked his wings where they were still tucked into his flanks firmly. "I was certain you would react negatively to it."

"I still might," he said stubbornly, huffing in annoyance. He gave him a flustered, angry glance from the corner of his eye when he looked back towards his mate for a brief moment. "I don't like you guys talking about him at all."

"We strike such anger in you?"

"You had to have known there was another God Dragon around. You might have been blind to him, but you still could have looked for him!" Yugi spat, bristling and lunging at him with a snap of his teeth. He shook his head, glaring at him, and his scales rose further into a hideous bristle. "You had to have known there was a fourth God Dragon simply because the balance did not fray! The world can't be what it is without four dragons to guard it! And you know that you could have tried to find him. You just didn't want to, did you?"

Jaden stayed quiet for a moment, then snorted and shook his head. "You're right," he said softly. "We might have looked for him if we should have had to. But he was okay. And we had no need to hurt him by pulling him away from his family and natural maturing. We had no reason to interact with him sooner than necessary."

"He was alone for the longest time. He grew up with a Wind Dragon for a year or two. And then he was on his own again. And any of you could have helped him if you had just bothered to try."

"Is that so?"

"Yes! That's absolutely right! You didn't bother to help him even once when you should have."

"And we are meant to spend time searching for a dragon we are not sure exists?" he asked rather patiently. He took a seat and peered at him curiously. "Are you aware of the time it would have taken to track him down? From what I understand, he traveled frequently and kept away from anyone who might have had even the smallest of ties to us. And he is a Sky Dragon. A Sky Dragon, regardless of possessing two mouths, cannot automatically be assumed to be a God Dragon. They are known well for being inflicted with physical oddities."

"Okay, but that doesn't mean that if others are acknowledging him as a God Dragon, you should ignore the odds of it being true," Yugi spat. "Do you not realize that? You're in the wrong any way you look at it as far as I'm concerned."

Jaden laughed, shaking his head. "Your way of thinking is adorable," he chortled. But he fell silent after a moment, studying him once more. "But the truth of it is that not everything can be fair, no matter how hard we might try to make it otherwise. The truth of it comes down to the fact that word of mouth cannot always be trusted. And we cannot always expend the energy necessary to investigate such rumors."

Yugi huffed and lashed his tail. Then he flexed his claws and raised his chin. "You wouldn't have found him regardless. He's a lot smarter than you might think," he proclaimed proudly. His eyes had brightened, growing fond for a moment. And then he snorted and shook his head. "I have no doubt that he would have hidden away from you guys. He didn't want anything to do with you as it was."

"Is that so?"

"You chose this place in order to dampen his strength," he snarled now, baring his teeth at him and lashing his tail. He thumped it hard against the ground and straightened to glare at him pointedly now. "You chose it because you were afraid of him."

"Caution is a necessity when you are to deal with unknown intervals," the Prime Material Dragon replied with a smile. But that had not slowed Atem in the slightest, had it? The Sky Dragon had been fast enough to lash out and simply toss the Leviathan as if he were nothing but a tree branch. "And from what we have heard of him he was meant to be extremely vicious and unreasonable. Do you not believe that to be a reason to exercise caution?"

Yugi blinked and huffed. "I believe in forming an opinion on someone only after you have met them," he snapped. He shook his head furiously and scowled at him hatefully. "Especially if it comes to someone like him. He's a Sky Dragon. Sky Dragons aren't usually vicious or cold by nature. You know that just as well as I do!"

"No," Jaden agreed slowly, "they are not usually. And yet Atem is a Slifer Dragon. And Slifer Dragons are vicious and dangerous. They are a bloodstain on the Sky Dragon lineage. Is that not so? Am I mistaken?"

Yugi bristled, fighting the urge to lunge at him angrily. He did not know what might happen if he launched himself at him. He did not know if he would be okay. Atem would come running, he knew. And he did not know how he might match up against Jaden. He was older, more experienced…

And, if Jaden fought them, would he have to fight Yusei and the Leviathan as well? Yugi felt sick at the idea. How might Atem be able to handle it? He didn't know for sure how well he might be able to handle them both…

"You are! Not every Slifer or Felgrand is vicious! I don't care what anyone says! Atem is one of the gentlest dragons in existence. If he wasn't forced to fight and kill like that, he never would have!" he snarled, voice rising with hatred. "You can't just judge him by what species he is! That is not fair at all!"

"And yet, if we had not considered his species and the capabilities he might have, had he truly lost his temper, what might have stopped him from killing the Leviahan then?" he asked cautiously. But the countermeasures had proven incapable of even so much as slowing him down. And that was something Yugi was sure they'd taken note of as well… "Do you honestly think we might have been able to stop him without bloodshed or death?"

Yugi snarled. "I could have!" he snapped, lunging at him and chomping his teeth. He backed up hastily, realizing himself, but Jaden merely watched him. "I could have stopped him from hurting anyone here. All I had to do was ask."

Jaden shook his head. "Is that so?"

"I stopped him from hurting the Leviathan just minutes ago," he spat. "I did it in front of all of you. Atem isn't some kind of mindless killer. But he could have seriously hurt the Leviathan if I hadn't stepped in like that. He listens to me!"

Jaden's eyes sharpened now. And Yugi nearly flinched as realization hit him. None of them had suspected Atem would hurt the Leviathan further than that simple flip. None of them had even truly considered it. They'd just thought Atem was showing he wasn't a hatchling to be pushed around. The fact that he'd been aiming to kill him had never even crossed their minds…

"Look, I don't know what ideas you have about him, but you need to stop. He's not a monster. And he's as sweet as can be. I don't care if you don't think so. But if you think you can turn on him or hurt him in any way, I'll kill you for it. I don't care if you're a God Dragon or not."

Jaden blinked, then burst out laughing. His orange eyes with glowing as he shook his head. "I have no intention to harm him. I don't think even the Leviathan does. He likes to blow hot air and never quite follow up on his threats. Otherwise Jesse most likely wouldn't be able to open his mouth nearly as much as he does," he snickered. There was a small bit of fondness when he said the Ice Dragon's name, but nothing like Yugi thought his own sounded when he said Atem's. But the Leviathan had said they were mates, had he not? Perhaps Jaden was still focused on Atem and it kept him from showing such affection at the moment. "Regardless, you have my word that none of us will lay a claw on him unless something should come to happen that it becomes necessary."

"It won't," he swore, spitting at him.

"You truly think you have the power to stop him from becoming violent or aggressive if he should feel the need to do so?" Jaden asked cautiously, eyes darkening and boring into his pointedly now. "Do you believe yourself to be so capable of controlling him?"

Yugi lunged at him again, but stopped just as he had before, ceasing to make contact. "I don't have to control him!" he all but roared.

"Yugi?"

He immediately spun around, hurrying to trot over to the Sky Dragon with a frantic fear nipping at his paws. "Sorry!" he muttered, standing a little taller and moving to nudge his beak with his. Atem stared at him in bewilderment. But he did not pull away from him in the slightest. He simply watched him, considering and staring. Yugi smiled at him, tucking his wings into his sides comfortably. "Sorry, dear heart. I was just…frustrated. Don't worry. Everything is okay."

Atem stared at him blankly, then slowly tilted his head. "Are you absolutely sure?" he asked slowly, uncertainly. "You don't need anything?"

Yugi felt winded for a moment as he shook his head. Then he smiled at him and forced himself to ignore the urge to look over his shoulder. He knew Jaden was watching Atem over his shoulder now. He knew the Fire Dragon did not care in the slightest as he stared at the Sky Dragon. "No, it's okay, Atem. I promise, bright sky," he murmured. He nudged him gently and ran his tongue over his face gently. "But I wouldn't mind leaving sometime soon, if you wouldn't…?"

Atem blinked, hesitating for a long moment, and studied him before shaking his head and looking over his shoulder. "I have already spoken to my mother and father. And Seto and I have arranged when we will go to see the eggs." He paused after a moment, turning back to look over Yugi's shoulder. But he did not grace Jaden with more than a split second glance. He turned back immediately, golden eyes curious. "And Jesse seems satisfied enough with what little conversation I have granted him. So I suppose it would not be wrong to simply leave now."

Yugi nodded slightly, almost curtly. Then he smiled at him. He tried to make himself seem more comfortable than before, tilting his head as he studied him. He attempted to look friendly, but a part of him felt sick. Jaden was still watching, he knew. And Atem looked confused for the moment. But he knew it would not take long for the Sky Dragon to figure out what was causing him such unease.

He knew that.

Atem was far too smart to fail to catch on…

And he did not know if he might prove Jaden right in his assumption he was aggressive if he was to figure it out and react. So Yugi forced himself to relax further. He smiled at him a bit wider. He made sure his eyes were brighter—or at least he tried to. He took a seat in front of him, tipping his beak up a little higher, and flexed his claws.

"I'll speak to my parents one last time and then you and I can go back with Timaeus, okay?" he murmured softly. "And then you and I can get some rest. Does that sound good to you?"

Yugi nodded, smiling a little more. And now it started to feel real again. He was almost overwhelmed. And, a she looked up at him, his hearts squeezed pitifully in his chest. He noticed the darker quality to the gem on his forehead. He knew more than ever that Atem was suspicious. He knew the Sky Dragon was well aware of what he was not saying. He also realized that Yugi had gotten angry with him in turn because of it.

He was extremely aware, Yugi realized. He was aware of each and everything that had come to happen.

He shook his head slightly, relieved that Atem had chosen to avoid this potential battle altogether. It was comforting to him as he breathed in deeply for a moment. Yugi relaxed even further, losing what tension had still remained in his muscles.

"I will be back in a minute, okay?"

Yugi nodded. Atem wandered off to speak to his family again, and the Gandora turned back. He paused, hesitating, and finally made his way back to stand a few feet from Jaden. "I mean it. If you hurt him, I don't care. I don't care if you're a God Dragon. I'll show you exactly why my species is called Dragons of Destruction." He bristled faintly, then huffed and narrowed his eyes into slits. "I'll kill you the moment you hurt him. I don't care what happens to make you turn on him. I'll eviscerate you like you're nothing but a fish."

Jaden studied him for a long moment. Then he chuckled, smiling, and shook his brilliant golden head, watching him. "I would expect nothing less," he admitted after a moment. "After all, I watched you while you tried to decide which of us was the biggest threat to your mate. I watched you trying to figure it out—whether Yusei and Jesse and I were more dangerous than the Leviathan or those other Sky Dragons that had come so close to him."

"Then you must know that I'm serious. You realize that no matter what happens, I'll try."

Jaden nodded. "Yes. And I do not think I'll be surprised if you should manage to kill us before we can stop you," he murmured, and something about the way he spoke made Yugi incredibly nervous for a heartbeat. "After all, you were unaffected when I tried to calm you earlier tonight."

Yugi blinked, startled. "Huh?"

"When you were snarling at us, I tried to force my will over you. And it didn't work in the slightest." He paused, searching his face for a moment. "The funnier part was that it failed to work on your mate either. The Sky Dragon is apparently immune to all of our powers."

Yugi shivered, hateful and stunned as he glared at him. He flexed his claws and struggled not to leap at him. "You had no right to try to control us," he spat. "How dare you."

"You would not stop someone from needless bloodshed if you were capable, Yugi?"

"Yes! And I would do anything to prevent it if I knew who it was that was most dangerous," he snarled. "But it wasn't me or Atem that you should have been paying attention to, you bastard. You should have had the Leviathan in check more than anything else. You shouldn't have even assumed to do that to us."

Jaden nodded, but his eyes were colder. "I attempted to stop all three of you rather than just him. I did not know your temperament, nor your mate's. I knew nothing about the two of you. And at first glance, should you have seen a Slifer and a Gandora around each other, what might you have done, Yugi? Would you have considered them dangerous? Or would you have simply thought them amicable and friendly?"

"I think that you should have tried to analyze the situation better than you did. You jumped to the conclusion that he was a threat because you had heard rumors about Atem. And the second part of it is whatever prejudice you have against my species. I know that. Atem knows that. The Leviathan knows that."

"When I was growing up, it was an absolute war with your species," the Prime Material Dragon answered calmly. But something about the words set Yugi on edge. He almost wondered if Jaden was threatening him for a moment. "I joined in with that edict because it was necessary. It was violent and dangerous and I did not want others to suffer. So I went to war with your species. And, had I been alive during that time, I would have gone against your mate's species as well when the Slifer edict came about."

"That's not okay."

"Sometimes being the killer is the only way to stop the bloodshed," Jaden said slowly, narrowing his eyes. "You saw such a truth when Atem killed Keith, did you not?"

"Yeah, I know that. But that doesn't justify…" Yugi huffed and shook his head. "You shouldn't have done that to someone just because you have the power to!"

"Will you lecture me about free will as your mate did earlier?" he teased. He burst out laughing when Yugi blinked wide eyes, startled by the question and the tone he used. Yugi had expected him to sneer if he was going to ask such a thing, but the Fire Dragon was jovial in front of him. "I agree with you both on the matter. But I will explain to you that I will try to fix things before they escalate any further. If I think it necessary to influence more than one potential source of conflict, then that will be what I do."

Yugi nodded. "I understand. But that still doesn't make it right."

"Perhaps not. But I don't think you and I will ever truly agree, hmm?" he chuckled softly. He shook his head and turned away, then got to his feet and shook himself out. He watched him for a moment, then closed his eyes. "I will call it an impasse and we shall end it here. I hope to see you again, whenever you and Atem might come to cross paths with us once more."

The Gandora nodded again, though he eyed him speculatively. "Sure," he muttered softly, "and I think Atem and I will be fine to see you later on at some point."

He turned his head to look over his shoulder. Atem was standing a few yards away, watching Jaden with narrowed eyes. Yugi trotted over to him, butting him affectionately in the shoulder before glancing back as well.

The Prime Material Dragon was speaking to Jesse now. His eyes were brighter than ever, smiling as he nodded at whatever the Ice Dragon said to him. Jesse butted him in the shoulder, pushing on him for a moment, and then licked his face and trotted away. Yugi watched him for a moment, spotting Yusei and the Leviathan sitting nearby laughing about something or other. The Stardust Dragon was making movements with his front paws, animated as he continued his display. And the Leviathan was snickering and shaking his head.

And then Yugi snorted before he could stop himself.

Yusei was reenacting with his paws how Atem had thrown the Water Dragon.

And, when Jesse joined them, his golden eyes were bright and full of laughter. He jumped about, clearly encouraging Yusei to keep going, and the Leviathan scowled at him momentarily before snickering. Yusei had said something to him, leaning close. The Water Dragon was smirking, and then Yusei stuck his paw out. Jesse yelped, landing chin-first, and the Leviathan roared with laughter. Yusei snickered and nudged Jesse gently with his muzzle before jumping over him and trotting a few feet away. The Leviathan kept laughing and Jesse scrambled for his paws to shake himself out and raced after the other Ice Dragon.

Yugi smiled wider, snickering. He could hear Yusei now, chuckling, "I was just saying there's no precision necessary to trip someone like you." Atem snorted beside him and Jesse whined in annoyance before tackling Yusei from behind. The two of them rolled around in a pile of limbs for a moment, laughing.

Yugi wondered if Jesse was always the one who got teased like this, if he was always the one who eased tension in such a simplistic manner. He had always tried to do the same when his parents would fight, from leaping around like a deer to initiating games and forcing them to relax from there.

He turned his head. Jaden was watching him again. His orange eyes were deeper, glowing now, but he didn't open his mouth. He dipped his head after a moment, then turned and trotted over to where the other three dragons were. Jesse had scrambled away from Yusei and was dashing for Jaden as if the Fire Dragon might protect him. The Prime Material Dragon watched him, tilted his head, and then laughed when Yusei got Jesse by the tail. The younger Ice Dragon turned on him and the two of them rolled about again, growling and snapping at each other playfully.

Yugi wondered at the lack of tension for a moment. Yusei and Jaden had been mates for years, if he remembered right. And he had no idea what had caused them to split, but clearly they still held some kind of affection for each other. Otherwise they wouldn't have been able to sit so close and not quarrel and spit at each other, right?

But then… Jesse was his new mate, right? They'd seemed like it.

So he could not understand how it was that the three of them could get along so well and not show even the smallest hint of jealously. He wondered if he could ever be so close to Timaeus that his interactions with Atem would fail to make him jealous any longer. He wondered how secure someone had to be in their mating bond that even without the Claim both of them were comfortable enough to not only coexist with but befriend their mate's former companion.

Yugi cast an uncertain glance towards Atem, but when he saw the way the red male was watching them with an unreadable expression, he felt his hearts ache. Had he been thinking similarly? Or was his mind on what his brothers had done when they'd initiated games similar and ended up torturing him for his smaller size?

"You ready?"

Yugi blinked, then forced himself to smile. "Of course," he said gently. He tilted his head and watched him a moment longer. Atem had turned away from the other God Dragons and was now focused on his younger siblings. Mana and Valon were running around, chasing each other until Mana finally gave up and Valon tackled her. They squealed and bit at each other playfully and then ran back when Atem's mother called for them in a quiet voice. He looked uncertainly to Atem again. "I guess we'll see them sometime soon, right?"

"The Lightning Dragon Clan territory is close to my mother and father's," Atem said quietly, turning to him now and smiling. "It's close enough that we can go and see them again right after."

Yugi trembled with satisfaction, relieved. "Oh, good!"

Atem nodded, smiling at him in turn. He glanced at his younger siblings for a moment. Then he looked around and turned back again. "Seto and Kisara have left around. And Bakura and Malik left the moment the meeting was over." He paused for a long moment, then moved to butt him gently in the shoulder. "So, I suppose that now might be the time for us to leave as well."

Yugi nodded, running his tongue over his forehead. "Okay, we'll go back with Timaeus and then we'll head back to the den."


Yugi shook himself out as they made their way to the den. They had spent a few minutes with Timaeus and his clutch, Critias whining that he wanted Yugi and Atem to stay longer. And just being around the little Wind Dragons had been comforting, even as Timaeus lay down and his offspring sprang on him and tumbled about atop his back. Atem had spoken briefly with him about Timaeus being sure to visit within the next moon or two, as the Wind Dragon mating season was coming and he had always visited twice a year a day or so before that would begin.

The news had been surprising but he'd been happy to hear it. And he'd wondered briefly during the flight back if perhaps he'd have to do as Timaeus did in order to keep Jonouchi in his life. If the Red-Eyes was willing to accept Atem as part of his life, he'd happily accept the responsibility of traveling back and forth to keep in touch with him.

He glanced over his shoulder when he realized Atem was not at his side any longer. The Sky Dragon was a few feet behind him, sitting and grooming his wing vigorously. His bright blue tongue ran over the smooth scales, making them glossy and sleek under the moonlight. And then the red male turned to face him pointedly. Yugi sighed, coming forward, and took a seat a few steps away from him.

"You knew we were going to speak about what happened at the meeting as soon as we got back," the God Dragon hummed, smiling at his discomfort and leaning forward to lick his cheek. Yugi melted into the touch, then moved closer to bury his face into his chest with a displeased noise at the aspect of talking. "But, more than anything, I want to know what it is that you and Jaden spoke about."

Yugi blinked, then pulled back to look at him. "What we talked about?" he muttered, frowning. He sighed, feeling awkward and clumsy for a moment as he looked away quickly. "He wanted to know more about you. And I didn't tell him anything."

Atem blinked at him, bewildered for only a moment. Then he chuckled and smiled at him. "You still think that he and the others plan to do something to harm me," he murmured, nodding when Yugi looked over at him again. He chuckled louder, then sighed and shook his head. "And I do not understand why."

Yugi huffed, bristling at him. "Because, Atem!" he snapped. "You know all about what they did to our species. And you saw how easily they were going to turn on you as well. None of them gave you a chance. And I don't know about you, but with the way he was willing to leap at the task of killing so many innocent dragons…"

Atem frowned, tilting his head. "We all agreed to the contrary of that decision," he reminded him gently. But there was a light in his eyes that Yugi was unsure how to read, and his gem looked slightly cloudy. "Regardless of whether he initially thought to argue that point, he decided to listen to me. He didn't have to do that, little one. It would have been easy enough for him to pull rank and determine otherwise simply because he is the oldest. I am sure Yusei would have argued, but the Leviathan had already agreed with him. It would have been a divided choice and I don't know what would have come of it if such a thing had happened. But he had the power and strength to force us to follow his lead; you know that just as well."

The Gandora huffed, tossing his head in annoyance. "He thinks you're dangerous," he growled. And Atem gave him a look that was full of patient laughter. Yugi huffed. Of course Atem was dangerous, but that didn't justify Jaden's behavior. He straightened and glared at him. "He knows he can't control you. And he can't control me either. He couldn't influence you or me when he tried to subdue us with the Leviathan. We're immune to him."

Atem stayed silent for a long minute. He peered at Yugi curiously, then finally closed his eyes and tipped his head to the side. "Is that so?"

Yugi hesitated a moment, then shuffled closer to him. The Sky Dragon opened his eyes into slits, and Yugi was abruptly aware of just how tired his mate truly was. "Yusei used to be able to see me when I was with my parents and later when I was alone, before I came here," he mumbled. He rubbed beaks with him and Atem yawned, but kept his eyes on him. "If Yusei could see me back then, until the moment I came here, that makes it pretty clear that you are the one that has immunity to them. It's only because I was so close to you that Jaden couldn't control me."

"And what of the Leviathan?"

Yugi blinked, confused. "Huh?"

"He was closer to me than you were, Yugi."

Yugi blinked, then tilted his head and leaned forward, bewildered by the thought. "That's…" He trailed off, then looked down and kneaded at the ground anxiously. "Then how did that happen? Unless…"

Atem tilted his head. "Unless?" he coaded. "What is it, little gem?"

"I just… I can't figure out how he wouldn't have been able to subdue me if he could do it to the Leviathan and he was closer to you than I was…"

"Jaden has had far longer to influence the Leviathan than he has either of us," Atem supplied after a moment. He got up, shaking himself out, and stared at him. "I do not know if that is possibly what happened to change it or not. But I do not know what else it might be that saved us from that…"

"Maybe it was that, but I have a feeling that it's just…you." Yugi twitched anxiously, realizing that Atem could tke that comment several different ways. He could take it as a compliment or an insult, and, depending, he might be proud of it or he might become upset. "I just… I'm worried, Atem. I'm worried that he might see you as a threat that they can't subdue and then he's going to turn on you."

Atem remained silent for a long handful of seconds. "Perhaps," he mumbled, "but what else was it that he said to you? What was it that actually upset you the first time? I know when I went to see you that it was not the first time."

"He was asking about you in general and it upset me. I don't know him anymore than I did Keith," he answered, huffing. But now he turned his head and looked away again. He flexed his claws, then risked a peek at him from the corner of his eye. Atem was watching him, silent and curious. "I just didn't care for it."

"But you know I can handle it."

"And you know that I don't want you to have to!"

They Sky Dragon was quiet for a long moment. And Yugi wondered if he'd hurt him with the outburst. He turned his head, hoping to reassure him that he knew Atem could handle it. But then he hit the ground on his back, stunned from the force of the impact. Atem loomed over him for a moment. He looked down at him and Yugi opened his mouth to sputter a response.

But his lungs felt weak for a moment. And Atem abruptly backed up a step, threw himself down, and lay across his stomach. Yugi couldn't breathe for a split second, stunned by the force of the action. And, had he not known it was Atem, he would have lashed out and kicked as violently as he could. He was pressed hard into the dirt, the force making his underbelly feel unusually squished. The God Dragon blinked lazily once, tilted his head, looked down at him, and then smirked widely.

"Atem!" he whined when he could remember how to breathe. Now he pawed at him gently, trying to shrug him off. But the red dragon simply snorted, raising his head and looking at the sky overhead. Yugi groaned, relieved now that he could breathe normally. But the pressure on his belly made him feel winded all the same. And he could not help but want to push him off as violently as he was able.

He tried instead to kick him away gently with his back legs. But he could hardly move him. And he did not want to risk harming him. Sheer weight advantage aside, the position left Atem open to his sides being carved open if he was not careful.

"This isn't funny."

"Truly?" the Sky Dragon returned. He turned to look down at him again. His smirk grew lighter and more carefree, full of laughter. And his eyes softened with warmth. "I find it quite amusing."

Yugi huffed. But he did not bother to try to push him off again. Atem leaned forward to rub at his face gently with his beak. And then Yugi nearly screamed. Pain shot through his spine, the force enough to make his body tense in place. Every muscle in Atem's body had tensed to the point of becoming statuesque and heavy. And he was pressed so hard into his body now that Yugi was unable to help but nearly sob from the force of his back against the dirt.

He gasped in a pitiful lung full of air, blinking stupidly.

"Atem…"

The Sky Dragon looked down at him for a moment. Then he sprang to his paws and jumped a couple of feet away from him. He shook himself out, turning to him now, and his eyes were much colder than they had been moments before. "Lightweight or not, Yugi, I am capable of taking care of myself. I know how to pin an opponent over three times my own size. I've taken down prey ten times my weight before when I was younger and Timaeus and I parted ways. Keith was not the first one to try to pin me forcefully, nor was he the last. And it is not hard for me to make myself heavier or to feign absolute limpness. It has allowed me to overpower a great many of my suitors. I am capable of using my weight to go limp and drag my opponents down without issue. I am capable of pushing another dragon to the dirt and tensing until they cannot move me any longer. Should it come to a fight, I will win."

The Gandora flipped onto his paws. He was still slightly winded. He frowned, shaking himself out, and then frowned as he stumbled forward a step. His back ached but it was no longer as terrible as it had felt formerly. "That doesn't mean that you should have to do that—"

"I would likely be dead by now if I had not learned to do so." Atem paused and trotted ahead a few steps. When he stopped and turned around, Yugi blinked wide eyes and hurried to chase him. The Sky Dragon let him get to his side, then began to trot again. "Besides that, little gem, it is easy enough to turn a battle on its head for me. I am fast, I am adaptive, and I know how to fight regardless. It does not matter the enemy. It matters how I approach the situation. If Jaden cannot influence me, he will have to fight me head on. And I am capable of putting him in his place if it should come to it."

"How can you be so sure?" Yugi demanded, hurrying ahead of him and then spinning around to glare at him. Atem stopped a few inches away, studying him. "It's not like you even know how he fights!"

Atem blinked, frowning at him. "Does it matter how he fights?" he asked softly. "You forget that I can control everything form wind to water to atmosphere. I have five sets of lungs and control of five different breaths. I can cut his throat with my tail. As far as I am concerned, an opening is all I shall ever need."

The Gandora blinked, confused. "Five sets of lungs? Five breaths?" he mumbled, before stiffening and blinking at him. He hurried forward, putting his paws on his chest between his scythes, and stared at him with eyes that burned into his. "Y-you can breathe ice? You have ice lungs?"

The ability to breathe ice was all but myth among the dragons. Even Ice Dragons struggled to produce it. Many times they could spout crystals or water cold enough to stun an opponent. But ice breath, at its core, was entirely different from these things. It was an overwhelmingly powerful magic, one that could cripple and destroy in little time, without the smallest effort.

Most dragons were unable to summon ice. Yugi himself was incapable altogether due to genetics. But species like the Ice and Water Dragons were meant to be able to. He supposed it had to be taught, however, that it was not something that a dragon simply knew how to use.

And, due to its lack of use, many dragons had assumed it to be nothing more than a myth any longer.

The idea that Atem could utilize a pair of ice lungs was both horrifying and amazing to him. He thanked the gods that the Sky Dragon had refused to use his magic against him when he had challenged him.

Ice magic was devastating. It did not matter if it was a Fire Dragon or even another Ice Dragon. It caused nerve damage and physical pain that lasted for days and moons and sometimes even years. It was horrifying to think about. It could shut blood circulation off entirely if the scales were coated with it. And it was possible to suffocate another dragon using the breath. It tended to suck the air from their lungs when they were struck and tried to lick it away. Even breathing it in for a short period of time was dangerous enough to be life-threatening. It was a paralyzing magic, one that shut first the primary lungs and, if it were to get further, it collapsed the remaining. Then the hearts would slow and eventually burst.

Yugi had only seen it once. And it was not the actual ice magic itself. It was the remnants of it. A dragon had used it for whatever reason. And they'd hit a tree in the area. Where the trunk had been struck, it looked as if there were a coat of frost there. But the tree had been broken from the force of the blow, the bark crushed and gray. And it had begun to lean forward, the foundation snapped as the breath ate at much of its life force. The tree had been too large to break in half, nor to fall completely, but its tilt had been enough to pronounce that it was half-dead.

"I do," Atem mumbled, and Yugi wondered if perhaps it had been Atem's breath on that tree trunk, "and I know how to use them without difficulty. I know how to aim with it. I know how to kill with it. I had thought at one point to use it against Keith, but it was unnecessary. I was not willing to risk it. And if everyone were to know…"

Yugi shook his head, still amazed as he opened and closed his mouth. He rubbed beaks with him, searching his face for a moment, and nearly sobbed with happiness at the idea. It would be something Atem would have to find an opening to use, just as he did with his tail, but it was amazing all the same. And, if Atem got that chance and took it, he would surely win any battle he had to participate in. "Will you show me some time?" he asked, voice growing demanding. Atem considered him a moment. Then he reached up and pushed him away gently with his paw, smiling at him.

"If you so desire. But it will likely only be when I summon snow," he answered after a long minute. He stretched himself out, yawning, and watched him for a moment. "I do not use it offensively for obvious reasons. And I do not want to hurt you by exposing you to it, either."

"Okay!"

Atem laughed at his easy agreement, smiling. "You're adorable, little one." He studied him a moment, golden eyes blazing into his. And then he frowned and tilted his head. "Does that assuage your concerns then, Yugi? Does that prove to you that you have nothing to fear should it come to battle with them?"

Yugi hesitated for a moment, wanting more than ever to argue that Atem could hold his own, but he shouldn't have to, but Atem's tail hit him gently in the flank. He stumbled, then huffed a breath, but couldn't keep the disapproval on his face. Atem was snickering, licking his face.

"And, oh, by the gods, what kind of foolish souls should desire to fight you? None of them would ever get past my bristly little Gandora," he teased, laughing and licking his face again. Yugi chortled, trembling at the affectionate touch. "I trust you'd beat them down before I would even be able to draw a breath."

He beamed under his attention, then stood taller and raised his head, jumping from paw to paw for a moment. "Of course!" he crowed.

"Then I see no reason to worry about it," Atem chuckled. He turned away after a moment, the movement slightly sluggish as he yawned again. He shook himself out, turning to Yugi a second later. "Now, come along, little one. I'm exhausted and we both need some rest. It's been a long night."

Yugi rushed after him when he picked his way through the entrance of the den. The Gandora pulled himself up with some help, then raced him into the stone-layered den, watching as Atem smirked and took a spot on the ground nearby. He pounced on him and the two of them rolled about, laughing and pawing at one another. Atem fell asleep soon after, and Yugi curled up into his side, listening to his even breathing before drifting off as well.