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Cat's Cradle

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The constant hum of the Kaiba-Corp blimp engines made it impossible to sleep. That, and the knowledge there were at least two people onboard who probably wanted him dead. Maybe three if you counted both Maliks separately, which seemed to be in order. Yugi stared at the ceiling of the miniscule cabin, stretched out flat on the narrow bed, making a game of counting the tiles, and avoided looking at his nightstand.

 

Said nightstand was currently occupied by the Puzzle, the jagged shadows cast by the object bending and waving in the fluctuating light from the porthole, and the Millenium Necklace, which Isis had pressed upon him just hours previously.

 

“What do you think she intended by it?” said the spirit. He was facing away from Yugi, seated on the floor beside the bed, arms draped over his bent knees, the translucent spikes of his hair poking up over the edge of the mattress.

 

“By what?” said Yugi, squinting at the tiles.

 

“She said the Necklace was not hers to carry any longer. But what are we intended to do with it?”

 

Yugi sighed and rolled over to face the edge of the bed. He could “feel” the spirit looking at him, even though the image he projected was still facing away from him. “I don’t know,” he said, with a quick glance at the Necklace. “I’d say look into the future, but if the last duel was any indication, Destiny doesn’t have anything on Seto Kaiba.”

 

The spirit snorted, a small, dry laugh, and Yugi smiled to himself, the tight feeling that had occupied his chest since they’d visited the museum easing. “Fair enough. I don’t suppose knowing the future will change what we have to do anyway. Malik is still here, and still a threat.”

 

Yugi tucked his knees towards his chest, hooking a hand under them and shivering. “Right.”

 

“Are you afraid?”

 

Yugi hesitated. “A bit,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter, I can still—”

 

“Yugi, ” the spirit half turned, looking up at him over the bed. “It wasn’t a criticism. I am afraid as well.” His voice was solemn, facial features almost lost in shadow. “More afraid, I think, than I can ever remember being.”

 

Yugi drew in a sharp breath and reached out with his free hand across the coverlet. The spirit reached back, took his hand, a faint tingling sensation that he felt more in his mind than on his skin. Gentle pressure on his palm. He turned it over, cupped and felt soft tickling, as though he’d caught a butterfly in his hand.

 

He knew what the spirit was doing, tracing the smooth, red weals burned into his skin by hot metal, jagged, geometric lines, the rounded curves of the partial shape of the Eye.

 

“It’ll be alright,” he said, trying to project a confidence he didn’t feel. “But we both need rest, regardless. Come to bed.”

 

The words slipped out unintended and he bit his tongue, but the spirit’s eyes only softened, taking on that strange half wistful look he sometimes wore when he thought Yugi wasn’t looking. Yugi knew that the spirit didn’t sleep, not in the traditional sense, but he could read the deep weariness in him and projected a sense of warmth and welcome in kind, a technique he’d have been hard pressed to describe, but that he’d found garnered a positive response.

 

“You’re right, of course,” said the spirit, smiling faintly. “Thank you, Yugi.”

 

He vanished without ceremony, blinking out of existence. But Yugi could feel the brief brush of him as he passed, and hoped he’d stay in the antechamber between their conjoined minds, rather than walking the dark labyrinth as was his want when his mood was particularly low.

 

Yugi sighed and scrunched down the covers so he could wiggle under them, the fabric of his pants catching on the sheets. He tucked the coverlet over his shoulder and paused to consider the Puzzle on the nightstand. After a moment, he reached out and tucked it with care against the curve of his stomach, sliding the chain over his head. It was a mostly symbolic gesture, but it still made him feel better.

 

Settled, he shut his eyes and made a bid for sleep.

 

Yugi’s dreams had never been what could be considered peaceful, and the tournament had done a number on them, adding new dimensions, the scent of smoke in his nose, the icy taste of saltwater, the squeeze of shackles. And here and there, a faint glimpse of a being cut from shadows, cold, glowing eyes looking out at him. Sometimes it looked like Malik, or Bakura.

 

And sometimes it looked just like him.

 

He woke, sweating and startled, ears ringing as they strained for noise. The cabin was even darker, moonlight gone, only the faint red pulse of one of the exterior lights, flashing out a notification to passing planes.

 

He rolled on his side, tried to catch his breath, and looked at his nightstand.The Necklace was just barely visible in the dark. On impulse, he reached out, picked it up.

 

It was heavier than he’d expected, which he supposed shouldn’t have surprised him. He turned on his back and rested it on his chest, just above the Puzzle, contemplating the Eye in the center. He ran his thumb along the shape of it, smooth metal, cool. If he focused, he could feel a faint thrum between his fingers.

 

To be able to see the future. But whose future? His, the spirit’s, the whole world’s? The future, she’d said, and the past.

 

And Yugi felt very stupid indeed because wasn’t all of this happening because of things that had gone on in the past? If he could see something of it, perhaps they’d be able to come at this from a new angle, develop a new strategy. Surely it was worth a shot.

 

He considered putting the Necklace on, but eventually decided against it. Maybe when he was certain all this ancient magic wouldn’t blow his head clean off or something. Instead he held the band between his hands, as if making a circuit, and scrunched up his face at it, focusing.

 

I want to see the past.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Maybe he needed to focus on something a little more specific. The past was pretty big after all, maybe the Necklace could only tune into one part at a time?

 

He focused again, gaze roaming as he tried to find something to fix in his mind. His gaze landed on the Puzzle, resting against his belly, cushioned by the white layer of his undershirt.

 

That’s it! I’ve been thinking about people, but that’s all wrong. I want to see the Puzzle’s past!

 

To his excitement, the Necklace pulsed in his palms. Against him, the Puzzle gave a strange lurch, like a Rubix cube clicking into a new configuration. He held his breath as he felt something electric tingle against his fingers, followed by a catch, like a burr on a puzzle piece, like something caught in gears, keeping it from moving smoothly...

 

And then his ears filled with deafening screams and the world was on fire.

 

He pressed himself to the wall, trying to merge with the stone itself. His palms were bloody where he’d skinned them when he’d fallen, but the sting barely registered. He could hear the shouts of men and the screams of others, and flesh—burning flesh like when they’d bring home game and roast it but it wasn’t game. He knew it wasn’t. It was people, trapped in their homes and kindling thrown in after.Then She’d thrown him; broken a chunk of mud brick with her grinding stone and shoved him through the narrow opening.

 

Momma!

 

Bodies everywhere, soldiers dragging them, blood and entrails pink in the dirt.

 

Momma! Momma, where are you?

 

He ran down, down as she’d taught him, down like a rat going to ground. Underground was safety, security, a place to hide from the burning fire of Ra’s light.

 

But no—no it wasn’t right, wasn’t safe because the fire was underground now, the drying, suffocating heat of a forge, hot enough to melt metal.

 

Hot enough to burn bodies. Their bodies. The bodies of his friends and family. 

 

The soldiers were loading them into a vat, like the one Momma used to make beer but big, so big and instead of beer it was molten gold but gold didn’t glow like this— didn’t devour them bodies melting, hands and arms and legs and feet and —Momma Momma where are you what’s happening stop it stop it wake up wake up wake UP—

 

“What is this?”

 

A shout, echoing in his mind, shocking and incongruous, freezing him where he stood. And then the Pharaoh was there, the Pharaoh but not the Pharaoh he looked like the-boy-Yugi-me standing there naked shock and horror on his face and then they-he twisted and they felt the surge of white hot rage billow up from within—

 

—GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT NOT YOURS TO SEE NOT YOURS TO HAVE OUT OUT OUT—

 

Reality rang like a struck gong, reverberating through his head, shaking his skull until he thought it would fly apart and then he was somewhere cold so cold no air no light no life, all implacable darkness.

 

Two slits opened in the darkness, red like fresh blood, red like rubies lit by fire.

 

And he was under it, under its gaze, caught like a mouse in the eyes of a snake. Its mind bent around his, bent his. Huge, impossible to grasp the scale of it, hate and rage and hunger big enough to swallow the world, swallow the sun. And he couldn’t scream, couldn’t make a sound. His eyes burned, unimaginable heat baking them in his skull. His skin crawled, insects devouring flesh and dying and being reborn over and over.

 

He screamed. Yugi screamed. They screamed as one and many.

 

“YUGI, WAKE UP!”

 

He surfaced to hands around his throat. Pale hands, skeletal fingers, Ryou’s hands, Ryou’s face stretched in a horrifying rictus, Ryou-not-Ryou, distorted, snarling, blistering with rage, nothing human in that visage, screaming over and over, “What did you do, you idiot child? What did you DO?”

 

He dug his fingernails into the wrists, clawed and fought. Fought like he’d wanted to when they picked him up and struck him, threw him, hurt him. Fought for life, fought for breath.

 

The spirit blazed up in his mind, white hot fire and magic burning his veins, under his skin, and pushed .

 

Ryou-not-Ryou recoiled, recoiled from skin suddenly the temperature of burning metal, but didn’t let them go, hands fisting in his shirt, body stretching, posture exaggerated, insectile, face in their own, foul breath blasting their face, the weight of the Ring clacking and tangling against the Puzzle, striking the Necklace with the melodic clang of metal on metal. And they were clawing, both of them, all of them at once, reaching for the power, light blazing up and blinding--

 

Something lurched, some ancient mechanism, like a trap pulley quiescent for a thousand years, and then there was a cascade, a cacophony, like an avalanche of rock, crushing and dividing and distorting, stretching the seams that held them together.

 

Until deep inside, they felt something warm and pulsing, something vital , rip.

 

Yugi screamed a final time and blacked out.