the_goldenpath: made by <lj user="colorcube"> (Yu-Gi-Oh! - Puzzleshipping fics 2)
[personal profile] the_goldenpath
Title: Hikari (part 1 in the Colors of Heaven & Hell series)
Fandom: Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters
Characters: Mutou Yuugi & Yami no Yuugi/Atemu
Prompt: #73, Light
Word count: 9.304
Rating: G
Warnings: none
Summary: Yuugi enters a prestigious Duel Monsters tournament to help pay for his grandfather’s surgery with the prize money. The major participants are the owners of the famous God Cards, including the mysterious Yami, a ruthless duelist with a dark, deadly past and who has his own reasons for winning…
Author’s note: This is the first installment in a series of fics following the prompts of the Fanfic100 challenge @ LiveJournal, containing a color (red, orange, yellow, green etc...). The colors will be named in either Japanese or Ancient Egyptian (I’m not a native speaker, but I thought it fit the theme). ‘Iwen’ is Ancient Egyptian for ‘colors’. The entire series will contain fluff, drama, angst, some emo, waff, lots of friendship, strong!independent!Yuugi and dark!asshole!Yami (he’ll get better, sort of). Almost everything about the Duel Monsters game in this fic is made up by yours truly. I’m too old to learn the proper rules of the game, so I invoke my artistic license. Made-up first name for Yuugi’s mother: Sumiko. Please read in the designated sequence, starting with part 0 (Colourless). Feedback is, as always, greatly appreciated.

Key: ----- = scene change





--------------------------------



“That was the last customer for today, Yuugi-kun?”

“Yes kaa-san, I’m going to close up shop now.”

“Dinner will be ready soon.”

Mutou Yuugi nodded at his mother as she closed the door. The unique layout of the building connected the Game Shop to the living quarters of the Mutou family; one of the reasons why Yuugi’s grandfather, Mutou Sugoroku, had fallen in love with the quaint construction. Yuugi heaved a small sigh as soon as his mother had left. She meant well and she was kind enough to help out during busy moments, but it reminded him painfully about the stressful situation the family was in. It used to be his grandfather who ran the shop and Yuugi was supposed to be at school, with his mother in charge of the household. But since a couple of months, the elderly man had been plagued by severe back pain and the best option was an extremely complicated and expensive surgery. The modest Game Shop didn’t generate enough income to pay for it and Yuugi’s mother, Mutou Sumiko, had gone through all their paperwork only to find out that their insurance didn’t cover such a specific procedure.

Yuugi looked at the cash register. It had been a moderate day today, with no excessive profits, unfortunately. He had a solid reputation of being excellent with games, but he didn’t put a price tag on his knowledge. When people asked for his opinion or tips on whatever game, he never demanded money for his time or sharing his experience. But on the other hand, giving out free advice didn’t pay the monthly bills. It was the simple truth that they needed cold, hard cash to keep things afloat. A good relationship with customers was nice, but to have money was even nicer… and lots of money, to pay for Sugoroku’s surgery. Yuugi closed up shop and after taking care of the necessarily business administration, he went upstairs. Delicious smells wafted from the kitchen and eagerly, Yuugi went inside, to be greeted by his grandfather, already sitting at the table.

“Yuugi! How did it go today?”

“Not that many customers, jii-chan,” Yuugi said. “A sudden rush in the last hour, but in general, it was so-so.”

The elderly man looked a bit disappointed. “The tournament’s getting closer and closer. There’s not much time left to build a deck!”

Yuugi disagreed. “A month to prepare is quite long, jii-chan. Most duelists will have their decks finished by now. The customers buying cards and booster packs now are the ones interested in the game because of the upcoming tournament.”

“Yuugi-kun, you don’t have time to participate in a tournament, remember?” His mother piped up immediately as she put dishes on the table. Sugoroku and Yuugi exchanged a look that was a strange mixture between amusement and annoyance. Sumiko didn’t think highly of games and gaming in general, and thought that Duel Monsters was ‘weird’ and ‘scary’. Ever since the tournament had been announced over three weeks ago, Yuugi wanted to participate, come hell or high water.

He had his grandfather’s blessing, now he only had to think of a solution to keep the Game Shop open. He couldn’t abandon the store, not with a tournament in full swing. Customers would drop by to buy cards and booster packs at the last moment; if he closed up store, he would miss out on the profit! He simply couldn’t afford to just go out and play a game… but it wasn’t ‘just’ a game. This tournament offered prize money to the first three winners, and the third prize alone would be a tremendous asset to pay for Sugoroku’s surgery. Yuugi’s usual smile faltered a little. Many customers had asked him if he was going to participate. A hint of bitterness was visible on his face, but he covered it up quickly. He hadn’t chosen to drop out of school, neither as his grandfather had chosen to get a bad back. Sugoroku could barely walk, and even sitting was hurting him. His grandfather was in agonizing pain all day without a single complaint and here he was, whining about not being able to play a game! Choosing to ignore his mother’s comment, Yuugi picked up his chopsticks. His “Itadakimasu!” was slightly less enthusiastic than usual.


----------------------------



“So, what do you think, Yuugi?” Jounouchi Katsuya looked at him expectantly. On the counter was the authentic Duel Monsters board game, laid out between them, and even though Jounouchi was losing, he was taking it with great sportsmanship. “Am I good enough to enter the tournament?”

“Jounouchi,” Anzu said, “what are you thinking? You just started training!”

“Hey, just because I’m losing to Yuugi doesn’t mean I’m a loser,” Jounouchi protested. “It’s neigh impossible to win from him!”

“You’ve come very far in a couple of weeks, Jounouchi-kun,” Yuugi said. “Why don’t you give it a try?”

“I just might,” he grinned, before pulling a serious face. “What about you, Yuugi? Are you in?”

“My grandfather is fine with me participating, but my mother… I can’t close the Game Shop. I’d miss out on sales.”

“That’s just awful, Yuugi,” Honda said. “We know how much your heart lies with this game. It would be amazing if you could enter!”

“Yeah, I’d really love to,” Yuugi said, forcing himself to smile brightly as usual, “but as long as my grandfather can’t work, it’s of no use. I can’t ask my mother. She doesn’t know half the things necessary to keep the store open.”

“You can ask us,” Jounouchi suddenly said. “We can deal with things here while you’re off to the tournament. We can’t cheer you on while you’re dueling, but at least you wouldn’t have to worry about the store!”

“But… guys, you don’t know how everything works,” Yuugi said, flabbergasted.

“Anzu is smart enough to handle the register.” Jounouchi pointed at the girl. “And thanks to your training, I know much more about Duel Monsters than the average customer. Honda can keep an eye on things, if or when it gets crowded.”

Yuugi was flustered with the spontaneous offer. What if… what if he could really enter the tournament, and have a chance at the prize money? That would be amazing!

“Come on Yuugi, you work so hard,” Anzu said. “You had to drop out of school to help provide for your family. You’ve been working non-stop, and you love Duel Monsters so much. It’s not every day that a tournament is being held!”

“True that,” Yuugi said. “The last time was Duelist Kingdom, two years ago.”

“Yes, all the way on some remote island, so we couldn’t even go,” Jounouchi pouted. “But this one is in Domino City of all places, right here!”

“Plus, the prize money would be amazing,” Honda said.

“Yuugi loves the game for what it is, not for the money,” Anzu scolded Honda. She turned her head to look at him, and added, a little sheepishly: “Though I’m sure you could use it well.”

“One hundred thousand yen…” Yuugi said. “I guess that would suffice to pay for jii-chan’s surgery.”

“Imagine,” Jounouchi said. “You win the tournament, get the money, pay for your grandfather’s surgery so he can work at the store again, and you can go back to school to finish your education. That’s totally win-win, don’t you think?”

“I’m not sure if I can win the tournament, Jounouchi-kun.”

“Nonsense! You’re the best Duelist around, everyone knows that. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people are going to drop out as soon as they hear you’re going to enter.”

“That would be unfair, Jounouchi-kun, and besides, I haven’t…”

“If you teach me how to operate the register, I’ll be in charge of the money,” Anzu interrupted him. “You know these two bozos can’t even add and subtract, and I’m trustworthy.”

“You all are!” Yuugi protested, even though he knew Anzu was right; she was just that bit more focused and careful than the others.

“I don’t know as much about Duel Monsters as you or Jounouchi, so like he said, he can answer any questions about the game, and Honda can keep an eye on things. If you make sure there’s plenty of stock, I don’t see a problem? It would be lovely if we could cheer you on in person, but well, we can’t have it both ways.”

Yuugi was getting warmed up to the idea. He trusted his friends unconditionally and they were perfectly capable of running the store for a couple of days. What a perfect solution!

“Plenty of people have already registered,” Honda said. “It’s going to be exciting to meet all these participants, including the champions!”

“Insector Haga, Dinosaur Ryuzaki, just to name a few,” Yuugi summed the names up. “Kaiba himself of course, and Yami.”

“The world champion, right?”

“Yes. He has a God Card: Osiris no Tenku Ryuu.”

“A God Card? Osiris?” Anzu looked from one to another. “What does that mean?”

“The creator of Duel Monsters is an American, Pegasus J. Crawford,” Yuugi explained. “He has designed all the monsters, including three Gods, based upon Ancient Egyptian mythology. If I’m not mistaken: Ra no Yoku Shin Ryuu, Obelisk no Kiyoshinhen and Osiris no Tenku Ryuu. Ra, Obelisk and Osiris. They’re destined to be wielded only by the best duelists.”

“So this Yami has a God Card because he’s such a good duelist?”

“One of the best, if not the best,” Yuugi said. “He isn’t a world champion for nothing.”

“I think this goes a little over my head,” Anzu said. “It’s just a game.”

“Yeah, but just like any game, the stakes can be high. Very high… this Yami, well, some rumors go around…” Honda’s voice trailed off.

“Rumors? Like what?”

“He’s Kaiba’s ex-boyfriend,” Jounouchi said. Anzu pursed her lips into a silent ‘o’. Yuugi arched an eyebrow. This was news to him.

“Kaiba owns the second God Card, Obelisk.”

“Juicy,” Anzu said.

“Wait a minute… is he holding the tournament just in the hopes of winning a God Card from his former boyfriend?” Honda said.

“Who knows? Kaiba has the ego of an entire continent. I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“No, it’s not that,” Yuugi said. “It was Otogi-kun's idea, and even though I’m sure Kaiba-kun wants another God Card, he’s a fair and honorable duelist. I think that his motive is merely profit and to showcase his technology. KaibaCorp. delivers all the equipment and software. He has probably sold the broadcasting rights of the finals to every major TV channel in the country, if not worldwide.”

Anzu nodded. “That’s quite a profit to be gained. What about the third God Card? Ra?”

“That one’s a doozy,” Jounouchi said. “It’s in the hands of the eldest son of a mysterious Egyptian tribe of nomads, or so the word goes… they’re called Ishtar, and his name is Malik… Malik Ishtar is the owner of Ra, which is simply the most powerful and awesomest of all Duel Monsters.”

“It sounds like a soap opera to me,” Anzu muttered. “I’m sure that you can win, Yuugi.”

“I have to ask my mother,” Yuugi said. “I don’t want to do anything that will hurt her. It wouldn’t feel right without her permission.”

“You go ask her and let us know if we can help out, all right?”

Yuugi agreed, feeling happy and blessed to have such good friends.


------------------------------------------



“Kaa-san?”

“Yes, Yuugi-kun?” She put a large pot of oden on the table. “I’m going to get grandfather. Would you mind setting the rest of the table?”

“No problem.” Yuugi took out plates and chopsticks while his mother helped grandfather out of bed and walked him over to the kitchen, so they could have dinner together. Sugoroku greeted him and sat down. As soon as the food was served, Yuugi cleared his throat.

“Kaa-san, I want to ask something. I’d like to enter the Battle City tournament.”

“Yuugi-kun, we talked about it before,” his mother reacted sternly. “We have to keep the store open.”

“Sumiko-chan, give him a chance,” Sugoroku spoke up. “He’s working day and night at the Game Shop, ever since my back acted up. He has never complained.”

“I know,” she said, a bit embarrassed. “It’s not that I don’t want you to enter, it’s that you simply can’t, Yuugi-kun. We need the money, and lots of customers will buy even more merchandise with the tournament ongoing.”

“Let me sit at the counter,” Sugoroku suggested. “I can handle it. People can come up to me, I can operate the register…”

She shook her head. “No, an entire day at the Game Shop is not an option. You can barely sit for an hour! No, I don’t want it to happen. I’m sorry, Yuugi-kun.”

“Sumiko-chan, the tournament is right here at Domino City. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime! Besides, what better commercial value can we get for the Game Shop, when its owner is participating in the tournament itself? It’s a marketing dream come true!”

“Don’t you think I would love for Yuugi-kun to enter the tournament, even if I think it’s a silly game?” She looked pained. “We’ve had more sales in the last two weeks than almost two years! We are in serious need of that money.”

“What if we wouldn’t need to close the Game Shop?” Yuugi asked hopefully. “Anzu, Jounouchi-kun and Honda-kun all want to help out. I can teach Anzu how to work with the register, it’s not that difficult, and Jounouchi-kun knows a lot about Duel Monsters. We can keep jii-chan on stand-by in case customers have questions about other games..?”

“I don’t see any problem with that,” Sugoroku said. “In fact, I think it’s a wonderful idea! We can trust your friends, and I’d be very grateful if they could help out. What do you think, Sumiko-chan?”

“Kaa-san?” Yuugi asked, knowing that his mother wasn’t totally convinced yet. After long minutes of pondering, she heaved a dramatic sigh.

“I felt horrible ever since I heard of that tournament because I knew you wanted to enter, Yuugi-kun… and I felt awful saying ‘no’. I really know how much it means to you… but this is a very nice solution, something I can live with. I still rather have you in the store, but I trust your friends.”

“So get your ass behind the computer, to register for the tournament!” Sugoroku looked ecstatic.

Sumiko let the use of the word ‘ass’ slip and dinner continued, Yuugi eating his oden far too fast, as he couldn’t wait to get online and register.


--------------------------------



“Ta-dah!” Yuugi showed the printed confirmation of his registration to his friends. Jounouchi slapped his shoulder.

“Awesome! Finally! You’ve entered the battling arena!”

“It’s great public relations for the Game Shop too, or so my grandfather thinks,” Yuugi said. “I hope I’m not eliminated in the first round already. That would be disastrous!”

“Don’t be silly!” Honda slapped him on the other shoulder, causing Yuugi to groan. “You’ve got this in the bag, man!”

“Honda-kun, many experienced and eager duelists are participating,” Yuugi tried to temper his friend’s enthusiasm. “I’m going to need all my skills to devise a strategy against them.”

“Don’t worry, you always come up with different tactics,” Jounouchi said. “You have this uncanny ability to develop a working strategy just after seeing a player’s style only once!”

“I’m sure you already know how to defeat those pesky God Cards,” Honda said confidently.

“What are you going to do about them?” Anzu asked.

“Well, Osiris’ ATK depends on the number of cards in one’s hand,” Yuugi answered. “So the obvious goal is to lower the number of cards the player is holding. The bad thing is, when summoning another monster, Osiris automatically launches a second attack, taking out 2000 ATK from the summoned monster.”

“Those God Cards are really difficult,” Anzu said. She rummaged through her purse and took out her cell phone. “Guess what I read this morning?”

They stared at the news article displayed on her phone. “Oh wow, so it’s confirmed that Malik Ishtar is participating,” Honda read out loud. “Isn’t this guy somewhere in Egypt? What’s he doing all the way over here? I’d be sitting in my pyramid, comfy with my God Card.”

“Read on, you goof,” Anzu said. “He’s here on special invitation. He automatically placed for the top ten, just like Yami and Kaiba himself. Apparently, one God Card gets the appetite wet for another.”

Yuugi studied the picture on the cell phone. A bored-looking young man, his expression quite harsh, was flanked by a woman dressed in traditional Egyptian garb and a tall, dark tan man with piercing eyes. Which one was the owner of Ra?

“Any pictures of Yami?” he asked.

“Not as far as I’ve seen,” Anzu answered. “He’s rather eccentric, right? He doesn’t like to be photographed and he keeps mostly to himself.”

“Kaiba used to shield him from the paparazzi, back when they were together,” Jounouchi said. “Of course, he always denied that there was something between them, but believe me, they were boyfriends.”

“Soap opera,” Anzu said but she chuckled. “Alright Yuugi, let’s get to work. The tournament’s only a few days away and you have to teach me the cash register, the bank and what to do when new shipments arrive…”

“I’ll hook up a TV screen so we can watch the live broadcasts of the tournament,” Jounouchi said.

“What are you going to do, Honda-kun?” Yuugi asked, curiously.

“I’m keeping oversight,” Honda said. “And of course, I’ll make sure that every customer is treated like a king!”

“Or a queen,” Jounouchi teased him.

“Hey!”

While the others bickered, Yuugi started explaining the cash register to Anzu. She picked up quickly on the mechanics, it wasn’t a very complicated machine and he knew he could trust her to deal with money. His excitement increased. He was really going to participate! A Duel Monsters tournament, in his own town!


---------------------------------



On the first day of the tournament, Yuugi went over to the meeting point at Domino City Plaza where he had to show his registration form. In return, he would receive a brand new Kaiba Corp. Duel Disk, a limited edition of the common Duel Disk, especially designed for Battle City. Yuugi was filled with enthusiasm and eagerness. On his way to the meeting point, he saw quite a lot of people staring at him, with a rather incredulous look on their faces. He wondered if something was wrong, or if he had something on his face… but he didn’t give it too much attention and so he waited patiently in line for his Duel Disk, even if people whispered around him or pointed at his hair. As soon as he was the first in line, the woman behind the counter of the pick-up point gave him the same, incredulous look. It was getting tiresome.

“Yami, you know you don’t have to participate in the lower tiers,” she said, confusedly. “You’re automatically placed in the top ten.”

“Oh! I’m sorry, I’m not Yami, but Mutou Yuugi,” Yuugi said and he put his form on the desk. She picked up the piece of paper.

“Oh yes, I see… you sure look a lot like him, Mutou-san. Are you related?”

“Not that I know of.” Yuugi wondered if that was the reason why people had been giving him strange looks. The woman rummaged around and handed him a Duel Disk.

“Be careful,” she said. “If people think you’re Yami, they could come after you for your God Card. I don’t like to see you hurt.”

“Eh… thank you,” Yuugi stuttered. He left the pick-up point and search out a quiet spot where he could unpack the Duel Disk and put it on his arm. Yuugi admired the smooth design and the incorporated technology - the Disk kept track of everything: life points, ranking, even the location of the closest duelist. Anyone wearing a Duel Disk was perfect game to challenge. The winner collected a number of points, determined by the level and difficulty of the duel, to rise up the ranks. The winner was also entitled to take the strongest card from the loser, which raised the stakes extra high. Yuugi looked around. He saw quite a few duelists walking around, but he didn’t dare to just get into their faces and challenge them. He noticed that people still eyed him suspiciously. Maybe he should wear a nametag with “I’m not Yami, but Yuugi” on it.

However, he didn’t have to wait long before a cocky duelist walked up to him and challenged him, loudly declaring that he could take on the world champion. Yuugi told him honestly that he wasn’t Yami, but the young kid didn’t want to listen. Fifteen minutes later, the duel was over and Yuugi had amassed his first points. He didn’t want to bother with the kid’s strongest card as first - it wasn’t even as strong as the weakest monster in his own deck - but he took it after all because the boy insisted. Yuugi complimented him on his sportsmanship and encouraged him to train more. Winning his first duel, even though it had been a slam dunk, had been pretty exciting! Other duelists walked up to him, not all that naïve or reckless as the first participant, and some walked away again when they found out he wasn’t Yami. It started to grate on his nerves, but Yuugi was too excited and enthralled about the tournament to let it get to him. Instead, he took on the challenges and won; he outmatched the duelists at this level and soon enough, his points ran into the hundreds. Yuugi decided to take a break and searched out a bench at Domino City Park. He retrieved his bento box and a bottle of water from his backpack. As he enjoyed his bento, a polite voice rang out to him.

“Yuugi-kun, what a pleasant surprise to see you here!”

“Bakura-kun!” He hadn’t seen his friend in ages. “So good to see you!”

“Mind if I join you?” His former classmate smiled at him.

“Of course not, sit down, sit down please!” Yuugi scooted to the right, making more room. “How have you been?”

“Not good, not bad,” Bakura said. “I’m sorry I haven’t visited you at your Game Shop, Yuugi-kun. A lot of things have occupied my mind.”

“I heard from Anzu that you were going through a tough time.”

He nodded. “Yes. I haven’t been feeling very well, health-wise. I sleep badly, and sometimes I just… lose entire hours and I don’t know what I’ve been doing. It’s like I’m having black-outs.”

“That sounds bad, Bakura-kun. Have you seen a doctor?”

“I think it has to do with stress,” Bakura said, but he didn’t sound really convinced. “School demands a lot, and not every sensei is kind or helpful.”

“So I’ve heard,” Yuugi said, thinking back to the burly PE teacher, Karita, who bullied almost all of his students; the physically weak ones, like himself and Bakura, were his favorite to pick on. Bakura turned towards him. “I see you have a Duel Disk!”

“So have you,” Yuugi said and couldn’t keep the surprised tone out of his voice. “I didn’t know you were a Duel Monsters fan!”

“It certainly is different from tabletop RPGs,” Bakura admitted, “but the basic principle stays the same: strategy.”

“True. What kind of deck do you use?”

“Occult.” He showed Yuugi a devilish grin. “I love the supernatural. Ghosts and real monsters, nice and spooky!”

“Remind me not to duel against you,” Yuugi quipped. An uneasy feeling settled in his stomach. He didn’t care for an occult deck, but the fact that Bakura used one, was a weird and disturbing thought.

“I have to get going,” Bakura said. “I’m sure we’ll run into each other again sooner or later, Yuugi-kun. Enjoy your bento!”

“Come by at the Game Shop whenever you feel like it,” Yuugi said.

“I will,” Bakura replied and waved at him, before disappearing through the exit of the park.

Yuugi chewed on his onigiri. Somehow I’m sure we’ll run into each other again sooner or later had sounded extremely ominously, instead of friendly banter.


-----------------------------------



At the end of the day, Yuugi had over three hundred points, qualifying him for the second round of the tournament. That gave him the privilege to refuse challenges if he thought the duel would be too easy. The Duel Disk read out the points and ranking of the opponent, indicating at which level he or she was. When reaching the next level, it wasn’t possible to challenge duelists from lower levels, as to avoid huge imbalances in strength and power in the duels. It was time to go home. Yuugi was curious how his friends had fared at the Game Shop. He took the Duel Disk from his wrist and put it into his large backpack, which contained a box for the extra cards he carried with him (if/when he needed to adjust his deck), his now empty bento box, a bottle of water and a couple of snacks. His stomach groaned. To tilt him over until dinner time, Yuugi reached for one of the granola bars he packed. A large shadow fell over him - someone stood right in front of him.

“I never thought I’d see your face here,” a booming voice washed over him. A voice he recognized from the past. “But now that you’re here, hand me that God Card!”

“I’m sorry, you have the wrong person,” Yuugi said, straightening himself. “I’m not Yami, Ushio-san.”

His former bully, Tetsuo Ushio, used to be a few years his senior and he was the local terror of Domino High. The only positive thing about dropping out of school had been the fact that he would never have to see Ushio again. Now that he was face-to-face with his bully again, Yuugi refused to show his fear, but his knees started to tremble.

“Mutou.” The disdain dripped mercilessly from his words. “I never thought you’d still be alive.”

“Don’t be so cruel, Ushio-san,” Yuugi said, shocked.

“You’re such a pathetic wuss,” Ushio said in return. “When you didn’t show up at school the next semester, I thought your weak heart just stopped working.”

Disgusted, Yuugi flung his backpack over his shoulder and turned away. He didn’t want to have anything to do with this…jerk.

“So you’re a duelist too, huh?” Ushio caught up with him in one step. When Yuugi looked at him, he saw the Duel Disk strapped to Ushio’s left arm. The thought of this awful man playing his beloved game, made Yuugi almost sick.

“I see you like to play the game as well, Ushio-san,” he answered politely. He wasn’t too far from the Game Shop. Within five minutes, he could be home… but then a large ham of a hand grabbed him at the shoulder and he couldn’t move anymore.

“Interesting, that you think you stand a ghost of a chance in this tournament,” Ushio grinned. “You might’ve been lucky to gather some points, but then again, that runs in your family, doesn’t it? The Game Shop?”

“Yes, Ushio-san,” Yuugi said meekly. It had never been a secret that his grandfather owned a game store.

“Excellent. I’ll be paying you a visit tomorrow morning.” Ushio’s grin became even wider. “And you better give me a huge discount, or else I’ll break your arm.”

“Ushio-san!” Yuugi gasped.

“You heard me,” the other threatened. “You…”

“… will not do anything to him,” another voice rang out. Unfamiliar, but with a stern and undisputable tone of authority to it - even Ushio froze. He immediately let go of Yuugi, more so, he bowed to the one who had spoken.

“Karim-sama,” he said, and for a moment Yuugi thought he was going to kneel on the ground. Bewildered, he looked from one to the other and held his breath. Ushio was a big and burly bully, but this man looked like he could chop someone in two without breaking a sweat. He was tall and muscular, with shoulder-length black hair neatly held together by a narrow gold band around his head, and a tense gaze that made shivers run down Yuugi’s spine. The man was dressed in loose-fitting, comfortable clothes in light, sandy colors which contrasted his darker, tan skin.

“Be gone!” he bellowed. Ushio nodded in silence, shuffling backwards until he was out of the sight. Yuugi released the breath he was holding. He wasn’t really sure if he should feel relieved or not. The man addressed as Karim leaned into him and stared at him intently.

“Amazing,” he said. “So the rumors were true. My Master will not be pleased.”

“I’m sorry,” Yuugi said automatically.

“I will accompany you to your home,” he said.

“Thank you, but it won’t be necessary,” Yuugi declined as polite as he could. “Ushio-san is gone, and I can find my own way home…” but he knew his protests fell on deaf ears. Karim put his hand on Yuugi’s shoulder, a light touch, and moved him into the right direction. There wasn’t any threat coming from Karim, but walking next to the tall man was really weird, as if he was some kind of bodyguard. As soon as they reached the Game Shop, Yuugi craned his neck to look up at him.

“Eh, thank you…” He didn’t know what else to say. Karim tilted his head a little.

“My Master will want to talk to you soon. When his request comes, it is better not to refuse.”

With that said, he turned around and disappeared so fast that Yuugi had to rub his eyes. Was he dreaming? Was this weird stuff really happening? He had no more time to think as Jounouchi swung open the door and took him into a bear hug.

“We saw you on TV! You were awesome!”

Yuugi turned red. KaibaCorp. had the exclusive rights to broadcasting the finals, and the local news channels covered the preliminary duels. He hadn’t paid any attention to cameras, Yuugi hadn’t noticed them, too busy focusing on the game. He tried to make a quip. “They ran away as soon as they figured out I wasn’t Yami, right?”

“Well, not all of them.” Jounouchi ruffled his hair and ushered him inside. “After the initial confusion, most reporters were amazed that you gained points so fast. We got a lot of response from customers in the store!”

“The cash register is full,” Anzu said, smiling with happiness. “Jounouchi was simply awesome, he answered a lot of questions! And your grandfather was here for a while too!”

“Jii-chan? Out of bed?” Yuugi asked.

“Man, you should’ve seen him, he was so alive,” Honda said. He pointed at the large TV screen Jounouchi had put up. “We could follow you all day long.”

“Hey, who was that guy with you?” Jounouchi asked suspiciously. “He was gone so fast!”

“That guy?” Anzu asked. She hadn’t seen anyone as she stood much further away from the door.

“I think his name is Karim,” Yuugi said. “At least, that’s what Ushio-san called him.”

“Ushio?” Jounouchi yelled. “No way! Are you telling me that he’s participating too?” He had had his own run-ins with the bully, just like Honda, and he didn’t like the memories of it one bit.

“Karim, Karim…” Honda took his laptop and started typing. “That’s the name of one of Yami’s bodyguards.”

“Bodyguards? Why would someone like Yami need bodyguards?” Yuugi asked.

“Duh, God Card,” Jounouchi said.

“But still…”

“Karim and Mahaado,” Honda said. “The other bodyguard is called Mahaado. They have to make sure no one takes the precious God Card from their precious baby.”

“I think it goes a little too far if one needs protection to keep a Duel Monsters card safe,” Anzu said. “It may be normal to you, but I think it’s crazy. Kaiba has bodyguards too, but he’s the CEO of a multi-million company, so that’s understandable. I assume that guy from Egypt with the third God Card has bodyguards as well?”

“I guess so,” Jounouchi said. “But you didn’t answer my question, Yuugi.”

“Ushio-san was bothering me,” Yuugi said. “He wanted to come by the Game Shop to get cards, at a huge discount. Actually, he wanted me to give them for free.”

“That jerk!”

“He’s not going to get anything for free!” Jounouchi balled his hands into fists. “If he dares to show up, I’ll call the police!”

“I doubt he’s coming over,” Yuugi said. “Karim pretty much scared him off.” He still couldn’t believe that he had witnessed the biggest bully in Domino City grovel and obey this strange, unknown man.

“Good.” Anzu closed the cash register. “We’ll close up shop for today, Yuugi.”

“You’re all going to stay for dinner, right?” he asked, knowing that his mother had counted on it. He was glad to hear his friends answer in chorus that yes, they would love to!


--------------------------------------



The second day of the tournament started out great. The difficulty of the duels increased with each higher level, which was challenging and exhilarating - Yuugi loved the intensity of the game, he loved developing and adapting his strategy to the deck and the tactics of his opponent. To his delight, duelists recognized him as his own person, not as Yami. That didn’t stop the comparison between them, as Yuugi had the same winning streak. Obviously, the losing duelist had to leave the tournament - but Yuugi continued to win, not having lost one duel since he started, gaining points rapidly. He was enjoying himself to the fullest and reveled in the positive attention. The moment when a reporter from the local news channel interviewed him and didn’t mention Yami even once, Yuugi knew people saw him as Mutou Yuugi, who just had the bizarre coincidence to look like the world champion.

With every passing hour, with every duel won, Yuugi enjoyed himself more and more. It was so different than before and it made him feel guilty; he was playing a game while his friends, selflessly, had offered to take over the store. It was only for a few days, Yuugi reminded himself. After the tournament was over, it was back to the counter and cash register for him. For now, the possibility that he could win prize money for his grandfather’s surgery became more and more realistic, and he started to believe it himself. It strengthened his confidence and when the day was over, he had gained a lot of points, putting him at the top of the daily classification ranking.

Yuugi was on his way home when he noticed a large shadow next to him. Shivering, he feared it had to be Ushio again, ready to bother him - but when he looked up, it was Karim.

“Good afternoon, Karim-san,” Yuugi greeted him. Was the man going to accompany him again?

“Did Ushio bother you today?” he asked brusquely.

“No, Karim-san,” Yuugi answered truthfully. The former bully was nowhere to be seen; Yuugi wondered if he would look him up online and check if his name was still listed in the rankings.

“My Master asks for you.” It wasn’t a question, it was a command. Yuugi halted, not knowing how to react. He had the feeling that whatever answer he gave, it wasn’t going to deter Karim. Yuugi was far too polite to tell Karim to take his Master and shove him somewhere the sun didn’t shine. Actually, he had grown quite curious about Yami and deep down, he wanted to meet him too, if only to see what all the rumors were about.

“I really should go home, Karim-san.” He was right, his answer wasn’t deterring the other at all. The bodyguard looked unimpressed. “Let me carry that for you.” He plucked Yuugi’s backpack straight from his shoulder and before Yuugi could protest, he walked towards a large car, parked at the curb. Karim opened the door of the limousine with his free hand and waited for him to get inside. Yuugi settled into the plush upholstery. Wasn’t this the kind of limo Kaiba was known to be driven around in? As the organizer of this tournament, he would have his top duelists, and especially owners of a God Card, bathe in luxury.

Karim rode shotgun and both he and the driver were completely silent. Yuugi didn’t mind. Dueling was fun, but it was mentally taxing and during this blissful silence, he could gather his bearings and clear his mind from the exhausting day. Looking out the window, the business district of Domino City rapidly flew by; he figured they were on their way to a hotel. Or perhaps Kaiba’s mansion? Yuugi thought back to what Jounouchi had said. Yami was supposedly Kaiba’s ex-boyfriend… would Kaiba invite his former lover to his mansion? The limousine pulled up to a tall building.

“We are here,” Karim announced. He held the door open for Yuugi once more, unimpressed by the swanky red carpet and the doormen rushing to his side. Yuugi blinked at the logo of the Domino City Ritz-Carlton hotel. He swallowed. One night at this hotel would take up his total year income of the Game Shop! Karim made an inviting gesture and Yuugi walked along with him, through the revolving doors. As he entered the building, he almost fainted. The sheer amount of splendor and luxury took his breath away. The marble floors, the high ceilings, the plush furniture in the lobby, and the carpets on the floor… everything was impeccable. The personnel bowed to him deeply and called him ‘honored guest’. Embarrassed, Yuugi hid behind Karim’s tall statue, who calmly continued his way towards the elevators. Of course he pressed the button for the top floor.

The Presidential suite, Yuugi wondered, or perhaps the Royal suite? All this luxury was pretty awesome, but it didn’t invoke any feelings of jealousy. He wasn’t the kind of person to be jealous; despite the magnificence of his current surroundings, it gave off a sense of loneliness. Yuugi rather spend his time at home with his family than at a hotel, no matter how luxurious. The elevator doors opened. As soon as they excited, Karim’s curt, business-like attitude changed into something more like servitude, as if treading on eggshells. Was this normal behavior for a bodyguard? The tall man knocked on a door, quite gently, and waited for a moment before opening it.

Yuugi stepped into a large room and sank to his ankles into the plush carpet. He was confused; what kind of room was this? It was thrice as big as the entire floor of the Game Shop and the only furniture was a tall, cherry wood structure on the right and a sofa with assorted cushions against the left wall. Karim put Yuugi’s backpack almost reverently on a shelf and pointed him to the house slippers. Yuugi diligently changed his footwear, and then realization hit him. This was just the genkan. A room the size of his house was the entryway area! Karim waited until he was done before he opened the next door, leading into the living quarters. Yuugi’s eyes went wider and wider. If he had thought the genkan was large, this one was gigantic - he could even see a grand piano in the northeast corner, for crying out loud! He needed a moment of time to adjust himself to the wealth and splendor around him. Every piece of furniture was the pinnacle of elegance and intricate craftsmanship, and probably more worth than the entire Game Shop. How could anyone but Kaiba afford this?

“Mutou Yuugi,” an unknown voice called out to him. “Come over here.”

Yuugi obeyed, his feet moving on their own volition. The voice held authority, bordering on arrogance that stated familiarity with being obeyed without questions. It had come from the other corner of the suite, close to the windows, where a large table had been set. A man was standing behind it, arranging plates and utensils, but he hadn’t been the one talking, Yuugi was sure. This had to be the other bodyguard; not as buff as Karim, but just as tall and when he straightened himself, Yuugi gasped. If he had thought that Karim was protective towards his Master, then Mahaado was about ten times worse. The glare in his eyes, as if anyone was an insect daring to crawl close to his Master, was enough to kill him right here and there if he did anything more than take a breath.

However, Mahaado suddenly lowered his eyes, bowed to his left and with inaudible footsteps, backed away from the table. Yuugi’s throat ran dry. A little obscured in the shadows of the falling evening, Yami sat at the head of the table. Just a few steps closer… He turned his head towards him and Yuugi’s jaw went slack. He was looking at his mirror image. It was one thing to see it in a picture, but now that he saw him face to face, it was… surreal. Unreal. Yami’s features were more pronounced and his eyes were much narrower, framed with long dark lashes and sporting the strangest color of purplish-red that Yuugi had ever seen. He had the weird urge to kneel down, but that was just silly. Yami wasn’t that much older than him, and besides… he was a person, a young man, a duelist… it wasn’t like he was royalty or something. That his bodyguards called him ‘Master’, made him no more important than plain Mutou Yuugi.

“Have dinner with me,” Yami said. It wasn’t a question or a suggestion.

“I really should be going home,” Yuugi whispered, unable to muster up his common voice.

“Your family has been informed of your whereabouts. Do not worry. Sit down.”

Yuugi awkwardly moved to the table and picked out a chair. Yami followed his every movement sharply and settled to look him up and down rather unabashedly, undoubtedly taking in the strikingly similar features. Yuugi just let it happen. He couldn’t help but staring back anyway. Yami was dressed in black, a simple sleeveless shirt and slacks. He was wearing quite some jewelry though; Yuugi counted at least three rings, two sets of earrings clipped to each earlobe, a golden choker and golden bracers. No wonder he was in need of two bodyguards with that much gold… the value of the God Card was immeasurable to duelists, but the amount of his jewelry would be very appealing to thieves and robbers. Mahaado appeared at the table again, serving them both a bowl. It was soup, but not miso, as Yuugi was used to.

“Red lentil soup,” Yami elaborated. “Give it a taste.”

Yuugi picked up his spoon. He couldn’t believe the situation he was in. He was having dinner with Yami, the world champion, at the most expensive hotel suite in Domino City. What was going on? Carefully, he spooned some soup and tasted it. Spicy!

“This is really nice,” he said. Yami didn’t comment and they ate their soup in silence. It was Karim who cleared away the dirty plates and soon after, Mahaado served the next dish. Yuugi didn’t recognize it, this wasn’t traditional Japanese cuisine.

“Spiced prawns,” Yami said.

Yuugi wasn’t afraid to try out new food, and he took a bite. He couldn’t identify the spices, except for the ginger. “It’s very different from what I usually eat,” he said, “but it tastes good!”

He got a small smile in return. Yuugi wondered what Yami was up to. Why would he invite him over for dinner? To gauge his opponent? To intimidate him? He watched how Yami ate; a little slow, as if he savored every bite. It was slightly unnerving that he didn’t uphold a conversation, but the silence wasn’t uncomfortable and Yuugi figured he wanted to talk after dinner was over. Karim showed up again to clear the dishes away and Mahaado brought them dessert: konafa, thin pastry strands with nuts and syrup. Yuugi liked the sweetness of the dessert, even though Yami only took a small bite. He kept wondering why exactly Yami had gone through all this trouble (or rather, his bodyguards had). True enough, when dessert was finished, Yami reclined a little into his seat, but there was nothing relaxed about his posture.

“I regard you as my enemy, Mutou Yuugi,” he said, his voice holding a cold, harsh tone. “I noticed your stunningly quick progress and I know that you have barely scratched the surface of unlocking your potential. You win every challenge, every duel, and you are quick to adapt. I saw how you adapt and adjust your strategy within mere turns of a duel.”

“You’ve been watching me?” Yuugi asked. He was shocked; not about the other keeping tabs on him, but about being called an ‘enemy’. He valued friendship as one of the most important things in his life; being outright named as an enemy shook him to his very core.

“I always keep an eye on my opponents,” Yami said. “Though I usually do not occupy myself with low ranking duelists. You know who I am, and what I possess.”

“Osiris no Tenkuu Ryuu,” Yuugi said. “The Saint God Dragon of Osiris.”

“Exactly. I own a God Card, and I am the unbeaten world champion. When I see someone rising through the ranks this quickly, and with such potential, that makes me curious.”

Yuugi didn’t know what to say. The dinner had been quite pleasant, despite everything; he didn’t want the evening to be ruined.

“What is your reason to participate in this tournament? Why have I not heard about you or seen you before?”

Yuugi almost fell from his chair, shocked once more by this cross examination. He was an honest person, so he answered truthfully: “I work at a Game Shop and I have loved Duel Monsters since I was a young kid. My grandfather taught me the rules, and I’ve been playing it ever since. I give all my customers advice on the game. When the tournament came to this town, I took the opportunity to participate.”

“And the prize money?”

“My grandfather needs surgery,” Yuugi snapped. Yami might be world champion and owner of a God Card, he didn’t have any right to ask questions like this! “I don’t care for it myself, but the prize money would help us to afford the procedure. That’s it.” He was suddenly fed up with Yami’s arrogance and he wanted to go home, to his friends, his mother and his grandfather. He got up from his chair and pushed it away. “Thank you for the delicious dinner, but I really have to go home now.”

“Stay.” Yami raised his hand.

Yuugi shook his head. “I’m not one of your bodyguards,” he said. “It’s not nice to boss someone around.”

“I am sure you have studied my duel tactics,” Yami said. Now that Yuugi refused to sit down, he got up himself. He wasn’t that much taller, perhaps an inch or so; in Yuugi’s mind, he’d been as tall as Kaiba. “I can assure you that you will not win against me and my God Card.”

“I get the message,” Yuugi said. “I would like to go home now.”

Yami looked at him, those fascinating reddish eyes filled with… something Yuugi couldn’t describe, but then he showed him a smirk, displaying the same superior arrogance as during dinner. What was he trying to achieve? Out of nowhere, Karim popped up and without saying a goodbye, Yuugi went along with the burly man. He figured he would have to find his own way home, but to his amazement, Karim accompanied him downstairs, to the exit of the luxurious hotel, where the limousine was waiting for him. The biggest shock had yet to come: the bodyguard bowed deeply to Yuugi.

“Thank you for having dinner with my Master,” he said.

“N-no problem,” Yuugi answered, flabbergasted. He got into the limousine and was boggled all the way home, trying to process what exactly had happened.


----------------------------------



“No way! You had dinner with Yami! Did he show you his God Card?”

“No, Jounouchi-kun,” Yuugi said. He wouldn’t have minded to see the card, but for now he was glad to be home, enjoying a glass of tea with his friends. His mother was upstairs; everyone else was in the living room, including Sugoroku, supported by a pile of cushions. “He declared me his enemy.”

“Figures,” Sugoroku said. “You’re a strong competitor Yuugi, and your progress and talent haven’t gone unnoticed. Yami might feel intimidated by your quick rising. He was fast enough to spot a new danger on his horizon, and he wanted to see for himself who you really are.”

“I’m sorry, but this mighty champion comes off as a real jerk,” Jounouchi said.

“You’re just jealous because he’s got his own personnel,” Anzu teased him.

“I think it’s pretty rude how he treated Yuugi,” Honda agreed with Jounouchi. “Commanding him like that! That’s okay for his bodyguards, but not for Yuugi!”

Sugoroku looked pensive. “Hmmm… I don’t know his background, but to me he looks like an extremely lonely, young man who doesn’t know how to interact with people. Where are his parents? If he’s been surrounded by bodyguards and servants all his life, sheltered and protected, perhaps he simply doesn’t know how to deal with life itself.”

“Are you saying that we should pity the guy?” Jounouchi asked loudly.

“Perhaps. It’s not fun growing up all alone, you should know that better than anyone, Jounouchi. You had the fortune to be strong enough to find your way through life, meeting Yuugi and your friends along the way.”

“Well, yeah…” Jounouchi scratched the back of his head. His parents divorced when he was little and he grew up with his alcoholic father. Things went downhill and he even ended up joining a violent gang… but Jounouchi indeed found the strength to cut ties with his past, to make friends and to live his life in a better way. Anzu looked saddened.

“Now that you mention it, it does sound like he’s all alone. No parents around, just two bodyguards, he has no one his own age to talk to…”

“Maybe I get another chance to talk to him, or to get to know him better,” Yuugi said. “I don’t think he’s a bad guy, and I certainly don’t consider him my enemy, even if he does.”

“He’s only going to be a problem should you face him in the finals,” Honda said. “Forget about him for now, let’s celebrate your victories today!”

Yuugi put up his brightest smile, grateful for his friends’ support. One thing bothered him though, and he didn’t know why. At dinner, all the dishes had definitely been Middle-Eastern. Was Yami sending some kind of message by serving this kind of food, or was he reading too much into it?


---------------------------------



On the third day of the tournament, it was beautiful, sunny weather. Yuugi slung his backpack over his shoulder and went to search for duelists. He felt light and refreshed, after a good night of sleep. He tried to think as little as possible about Yami, despite the dinner still haunting his mind. Why was he even thinking of that arrogant guy, with his fancy hotel room, his bodyguards and his God Card? Still, he had looked good in all that black and gold, and those mesmerizing eyes… Yuugi quickly focused his attention on the tournament. From this level on, the duelists got stronger and the duels more intense and straining. He was rapidly approaching the top thirty. If he gained enough points today, he could place himself into the top twenty... and then, the top ten was near! Ignoring the cameras around him, Yuugi only gave two interviews as he didn’t have much time; duels took longer and the challenges more and more difficult, just the way he liked it. He was busy all morning with just one duel, and after winning, he took a break to have lunch. He couldn’t help but keeping his eyes peeled for Karim; he sort of expected the man to show up any moment. But it wasn’t the bodyguard who took an interest in him. Amidst the crowd, slowly dispersing after the duel, was a woman dressed in very typical garb: a long flowing dress in the same light, sandy colors as Karim. Her face was covered with a veil, except for her eyes.

Yuugi recognized her from the picture Anzu had shown him on her cell phone. The two men behind the woman were the same as in that picture: the Ishtars. Malik, the owner of the Ra Card, had also been watching him. His reputation was getting ahead of him. Yuugi munched on some grapes. When would Kaiba take interest in him? He wasn’t important enough without a God Card. According to the latest rumors, Kaiba was focusing exclusively on his duel with an owner of another God Card, and other rumors floated around that he wanted to duel Yami first to win Osiris, so he could use both Gods to beat the third one. The woman made eye contact and Yuugi acknowledged her by sending her a smile. The tall, dark tanned man put a hand on her shoulder to whispered something to her; she nodded solemnly and after one last look on Yuugi, she turned around and left.


-------------------------------



Yuugi walked back home to the Game Shop, where his friends waited for him. He had to admit that his grandfather had been right; lots of customers flocked together at the store to watch the daily broadcasts of the tournament, and stuck around long enough to buy booster packs and other merchandise. He wished his friends could cheer him on in person, but coming home to their exuberant greetings and hugs was so lovely to look forward to. He was so very grateful that they took care of the Game Shop, helping out tremendously. As the days before, Yuugi was immediately hugged by Anzu and cheerfully greeted by Honda and Jounouchi upon his return.

“You’re almost in the top twenty, man!” Jounouchi congratulated him. “The way you beat that Roba kid! All the time he had Psycho Shocker on the field and you couldn’t use your trap cards… and you turned that disadvantage against him and defeated him!”

“Your arsenal of spell cards is astounding,” Anzu said. “You did great, Yuugi!”

“I’m very tired though,” he said, “and I long for a shower!”

“Go ahead, we’ll close up shop.” Anzu looked at the clock. “It’s not very likely that at this time, another customer…” She couldn’t finish her sentence as the doorbell chimed.

“I would like to speak with Yuugi,” the newly arrived customer spoke, her voice elegant and pronouncing the Japanese crisply despite her audible accent. Yuugi was stunned. If the whole dinner with Yami had been surprising to him, this took the cake. The veiled woman from the picture and who had watched him earlier this morning, stood in the middle of the Game Shop. “Or should I call you namonaki Pharaoh?”

“Nameless… what?” Yuugi’s head spun. Jounouchi and Honda discretely joined his sides, protectively, as if they were his bodyguards.

“What exactly do you want, lady?” Jounouchi asked.

She bowed. “Forgive my impromptu visit, Yuugi. I would like to speak with you, alone. My name is Ishizu Ishtar. You already recognized me.”

“Yes, I do,” Yuugi said. “I don’t keep any secrets from my friends. If you want to talk to me, you can do so with them present.”

“I’m glad that you have so much support,” she said. “You’re going to need it.”


-------------------------------------------





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