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He had never seen a creature so malignant. Her – he presumed her? – snout was long, and lined with teeth. The curved white of the fangs jutted out against dull armoured hide, flashing in the firelight. Atem swallowed, and her lower jaw lazed idly at him, coyly revealing the shine of her teeth and dark of her gullet. With a crocodile for a head, it seemed redundant that the front half of her body was that of a leopard's, and a careful glance to her back showed the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.

The demoness Ammit was overkill, in physical form, and as Atem shifted, she followed his movements, slitted eyes fixing upon his empty hands. He felt something cool, even slick settle in his spine, and straightened his back against the feeling. Ammit's gaze settled, and a moment later, shifted; her interest lost. Turning with an oddly graceful waddle, Ammit settled her head against the thigh of Osiris, a low purr rippling through her throat.

This time it was Osiris who looked at Atem, and the cold feeling in Atem’s spine turned white hot.

He flung himself hard upon the floor, arms outstretched, murmuring an unintelligible tangle of noises.

“Rise.” The voice was smaller than Atem expected, but he stayed in place, forehead pressing into the rock. “I commanded you to rise - now stand, Iry-Horus Ity Menkhepera-a Atem sa Re,” The voice grew loud in quiet room, and Atem stood uneasily, eyes lowered. “Atem,” his head jerked up, but he continued to watch the floor in fear, “Look to me,” And this time the God’s voice was gentle to the point of painful, like the universe caving in on itself.

Slowly, Atem looked up with watchful eyes.

“Where is your heart, son of Ra?” Osiris asked softly, a single finger gesturing towards Atem’s bare hands. There was a hum of agreement from Anubis, who watched Atem with lamp-like eyes. 

Startling, Atem stared at Anubis – this was not the man he had once met. This was instead a jackal-headed thing straight out of his mythology, “I thought you were destroyed,” Atem insisted. 

“I’m a God of the Afterlife, not some mortal spawn,” Anubis snapped, baring his fangs, and Atem shrank back. He could see the the glisten of saliva in Anubis' mouth; reality pressing in at the corners of his vision, “Do not mistake me again, or my teeth will find your throat between them.” The God’s pointed ears flicked back, and he wrinkled his nose, “Where is that heart of yours, boy?”

“I-“ Atem had faced Leviathans, and Evils and he steeled himself now to face Gods, “I- I don’t understand.”

“For the weighing, boy,” Anubis’ voice was a growl, strangled by clipped teeth, as the God gestured towards a set of scales, a feather resting on one end. At the movement, Ammit glanced up like an eager dog, before once more resettling against Osiris.

His ieb? His metaphysical heart?

Atem looked at his hollow hands, and realized with disbelief that he did not – in fact – have his heart. It seemed obvious he would not have it: hadn't it been with his body in death? Thousands of years had passed between his death and his trial; his heart would be dust by now.

“I’m afraid I don't have-“ Atem spoke haltingly. After struggling to reach the afterlife, it seemed strange to be barred so close to it, and his attention darted about his mind like a trapped bird, ”I don't have it.” He swallowed, like he was emptying a mouthful of sand into his lungs. "Sorry?"

Osiris and Anubis shared some look that could bring a world to its knees.

“Son of Ra.” Osiris stood and Atem’s spirit quailed at the God’s motion. It was like having his nerves sucked out of him, and his pride was spitting, even with his will floundering. He could hear the universe humming at its binds, in open rebellion with each movement of these Gods, and Atem shook from it, trembling visibly. “We can dispense with the ritual phrases,"

"Pomp and ceremony," Anubis interjected distastefully, his tongue leaking out to lap at his nostrils, and Atem felt his stomach flip.

"Dispensable," Osiris murmured agreeably, "but, Atem," now he looked at Atem almost pitiably, "you cannot be granted passage without your heart." A long sigh that left the world rattling. "Where did you leave it? No- Where do you think you left it?"

Atem pressed a hand to his chest, but let his arm drop, shaking his head at the lack of pulse. Of course this body would not have a heart, “In the past,” He said forcibly, a clot of emotion forming in the pit of his stomach. Atem looked between the Gods questioningly, and Anubis took a step forward, alarming Ammit.

“In the past? What do you know.” Anubis demanded, voice a testy snap of teeth.

“Well, I didn’t think I’d need it,” Atem answered, wringing his hands, “I wasn’t expecting to ever be offered passage,” He looked haplessly between the deities.

“I still wouldn’t,” Anubis informed him, a single ear twitching, and Osiris pressed a hand onto Anubis’ shoulder, squeezing.

“Peace psychopomp,” Osiris hummed, approaching Atem who drew in a tight breath at the sudden closeness of divinity, “He has brought his ren, and his akh, at least,” Osiris pointed out to Anubis, “His ren had wandered far as well; he had to fetch it from his past.”

“That paperwork was annoying…” Anubis muttered touchily, but the God softened, sniffing at the air, “but I still cannot do much for the ra-child without the ieb, whether he has his name or not-”

“My name is Atem,” Atem pointed out without thinking. There was a strange satisfaction in saying it aloud, and clearly. Some clarity of self to hear it and feel it in his throat, no matter that he should interrupt a God to do so.

“We know you have your ren.” Anubis’ soft approach was gone, like the raised hackles of an animal, and he glared at Atem, “What we need is your heart; your wretched ieb to weigh against Ma’at’s blasted feather.”

Atem blinked, surprised at Anubis’ blasphemy, and opened his mouth to speak, but Anubis gestured in annoyance, cutting him off with a glower.

“Well, Ra-boy,” Anubis pointed back towards the doorway, “go get it, will you.”

“What?” Atem stared at the deity.

“Take your akh,” Anubis leant forward to prod Atem firmly in the chest, “and go fetch your ieb then.”

“From the past?” Atem questioned slowly, and Anubis rolled his eyes like a maddened dog. “Then where?” Atem snapped, voice rising, “I told you I left it in the past and if it isn't there, then where is it?”

“How should I know?” Anubis snorted loudly.

“Then how can I possibly fetch it for you?” Atem’s voice was steel-shrill at this point, and Ammit gave a warning growl before Osiris hushed her with a quiet touch. Atem drew in a sharp breath, and let it out again; calmer, he narrowed his eyes at Anubis. “My Lords.”

He licked his lips, and could practically taste his back-talk, but then he had clawed his way through Hell for his Next Life. Apparently it had been a wasted effort.

“Search, perhaps,” Anubis replied idly.

“Search,” Atem repeated, dumb-founded.

“Yes, and when you’ve got it, bring it back to us, so we can get this overdue case done with.” Anubis gave a nod. “It has taken too much time, and too much red tape to bring you to this point – I’ll be drawn and quartered before-” Osiris coughed meaningfully, “Pardon. I’ll be damned,” Osiris coughed louder but Anubis pressed on, “before you let me down.”

“Let you down.” Atem’s voice was disbelieving, and Anubis graced him with a half snarl in answer, when Osiris once more interceded between them.

“You are owed a great debt,” The God clarified. “It would be shameful for Anubis – or any of your Gods – to abandon you to a Limbo between the shores, son of Ra.”

“Looks terrible,” Anubis agreed, settling back. “Not good for PR.” He waved both hands at Atem, like he was shooing an animal. "Well, go on, fetch fetchling."

“This is not what I was expecting,” Atem murmured, and shook his head once more, clearing away his skittering thoughts. At the least he could focus on the issue at hand, “So I must leave and go-“ He tipped his head, “to the past once more to retrieve my heart before it’s gone?”

“Still with the past?” Anubis looked a touch put out, “Distorting the past for the sake of an ieb that isn't only there? It would be like building a pyramid to crush an insect.” Anubis tipped his head, frowning, “You’d just disturb things, maybe hurt them – better to find it now.” He tipped his head, weighting the word deliberately, before carrying on more casually, "or at least give a very good appearance that we all tried to find it.”

“Anubis,” Osiris reprimanded, before looking back at Atem. “You will need to leave your ren and sheut behind – the soul you have now must be kept safe.”

"The sheut is safe," Anubis clicked his teeth, eying Osiris. "But the name too."

“My name?” Atem bristled minutely; it had just been returned to him, but neither God looked his way. “Fine. And my...akh?” Atem’s brow wrinkled in thought, “I don't know what I did with my soul.”

“Of course not,” Anubis snickered, “it'd make our lives easier - yours too. No, you are your ka and your ba.” He looked sidelong. “Not whole, but-“ Anubis pricked an ear questioningly at Osiris. “He cannot fight with his ba, or the whole thing is for naught.”

“I suppose,” Osiris considered reluctantly.

“You suppose,” Anubis repeated, licking his teeth. “Fine, Ra-kid, don’t break that akh of yours.”

“Good advice,” Atem snorted, “some instruction-?”

“You must not reinitiate the ceremony,” Osiris warned suddenly, interrupting Atem, and speaking quickly over Anubis. “You have reached a capitulation to the living ba to access that akh - if you disturb the join of ka and ba, you will exist between lives as a spectre, forever searching out your long-dead body. It would be better to avoid your ba."

"And better to avoid the whole matter?" Anubis asked archly. "Just don't duel your reincarnation."

“Charming,” Atem commented. “Will that be all?”

The Gods, however, had once more turned to each other. “Ba is good for an akh – strong – but this one is too strong, eh?” Anubis grinned toothily at Osiris.

“Spent too long with no ka,” Osiris put in almost reluctantly, “feisty.” The God-King frowned, tone darkening, “and not ours.”

“Don’t complain; it doesn’t suit you,” Anubis rumbled, and his large eyes focused once more on Atem. “Don’t duel him – you’ll lose your akh if you won, even by accident and then how would you get that heart? How would you pass to the field of reeds? You wouldn’t, that’s what.”

“Do not duel Mutou Yuugi – leave most of my soul here,” Atem gave a frustrated hum. “Find my heart.” He paused. "Which is not in the past..." Anubis waved a hand through the air, and Atem continued slowly, "but in the present?"

“Or at least try.” Anubis gave a lop-sided grin, and Atem frowned.

“At least try to find my heart.”


Anubis looked pleased, as though watching a horse perform mathematics and Atem bristled again. “How do I abandon my name?” Atem looked to Osiris. “Is there a ritual?"

"Well, it's round your neck, ra-brat," Anubis chipped in, pointing towards Atem's cartouche. Immediately, Atem clutched at it, as if scrabbling for his own heart, and- that was it, wasn't it? Reluctantly, Atem pulled the chain of the cartouche over his head, and passed it to Anubis. Almost greedily, Anubis gathered it in his hands, and it flashed out of sight between nail and claw.

“Not to worry, little King,” Anubis drawled, words far too kind for his saccharine tone, and Atem narrowed his eyes. “Your ren will wait for you.” Anubis gestured down the corridor with a lazy hand, “We will see you in three days.”

Atem looked towards the hallway, following the line of Anubis’ hand to the back of the corridor. There was none; it was nothing but firelight bleeding into a dark maw, and Atem stared daringly into the abyss, trying to learn the edges of the hall by sight alone. It was although he stared into nothing, and it gazed boredly back at him. After a moment, Atem laughed. “There’s nothing there.” He turned to face Anubis triumphantly. The afterlife did not exist, and Atem met the God’s gaze in challenge.

Abruptly, Anubis turned towards the hallway and barked – actually barked – and Atem jolted in alarm at the suddenness of the sound. As the last of the bark echoed down the hallway, a brilliant light flashed into existence at the unreachable end of it. It was as empty, as the darkness it drove off, but painful to the eye and Atem shielded his face.

“What did you do?” Atem tried to peer into the light.

“I asked, and the afterlife gave.” Anubis picked at his teeth with a claw-like fingernail. “I am a God.”

With that Osiris gave Atem a gentle push towards the hallway, like the glancing strike of a comet, before both Gods vanished from the room. Left alone with Ammit the Consumer of Hearts, Atem trotted back the way he came, and crashing back into the waking world felt uncannily as though the Afterlife had slammed its door in his face.

Chapter Text

Atem jerked upright, consciousness coming in a horrible rush that left him dizzy, head light and paper-thin, “Damn,” He choked out and then fell quiet, breath low and heavy in his chest. Curling into himself, Atem ducked his head between his knees to let the blood run into his skull and sat there, panting in the sand.

With each breath, the unbearable ringing receded from his ears, the darkness drained from his vision and he coughed on the dust in the air. Only then did he lift his head, leaning it against his nearest leg, and gathering his wits.

Cautiously he scuffed the sand from his hair, and took in his surroundings. Part of him had expected it to be dark, the milky way lighting the sky like spilt milk, and the moon half-heartedly showing the way. Instead the glare of the sand stung his eyes, and he held a hand over his face, taking in the bright expanse every way about him.

This was not the Valley of the Kings, he decided, nor was it the place he had left this world.

Why then, was he not there? Was this some illusion-

But no - he could feel the air of the world; the sting and bite of life. It tasted real, in ways the spirit rooms did not, but then the after life had tasted real too. That this was real could not be denied, but what real was it?

Atem shut his eyes, inhaled the breath of the world; real, certainly but different. Familiar where the after life had been strange, sharp where it had been sweet, neutral where the next existence had been pleasant and sour. This was not the fields on the far shore, in fact, as Atem cast his gaze about the sands, he had the feeling he was nowhere near his tomb, because he was upon the eastern side of the Nile.

He stood, brushing the sand from his jeans, and blinking against the sunlight. Atem eyed his hands for a moment, noting the darker skin tone; evidently his akh had shifted to fit him, rather than Yuugi, and he shrugged it off. He glanced at the ground, marvelling at the pale thinness of his shadow without his sheut, but focused on rifling through his pockets for anything he could use for a marker, but what does one bring to one’s own death? Atem’s lip curled as he flicked through the top layer of his deck.

Setting it away, Atem sighed and strode boldly out towards the sun; it wasn’t as though it could change directions in midair, and so it would lead him west, and therefore towards the river. By the river would be people, boats, and then from there he would locate the Ishtar family, who would have something to say about ieb, surely. If they couldn’t help him – and even if they could – there was always his partner, and Atem took a quicker step at the thought. What was a riddle but another game, and together they were the King of Games, so this riddle would soon surrender its solution. He would be traveling to the afterlife soon enough.

This was again, assuming he had not been left on the western side of the Nile.

Atem’s foot caught in the sand, and he caught himself on his grazed palms. Pushing himself to his feet, he scuffed his hands off on his knees, drew in a frustrated growl and trudged onwards. In his short time returned to this world, he had discovered that akh were not needy bodies, it was his mind that pawed at him.

Atem sighed, but continued trudging forward. The positive here was that at least he could not die out here in the blistering desert. His akh had no heartbeat, but bled all the same, and whilst his akh had no need of food, his stomach was still empty.

He had understood mind over matter. It gave a person strength in a shadow game, resolve in a duel that would decide fate, and his mind had served him well, honed by years of imprisonment into a focus that had saved lives. Now he felt thoroughly betrayed. Although his body was undisturbed, even uncaring, about the lack of food, water, shade or rest, his mind whined.

The akh didn’t need anything, and it didn’t ask for anything, but his mind prattled at him about everything it should need. It should need rest – he took another resolute step – and it should need water – he took another – and he craved food – but he took another step all the same. His mind was thirsty, his will was hungry, and his spirit wanted to lay down to rest.

It was irritating; Atem decided with a grimace, that he could imagine discomfort even in its absence. At least in Yuugi’s body, there had been no cause for his mind to react this way, at least in Egypt if his body was thirsty, or hungry, or tired he could do something for it. More concerning was that three days had stretched across the sky, and Atem had heard nothing of the Gods. Still, that did not mean he would give up, so Atem dug his feet into the sand, settling into the step with a grunt.

As he jerked his foot free, he chanced a look up at the dimming horizon across the sand, to a panicking tourist upon a camel, which was tied up and placid besides. It was a puzzling sight, and Atem shrugged. A moment later, Atem froze up, and almost tripped over his own heels, as he came to a halt.

It was certainly a tourist, and there were two camel handlers, but as Atem scanned the horizon he could not make out any other signs of people. Perhaps not a tourist? Not a matter for him, and Atem continued his stolid march in the direction of the reddening sun, passing the group without looking their way.

He would have stomped past them, barely noting them and them barely noting him, except for the loud raucous the camel rider had begun to make. Atem twisted to figure out what in the Name of the Gods might inspire someone to be so loud, and it became clear - embarrassingly so - that the camel rider was a tourist. Malik had made note of camel guides who would take a tourist (and their wallet more importantly) out into the sand, until there was nothing save that sand. there the guides would trade for the tourists return to civilization for whatever happened to be in the wallet.

He was walking, quicker than before, in a crow's flight towards the group, a warning glare snarling on his face. One of them nudged the other by the arm, indicating the impending Atem.

At some point, he had made the decision to cross the sand towards the camel riders, but as he approached and they called out to him in their tongue, Atem was confronted by his inability to understand or speak the language, and he settled for cussing them out in his native tongue.

Already this was not looking like something that would end well for him, except that his akh – tireless, and numb – had been walking from the deep desert for days. His hair was tangled with sand, a touch of blood at his cheek where it had rubbed raw, tawny skin bathed in the fire of the sunset, and the mindless eyes of a person who should have collapsed of exhaustion. All of this and Atem had stalked towards them, howling at them in a strange tongue.

He looked to be a demon, forged fresh upon the burning sands. The con-men streaked away from him across the desert, as Atem neared the hapless tourist and looking up at them, approximated in clumsier English than he would have liked, “Please…teach me want going now?”

It was a miserable attempt, and Atem repeated it in Japanese, and then for good measure, again in Egyptian.

The tourist looked down at him, a little dumbfounded, and nervous, so Atem gestured a motion towards the ground, and pointed at them, “You, down?” He added in English for good measure, but the tourist had already begun to nod vigorously at him.

He helped the tourist down, akh still unwavering, and the tourist – who he thought might be German, and knew was named Karl – played charades with him as they walked towards the tourist traps. Atem had simply untied the camel from the stake, and let the beast lead the way back.

Once they saw the bustle of a crowd, Atem let the beast away with a shrug, after-all he was no thief. Still, when Karl insisted on handing Atem a bundle of Egyptian Pounds, thanking him profusely, Atem waved the thanks away, but gratefully took the money, adding it to the pocket with his deck.

Atem looked up at the Luxor Museum, a little distastefully. He had always been uncomfortable in museums, and with his memories restored, that discomfort had multiplied and spread through him.

Also he was fairly sure he’d been over-charged for transport here.

Nevertheless, he pushed through the doors and strode boldly to the nearest staff member, and greeted in Japanese, on the off-chance it meant anything to the man at the reception. It hadn’t. At first the language barrier had been trouble, but after repeating the word Egyptian several times, they had pushed someone in front of Atem, who didn’t look simply confused when he addressed them in Egyptian.

“My speech rusty,” Zahr apologized, adjusting her shayla hijab. “Am sorry.”

Zahr’s own attempt at the language was slightly uncomfortable, and she had the annoying habit of using the wrong vowel, which of course made listening to her something of a challenge. He did, however, realize she seemed to be having an even harder time with his speech, judging by how often he had to repeat it.

“That’s fine,” Atem assured her, “My English and Arabic are non-existent, which is worse. You’re doing quite well.”

“Sorry?” The young woman floundered and Atem spoke slowly and clearly to her, and she nodded in understanding, “Every good. You speak much…” She cast about for the right word, “Fluent. It is impressive Atem.”

“Thank you,” Atem looked each way, “I’m looking for Isis and Malik of Ishtar – are they here today?” He peered behind Zahr.

“Malik yes-” Zahr explained, “But the sister in Cairo, sorry again.”

Atem nodded, smiling at her, “That’s fine – I need to speak to him urgently,” Once more Atem had to repeat it slightly slower, but her eyes glittered when she got it, and she gestured for another staff member to retrieve Malik, before turning back towards Atem politely.

“Malik soon-“ She looked back behind her at the sound of shoes tapping down the stairs, and tugged Atem’s sleeve, “Look! He is comes,” She offered in slightly off-kilter syntax. Atem turned to watch as Malik hurried down the stairs, and made his way across the floor, shoes still tapping.

Malik offered a rushed but tidy bow, and Atem instinctively responded in fashion, “Hello, I am Malik Ishtar, and I’m told you speak Japanese,” Malik smiled, the expression relaxed and curious, “How can I help you today- uh what was your name?” Malik waited patiently, and Atem blinked.


“How can I help you today.” Malik repeated and when Atem continued to stare at him, he switched to Egyptian nervously, “I’m sorry, my Japanese must be out of practice; I wanted to know how we can help you?”

Atem squinted at Malik, feeling something icy ball up in his stomach, and the words spilled out in Egyptian, quick and staccato, “I don’t understand - we’ve met before,” Malik’s brows furrowed as he tried to keep up with Atem’s speech, “I am Iry-Horus Ity Menkhepera-a Atem sa Re, Atem,” He slid easily into Japanese, “Yami,” And back into Egyptian, “The Nameless Pharaoh of the God Pyramid? I need to ask you about my heart.”

“Iry-Hor- ieb?“ Zahr began from the side, eyes darting between them and Malik waved her away with a flicker of his hand, “Sorry, sir,” She murmured in Arabic and left quickly. Malik refocused on Atem, thinking hard.

“I don’t understand,” Malik said slowly in Egyptian, “You’re using an old form and I can’t-“

Atem, frustrated, flicked back to Japanese forcibly, “We fought in Battle City with the Millennium Items.”

Malik squinted at Atem, “Those have not been seen for generations, sir- Atem, I don’t know how you-”

“Malik! Don’t joke,” Atem cut over, “Listen to me!”

Malik fell quiet, and they stood watching each other for some time, whilst Atem breathed heavily. Atem worked his mouth, closing it again, unsure of how to proceed.

Finally Malik spoke, “I am listening,” He looked Atem over, “Look, I can tell you’re under a lot of stress,” Atem glanced down at his clothes, which were dusty and unpleasant from his trek. He leveled a furious glower at Malik, “But if I can direct you-“ Malik set off towards a receptionist, and spoke with him briefly in Arabic, “To our Receptionist here, he is more than adequate of helping you, and Zahr can assist with transl-”

“I need your help,” Atem insisted, “I need to speak to you about the ieb-“

Malik rifled in the reception area and eventually passed Atem a small, brightly-coloured pamphlet written in japanese, “Rajih if you could get this gentlemen a glass of water, and let me know when he’s calm-“ Malik smiled at Atem, “Rajih-san will just grab you a glass of water and I will be right with you.”

“Malik,” Atem murmured once more, as Malik Ishtar and Rajih retreated into the museum, and Atem stared mutely after Malik, before directing his attention to the childish booklet left in his hands. He flicked it open to see a cartoonish rendition of the embalming process.

“Well even I know that doesn’t go there,” He muttered and flicked through another page until he came across the page about the ieb. The book didn’t even mention blood of the mother, and whilst the illustration of Amemut would have been a faithful one to him once, it was a cheap attempt now.

He flipped another page, studying the description of ren, “Also wrong,” He snorted. The book described ren as though it was simply about naming, but that was a simplification, bordering on inane. Your ren was more than your name, far more - it was your legacy, your identity spoken, quantified, given and known. Without his ren, Atem had lost his memories, and with them much of himself.

Atem’s head jerked up, the movement sharp and his eyes wide, pupils blown and mouth open.

When he had left his ren in the care of the Gods, he had left behind the memories of him. A perfect inversion, for rather than the loss of his own memories, he had amputated this plane’s knowledge of him. Malik did not know him. Malik had never met him. His friends – his partner – would no more know him than Malik had. He was unknown in the world.

Suddenly the museum was cloying, tight, claustrophobic; a tribute to tomb robbers, and Atem felt his chest clamp up. Choking, and skin tingling like an electric current was being set off between his ribs, he fled the building. The air was heavy, pressurized, and where he breathed it in, it dammed in his mouth and lungs, until Atem had curled into a corner.

Eyes shut tight, arms shielding his head, Atem shook, and shivered, panicked keens becoming trapped in his throat. Every shadow was a stranger, and every stranger was an unfriendly beast- and whilst a part of Atem was saying firmly, voice ringing that this was a moment and it would end and he was being ridiculous, another part insisted that he was going mad and the world would end around him in an unholy crash.

As it turned out – breathing still staticky and sticky – neither voice was right. The world did not end; it simply stepped around Atem’s panic, moving onwards as it always did, but this was not a moment. This was an age, time like nails in his fingertips, and the world might have stepped about the panic, but Atem moved through it as though he was walking through the desert. His feet catching, nothing on the horizon and hopelessly slow in the thick sand.

Slow though it was, he did move through it, and he unwound himself, movements slow and cautious. He had found a side-alley, and was wedged far back in it. Atem shook his head, trying to clear the muzzled feeling from it.

“That was pleasant,” Atem stated under his breath, as he made to get to his feet. The movements were delicate, and Atem rolled his eyes in irritation with himself. Obviously being without resources or support structure was an ideal time for a nervous breakdown, and Atem leaned back against the building, looking at the screwed up object in his hands.

As he unscrunched it, it was clearly the pamphlet Malik had given him, and he raised an eyebrow at it, flipping it open. There was a tremor in his fingertips that Atem decided to ignore until it eventually went away, and he focused on finding the entry for ieb once more.

It was as informative as it had been before, and Atem flipped through a few pages, marveling at the ridiculous document. Here it referred to the ka as the soul, rather than more properly an aspect of a soul and life force. It had called a sheut a shadow without mentioning that statues were part of the sheut. Later it suggested the spellwork had been nothing but parlour tricks, as though Mahaad had kept Atem entertained with rabbits in hats.

The entire booklet was a shocking record of ignorance and simplification, and he flicked the wretched thing shut.

Instead, he began shuffling through his deck in thought, familiarizing himself with the feel of the cards again. He divided it into classes of cards, and then ordered the monster cards by subclass. Finally he put them in order of total attack and defense points, and left the more complicated cards at the top of the pile. By the time he had finished, his hands were steady and breathing was simple, and Atem reshuffled his cards once more.

There was much that was changed in this time during his short visit to the afterlife. It had felt short to him, as though he was there one moment, and then gone. It would have placed the entire experience as an hour at most, but it had been almost four days since he had last been in this world.

Atem sighed, examining The Winged Dragon of Ra, inspecting the detailed text on the card. He shuffled The Winged Dragon of Ra back into his deck, and then dug it back out, eyes narrowed. He pulled the money Karl had given him, or what remained of it, and looked between the cards and his cash.

Although he was alone, he was not hapless, and a smirk settled on his face as he straightened away from the wall.

Atem flipped his trap card right side up, revealing Mirror Force and his opponent cursed loudly in french, before moving their monster cards to the graveyard. The adjudicator, a young boy named Falah with a gift for languages, picked the cards up to write down their attack points, but Atem was already sure he had reduced his opponent’s life points to zero. A moment later, Falah showed the life point count to both duelists, and Atem stuffed the bank notes from the middle of the table into his pocket, before gathering up his deck. His opponent threw a filthy look his way, and Atem smiled winningly back, shuffling his deck as he did so.

“Sun’s high,” Falah prodded Atem’s arm, speaking in accented, but clear Japanese. Atem understood Falah’s aunt was one of the members of the Egyptian-Japanese community of Luxor, “Need some rest?”

“I’m alright,” Atem leaned back in his seat, and nodded at the seat across from him, “Come, It’s game time.”

A young tourist girl took a seat across from him, and in stilted Japanese, greeted him, “Good Morning,” It was afternoon, and Atem saw Falah twitch at the error, “I’m Rinka,”

“Atem,” Atem shuffled his deck idly as Rinka placed a large bank note between them, “Are you sure you want to bet that much?” He studied the cash. Falah repeated this in English, and Rinka listened closely, before nodding firmly at Atem, who added his own money to the bet, “I won’t hold back,” Atem warned and the game began.

Despite her age, Rinka was a firm strategy player, and held out decently, chatting throughout to Falah and Atem, and when she lost, she bowed over the table and thanked him.

“Best out of three?” Atem offered as Rinka made to leave, and after glancing at her parents, Rinka sat back down and set her deck back out. By the time they were setting up for their fifth duel, Atem smiled across at Rinka, “You learn quickly, Rinka-san.”

“Thanks,” Rinka beamed as she shuffled her deck, and seemed to be considering something, “You resemble the King,” She set out her cards.

“Hm?” Atem examined his first hand, “King?”

“King of Games,” Rinka explained with a huge grin, “Yuugi Mu- -Mutou Yuugi,” Atem looked past his cards at her curiously, “He’s-” Rinka froze up, scowled and spoke to Falah.

“She’s wondering if you’ve heard of him,” Falah translated.

“Ah,” Atem gave a nod, “I’m a big fan,” It was kind of funny, and Atem couldn‘t help but chuckle to himself.

Rinka gaze a dazed smile back, “He’s very cool,” A little sheepishly, she added, “I want to duel as cool some day.”

“You learn well, so I’m sure you will,” And with that encouraging statement, Atem took out the rest of her lifepoints, “Again?”

“Sorry, I have to leave,” Rinka apologized as she quickly collected her deck, standing and bowing again, “Thank you for the game!” With that Rinka dumped out a bunch of notes onto the table, and ran towards her parents, waving as she did so.

Atem carefully counted the notes out, setting aside some for Falah, before getting to his feet, and picking his bag up, “Tomorrow, then?” He asked the boy, and Falah gave an enthusiastic nod. Waving at Falah, Atem hitched his bag over his shoulder and began the long walk to Luxor Museum, considering what Rinka had said. Between Anubis, and Osiris' cryptic remarks surrounding Yuugi, and Atem's own desire not to linger for long - not to mention the sheer logistics of getting to Japan - Atem had decided not to contact Yuugi again. Yuugi hardly needed some ghost he didn't even remember, bobbing up and down from the grave like a yoyo with relapse.

Passing by his usual vendor, Atem slurred through the spotted Arabic he knew, and moved away from the stall with a small bag of almonds. Fishing one roasted almond out, Atem popped it in his mouth as he examined a book in his other hand. Since his initial disastrous meeting with Malik, Atem had returned several times to discuss the role of ieb in Ancient Egyptian culture with Malik, but had not brought up their shared history. After-all, why bother? Malik would not believe him, unless Atem revealed too much, in which case Malik might become unstable.

Still, Malik didn’t seem unstable to Atem. He seemed calm, and dare Atem think it, an understanding and kind man. It was unfortunate that Atem didn’t particularly like Malik; he was patronizing and had tried to correct Atem’s Egyptian more than once. Nevertheless, Malik Ishtar spoke both Japanese and Egyptian, and it was much easier to talk to him than other people.

Pressing open the door with his shoulder, Atem pushed into the museum. Immediately, he headed for the reception, slouching over the top to greet Zahr, "Evening," He smiled sheepishly, "Malik?"

“Evening Atem, Isis sends her regards,” Zahr greeted Atem in Egyptian, "Malik's in his office," She passed him a cup of coffee, and he took it, not having the courage to tell her he didn't drink it, finding it too sweet. Thanking her, Atem moved away from the reception and trotted up the stairs towards Malik's office.

"Yo, Malik?" He called unevenly through the door.

“Atem-san,” Malik greeted, opening the door and waving Atem through it. Guiltily, Atem passed Malik the coffee, “You’ll need to tell her eventually,” Malik looked at the drink circumspectly, before laughing and sipping it anyway, "How are you?"

“Same as always,” Atem took his seat, and placing the book on the desk, pointed out a passage. When Atem had read the silly pamphlet, he had thought perhaps the modern day had no idea how things had been, but soon he had realized how much of his own culture had passed him by in his throne room, “Explain, please.”

Sighing, Malik set the coffee down on the table, and studied the passage, “One moment,” Combing a hand through his hair, Malik headed for a bookshelf and retrieved a different book, this time written in Arabic and began to leaf through it, “Ieb, ieb, ie- aha!“ Malik smoothed the pages down, and placed it in front of Atem, “This book considers what was done when the Heart was destroyed-“

“Yes, they used a heart scarab,” Atem had considered this route, but even using The Book of the Dead’s verses, the spells did not hold. Clearly, Heart Scarabs required the use of the actual body, not an akh. Or perhaps it was the passage of time, regardless he’d had no luck sealing it, “I don’t-”

“Learn to listen,” Malik grumbled, “This passage dealt with a person who asked their ba to mind their heart after the weighing ceremony, when Anubis did not return it properly and the heart was sealed against the original flesh.”

Atem leaned forward to inspect the Arabic – as usual it looked like nothing to him – and then looked back up at Malik, “So it was possible for the ba to have the ieb?” 

"The ba carried many things," Malik replied neutrally, "The heart makes sense - the ba held the personality, why not feelings as well?"

Atem leaned across the table, groaning as he did so, “That’s great, so I do need to go to Japan.”

“Japan?” Malik looked at Atem in confusion.

“Nothing,” Atem pounded his head on the table in frustration.

“Uhuh,” Malik raised an eyebrow as he sipped his coffee. Shifting away from Atem, Malik took a seat at his desk, and after a very long considering look, he returned to his work, leaving Atem to his frustration.

Atem blinked uncomfortably at the flash, wincing away from the bright light. Another snap shot fired, and finally Atem was released, rubbing his eyes, “So how long will it take to finish?” He mumbled in Japanese, before realizing it was probably useless here.

The person at the table looked up at him, before looking back down to inspect the photographs. Atem’s question was apparently not uncommon because she waved him into a nearby chair, “Soon, soon,” She told him in English, before focusing on the documents in front of her.

Atem hummed, crossing his legs boredly, as she inspected the paper Atem had asked Falah to help him write. It included the details of his – expensive – request. He considered inspecting his deck, but decided against showing valuable cards in this sort of place. He glanced suspiciously around the room – whilst dark, it wasn’t particularly untidy, in fact it was disturbingly neat. It was more the flavour of people.

Even the old woman doctoring the documents had given him a toothy crocodile of a grin earlier. Atem sighed softly, and leaned back in his chair boredly, this was the exact same logistics he'd been hoping to avoid. There was something honestly nerve-wracking in having to create a legal identity, but it wasn't as though he had anybody he could call on, except his own skills. If circumstances had been different, he might have borrowed Yuugi's identity, or contacted Kaiba - after-all what were ridiculously rich rivals for? This way felt like it was asking for trouble.

Breathing slowly, Atem reminded himself he wouldn't be here long. Sooner or later his Gods would turn up, surely? He'd tried returning to both his tomb, and the place the afterlife had abandoned him, and it didn't do anything. By now, he was starting to think three days had been some kind of incentive for Atem to hurry. Speaking of - he opened one eye to look at the forgers.

It felt like far too long a wait, three days perhaps, but the lady did finish, waggled the document under his nose, “Good, done,” She told him in English, and Atem took the false passport warily, scrutinizing it. “Is good,” She insisted, offended. Atem ignored her to finish checking it.

“Good,” He affirmed after a moment, “Thank you,” He stated, voice dry as Atem took his leave, passport tucked into his pocket.

“Leaving?” Falah yelped, “Hey Pharaoh you can’t leave-“ Atem’s fans had taken to calling him the Egyptian King due to his resemblance to the King of Games, and naturally that had quickly become Pharaoh. Even now, when Atem had been hearing the term for more than a month, he still jumped at the name, “You’re the best regular we’ve got!”

That was probably true, Atem reflected and dug through his pockets for the remaining Egyptian Pounds he had, offering them to Falah, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to be somewhere,” Falah looked dubious and Atem brushed his bangs from his face, “I really am sorry, I only came here to let you know.”

Falah sighed, taking the money, “You suck,” He decided.

"No, I don't."

"Yeah," Falah admitted, "Nobody duels like you do, Pharaoh," He tilted his head to look at Atem side-long, “You think I’ll get to watch you play with your silly cards again someday?”

“Probably not,” Atem answered honestly, “And they’re not silly.”

“It’s a children’s card game,” Falah pouted, tucking the notes into his pocket, “What are you? Like twenty.”

“More like five thousand,” Atem grinned, “And still young, besides, it’s a multi-billion pound industry. Don’t make fun of it.”

“Whatever Pharaoh, you’re all wrinkled from playing out in the sun,” Falah looked up at Atem, head tipping, paused, “So goodbye forever then?”

“Mh,” Atem nodded, patting Falah on the head, “Don’t get into trouble, kid.”

“Me?” Falah demanded, and Atem flicked his forehead.

“I mean it,” Atem smirked.

Atem was pacing, shoes tapping through the airport as he waited for the check-in gate to open. Malik sat to the side, head resting in his hands, and scowled as Atem whirled about to pace the other way, “Ugh stop – you’re making me dizzy,” Malik yawned, “What’s got your heart thumping then? I haven’t seen you this wound up since our first meeting.”

At this candid reference, Atem paused, looking at Malik uncertainly. They had seemed to reach an agreement not to bring that up, and it was strange that Malik would bring it up now.

Malik shifted, hands in his lap, looking at Atem frankly, “Don’t think I’d forget something that dramatic,” He cupped his head in his hands again, stretching his legs slightly, and looking away, “Iry-Hor was a supposed Pharaoh of the first dynasty – we don’t have many records of him, and his rank is somewhat debated,” Malik looked up at Atem once more, “Did you know that?”

“I did not,” Atem confessed. “How do we know he even existed?” He had been under the belief that his existence had been stricken from the annals of history. A thorough cleanse of his existence in the past, probably similar in its relation to his ren as his current situation.

“Couple of pots,” Malik gave a quiet smile, “You know, Atem-san, I know people in Japan,” He looked away again, this time deliberately checking to see if Zahr would return with the coffee, “People who can help you I mean.”

Atem frowned, “Help me?”

Malik gave a short, uncomfortable hum, “Yeah, Ryou, Mutou Yuugi, Katsuya Jono, Hiroto, Mazaki…” Malik side-eyed Atem dubiously, “Don’t play dumb, Atem-san. I know you recognize some of these names; you brought up Battle City when we met,” Malik continued, “It was strange of you to bring that up…”

“How so?” Atem asked uncomfortably.

“Battle City changed my life,” Malik said boldly, which was not the answer Atem had expected from this strange alternate universe. He had expected something more akin to a devil from the machine; Malik sounded as though Battle City had been his first taste of sunlight. Sharp and too bright, but still meaningful to the point of agony.

“How so?”

“It’s a long story,” Malik began, and catching Atem’s unimpressed expression, held both hands up in front of him with a laugh, “Hey that doesn’t mean I’m not going to explain, it’s just, I have to start at the beginning.”

“Mh,” Atem nodded and gestured for Malik to make good on his word, and Malik took a breath too heavily, composing himself.

“Well- My family had a messed up childhood,” Malik shrugged lightly, and Atem raised an eyebrow, “I actually developed dissociative identity disorder to deal with it, if you’ve heard of DID,” Atem gazed blankly back at Malik, “Guess not. A split personality basically.”

“Ah,” Atem gave a halting nod, recalling his last encounter with that part of Malik.

“I’m good,” Malik narrowed his eyes at Atem, frowning, “I’m good now I mean, but it got pretty bad in Battle City, like lives on the line, I was trying to get these duel monsters trading cards, hell,” He gave a harsh laugh, “I don’t think they actually existed, but uh-“ Malik continued cautiously, “Those people helped me,” Great, Malik thought he was crazy, “You should talk to them,” Malik waved a hand in front of his face, “Not that I know what’s going on in your head Atem-san, I just think- you should consider it, you know?”

“Thank you,” Atem’s voice was stiff.

“I mean it-“ Malik cut off, looking up as his intern Zahr as she ran over, drinks in hand, “Thank you,” He looked at Atem meaningfully as he took his drink from Zahr, “Let me give you their phone numbers, just tell them you’re a friend of Malik’s alright?”

With that, Malik took his notepad from his pocket, and quickly scrawled several numbers on it, and proffered it to Atem.

“That’s not necessary-” Atem began, and Malik shook his head, pushing the paper at him.

“Please?” Malik smiled, “Like I said, I don’t know what your deal is, but I promise you, it’s nothing these people can’t help you with.”

Atem took the paper finally, folding it and placing it in his pocket, “Thank you, Malik.”

“All Passengers flying to Domino City via Emirates, please make your way to Gate 5!”

Atem looked up, listening as the announcement repeated in English, “Domino City?”

“Gate 5,” Malik supplied, and offered his hand to Atem, “Don’t be a stranger, Atem-san,” Atem reached out to take the hand, shaking it. Malik’s words seemed almost ironic given the circumstances, and Atem turned to Zahr to offer her his hand in parting.

Chapter Text

In the month since he had last seen it, Domino City had changed drastically. The shift from summer to autumn had set in during his absence, and the trees were ragged, leaves a disjointed firework. His plane had landed late in the evening, and Atem had begun to wander the streets, reacquainting himself with the town.

There was little else to do, after-all, everybody he knew would be asleep – and they wouldn’t know him any more than the Ishtar family had. Atem braced a hand on his hip, coming to a stop outside the arcade he had once visited with Anzu. Whilst the shops either side of the building were darkened, the Arcade bathed its surroundings in a faint light, the slight hum of games coming from within. After looking over the building, Atem moved forward to uncertainly lean against the door, and it swung open easily. Atem stopped uncertainly, but slowly stepped into the arcade, glancing around.

“Hello?” Atem called out, frowning; the place was deserted, not even an attendant in the place, “What bad security…” He murmured to himself, and approached a nearby beeping game curiously. Some kind of gambling game, and Atem traced a hand along the controls. The machine chirped in response, but Atem released the buttons, instead moving further into the arcade.

It was a far cry from the first time he’d been here, with its crowds and excited gamers, this time it was instead heavy with a lazy quiet. There were the small sounds of the games, and Atem followed each one. He would eye them, occasionally reach out to prod them, before moving on. Eventually, he had wandered towards a familiar dancing game, which unlike the soft sounds of the others, was ringing with noise, all lit up, and dancing on the machine - rather poorly - was Ryuji.

“Yo,” Atem called out without thinking, and Ryuji jerked round, and the game squealed in disappointment, “Sorry,” Atem added, wincing at the noise as the machine flashed a fail screen.

“It’s fine, I’m bad at it anyway,” Ryuji sauntered off the platform towards Atem, “God, what time is it? Is it opening hours already-” He looked sheepish, but upon examining his phone, blinked in surprise, “It’s four, how did you get-“

Atem gestured back the way he had come, “The door was open,” He ducked his head politely, “I thought it was okay to come in.”

“Ah,” Ryuji waved a hand, “It’s not the first time I’ve forgotten to lock up after getting here,” Ryuji grabbed his jacket from the side, wriggling into it, “I’m Otogi Ryuji, by the way - I design games," He sounded almost defensive, eying Atem, before his face shifted to a hopeful expression, “Uh, Dungeon Dice Monsters? Heard of it?”

“Played it,” Atem answered honestly.

“Yeah?” Ryuji looked pleased, and then laughed in embarrassment, “But what I meant was, I am meant to be here; I was just setting up a few games and,” He nodded towards the DDR, “And I guess I thought I’d blow off some steam with a game; guess I wasn’t working too hard,” He twirled his hair nervously, “Sorry, I’m making excuses,” Ryuji jammed his hands in his pockets, “What was your name again? I missed it.”

Atem had not been sure how he would deal with surnames, and what ended up on his falsified documents was a quick decision, and an regrettable one at that, “Sa-Re Atem,” He could already tell he was not going to enjoy being addressed as Sa-Re-san, and would have to make a huge point of preferring his first name, “Or Atem, that’s easier.”

“Atem-san,” Ryuji approximated with surprising grace, looking at Atem for approval, “Well, it’s nice to meet you then,” He offered Atem his hand, “So are you new to Domino City? I don’t think I’ve seen you around.”

“Just flew in from Egypt a few hours ago,” Atem confessed.

“Still adjusting from jet lag, huh?” Ryuji nodded towards the entrance, “Come on, let me get you something to warm you up – you’ve got to be freezing, Egypt and all?”

Atem followed Ryuji towards the door, “It’s not so bad, actually,” He shrugged, "It gets cold at night anyways."

“You’re lucky then,” Ryuji snorted, “I went to Australia once – getting back in the middle of winter was a real experience,” He approached a row of vending machines by the door, and scanned the menu, “So any preference?”

“Matcha?” Atem dug through his pocket, rifling for yen, and Ryuji shook his head.

“Don’t worry, my treat to the new arrival,” Ryuji put in Atem’s order, and passed it to him, before making his own selection, “So you’ve lived in Japan, right? You speak it well.”

“I did,” Atem sat down at the bench near the vending machines, before taking a deep gulp of his drink, “It’s a long story.”

“It’s 4am,” Ryuji pointed out, joining Atem at the bench. Atem looked at him in confusion, and Ryuji grinned, “If you can’t tell a long story at 4am, when can you?” Despite the comment, Ryuji changed the subject, taking a slow sip of his drink, “Planning on staying in Domino long?”

“No,” Atem took another steady gulp of the tea, and then inspected his hands quietly, “I cannot stay long.”

 Ryuji stretched out his legs with a pleased hum, obviously feeling the strain from the DDR, “Oh, just a short visit?” He asked, still stretching on the spot.

“I don’t know,” Atem stated bluntly, and Ryuji paused to look over at him, a puzzled look muddying his features.

“Hm, another long story,” Ryuji determined, looking away and nodding in understanding, “I better change the subject. So you’ve played my game, huh?”

“A few times,” Atem laughed guiltily, scruffing at his hair, “I’m more of a Duel Monsters player.”

“Most people are,” Ryuji snorted, a note of annoyance in his voice swept up between his determined tone, "I'm kind of over it, mostly," He took another sip from his drink, “Actually? Have you heard of the Kame Game Shop? You should come by tomorrow-“ Ryuji yawned, cricking his neck, “Well, in four hours. God, it’s so late, it’s early.”

Atem’s akh felt washed out, but nothing extraordinarily tired; it was both concerning, and useful. Absently, Atem finished his drink, “My jetlag is pretty strong; it feels like midday to me, so,” He stood up to throw the container into the bin nearby, “Kame Game Shop?” His voice was small, the words familiar, and cutting a little too deep.

Ryuji didn't seem to notice, still nursing his drink with a tired glance at Atem, “Yeah, there’s a casual tournament going down, no sign-ups, just show up and duel. They can even lend you a deck,” Ryuji smiled winningly, and Atem’s face must have shown something of his loss, because Ryuuji hastily spoke up, “And you don’t need to worry about level,” He gulped the last of his tea, “I mean it’s just a casual thing for customers, um,” He got up to throw his drink away, “Would it help if I said the Duelist King is moderating?" He gave a vague gesture of his hand, "Yeah? Pretty big opportunity to meet a dueling legend, know what I mean?” The hand settled on Ryuji's hip, as Ryuji blinked down at Atem, “Atem-san?”

“Oh, sorry,” Atem blinked, and sat back onto the bench, “It does sound good, I’ll definitely check it out,” Atem waved a hand, “I’m just lost in thought, forgive me.”

“That’s fine, long journeys will do that,” Ryuji nodded, “So, Kame Game Shop is on the other side of town, I can take you there,” He paused, studying Atem for a moment, “You know, you two wouldn’t look that dissimilar actually, you and Yuugi-kun.”

“I’ve heard that before,” Atem nodded, “Hair or something.”

“I guess,” Ryuji hummed, “You just have a similar look,” Eying Atem’s hair, Ryuuji gave a grudging huff, “I guess I can see the resemblance.”

Ryuji was so tired, that by the time they reached Kame Game Shop, he hadn’t noticed that Atem had taken over leading. Still, once they had reached the store, Atem wasn't surprised to look back to Ryuji, who waved amiably at Atem to go on, “Sorry Atem-san, I’m calling it a night -- or a morning?" He yawned, "See you around?” Laughing through the yawn, Ryuuji waved at Atem again. With that Ryuji staggered off, leaving Atem staring in growing terror at the shopfront.

Eyes wide, and mouth a taunt line, Atem took a steadying breath at the demand of his mind. As usual, this body hadn’t even considered asking for air, and Atem suspected it wouldn’t have noticed if he never drew another one. Shivering, Atem took another gulp of air. It was one thing to face Malik, or Ryuji like this, but Yuugi had been his partner. To be a stranger to him did not sit well in him, wriggling and biting at his resolve. Atem shut his eyes, steadied himself, before reaching out to push the door open.

It opened just as Atem leaned forward, and he tumbled into the shop with a yipe. Clattering to the floor with a thump, he braced himself upon his hands, and winced, “Sorry!” And there it was; Atem took his time to focus on the voice properly, studying the shoes, before grudgingly looking up at Yuugi, “You okay?”

“I- um,” Atem struggled for words, and Yuugi offered a hand to him.

“Here, sorry,” Yuugi beamed at Atem, waiting for him to take the hand, “I saw you out front, and thought you might be nervous, so I thought-“ Yuugi paused, giving an awkward laugh, “Sorry, are you okay?”

“Yes, I,” Atem ignored the hand, pushing himself to his feet, “Sorry, just surprised. Uh,” Atem was tangling himself in his words, “Duel,” He managed, “Duel tournament, Ryu- Otogi-san said-“ Atem fell silent, deciding he had buried himself rather effectively already.

“Ryuji-kun?” Yuugi’s eyes lit up, and Atem wanted nothing more than to kick at a wall. Yuugi recognized Ryuji’s name better than him, “Oh well, then. Hi, I’m-”

“Yuugi,” Atem interrupted, voice strained, and then flinched, “Ah, Mutou-san,” He corrected, and then hurriedly tried to explain, “Sorry, I’ve seen you duel on-screen and, yes, you’re Mutou Yuugi, I know, yes, that’s you.”

This was a horrible wreck of a moment, and Atem would have gladly buried himself, dug out a hole, and pulled the sand in over his head. This was going on like a house on fire, meaning it was an unstoppable disaster.

Yuugi just smiled peacefully, “Yep, that’s me,” He agreed, “So you’re here for the tournament?” At Atem’s nod, Yuugi picked up a clipboard from the counter, studying it for a moment, “Hello there, and welcome to Kame Game Shop, where everything is half price for today, and only today,” Yuugi looked up, flashing an apologetic smile, “I have to say that, sorry. What was your name?”

Surprised, Atem fought back the urge to chuckle, instead answering in a daze, “Atem,” The name came to him almost easily this time.

Yuugi blinked, “Atem…?” He questioned, and Atem felt as though he’d been gutted. He struggled to keep his face clear, swallowing hard; it was strange to hear the complete wrong name from Yuugi. Strange and unpleasant, and Atem frowned. He should have passed through the field of reeds by now, rather than lingering like this. Yuugi shifted awkwardly, coughing, “Sorry, I need your full name, Atem.”

“Oh,” Atem blinked, “Sa-Re Atem.”

“Okay,” Yuugi scribbled on the clipboard, “Will you be using your own deck today?”

“Mh,” Atem fished his deck out of his pocket, splaying the top layer of cards out for a second, before snapping it together, and holding it out for inspection.

“Oh, that’s okay,” Yuugi waved the deck away, “This is just a low-level tournament; as long as you don’t have Yata-Garasu, Witch of the Black Forest, or the Dark Magician of Chaos in there, it’s fine- ah, or Change of Heart,” He tapped his pen against the clipboard, “And we’re limiting Monster Reborn to one.”

Atem shuffled through his deck, and extracted Dark Magician of Chaos, and Yata-Garasu, showing it to Yuugi, “Just these,” This was easy, relatively. Setting up a competition deck was something he was used to, although it was interesting to play at this sort of level, with forbidden and limited cards. Atem placed the two illegal cards into his pocket, reshuffling his deck absently. Atem paused mid-shuffle, and then, separated the God Cards out, “These three usually make things one-sided,” He said slowly.

Yuugi winked knowingly, “Almost any card can do that in the right circumstances,” Yuugi readjusted his clipboard, “Don’t worry about it though, play your heart out I say.”

“That’s good advice,” Atem returned the God cards to his deck, deciding he’d refrain from summoning them when it would be unsporting. Against small children, that sort of thing, “Thank you.”

“Not a problem,” Yuugi hummed, “Okay, so do you have an e-mail, and would you like to receive a monthly update on,” Yuugi rolled his eyes, “All things Duelin’- sorry again, my Grandpa is trying to draw in some of the younger crowd right now.”

“No e-mail,” Atem shrugged.

“That simplifies that then,” Yuugi examined his clipboard again, “Are you okay to spend some time afterwards answering a survey – it’s just, did you have fun, how would you rate the set-up, was the service good, that sort of stuff.”

“That’s fine,” Atem nodded.

Yuugi set the clipboard to the side, “That takes care of entry then,” He leaned against the counter, “Are you from Egypt?” He asked curiously, “Atem-san,” Yuugi sounded it out with fascination.

“Mh,” Atem nodded, “Luxor,” It wasn’t strictly true, but it wasn't strictly untrue.

“That’s near the Valley of the Kings!” Yuugi lit up with a sparking smile, “Have you ever been?”

Atem had been recently, in fact, specifically to view his tomb. That had proven impossible since the entire complex had collapsed, buried under a thick and stubborn layer of dust.

“Not much else to do in Luxor,” Atem sighed, Luxor had indeed been strangely routine; go to the Valley, play a day of games, go to the museum every other evening, rinse and inevitably repeat.

“Domino will be a bit of a change then,” Yuugi laughed, “Kaiba Corp is based here, so it’s a bit busy,” His attention shifted towards the door, “Excuse me,” He snatched up the clipboard and bounded towards the door to wave in a small gaggle of duelists, as Atem took a seat at one of the tables set out for duels, pulling his deck back out to pass the time.

It was at the heels of this wave that Jounouchi, Anzu and Honda came in, and Jounouchi snagged Yuugi with one arm, “Hey Yuugi!” Atem watched them out of the corner of his eye, fussing with his deck as he did so. Honda and Anzu had both headed into the back after an enthusiastic wave at Yuugi, who was struggling under Jounouchi’s weight.

“Eh?” Yuugi wriggled loose, “I’ve got to work Jounouchi-kun.”

“Boring,” Jounouchi decided, and gave a lively thumbs up, “Alright, what can I do?”

“Meet and Greet,” Yuugi shoved Jounouchi towards the tables, and Atem redoubled his focus on his cards. It still didn’t help.

“Hey there newbie!” Jounouchi settled into the chair across from Atem, all but flicking his own deck onto the table, “I’m Katsuya Jounouchi!” He stuck a hand out fiercely, and Atem took it, the feeling a little lukewarm.

“Atem,” Atem waited for Jounouchi to let go of his hand, but Jounouchi focused on giving it a vigorous shake first.

“Atemu-san?” Jounouchi grinned, “So you’re new,” Jounouchi began setting up his playing space, and Atem belatedly realized Jounouchi was intending to duel him. He quickly followed suit in setting up his cards, “You should know though,” Jounouchi scratched his cheek, still grinning from ear to ear like a misbehaved puppy, “I’m one of the best Duelists in the World, so don’t feel too bad if you don’t beat me, right?”

Atem finished setting his dueling area up, smirking at Jounouchi, “Got it,” He gestured expansively at the table, “Come on, it’s game time,” Atem drew his hand, and then nodded at Jounouchi, “Your move first, 3000 LP.”

“Haha, alright then!” Jounouchi drew his first hand, his grin reaching maddening levels when he made his draw stage, “Awesome,” He proclaimed, setting down a card from his hand, “I summon Aligator Sword in Attack, and place one card face down," He nodded at Atem "Your move Atemu-san.”

Atem studied his hand, eye catching on Cat of the Ill-Omen, and Owner’s Seal, as well as the convenient Gold Sarcophagus, and Mound of the Bound Creator. All good to use his Token of Ra strategy, and Atem restrained his smirk from spreading, as he reached out to draw Swords of Revealing Light.

“I play Mound of the Bound Creator,” He tossed the card onto the table, “Which protects level ten or higher monsters from destruction by card effects, as well as giving additional damage if they’re destroyed-“

“I know!” Jounouchi waved a hand, “Go get your Light Monster.”

Atem raised an eyebrow – it was a Divine Monster you were meant to get – but he snagged the Winged Dragon of Ra regardless of Jounouchi’s ignorance, and placed it in his hand. He placed Owner’s Seal face down, “I lay one card face down, and,” Added Bicorn Re’em to the field sideways, “Summon Bicorn Re’em in defence mode, with that I end my turn.”

“Ugh,” Jounouchi eyed Bicorn distastefully, and drew his card, “Okay then!” He slapped it down, “I summon Gearfried the Iron Knight in Attack, and destroy Bicorn Re’em!” Atem added Bicorn to his Graveyard, “Aligator’s Sword then does 1500 damage to your Life Points Directly, ending my turn.”

Atem grabbed the piece of paper to the side, crossing out his previous LP count, and writing down the new one, “Well done,” He congratulated out of reflex.

Jounouchi grinned in response, “Just usual,” Atem raised both eyebrows, looking at The Winged Dragon of Ra, shifting his hand thoughtfully, before drawing the Giant Soldier of Stone.

“Alright,” Atem set Swords of Revealing Light face-down, before adding Giant Soldier of Stone in the defensive position, “I set another card face-down, and summon Giant Soldier of Stone. Your Move.”

“I tribute Gearfried, and Aligator’s Sword to summon Gildford the Lightning in attack, then I activate Kunai with Chain to increase Gildford’s attack points to 3200,” Jounouchi poked Giant Soldier of Stone, “I attack your stony soldier, and end my turn.”

Atem had already put his monster into the graveyard, and gone for his next card. Heart of the Martyr! Perfect for combination with Revealing Light and Cat of the Ill-Omen. Had he looked up at Jounouchi, he would have noticed Yuugi studying the field with interest.

“I set one card face-down, and play the card I drew this turn, Heart of the Martyr,” Atem slapped the card down with a flourish, “This means any effects on the board apply to my own monsters.”

“You haven’t got any monsters,” Jounouchi pointed and Yuugi shushed him, as Atem reached forward to flick Swords of Revealing Light face-up.

“I then activate my Swords of Revealing Light, preventing any Monster Attacks for the next two turns.”

“Great,” Jounouchi grumbled, “I’ll need to wait until then to finish this – and I so wanted a four move duel, I draw-“

“I’m not finished!” Atem flicked Cat of Ill-Omen downwards on the board, “I place a Monster Card face-down in defence, however due to the effects of my swords, my monster reveals itself!” He turned the card over, “This activates my Cat of Ill-Omen’s special ability, allowing me to search my deck for any trap card,” Atem picked up his deck, rifling through it, and pulling out Nightmare Archfiend, and passed his deck to Jounouchi, “Please shuffle, whilst I place this card face-down also,” Jounouchi quickly did so before returning Atem’s deck, “Thank you, and your move.”

“Finally,” Jounouchi flipped the remaining card of the two set up in his first turn, “I activate Graceful Dice,” He plucked up the die, rolling it sharply onto the table, “Six! What luck!” Jounouchi tapped his Gildford the Lightning, “This further increases my Gildford’s Attack and Defense Points by 100 times the number I rolled, bringing him to 3900 and 2000 in total,” Jounouchi leaned back in his spot, “I might not be able to take you out this turn, but I can at least do it in style, hm?”

“Take me out?” Atem snorted, but leaned forward, “My move then,” Atem picked up Gazelle the Beast-King, absently adding it to his hand, “I activate Gold Sarcophagus,” He turned over the card, before adding it to the Graveyard, pulling Aegis of Gaia from his deck, “Please shuffle.”

Jounouchi did so and then handed the deck back, “There you go.”

“As this spellcard,” Atem gestured with Aegis of Gaia, “Was drawn this turn, I can play it without set-up and I now do so,” He showed the card, “My Life Points increase by 3000 for the duration of this turn,” Atem turned Nightmare Archfiends face-up, “I now summon Three Archfiend Tokens to your side of the battle, before claiming them back with Owner’s Seal,” Atem pulled the tokens from his deck, handing it once more to Jounouchi for shuffling, but put them immediately into the Graveyard.

“Hm?” Jounouchi blinked.

“Unfortunately this costs me 2400 Lifepoints, due to the special ability of Archfiend Token, but luckily I used Aegis of Gaia earlier,” Yuugi noted the Lifepoint change, “However, I tribute my Tokens anyway to summon,” And with this Atem reverently placed his God Card upon the table, his smirk glorious, eyes glittering daringly.

He recited, confidently and happily, the Hieratic Text needed for the God Card, almost glancing upwards to see if Ra would disapprove of his unsporting actions. Whatever it was that Ra did, The Sky God apparently had a lively sense of competition, and Atem continued undeterred.

“Due to The Winged Dragon of Ra’s special ability, his total Attack and Defense Points are the sum of my three tributes combined.”

“Aw come on,” Jounouchi looked at Yuugi, who peered at the card.

“Oh dear,” Yuugi laughed, “Jounouchi you’ve bitten off more than you can chew,” with that, Yuugi leaned back to watch the duel’s finish.

“You still can’t attack,” Jounouchi pointed out, eying Atem’s smug expression.

“No?” Atem arched an eyebrow primly, crossed his arms over his chest, “My Winged Dragon negates all special effects in the turn he is summoned, rendering my swords useless, as well as reducing Gilford the Lightning to his original stats, and I activate another of his effects-”

“How many effects does this chicken butt have!”

“About a dozen,” Yuugi supplied.

“I tribute 1000 LP,” Yuugi made no move to change the Lifepoint count, “To strike Gildford the Lightning directly,” Atem reached forward to pass Gildford back to Jounouchi, “And with that,” Jounouchi took his card, and Atem stretched to his full, perhaps not entirely impressive height, but his eyes were bright and his expression fearless, and his height didn’t matter, “I have given you your four move duel.”

Yuugi had waited to do Atem’s survey until the shop was empty, waving his friends out before turning back to Atem with a sunny expression, "Thanks for staying back," Scrambling for the clipboard again, Yuugi fussed with his pencil, "So, um, Atem-san? Would you consider shopping at Kame Game Shop in-" The pencil slid from Yuugi's grip, clattering on the floor, and immediately, Yuugi ducked down to retrieve it. The pencil had spun off under a shelf, and Atem crouched down to pry it out, "Oh, you don't-"

"I've got it," Atem gritted out, still scraping under the shelf for the pencil. A few moments later, he retreated triumphantly with the pencil in hand, "Here," He passed it to Yuugi with a grin, "And yes, I plan to shop here in the future."

"Thank you," Yuugi mumbled, faltering before moving to scratch on the clipboard, "So- did you enjoy the tournament?"

Settling on the floor, Atem lazily leaned back against a wall. With a streak of perfect victories, he could feel his pride buzzing in his chest like a hummingbird, "I did."

Crossing his legs, Yuugi righted the clipboard, "And the service?"

"Great," Atem replied automatically. Yuugi glanced at him over the top of the clipboard, "The set-up was also good. I've never been in this sort of tournament."

"It was a rated three to five," Yuugi offered helpfully, "DuelingNetwork ratings," He turned the clipboard round to show a logo bearing both the Kaiba Corporation insignia, and something declaring DuelingNetwork, "Kaiba-kun's trying to boost popularity of his ranking system - something about going international in a few months - so he sponsored our event."

"Ranking system?" Atem squinted at Yuugi, "I thought that was always something Illusion Industries handled."

Yuugi shook his head, "Not since almost a month ago. Pegasus and Kaiba have some kind of arrangement," He fidgeted with the clipboard, smiling at Atem uncertainly, "It kind of feels like dueling is changing a lot."

"Yeah," Atem folded his arms over his chest, feeling displaced in the changing world, "Seems like I can't keep up."

"Oh no way," Yuugi leaned forwards, hands resting on his crossed ankles to beam at Atem, “You’re really good,” Yuugi stumbled over the words, so quickly did he get them out, “Really good – I’ve never seen you in the tournaments though, you’re good enough for competitive level.”

“Mh,” Atem looked a touch sheepish, “I know – I probably shouldn’t have played so harshly against your friend.”

“Who knows,” Yuugi was still smiling widely at him, and Atem felt vaguely like a star had swung too close to him, all but cleaved him in two; he missed Yuugi, “Maybe Jounouchi-kun will learn not to underestimate a newcomer?”

“I doubt it,” Atem laughed, and Yuugi joined in recklessly, nevermind Atem shouldn’t have been so familiar about Jounouchi.

“Seriously though,” Yuugi restrained his laughter, and Atem missed his laugh, “Why don’t you play competitively? I bet you could beat me.”

“Oh no,” Atem waved a hand in front of his face, “I know I couldn’t.”

“Try me,” Yuugi made to reach for his deck, and Atem held both hands out placatingly in front of him.

“No I couldn’t,” Atem insisted, his laughter still spilling out between his ribs.

“I think you could,” Yuugi pointed out, beginning to set up a duel, and Atem felt as though he’d been plunged in ice, quickly reaching out to cover Yuugi’s hand insistently with his own.

“No, sorry,” Atem stared at Yuugi, at a loss for explanation, “I couldn’t,” He finished lamely, and Yuugi blinked in confusion, but withdrew his cards.

“Well, okay,” Yuugi looked disappointed, “Just so you know, I’m always open to play against someone as good as you,” Yuugi drew his knees up, hugging them, “You know in the survey,” He began after a moment, “When you said you’d definitely shop here, was that just getting the staff off your back?”

Atem shook his head, the ice melting until Atem could feel the smallest shiver in his hands, “No, no, this place is great.”

“Cool,” Yuugi smiled, this time quieter. Rather than a grin like sunlight, or some star burning into Atem’s awareness, this was starlight. A soft, cool smile, like a murmur of happiness. Atem had missed this smile most, and drank its light in gratefully, “I’d like that.”

“Same,” Atem murmured, practically basking at this point, and pulled his own knees up. He leant his head against his legs, arms wrapping around them. He shut his eyes, gently, definitely basking.

“It was nice to meet you,” Yuugi added, and Atem’s eyes slid open, and there, that had to go ruin it. Atem unwound himself, frowning, “Oh,” Yuugi blinked several times, “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” Atem raised both eyebrows this time.

“It’s getting pretty late and I’m keeping you even further,” Yuugi got to his feet gingerly, and offered his hand to Atem, “Come on.”

This had been how the day had began – Atem on the floor, Yuugi offering a hand towards him, and the parallel puzzled Atem. This time, he reached out to snag Yuugi’s hand, and allowed himself to be raised up.

“Thank you,” Atem murmured, cleared his voice and repeated it again as strongly as he could, “Thank you, I had fun today.”

Atem could have slept, he supposed, but he didn’t need to, and his head was buzzing. A low whine of it that prevented him from sleeping, so he wandered the city again. This time the Arcade was grey and silent when he walked by, and Atem sat down on the bench outside to drink matcha by himself.

“What are you doing, Atem,” He finally asked himself, staring down at the cooling tea in his hands, “You can’t avoid it forever,” He reprimanded himself, “Not that I’m avoiding it,” Atem added angrily, “It’s taken me weeks to get here, to have even an idea of what to do, to save up, research,” Now Atem was ferocious, “I’m not avoiding anything – I needed a break.”

With that, Atem threw back his head, and downed the turgid, cold tea with a grimace.

Chapter Text

Atem waited two more days – largely spent wandering the city – before returning to the Game Shop. However, this time Yuugi was nowhere to be seen, and as Atem pretended to be eying booster packs, he kept throwing surreptitious glances at Sugoroku. His last glance revealed the old man was standing right next to him, and Atem jumped.

“Bit suspicious,” Sugoroku informed Atem, "Playing with the merchandise."

"Huh- -Oh-" Atem hurriedly gathered up the boosters, "I'll buy these," He had barely glanced at them, but jolted towards the counter.

Sugoroku’s thunderous face dissolved into an amused laugh, and he waved a hand at Atem, "Consider them a Welcome to Domino gift," He raised a brushy eyebrow, “If you’re looking for my grandson, he’s at school,” Gesturing towards the back, “He’ll be home within the hour - come wait in the back,” Sugoroku indicated the back once more, and Atem tailed after him nervously.

He had never been particularly skittish in Yuugi’s home before – there was a certain confidence that came with being intangible – and it was an odd feeling to be unwelcome in a place he had considered home for so long. Still, he knew his way, edging into the kitchen and Sugoroku pulled a seat out for him, before heading towards the fridge.

“Soda?” Sugoroku looked back, and Atem jolted again.

“Uh, no thanks,” Too sweet, “Maybe some tea?” Atem swiftly looked down at his hands, clasped on the table in front of him, “If it’s no trouble.”

Sugoroku clicked his tongue, moving to a nearby cupboard and rifling through the jars and containers on the shelf overhead, “Would you like sencha?”

“Yes please,” Atem unwound his hands, laying them flat upon the table, as Sugoroku moved to pour water from the boiler into a pot. Swallowing thickly, Atem stared down at the table, only looking up quickly when Sugoroku placed a cup down in front of him, “Thank you.”

Sugoroku nodded, taking a spot across from Atem, and setting the teapot between them. Sipping his own tea, Sugoroku gave a soft sigh, and Atem - taking the cue - raised his own cup- “So, I heard you’re an amazing duelist,” Sugoroku’s voice cut through Atem’s focus, and Atem froze, cup raised to his lips.

“Uh,” Atem slowly set the cup down again. It was true though, and he nodded, “Yes," He fidgeted with the edge of the cup, "Did Yu- your grandson say something?"

Sugoroku nodded, taking another sip before continuing, “He wouldn’t stop raving about your four-turn duel, or the twist on the classic you delivered against Bakura-san,” Cautiously, Atem lifted the cup and sipped it, eyebrows furrowing whilst Sugoroku talked, “It takes quite a duelist to impress my grandson, you know?”

“Yeah,” Atem mumbled, placing his cup down, eyes settled on the table.

“Kid,” Atem looked up at Sugoroku, hands still locked on the warm cup, “I won’t eat you; you’re welcome here,” The old man gave a generous laugh, and Atem's nerves settled at the familiar sound, “In fact, Yuugi-kun might finally stop talking about you, now that you’ve shown up, the Mysterious Atem Son-Of-Ra,” A raised eyebrow, and Atem's nerves were searing again, “Quite a surname you have there.”

“It’s not common,” Atem blanched. Of course, his identity was a fully falsified matter, and had he possessed a pulse, it would be pounding. Sugoroku gave no indication he suspected Atem to be illegal – or non-existent. Instead, he gave a handwave.

“It’s an old surname – you’re possibly distantly related to royalty, but I suppose you knew that,” Sugoroku gave a half-smile, nostalgia clouding in his eyes, and Atem looked back down at the murky colour of his tea, averting his eyes, “I was quite partial to Egyptian History in my youth - that, and gambling,” The old man took a sip of tea, “Well no need to bore you with tales of my youth. What do you think of the Twisted Magic Gambit?”

Once again, Atem was startled, but gathered himself, “It seems like a dangerous set-up; I wouldn’t use it," In answer, Sugoroku chuckled, leaning back in his spot and gesturing for Atem to continue. Frowning, Atem took a bracing mouthful of tea, before setting his cup down firmly, “It has a five-turn set, with most of the parts exposed,” He scowled, “It’s an obvious ploy, no matter the benefits, just getting it ready is too much of a risk," He snorted, "Sure it's popular right now, but it's more popular than it should be, and at the higher levels it will always be laughable.”

“And yet, a completed gambit will win its player the whole duel,” Sugoroku sipped his tea again, and Atem had the distinct feeling he had just been tested. Either way, he knew his answer was correct and narrowed his eyes. He was never good with restraint, and quickly gave up with letting the matter go.

“Yeah, but no worthwhile opponent would let you set that up,” Atem insisted, "Why not just use the Spirit Board? You'd have a better chance with it."

"Ah, but no risk, no gain-"

"All risk, all gain is bad too," Atem folded his arms across his chest, "You can't gamble everything on a duel."

“Yes,” Sugoroku’s eyes glinted playfully, “I know,” Sugoroku snapped his fingers, “I said you’re welcome here, don’t worry, just my fun,” Sugoroku smiled apologetically, “You have to forgive an old man that.”

Atem returned the smile uneasily, “I’ll forgive you this time,” He declared and drained his drink, still feeling like the world had gone dry around him.

“Yuugi, Yuugi, come here!” Sugoroku called at the sound of the door, and Atem could hear Yuugi padding towards the kitchen. Straightening his back, Atem stared doggedly at his second cup of tea, "Yuugi!"

“Yes, grandpa,” Yuugi called back, “Let me get my bag off, I’ll be right there,” A thunk, “I’m here, I’m here- hello!” Atem had to turn; it would have been strange not to, but doing so was like asking the sun to track east across the sky. Still, Atem turned, and was immediately struck by the intensity of Yuugi’s smile, “Long time no see, Atem-san!”

Atem staggered to his feet, and bowed a little too strongly to Yuugi, who bowed just as deeply in turn, smiling playfully.

“I’m sorry to intrude,” Atem managed, and stood by the table uncertainly, whilst Sugoroku took his near-empty cup to the sink. Atem would have faltered after Sugoroku, offering to help, but instead he simply stood awkwardly in front of Yuugi, not quite sure if he should smile back or not.

“I wasn’t sure I’d see you again,” Yuugi admitted a little openly, and Atem coloured.

“No, I was just, I’m new, and I was settling into town,” Atem had not been settling into town, he had been weighing up his courage, and waiting for it to spur him into action.

“Oh, that seems really obvious,” Yuugi scruffed at his hair, “I guess I worry too much.”

“This one hasn’t stopped fussing since he got here,” Sugoroku chipped in, and Atem flushed further, scruffing his own hair, “So you have two things in common, now,” Sugoroku pressed Yuugi gently towards the door, “How about you kids leave me to get dinner ready tonight? Oh, and Atem-san?”

“Hm?” Atem had been making his way for the doorway, as Sugoroku called back. He turned back towards Yuugi’s grandfather, faltering on the spot.

“Will you be joining us for dinner tonight?” Sugoroku asked it almost casually, not bothering to look away whilst he got out his kitchen supplies.

“Oh,” Atem turned towards Yuugi, blinking, and Yuugi gave a hopeful, eager smile, “I really wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“That’s a yes, then,” Sugoroku decided, pulling the larger rice cooker onto the table, “Nikujaga, miso and rice suit you? It's plain, but it's filling.”

“I- uh,” Atem looked between Yuugi and Sugoroku, “I really don’t want to inconvenience-”

“Do you like Nikujaga?” Yuugi cut over Atem.

“Yes,” Atem replied. The last time he had tried the dish, it had been through the gauze of Yuugi’s senses, with Yuugi talking Atem through each detail of it. It had been savoury – his preference – but with a sharp and pleasant sweet edge. It had been, as Yuugi had explained, a good balance between their likes and dislikes.

“Nikujaga is great, grandpa, thanks - I’ll be down to help later,” Yuugi darted for the door, “Let me show you around, Atem-san.”

Yuugi led Atem through the house, room by room, and by the end of the short tour at Yuugi’s room, the sense of déjà vu had evolved into a deep nostalgia. It washed through him, and he felt more than clean; he felt cleaned out. It was with this sense of empty, and nostalgia that Atem sat down on Yuugi’s bed without thinking.

Obviously Yuugi wasn't bothered by it, as he simply joined Atem on the bed, bringing with him a large book about the extensive strategies of Seto Kaiba. Atem had helped Yuugi select it, and they had never had a chance to read it properly.

“Sorry to push you into dinner,” Yuugi explained, opening the heavy cover of the book. 

“No, I worry too much,” Atem admitted, squirming slightly.

“You do,” Yuugi actually laughed, glancing at Atem through his hair, “But still, I thought you could use a bit of a push – I’m kinda’ like that.”

Atem nodded, brushing his bangs out of his face, “Thank you.”

“No trouble,” Yuugi tapped at a segment of the book, “It references my name here,” He giggled, shaking his head, “Actually, it references me a lot. That’s pretty egotistical of me to point that out.”

“You should be proud of your accomplishments,” Atem replied, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong in being honest about it,” He considered again, expression souring, “Mind you, I am egotistical, so maybe you shouldn’t take my advice.”

“You’re not doing a good job of selling yourself for someone egotistical,” Yuugi grinned, and nudged the page corner. Atem flipped it, “So that Winged Dragon of Ra card, that was one of the three that made things one-sided?”

Atem nodded, “Yeah, I think they probably should have been illegal…”

Yuugi tipped his head, “Well you-“ He stopped, and then focused doubly on the book again, “Nah, like I said duel your heart out,” Atem watched Yuugi, frowning.

Yuugi had once been a puzzle to Atem. At first he had seemed unstudied, even childish, but Atem probably should have called him disingenuous. Yuugi was not an out-spoken person. What had seemed to be immature, was more restrained than Atem could ever hope to be.

He bid: “No, what was it?”

“I think it might be rude to mention it,” Yuugi commented shyly, “It’s just something, you know, you notice when you play a lot.”

“Well, you have to tell me now,” Atem argued, “You’ve hyped it up too much to avoid it,” Yuugi looked reluctant, and Atem nudged him, “Consider this a bit of a push – there really isn’t anything wrong in being honest.”

“Um, alright,” Yuugi’s fringe fell into his face, and he blew at it until it moved away, “Well you didn’t use it on anybody else, even though a lot of your deck had different ways to summon it, and I didn’t see anything I thought might be the other two trump cards, so, um,” Yuugi’s brow furrowed as he tried to word it as generously as possible, “You were being merciful, I think- because it was a friendly tournament- but Jou-kun was being full of himself so,” Yuugi shook his head, “Sorry I’m not making sense.”

“You’re making a lot of sense,” Atem mumbled in embarrassment, “I wasn’t planning on using them, but I wanted to take him down a peg.”

“You still won every duel,” Yuugi countered quietly, “Gently maybe, but you wouldn’t even let a seven year old win against you.”

“Ah,” Atem looked off to the side, “Like I said, I’m… egotistical.”

“Oh no,” Yuugi flailed, sitting up straighter on the bed in alarm, “I didn’t mean- I- it’s just interesting; it’s like how some duelists favour monster cards, or-“ Yuugi looked absolutely stricken, “You duel whole-hearted; both to win, but kind too,” Yuugi concluded, voice earnest, “It wasn’t a criticism, just, I mean it was just a thought, I’m sorry.”

“Oh,” Atem mumbled, peeking at Yuugi sidelong, “Thank you.”

“Huh?” Yuugi straightened again, looking unsure.

“For the compliment,” Atem clarified, “I... I took it as a compliment; I hope that wasn’t wrong.”

“It wasn’t wrong,” Yuugi confirmed.

“Thank you, then,” He fidgeted with the pages of the book, fingers scraping on the paper, "I signed up for DuelingNetwork," He abruptly said after a moment, relaxing his hands forcibly.

"Oh," Yuugi tipped his head, before realizing what Atem was talking about, "Oh! DuelingNetwork! What's it like?"

"I don't know, I just signed up, but I didn't get a chance to..." Atem trailed off, shrugging awkwardly, "It looks pretty good. I need to scan my deck."

Yuugi laughed pushing the book off his lap, "Yeah, me too," Leaving the book to the side, Yuugi stretched out on the bed, "I mean, I want to support Kaiba-kun's new system, but sometimes it feels like being left in the past," Gazing up at the skylight over his desk, Yuugi watched the rusty-pink colour of the clouds, "Did you know they found Duel Monsters in Ancient Egypt?"

Atem could feel his voice pitching as he answered, "Oh yeah?"

Laughing, Yuugi brushed his hair away again, "Oh right, sorry- you just came from Egypt," He studied Atem, an uncomplicated smile settling on his face, "I guess you'd know all about it. I really just meant that maybe I'm just being a bit nostalgic for no reason," He pushed the book further away, "We don't exactly play the game on stone tablets anymore. Still," Yuugi toyed with the coverlet on his bed, "It's hard to let go."

Uncomfortable, Atem crossed his legs, staring down at the bed. The courage he'd carefully gathered seemed to have melted somewhere inside of him, leaving him quiet and wobbly.  Next to him, Yuugi seemed to have noticed Atem's change of mood, shifting to look at him more closely, "Atem-san? Are you okay?" 

"Yeah," Atem scruffed his hair, "I was just- -thinking about it-" He laughed, more for Yuugi than for himself, "Super-serious."

"Oh," Yuugi coloured, "Sorry-"

Atem held a hand up, looking at Yuugi firmly, "Serious is good too," He hesitated, looking to the side, "Yuugi, I should- It's- You see-" Atem looked up, meeting Yuugi's intent, even polite gaze. Once again, Atem had the abrupt realization he didn't have an explanation that made sense, and the worse feeling that what he had to say had been left in the past, or at least, should have been. Breathing out in a defeated sigh, Atem shrugged, "...I'm just missing-" He paused, "How things used to be."

Carefully, Yuugi watched Atem, before asking softly, "Homesick?"

"Nostalgic," Atem confessed, "It's hard to explain."

"I understand," Atem sorely doubted that, but Yuugi had placed a hand on Atem's shoulder, patting it gently, "You're welcome here, you know that? We're friends."

"I..." Atem shifted into the touch, surprised by the contact as he was always surprised by it, "I'll take that as a compliment, I think."

"Compliment?" Yuugi laughed, pulling his hand away to hug his stomach as the laughter became louder, "Thank you, Atem-kun."

“A matsuri?” Atem questioned, leaning against Yuugi’s bed, “In mid-autumn?”

“Well it rained for weeks – it’s just been delayed,” Yuugi laughed, “Probably been waiting for you to get here, huh?”

“I suppose that means we have to go?” Atem commented flatly, looking up from the the spell based deck he was adjusting. Yuugi was leaning over the side of the bed to peer down at him hopefully, and Atem's eyes narrowed, “Oh no, what else?”


“The cute eyes – what did you want?”

“Maybe I’m just cute?” Yuugi scowled.

“A kitten is cute," Atem pointed out, "But if its eyes go huge, and big, and it makes little mewing noises, it definitely wants some of your dinner,” He eyed Yuugi, "What else?"

“Ugh, fine,” Yuugi rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling, “I was thinking we could wear yukata, Atem-kun.”

“Wouldn’t that be a bit cold for you?” Atem twisted to look at Yuugi, “Hey, you have any polymerization up there?”

Yuugi handed down the card lazily, arm swinging back, “It’s meant to be warm tomorrow night,” He explained, and Atem made a non-committal sound in response, “Unseasonably warm, even,” Yuugi huffed.

“It’s a moot point, since I don’t own any yukata,” Atem shrugged, and tidying the deck into a pile, passed it overhead to Yuugi. Yuugi began rummaging through the deck, making a clicking sound with his tongue.

Growing bored, Yuugi dropped the deck onto the bed next to him, “We’re about the same size, Atem-kun,” Yuugi pointed out, “I could lend you one.”

Atem clicked his fingers for the deck, and Yuugi lazily returned it, “But what’s the sudden interest in yukata?”

“Oh, I mean it’s just one of those things, you know?” Yuugi rolled back onto his stomach, peering down at Atem. He waited until Atem looked up, and then continued, “You know, like the whole ringing the bell in for new year’s, or eating watermelon at the beach; that sort of thing?”

“So, a cliché?” Atem snorted gently.

“This card is a bit much,” Yuugi passed the deck back, one card set face-up on top of it.

“Commissioner requested use of it,” Atem shrugged, “I thought it was a bad decision too, but I tried.”

“Well then, that’s good,” Yuugi crossed his arms, and rested his head in the crook of them, “Is cliché bad?”

“When we’re shivering like put-out dogs, you’ll probably reconsider it.”

“A lot of people want to wear yukata to it – Jou-kun is wearing shorts,” Yuugi sighed, “Like I said, it’s meant to be really warm.”

“Then you can wear a yukata,” Atem set the deck to the side and picked up the next request form, “This person wants a monster reborn based deck,” Atem turned about to rest his arm on the bed and look Yuugi directly in the eye, “Fine, I’ll wear a yukata, but you can do this deck request,” He nudged Yuugi with the request form.

Yuugi grimaced, but took the request form, “Deal then.”

It was dusk as Yuugi and Atem made their way to Anzu’s house, and Atem was fanning at his face, obviously taken aback by the sudden heat. Yuugi eyed him triumphantly, “I told you it was meant to be warm.”

“This isn’t warm,” Atem grimaced, “This is unreal.”

“I told you!”

They continued to bicker on the finer points of warm versus unseasonably warm versus divine intervention, when Anzu answered the door, and she looked a little worried, until it became clear they were arguing over the weather.

“You two will find any excuse to argue,” She told Yuugi, “It’s hot that’s all.”

“Unseasonably warm,” Yuugi maintained, and Atem shrugged in response, “So, is Jou-kun meeting us there?”

“Mh,” She nodded, settling in to walk in between them, “So Atemu-san, are you settling in okay?”

“I think I get asked that everyday,” Atem commented wryly, but nodded, “I was expecting the weather to be less contradictory.”

“Oh no, not that again,” Anzu began, but Atem gestured peaceably.

“It’s fine, it’s just surprising.”

“It was on the weather report,” Yuugi pointed out around Anzu, as they headed into the festival.

Sighing Anzu looked between them, “Can't we just enjoy ourselves," She chided gently.

“I thought we were,” Atem grinned, and Yuugi gave a soft laugh.

"Without the constant arguing," Anzu fanned a hand in front of her face.

"Were you arguing?" Yuugi asked Atem playfully.

Still grinning, Atem stretched out, "Not that I can recall."

"You two know exactly what I mean," Anzu huffed, "Anyways, Yuugi did you know if Kaiba-kun was coming? I gave his invite to the um- butler? Doorman?" Yuugi shrugged, and Anzu continued, "Well, I just don't know if he got his invitation."

“I guess we'll find out,” Yuugi said brightly, and laughed, “If you do, challenge him to something for me, Atem-kun.”

“I can't imagine Kaiba at a festival,” Atem chipped in, before realizing he had technically never met Kaiba, and immediately quietening. His slip seemed not to have been that great, since neither Anzu or Yuugi reacted. Instead, they both seemed lost in thought.

"I've never seen him at one..." Anzu murmured.

“Maybe sometimes?” Yuugi hedged, “I mean I assume,” He continued to try and play with the idea, “He does have a little brother."

“I think he’d sooner lose,” Atem commented wryly, slowly easing back into the discussion.

“Eternal hope, Atem-kun,” Yuugi sulked playfully, “You’re like a rainy day, I swear.”

“And here I thought this was meant to be unseasonably warm,” Atem wiped mock tears from his eyes, “Ah well, hm?”

“Mean,” Yuugi decided, “Hey Jou-kun!” He called after Jounouchi, who whipped around and bounded towards them, his sister in tow, “Shizuka-chan,” Yuugi grinned, “This is the one who thoroughly beat Jou-kun the other day.”

“Yo Atemu-san,” Jounouchi clapped Atem on the back, “Nice yukata, huh? How’s Domino treating you?” Unlike the others, Jounouchi was dressed in a light cotton shirt, and canvas shorts, but seemed all the more comfortable for it.

“I guess there are no hard feelings then,” Shizuka laughed, watching Jounouchi hook an arm around Atem, and begin a lively discussion of the best food stalls at the festival, "It's nice to meet you Atemu-san," They bowed minutely in greeting.

“No hard feelings at all,” Anzu agreed, before turning each way, looking in the crowd, “Where are Honda-kun and Ryuji-kun?”

“They’re playing at Goldfish Scooping,” Jounouchi released Atem from his grip to throw an arm about Yuugi in greeting, “I reckon Honda-kun is going to win that though.”

It was without question going to be Honda’s victory. He had already caught three goldfish, and Ryuji had no goldfish, was sopping wet, and his scoop was already torn at the side. Atem watched the fish wriggling to get away from the scoops, and Ryuji cursed loudly as his scoop tore at a particularly harsh movement.

“Did you want to play?” Anzu asked Atem curiously.

“I assume the aim is to catch more fish than your opponent…?” Atem tipped his head to side, as he watched the fish ripple through the water.

“It’s not actually meant to be a competition,” Anzu admitted.

“Ah,” Atem blinked. “What are the rules to the game?”

“Oh, it’s not complex,” Yuugi chipped in, ducking under Jounouchi’s arm, as Jounouchi went over to laugh at the soaking Ryuji. Ryuji pulled away from his pool, and Yuugi went over to the pool, trading 100 yen for a paper scoop and a pot, “You use the scoop to catch as many goldfish as you can until it breaks, and keep them in the pot.”

“And what’s more,” Honda grinned, holding up three bags of goldfish, “You get to keep the fish!”

“What do you say Atem-kun?” Yuugi grinned, holding out another scoop and pot towards him, “Want to play for keeps? Winner gets all the fish?”

Atem leaned forward to take the scoop, but then shied back, “Ah, no, I really couldn’t,” He nodded towards Ryuji, “I’d just end up like Ryuji, and then I really would be cold.”

“Ah well, your loss, Jounouchi-kun?” Yuugi passed the scoop and pot and settled in to catch some fish. The game ended quickly in Yuugi’s favour – whilst Jounouchi was undeniably faster than Yuugi, he moved too quickly, and his scoop was quickly ruined.

Yuugi meanwhile passed his two fish to Honda, who happily took them, “Thank you!”

“What do you even do with all those fish, Honda-kun?” Shizuka asked in confusion.

“Eats them probably,” Ryuji muttered darkly.

“Not much meat to them though,” Atem commented, and heard Yuugi choke on a laugh next to him.

“Mh, I definitely need something more filling,” Honda agreed, “Hey Shizuka-chan, come help me hold the food, yeah?”

“Oh, right of course,” Shizuka trotted over towards Honda, Jounouchi following resolutely in her wake, “Oh good thinking, you can help hold food for everyone, Jou-nii-chan.”

“Takoyaki?” Jounouchi pointed at Honda, who nodded, and then at Shizuka who nodded, “Anzu-chan?”

“Count me in!” She beamed, “I’m pretty hungry.”

“I’ll pass on takoyaki,” Yuugi smiled, waving a hand, “I was thinking about dango actually,” He looked off to the side, “I thought I saw a pretty good stall earlier.”

“I’m going to look for some crepes,” Ryuji declared, “Anybody else for that?

“What about you, Atemu-san,” Jounouchi nodded at Atem, “Crepes, dango or Takoyaki?”

“Dango,” Atem answered immediately, “I’m not hungry enough for takoyaki, or crepes,” Food wasn’t a major factor in how he took care of himself anymore, favouring eating just enough to relax his mind. He had taken to grazing on snacks during the day rather than wasting food that didn’t seem to do anything.

Honda gave a firm nod, “Alright then, let’s meet up again here as soon as possible," and with that the group parted, waving at each other as they spilled into the crowd.

Hunting back through the festival for the dango stall Yuugi had seen, Atem found himself stopping by every other stall with profound interest. It was hard to remember that they actually had somewhere to be when he was trying to figure out how he’d personally play the ring toss. His akh was better prepared for the wrist-flick movement than Yuugi’s body had been, so he was pretty sure he could have done well.

“Did you want to play?” Yuugi asked after a long moment, sounding awkward.

“Oh,” Atem pulled back from the stall, “No, I was just looking,” He moved away, only to become fascinated in a stall selling varieties of tea, “Sorry,” Atem apologized, and made it two minutes, before he slowed to a halt to look at a stall of modanyaki.

“Atem-san,” Yuugi laughed, finally latching onto Atem’s arm and physically pulling him away, “I'm hungry.”

With Yuugi steadily tugging Atem past each stall, they finally arrived at the dango stall, which had been situated near the edge of the festival, “Hm,” He nodded at the An-Dango, “Please,” and placed his money in the dish left on the counter, before adding some more, “What do you feel like Atem-san?”

“I guess kinako,” Atem scanned the stall, unable to locate that variety of dango, “Guess not, hm.”

“Why not try goma?” Yuugi suggested, “It’s salty and sweet, so it’s a bit different from your savory tastes, but I think you’ll like it.”

“Alright then, goma please,” Yuugi took both the dango, and held Atem’s out towards him, “Thank you,” Atem sniffed it carefully, before nibbling at the first one, turning to walk back to the rendezvous point. Yuugi, however, had stopped short, watching the woods with a confused expression.

“I thought I saw something,” Yuugi took a cautious step towards the forest around the festival, and then a bolder one, “Come on,” Yuugi brushed a branch out of the way, “Let’s have a look.”

“That never ends well,” Atem muttered, taking another bite of dango. He watched Yuugi continue to lean in closer to the trees, neck craning to look, “Yuugi-san…” Atem frowned, “I don’t think-“

“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Yuugi chuckled, and walked into the trees.

“I got tired of it - you wouldn’t believe,” Atem commented, but Yuugi did not slow down. Swearing in sharp Hieratic, Atem set off jogging after Yugi, “Come on, slow up!”

“I’m just here,” Yuugi rolled his eyes, coming to a stop by a tree. He looked back patiently, as Atem caught up. Yuugi blinked, pointing deeper into the woods, “Hey look there it goes!”

This time Atem definitely saw a flicker of movement, and firmly stepped in front of Yuugi, “Stand behind me, got it?” They set off, and with an exaggerated sigh, Yuugi pushed Atem to the side forcibly, until they were walking side by side.

“You should stay back in case it’s dangerous,” Atem quickened his pace and Yuugi matched with him, “Yuugi,” Atem snapped, and paused, realizing his lack of honourific, “…-san,” He added belatedly.

Yuugi frowned, “Look, it’s probably just a-“ Yuugi pointed ahead towards a lean dark shape that trotted through the undergrowth, and hopped up onto a shrine just ahead, “See it’s just a dog – looks like it went to that old shrine for shelter,” Yuugi looked at Atem sidelong, “The poor thing is probably hungry and cold-" Mischief flashed in Yuugi's eyes, "Very dangerous,” He gazed at Atem with absolute – and scornful - admiration, “I sure am lucky to have you around Atem-chan, how else was I going to survive this-“

“Okay, okay, you win,” Atem cut over, glaring, “Besides, what’s a creepy looking shrine doing out here anyways,” They clambered out into the clearing, looking up at the shrine. It had clearly fallen into hard times, and at that time of night, looked all the more creepy.

“Lately older shrines have been losing patronage,” Yuugi shrugged, “Our generation isn’t the most pious and we’re a developing city – I imagine this is one of the abandoned shrines,” Yuugi blinked up at it, “They’re getting so common it’s practically a cliché to run into them at festivals, sort of a ghost story filler episode thing.”

“A cliché?” Atem plucked at his yukata sleeves, “I think it’s just your good fortune, huh? You did say you wanted to be in a few clichés.”

“Oh no,” Yuugi snorted, “We’d probably have to share a daring love confession, or first kiss to really fit the trope,” A pause, “Or maybe we should meet something supernatural,” He looked over at Atem, who was struggling to hold back the beginnings of a giggle, “Like the spirit or God or something of this shrine, and that could be the inciting incident to our adventure story.”

Atem was gone - laughing in a short burst of noise, and between sniggers, he asked, “What… what sort of…story is t-that?”

Yuugi winked innocently, “I’m thinking magical girl, could be very cute,” He looked Atem up and down, “You’d kill it in a sailorgirl uniform.”

“All in the regal bearing,” Atem announced, brushing leaves from the shrine’s steps with his spare hand and sitting down, “We should probably get back though, between my antics and yours, I bet they’ve gone looking for us.”

Yuugi flopped in next to Atem, “Oi, move up,” Atem shifted to make more room, and Yuugi pressed into the space, “It’s been so long already,” With that he began to eat his dango, “I think we might as well eat first, besides,” Yuugi twisted to peer back into the shrine, brushing Atem’s shoulder as he did so, “I’m kind of hoping the dog might come out for something to eat.”

“Mh,” Atem finished off his partially eaten dango quickly, setting the skewer onto the steps, “So, what do you think happens to the Gods or Spirits of these places when people move on?”

“That’s a bit heavy,” Yuugi took another bite and swallowed it, “I guess, I hope they move on,” He looked thoughtful, “Maybe like the next life, or reincarnation - or even just another shrine,” He shrugged, “It seems a bit depressing to think about a spirit just lingering when they’re not of use to anyone.”

Atem hummed in acknowledgement, “It seems like it would be lonely,” He gazed up at the sky above him. Out in the desert, the sky had come alive at night; something fierce and proud and far away. Here, though, many of the stars weren’t bright enough to be seen for the gleam of the business district, and the sky looked hollow.

“I guess so, I hadn't really thought about it,” Yuugi got to his feet, and Atem looked over to him with interest, “I’m all done,” Yuugi gestured with his hand, showing the finished skewer.

“We should head back, then,” Atem got to his feet, jumping off the last step, “I can just see Jounouchi-san’s face already,” However, they had barely made it a minute through the woods, when Atem slapped his palm against his head, “Damn.”


“I left my litter at the shrine,” Atem explained, and cursed under his breath, “I better go back and get that.”

“Yeah,” Yuugi smiled, “Angering a God is a bad cliché to fall into, huh?”

“Sorry about this,” Atem dipped his head in a faint bow, “I’ll meet up with you at the dango stall? I won’t be a moment,” And with that Atem sprinted back towards the shrine, dashing to the steps to grab his abandoned skewer.

It was nowhere to be seen, and Atem looked around on the floor, looking to see if maybe it had been knocked to the ground. There was a creak of wood as the dog trotted out from the shrine.

“Oh hello dog-” Atem’s eyebrows raised, and his eyes widened in alarm.

“Dog?” The Jackal – and indeed it was an ebony-black Jackal – barked, “Is that anyway to address divinity, Ra-Kid?”

“Anubis,” Atem murmured.

“Well, now,” Anubis looked down at his lanky legs, one long ear flopping slightly as he did so. The Jackal was – for all purposes – ornate, metallic cuffs at each paw, a heavy choker, and pierced ears. Clearly the vessel of some God, and Anubis knew it. He wagged his elegant curl of a tail, tongue lolling,  “That would be cliché, wouldn't it?”

Chapter Text

Anubis sat down, and promptly began to scratch behind his ear with his backleg. Atem raised an eyebrow, considering whether or not a divine being could be carrying fleas, but let the thought leave, “What are you doing here?” He asked instead.

The God ignored Atem, redoubling its efforts to scratch the offending ear, the light clinking of claws against jewellery irritating Atem. At first, Atem waited patiently for the God to tire of this activity, before finally reaching across to scritch at the nock of Anubis’ ear.

“Mm, there, there there- there,” Anubis melted into Atem’s touch, who paused uncertainly, before continuing. It seemed, if not blasphemous, at least ill advised to ignore the annoyed growl from the God, “That is just the spot, mh.”

Satisfied, the Jackal leaned away from Atem, standing to all four feet, and stretching out in a long, languid curve. Atem took a seat, brushing his fingers off on his yukata, and when Anubis looked at him with dull but definite interest, Atem cleared his throat, “Why have you come here, O Anubis, God of the Dead?”

“Such a pretty title!” Anubis crowed, laying down next to Atem on the shrine’s veranda. The God settled into a tight curl, tucking his paws towards his body, “You ask why I have come here – across the long sea – I, Anubis, a Desert God from the Western Shores, mh?”

Atem arched an eyebrow at Anubis – who had not a moment ago, scratched himself like some common mongrel – and the God snickered. The sound rattled in Atem's bones, but he didn't let it reach his face, instead watching Anubis impassively.

“You don't look very pious,” Anubis’ tail bobbed idly, and his ears twitched. Atem had the distinct impression the God was fidgeting, like a man shaking his leg.

“I have spent five thousand years abandoned by my religion,” Atem shrugged, “Did you expect sincere titles?”

“Pretty will do,” Anubis conceded, “And hardly abandoned – who do you suppose was given charge of your lingering ka all this time?” Teeth showed, in a pale, pretty crescent, “All those wretched games – card games - why couldn’t the game of fate be senet? Bah.” Anubis flopped down in disgust, “No, instead the game of fate is a cheap magic the gathering rip-off…”

“You came here to complain about duel monsters?” Atem made to get to his feet and Anubis sat up, earrings jangling with the movement.

“And you left the afterlife to play it?” Anubis demanded, “We spoke but a day ago, and you’ve made no progress. I ask you?”

“Pardon?” Atem blinked, unsure he had heard correctly, “It’s been much longer than a day,” His eyes narrowed, "I went looking for you after three days."

Anubis’ nose wrinkled, and both ears pinned back, “It’s been just under a day, Ra-boy and-“

“It’s been almost three months,” Atem cut over Anubis, who snarled in response.

“It’s been a day for me,” Anubis spoke haughtily, glaring at Atem, fur spiking moodily, “I’m not about to measure my time in your mortal hours, just because we’re in your realm,” The hair at Anubis’ hackles settled, and Anubis lay back down, “You have two more days before this body of yours breaks; you could at least pretend to care.”

“Two more days would give me six months,” Atem snapped, “I have six whole months – besides I found my heart.”

“Oh, really?” Anubis rolled his eyes, the yellow glint flashing like a spinning coin, “Then where is it, Ra-spawn?”

“Would you quit calling me that! I’ve no desire to bring down a Sun God’s wrath!”

Anubis leapt to his feet, growing rapidly in size, until his fangs were as long as Atem’s arm. He showed them dangerously to Atem, tossing his head with a prideful flick, “I am a God, and I will do as I please, you-“ Anubis examined him quizzically, “Small creature,” Anubis laughed in a quick yipping sound, “Besides, I call them as I see them.”

“I’m no son of Ra,” Atem replied coolly, “That’s a title.”

Anubis shrank back down, curling round to bite at his hindlegs – apparently still itching – and his voice continued, undisturbed and perfectly clear. The effect was amusing, and Atem covered his mouth with a hand, laughing into his palm haplessly, which Anubis ignored.

“You’re what? First Dynasty? Well before Osiris was on the scene,” Anubis ceased biting at his divine fleas, “Not so diluted – your blood is thick with sunlight,” The God looked playful, eyes glancing down to the floor under Atem, “Why else do you cast such a long shadow?”

Atem frowned, “I’m human,” It was a weak protest, but Anubis seemed bored by it.

“You’re an akh now, to be exact,” He carried on uninterested in Atem's jolt, “But regardless, you were human – mortal spawn are human too,” He stretched, and considered Atem’s expression at last, “Come now, it’s not uncommon; more than a third of the planet has something else in their veins.”

“Was my father of Ra?” Atem’s brow furrowed, “Was his father descended from Ra- or perhaps his father before?" He shook his head "I inherited the title from-“

“Spare me your geneology,” Anubis laughed again, the sound a yowl skirling in the wind, “Boy – I know a son of Ra when I see one, and you’re a sun blooded Ra bastard, if I ever saw one.”

Atem shifted on the spot, a knot curling somewhere low in his belly, “Well, what does that mean?”

“That your mother was easy?” Anubis suggested idly.

With that, Iry-Horus Ity Menkhepera-a Atem sa Re, known to his friends as Atem, punched the Jewel of the Nile, O Anubis, the Desert God of the Dead squarely upon the snout.

“That was stupid,” Anubis rubbed at his nose with a paw. Sneezed, and a few droplets of blood splattered onto the shrine.

“Mh,” Atem licked at his bleeding knuckles ruefully, “Why are you so sharp?”

“One of those things, quantum states,” Anubis shrugged, tail furling about his feet, “Godly things, you know,” He glanced towards Atem, “Look, just get your ieb to this shrine before the third day - six months, whatever you want to call it,” The Jackal shuddered, “Damn cold here: I had to turn the thermostat up.”

Atem continued inspecting his damaged knuckles, “So,” His voice was slight, delicate and cautious, “It was Divine Intervention?”

“Hm?” Anubis wrinkled his nose.

“The weather.”

“Well,” Anubis flashed his teeth, “As if I’d stay in this sort of weather, Ra-child.”

The epithet came easily to the God, as though Anubis was still commenting on twisting the weather to his whims. Something easy to grasp and toy with, but undoubtedly real; a solid fact between Anubis’ teeth. Something only Gods said lightly.

“And that-“ Atem sighed, running a hand through his wayward fringe, “You meant that?”

“Of course,” Anubis stretched to his feet, trotting along the entrance of the shrine, “From the first sight of you, it’s clear you’re as much his, as that brat of mine you fought belonged to me.”

“The Pyramid of Light? Anu-” Atem tipped his head, considering Anubis’ threat upon being misnamed. The Jackal-God had indeed gone rigid in the low light, and was crouched low, picking something up in his teeth. Atem continued cautiously, “The Bearer of the Pyramid of Light – he was your son?”

The God returned, plunking the chewed skewer at Atem’s fingertips, “Had my eyes that spawn did. Obedient kid, didn’t ask questions,” Atem picked up the skewer after a moment, examining the bite marks, before looking back at Atem, "Not that bright really." Settling in front of Atem, Anubis preoccupied himself with studying Atem’s face, “You don’t much favour Ra’s fire eyes Iry-Hor - not enough of the red - but there’s plenty of the sun in your hair and temper.”

Atem toyed with his bangs once more, “Osiris knew?” His hair had been called sun-blessed before, but not sun-blooded. The thought reached somewhere inside of him, gripping tight and twisting hard.

“We all knew,” Anubis’ ears swivelled towards Atem, “You’ve the look of it. And there was the God Ka to consider... or do you think prophecies are fulfilled by less?”

“I did not say that,” Atem frowned, “The Gods knew, and yet you allowed me the throne?”

“And we took it away too,” Anubis threw himself down into an untidy bundle of spindly legs and curling tail, “I thought Pharaohs were meant to be Ra’s loin-fruit anyway? Ah well – Contrary to what you might think, little loin fruit, Gods are far more practical than mortals are,” He rested his head upon his outstretched paws, “If it means anything, I’m sure Ra assumed your father’s shape when he took one for the team.”

“Then it was by design?” Atem was aghast.

Anubis eyed Atem in shock, before giving a howl of laughter, “What? You think we desire mortal flesh?” The God rolled onto his back, still laughing hard and loud, “You slay me!”

Atem scowled thinly at the god, making to jab at the exposed belly, but at the last moment, withdrew his hand. Frowning at the memory of the odd pointed feeling to the God, when he’d struck at him the first time. Instead he settled with growling: "Well, if you're done."

Anubis lolled in a heap, body lax, and pliant with amusement, “Oh, just,” The God wheezed, “Who actually believes all that mythology bullshit?

“I’m speaking to a God!”

“Yeah, but you’re all-” Anubis looked Atem up and down and howled with laughter again, “You’re all twelve-dimensional and things. I dunno, I like a little something-something myself, oh my,” Anubis snorted out through his nose, “Oh my fuck.”

“Will you stop laughing,” Atem snapped, “This is serious.”

“I’ll stop laughing, when it stops being funny!” Anubis giggled, “Wait until Thoth hears,” Anubis panted for air, “Okay, okay, I’m good, I’m good-” He rolled up, took one look at Atem and broke into laughter again, “Oh man, oh man I’m sorry,” Anubis sucked a breath in, “Okay, for real, I’m good,” Anubis sat up, and cocked his head at Atem, still grinning from ear to ear, like his mouth had been pried open, “What were we talking about again?”

“That-” Atem struggled for words, most of what came to the surface a spitting anger and frustration, “I- we were talking about Ra and- You know-”

“Oh,” Anubis blinked, smile vanishing, and his golden eyes half-lidded, “Were we still talking about you being a bastard?”

“Yes!” Atem yelled, fingers curling into fists, at the disinterested expression from the God.

“Oh,” Anubis scratched his ears with his backfoot, “Are you - like - upset?” He rolled his eyes, “Mortals are complicated. Okay, uh, sorry?” The God wrinkled his snout, “Can we get back to your heart now, or do you need more time with the bastard thing?”

Atem narrowed his eyes at Anubis. His feelings on dealing with divinity, had shifted from mild annoyance to outright animosity, “So what do you care?”

“Hm?” Anubis rubbed his muzzle with his paw.

“What do you – O Anubis,” The title was laced with sarcasm, “Care about my ieb?”

“I don’t,” Anubis rolled his eyes again, “Obviously.”

“Mh-hm,” Atem snorted, clambering to his feet, “How do I get it?”

“Can’t tell you,” Anubis flicked his tail.

“So, you do know,” Atem scowled, “You just won’t tell me – I ask you, is this some great big joke?”

“Oh, it’s funny,” Anubis agreed, poking his tongue out, and giving a doggish smile. His voice continued, regardless of Anubis’ tongue, and was as clear as daylight, “But it’s no joke – no God can tell you how to claim your ieb. Cheating the system,” He cocked his head, "The universe doesn't play games it intends to lose."

Atem stared Anubis down, eyes flashing. Whether or not he had fire eyes – and he most certainly didn’t – he met Anubis’ gleaming gaze second for second. It wasn’t hard; Anubis seemed bored, and only politely interested.

“Fine,” Atem conceded, “I asked you this before, now, what does it mean?”

Anubis answered honestly, no reservation, “Ieb means heart.”

Atem twitched mentally at the unconcerned response. As though Atem would forget the meaning of that word, especially on this wild goose chase. He cleared his throat, “Ra-blood, what does that mean?”

Anubis’ fangs flashed, and the God whirled towards the gaping maw of the shrine, “It means, you were good enough a sacrifice to plug the hole your people tore open,” He glanced back, head tipping, "Three souls for the price of one," With that, Anubis gave a steady yawn of teeth, “Satisfied?”

“Not especially,” Atem admitted, and Anubis chuckled lowly, padding into the dark of the shrine. Glancing down at his hands, he saw the dango stick snapped in two between his fingertips.

Atem licked the taste of tea from his mouth, and Yuugi watched him cautiously, legs kicking. The guarded, but genuinely curious expression was beginning to pull at Atem’s nerves. He felt unraveled to the roots, and to have his nerves plucked at further, filled his voice with annoyance, “You know, you can go back to the Matsuri.”

“Yeah,” Yuugi agreed amicably, “Want some more tea?”

Atem glanced towards the quiet arcade, and the vending machines dotted against it. Somehow, this place had come to be soothing to him; the concrete, well-lit benches, and quiet whirr of the vending machines. What was less soothing was his partner, who had followed him from the festival, and was now trying to soften Atem’s mood.

That mood was something tangible – flakey, and scraping at the atmosphere, scratching away in the silence like a cat at a windowpane. It demanded attention, but was by nature, caustic. Grief-stricken, Atem supposed, at the loss of his heritage, and Yuugi was tolerating it.

The idea of that was, itself, intolerable.

“I’m just going to sit here, and brood, you know?” Atem pointed out.

“I figured,” Yuugi shrugged, and stretched, “Now do you want more tea, or not?”

Atem looked at Yuugi sidelong, and was met with an open smile, he frowned in response and the smile only seemed to grow in weight. He frowned even deeper- and now Yuugi was pulling a face at him.

“Quit it,” Atem looked the other way deliberately, and Yuugi huffed, prodding him in the arm. Atem ignored him, and Yuugi gave another poke, “I just want to be left alone, partner,” Atem sighed, expression fading into dull pain.

“You say that,” Yuugi drew his hand back, “I just don’t understand – you weren’t gone a moment, but you look like your heart has been snapped in two or something.”

The irony of Yuugi's statement might have made Atem laugh once, but instead he just leaned back hard, tipping his head back, “I just-” He stared at the dim, and carved out sky, “I just- it’s just an identity crisis.”

Yuugi curled over, resting his chin in his hands, “Did you want to talk about it?”

“It’ll sound stupid,” Atem mumbled, eyes clenching shut, “Or worse: crazy.”

Yuugi shifted, sitting up, and moved a hand to curl around Atem’s. Atem jumped, fingers tensing, and looked over to Yuugi, “The human brain,” Yuugi began, voice taking on the smooth air of something practiced, “Is basically a bowl of electrical soup and circuit boards and all these sparking connections.”

"I don't understand," Atem murmured.

Yuugi gave a gentle, soothing laugh that rebounded on Atem’s nerves, and pieced something in him together again, “We’re trying to be objective, like everyone is trying. But we're doing it from this position of utter subjectivity, with a head full of goo, and chemicals, and water."

"I still don't understand."

"I’m just saying, show me a sane man, and I’ll laugh until my chest hurts," Yugi squeezed Atem's hand, "I’m really just saying, don’t worry about it, Atem-kun.”

Atem dug his nails into the concrete bench, but didn’t disentangle his hand from under Yuugi’s. The warmth seeped skin to skin, even in the heavy night air, and Atem almost laughed, thinking about Anubis toying with the weather selfishly. That disregard that came with power wasn't unfamiliar to him, but it didn't make it any better to be on this end. He almost laughed at the irony.

Instead, he swallowed, and decided that out of crazy, or silly, he would sooner be thought as silly. No matter what Yuugi might say, there was still the suspension of disbelief and feeling it snap would-

For a start, if Yuugi refused to speak with him, he might well be unable to figure out the matter of his heart. Just for a start. Feeling Yuuugi's hand settled over his, and he had a feeling he would lose something he couldn't live without, and the heart was just something he apparently he couldn't die without. Small change, in the scheme of the universe.

Atem went for silly, truncated, small, and minimized, “I think I might be a bastard,” More of heard it from the mouth of God himself, “The more I think about it, the more sense it makes, and I’m not sure-” Atem pulled his hand from under Yuugi’s, palming it through his wretched bangs, “I don’t know what to make of myself anymore; my dad was important to me, to who I am,” There was an ugly crack in Atem’s voice, that no matter how small the matter was, it had driven itself deep into him, “I’m sorry, it’s bothering me.”

“I think that could bother anyone,” Yuugi commented, and settled into thought, “I guess-” Yuugi tapped his index fingers together, “Did you want advice or just- sympathy?”

“Mh,” Atem agreed, scruffing both hands through his hair, “Honestly, I could do with your perspective.”

"Okay," Yuugi gave a nod, “Atem, not to- uh-” Yuugi paused, then restarted after a moment, “You say 'was' like things have changed, but- and I’m not a parent or anything- it’s just like, even if it wasn’t entirely true, how you felt was? I just- do you understand?”

“I’m not sure if I do,” Atem murmured, “It wasn’t real.”

“Well, say you read a story, and it changed your life, and made you cry or something. Just because it’s not real, it doesn’t change how it affects you,” Yuugi nodded, “The past isn’t something you can just change; your dad is still your dad, because he’s still important,” Yuugi looked sheepish, “My grandpa is my dad, since mine’s never around, and you can’t argue with that, you just can’t.”

Atem rubbed his face, “I… you have a point, but-”

“Feelings are weird,” Yuugi waved a hand, “I can make all the finest points in the world, but nothing can force you to feel better.”

“Yes,” Atem looked sheepish, kicking one foot along the ground, “I will try though; you’ve given me food for thought.”

“I hope it helps, but don’t beat yourself up, if it doesn’t,” Yuugi smiled and this time Atem smiled back. Yuugi widened his smile, and Atem pulled his smile into a ridiculous, and scarily over-friendly one. They continued to yank their smiles into strange, and hilarious shapes, until they finally broke down into laughter, giggles getting caught somewhere in Atem’s nose and leaving him snorting.

“Thank you,” Atem chuckled, tension drained from the set of his shoulders.

Yuugi bumped him lightly with a shoulder, “No problem, Atem-kun.”

Atem swore, tossing the phone to the side, and Ryuji spluttered on his drink, “You all good there, Atem-kun?” Ryuji looped a bundle of cables around one arm, hopping over Atem’s outstretched leg to get at the guts of the duel projector.

“The line says busy,” Atem snarled, “How in the hell can it be busy for this long? These calls are expensive!”

“You’re calling your friend in Egypt, right?” Ryuji huffed, prying at the panel of the machine, “Maybe call him during the day, so it’ll be the middle of the night where he is.”

“I really don’t think I need to stoop to being an annoyance.”

“Which,” Ryuji gestured back with a hand, and Atem passed him his drink. Ryuji knocked back a gulp, and passed the can back to Atem’s waiting fingertips, “Is why you’re bothering me at work.”

“You were playing DDR when I came in, I saw the machine on,” Atem pointed out, picking his own drink up and sipping with an insufferable air, “The only reason you’re working now is because I’m making you self-conscious about being lazy.”

“Some friend you are,” Ryuji grunted, digging through his tools for a pair of wire-clippers, “So, what’s the story with you and Yuugi-kun anyway?”

“Story?” Atem set his drink down, and folded his arms across his chest, leaning back against the wall of the duel arena.

“Didn’t expect to see you two,” Ryuji’s words became muffled as he held the handle of the wire-clippers between his teeth, still struggling with the cables, “Cuddling up outside the arcade.”

“I needed some advice,” Atem answered with a yawn, “That hardly makes for a story.”

“Long story, got it,” Ryuji grabbed the wireclippers, twirling them in his fingers, “You don’t need to stick around, by the way, like it’s getting late.”

“It’s getting early,” Atem corrected.

“Semantics, but you can take a leaf out of Yuugi’s book and get some sleep,” Ryuji laughed, “Not that I mind the company, but do you like ever sleep?”

“Only during the day like a vampire,” Atem commented with a roll of his eyes. He took a swig of his drink, “What about you? You have the strangest hours, which for the record makes your question a tad hypocritical.”

Ryuji gestured towards his head, “Ideas don’t sleep, so I guess I don’t.”

“Can’t be good for you,” Atem remarked, crunching his empty drink can between his fingers.

“Now who’s a hypocrite?” Ryuji laughed, grunting as he shut the panel again.

“Touché,” Atem snagged at his phone once more, stabbing Malik’s number in, “I swear I’m going to give up if this doesn’t-“

“Malik Ishtar speaking.”

Atem scrambled to his feet, Ryuji’s gaze flicking towards him, “It’s Atem!”

“Oh! Hi,” Malik’s voice was tinny, but unmistakably pleased, “How’s it going?”

“Good, good,” Atem shifted to Hieratic, “I need-”

“Ieb?” Malik voice sounded a little put-out, and Atem paused uncomfortably.

“Sorry, I should have asked,” Atem shifted his phone to the other ear, “How are you?”

A long sigh, “I’m good, sorry, long day,” Shuffling papers, “What book were you after you think?”

“No I shouldn’t have-”

“It’s fine,” Malik’s voice rolled lazily, pixelating at the edges through the phone, “You find what you were looking for?”

“I don’t know,” Atem blinked, “I’m on the right track, I think.”

“Mhhh,” Malik’s hum was not one of belief, but he didn’t question Atem on it, “So which book?”

“The one with-“ Atem stopped again, “I am sorry, you know?”

“I know,” Malik’s voice took a gentler tone, “I just got chewed out over my qualifications – or lack thereof – today. It was frustrating.”

Atem snorted, “You could think circles about most of your colleagues; they should respect that, not paperwork.”

“And yet?” Malik chuckled down the line, “Don’t fuss over it, what do you need?”

“The text with Anubis sealing the heart wrong?”

“That made you beat your head on my desk?” Malik chuckled once more, “Already got it in hand,” The slight rustle of paper, “Anything in particular?”

“How the ba carried the ieb?” Atem tried.

“In the talons of the akh,” Malik replied, “Any good?”

“Not in the slightest,” Atem grimaced, “How did they give the ba to the akh?”

“Unspecified, probably just you know, handed it over,” Malik clicked his tongue, “How’s the weather in Japan?”

“Unseasonably warm,” Atem sighed, “Okay,” He ran a hand through his bangs, pushing them back. Atem gritted his teeth, “Okay- assume I’m crazy, what would you do?”

“If you wanted crazy suggestions, I’d say just enter a duel monsters tournament, that usually works,” Malik groaned, “Look, Atem, I’ll dig around, but you seriously need to rethink this whole thing. This is- this isn’t going to end well.”

“I know what I’m doing,” Atem gritted his teeth.

“I promise you, you have no idea what you’re doing,” Malik answered, “You need help, this idea that you’re some kind of Pharaoh-”

Atem gritted his teeth, and snarled into the phone, “You have a scar on your back that I promise says something completely different! By all the crazy Gods, Malik Ishtar of the Tomb-Keepers, do your duty and help me!”

There was a dangerous silence at the other end of the line, a low crackle and an intake of breath sharp enough to cut. Malik hung up, leaving only the dull tone of the empty line ringing in Atem’s ear.

Chapter Text

The dial tone was an insistent tickertape of noise in his ear, and Atem listened to it, letting his attention focus on the sound. His eyes flickered closed in thought. Just one; a shrill, insistent point, he should have kept in mind earlier, and now filled his head forcefully. Did the ren-seal undo, or disguise?

“-alright?” Ryuji’s head poked by the side of the duel tower, his hair skewed and a smudge of oil on his nose, “Atem-san? I heard you yelling in Arabic or something.”

Atem flipped his phone shut, hanging up on the dull tone of the flat line. He looked towards Ryuji in a daze. Looked back down at his phone. His thoughts jolted to a stop; clotting together into a useless pool of electrical soup.

“Atem-kun?” Ryuji repeated, adjusting the remaining loops of cables on his arm, and flicking his ponytail over his shoulder, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I- I have to get out of here,” Atem shoved his phone into his pocket, and took a running jump at the side of the dueling arena. He scrambled over the top, taking a moment to briefly wave at Ryuji, “Sorry; it’s an emergency!”

“I’ll come with then!” Ryuji began peeling the cables off himself, getting tangled as he did so, “Slow up, Atem-kun!”

Atem was half-way from the room, and twisted round, feet back-stepping rapidly, “Don’t worry! I’ve just gotta get home, or I’m dead,” One of those was at least true, and Atem didn’t care to specify. Instead, he grinned apologetically at Ryuji, before sprinting for the exit, feet pounding and - had his pulse been present - it would have pounded too, clawing at his very ribs. Shouldering the door open, Atem burst into the overheated autumn air.

Rounding the corner of the building, Atem skidded to a stop before pulling his phone back out, and jabbing through his contacts. He hit dial a little too ferociously, and had to pause to press the button more carefully, but finally, there was the blessed dialing-out purr.

Atem took off towards the Kame Game Store – not yet sure what Yuugi might be able to do, but his feet leading him there, nevertheless - as he pressed his phone to his ear patiently.

“I swear if this is busy…” Atem growled under his breath, and then there was the clunk of the connected line. Pulling the phone closer to his face, Atem spoke tersely: “Rishid! Where is Malik!”

“Malik-sama?” And thank the Gods it was Rishid picking the phone up. Atem’s quick trot broke into a slow, distracted walk, “Who is-?”

“Nameless Pharaoh,” Atem’s spare hand waved, and he came to another halt, hand pressing to his temples, “You need to get to Malik right now, if-”

“Pharaoh?” Rishid’s voice cracked, coming out a shade too high. There was still the sound of movement – a door being cracked open, quick footsteps.

“Get to Malik!” Atem snapped, “His Other Self might-”

The clatter of the phone being dropped to the ground on the other end, and Atem lurched forward again. His partner would know what to do. Regardless of what changes might have been done to the world, he trusted Yuugi. Atem had barely taken another step before Malik's voice sounded sharply in his ear: “Pharaoh!”

Atem skidded to another halt, adjusting the press of his phone against his face, “Malik?” He asked tentatively. The strange quality, that had become sickeningly familiar in Malik’s voice wasn’t there. If anything Atem would have said he sounded halfway to tears, but was still undeniably himself.

“Nameless Pharaoh, Companion of Horus,” Malik’s voice was drowned, ship-wrecked in the splinters of his throat, “Spare my brother, leave Rishid be.”

“I don’t…” Atem turned on the spot, and then back again, “I don’t understand.”

“My brother, my sister,” Malik gasped, “Leave them out of this. If you need the clan, then take me and leave them be. They have suffered enough,” Malik was whining, breath coming out in tight chokes, talking past it as clearly as he could, “I can serve you well,” He sounded heart-broken, “If any lives are forfeit to servitude any longer, let it be mine and not Rishid's-” Malik dissolved into short breathing, and Atem recoiled from the sound of Malik begging.

He hadn’t meant to demand Malik’s life, and yet here was Malik, panting and choking, as he laid it before Atem, only asking that Atem spare his family. Even in the quiet, unassuming vessel of the akh, Atem felt his stomach churn. Frenzy into nausea.

“This isn’t what I meant,” Atem swallowed.

What had he meant?

“I- my name is Atem,” Atem’s voice steadied with each moment, “You are released from your bond,” This time swallowing felt less like trying to swallow glass, “All of you.”

There was a faint sound from Malik, something unbearably human, but unnamed. A sound people all recognize, and yet cannot give word to. A light intake of air, barest hum of voice, and a hitch in the lungs.

“Rishid and Isis?” Malik asked faintly, hiccoughing.

“And you as well,” Atem insisted, wringing his free hand into his fringe, “You only had to give me my memories, right?"

There was a soft acknowledgment from Malik, and Atem loosened his hand, "Then, you're free. But I-" He ground his teeth, turning on his heel, "I’m not demanding you help me, but I need help," The silence was considering, even accusatory after a moment, and Atem asked, voice aching, "Malik-"

“Your heart is missing,” Malik cut over him, voice thoughtful, shifting through information again, “You need it to pass into the next life.”

“Yes,” Atem flicks at his bangs, turning on the spot again, “Please, Malik, I can’t force you to help-”

“You could, and you tried,” Malik said quietly, anger twisting in his words, “And it worked too.”

“Yes,” Atem faltered, “But I shouldn’t have, I’m sorry for that.”

“You sent Rishid to me,” The accusation was sharp, and rang in Atem’s skull, rebounding angrily, “I thought you’d claimed us both!”

“I thought-”

“Spare me what you thought,” Malik growled, swallowing a hiss under his anger, “I’ll do your research, Pharaoh, but you stay the hell away from my family.”

For the second time that evening, Malik hung up on Atem. Blinking a few times, Atem sighed, as he moved the phone away from his face, “Understood,” He muttered into the flatline, and flicked his phone shut. With that, Atem sat down on the floor gingerly, crossing his legs and leaning back on his palms to study the river.

It wasn’t a bad spot – he and Anzu had walked along here once. In the summer sunset, the water had gleamed a delicate bronze colour. However, in an early morning, slipping into winter, the light was a cool and clear cream, curling in the ripples of the river. Certainly pretty enough for Atem to take long and calming breaths.

That had been – dramatic, at least.

Atem grimaced to himself, and ruffled his hair into an even untidier mess, “Ugh!”

“Hm, I was going to say good morning, but maybe not,” Atem raised his head and looking up at Ryou, who was adjusting the choppy side-tail he’d pulled his hair into. Probably just as he was leaving his house. After a moment, Ryou offered a hand towards Atem, “Bakura Ryou, we met at the Kame tournament awhile back. Sa-Re Atem, right?”

Atem took the hand, and Ryou pulled him to his feet, “Just Atem, thank you.”

“So, Atem-san,” Ryou stepped back, pulling the strap of his shoulder bag as he did so, “I hate to ask, but are you alright? You’re sitting in the middle of nowhere, pulling your hair out…”

“It’s been a long night,” Atem snorted to himself, “To say the least…”

“Hm, that’s unfortunate,” Ryou nodded down the pathway, “I’m heading to the Kame Game Shop area, are you heading that way?” Ryou took a half-step, “We could walk together, if you like.”

“No, but I haven’t got anywhere else to be,” Atem took off in the direction Ryou had indicated, “You’re up early.”

“Ah, yes,” Ryou hooked a hand on his bag strap, “Probably.”

“Definitely,” Atem shoved his hands in his pockets, and glanced at Ryou, “Unusual weather yesterday.”

“Mh, definitely out of season,” Ryou nodded, eyebrows raising, “I wonder if it will last,” Ryou’s brown eyes tracked off to the side, eyebrows furrowing, “I wouldn’t think so, though,” He looked back towards Atem, “Anyways, how is Domino suiting you thus far?”

“If I had 100 yen for every time I heard that...” Atem chuckled, trailing off with a wry expression, “It suits well-enough.”

“Aside from last night,” Ryou amended, and hummed, “Still, good to hear you’re settling in well. Domino is a bit of a strange city.”

“It’s certainly different,” Atem commented, “Yuugi-san, and I ran into an abandoned shrine last night; I wasn’t expecting that sort of thing in such a modern city.”

“How old do you think some shrines are?” Ryou giggled to himself, “Even a little history goes a long way; just thirty years ago the very idea of you didn’t exist,” Ryou stretched out, bag jostling against his thigh, “People underestimate time a lot, you know. Life might well be the longest thing we know, but it’s very short.”

“That’s quite depressing,” Atem frowned.

“Oh, sorry,” Ryou didn’t sound even faintly sorry, simply bored, “I bet that shrine you found wasn’t even ten years old though. There’s nothing actually old in this city.”

“That can't-” Atem’s phone vibrated in his pocket, and he cut off, digging it out to look at it.

[From: Aibou] Hey Atem-kun ヽ(^ヮ^)” Hope you slept well! Did you wanna hang out today? I thought you might want company after last night… (=///=);;

Atem smiled to himself, tapping away into his phone. He paused, looking up at Ryou in embarrassment, “Sorry.”

“That’s why I don’t carry a phone,” Ryou shrugged, “I don’t like being contactable," He tilted his head, "But that must have been a nice message; everything fixed then?”

“Oh,” Atem scuffed at his hair, “No, it’s just Yuugi-kun,” Atem blinked, considering the change in suffix.

“Ah, Yuugi-kun,” Ryou tapped his mouth with a fingertip, “Figures you’d catch his attention – you completely obliterated me in our duel.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Atem remembered the duel well, and Ryou had played admirably.

“Don’t be so modest,” Ryou smiled coolly, “Most people don’t stand a chance against my turnabout deck strategy, but you handled it frighteningly well. You’re clearly very good.”

“I knew someone who played like that,” Atem gave a one-armed shrug, “Thank you – you’re skilled yourself.”

“Well, I’m more of an old school adventure game sort of guy,” Ryou gave his bag a shove away from his hip, fidgeting, “Caves of Larn, and Zork - or even just some tabletop. Stuff like that.”

Atem shifted uncomfortably, arms folding across his chest, phone held a bit too tightly, “Zorc?”

“Mh,” Ryou seemed to finally be happy with his bag’s position, “I guess I’m a bit of a hipster,” Ryou smiled in Atem’s direction, eyes not entirely focused on him, and an absent expression, “So, what did Yuugi-kun have to say?”

“Oh,” Atem unfolded his arms, glancing down at his phone, “He was wondering if we could hang out today,” Atem paused, “Uh, did you want to come? More the merrier?”

Ryou laughed, “Oh no, I can’t – I have an appointment, and my therapist will kill me if I skip another one,” Ryou gave his bag strap a tug, obviously annoyed with it again, “Send my regards though?” Atem looked at Ryou in mute surprise, but Ryou was tugging his ponytail back into shape, as he walked away, “Have a good day!” He called back, tossing an idle, disinterested wave at Atem.

“Therapy?” Atem mouthed to himself, and shook his head, looking back down at his phone, “Mh.”

He pulled at his unruly fringe, the golden – sun-blessed, apparently – locks fraying each way, and Atem squinted at the reflection in the window. He ran his fingers through his hair again, and still dissatisfied, Atem tugged them again.

“You know I don’t care, right?” Yuugi laughed to the side, “You look fine – good even – relax.”

“It won’t behave,” Atem growled, blowing a few strands out of his eyes.

“I have the same problem with my fringe,” Yuugi chuckled, “Don’t worry about it, Atem-kun.”

“Hmph,” Atem scowled at his reflection, “This is such a pain.”

“Atem-kun,” Yuugi rolled his eyes, still laughing under his breath, “Come on,” He hooked his arm in Atem’s, and started dragging Atem away from the glass, “God, you’re so vain.”

“Shut up,” Atem snorted, but let Yuugi pull him away, “So where are we going? You said you had a plan.”

“Secret,” Yuugi grinned, bumping into Atem’s shoulder lightly, before releasing his arm, “You have to promise to give sweet stuff a try today, alright?”

Atem scowled, “Really?”

Yuugi gave an exaggerated scowl in response, “Really really,” Atem stuck his tongue out and Yuugi stuck his out in return. They came to a stilted stop, pulling faces at each other, until they went into simultaneous snickering.

Atem waved a hand, catching his breath, “Alright, you win,” He set his hand on his hip, tossing his bangs with a flick of his head, “Now will you tell me where you’re going?”

“I said it was a surprise!” Yuugi started walking again, and Atem fell in next to him. Once Atem might have been able to outpace Yuugi, but they were nigh the same height, and it was easy to fall into step.

“Come on,” Atem nudged Yuugi, “Come on,” Another nudge, “Come on,” Another nudge, and Yuugi flailed at the offending hand.

“Atem-kun,” Yuugi chided, “We’re going to KaibaKafé: it opened a month ago, and it’s about your only chance to be served by a Blue Eyes White Dragon Gijinka Maid.”

“A what?”

“Or Dark Magician Girl?” Yuugi smirked, and Atem rolled his eyes in answer.

“Kaiba, honestly,” Atem clicked his tongue, “Still I can see the novelty value…”

“The food is all themed too, and it’s pretty good,” Yuugi added, “This could have been an awesome surprise, you know.”

Atem frowned, tipping his head at the building ahead of them, “I’m pretty sure the architectural choices might have given it away…?”

The café most closely resembled the head of a Blue Eyes White Dragon, the entrance placed in the maw of the monster. Through the translucent glass in the cheek spines of the Dragon Head, Atem could see a girl dressed in a blue eyes white dragon cosplay.

“Is that enough Blue Eyes in your Blue Eyes?” Atem drawled, before studying the gijinka design.

Aside from the wings, tail, modern skirt- most of it. Nevertheless, under the dragon features, the hairstyle bore a striking resemblance to a white-haired girl from the memory world. Probably a wig, but it was startling nevertheless, exactly how profoundly Blue Eyes had affected Set, so that it had burnt through into his next life. Once Atem might have joked, but now it seemed oddly tragic; someone scrabbling after the past like this.

“He does have a style,” Yuugi laughed quietly, but fell quiet when Atem barely managed a smile. Instead, Yuugi set off towards the café, “Come on then,” Pausing to study the girl's hair once more, Atem trotted in after Yuugi, a bell sounding as they opened the door. They slipped into a window-booth, knocking feet as they settled into their spots.

“Welcome to KaibaKafé, pi~!” The Blue-Eyes Gijinka smiled winningly, placing two menus on the table, “Can I get you some water for the table, ryu?” The girl tipped her head, hair swaying and tapping at her face in an orchestrated, but still adorable fashion

“Uh…” Atem mumbled, and felt Yuugi kick his ankle under the table. Atem flushed uncomfortably, as Yuugi rolled his eyes quickly at him.

“Water, please,” Yuugi beamed, and Atem coughed nervously as the girl all but skipped away, “My treat,” Yuugi slid a menu across to Atem, “By the way.”

“You don’t have to,” Atem leaned on one hand, smiling lazily, “I should treat you to be honest; you’re too generous.”

Yuugi laughed, “It’s a pleasure really, besides,” Yuugi picked up another menu, studying it, “You’re still new.”

“When will I not be new,” Atem snorted, leaning back in his spot with a wave of his hand, “It’s like ‘Yo Atem-san, how’s Domino treating you?’ all the time.”

“Yo Atem-kun,” Yuugi smirked, “How’s Domino treating you?”

“It’s not,” Atem picked his menu up, studying Yuugi over the top of it, “I’m treating you, hey,” Atem glared, “I said I’m treating you; don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?” Yuugi blinked, smirk widening.

“The cute eyes,” Atem grumbled, and looked back down at his menu, “Hm,” Atem looked up at the ceiling, and did a double take. He paused, incredulously studying the classical style fresco of the three blue eyes painted on the ceiling, “What?” There was a limit to Atem's quiet sympathy, and this was ridiculousness taken too far.

Yuugi looked up, and clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle his laughter, “Oh my god.”

“Unbelievable,” Atem rubbed a hand over his eyes, blinked and- yes there were still Blue Eyes on the ceiling, “…It is a good painting though.”

“I don’t know if that’s what I’d notice first…” Yuugi swallowed, tipping his head to look at the dragons more carefully,  “I have no words,” He leaned over, hiding his face and shaking from contained laughter, “Kaiba-kun certainly has, um, a unique style,” Yuugi pulled his menu back towards him, “Ah-“ A stifled giggle bubbled out of Yuugi, as he focused stubbornly on the menu, “I don’t think I could eat a whole cake myself, but they’re pretty good.”

“I’m not really that hungry,” Atem hadn’t been all that hungry for some five thousand years, not truly, “We could split?”

“That could work,” Yuugi squinted at the menu, “So, what do you think? Last time I was here I tried the Strawberry Cheesecake and that was good, but-”

“I don’t mind,” Atem shrugged, sliding the menu towards Yuugi, “You know sweet stuff better than me.”

“Well, would you mind?” Yuugi tapped at the menu uncertainly.

“I just said I wouldn’t,” Atem rolled his eyes, smiling lightly, “Honestly,” He raised a hand, and the gijinka maid hopped over, “Hi," Atem coughed self-consciously, glancing over the hair again, "Uh-yeah, can we have a-” He pulled the menu towards him again, twisting it round to examine it, “Watapon Strawberry Cheesecake… wow you weren’t kidding about the theming. Okay, one of those to split?”

“Sure thing, pi~!” The girl grinned toothily, setting a pitcher of water on the table, and bounced off.

“So, you think she’s cute, huh?” Yuugi rested his elbows on the table, eyebrow raising and leaning across the grin teasingly at Atem.

Atem glared as he took a sip of water, and Yuugi glared back, going cross-eyed as he did so. Atem snorted on his drink, and set it down hurriedly.

“Well, it’s pretty…” Atem waved a slightly damp hand, “It’s meant to be cute, that’s why she keeps saying that pi thing.”

“I don’t think I could work somewhere like this,” Yuugi admitted, “I’d never remember to say that stuff.”

“And yet you play Duel Monsters?” Atem gestured vaguely with one hand, “I guess it’s easy to remember the fun stuff.”

“Certainly explains my grades,” Yuugi grimaced, and then blinked, “Come to think, are you studying anything? You never mentioned.”

“Not so much,” Atem toyed with one of his bracelets, “Not at all actually.”

“Ah, thinking about the future?” Yuugi tipped his head and Atem looked down steadily at the table.

“Haven’t really got one.”

Yuugi frowned, “You should go into competitive tournaments then, I’m sure I could talk to Kaiba about hosting another-” Atem held a hand up, “Mh?”

“Look,” Atem’s gaze slid off to the side, settling out the window, “I don’t really want to get into this, but you don’t have to bother.”

Yuugi opened his mouth, shut it again, swallowed, “Well, okay, but-”

“I summon Watapon in attack mode, pi~!” The maid set down the plate, flourishing two forks and napkins onto the table, “Will that be everything, ryu?”

“Oh, yeah, thank you,” Yuugi smiled a little too strongly, “We’re good.”

“Well just let me know, pi~!” The girl gave a quick, shallow curtsey and flitted off to another part of the store, leaving Atem and Yuugi to themselves.

Yuugi studied the table quietly, and Atem reached out to pick up his fork, “I’m sorry,” He toyed with the cake fork for a moment, “I’ll- it’s a generous offer, I’ll be sure to keep it in mind.”

“Mhh,” Yuugi picked up his fork, and looking up at Atem, "Okay," He rested his head in the palm of one hand, bracing his elbow on the table, “I’m not really sure what I want to do myself," He swivelled the fork again, "Tournaments make good money, so that’s not a problem – well unless someone outclasses me right down to top fifty…”

“Like that’d ever happen,” Atem laughed, and Yuugi sat up, fiddling with his fork.

“You think?” Yuugi switched his fork to his other hand.

“Of course,” Atem leaned back in his seat, gesturing with his fork in a movement far too regal to not come from his past, “I’ve never met a duelist as talented and skilled as you – you care about the game, and the way it’s played,” Atem nodded, “You’re honourable, and whole-hearted -- and the heart of the cards knows it," Atem shook his head at the thought of Yuugi being classed into the fifties, "There’s no way you could ever be beaten so badly. This,” He jabbed his fork in Yuugi’s direction, beaming, eyes bright, “I know is true.”

“That’s a bit-” Yuugi leaned back in his spot, bright-red. He jostled his water with one hand, and jumped, quickly using his napkin to clean up. “Um.”

“A bit much?” Atem shrugged expansively, “You’re truly amazing, and to say anything less is cowardly.”


“Try thank you?” Atem dug into the cake with a loose smile, “It’s a compliment,” He took a bite, humming at the sugary taste. He chewed contently, before noticing Yuugi was still sitting back, fork clenched in one hand and the other hiding his face. Atem flushed, and pointed his fork at the cake, “Um, it’s good?” That didn't seem to help, except that Yuugi finally reached out to cut a forkful of cake loose.

Whilst Yuugi fussed with a bite of the cake, he glanced at Atem several times. At first Atem furrowed his eyebrows, but all that did was have Yuugi look away, and Atem resigned himself to remaining studiously focused on the wretched ceiling picture.

“Thank you,” Yuugi blurted out, and Atem’s gaze snapped to Yuugi, who quickly ate the piece of cake on his fork. Chewing slowly, Yuugi swallowed before continuing, flushing brighter whilst Atem waited, “You’re- uh, you’re- coming from you that means a lot,” Atem blinked, and Yuugi elaborated, waving his fork awkwardly, “I’ve seen you duel, you’re- you’re better than Kaiba- you’d probably own me in a duel, so coming from you…”

“I highly doubt that,” Atem chuckled, mind flickering back to the ceremonial duel, “I’m very reliant on a summon strategy.”

“If I had those sorts of cards, I would be too,” Yuugi pointed out.

“Yeah, but,” Atem frowned, “A good duelist is not defined by the cards in their deck.”

“But they certainly help, huh?” Yuugi shrugged, “You’re still very good. I think you could probably win with most decks; your main deck just happens to have some very powerful and loyal cards in it. It’s not a fault to use them.”

“Yeah, but,” Atem hummed, “I’m vulnerable without-”

“Yeah, and I won't win any games without a deck," Yuugi replied.

Atem shifted, eyebrows furrowing, "Yeah, but that's different. My-"

"Different?" Yuugi laughed, taking another forkful of cake, and leaving a smudge of cream across his upper lip in his excitement, “There’s nothing wrong with being honest, and you should be proud of your abilities,” Yuugi smiled, pushing the cake towards Atem, “You told me you’re an egoist, so maybe you should prove it?”

One of Yuugi's eyebrows raised in challenge, and Atem mirrored it without thinking, setting his fork down.

“Oh yeah?” Atem smirked, pushing the plate back towards Yuugi. They watched each other devilishly for a moment, but Atem’s eye caught on Yuugi’s expression. Atem blinked, “Hm, you’ve got,” He gestured towards his own face, “Just a-” His cool expression had dissolved into a wave of hands. Yuugi rubbed at his mouth, “No- no, like,” Atem pointed to Yuugi’s face, “Left, no, wait your- my-” Atem leaned over the table, flicking the cream off with his index finger, “There, that sorts that.”

“Oh, I was in the wrong place entirely,” Yuugi laughed a little nervously, going for his napkin and frowning. It was damp from cleaning up the earlier spill, and Atem casually passed his own napkin, “So, what were we talking about?”

“Duel Monsters,” Atem reached for his fork, “I’m usually talking about Duel Monsters, so it’s a safe bet,” There was a fleck of cream on his finger, and he licked it off idly, cutting another bite of cake away, “I can’t say I’m too impressed with the rise of monster reborn decks being requested, people should-- huh?” Yuugi was staring at him mutely, and Atem tilted his head, "What is it?"

Yuugi waved a hand in embarrassment, “Nothing, I think.”

“Nothing?” Atem repeated skeptically, before taking the bite of cake. Aside from the bright stained blush on Yuugi's face, nothing seemed amiss, and Atem let it go, “Anyway, I think the rise of monster reborn decks is a bit annoying. It’s a cheap way to play.”

“You know I agree there,” Yuugi nodded, “It’s why we limited it the other day.”

“As if anybody on a competitive level would allow monster reborn to be used, so indiscriminately,” Atem bared his teeth in a grin, “I’d disable their spell cards within two moves of that shit.”

“God, I know,” Yuugi agreed, taking another bite of the cake himself, and Atem gently nudged the dish back closer to Yuugi, "What do you think of the cake?"

"I said it was good," Atem shrugged, spinning the fork in his hand and studying it, "It's sweet," With that Atem reached forward for another bite.

Yuugi pulled the plate towards him, and Atem's fork jabbed at the table, "Too sweet?" Yuugi asked, one eyebrow raised.

"I didn't say that," Atem eyed Yuugi, who pushed the plate back after a playful pause.

“Lost?” Atem laughed under his breath, “We can just ask for directions.”

“I’m a local! I should… I should know…” Yuugi swivelled each way, looking around for any nearby markers, whilst Atem stood to the side, hands tucked into his pockets.

“Should, huh?” Atem scruffed at his hair, pausing to look in a shop window and play with his fringe again, “It’s not like we had anywhere to be, though.”

“I guess,” Yuugi sighed, “I wanted to show you the sights though.”

“That café was quite a sight,” Atem snickered, before looking back at Yuugi with a warm smile, “You know, I’m happy just wandering around right?”

“Hm,” Yuugi paused in his semi-circle turns, to look at Atem with a funny look, “You’re enjoying today? After yesterday...”

“Huh?” Atem blinked, "Yesterday-" Ah yes, the spoilers Anubis had been kind enough to share. Somehow it had seemed strangely forgettable in the trainwreck of the night, and soft sweetness of the morning, “I actually hadn’t thought about it.”

“Until I brought it up,” Yuugi slapped his forehead, groaning, “Sorry.”

Atem frowned, “It’s fine,” Then fell quiet, squinting in surprise, “Yeah, it’s fine.”

Yuugi pulled his hand away, “Really?”

“Yeah,” Atem breathed out, “It actually is,” Gave one more ruffle at his bangs, and folded his arms over his chest, “It- I mean,” Atem pondered, trying to grapple with the feeling well-enough to express it, “I guess it’s just not what I remember most about my dad.”

“It’s not really that important in the big scheme of things?” Yuugi suggested.

“It really isn’t,” Atem agreed, still puzzled, “I actually forgot all about it,” He shook his head, clearing the thoughts away with a frown, “It doesn’t change anything, like you said,” He smiled at Yuugi gratefully, “Come on, if you don’t remember the sights, they probably don’t matter either, right?”

“Atem-kun…” Yuugi chided, and Atem pushed Yuugi in the opposite direction to where they’d come from.

“I’m serious,” Atem insisted, still leading Yuugi with a push at his shoulders, “I just like hanging out, maybe we can find a park or an arcade or-”

“A stadium!” Yuugi came to a stop and Atem crashed into his back, “Look!” Atem followed the line of Yuugi’s finger to a strangely shaped building in the near distance, “That must be the new stadium this side of town.”

Atem hummed, “Let me guess, Kaiba Corp owned and operated?” He tilted his head, "That must have been where the blimp landed. Guess it's open now."

"Oh, you heard about the Battle Ship?" Yuugi asked, flushing slightly, "It was kind of surprising up close."

"Yeah," Atem looked off to the side faintly, "I'll bet," Shaking off his nostalgia, Atem gestured towards the stadium, "Have you been there yet?" When Yuugi shook his head, Atem gave a pointed, almost forced smile, "Then why don't we see the new stadium?" Starting off in the direction of the building, Atem turned back to wait for Yuugi.

"It's not really near home," Yuugi caught up to Atem, eyes locked on the stadium. His eyebrows furrowed, "Jounouchi-kun, and I were planning to check it out, but he never seems to have time with work," Yuugi gave a long, rolling sigh, "At least if he was working at the Shop, I'd see him then."

"Why wouldn't he?" Atem looked at Yuugi, "I thought Jounouchi would like to work there."

Yuugi faltered, looking at Atem uncertainly, "Please don't take this as, uh," Yuugi pulled a face, "Rude," He settled on, Atem abruptly feeling out of place, "But your Japanese is really strange."

"Oh," Atem startled, "Am I saying it wrong?"

"That's the thing, not really," Yuugi was now flushed, scuffing his feet as he walked, "I probably shouldn't have said anything."

"I thought my Japanese was pretty good..." Atem murmured, still not quite sure where he'd tripped up.

Flapping his hand in front of his face, Yuugi smiled apologetically, "It is, you didn't really get anything wrong; Jou-kun is pretty casual."

Now Atem was flushing uncomfortably, staring at the floor, "Oh well, I'm still getting used to everything."

"It's okay," Yuugi touched Atem lightly on the elbow, "I shouldn't have brought it up; your Japanese really is very good," He smiled, "Can I ask where you learnt it?"

The colour drained so quickly from Atem's face, he felt dizzy, "A friend," He offered quickly.

It was the wrong thing to say, "A friend?" Yuugi's mouth crinkled with confusion, "Ryuji-kun said you'd lived in Japan, so-"

Atem could have sworn his stomach bottomed out, "Oh- Yes," He interrupted nervously, before clearing his throat, "I stayed with his family for awhile."

That seemed to do the trick, Yuugi's face lighting up with understanding, "Oh! That's what I meant, like, where did you learn Japanese? Your accent seems very local."

"Ah," Atem scruffed a hand by his nose, "Yeah, locally. My friend lives nearby."

"It'd be nice to meet your friend sometime," Yuugi commented, shielding his eyes from the sun as they came to a stop by a pedestrian crossing.

"Did I say nearby?" Atem practically squawked, "I mean- he moved away!"

"Oh," Yuugi prodded the button, looking back at Atem with renewed confusion, "I just assumed, sorry."

Atem reached over to poke at the button again, jabbing it, "Don't be sorry; I misspoke," He laughed like he was choking on water, "See what my Japanese is like, huh?"

Shuffling his feet, Atem folded his arms over his chest, and Yuugi gingerly watched him. He seemed to be weighing up talking to Atem, gaze shifting to the side, before fixing on Atem again. When the blue pedestrian light came on, Atem took off and Yuugi startled after him, finally speaking up, "I don't mean to pry, but is everything okay with you two?"


"Your friend," Yuugi clarified, as they reached the other side of the crossing, "You just seem really upset."

Atem stuttered to a stop, looking each way along the side of the stadium. He wasn't sure how to answer Yuugi, so he determinedly looked up at the building, "Where's the entrance? Round the-"

"It's this way-" Yuugi hooked his fingers in Atem's arm, gently tugging him out of the path of a small cluster of people, "Atem-kun," Yuugi started up again as they tucked against the shelter of the building, "Is everything alright?" Yuugi stood in Atem's way, looking at him with a fierce concern, "Are you okay?"

Wincing, and shrugging with one shoulder, Atem rubbed at his face, "It's-" Yuugi didn't waver, but then when had Yuugi ever wavered. Atem couldn't even pretend to be surprised, and he felt himself go limp, "It's just not the same between us," Face falling, Atem's gaze ticked across Yuugi's face, managing to catch something too familiar in Yuugi's expression. Looking away, Atem looked up at the stadium once more, gaze tracking up the curved metal, "I really miss how things were."

There was a faint touch to his arm, warm enough that he shied away, "I'm sorry," Yuugi retracted his hand, fingers flexing self-consciously, "Is there anything I can do?" Yuugi paused, "I mean, I can also drop it, if you want."

"No- I mean, no don't worry about it," Atem gave an awkward smile, before an even more awkward thumbs up, "It's different, but it's not bad," He ran a hand through his fringe, looking ruefully to the side, "I miss how things were, but-"

He stopped.

Yuugi was watching him with a gentle sort of curiosity.

"This is good too," Atem offered at last, smiling settling, "I'm glad I got to see him again."

"Ah," Yuugi nodded, "Before he moved?"

"Yeah," Atem nodded noncommittally, pressing back into the shadow of the building as people moved past. Yuugi's eyes flashed in the shade, turning some dark, elegant colour in the louring light. Once more, Atem felt like something impossible was being asked to look at Yuugi, and he deftly turned back to the building, "Kaiba has no sense of scale," He remarked.

"I've seen the pyramids," Yuugi countered mildly, before puzzlement filled his face, "That couldn't have been too long ago," Shaking off the disconcerted expression, Yuugi began circling the side of the building. Following patiently, Yuugi soon found one of the entrances to the stadium, "Here we go," Beaming, Yuugi turned back, and Atem almost crashed into him.

Laughing, Yuugi righted Atem, and they stepped into the stadium with interest. However, no sooner had Atem entered, than a sharp, high voice had called out, "This isn't open to the public!" Mokuba set his hands on his hips, staring up at Atem with a face of sheer accusation.

"You should close the door," Atem replied bluntly, looking past Mokuba to Kaiba. This has been the first time he'd seen Kaiba, since the ceremonial duel, and it was startling how like Set he was, "Yo, Kaiba," He called out. Not even a damn blink.

"As I said, this place is restricted," Mokuba tried to herd Atem back, when Yuugi peered round Atem, "Oh- Yuugi-kun?" Mokuba brightened immediately.

"He's with me," Now Kaiba was listening, head turned slightly towards them, "Kaiba-kun, is everything okay?"

"Construction issues," Speaking on his brother's behalf, Mokuba grinned proudly, "It's probably safe."

"Oh," Yuugi looked past Kaiba at the raised duel arena, "And I was hoping Atem-kun would be able to challenge your brother," Now Kaiba had turned fully to study Atem. It was a scathing expression Atem hadn't felt directed at him in a long time, and it set his teeth on edge. 

Bristling, Atem strode briskly towards Kaiba, brushing past Mokuba firmly, "I don't need an arena to put Kaiba in his place."

At the overly familiar name from this stranger, Kaiba's expression cragged with distaste. Folding his arms over his chest, Kaiba looked at his brother, "Mokuba, tell this duelist I don't have time to duel anybody from the streets."

It was so dismissive, Atem ground his teeth, but Yuugi shrugged, "Don't worry about it, Mokuba-kun -- He might ruin your brother's ranking."

At last Kaiba looked back at Atem, eyes running critically over him, "The arena is operational," Kaiba stated at last, "I'd be more than willing to duel with you," His gaze slid over towards Yuugi, "Yuugi."

Smiling peacefully, save the glint in his eyes, Yuugi shook his head, "What if I duel the winner instead?"

After a long deliberation, Kaiba huffed, clicking his fingers - immediately the duel platform light up. It was flashy, and obnoxious, and Atem swore he could taste the phantom of a pulse behind his teeth. It was like lighting up his blood, “Fine," Turning on his heel, Kaiba moved to one end of the field. Facing each other, Atem stepped onto the platform, and by the time it had reached the top, Atem was smirking indelicately.

It was only when he had shuffled, and set his deck, that Atem realized he would be better off losing. He couldn't duel Yuugi, so between losing a duel to Seto Kaiba, and having to go out of his way to turn Yuugi down, surely the first was simpler? Turning his head, Atem gazed down at Yuugi uneasily. He couldn't win this. Atem looked up at Kaiba, bristling at the cool detachment painted across Kaiba's face. He could not win this.

Steeling himself for a humiliating loss, Atem reached for his hand. Flicking open the cards, Atem saw the iridescent gold of Ra, and if he had his heart, it would have seeped out the bottom of his feet.

Kaiba was a ferocious opponent, shifting from disinterested to an unwavering focus on Atem. It would have been easy to lose, laughably easy even, and yet, Atem flicked Ra onto the glowing dash of the playing field without even the touch of uncertainty, "Almighty protector of Sun and Sky, I call on you to my Side," The orb trembled into existence, metal grating and shining above the playing field, "Transform yourself from this Disc of Light, and bring me victory in my Fight. By Name, I ask you appear in this Game," The sun orb began unfolding, the sound of metal turning harsh, "Divine Beast, Winged Dragon of Ra!"

The Winged Dragon splayed wings and claws, the columns of its tail sweeping across the field behind it. A moment later, its maw gaped, flaring open and swallowing Blue Eyes in an ocean of fire. Kaiba’s lifepoint counter whined, reeling to zero, and Atem flicked his bangs out of the way as the Winged Dragon faded from the field.

"What was that?" Kaiba demanded across the field.

Retrieving his deck with a smooth sweep of his hand, Atem backed into the tower. As it slid to the floor, Yuugi caught Atem in an excited hug. Startling, Atem didn't know what to do with his hands, and they hovered away from Yuugi's back.

"His face!" Yuugi laughed, the sound of it catching somewhere in Atem's stomach, fizzling through him, "Did you see his face," Eyes shining, Yuugi finally let go of Atem, self-consciously stepping back, "My turn," Yuugi declared.

Atem's face burned, "I-"

Turning back to Kaiba, who had stalked towards them, Yuugi smiled at his rival, "So, what did you think?"

"I think," Kaiba began at last, "I would like to see the two of you duel," He inclined his head, gaze settling on the ground. There was almost a film of frustration, and unashamed disappointment on Kaiba's face. Looking up again, Kaiba stared at Atem, "What was that creature? It was beautiful."

Squinting at Kaiba's passionate compliment, Atem shook his head, "I- It's- Not now," He began as smoothly as he could, voice spiking uncomfortably.

Yuugi gave an understanding nod, "It's getting late, Kaiba-kun," He agreed gently, before smiling at Atem, "You owe me a duel," There was an almost agonizing thud of relief in Atem, followed by an equally sharp dread. Nodding quickly, Atem shrugged apologetically at Kaiba, who waved it away.

Yuugi was still laughing as he and Atem wandered in the fiery gleam of sunset off the water. He was talking with his hands, voice excited and words rapid-fire, and Atem smiled softly as Yuugi recounted Atem’s duel in detail.

“And then your turnabout against Kaiba's trap,” Yuugi shook his head, “I thought Kaiba’s jaw was going to fall off, I’m not gonna’ lie- it was cool. It’s so cool to see that card of yours on a hologram,” Yuugi’s steps were springy, “And then at the end- hah! I bet Kaiba-kun can't wait to duel you again! I know I can't!”

Scratching the back of his hair, Atem looked away, "Yeah- about that- I-"

“Here it is! The pier,” Yuugi brightened, his bouncy step settling into something heavier, as he looked back at Atem, “I was trying to find it earlier actually,” He hummed, “I guess it’s prettier at sunset anyway.”

“It is,” Atem agreed, the light mood beginning to cluster in the pit of his stomach. The pier had not been a site of positive experiences. His mood warred between the dueling sensation of dread, and the comfortable feeling of Yuugi in-step next to him.

“I had a duel there once - I think my life flashed before my eyes,” Yuugi commented breezily, "I almost drowned," He pointed out across the water, and the mood bottomed out, crashing down on Atem’s nerves.

He came to a solid stop, feet weighed down with the lingering helplessness the memory still gave him. The duel against Jounouchi, weight of the chains, being imprisoned inside the puzzle and watching from the drowning crevices of the soul rooms as Yuugi went under. The emotion welled up hard, with an unbearable pressure. He couldn’t breathe past it.

“Huh? Atem-kun?” Yuugi turned back, sunset lighting up through his unruly hair, “I wasn’t being serious, you know."

Atem swallowed around the feeling, pushing it down and burying it. The past was irrelevant if you couldn’t share it, and all it would bring was an uncomfortable silence, that hollow fear splaying his ribs open.

“Atem-kun?” Yuugi stepped forward, brushing a hand at Atem’s arm, and the feeling cracked open. Atem spilled forward, pulling Yuugi into a hug, “Ah, Atem?”

“Partner,” Atem mumbled, the sound fracturing into the crook of Yuugi’s neck. “You worried me there,” There would mean alien things to each-other; Yuugi would think of the conversation they were having, Atem meant watching Yuugi fade, their souls sinking, trying to pull him into the puzzle, and screaming because the puzzle was with Jounouchi, not Yuugi.

Yuugi's hand tucked into Atem’s hair, stroking it reassuringly, “It’s okay,” Yuugi said gently, “It’s okay, Atem.”

“Nh,” Atem pressed closer, grip a bit too strong, relief and terror replaying in how closely he kept Yuugi. There was the steady thump of Yuugi’s heart against-

His own pulseless chest.

Atem sprang back, hands raised, and eyes wide, “I’m sorry!” He yelped.

“No it’s-” Yuugi interjected.

“I wasn’t thinking!” Atem took another half-step back, “Forgive me-”

“You’re fine, really, it’s-”

“I didn’t mean to make this awkward!” They exclaimed in unison, words tumbling out. They paused, staring at each other, flushing uncomfortably.

“Ah…” Yuugi scratched at the back of his head, still staring at Atem in surprise.

“So,” Atem mumbled slowly, hands shifting awkwardly in front of him, fidgeting haplessly.

“You, um, okay?” Yuugi asked haltingly, taking a half-step in his direction.

“Yeah, I’m,” Atem wringed the hem of his shirt, “I just-“ Yuugi reached out and gently untangled Atem’s fingers from their claw-holds in his shirt, “I-”

They stared at each other, and Atem counted the space between them, measuring in a few inches. Yuugi’s hands encircling his wrists gently, pulling them to his sides.

“I’m okay,” Yuugi said clearly, and Atem panicked-

“Me too,” The words shook, falling out clumsily. Yuugi’s fingertips cool and loose on his wrists and close and- Atem’s mouth felt dry and slack and his words were useless and vague and-

He laughed, a nervous bark of sound and Yuugi giggled, Atem’s laugh coming in jerky, helpless gasps. Yuugi let go of Atem’s hands to try and prevent his laughter, but already it was coming too hard, too brightly, “Oh my god, what are we doing?” Atem covered his eyes with his hand, “I’m so sorry, that was just- that was unbelievable.”

“I know!” Yuugi spluttered, turning away to clutch at his stomach, “Oh man I’m laughing- it hurts, god.”

Atem’s laughter dulled to faint, childish giggles, and he took steady breaths until they stopped coming out like bubbles of sound, “Okay, wow, I should get going, huh?”

“I can’t stop laughing,” Yuugi struggled to get the words out, “I’m serious- oh my god,” He almost keeled over from laughter.

“Hey there,” Atem grabbed Yuugi by the elbows, even as Yuugi began to hiccough between laughs. The laughter spread at the contact points, and Atem was soon giggling and then snorting and then just laughing, clutching at Yuugi haplessly. The sounds stilled, and they chanced a glance at each other, flailing straight back into peals of laughter.

Chapter Text

Atem felt rather than heard their laughter dissipate, hands still holding Yuugi steady at the arms, and Yuugi leaning haplessly into him. He wasn’t entirely sure who had started the laughing, but he thought it might have been him. It had been one of those terribly mutual things; flickering between them, blurring where Atem ended and Yuugi began, and far too familiar. They’d spent far too long anticipating each other, far too long walking in-step –

And Yuugi tipped Atem’s head down to kiss him, arms curled round the back of his neck.

It occurred to Atem, maybe a split second before it happened, that he hadn’t expected that. It then occurred to him, a moment later that he hadn't moved. His hands dropped, hooking into Yuugi's shirt to stabilize the sudden shift of the world. Every second was some strange revelation creeping through his skin, and again – again he reminded himself – he hadn't seen this coming.

As easily as Atem had his expectations uprooted, Yuugi pulled away with a smile, settling his hands on Atem's shoulders. Once Yuugi had been such a small thing, eyes wide and fervent, but now they stood eye to eye, and Yuugi's were still as bright as ever. Atem ran his tongue over his upper-lip, raised a hand to brush his fingertips after it.

"Sorry," Yuugi offered, and Atem blinked.

Atem squinted, letting both hands fall to his side as Yuugi released his shoulders, "I'm just," He studied Yuugi's guileless eyes, some quiet roaming through his body. He breathed out, "Surprised?"

He adjusted his footing, still feeling uneven.

"You do look a little surprised," Yuugi smiled sheepishly, and scuffed a foot to the ground, "You okay?"

"Yeah," Atem squinted again, still trying to get the universe to readjust, "Just- surprised," He rolled the word about his mouth, dissatisfied with the flavour. He ran a hand through his hair, feeling sluggish as he did so, "I'm sorry? I must have- I must have seemed terribly rude..."

Yuugi laughed, pressing a hand to his mouth, hiding the fond smile on his face, "You're fine," Yuugi scruffed at his own hair, brushing his bangs out of his eyes, "Penny for your thoughts?"


"It's an expression, I learnt it from an American friend I have," Yuugi explained, "It means, what's on your mind?"

"Oh-" Atem studied the ground, flushing, "Same as you I think?" He shrugged, shoulders limp and useless, "I was just thinking you're pretty hard to read," -when I can't hear your thoughts.

"Ah," Yuugi scrubbed at his face, only worsening his blush, "Well, I thought I was being pretty obvious," He kicked at the ground self-consciously, "Since, you know, I, uh," Yuugi paused, "Um, kissed you."

"There's that," Atem looked off across the water, "Um, yeah..."

Yuugi shifted his weight to his other foot, "Uh, so," He swallowed, "I kind of did this all wrong, but what I mean is-" Atem looked back slowly, suspecting the feeling that had sprung up in his chest could be called agonized, "I like you."

"Oh," Atem quickly flicked his gaze back to the sunset glistening in the water. He would have sworn his temperature had risen by several degrees; his face was definitely on fire, "Um."

The silence was a physical thing, sitting contently between them and occasionally jabbing Atem somewhere between his ribs. So with more courage than he was convinced he had, he tried to look at Yuugi. He ended up staring at Yuugi's knees, eyebrows furrowed. He had to fill this silence, or at least meet Yuugi’s eyes, but all he managed to do was gaze – flushing – at Yuugi’s shirt.

“Um, Atem-kun,” Yuugi said carefully, as though testing out his voice, “Not to pressure you…or anything, but,” Yuugi stopped short there, mouth shut and wincing, “Nevermind.”

Clearing his throat, Atem managed to look at Yuugi’s throat, “No, What is it?”

“Well, I just said I like you.”

“Yeah,” Atem mumbled uselessly, “You did.”

“Oh-” Yuugi flicked his head to look the other way, his voice sounded awful, straining. Atem finally looked at Yuugi’s face, but it was turned away from him, “Sorry about that.”

“About what?” Atem peered at Yuugi, tipping forward to try and look him in the eye. Yuugi swallowed, pulse flickering in his neck.

“Well, you don’t feel… you know,” Yuugi fidgeted, “I put you in an awkward position.”

Atem gave another dull blink, squirming, “No, it’s not like that-“ It was awkward though, and Yuugi laughed softly, turning his head to stare out across the water. Watching Yuugi uneasily, Atem shifted on his spots, arms crossing over his chest. He took a steadying breath, but it made his words soft, barely audible. “I don’t know how I feel.”

“I didn’t-” Yuugi glanced at Atem, and when their gazes met, they quickly looked away again, “I’m sorry,” Yuugi mumbled, “I didn’t catch that.”

“I said,” There was something choking in the back of Atem’s throat, “I don’t know how I feel.”

“I think that means you don’t like me like that,” Yuugi explained gently.

“No, it’s not like that,” Atem repeated firmly, now gazing down at his feet. The world had changed beneath him; grown unsteady and unsure. Like the floor had opened up under him.

Beside him, Yuugi twisted to look at him, “Do you like me?” He paused, “Like that…?”

Atem fought the urge to squirm at the question, instead folding his arms tighter across his chest, “I don’t know; I’ve never really thought about it.”

“That usually means-“

“It doesn’t mean I don’t like you,” Atem interrupted, voice sharp, “It means I don’t know,” Yuugi hummed, sounding unconvinced, and Atem pressed his fingers to his forehead, teeth gritting, “Please- I’m not making fun of you. I’m not trying to- I’m confused.”

Bracing himself, Atem gazed at Yuugi, attempting to smile reassuringly. The expression slid off his face into an anxious frown, as Yuugi studied him silently.

“I’m sorry,” Atem mumbled, “I really,” His voice shrank, cowering in his chest, hiding inside his ribs like a heartbeat, “I really care about you; I’m not trying to hurt you.”

Nodding slowly, Yuugi swung his arms out by his side, working out the tension in them, “Okay,” He decided.

“Okay?” Atem blinked several times, his face scrunching up in confusion. Yuugi wrinkled his nose at Atem in imitation, “Stop that,” Atem grumbled, “What’s okay?”

“You’re okay,” Yuugi waved a hand, “We’re okay. Look- I put you on the spot, so, let’s just take a step back,” He hesitated, before smiling sadly at Atem, “I care about you too.”

“Oh,” Atem covered his mouth sharply, biting into the pad of his fingers. He could feel his face blazing under his hand, and gave a muffled response, “Thank you.”

Giving another nod, Yuugi looked back across the water, hand shoved into his pockets. The silence slipped between them again, settling more comfortably in the space, and Atem finally plopped down at the edge of the water, “Come on,” He looked up at Yuugi.

“It’s getting late,” Yuugi glanced behind him, smile faltering, then growing strong, “I shouldn’t.”

“I know, but stay anyway,” Atem’s eyebrows furrowed nervously, “Please?”

“Okay,” Yuugi nodded, sitting down cross-legged next to Atem, who swung his legs out over the edge, tapping his heels on the wall, “We’re still friends, right?”

“You’re my best friend,” The honesty burned in his throat, and Atem shut his eyes, leaning into the breeze off the water, “I’m sorry I messed earlier up – you were honestly very smooth.”

“Oh, well, smooth,” Yuugi snorted, dropping his head to look down at his lap, “That’s good.”

Hair still soaked from the shower, Atem could feel a line of water sliding down the back of his neck, as he sat down on the soft floor of the cubicle. Pulling the keyboard tray out, he fidgeted with his credit card, tapping it on the desk. Truthfully, it was a bit rich to call it his credit card, as the name read Kazama Shunsuke.

Attempting to legitimately acquire a credit card in Japan had began as a joke with a lousy punchline, and ended with Atem throwing a handful of shopping coupons in the face of a receptionist. He was seen as a risk for credit investment, so this was a solution – not a good solution – but a solution.

Logging into the dueling network, Atem shuffled a handful of booster cards he’d acquired on his route home, and flashed them by the card scanner. His barley tea was sweating in its can, and between sips he adjusted his deck. Halfway through organizing his new extra deck, an alert chimed through his headphones, and he glanced at the corner of his screen. 

Dueling NetWork – Kazama Shunsuke - [4] Messages

Clicking the alert, Atem studied the first dueling request, before adjusting the jackpot. A moment later his counter-offer had been accepted and the screen lit up with a rudimentary dueling field. The match was quick, even brutal, and between turns Atem continued to fidget with his credit card.

[IM: Iwanaga Tetsuya] Good duel ~☆ Rematch y/n?

Atem clicked his tongue, tapping his card against the desk again. From the cubicle next door, there was a muffled thump through the partition. Setting his card down, Atem thumped back at the wall, before pulling his keyboard closer, tapping rapidly into it, and scrolling down through the kanji so rapidly he passed the correct one twice.

[IM: Kazama Shunsuke] Glutton for punishment?

[IM: Iwanaga Tetsuya] Hungry for victory (۶ૈ ᵒ̌ Дᵒ̌)۶ૈ !!

[IM: Iwanaga Tetsuya] I’ll beat you next time.

He studied the computer for a moment, fiddling with the keyboard. It was early morning already, and he had already earnt ¥12000 from Tetsuya Iwanaga in his last game. Still, Atem’s winrate was beginning to attract attention, and he didn’t really need the money.

[IM: Kazama Shunsuke] Tomorrow.

Pushing the keyboard tray away, Atem flopped back against the cubicle wall. There was another IM coming through from his opponent on the screen, and he glanced at it, before dumping his headphones next to the monitor. It was close to eight am, but in this windowless underground room it could have been midnight. His bank account had deeper pockets than the day before, and his internet café cubicle was still ridiculously cheap.

Hitting his head gently against the wall, Atem stared up at the coloured lighting on the ceiling, shutting his eyes after a moment. Yuugi liked him – like with the underline, the italic, the meaningful dip in tone. Yuugi like liked him.

Like liked him.

The thought rattled in Atem’s skull, rebounding and skittering through his mind. He couldn’t seem to click it into place, and trying to force it was giving him a headache. It was strange and uncomfortable trying to figure out what that meant to anyone, let alone him. Growling at himself, Atem knocked his head even harder against the wall, and then winced when the person on the other side kicked out at the wall.

Clambering to his feet, Atem almost tumbled forward, grabbing for his hotel keycard. Staggering towards the door, he kept his eyes fixed on the edges of his cubicle; he had no desire to see what his neighbours might be up to. He'd accidentally glanced over the partition once, and he had absolutely no desire to repeat the experience.

Flushing, Atem made his way towards the elevator, foot tapping and getting more desperate for fresh air. He jabbed at the elevator button twice more, before the light above the door flashed a downward arrow. Groaning expressively, Atem all but stomped into the elevator, pacing in the small container before finally stalking out of the building. Tossing his head back, he breathed in deeply, sucking the air into his lungs.


He flicked round, and Ryou hitched his bag higher, waving cautiously at him, “Bakura?” As Ryou darted over to him, Atem looked over Ryou's oversized jumper and colour-faded jeans in confusion, "Aren't you meant to be at school?"

"Oh," Ryou adjusted his bag strap, fidgeting with the tab, "Probably, I guess," Almost cheerily, Ryou shrugged at him, "So how are you?"

"Good," Atem ventured after a moment, and Ryou gave a pleased nod in response, "And you?"

"Terrible," Ryou answered brightly, kicking at the ground with one foot, "I had an early appointment, but I was up late, so I decided not to sleep, and now I'm really tired," He laughed, and Atem squinted at him, half-heartedly laughing with him, "Turns out it wasn't even today; it's tomorrow. And now I'm tired."

"I'm actually sorry I asked," Atem could feel himself faltering, "Did you want a coffee or-"

"I could use some company," There was an awkward tug at Ryou's bag, his long fingers catching on the strap, and causing several of the pins on it to chatter, "I can't fall asleep, or, well not yet. I can buy if you could just talk at me, please?"

"Sure," Atem paused roughly, blinking, "What should I talk about?"

"Well," Ryou nodded towards a nearby shop, "How's Domino treating you, Atem-san? You've been here, um," An apologetic smile, frayed at the edges, "How long?"

"More than a month," Atem rolled his eyes, face scrunching, "Why does everybody have to ask me that?"

Chuckling stiltedly into the back of his hand, Ryou shifted his bag again, "Don't worry, you stop being new when someone else arrives," Ryou flicked a strand of hair back over his shoulder, "This place looks good."

Shuffling into the café, Ryou meandered sluggishly towards the counter. Each footstep was absent-minded, and Ryou stopped halfway through to tie his shoelaces. Moving past Ryou, Atem approached the waitress putting in his order, when Ryou materialized at his side, dropping his coins into the plate left on the side, "Same for me, please," Counting his coins twice, then a third time under his breath, Ryou finally pushed the plate towards the cashier, "So, how is Yuugi-kun?" Atem's jaw clenched, and Ryou drew back to look at him worriedly, "Not good?"

"We're good," Atem protested, and Ryou's eyebrows disappeared beneath his fringe.

"Oh, well, if you're sure," Ryou sounded snide, but when Atem tried to glare at him, Ryou was unconcernedly collecting their drinks from the waitress, "I hate ordering, so thank you," Passing one to Atem, and sliding into an empty seat, Ryou set his drink down before tipping his head gently, "So what happened with you two?"

"Why do you-"

"I actually know Yuugi-kun pretty well," Ryou cut over Atem. Waiting to see if Ryou had more to add, Atem found Ryou sipping at his drink instead.

Shaking his head, Atem slid in across from Ryou, "What do you think happened then?" There was a dangerous note of challenge in his voice, and no matter how carefully he played the words, he couldn't quite pull the aggression from his tone. To his credit, Ryou simply raised his eyebrows at Atem, and Atem sighed pointedly, "Why aren't you at school?"

"My father's never paid attention to my absences," Ryou replied.

"That's no excuse."

"That means," Ryou continued, "You shouldn't either," He picked his cup up, turning it round in his hands, studying Atem over it, "If you break Yuugi-kun's heart, I bet Jounouchi-kun will break your arm."

"I bet he would too," Atem sighed, leaning back in his chair, "I don't really see how I couldn't at this point."

"Ah," Ryou smiled softly, "Left, or right then?"

Groaning, Atem leaned back in his spot, "I don't want to."

"Well of course not," Ryou chuckled, "Nobody wants their arm broken," Amused, Ryou took another sip of his drink, the fingers of his other hand tapping on the table, "So, I was right," It wasn't a question, and Atem glowered at Ryou tiredly. Waving a hand, Ryou set his drink down, "Don't worry, I'm too tired for this kind of drama."

Unconvinced, Atem rolled his eyes, snorting softly through his nose, "What do you call this?"

"Curiosity," Ryou shrugged, rolling one shoulder back, "I'm not going to break your arm."

"Thank you for that," Atem remarked dryly.

"Although, Yuugi-kun's friends are going to be surprised," Ryou poked a finger at the table, looking to the side guiltily, "They seem to think it's just a matter of time. You know how it is."

"I suppose," Atem raised an eyebrow, "You don't consider yourself his friend?"

Startled, Ryou jolted upright, no longer slouching in his seat, "Oh, I-" He coughed, hurriedly reaching for his drink, "I wouldn't want to presume," With Ryou deliberately smothering his words into a gulp of coffee, Atem strained to pick them out, and Ryou flushed, "We have a lot of painful memories."

Automatically, Atem leaned back in his seat, shaking his head, "That's not your fault."

"Yuugi-kun is kind about these things," Ryou corrected, tone sliding from uncomfortable to angered, "So you shouldn't take his opinion on this," There was a resentful crinkle of Ryou's nose, "He shouldn't be talking to you about this."

"He didn't," Ryou's eyebrows quirked with confusion, mouth twisting, and Atem faltered, "I- it wasn't Yuugi," The hesitation dissolved, as Atem braced a hand on the table, glaring across it at Ryou, "But even if it was, you shouldn't dismiss Yuugi for being kind; it's not ignorance," He leaned back in his seat, arms crossing protectively over his chest, "If anything, you're being ignorant for giving up on yourself."

Ryou's features frosted over, the twist of his mouth baring in a snarl. It was an expression Atem hadn't seen since the Spirit of the Ring, and it was like seeing a ghost in the flesh, "If you think I've given up on myself, you don't know what that word means," Ryou got to his feet, staring Atem down as he hitched his bag over his shoulders. One eyebrow raised disdainfully, and Ryou's voice was clipped, like using the blunted edge of a blade, "Good luck with Jounouchi-kun."

With that, Ryou turned on his heel and stalked out of the café. Slumping in his spot, Atem rubbed at the back of his neck, and after a moment, took his phone out. Writing a short message of warning to Yuugi, Atem halted mid-tap to pull a face at his phone. After yesterday, Yuugi had all but told him it was his move, but Atem didn't have anything to say yet, so how could he break the silence? He stared down at the unsent message, thumb hovering over the next button, before deleting the text with a resentful expression.

Fidgeting with his phone, Atem took a deep breath in, before typing out the message again with gritted teeth. It didn't matter what was going on between them; if Ryou still thought Yuugi was sharing secrets about him, Atem was not going to leave Yuugi in the dark.

[To: Aibou] heads up i pissed bakura off

Before he could decide against it, Atem hit send, but now, staring at the message, he was dissatisfied. He combed a hand through his fringe, mussing it, before tapping at the phone again.

[To: Aibou] he might be pissed at you too sorry

There was an agonizing wait before the reply, and when the phone finally vibrated, Atem's insides clenched, like a a hand had squeezed his spine. Almost dropping his phone, Atem opened the text hastily.

[From: Aibou] ?(ο´・д・)??

Dumbfounded, Atem squinted at the text, "Really?" He murmured, cupping the phone in both hands and typing out a reply.

[To: Aibou] long story

[From: Aibou] ...I've got time?

The reply was almost instantaneous, and Atem's face scrunched up, hunching in his spot as he hurriedly typed back.

[To: Aibou] its complicated

[To: Aibou] okay its not. just awkward.

He gave a short huff, scratching at a spot on his neck, and put his phone down. Pushing it away slightly, he cupped his drink in his hands, staring down at it. Atem tilted his head one way, then the other, eyes flicking towards his phone, and with an exaggerate sigh, he pulled it back towards him.

[To: Aibou] best if i explain in person. i kinda messed up sorry

Pushing his phone away again, Atem half-sneered at his coffee, and instead drummed his fingers on the table. He wasn't sure if the shift inside him was relief, or worry, but he swiped his phone up at the familiar buzz. Opening the message, he gave a heavy exhale, pressing a hand to his forehead.

[From: Aibou] kk ヽ(´・ω・`)、 Hope everything is okay?

Atem's hand drifted back through his bangs, brushing them away from his face, before he settled in to type out his reply. His thumb hovered over the send button, before he added a kamoji as an afterthought.

[To: Aibou]  me too, ttyl (^o^;)

Nodding, Atem stowed his phone back into his pocket, and abandoning his drink, left the café. The tension that had begun to ease in him came back, slowly knotting up in his nerves. He ground his teeth, scuffing a foot at the floor and shoving his hands into his pockets, took off down he street. He'd been congratulating himself on being able to talk to Yuugi, forgetting that he didn't know what to say.

It wasn't as though Atem was avoiding the matter, it was just that Atem needed a level head, and duelling the best way to clear his thoughts. That was exactly why Atem was scanning the duel listings at the Black Crown Arcade. The fact he was glad Otogi was at school was purely because he had no interest in dueling Otogi, and not because Otogi might ask after Yuugi.

Although judging by the listings he probably would have dueled Otogi, and been glad of it too.

The regular duelists had not changed much in the time Atem had spent away from Domino City, and besides, he had beaten many of these duelists at the Kame Game Shop a month ago. The challenge was lacking, and Atem gave a stilted yawn, eyes flicking through the lists once more. He bounced his duelist chip in his hand, trying to find someone at least diverting.

There was something lonely about his skill that Atem had never felt before, but then he had never dueled alone before. Yuugi had always been at his side, and if Yuugi was not there, his friends had been at his back. Even in Egypt there had been Falah to talk to, and there had been purpose. Now, Atem was stranded, disconnected from his future as much as his past.

Bracing a hand on his hip, Atem approached the counter, "I was interested in dueling-" He glanced up, eyes narrowing, "Tsuda Kenjiro. Here's my chip-"

"I'm sorry, sir," The attendant dipped her head, pony-tail bobbing as she did so, "Your presence has been requested in Duel Room 3."

"Requested?" Atem squinted, automatically looking towards Duel Room 3, before turning back to the attendant, "By who?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to say," Once again she dipped her head, looking both genuinely apologetic and petrified, "Please proceed to Duel Room 3."

"And if I decide not to?"

"I'm sorry, sir," She looked incredibly cagey, gazing at him with huge eyes, "Please proceed to Duel Room 3."

Anubis, Atem decided. The God had stuck his muzzle directly into Atem's business before, and the weather had been decidedly warm this morning. Besides, who else could hope to command this level of influence?

Nodding at the woman, he smiled reassuringly, "That's alright, I think I know him."

"Do you?" The attendant stammered, eyes going wider and face going slack. Gathering herself, she gestured towards the Duel Room, "Sorry, please go right ahead."

Moving away from the counter, Atem considered his options. Although he might be able to avoid meeting with the deity, the only reason he had to avoid the encounter was the forceful way Anubis was initiating it. Apart from that, he was more curious than rebellious, and with that Atem marched towards Duel Room 3. Pushing the door open, he called out, "You didn't need to get my attention this way, you know."

"Should I have sent you a notification on DuelingNetwork?" Kaiba's arms were folded across his chest, the sweep of his coat curling about his feet. An unimpressed eyebrow was arched, "Kazama Shunsuke."

"Kaiba?" Atem looked the duelist up and down, hearing the door click shut behind him, "What are you doing here?"

There was an airy swish of Kaiba's hand, "I tracked your duelist chip."

"Of course you did," Atem rolled his eyes, wishing he was more surprised to hear that, "I take it you know I'm committing credit fraud."

"I'm more surprised you don't exist," Kaiba replied silkily, eyebrow still raised, "Sa-Re Atem is as false an identity as Kazuma Shunsuke."

"Doesn't mean I don't exist," He gave a swift gesture down himself, "Clearly I do."

Kaiba's expression didn't waver, "I should have you arrested."

"And you haven't?"


Atem tapped his foot on the floor impatiently, "Well, what do you want?"

At this Kaiba gave a sharp laugh, mouth curving into a familiar - even welcome - grin. Raising his arm, he pointed at Atem with a graceful sweeping movement, "I want a rematch!"

The duel had fallen to Osiris this time, his special ability threshing through Kaiba's lifepoints with a ruthless efficiency. Rather than angering Kaiba, Atem had seen the man's expression turn from eager to enraptured when Osiris materialized in a flash of wings. As they exited the podiums, Kaiba had offered his hand to Atem, head tilted with interest, "You are a rare duelist," His eyes narrowed, "I have been thinking of hosting a second Battle City-"

"I won't participate," Atem took Kaiba's hand, shaking it resolutely, "But I wish you luck."

"Are you sure?" Kaiba released his hand, face unreadable.

He nodded in a single deft motion, regret welling into a fierce smile, "I'm sure," Atem shrugged, "I wish I could, but-" He thought for a moment, smile fading, "My time has passed," That caught Kaiba's attention, and he tilted his head, opening his mouth, then closing it again without speaking. Instead, Kaiba reached into his pocket, offering Atem an envelope, "What's this?"

Atem pulled the envelope open tipping a credit card and passport into his hand, as Kaiba cleared his throat, "It's security," The man crossed his arms, eyes blazing when he spoke again, "As long as you are alive, your time is now," He showed his teeth, somewhere between a snarl and a smile, "The next time we duel, you will know that."

Curling his fingers around the documents, Atem looked back up at Kaiba, "I'm sorry," Kaiba faltered, "It's just there's somewhere I need to be."

Atem scanned the school building, and then his phone again, face darkening at the time, "I should have dueled Kaiba twice," He muttered under his breath, ducking his head back down to his phone and setting a hand on his hip. Shaking his phone boredly, Atem glanced back at the school and stopped.

Jounouchi's face was pressed right up against the window, and though he was too far away for Atem to tell, Atem suspected he had a massive grin on his face. Still watching Jounouchi in the window, Atem tapped a message into his phone quickly, and then set his hand on his hip. There was a brief movement when Jounouchi paused, looking away, before Atem's phone vibrated.

[To: Jounouchi] tell yuugi to check his phone

[From: Jounouchi] lol teach took it

[From: Jounouchi] 1 sec

A moment later, Yuugi's face appeared in the window, before both Jounouchi and Yuugi disappeared from view. Atem blinked, looking back down at his phone as a flood of messages lit up on it.

[From: Jounouchi] It's Yuugi here I'm so sorry ๑•́ㅿ•̀๑)"

[From: Jounouchi] ( ≧Д≦) I got my phone confiscated earlier

[From: Jounouchi] ?? what's going on?

[From: Jounouchi] Hang on, I'll come down now ;v;

Atem looked up again to see Yuugi darting past, and Jounouchi pressing his face back against the window. Waving at Jounouchi awkwardly, Atem slipped his phone back into his pocket, pointedly ignoring the buzz of his phone, even when Jounouchi slapped a hand on the window. He gave a wide, expansive shrug, feigning confusion and was fairly certain Jounouchi was pulling a face at him. 

"Sorry!" Yuugi panted, jogging towards Atem, his bag hanging loosely from one hand, "Morita-sensei caught me checking my phone," Yuugi came to a stop, hunching over to gulp for air. Looking up, Yuugi's face was flushed and his bag was trailing on the ground, "I hope you weren't waiting long."

"No," Atem shook his head hurriedly, waving a hand uneasily, "I just got here really," He paused, nervousness dimming, "Wait- he took your phone for that. That's not fair," Yuugi began to laugh between gasps of air, and Atem scowled, "Hey!"

"It's fine, Atem-kun, it's fine," Yuugi chuckled into the back of his hand, beaming at Atem with a clumsy smile, "Hey, how are you?" He tilted his head as he picked his bag up in his arms, "What even happened with Ryou?"

Reaching out to take Yuugi's bag, Atem sighed, looking off to the side, "I think he thinks we were gossiping about him."

"You don't need to-" Yuugi cut off, letting go of the bag and frowning, "We haven't."

Atem slung Yuugi's bag over one of his shoulders, nodding in agreement, "That's what I told him, but I don't know if he believed me, and-" He stopped, the same tension clutching down his spine as he looked Yuugi. Glancing up at the school building, he saw Jounouchi watching them carefully from the window, this time joined by Honda.

Following his gaze, Yuugi smiled awkwardly, "Sorry," Alarm spread across Yuugi's face, and he held both hands up in alarm, "I didn't say anything to them! Well, I mentioned something to Anzu, but she wouldn't have said anything because-" He trailed off, looking between Atem and the window, before nervously chirping, "Do you like parks?"


"Parks, there's a park," Yuugi gestured abstractedly towards the school gates, "I- They're kinda staring."

Anzu had joined Jounouchi and Honda in the window, and Atem grimaced, "They kind of are," He shifted the bag on his shoulder, and looked back at Yuugi, "Park. Park is good."

Relieved, Yuugi began walking towards the gates, and after one last glance at the gang, Atem followed after him. Adjusting the bag as they rounded a corner, Atem glanced at Yuugi, and found Yuugi looking at him. He looked as though Atem had caught him mid-glance, and they both quickly looked away from each other. 

"School good?" Atem asked, still looking the other way with a studious expression. As soon as he had asked the question, he winced over it.

Yuugi gave a soft chuckle, watching Atem out of the corner of his eyes, "School was good, except for losing my phone," The gentle tone more than anything else had Atem slowly looking back at Yuugi, "How was your day?"

"It's been good," Atem smirked, "Except for upsetting Bakura," He fidgeted with the bag-strap for a moment, blood feeling like quicksand, and thoughts just as slow, "I dueled Kaiba."

"That's why he wasn't at school, then," Yuugi shook his head, "I worry about his attendance almost as much as Ryou's."

There was a nervous check in Atem's smile, but he couldn't help it, arching an eyebrow at Yuugi, "I thought we didn't gossip."

"Well," Yuugi rolled his eyes, "I won't tell if you won't," There was a low silence between them, before Yuugi took a deep breath, bracing himself, and it was like the world was trying to swallow Atem whole, opening up beneath him all over again. Atem fell to a stop, but Yuugi hadn't noticed, beginning carefully, "Atem-kun, I-"

"I can't date you," Atem yelped, the words startled out of him. Eyes squeezed shut, Atem continued, an apologetic rush tumbling out of him,  "It's not that I don't like you, because I don't not like you, I just can't date you-"

"I can't either."

"What?" Atem blinked his eyes open.

"I can't date you," Yuugi clarified, face burning and one foot scuffing at the ground. Despite that, he was staring at Atem uncertainly, "School rules," He gave a shaky shrug, and a shakier smile that didn't quite stick, "Honda-kun got in so much trouble with Miho-chan," Yuugi pulled at his sleeves, tugging them straight, "Um- S-so, what's your reason?"

Atem's skull felt rattled, the universe deliberately tossing him all over the place, "Huh?"

"Why can't you date me?" Yuugi studied his shoes, "If it's not- me."

"It's not you," It felt like his words were stumbling on the way out of his mouth, "You can't date me?"

"Um- well," Still staring down at his shoes, Yuugi bit his lip, "I can, but I shouldn't," Atem's eyes narrowed, unsure what to make of that, and Yuugi continued, face still flushed, "I wasn't trying to make fun of you, or- I don't know- mess with you; I did mean it, but," Yuugi fidgeted with his sleeves again, "Since you can't, I thought it might be easier if I- you know," Yuugi swallowed, "Made it easier."

"That doesn't make anything easier," Atem protested, scratching a hand through his fringe and leaving it in a tangle. Yuugi didn't look up, still staring at the ground miserably, and Atem shrank on the spot, "I- I'm leaving," That made Yuugi look up in alarm and Atem hurriedly waved both hands, "Not now! I mean, in six months, I'm going-" How to put this? "Back to Egypt."

Yuugi's face was a messy blush now, eyes far too bright and Atem had the horrible feeling Yuugi had been about to cry.

Atem flinched, "I'm sorry, it's not fair on you."

"On me?" Yuugi looked askance, voice sore, and Atem almost took a step back.

"Yes," He instead held his ground, "I can, but I shouldn't, because I can't-" Atem hesitated, the expression on Yuugi's face inscrutable, "I don't want to hurt you."

Yuugi's eyebrows furrowed, mouth setting in a thin line, "You really are egotistical," There was anger in that voice, and Yuugi blew his breath out in a soft huff, expression clearing, "Okay," Yuugi shut his eyes, running a hand through his fringe, "I shouldn't date you, and you shouldn't date me," It was stated as though reading out a series of rules, and Atem nodded slowly, but all that did was make Yuugi tip his head on the side, "Would you like to go out sometime," There was a brief pause, and Yuugi clarified, "On a date, I mean."

It felt like his chest was being crumpled in, "I just said I don't want to hurt you."

"I can handle myself," Yuugi interrupted, "I still like you," He paused, before chiding Atem irritably, "Even though you're making decisions for me," Yuugi shrugged a shoulder, an unsure, regretful look flickering on his face, "I just want to know how you feel, but you keep avoiding it," Yuugi looked down at the floor, "You won't say if you like me, but if I ask you, if you don't like me, you insist that's not it."

"I-" He didn't know what to do with his hands, "Of course I like you; you mean the world to me," The ache that had dug itself into Atem all day settled, and he went limp, staring at Yuugi helplessly. Tension finally relaxing in Atem's muscles, he gave a useless shrug, the bag sliding down his shoulder, "Of course I like you," He repeated it again, eyebrows furrowing, as confused as ever, staring down at the floor, "Of course I do.

"Hey," Yuugi leaned forward, brushing at Atem's hand to get his attention, and Atem's head snapped up like he'd been stung, "Sorry," Yuugi faltered.

"I-" Atem stared at Yuugi, "I like you."

"I like you too," Yuugi murmured, reaching out to resettle the strap of the bag on Atem's shoulder, "Would you like to visit the museum," Yuugi leaned back, a smile finally reaching his face, "With me," He looked to the side, blowing his fringe away from his face before continuing, "On a date, I- um- mean."

Atem scuffed his shoe against the ground, still looking remarkably like a deer dazzled in the headlights, "Yes, please," He managed, at last. He sounded ridiculous, like he was out of breath, like he'd been walking for days and Yuugi gave a nervous giggle, "Hey," Atem's confused expression cleared enough for him to scowl at Yuugi, "It's not funny."

"You really are," Yuugi's smile had curled into a grin, and Atem rolled his eyes, face burning as he hitched the bag-strap more securely on his shoulder. Yuugi was still laughing softly, one eyebrow raised, "I can't believe you said please."

Chapter Text


Digging his foot into the ground to steady himself, Atem let his swing drift back and forth, "Honestly, I expected more kids at a park." He admitted, with a laugh. He gazed across the play equipment, snorting, "this place is downright deserted; everyone can't be at after school clubs."

"It's getting cold," Yuugi pointed out, swinging loosely next to Atem. Their rhythms slid in and out of tandem, cutting across each other, and meeting in broken patterns. "Plus, exams..."

Yuugi's face twisted, like he'd bitten into a lemon, and Atem gave a wry grin. "Am I keeping you from studying?"

"No," Yuugi insisted, before breaking into a soft smile, "I already know I'm flunking maths." He laughed at himself, the sound gentle. "I guess that's embarrassing? The King of Games is lousy with numbers," he huffed, "it's just- I'm fine with word problems, but once it gets abstract, it's like trying to hold a bar of soap! With my head!"

"Well who wouldn't have trouble with that," Atem snorted, remembering a long night of helping Yuugi pore over a textbook. It had occupied that strange, growing grey area between duelling together, and their early friendship. A shared a love of games, and an equally shared sense of helplessness with maths homework. He couldn't help but smile at the memory.

"Exactly," Yuugi beamed back at Atem, scuffing his foot into the ground, and pushing a little to increase his swing, but the circle of it looped a little. Their hips bumped with a jangle of metal. "Hey, Atem..." Atem waited, but Yuugi only bit his lip slowly, he was about to prompt his friend.

Boyfriend, a treacherous part of Atem murmured, and Atem shoved that down deeply. One date - and how that treacherous part of himself sang that one - did not mean dating.

"Yuugi?" he prompted, gently, pushing his foot against the ground to steady the tremor of the swing.

Yuugi had been watching Atem with a strange expression, but at the prompt, Yuugi laughed gently, even gingerly. "Your Japanese is so natural sometimes, I forget," Yuugi smile was soft, gazing at Atem through his eyelashes, eyes lidded against the fading sunlight. "I wasn't sure if I could call you Atem," Yuugi admitted, managing to sound shy and playful in the same breath.

It struck Atem that Yuugi had only called him by his name -- cleanly, simply -- once.

"Oh," Atem said meekly, the swing swaying under him. How long had he been forgetting to append Yuugi's name? How often had it just-- slipped out of him? He swallowed, digging his foot in, steadying. "Can--"

"Yes," Yuugi's answer came eagerly, even hungrily. He pushed his foot into the ground to move closer to Atem, the swing creaking under his hands. "Can I?" Yuugi leaned in, eyes bright.

"Yes, yes," Atem's own answer bubbled up immediately, spilling out of him as much as he presses back towards Yuugi. They stare at each other across the thinning space. "I'd like that," Atem said finally.

It sinks in. Atem is his name. His ren. He may have left it in the afterlife, but it's still here with him. It's in his hands, on Yuugi's lips, and still here; he is still the same person. He is still Atem.

They sink in. The space between them was quiet, and the sunlight only a gorgeous amber, that makes Yuugi's eyes glow, and Atem's skin look golden. It shines when Atem reached a hand out to brush Yuugi's face, cupping it.

They can touch. It sinks in, and the swingset whines as they dig their feet in, pushed towards each other, and just kiss.

It feels more like Atem's first kiss, though it isn't, and he feels clumsy, though he probably is. There's an electric nervousness running up and down his spine. Yuugi only tightens his fingers on the swing, causing an aching metal sound. Atem almost wanted to pull away, and apologize, when Yuugi's tongue pressed against his lips.

A startled, thirsting sound lit up in Atem's throat, and he opened his mouth carelessly, so carelessly. They push together, closer, a little more desperately, a little more wanting, a little less afraid. Noses brushing in an awkward bump that didn't stop Yuugi muffling a laugh against Atem's mouth. Instead, Yuugi's hand hooked on Atem's wrist, holding him steady, as Yuugi turned his head into the next push, pressing just a little deeper.

Atem's toe scuffed in the dirt, footing lost and his swing dropped away, back to its place, disconnecting them.

Blinking, Atem's tongue darted out over his lips. They stung, like a fresh bruise, and Yuugi looked a little transfixed. The bright iris drawn tight around his pupils, gaze heavy and dark, like an eclipse, attention focused tensely on Atem.

"You're really pretty," Yuugi said awkwardly, before his eyes widened a fraction. "Handsome. You're really handsome."

Face burning, Atem dropped his gaze hard, hanging his head with an strangled laugh. "You're really pretty too." Fringe tangled in front of him, Atem had to comb it back hurriedly when he looked at Yuugi again. "I like you."

"I like you too," Yuugi's smile was so warm, Atem's blood fizzled softly in his chest. Gingerly, he reached out and Yuugi hurriedly went to take Atem's hands, linking their fingers together. His heart should be racing, it should be pounding, it should be a pulsing flurry and if it's in Yuugi, then Atem can feel it in Yuugi's fingertips. Insistent, insistent, the tide of the river tugging at Atem's thoughts.

Atem thought he should pull his hand away, and instead he stayed still, Yuugi's fingers closed in his.

The sunlight was pink on Atem's face, warming it when the chill settled into his back, prickling down his neck. Yuugi shivered next to him, and that brought Atem back to himself again. "It's getting late," Atem said finally letting go of Yuugi's warm hand.

"It's just winter," Yuugi argued, but he got to his feet with Atem.

"Then it's getting cold," Atem laughed, picking Yuugi's bag up from by their feet. "Let me walk you home."

It was cold though, unfavourably cool, and the chill that had dug its nails down the nape of Atem's neck was still there. The two of them trotted along the familiar path back to Yuugi's home, and whilst Yuugi seemed comfortable in the quiet, Atem felt apprehensive. It was still fall, and the cold was chasing at Atem's heels. Winter giving way to spring, to summer, to leaving, and here he was so thoughtlessly.

"So where do you live?" Yuugi asked, voice light, interrupting Atem's wary thoughts.

"Oh," Atem hesitated. The Internet Café with its padded floors, and dim blue lighting coming back to mind. "It's pretty temporary."

"Uhuh," no, Atem hadn't imagined it, Yuugi was watching him from the corner of his eye. "So, like a hotel?"

"Yes." He was currently living in the cheapest place that still had shower facilities, and given Yuugi's unusual suspicion, Atem hedged the difference. "It's not fancy."

"I'm not judging," Yuugi laughed at him. "I was just wondering how far it is, since it's getting dark so quickly." It was-- and again Atem had that flash of instincts; winter coming in too quickly, too dark and too cool in the air. "We have a guest room, if it's too far," Yuugi's voice was prompting, and Atem's eyebrows furrowed.

"No, I-" Winter. What did that mean, if Anubis had drawn out an old, and alien summer? "It's not far. I'm alright."


There was his name. Bright in Yuugi's mouth, and Atem can taste it; has tasted it.

"You know you're always welcome, right, Atem?" Yuugi's hand reached out, and nestled in Atem's, fingers tangling together in knots.

Atem nodded haltingly, face burning.

Then like water pouring down Atem's spine, he remembers this was not the only time Yuugi has said his name. Yuugi had said it before, in the heat of the memory world, the ceremonial duel rising like Sirius in the sky.

Pulling his hand away, Atem came to a slow stop. "I- I'm actually going--" He gestured pathetically to a random direction.

"You're going that way?" Yuugi laughed, muffling it behind his hand, and it was a damn shame. Atem would have liked to hear it more than-- more than he would. "Guess that's goodbye, then." Yuugi reached for his bag, and it slid down Atem's shoulder, and into Yuugi's hands like a thought.

Atem's dead; he can't do this, and he has anyway.

Turning quickly, heedlessly, Atem cupped Yuugi's jaw and kissed him again. Just one more time, because this was borrowed time. This was borrowed feelings. There was heat in it, the desperation of a destiny draw, the adrenaline of battle, like Atem was fighting to hold onto Yuugi, and Yuugi was sand glittering between his fingertips.

They pulled apart, gulping. Yuugi's eyelashes fluttered in a flash-blink, startled.

Atem went still, swallowing hard. "I'm--"

Yuugi cut the apology off; friendly, kind, smiling at Atem, but firmly-- "Now that was some goodbye, Atem." Bouncing against Atem, practically knocking their noses together, Yuugi pecked him on the lips proudly. "You should come to dinner this weekend."

There was no room to argue, to be busy, to be anything, because with that Yuugi darted off down the street, backpack swinging wildly until he got it on his shoulders. Watching him, Atem saw Yuugi turn back enough to wave at him brightly, and awkwardly, Atem held a hand up and wiggled it in reply.

The slightest touch of cold felt almost burning at his bare fingertips, and he knew he should have gone back to Anubis' shrine, Atem knew that. That was why he had come to this part of the town, to see what had caused the cold, if anything. To talk himself back into dying, but staring down the pathway to the shrine, he-- he wasn't sure only his heart was missing, because what heart he had wasn't in this.

No, not even that, Atem realized, still staring out at the edge of the trees. He didn't want to. He didn't want to. He didn't want to go out there, and die. He didn't want to die. He didn't want to die..

The feeling dug into Atem's ribcage; painful, and twinging deep. He didn't want to die. Atem wasn't ready to go. He can't have this, he can't have Yuugi, and he can't have laughter, and he was taking, taking so much of this, and so much of Yuugi because he wanted it, and he wanted it badly. The nerve to step into the light not just once, but over and over again was too much, was--

It was unnerving, and Atem couldn't do it. Not tonight. Not tonight, when Yuugi had kissed him. Not when he'd kissed Yuugi. Not when the warmth of Yuugi was still there, an echo on his lips and in his fingertips. No part of him was willing to die tonight, and so he turned away from the dark of the forest.

He returned to the internet café, stopping at the vending machine. The drink was cool in his hands, and the café was too warm, against the chill of outside. The computer sat dark, and to the side, and after a moment spent, leaning back against the padded wall, Atem finally moved the cursor. Already Kaiba's changes had taken effect -- Kazama Shunsuke was wiped away, leaving Atem sa-Re behind. Again, there was that burst of recognition. His name was Atem.

Atem studied his profile, and his win-rating; Kaiba hadn't stripped one match away, leaving Atem's ranking intact. However, at the top of his screen, in blinking red was the message icon.

Duel NetWork – Atem sa-Re - [1] Messages - HIGH PRIORITY

Only extremely high-profile duelists could send high priority messages. Official tournaments, win-rates that more than tripled Atem's makeshift score. 

"Kaiba...?" Atem questioned under his breath, finally cracking his drink open, as he double-clicked on the link.

[IM: ♚ Yuugi Mutou] You got DN~!
[IM: ♚ Yuugi Mutou] (●っゝω・)っ~☆HELLO☆

♚ Yuugi Mutou has sent you a Duel Request!

[IM: ♚ Yuugi Mutou] Loser buys the other ice-cream? ( ´ ▽ ` )b

The crown, stark black against Yuugi's name, startled Atem. No wonder it was noted as high priority, and yet--


Atem sa-Re has declined the Duel Request!

The rejection sat on Atem's screen for a little too long, and he bit his lip. Pushing his drink away, Atem hurriedly typed into the chatbox. 

[IM: Atem sa-Re] maybe another time?
[IM: Atem sa-Re] a little bit tired...

Yuugi Mutou is typing . . .

That sat there for a long time, the period marks blinking at Atem like warning lights-- before finally. 

[IM: ♚ Yuugi Mutou] haha (゚ω゚;)
[IM: ♚ Yuugi Mutou] it is pretty late...

Relieved, Atem typed out his reply, the breath he'd been holding and hadn't noticed huffing out of him. 

[IM: Atem sa-Re] sorry
[IM: Atem sa-Re] Sleep well <3

He hesitated over the heart, before finally editing it, and trying something different.

[IM: Atem sa-Re] Sleep well xx
[IM: ♚ Yuugi Mutou] you too (/ω\)

Finally relaxing, Atem leaned back in his spot with a long sigh. He rubbed his hand down his face. Turning away from the monitor, Atem took a long gulp from his drink, and when he finally looked back up at the screen, maybe his heart didn't drop into his stomach, but something did.

[IM: ☆ Malik Ishtar] Since you haven't picked you phone up for four hours, I'll be in Japan in a few days, and you owe me a lot of answers.

He met Malik at the airport, in a strange mirror of their goodbye, but where Malik had once been open and sincere with him, the man who met Atem this time was angry, resistant, avoiding Atem despite having flown all this way to speak with him. At least, Atem thought so, until Malik clarified as coldly as he could that he was having dinner with his sister that night, and so Atem would be talking to him now, and not later.

Malik was angry, angular, as he sat down on the hotel bed, and gestured Atem into the chair across from him. He'd stated, furiously, that he was Atem's loyal servant, but Malik's glancing hand movement at the chair had been imperious. Commanding even. They stared at each other for a moment, Atem rubbing the now healed bitemark on his hand, before he tried to speak up, "Malik, I wish that--"

"You need to tell me the truth," Malik spat at him, and Atem went still, eyes round. "I can't do this unless I know what really happened. I remember things that didn't happen, I can't sleep, I can't do anything, and you owe me the truth." Malik's violet eyes were strobe, burning, and framed by the the winged kohl. "You know you owe me that."

"You won't believe me," Atem said softly, and Malik sneered at him.

"You're dead, and souls are real, what's less believable than that?" Malik's nose crinkled, before he insisted, "I need the truth, Pharaoh." The title was almost thrown in Atem's face. "Everything I thought I knew about my life is only half the story, isn't it?" Malik stared at him, waiting for confirmation, and Atem's silence seemed to be what he was searching for. "What happened in Battle City?"

It was halting, and it was slow, but Atem began -- not with Battle City, but with Duelist Kingdom. The story was imperfect, clumsy even; Atem has never really been good at recitation, and he has to double back a few times to clarify a point, things he'd forgotten or overlooked but Malik wouldn't, and when he was finished, Malik was watching him with a disbelieving look.

"I said you wouldn't believe me."

"I can believe everything, it's you I can't believe," Malik's voice burst out of him, shuddering. "The Spell...?" That one question is soft, hurt-- "You used me."

"I didn't want to be forgotten, I wouldn't have chosen this," he protested. The sealed memories had been as agonizing as when he'd sealed his own. 

"You used me. After everything we went through, you still came to us for help, and then--"

"I was trying to leave you alone," Atem insisted, "I just want to..." he couldn't say he wanted to die. He didn't want to die. That was still a song in his blood, the memory of Yuugi kissing him back. The quick-sharp kiss to his mouth, the tangle of their hands, contact points rooting him to place. "I... wouldn't have come to help if I didn't need it."

"You needed my help, and you lied to me to get it."

Atem couldn't bear the accusation easily, glaring at Malik. "I was trying to just leave! As quickly as possible, as soon as possible--"

"Does that matter?" Malik's fingers are digging into the sheet cover. "You knew all of that about me, and you didn't think--" he stopped. "You haven't told any of them," Malik said with mingled disgust and realization. "Not one of them knows. Bakura doesn't know, Anzu doesn't, Kaiba doesn't, Yuugi--"

It burst out of Atem, frantic and frightened and fierce, "they shouldn't have to deal with it twice. It's my problem, and I wouldn't have even included you."

"Yeah, but you're still here," Malik snarled. "You're still here, and you still came to me, and-- we were friends, Atem! I thought you were my friend!" He was on his feet, blazing with anger, and Atem stood up to meet the ferocity with his own.

"You are my friend," Atem shouted.

And it was true. Yes, Malik was controlling, fierce, bright-- someone who had taken coffee that Atem didn't want, someone who'd tried to share help with him, someone who hadn't known him, had never met him, but had wanted to help him. Someone Atem had been close to in his time here.

"You wanted to help me before," Atem said softly. "What's different now?"

Malik was still watching him, angry but not suspicious, ferocious but not distant. They had to still be friends, or else-- "You didn't give me a choice," his eyes were flashing, strobe-bright, "there was all this history between us, and you buried it -- the way I was buried -- to make it easier for you."

Atem couldn't deny that, and yet, "it was easier for you too. I did it for you."

There was a long stare from Malik, before he dropped back into his spot, slumping. "This-" his head dropped into his hands. "This isn't easier." Malik was shaking, trembling, and Atem could hear it in the sound of his earrings shuddering with each twitch. "This isn't easier, and it's fucked up that you can't see that, that you won't apologize--" he looked up at Atem again, face flushed, but eyes clear. "What are you going to do when everyone finds out?"

"They won't--"

"Yes they will," Malik said firmly. "After you leave, all our memories will come back. When you're gone, we're going to remember you, and everyone's going to know you lied to them. That you hurt them. And you won't even be here when they remember that."

Atem went still, struck. He had hidden so much, but Malik was right; the spell was not permanent. 

"We're not friends, Atem," Malik's voice was quiet. "Not anymore."

The quiet was overwhelming at first, before Malik's voice, dim with professionalism continued. "So, the Gods you spoke to-- they believe Yuugi is your ba?"

Dull, still struck, Atem shook his head numbly. "Yuugi doesn't belong to anyone..."

Malik sighed, and rolled his eyes, but seemed to think better of being sharp with Atem. Instead clarified, "but functionally, it makes sense? He's the part of your soul that was born into the next life." A pause. "Like Bakura, and the Ring Spirit?"

"Like Set and Seto," Atem still felt slow, as if he were swimming in blood. His movements clotted, were slow, as he brushed his fringe out of his eyes. "Like your sister, and the High Priestess. Like Siamun and Grandpa." His eyebrows furrowed. "The right to the Puzzle- the God Pyramid, the power over the God-Ka, my... my heart. Those are things he carried with him into his life."

"Then you can't exist," Malik argued. "You shouldn't exist. You can't be here, and yet--" he gesticulated wildly for the window, "there."

Atem could only shrug faintly, because he shouldn't exist, and he knew that.

"Do you even know if you can share the heart, or-- what are you going to do to Yuugi?" Malik demanded. He was on his feet again, pacing the length of the room. "Did you think about any of this, before--"

Atem's gaze snapped up, boring into Malik's, and his voice was a blaze in his throat. "I am not going to steal Yuugi's heart," he spat at Malik. "We shared a body once -- we share two now, thanks to the Ceremonial Duel," its accord between them, the careful balance of Atem's submission, and Yuugi's control. That was chilling, that was terrifying; even the risk of winning and shattering one of them. But which one?

He shuddered, and turned away. Atem had turned down the duel Yuugi had wanted, not once, not twice, but over and over now. Walking into the light was a hardship, but walking into the darkness? Atem could do that. He could do that as many times as he needed to.

"So what?" Malik waited a beat, teeth still bared, but obviously faltering a little against Atem's own anger. "You think the Ceremonial Duel will-- what? Allow you to both share the heart?"

"I'm not taking his heart," Atem said flatly.

"Then you're dead, no," Malik sneered, "you're worse than dead. You'll drown between the shores, you'll go into limbo." He turned towards the window, staring out across Domino City. "What's the point of all this if you were always dead?" Malik asked, voice fine, delicate as a razor.

It was cruel, and it was cruel where it settled in Atem's chest. It was familiar though. Something he had tasted before.

"...I think we are friends," Atem determined slow, soft as a shadow. "Or you wouldn't be trying to hurt me so badly." Another beat, barely a breath. "I'm sorry."

"Mm..." Malik didn't react to the apology, instead brushing past to Atem's explanation. "Is that how it works? We hurt the people we love?" Malik set a hand on his hip, still gazing out across the lights of the city. They were strung together, chained like liquid that gathered, glowed. Bathed in the afterlight of the city, Atem felt too aware of the darkness Malik had been born in, what his father had done to his back, and what his Other Self had done back. "Maybe," Malik said finally, "but that's not why I'm hurting you."

The darkness was bright in the room, staining into the corners as the city-light poured in through the window.

"You have to decide if you want to walk into the light, or drown in the darkness," Malik's voice was smooth, steady, even as he touched a hand against the cool glass. "You know it. I know it. I just don't know which path leads where..."

"Neither do I," Atem murmured, gaze turning off to the side. "I didn't come here to tear Yuugi's heart out." There was an odd feeling -- Ryou's warning fluttering at Atem's attention. "I'm not trying to hurt anyone."

"Mh," Malik glanced back at Atem from the corner of his eye. "Things just seem to happen that way, don't they?"