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I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

Chapter Text

The salad bar is the worst thing in the world and Yuya hates it, because he can’t do fancy tricks or provide entertainment when he’s carrying a bowl of lettuce three times the size of his head and nearly the length of both his arms.

Plus, the ice always gets messy and he’s way too tired of having to refill the olives every five minutes because people are clumsy and dump the olives everywhere but their plates. That is not entertaining, it’s repetitive, and it’s not very funny to go ladies and gentleman! please enjoy watching me clean up this ice! because he’d probably end up holding up the line and Atem really wouldn’t like that.

Lacks a certain zeal in any case.

So he trades with Yuma for host duties tonight instead, because at least he can be showy when showing people to their seats. He has a slight tendency to drop the menus on the floor and once he did sort of swing his arm too fast and a roll of silverware went soaring over the tables and hit some friend of Yugi - Jonouchi? Honda? Toyota? -  in the face, but otherwise he totally has this thing down.

Yuma, meanwhile, trips and drops the salad bowl, and amongst the apologies and hurried cries that is Yuma’s battle cry of energy and his only way of surviving before Yugi makes his way over to see what the mess is, Yuya tries to remember to tell Yusei and Judai that they may have to offer caesar salad instead of regular salad bar. Atem has been very lacking in the funding he sorts around to whatever he thinks needs it most, and edible leaves got the short end of the stick this week. And Yuya’s pretty sure that the bowl he dropped in Yuma’s arms was like, the last of it.

But other than that, Yuya’s feeling pretty good about today.

Until Yuri walks in, and then that wonderful feeling goes away.

“No,” Yuya says, and points back at the door. “Out.

“Is that how you treat a paying customer?” His brother purrs, sauntering in like he hasn’t been thrown out for fighting with Yugo three times now. There is a chipped table from their last encounter. A chipped, marble table. “Clearly the customer service here is lacking.”

“You are literally on our ban list, Yuri,” Yuya says, pulling up a clipboard from under the counter and pointing at his name. “There are only like, five people on this list and you are at the top.”

“Then pretend I’m one of our less esteemed brothers,” Yuri shrugs. “I can be Yugo.”

“Yugo is also on this list.”

“Yuto, then.”

“Yuri…”

“It’s Yuto,” Yuri says, with a smile as he takes one of the open tables that Judai has just finished cleaning up.

“Uh?” Judai says as Yuya’s brother seats himself, ignoring the pleading looks sent his way.

“I’ll have a cup of coffee.” Yuri orders, pushing aside the menu Judai has laid out. “Black, two sugars, lots of cream.”

Judai blinks at Yuri, and then casts a raised eyebrow over at Yuya.

“Can I put this on Yuya’s tab?” Yuri asks. “I’m afraid I don’t have any money with me at the moment.”

Yuya lets his face meet the counter with a dull thunk, wondering how long it will be until Atem fires him.

 


 

 

The Blue Eye’s White Dragon Cafe was Seto Kaiba’s ego personified in the form of absurdly expensive leather seats and fancy foreign tea, at least that’s what Atem always said.

Personally, Judai thought it was just a way of Atem expressing his distaste towards their rival business, mainly fueled by the fact that Kaiba’s imported tea was more popular than the fairly generic brand they bought, or maybe it was the fact by paying Yusei’s cheques Atem was unwillingly funding fancy tea purchases because of Yusei’s weird roommate that didn’t have a job but apparently had copious amounts of time to spend at the White Dragon Cafe. Yusei shrugs about it, because he “can’t control Jack” and he’s got job security anyway because if something goes wrong, which it will, Yusei can fix it.

Atem is scary when it comes to technology newer than the fork, so Yusei handles a good portion of everything that is new or capable of running on electricity. Judai fondly remembers a time when before Yusei was hired and Atem managed to break three registers and nearly destroyed the dishwasher.

Of course, it hadn’t nearly been so amusing trying to repair the damage, but no one got hurt so everything worked out and then Yusei joined not too long after as an all purpose handyman and cook and waiter and bartender and basically whatever Yugi could get away with making him do without pushing him into overtime.

“Shouldn’t you be paid more?” Judai asks, balancing three plates on each arm. His record is seven dishes in total, and on slower days he likes to test his boundaries. Atem warily eyes him from across the room.

“This is already a second job for me,” Yusei says, tinkering with the register. It flickers hopefully as Yusei jabs at it with a screwdriver, then the screen dies out again. “The cafe doesn’t make too much either, so I’m okay with what I get.”

“What’s your first job?” Yuya pipes up, popping his head up from behind a booth. The kid is a born entertainer, with the way he makes a fun spectacle for himself while seating customers, and his cheerful attitude reminds Judai of his younger days, which both makes him cringe and smile at the same time. Thankfully, the kid also has a better head on his shoulders, so Judai has less cause to worry.

“Are you supposed to be climbing over the seats, Yuya?”

“No.”

This is a fair answer, to which Judai nods understandingly to.

“I repair things,” Yusei answers. “I like to work with machines and electronics, so I’m pretty good at taking them apart and putting them back together.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Yuya says. “Did you build your motorcycle too? The one you drive to work with?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s amazing,” Yuya hops around the booth and walks up to the counter the two were standing at. “My brother Yugo would love to talk to you about it. He’s really into motorcycles and engineering stuff, and I think he even wants to try his hand at making something like yours.”

“Isn’t Yugo on our ban list?” Judai asks conversationally.

“Yeah. For fighting with my other brother.” Yuya glances over to the table with Yuri at it, who smiles and waves at him over his coffee, and rolls his eyes. “Yugo has something of... a short temper.”

“Ah.”

“You can tell your brother he can visit my garage, then,” Yusei says, as the register makes a loud beep that signified a full reset and a triumphant comeback at life. “I’d be happy to help him anytime.”

“By the way,” Judai says, “I heard yelling a little while ago. Was that Yuma?”

“Yeah, he accidentally dropped the salad bowl.”

“Then why was he yelling?” Yusei asks.

“Yuma never does anything halfway,” Yuya answers, which, actually, doesn’t explain the situation any better. “Oh, right, that was the last of our salad. Salad bar is out, so Caesar salad for the rest of the day.”

“Alright. Shouldn’t be a problem,” Judai acknowledges. “It’s pretty slow today.”

“Judai,” Atem says, walking by and snatching half the plates Judai is balancing on his way into the kitchen. “Customer, go.”

“Gotcha!” Judai dumps the rest of the tableware into Yuya’s arms and takes off towards the other side of the room. He throws on a charming smile and navigates his way through tables and booths, grabbing a pitcher of water while he’s at it, stopping once he’s at the new arrival sitting at a corner table, blinking when he recognizes him.

“Jim!” Judai’s generic smile becomes a bit more authentic. “It’s been a while!”

“That it has,” Jim Crocodile Cook tips his hat up and smiles back. The bandages around his right eye have looked better, a bit stained with dirt and dust, but there was no doubting the air of satisfaction around him. Must have come back recently from a successful dig. “Thought I’d drop by and say hello while I got something to eat. They still make steak the same way here?”

“Naturally. No need to mess with a winning recipe,” Judai says, scooping up the menu Jim doesn’t need, remembering his usual. “But uh… Jim?”

“Yeah?”

“You do know crocodiles aren’t allowed inside, right?”

Karen growls in protest, throwing a scaled arm onto the table.

“She’s gotta eat too,” Jim says, reaching across the table and patting her head, placating Karen. “Besides, she won’t hurt anybody, you know that.”

Judai does indeed recall the time he stuck his entire hand in the mouth of Jim’s crocodile and somehow came away with all fingers intact, but still. Health and Safety Code. He’s not exactly sure where, but Judai’s certain something about this violates at least half of the rules the cafe & restaurant is supposed to obey.

“I’ll tip extra,” Jim says.

“Done.” Judai pours Karen a glass of water. “I’ll go let the kitchen know of your order.”

 


 

 

“Yugi,” Yuma says, a high pitch of hysteria in his voice. “There is a crocodile in the restaurant.”

“What?” Yugi looks up from the schedule worksheet he’s been sketching up, fingers smudged with ink and his hair falling into his eyes. He has not slept in two days. Yugi isn’t exactly sure if he’s awake or just dreaming of work, which he’s really hoping isn’t the case because he’s spent entirely too long putting together everyone’s shifts and would not remember how to do it again if he was dreaming.

“A crocodile. It’s sitting at a table. Drinking water out of a glass.” Yuma says. “Yugi, training never covered this. What am I supposed to do? Do I bring it more water? Do I serve it food?!”

A dream. This had to be a dream and Yugi squints back at the papers, not even sure if he knows how to read anymore. Yugi, Yuya, Yusei, Yu...saku? Was that even a real name? Who was that? Or has the sheer amount of Yu’s gotten to Yugi finally and he’s made up an extra name? Atem would not appreciate paying someone who did not exist. Scribbled under this made up name was a phone number and some letters that had to be in a different language.

“Yugi?”

“Make Atem deal with it,” Yugi says after a lengthy pause. If this was a dream, then he wasn’t going to feel bad for dumping the problem on his other half.

“He said to talk to you about it!” Yuma screeches, running in place with pent up energy. 

“Oh.” Well. That meant someone else should deal with the Dream Crocodile then. “Make Yusei deal with it.”

 


 

 

Yusei is staring at the crocodile from over one of the booths when Yuma finds him.

“Sorry, what?” Yusei asks, because Yuma had said something to him, but it seemed to have come out in one large, rushed sentence and there was no interpreting it when Yusei’s not even sure Yuma knows what he was saying. Something about Atem and then Yugi and then Atem again and then his name?

Yuma throws out an arm and points at the crocodile with a shaking hand.

“Ah.”

Before either of them can do anything about it, though, Judai comes barrelling past with a “NO ONE PANIC I GOT THIS” and four plates of steak balanced on his arms. Yusei wonders if Judai will ever bother to use the carrying platter for these kinds of larger orders, and grabs Yuma before he can be knocked over by Judai. Yusei also means to pull him back so both of them can quietly exit the building and maybe find something that makes sense, but Yuma is rooted to his spot, staring at the crocodile and its human companion.

“Hey Jim, here’s your order.” Judai lays a single dish in front of the man, and the rest in front of the crocodile. “Karen, if you break these plates I will have to charge you.” 

The crocodile, who instantly dove for the steaks with reckless abandon, appears chastised a bit by this, and takes a notably softer approach to gnawing at it’s steak. It’s still messy, but the tableware is in much less immediate danger.

“Good girl,” The other man nods approvingly.

“Yusei,” Yuma says. “The crocodile has table manners.”

“So it does.” Yusei says.

Chapter Text

There are three reasons why Yusaku applied for a job at Millennium Puzzle Cafe and Restaurant.

First: He needed the income. To support himself and his activities, he needed more than he was currently in possession of. Aside from maintenance on his computer, he must account for food, rent, and utilities, and it would be much easier to work with money earned legally.

Second: To help maintain the profile of a regular high school student. He can work after school as support staff, thus ensuring he remains largely in the background but still in a place where he could be seen. The more he looks like the average, busy student trying to earn minimum wage, the less of a chance that people will link him and his activities together.

Third: It was not actually his idea and the first two reasons Yusaku made up after he found out about the whole thing.

“I didn’t even submit an application,” Yusaku says, listening to his voicemail again, from some tired sounding man named Yugi Mutou, asking for him to come in for an interview and either text or call him with times that worked for him. The message ends with some suspicious mumbling and then a yawn that’s cut off with a click .

“Yeah, that was me,” Ignis admits casually, electronic voice coming in over his computer speakers. “You need to go outside more. Meet some people. Find a girlfriend.”

“Not interested. I’m busy.”

“You’re boring. Get a job! Or something. Besides, everyone knows that the anti-social shut ins are top ranking suspicious people.” Ignis taunts, shoving aside the windows on Yusaku’s screen and filling it instead with his animated eyeball avatar. “If you have a normal job and normal friends, then maybe if the Knights of Hanoi notice you, Yusaku Fujiki won’t have a blatant target on the back of his head.”

Friends. Right.

“I have friends,” Yusaku says, and tosses Ignis into the Recycle Bin. “Be quiet and let me think.”

“The hotdog guy doesn’t count,” Ignis’ petulant voice haunts him from beyond the desktop.

 


 

The hotdog guy who absolutely did count agreed with Ignis, to Yusaku’s utter betrayal.

“You’re both traitors,” Yusaku tells them, handing Shoichi Kusanagi money. There aren’t any other people in the plaza where Shoichi has parked his truck, just a stone’s throw from his school. The sun begins to dip below the the horizon, and everything is tainted in orange, so most people would be headed home by now.

“Here’s your change,” Shoichi says, handing him his hotdog and a couple coins. “And quit whining, it doesn’t suit you.”

“You work in fast food. You complain about working in the food industry constantly,” Yusaku takes a bite out of his hotdog. “Not to mention, what we do is time consuming. I don’t see why you also think I should take up this job.”

“It doesn’t hurt to have a life, Yusaku,” Shoichi says.

“I have a life.”

“One that’s not seeped in revenge,” Shoichi leans over the counter. “What we’re doing is important, Yusaku. But it can’t be everything.”

“My memories and your brother are on the line,” Yusaku reminds him. “I can’t waste time splitting my priorities.”

“And we won’t.” Shoichi watches the sunset between the skyscrapers of Domino City. Yusaku averts his eyes from the light. “But I think it’d be good for you. The little eyeball is right, you know? A job at this place could help you out more than you know. And if nothing else, it’d be good practice for socialising, something you’re sorely lacking in. Just give it a shot. Besides, you have to get through the interview first, so there’s no guarantee yet right?”

“...Right.”



 


Two days later, Yusaku pushes through the doors of the restaurant and tries to maintain a look of bleak disinterest.

The decoration is all over the place. Items boasted vastly varying themes - paintings, tables, signs, and even the chairs all looked mismatched and different, and with just a cursory glance Yusaku can pick out Egyptian, Peruvian, and Japanese, as well as bizarre items that weren't a cultural themed as much they were  space or circus themed.

“Good afternoon!” A voice breaks him out of his observations. “Just one for a table?”

Yusaku turns to see a boy his age with red and green hair, standing by the counter with a menu in hand. He looks very tired, shoulders tense and his hair sticking up in odd places like he had just been pulling on the strands only moments ago, with a pair of flashy goggles that did nothing but add to the confusion of his appearance. But the boy wears a wide smile like it’s all he knows how to do.

“...I’m not here to eat,” Yusaku says. “I’m here about a job interview.”

“Oh, cool,” The kid says, eye twitching and still looking like he’s on the edge of exploding into a red and green stain on the multi-colored hardwood floor. “Hang on a sec, I’ll go get Yugi for you.”

He leaves, muttering something about have to smile can’t stop smiling and Yusaku is left to stand in the doorway and obstruct traffic. Not that there seems to be an abundance of people going in and out. There are a couple people in the cafe area, sipping at drinks, and one or two in the back with plates of food, but overall it seems rather unpopulated. Still, Yusaku moves to the side, a little out of sight and mostly out of the way, just in time.

A man with black spiky hair and a really, really big hammer walks by.

Yusaku actually has to look again to be sure he saw right.

“Yo Yusei!” A loud voice greets the black haired man, and Yusaku watches from his perch behind a potted plant as a brown haired man appears and intercepts him by the counter. “Is that to fix the stove or break the lock on the freezer?”

“Fix the stove,” Yusei says. “Judai, what’s wrong with the freezer?”

“Nothing,” Judai says brightly. “Except that Yuya’s brothers got in again and I think two of them are stuck in there? And the third brother locked them in and Yuya can’t get in contact with him. And that lock wasn’t one of ours... So. Asking for a friend, but can you pick a lock?”

“Yeah, of course,” Yusei answers without missing a beat. “Are they alright?”

“They’re totally fine, arguing about fusion or something. It’s Yuya who looks like he’s going to burst a blood vessel. I think he’s worried about them. Or maybe he’s thinking about committing murder. It’s probably both.”

The two turn and enter what looks like the kitchen, so Yusaku doesn’t hear the rest of that conversation. He’s not entirely sure he wants to. He pulls out his phone and starts typing a message.

What kind of restaurant did you sign me up for

Ignis immediately responds.

wouldn’t u like 2 kno

Typical.

Before Yusaku can threaten to delete Ignis - his favored response when Ignis is withholding information from him - someone about his height with flat, pointed hair approaches him.

“Oh, hello,” The man - boy? - says, lifting his hand up to cover a yawn. He has bags under his eyes and doesn’t look fit to be conscious, let alone working. “Sorry, have you been waiting long? Our host should have directed to you to a seat already, I’m so sorry.”

“No,” Yusaku interjects before he can get roped into a meal he doesn’t want. “I’m Yusaku Fujiki, I’m here for a job interview.”

The man stares at Yusaku for a long minute with very wide eyes.

“Oh my god you’re real,” He whispers.

A job interview he was rethinking with every minute.

“I’ll take it from here, partner,” A startlingly similar man appears, with darker skin and a couple more inches to his frame. His voice is a touch deeper, and Yusaku finds himself unconsciously straightening his posture. “Hi, Yusaku. I’m Atem, I’ll be conducting your interview. Yugi, go sit down for a bit. Yusaku, follow me.”

Yugi - the same guy who called him in the first place? - finds an empty seat and within a second faceplants into the table and remains completely still. Another boy, with black and red hair, who’s cleaning a nearby table stops and stares, before shuffling a school jacket - different uniform, different school - underneath the guy’s head.

Atem sends the boy a thumbs up, and then beckons Yusaku to follow him.

They end up in a cramped office, but an impeccably neat one that has two desks opposite of each other. The desk on the right is overflowing with paper and pens, but also is well decorated with photos and what look like adorable statues of little monsters. The desk on the left is pretty much empty, with a single small obelisk tucked neatly in the corner and a couple folders lying on it. That’s the desk Atem leads them to, pulling out a fold up chair for Yusaku to sit in.

“So,” Atem says, fishing up Yusaku’s dismal resume from a folder. “Let’s begin, shall we?”

The look in Atem’s eyes is unsettling, to say the least.

 



There’s no way he got the job. There is absolutely no way he got the job and Yusaku definitely doesn’t care either way, but he’s not sure if he’s disappointed or relieved.

The questions were weird. The room was weird. Atem was smooth, confident, commanding, and weird . If Yusaku had a reference frame for how interviews go, which he doesn’t, he’d classify the entire thing as such for three reasons.

First: None of the questions had anything to do with his capability in handling customers or food. The things he was asked were things like ‘ if you and a friend were both chained to an anchor and only the winner could survive what would you do’ and ‘ how long do you think you can stay balanced on the top of a blimp’ .

Second: He was given several puzzles to solve and timed on how fast he could solve them while Atem watched every move like a hawk. Rubix cube, picture puzzles, and some sort of 3D pyramid puzzle? Yusaku was unable to solve the last one, running out of time with maybe only one corner put together, but Atem didn’t seem very bothered by it.

Third: At the very end of it, Atem challenged him to some sort of card game. The rules appeared to be simple and the deck was just a regular deck of playing cards, but Yusaku had felt a chill run down his spine the moment Atem had said “Game start”.

Yusaku lost that card game.

Yusaku steps out of the office feeling like he just ran around in perfect circles in the dark and somehow hit a wall at the very end. It did get weirdly dark towards the last half of the interview, but Yusaku looked up and the lights seemed to be doing just fine. Maybe his poor diet is catching up to him.

“WHERE IS YURI. I’M GOING TO THROTTLE HIM.”

“Enough, Yugo. We’ll find him at home.”

Twins. Twins coated in a light layer of frost brush past him with equally murderous looks on their equally identical faces. They look strangely familiar, and Yusaku understands why when tomato head - Yuya? - follows them, and stops to see Yusaku. They all have the same face. Clones?

“Oh, hey, how’d the interview go?” Despite the still present twitch in his eye, Yuya’s smile looks a little less forced now, and he doesn’t look as ready to implode as he did when Yusaku saw him earlier.

“...Not well. I don’t think I’ll be working here,” Yusaku says. “Sorry.”

“Aw, you don’t know that yet right?” Yuya laughs. “Yugi and Atem work in… mysterious ways. After all, I’m here, and I didn’t think I would still be here after a few months. They surprise you.”

“Yuya! Yugo is going to blindly run out in front of a car if we don’t catch up to him,” One of the frosted twins calls out.

“On my way Yuto!” Yuya yells back, pausing to clap Yusaku on the shoulder. “I think you’d make for a good fit here, anyway.”

“What makes you say that?” Yusaku asks.

“Just a feeling!” Yuya winks, and then runs off, meeting up with his purple haired brother by the front doors. Yusaku watches them go, and wonders why everyone and their dog thinks working at some crazy cafe and restaurant would be the best course of action for his life. He can’t understand it.

Take a step forward and try an old voice in his head says, the one without a name. The voice that gave him courage a long, long time ago.

Yusei walks by at this moment, looking troubled. The black and red haired boy is with him.

“Yo, Yusei! Yuma! Shouldn’t you both be home by now?” Judai emerges from the kitchen with an armful of leftover food.

“Judai, have you seen the hammer I came in with?” Yusei asks.

“I haven’t seen it since we got Yugo and Yuto out of the freezer,” Yuma says, scratching his head.

“...uh oh.”

Yusaku leaves before he can get mixed up in a murder case.

 



The next day, Yusaku gets a call.

“Hi, Yusaku?” Yugi Mutou’s cheerful and apparently rested voice greets him. “I’m calling about the job you applied for yesterday. Atem and I have discussed it and we think you’d be a good fit for here, so we’d like to offer you a position at our restaurant!”

Yusaku still definitely doesn’t care either way, but he’s not sure if he’s disappointed or relieved.

... Maybe relieved.

But mostly terrified.

Chapter Text

It was Judai’s job to train new employees. He was the employee that has so far worked there the longest, and and even Atem and Yugi can barely remember a time without him. When Judai asks what they did without him, Yugi says that ‘his memory is fuzzy’ for that period of his life and Atem just gives him one of those terrifying smiles that Judai has learned to associate with arson and high stake games of go fish . So anyway Judai has trained everyone that has ever worked at their little restaurant except Yusei, who was hired too soon after Judai was and thus rendering him unable to be any authority on this waiter thing, and Yuma, because he was sick the week Yuma started.

Okay, so that meant the only person he actually trained was Yuya, but that’s not the point. He technically trained Yuya four times and that’s like, nearly the same amount of Troubled People that Yugi and Atem have hired to work in their weirdly placed restaurant in the weirder part of the city. So that has to count for something.

Judai shows up right on time for Yusaku’s first day, a Saturday morning, and finds the new recruit already there, standing behind a potted plant, staring at Yuma who’s fast asleep at one of the tables. Watching your coworkers sleep is kind of weird, but not exactly Yusaku’s fault, because Yuma is being a loud sleeper. Yuma keeps mumbling about his grandmother’s food and his bossy sister, and then screams ‘ you can’t tell me how to live my life Astral! ’ so loud that Yuma ends up waking himself up.

“Ugh,” Yuma yawns, and then checks his watch, his face morphing into pure terror. “CRAP  I’M LATE. ATEM IS GOING TO KILL ME.”

“Yuma,” Yusei says, walking in at this time and greeting Judai with a quick nod. “You’re already at work.”

“Oh,” Yuma blinks, then breaks out into a large grin. “Ha! I’m not late! ...How did I get here?”

Yusaku edges farther behind the potted plant.

“Hey! Yusaku, right?” Judai says, not letting him hide on the first day. “I’m Judai Yuki, and I’ll be in charge of your training.”

“Nice to meet you,” Yusaku says, polite but flat. He moves out into the open with all the eagerness of a dying snail.

Well, that was something they’d have to work on later.

“Atem has you on support staff right?” Judai asks, and Yusaku nods. “Cool, so that means you get to play host, keep an eye on the salad bar, wash the napkins, and fold up the silverware. Once you get used to that we’ll have you help out cleaning tables and doing waiter things, at least for the cafe.”

“I understand,” Yusaku says.

So serious. A second Yusei? Yusei’s long lost cotton-candy haired, green eyed younger brother? Or maybe an evil doppleganger ? Judai stares a little longer at Yusaku, trying to see if there’s any trace of a Yusei 2.0 in his face, and Yusaku stares back, until it starts to become uncomfortable for the both of them.

“Eh, it doesn’t matter.” Judai decides, leading Yusaku to the kitchen. “Robot impersonator or not, we have work to do. Training, start!”

“...What?”


 

Yusaku is pretty good at nearly everything Judai throws at him, which is pretty cool. Admittedly working as support staff was fairly easy, it was just mostly a lot of time management and quickness that made the job tricky, since you had to go to the laundry machine in the backroom to wash the napkins and then go out and clean up the ice in the salad bar and then seat a couple people and then go switch the napkins to the dryer and use the already clean ones to fold along with the newly washed silverware and then bring out some plates to the salad bar and -

“I understand the process,” Yusaku says, and apparently Judai had been talking out loud while they refilled the olives.

“But don’t worry about being overwhelmed!” Judai continues anyway, undeterred. “All of us are here to help you out if you need anything, you know? You’ve got Yuya and Yuma, and they’re great at this support thing, and also Yusei, who is also great, and me, I’m pretty great and-”

“Aren’t you a waiter?” Yusaku asks, and that’s probably the first question Judai has heard from him all morning. “And I thought Yusei was your repairman.”

“Well, yeah,” Judai says. “I mostly wait tables, but I can cook when we get busy and I help out with support stuff when I’ve got the time. And Yusei is the mechanic, but he’s also a waiter, cook, and whatever he wants to be. Look, see?”

They turn, just in time to see Yusei emerging from the kitchen with two plates in hand. His apron looks like it’s been badly burned recently and something smells faintly of fire.

“Is that a…” Yusaku squints. “Is that a buzzsaw on his belt?”

Judai looks, and yeah! There is! Yusei’s wearing a toolbelt under his work apron, with a small buzzsaw just barely visible beneath it. He hadn’t noticed because the the burn marks on Yusei’s apron coincidentally seem shaped like E-Hero! Burst Lady, from his favorite childhood TV show, so he got distracted.

Yusei comes over after depositing the plates to a nearby table, perhaps because of their blatant staring, or because Judai wasn’t paying attention and has now poured an entire liter of olives into the dish, which has overflowed and formed it’s own miniature mountain on the ice.

“Judai,” Yusei says, and his eyes flicker to the new topographical formation in their salad bar.

“I know, I know,” Judai plucks a carrot from one of the other dishes and sticks it on the top of Mt. Olive, since he’s already in this mess and may as well momentarily benefit from it. “Don’t worry. Yusaku will clean it up.”

Yusaku bears this indignity with a brave face. Calm face? Neutral face. It’s the same face he’s been wearing all morning, so Judai’s not sure what to call it. He was joking about making Yusaku fix it, but since Yusaku didn’t say anything in response Judai’s joke is now like his school history; stretching on a bit longer than anyone expected and it lost it’s punchline somewhere down the road.

“That’s not important right now,” Yusei says, and Judai sticks a carrot in Yusei’s mouth. “I need Yusaku to go find Yugi.”

“Why, what’s up?” Judai asks.

There is a distinct boom that resounds from the kitchen, blowing the door open and letting out a column of smoke, smacking into Yuma who had been standing nearby to clean up a spilled drink, and when it pulled back it revealed Yuma sprawled out on the ground, eyes spinning like roulette wheels. Mt. Olive topples over as the salad bar shakes from the aftershocks, and Judai watches as a couple of the paintings fall off the wall.

“That.” Yusei says, chewing on the carrot with a thoughtful look on his face. “I’m having some issues in the kitchen.”

“What kind of issues?” Yusaku asks, catching a statue of a colorful, dancing hippo before it hits the ground. His face hasn’t quite changed from Yusaku’s Eternal Resting Neutral Face, but there’s a slight pinch to it now and Judai is going to congratulate Yusei later on successfully inciting some emotion from the kid, even if it’s just mild panic . “What’s broken?”

“Everything, mostly,” Yusei sighs. “I’ve been trying to fix things while also cooking, but I’m afraid I can no longer do both.”

There is a sound akin to a metal avalanche crashing into the floor and Yusei winces.

“Who’s in there?” Judai asks while picking up the portrait of Yugi’s grandfather that has fallen over. Grandpa Mutou looks vaguely amused at them all.

“No one, it’s just been me all morning,” Yusei says, as there’s another loud explosion. “Sorry to interrupt your training, Yusaku, but please tell Yugi that we’re going to have to temporarily close for a bit. Judai, run damage control for me. I have to go.”

And with that, Yusei pulls the buzzsaw out of his belt and returns to the kitchen, framed by a halo of smoke.

“Yuma, you still alive?” Judai calls out.

Yuma sends him a thumbs up from his place on the floor. Good enough.

Judai vaults onto one of the tables and from there climbs to the top of one of the booths.

“Hi everyone,” Judai says, using his naturally loud voice and immediately pulling in the focus of all their current customers. Johan once told him that he was a ‘living megaphone’ and Judai decides now is a great time to tap into that skill. “Sorry for the inconvenience, but we are experiencing technical difficulties of the food making sort. So uh. In a neat and orderly fashion, please get out. Oh but feel free to take your food with you, you can take the plates it’s fine.”

Then, the sprinklers go off.


 

How can a kitchen explode multiple times ?

Yusaku stalks down the hall that extends from the ‘Employees Only’ door behind the registers counter. After Yusei returned to the kitchen and Judai jumped on some the tables and told everyone to leave, there was a minimal amount of panic or surprise, with the slightly soggy patrons scooping up their food and then exiting. The only one who seemed at all bothered about it was a customer that happened to be Judai’s friend, a black haired goth(?) that was more upset that Judai accidentally kicked his plate onto the floor more than the fact that their kitchen was in danger of going nuclear.

“I already said I was sorry!” Judai shouts, back in the restaurant of insanity. “Manjoume, c’mon! I’ll buy you a new dish later !”

“Why does this kind of thing always happen when I’m around you?” His friend yells back. “Plus, now my jacket is soaked and I have to walk back home in this, Judai!”

“Why is that a problem? You never wash that thing anyway, this is probably good for it.”

The following noise, reminiscent of what drop kicking a watermelon into a marble table might sound like, did not come from the kitchen.

Yusaku isn’t sure where Yugi is, but he thinks, logically, his office would be a good place to start.

“So the fish casserole dish isn’t really selling well,” Yugi’s voice comes through the door. Score one point for logic. “I think we should probably take it off the menu.”

“It’d be doing much better if Judai didn’t keep telling people that it’s some sort of ‘ calamari massacre drenched in salad dressing ’,” Atem’s surly voice. Yusaku pushes the door open, not bothering to knock because what good was manners where your kitchen is about to go boom. “And it doesn’t help that Yusei refuses to endorse it just because he doesn’t like seafood.”

“I know that but - oh, Yusaku?” Yugi looks up from his desk. Atem is standing next to him, arms crossed and looking very unperturbed by the shaking of their office walls.

“The kitchen is on fire and is currently experiencing multiple explosions,” Yusaku says. “Yusei says that we have to close early today so that he can focus on fixing it. Judai has evacuated all the customers.”

“So that’s what’s rumbling,” Atem mutters.

“Thank you for telling me, Yusaku,” Yugi says, wearing the kind of expression Yusaku might expect from someone who just got a ticket for going a couple miles over the speed limit to have, not someone who was just informed that their kitchen was on fire. Yugi looks at a paper with the words BUDGET FOR THIS MONTH written cleanly across it. He crumples it up and throws it into a wastebasket that looked to be overflowing with papers. Papers that also had the word BUDGET written on them.

“Should we be calling the police?” Yusaku asks, because that seems like something people normally do, while Yugi gently places his head on his desk and does not lift it again.

“No,” Atem says. “It’ll be fine.”

Another explosion shakes the office.


 

“...all I’m saying is, if I was a secret agent, I’d be an explosives expert,” Judai says, just as Yusaku steps out from the side door and into the back lot the other employees have congregated in. “I’d be like, the best infiltrator. I’d get in and then boom! Explosions .”

“I don’t see how using explosives would help you with infiltration,” Yusei says, covered in what looks like soot and possibly a burnt salad. A completely soaked Judai seems to be in the process of picking crispy lettuce off him. The kitchen has stopped attempting to level the building with shaking and fire, so it seems Yusei was successful in stopping whatever was causing all the problems. Somehow.

“Well, what else would I use?” Judai says. “I’m not much of a sword guy.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Yusaku steers himself away from this conversation. He means to hover somewhere within earshot because Atem ordered them all to remain nearby while he and Yugi surveyed the mess, but out of the way enough that none of his coworkers will bother him. This plan is shot before he evens makes it a few steps - Yuya spots him and beckons him over to where he and Yuma were.

“Hey, Yusaku, you’re taller than me by like an inch right?” Yusaku was several inches taller, actually. Yuya drops an empty tomato can into his hands. “Put this on top of The Tower will you?”

The Tower was a stack of empty vegetable cans Yuma and Yuya must’ve nicked from the kitchen and it stacked up higher than they were tall. With a bit of stretching and effort, he’s able to balance the can at the very top without collectively knocking everything over. Was this what teenagers normally did for fun when they had nothing to do and no dark secret organizations to pursue? Yusaku could not ascertain its purpose other than as a way to see how high a structure could be before collasping under its own weight.

“Alright, thanks!” Yuya says, and then takes a couple steps back. “Okay, Yuma!”

“Yeah!” Yuma shouts, pumping an arm into the air. “Kattobingu!”

“What are you doing?” Yusaku asks.

“I’m going to go over there,” Yuma points back several feet. “Then, take a running jump and clear this entire tower of cans.”

“That’s impossible,” Yusaku says, wondering if insanity is contagious.

Kattobingu ,” Yuma tells him, which isn’t a real word so Yusaku has no idea what he’s saying. “These kind of things get me fired up!”

“To do what ?” Yusaku asks, but it doesn’t matter because Yuma is too busy doing that running leap that isn’t nearly high enough, so it sends him crashing through the cans at the halfway height and bouncing off the ground like he’s ball made of rubber with an indignant shriek.

“Good effort, Yuma,” Yuya says cheerily, as Yuma eventually rolls to a stop. “I think you got higher than usual today?”

“Next time,” Yuma swears from his position on the ground, amid a sea of corn and bean cans. “I’ll get it next time for sure .”

“He said that last time,” Yuya says, smiling but not in an unkind way. “Yuma never does anything halfway. You really have to admire his never give up adittude.”

Yusaku doesn’t know what to say to that. But as he turns and looks at Yuma, now surrounded by Yusei and Judai who came over after watching Yuma’s graceful landing, who’s smiling and laughing like he didn’t just nearly break his face on the concrete, Yusaku supposes he can’t fault someone for having such a blindingly bright reason for living. After all, Yusaku has three of his own, but none of them are particularly happy ones.

Yuma gets up, after he’s had Yusei put a bandaid on his forehead from where his head had made a spectacular collision with the ground, and then did a series of backflips to get back to Yuya and Yusaku. He executes each one with precision and speed and Yusaku wonders how Yuma has such incredible gymnastic ability when Yuma accidentally slips on an empty can and nearly careens into both Yuya and Yusaku, stopped only by Judai and Yusei grabbing both his arms at the last second.

Yusaku tries to remember what the employment contract said about the insurance policy here. It’s only been one day and he’s nearly seen his life flash before his eyes twice , which didn’t really amount to much when he was missing like over half his memories but the principal of the matter remained. He wasn’t sure this job was helping him maintain a low profile or helping him ‘ socialise ’.

“You know,” Yuya says, startling Yusaku out of his thoughts. “Maybe our kitchen nearly blowing up on your first day hasn’t left the best impression, but we’re really happy to have you here, Yusaku. You’re really good at keeping a calm.”

“...Thanks,” Yusaku says eventually, when he realizes that Yuya is staring at him because he’s waiting for an answer. He tries to give a small smile, because it was a compliment and Yusaku doesn’t really hear many of those. Even if all his coworkers seem insane, they’re… sincere? Judai is more dense than carbon fiber, Yusei is faithfully oblivious to near the supernatural levels of weirdness that goes on, Yuma is frequently yelling and running headfirst into physical harm, Yuya is either constantly smiling or looking like he’s about to erupt like a volcano made of pure stress, and Yusaku doesn’t even know where to begin with Atem and Yugi, but there’s no denying they all seem to care a lot for each other. And if that wasn’t the textbook definition of friendship, Yusaku wasn’t sure what was.

“We’re going to have to work on your smile,” Yuya laughs. “Didn’t Judai tell you? When working in customer service - you have to smile until it hurts .”

“...Oh.” That would take some practice.

That would take a lot of practice.

“Yuya!”

Yusaku turns and looks - one of the clones from the other day is running to them from across the street . This one had been locked in the freezer, if Yusaku remembers right, the one with purple hair styled in spikes that looked like they could probably stab a man if angled right. The clone runs up to Yuya, out of breath and looking deadly serious.

“Yuto?” Yuya looks surprised, while Judai squints at him very hard from over Yuya’s head. “What are you doing here?”

The first doppleganger ,” Judai whispers, because of course, Yusaku should have expected nothing less after his strange mumblings this morning about being a robot duplicate of Yusei. Which was ridiculous, because no program could copy the mind and actions of a human so well. AI’s didn’t have free will. Ignis was a strange case, but no exception, just an example of what happens when you let someone code pure annoyance into an algorithm.

“Yuya,” Yuto catches his breath and puts a hand on his twins(?) shoulder, looking vaguely sick. “I just got word from Yugo. Zarc is coming home.”

All the color drains from Yuya’s face.

“Zarc?” Yuya’s voice is three octaves higher than normal. “Big bro Zarc is coming home now ?”

“Yeah,” Yuto looks just as pale as Yuya. “Yuri got word of it from Mom, and he told Yugo, who’s been trying to call you for over an hour.”

“Phone’s inside,” Yuya says, staring off into the distance like he’s already envisioning his doom. “Kitchen blew up. Forgot about it.”

“We don’t have much time,” Yuto says. “He’s going to be back today .”

“What was our emergency plan, again?”

“We never made one.” Yuto intones flatly.

“Ah,” Yuya says, and turns to Yusaku with a very, very strange smile. “Well. It was nice getting to know you, Yusaku.”

Yusaku just nods like he understands what’s going on.

“Yuma, you’ll be at my funeral right?”

“Uh,” Yuma says. “Sure?”

“Yusei, Judai,” Yuya continues. “Tell Atem that I want an Egyptian styled funeral. A gold sarcophagus, ankhs and the hieroglyphs and everything Atem goes on about when he gives he gets mad at us for breaking stuff.”

“You want to be mummified?” Yusei asks.

“Right on,” Judai nods approvingly. “Mummy stuff is literally last century, but Atem would definitely think that’s way cooler than a regular old burial or cremation. He’d probably even give you a speech in Egyptian. If he, you know, actually knows any. Are we sure he isn’t just some Egyptian weeaboo?”

“One time I saw him try to curse the cash register when it wasn’t working,” Yuma says. “I couldn’t understand what he was saying, buuut it might have been Egyptian? But it was late and I may have also been convinced that I had snapped and started seeing spirits and had entered an alternate dimension that was a strange cloudy purple place kind of like hell? So I dunno.”

“He has been to Egypt at least,” Yusei says, crossing his arms and looking thoughtful. “He brought back that stone tablet a few years back, remember? The one with the pharaoh and his priest, fighting against each other with a magician and a dragon.”

“Tablet...? Oh! That giant rock we hang in the bathroom,” Judai snaps his fingers. “He likes to make fun of the priest because it looks like Seto Kaiba. Yuya, I bet if you ask he’d bury it with you.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” Yuya says, looking the very opposite of his words.

“If you have time to be dramatic,” Yuto says, exasperation dripping from every word. “Then you have time to help me think up that emergency plan we never got around to.”

“My current plan is dying, Yuto.”

“We’re not dying, Yuya.”

To die, to sleep, no more-- ” Yuya says, sweeping his arms apart like the world was his stage, facing the sky like it was his audience. “ And by a sleep to say we end, the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

Theater kids ,” Yuto seethes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Why couldn’t you be the engineering twin that just cries when he’s scared, not the one who defaults to Hamlet when stressed?

“Ughh, why don’t you just stay over at the Kurosaki household?” Yuya says, still posed like he’s begging the sky for divine help. “I’m sure Ruri would be happy to hide you in her bed.”

Yuto blinks.

Then Yuto’s face flames a bright shade of red and Yuya takes a moment to backtrack and mentally revisit his words and then chokes on air.

“I MEANT UNDER THE BED,” Yuya screeches. “NOT IN IT.”

The two of them devolve into a fit of stressful babbling, Yuto covering his face to hide the blush as he goes on about Ruri and I aren’t doing - that, yet - I MEAN UH we haven’t - SHUN WOULD KILL ME and Yuya covering his face to claw out the image as he goes on about buddy pal arguably favorite twin please for the love of god shut up I don’t want to know any more , and Yusaku is so thoroughly lost that he’s rounded back to some semblance of sense.

“So you just need to avoid your brother?” Yusaku asks, and Yuya looks at him like he’s a messenger sent straight from God himself.

“We need to avoid him for a week ,” Yuto says, still hiding his face. “Because he is literally the devil incarnate and I wouldn’t even wish him on Yuri. All four of us have to split and be in places he’s not going to find and that’s our big emergency plan because I thought he wasn’t going to be due back until fall break so I don’t have anything better than ‘run and hide like frightened school children’.”

“Yeah,” Yuya says, panic returning to him. “And it’s going to be easy for you to hide, because your bracelet buddy partner is in town! And Yugo could probably live in Rin’s basement forever if he asked and he you know she’ll be his first choice! But Serena would sooner dump Yuri in a ditch than let him into her house and Yuzu is visiting colleges with her father!”

“That would solve Yuri’s problems then, wouldn’t it?” Yuto says, finally forcing his blush down and removing his hands so he can cross his arms. “Serena can leave him in a landfill and we can find him later.”

“Yuto…” Yuya sighs.

“I know, I know.” Yuto grimaces. “Don’t you have other friends or something? Stay with them.”

“Yuto,” Yuya says. “Gongenzaka would tell me to stand and face Zarc, Sora is a gamble at best , and Sawatari is… a last resort.”

“I’d offer to hide you like the fugitive you are, but my apartment is actually a literal deathtrap,” Judai says, patting Yuya sympathetically on the shoulder. “I have a… paranoid roommate. She won’t disarm the security system for guests - just ask my friend Johan, the last time he came over he nearly lost an arm. Then again, she never did like Johan much...”

“I don’t have room,” Yusei says, apologetic. “Jack, Crow, and I just got a new roommate, and we don’t have enough space as it is especially since our place doubles as a garage. I’m sorry.”

“I have a class trip,” Yuma says, looking pained. “I’ll be gone all week and my teacher told me if I skipped it I would repeat this year. My friends would kill me if I got held back a year. Shark would eat me alive. And my sis and gram are going on vacation while I’m gone.”

Yusaku realizes after a few moments that everyone is looking at him

“I have three reasons why that would be a bad idea,” Yusaku says, but never gets to list them, because at that moment Yuya looks at him like he’s all he had left in the world with enormously round and shiny eyes, and Yusaku’s protests die on his tongue.

Chapter Text

No one really talks to him today.

Plenty of people approach, and talk at him but Yusei isn’t really there. He hears the words, hears the my condolences, I knew you used to be close friends and he used to be such a good kid, it’s a shame it had to end this way , but he doesn’t feel the words, just like he doesn’t feel the way Crow’s hand pulls on his shoulder after every hour or the how Martha holds his hand in hers when it’s all said and done.

He doesn’t feel the punch Jack throws at him either, when they’re the only ones left in the graveyard - a ragtag bunch of kids in suits that don’t fit, and Yusei is so infinitely slow in processing the ground that’s suddenly beneath his hands, that the stinging in his cheek doesn’t register, not anymore than the events of the last couple weeks.

Jack’s shouting something, but the words don’t make any sense. Crow shouts something back, indignant and furious. When Yusei looks up from the ground, dirt beneath his nails and mud smearing his jacket, he sees Crow and Jack fighting, punching and kicking, screaming before Jack throws Crow aside and storms off. He doesn’t look back.

Something about the way Jack leaves, like a sudden gut punch, a knee jerk memory from weeks ago, gives Yusei the clarity of mind to at least pull himself over to Crow. He’s got a bruised eye and a split lip, and angry tears he’s trying very hard not to shed. He shoves Yusei away, wearing the same miserable expression he wore when he left their house weeks ago, but today, today Crow doesn’t leave him alone with the ghost of their friend.

Yusei wonders when they had begun to fall apart. Maybe it was when Jack started to drift off, spending less and less time with the three of them, or when Crow started to become so distressed with their lives, so angry with what it was and what it was shaping up to be. Maybe it was when Yusei had tried too hard to keep them together, that he missed all the cracks in their bond and let it all fall to pieces.

“You’re always afraid of taking chances,” Jack said.


 

Crow tries to make peace by taking him out to lunch the next day. A sort of, ‘sorry I nearly shoved you face first into a gravestone’ apology, without undertones of things neither of them seemed willing to admit.

Yusei accepts, mostly because when Yusei passes by the windows around 3 pm, Crow is there, his face shoved up against the glass, waving coupons for a meal somewhere in one hand.

Yusei’s apartment in on the 3rd floor.

“We’re going out to eat,” Crow says, when Yusei opens the window enough for him to climb in. “Bolster our bonds. Eat something cheap and affordable but filling because I bet you haven’t eaten in a week so it falls to me to keep you alive. You know, the usual stuff?”

Crow smiles, scratching the back of his neck and ducking his head a little.

Yusei tries to smile back.

Crow has the grace to pretend that he’s successful at it.

 


 

It’s called the Millenium Puzzle Cafe & Restaurant. The ‘cafe’ part is a small counter at the front with a couple of small chairs clustered around it, and the back leads to a larger area with more space and booths. It’s almost completely empty apart from the staff, and looks - strange, but the prices were affordable even without the coupons, so Yusei just shrugs when Crow sends him confused looks while pointing at what looks like a sarcophagus in the main dining area. Aesthetic, maybe? Yusei tries to convey that theory with just his expression, but somehow Crow seems even more distressed as a result.

Yusei pulls at his face a little, wondering what’s wrong with it.

They’re seated by a boy - man? - with flat, pointed hair, a few strands of blond being the only parts of it not defying gravity. The boy gives Yusei a strange look, but Yusei is too busy trying to make sense out of the menu to say anything  (what was “Exodia Obliterate” supposed to be?) or apologize for the dust in his hair or the grease across his face. Now that they’re farther in, Yusei can see there’s still no one else in the entire restaurant. He’s not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Crow asks him what he wants. Yusei doesn’t know.

“Hi!” The waiter comes by, pouring them water and blissfully unaware of the tension in the air hanging around them. His hair is two shades of brown and he looks to be about their age, maybe somewhere in high school. “My name’s Judai, I’ll be your server today. Do you guys know what you’ll be ordering or do you need more time?”

Crow looks at Yusei, who mechanically orders the first thing off the menu that looks cheap. Numbers. Numbers he can work with: formulas, equations, and one clear answer among them. Crow frowns at him.

“Yusei,” Crow says. “That’s fish. You hate seafood.”

“Oh,” Yusei blinks. He looks again.

Judai stands between them, looking like he wants to say something, opening and closing his mouth several times before he just shoves a pen in his own mouth to stop himself. Yusei, distracted by this, thinks about the ingestion of ink and accidentally orders something with octopus as his next choice.

Crow sighs.

“We’ll both have the lunch special,” He tells Judai, who puts that down on a notepad with a second pen. “The uh, Catapult Turtle Sandwich…?”

“‘Kay,” Judai says, his words coming out distorted around the pen. “It ‘il bee ou’ sow’n.”

When Judai leaves, Crow turns to Yusei, who’s still thinking about the chemical properties of ink. He hands itch for a pen, and scratches at the table with gloved hands as a poor substitute, wanting to throw his muddled brain into something to do, because the alternative isn’t appealing. He wants to - to redesign the color scheme of his bike, or fix the user interface, or re-tune the engine - anything that wasn’t rooted so strongly to back then , to today , and more frightening, a tomorrow without .

Crow opens his mouth, and Yusei realizes where this is going.

“I’m sorry,” Crow says, at the same time Yusei does.

Apparently, two people saying the same exact word but not the same exact meaning have a canceling effect on the other, because after that the two of them sit in silence. Crow taps at the table with his fingers. Yusei looks away and counts the seconds, kept in time by a metronome - a clock on the wall, obnoxiously loud, the like ticking of his heartbeat.

“We can’t live like this,” Crow says, shattering the rhythm. “ You can’t live like this.”

“Who says that’s the idea?” Yusei answers, flatly.

“Don’t you dare,” Crow says, face scrunching up like he’s about to cry. “You don’t get to pull this shit. Not after Kiryu. Not after everything we’ve been through. You don’t - you don’t just get to drop out of this because things are harder now. We have to stick together.”

“If it were that easy,” Yusei murmurs. “Then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

Yusei knows Crow’s first impulse is to stand up and scream, to slam his hands on the table and shout; it’s in the way his shoulder go rigid, how his hands curl into fists and go white. Crow doesn’t deserve this, Yusei knows. Has always deserved better. But Yusei is markedly more interested in what’s better for his friends (friend, singular, he’s lost the rest, isn’t fit to even have the one) than he is in being truthful. And it’s better for Crow to be angry than get dragged down with whatever downward spiral Yusei is headed toward.

(He never was any good at convincing Crow to do anything.)

Crow just - doesn’t scream, doesn’t leave. He reaches over, and grabs Yusei’s wrist, thumb held over a vein.

Counting his heartbeat, Crow looks him right in the eyes.

“I know what you’re trying to do,” Crow says, voice thick. “And it’s partly my fault, I didn’t know you were carrying around the guilt and burden of maintaining our dying friendship as a group. I was too busy looking after the kids, thinking that you were content just - fixing up machines, staring at the stars, trying to keep Kiryu from being alone. I’m sorry. I’m your friend, I should have noticed.”

Somewhere, something breaks, and his heart feels like a chunk of lead in his chest.

“Kiryu is not your fault,” Crow says. “And I know you think you’re trying to prevent a repeat of that by letting Jack walk away, by trying to push me away. You think I don’t know you, Yusei? We’ve been together since you and Jack pulled me out of that gutter when we were kids. You’re my best friend, idiot.”

“You deserve better,” Yusei tells him.

“So do you,” Crow answers, and gives him a crooked smile.

Figures. They were both stupid.

“Kiryu lost everything, and I don’t want that to happen to you too,” Crow says, like a punch to the gut. “His decisions, his choices - they are not on you, or me, or Jack. You tried to help, like you always do. I left, because I couldn’t stand the choices he was making. And neither of us managed to convince Kiryu to stop by doing what we did. But you know there was shit we could do when he made up his mind about something. ”

“We should have noticed,” Yusei says quietly, fingers curling inwards and digging into his palms. “Why didn’t we notice before it became too late?”

“I don’t know,” Crow says. “Why did Jack start hanging out in that abandoned theatre? Why did you start spending your days drawing up blueprints for a motorcycle? We just started to all do our own things, Yusei. And... one last thing about Kiryu, I swear: you did the right thing calling the cops, you know.”

“...That’s nice of you to say,” Yusei looks away, a sickly feeling swelling up in his stomach.

“I’ll keep saying it too, because goddamn we are all really stubborn,” Crow says. “Over and over until you believe me. Friendship indoctrination.”

“Brainwashing,” Yusei says, a corner of his mouth tugging upward. “Creative.”

“I’m nothing if not innovative,” Crow winks. “You ever try actually getting like five kids to go to bed, at the same time ? You need to be not just a top notch negotiator, but like, scary good at convincing people you actually know what you’re doing. Who thought giving me this much responsibility was a good idea ?”

Crow sounds a lot like Martha now, Yusei thinks, and wonders when Crow started acting like a second parent to all the younger children in the orphanage, grown from the brother to the two kids he met on the street years ago, arguing about a card game. Wonders if that’s what Crow wants to be, a parent one day, and an unfamiliar feeling blooms in his chest. Knowing what you what you to be in the future, and knowing how to pursue it.

“Crow,” Yusei starts, wanting to say too many things at once. But the feelings jumble up in his throat, so he tries to say them all in one sentence instead: “You… the kids are lucky to have you looking out for them.”

“Tryin’ to flatter me huh? Don’t think you can distract me from the topic at hand,” Crow says with a laugh, brushing his hair back. But the words start to mend bridge, all the the same, because Crow lets the topic slide, the conversation unresolved but not abandoned - put aside for another day, with a promise that another day would definitely come.

It almost helps.


 

They talk a little too long about nothing, about everything - Crow checks on his phone while drinking water and nearly chokes, because the time reads nearly 8:30.

“Kids,” Crow says, with a laugh. “You know how it is, can’t leave ‘em alone or I’ll return and find out they ate all the crayons in the house or something. Gotta get back before Martha leaves for work, y’know?”

Yusei doesn’t know, actually, but he gives a small smile and nods anyway. He tries to insist on paying but Crow threatens him with bodily harm if he does. Yusei still tries to pay despite this but Crow nearly wrestles him to keep him from reaching his wallet. (“ I’m the one who took you out to lunch, why the hell do you think you should pay? I have coupons stop fighting me on this. ”)

Eventually Crow leaves the bills on the table with a tip, slugs him on the shoulder, promises to text him later, and practically runs out the restaurant with his leftovers in a bag.

So then it’s just Yusei in the vaguely Egyptian themed restaurant that... didn’t actually serve any even vaguely Egyptian-style food.

This place is odd, Yusei thinks, because it didn’t look like it fit in and it certainly didn’t seem to care. The decor was all over the place, like maybe they didn’t have the money to buy a set theme so they scrounged around for furniture resembling what they liked instead. The food was far from picture perfect but it was good and it was affordable, the staff seemingly kind, the building a couple of odd turns from the subway, and just a few blocks away from a much more popular and expensive restaurant.

Kiryu would’ve liked this place , and the thought hits him like a truck.

His head hurts, or maybe it’s his heart, so Yusei takes a sip of water and tries to stand up, to go back, back home and back far away from the ghost he’s trying so hard to avoid.

An entire pitcher of water slams down on his table, knocking over his dish of cold food and scattering its contents across the entire table, and the waiter takes a seat right next to Yusei, who first looks to the food that’s scattered across the table and then slowly to the brown haired waiter that’s now staring him very intently in the face.

“Okay,” Judai says, his voice strained and his expression painfully earnest. “You - you are in a lot of pain and I can’t offer you a free meal because I’m working but please drink this entire pitcher of water.

“What.” Yusei says.

“I was listening to your conversation,” Judai tells him, with no hint of shame. “Off and on, at least. I don’t understand most of it. This Kiryu guy. Don’t know what happened because you’re very unclear. But tell me how I can help.

Yusei’s mind is completely blank.

“Let me help you,” Judai continues. “Because anyone who orders Atem’s fish casserole - intentionally or not - needs serious help because it tastes like a calamari massacre drenched in salad dressing. And I can help, trust me, once my best friend had his favorite ruby gem beast doll tossed into the river and he cried for a week so I gave him my favorite Neo Spacian plush but it wasn’t the same and I spent so much money trying to get him a new ruby beast one from a claw machine and -”

What the hell.

Yusei makes some kind of sudden hacking noise that bursts out of his chest.

It takes him too long to realize it’s laughter.

“Judai.” The boy who seated them appears, a soft voiced individual who came out of nowhere as far as Yusei could tell, but through his blurred vision and his laughter hitting a crack in his voice, Yusei can’t tell much of anything really.

“Hi Yugi,” Judai says, with a sheepish smile.

“Usually the waiter doesn’t join the customers at their table,” Yugi says, sweeping his eyes across the table that looked like it have survived a minor food tornado, and then at the people sitting at it - Judai, looking like a bottle of soda that just had a couple of mentos shoved inside, and Yusei, who has never cried and laughed at the same time in his life and was making an ugly mess of it for his first go.

“Yugi, I -” Judai actually looks like he’s stopping to think before he speaks. “We have to help. He looks like me, like how I was before I came here.”

Yugi makes a quiet hum at this, and then turns on his heel and stalks towards the door. He flips the sign, CLOSED now facing outside. He moves to the back of the room where a door that said Employees Only, pushing it open a crack and shouts, “Atem! We’re closing up early today!”

His reply comes in the form of a massive clatter of pots and pans, but it seems to be an acceptable response to Yugi, who nods and closes the door, heading back to their table. Yusei finally breaks into a coughing fit, ending his laughter and cutting off his tears before they can escape. He throws his hand to his mouth to cover it and tries to internalize the fit, body shaking with every cough he doesn’t let out.

“Hey, stop that.”

Judai shoves Yusei’s glass to his face, pushing it into his cheek until Yusei finally takes the glass himself and drinks from it. It’s lukewarm and he doesn’t feel any better for having drank it, but it helps stop the coughing.

“I don’t -” Yusei says, and his voice breaks. He tries again, softer. “Please don’t close up on my account. I’ll be fine. I can leave.”

“No, you won’t,” Yugi says, lightly. “You’re going to stay put with Judai for a bit.”

“You’ll feel better after you drink some more water,” Judai says. “Sorry about earlier, uh, I have this habit of butting in when I think I can help. You reminded me of, well, me , when I was in my third year of high school.”

“How so?” Yusei’s voice is barely above a whisper. The only volume he can trust his voice at right now.

“You look like you’ve lost an important friend,” Judai says, and that’s all it takes for everything to come apart in his head.

Yusei can’t see, he can’t see because it’s all tears and unwanted memories now, and he grits his teeth because he’s pissed and he’s miserable and he’s never known how to acknowledge those feelings, always brushing them aside because there was never anything useful out of being angry at his friends or sad about his life, but now it’s too much, it’s overflowing and he’s bothering some strangers with his grief and Yusei doesn’t know how to stop.

Yugi pours him another glass of water.

 


 

Atem makes him eat the food he cooked. Yusei doesn’t taste anything, but his stomach stops growling and the man looks satisfied once the plate is cleared, so it’s a win for somebody he guesses.

Yusei doesn’t talk. He doesn’t tell them about a boy named Kiryu Kyosuke, who Yusei looked up to more than anyone. Kiryu, who taught him how to find something worth living for, and how to fight for it; how to throw an effective right hook, and ruffled his hair the first time he got it right. Kiryu, who took in three directionless brats with no dreams and no future, and gave them hope, showed Yusei, Jack, and Crow how to look at the slums and see potential, not garbage. Kiryu, who started down a dark path that Yusei didn’t see, didn’t know of it until Kiryu had a gun pointed at an officer and pulled the trigger.

Yusei doesn’t tell them how Kiryu was arrested after Yusei called 911, staring down an alley full of blood and none of it Kiryu’s, or how Jack and Crow had to physically restrain Kiryu until the cops took him away, Kiryu spitting Yusei’s name out along with the word traitor .

There were signs, red bright neon signs that say you should have known and you failed him , times when Yusei scratched the surface but was too stupid to look any deeper.

Hindsight is 20/20 but Yusei might as well have been blind, then and now, because he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to shut it all down, because he can still hear the sound of the gun firing and traitor traitor traitor and -

And Kiryu was right.

Yusei should have just said it was him. That he shot the officer. That he was disillusioned with the system and their lives, that he believed starting a war with the law itself would free the oppressed from their place at rock bottom. Then, Jack and Crow could have gotten Kiryu the help he needed, could have been there for him like Yusei hadn’t, and it would’ve just been Yusei that died alone in that cold prison cell. Yusei would have never betrayed Kiryu, for want of a nail. That should have happened instead, but it didn’t. It didn’t, and that hurt, that Kiryu died when he had so much life to him and died alone from an unfair and cruel death, murdered by those sworn to ‘serve and protect’; it hurt like an open wound with something festering in it, but more than anything, Yusei can feel the broken bond like shrapnel in his heart. Because Yusei knows Kiryu died hating him.

It’s all shrapnel and poison, tearing his body apart, and Yusei feels sick, and it has nothing to do with the food he can’t even taste.

He doesn’t tell these strangers anything, but somehow they look at him like they know.

“Why are you doing this?” Yusei asks, eventually, when it’s just him and Yugi at the table, Judai off to wash the windows and Atem following to make sure he didn’t break them somehow.

“Here,” Yugi answers instead by taking him by the hand, and pulling him to his feet. Yusei’s head throbs, but he can stand without the world feeling like it was about to fall out from under him, and that’s progress if nothing else. “Come with me for a second.”

And Yusei, who has been raised to be suspicious of the fake kindness of strangers, lets himself be pulled along, because there’s something warm about Yugi Mutou that Yusei recognizes, the same kind of warmth that Judai had when he said let me help you and Atem had when he stood over his table and ordered him to eat. The same of warmth he felt when he was six years old, when Crow and Jack were grinning at him with their fists bumping against his, laughing and happy and together.

The warmth he had when he met Kiryu, who led the way with an open hand and a satisfied smile.

Yugi leads him to the kitchen, making Yusei stand in front of a stove while Yugi brings over a couple pans and then ingredients: tomatoes and spices and a bowl of noodles from the fridge.

“How well can you cook?” Yugi asks.

“I don’t know,” Yusei says. Apart from basic sandwiches and microwaved freezer dishes, Yusei hardly even works with food, and most of the time leaves it to his roommates Blitz or Nerve to cook. “I’ve never really tried.”

“Then today we’re going to go over some basics,” Yugi smiles. “Pasta is pretty good for beginners, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

Yusei nods, because he’s learned so far that arguing with these people seems to get him nowhere.

Pasta is fairly simple, so Yugi says, but because cooking is precise Yusei has to concentrate on timing and precision, and it’s enough that it’s all he’s focused on. Listening to Yugi’s voice as he goes over the instructions. Repetition of cutting, stirring, and mixing, keeping track of how much more time the noodles need to be the right kind of soft and making sure the sauce doesn’t burn. Adding the correct amount of salt and seasonings. Focus on a single goal. It’s simple.

It’s blissfully simple, and for a while that act of making something is distracting enough that Yusei almost forgets.

Yugi tries his pasta, when all is said and done. So does Yusei, and it’s something of a success; not quite al dente and the sauce was a bit runny, but it wasn’t bad. Yugi smiles at him, looking a bit like a proud teacher, and Yusei guesses cooking might be - productive, if nothing else, a clear cut goal and creating something worthwhile at the end. Almost like pulling together scraps and making a machine.

Atem comes by soon after, with Judai trailing after him carrying cleaning supplies.

“So,” Atem eyes the plate in front of Yugi. “Verdict?”

“He’s a quick learner,” Yugi says, shoving another forkful into his mouth. “And if what Judai says is true, having someone who could fix the stuff you two break would save us a fortune.”

“I do not break things, these two are vicious liars ,” Judai tells Yusei, as he knocks over a cup of water. “Uh.”

“...Fix what stuff?” Yusei asks.

“The cash registers broken,” Atem says, shrugging. “I think it’s defective.”

“It’s not the defective one when you break the other register and the backup register as well.” Judai mutters. “ And nearly destroyed our only dishwasher.”

“But how do you know I can fix them?” Yusei presses.

“You have that mechanic look to you,” Judai says, his voice taking on an air of mysticality. “I can see it in you. There’s a very special look in your eyes, like the gears of destiny spinning in a strange direction. Strange like, uh, the High Priestess card in the… upside down position…?”

Yusei’s special eyes stare at him, narrowed.

“I heard you and your friend talking about it,” Judai relents. “I eavesdropped. You were literally the only customers I’ve had today okay? I was bored, Yugi was trying to make me learn this weird tarot card stuff with like a billion things to memorize. And like, you guys came in on the coolest motorcycle that I’ve ever seen!”

Yusei stares at Judai, who keeps making large and grand gestures with his arms as he attempts to visually mimic a motorcycle. He also mimes crashing into the ocean as said motorcycle, with screeching tire noises and what is probably is supposed to be the sound of an explosion.

“Simply put,” Atem says. “We’re offering you a job here.”

“I think something to keep you busy would be the kind of thing you’d need,” Yugi says, putting down his fork. “We won’t pry, Yusei-kun. I understand you’ve had a rough few days, and talking about it may not be how you would best deal with it, especially since we don’t know each other well.”

“But we do know talent,” Atem says, folding his arms. “Always moving forward is the best way to confront grief, as well as further improve ourselves and our potential. It seems like something that might apply to you in particular.”

“Please,” Judai begs, yanking Yusei’s hands into his in a startlingly quick motion. Judai’s eyes begin to water and Yusei finds himself staring into a pair of really big, puppy-like eyes. “I love working here but I can’t deal with this on my own.

“Um,” Yusei says, looking at their hands.

“I barely passed woodshop in middle school,” Judai says, still not letting go. “I can almost fix a wobbly table. If it was just minor damages, I’d be fine with that. But Atem -   you haven’t seen what he did to the toaster .”

“What do you mean, what I did to the toaster?” Atem scoffs. “It broke after I tried making toast.”

“No,” Judai rounds on him. “What you did in there was pure chaos.

Between them, Yugi sighs.

“I… have to think about it,” Yusei says, ducking his head. “Give me some time. Please.”

“You can have all the time you need,” Yugi says, but Atem interrupts with: “You can have the night. I expect your answer by tomorrow.”

Yusei nods.

Atem ,” Yugi turns to him, frowning. “You can’t rush him.”

“Time waits for no one,” Atem says, shrugging. “Life goes on with or without you. It’s fine to be grieving, but not if it’s to the point where nothing else matters. The deadline stands. We’ll see you tomorrow, with your answer.”

Yugi helps him put the remainder of the pasta into a container, whatever that Judai doesn’t instantly eat up anyway, and hands it to him in a little plastic bag.

“Be safe on your way home tonight,” Yugi tells Yusei, with kind eyes and a bright smile.

The air outside the restaurant is warm, a humid summer night with a mildly pleasant wind brushing past him. Not as uncomfortable as it was earlier, driving down a road baked in the typical summer heat, but not as cool as the building he just left. Yusei’s not even out of the parking lot when he hears someone call his name. He turns, and Atem is striding out of the doors to meet him.

“Here,” Atem takes Yusei’s free hand and shoves something into it. “I think this will help.”

“What’s this?”

“A charm,” Atem says, pinning an intense stare on him.

Yusei lifts his hand up, and lets it dangle in the light coming off the street lamps. At the end of a short and small chain, a bronze gold eye with two curved lines extending out from the bottom of it stares at him.

“The Eye of Wdjat, for protection,” Atem spins the eye around, showing off a different blue and white design on the back, curved lines ever moving, with small stars flowing in between. “And the winds of change, for clear mind.”

“I - Thank you,” Yusei clutches the charm to his chest. “But why? Why do all this for me ?”

“Who says we’re just doing it for you?” Atem smirks. “Yugi and I like to help people, that’s all. Judai was someone we helped, and he paid forward that kindness to you. I leave this charm to you in the hopes it will allow you to focus on exactly what you need to.”

Atem then turns and starts walking back to the building. Yusei turns away too, turning the charm around in his hands, only stopping when he hears Atem one last time.

“Your friend wouldn’t have been satisfied with an ordinary life, even if it cost him everything,” Atem calls out, the sound of his footsteps growing farther away. “And I suspect, neither would you.”

How did he know that?

Yusei whips around, the words on the tip of his tongue and -

He is alone in the parking lot.

Yusei looks back down to the charm in his hand, at the eye that stares back up at him, flipping it over to the other side where the light colors and style makes it look like the wind blowing through the stars.

“You’re always afraid of taking chances,” Jack said, the night he and Crow announced that they were leaving. Kiryu was upstairs, locked in his own room, the walls covered in papers and half-thought out plans of rebellion. Crow had already walked out, promising to never return. “You think staying with Kiryu is the safer choice. It’s not, Yusei. For either you or Kiryu, this won’t work out. You know that.”

Yusei looked at him, one of the people he’d known for all his life, and realized that his friends all had evolved into strangers at some point. He couldn’t comprehend their words, couldn’t understand the notion of just abandoning Kiryu, no more than he could understand Kiryu’s new obsession.

“Kiryu is our friend, Jack. I’ll talk him out of this. I have to help him.”

“You’re just too afraid to move on.”

He closes his fist around the charm, and takes a step forward.

 


 

The next day, Yusei drops a toolbox on the counter in front of Atem, who doesn’t look even remotely surprised.

“Where do I start?” Yusei asks.

Atem smiles, something genuine and welcoming, and Yusei feels the familiar sensation of belonging settle back in his heart.

Chapter Text

Normal job and normal friends , Ignis had said.

Yusaku looks at the duffle bag Yuya has managed to get stuck in the door frame with, overflowing with what looks like brightly colored clothes, heavily scribbled on sheets of paper, a pillow shaped like a hippo, and several bowling ball pins.

Yusaku stares until Yuya notices, and is sent a wide grin and a thumbs up.

Yuya is still stuck.

“So,” Yuya says, craning his neck around. “Nice place you have here.”

It’s very tempting to just leave him there.

 


 

When Yuya is properly unstuck, he’s treated to a grand tour of Yusaku’s house.

That is, a tour of Yusaku’s really empty, bare minimum, bland house.

“Do you… live by yourself?” Yuya asks, when he discovers that his voice actually has the ability to echo inside. Yusaku stands there and listens to Yuya shout ‘echo’ a few times, until he tires of his newfound discovery.

“My parents are in a different city,” Yusaku tells him, the mixture of truth and lies perfected into a flawless routine. “I live here to attend school.”

“Oh wow,” Yuya says, blinking. “That sounds tough. I can barely make it through my life with the help of my mom and brothers, haha.”

“How… many brothers do you exactly have?” Yusaku asks, as Yuya drops his duffel bag by the stairs. He needs to be prepared in case there are any more Yuya clones that could appear and contribute to the growing daily disasters.

“Only four!” Yuya says, like that’s a normal number of nearly identical siblings to have. “Generally it’s just me, Yugo, Yuto, and Yuri, but uh, Zarc is usually off at college. He’s. Um. Difficult to live with.”

“So I’ve noted,” Yusaku says.

“We don’t get along at all,” Yuya says, pulling out several papers. “We used to be really alike as a kid, you know? Zarc was kind of a role model to all of us, we wanted to be just like him. But, well, people change. Not always for the better.”

That’s a topic he understands a little too well, and Yusaku looks away for a moment.

“But really, thanks again for inviting me over for the week!” Yuya chirps, turning back to Yusaku with eyes that were practically sparkling. “Seriously, all of us and Zarc? In one place, together? It’s bad. Really bad. So it’s great that I can avoid him for a bit here. I mean it. Thanks.”

Yusaku wants to point three things: one, out he didn’t invite anyone over for any reason, and two, he was more or less ignored as Judai and Yusei planned out a way for Yuya to recover his things from his home and transport him to Yusaku’s house, while Yuma chipped in some rice balls for moral support.

And three, as fascinating as all this Personal Backstory Information that Yuya seems strangely fine with sharing; Yusaku doesn’t want to care about it. Friends are…. a nice thought, but in a war against Hanoi, a teenage entertainer with hair styled in the image of a tomato is best left out of it. He doesn’t need anymore friends or allies than the ones he has, and he doesn’t want to drag anyone else down because of his revenge.

He means to say something like, “That’s rough, buddy,” because Yusaku at least knows how to show basic politeness, when there’s a distinct thump that resounds from above. They both look up.

“What was that?”

“...I’ll go check,” Yusaku says, because he has a Bad Feeling about it. “You’re free to help yourself to anything in the kitchen in the meantime.”

Yusaku vaults up his stairs before Yuya can respond. There really isn’t anything in his room that could cause any sort of noise, except —

ACK!”

The AI.

“What are you doing?” Yusaku closes the door behind him, stalking across his room in quick steps.

There’s a short burst of electricity as the AI hides behind a plethora of pop up ads on his monitor.

NOTHING, ” says the AI.

“This doesn’t look like nothing.” Yuya looks at what can best be described as Definitely Something. “What… did you do.. .”

“I got bored.” The AI says.

Yusaku picks up something that had fallen off his desk, and stares at it with something akin to horror, though it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“You turned my roomba into a… a drone?”

Somehow, his roomba, a device meant to stay on the floor , had been outfitted with an external motor and hoverblades, which look to be powerful enough to theoretically to support its weight in the air. It should not be in the air. Yusaku has a sudden vision of the roomba-drone banging into everything in his room and dropping dust onto his head in the middle of the night.

The former-roomba chirps at him, it’s display LED flashing a smiley face.

“It was that or stick a knife on it,” The AI throws up a laughing emoji onto his screen. “This way, I can do some recon while you’re out being a sour patch kid. Or chase pigeons and frogs, I guess.”

Amazing. Nothing in that sentence made even a molecule of sense.

“I’m going to delete you,” Yusaku says, while his brain slowly reboots itself. He sets the drone down by his chair. “Or dissect your program, byte by byte. I don’t know how you did this, but your drone is going into the compost bin.”

“Wait, what?” The AI’s avatar morphs into a question mark. “At least put it in the recycling bin?”

“I’m going to bury it.” Yusaku opens his desk drawer and fishes around in it until he finds a USB big enough to hold Ignis’ ego. “Along with you if you don’t turn your volume down.”

This catches the programs attention.

“Why, what’s going on?”

“I have a… co-worker staying over for the week.” Yusaku plugs the thing in. “I’m locking you into my USB, where you’ll be staying until I meet up with Kusanagi tomorrow. We’ll be contacting a source about a backdoor into SOL techn—”

“YOU HAVE SOMEONE OVER?” The volume dial spikes up to 100, to the misery of Yusaku’s ears. “SO SOON? My dear little Playmaker , growing up so fast! Making friends! Maybe eventually, you’ll find a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, or at least a friend that’s not surrounded by fast food all da—”

Yusaku rips the audio plug from his speakers.

 


 

“Um, so were you on the phone with your parents or something?” Yuya asks when Yusaku returns downstairs, his stupid drone-roomba kicked underneath his bed, the stupid AI hostage dragged into a USB and then stuffed into his pocket. “I heard shouting. You’re not in trouble because I’m here, right?”

“No, you’re fine,” Yusaku says. “That was… an unrelated conversation. Don’t worry about it.”

Yuya makes a quizzical face at him, but then shrugs and returns to a megawatt smile that is frankly, blinding to directly look at. Everything should be fine, though. Having someone over is a normal teenager activity. Yusaku can handle it, as long as Yuya doesn’t throw him for a loop with some weird, strange request.

“So,” Yuya says. “What do you want to do now?”

Abort abort abort, something that sounds an awful lot like the AI trumpets in his head.

“...What would you like to do?” Yusaku says, because his afternoon plans had centered around breaking into one of SOL Technologies databases and staring at a computer screen for several hours trying to find miniscule clues about a conspiracy only three people on earth seem to believe in.

“What do you normally do for fun?”

“Uh,” Yusaku fishes around his brain for an answer that’s not totally a lie. “Work on my computer.”

“...All the time?”

“...Yes.”

“...Yusaku,” Yuya’s face takes on a concerned edge to it. He takes Yusaku’s hand with both of his, and says, confusingly. “ You’re such a nerd .”

 


 

Because it’s the weekend, Yusaku doesn’t have to yet worry about how to direct Yuya from his house to Yuya’s school, but it does mean they both have to get up early to work due to the unfortunate luck of being scheduled for the morning shift that day. Yusaku attempts to serve a dismal meal of toast and water, Yuya finds eggs from somewhere and tries to make sunny side up eggs, and they end up with the world’s most pathetic looking breakfast but nothing seems to dim Yuya’s smile or early morning enthusiasm.

Yusaku’s apartment isn’t that far, so they set off for work around seven, Yuya bounding down the steps and Yusaku thinking about how he has very rarely seen the sun rise and how he could have continued not knowing what it looked like in person.

“Let’s gooo ,” Yuya says, adjusting the goggles on his head. “We don’t want to be late, seriously, I got a reputation during my first week for always being late which was one hundred percent not my fault , and they never let me live it down if I’m even five minutes behind schedule. Go go go!”

“How long have you been working there?” Yusaku asks, less out of curiosity and more out of weariness.

“Oh, maybe a year or two?” Yuya says, stretching his arms out to the sky. “They hired me shortly after Yuma, though uh, I’m not entirely sure they should have considering that we definitely weren’t of legal working age at the time but then again, I did put my age as 16 when I submitted the application and Atem was kind of making a special case for us so...” 

“Won’t your brother know, then?” Yusaku asks, adjusting the collar of his uniform beneath his jacket. “Where you work. Wouldn’t he be able to find you there?”

“He might,” Yuya admits, scratching his neck. “But I’m not afraid of going to work.”

And when Yusaku stares at Yuya, a little more curious than he’d like to admit, Yuya just smiles.

“You haven’t seen Atem when he gets mad,” Yuya says. “Like, really, seriously mad.”

Yusaku gets the feeling that maybe, he never really wants to. The rest of the walk is in silence, where Yusaku is cataloging this new information into his mental folder of “weird things about my workplace” and Yuya tries to do cartwheels on the sidewalk and narrowly avoids tumbling into a trashcan.

When Yusaku shoulders through the door to the cafe / restaurant / madhouse with Yuya right behind him, he’s greeted by what could only be described as a prima donna showdown by the world’s tallest ego in human form and Atem. Yusaku, instinctively sensing Weirdness happening, ducks behind a potted plant.

“You actually have customers?” The tall, brown haired man sneers, towering over everyone in the nearby vicinity. “I’m surprised you can even generate the revenue to afford plastic spoons.”

“At least our food isn’t priced so high that it’d be cheaper to buy a house than to eat at your absurd dragon shaped building ,” Atem snaps. In between them, Yugi is eyeing the cup of coffee in front of him like he was wishing it was something a lot stronger.

From behind him and his potted plant hiding spot, Yuya peers over his shoulder, and makes a soft sound of recognition.

“That’s Seto Kaiba,” Yuya informs him, squinting. “He owns the Blue Eyes White Dragon Cafe brand and chain. There’s one on the other side of town. Kaiba and Atem argue every other week.”

Just name a place and time, we will crush you, ” Atem vows, voice crashing through Yuya’s sentence. “Just like we have before.”

“It’ll be different this time,” Kaiba says, the smug aura around him managing to choke the very air around them. “Domino Arcade, tonight, the usual time.”

“Oh no,” Yuya whispers.

Kaiba turns on his heel, his huge coat flaring out behind his as he strides past Yusaku and Yuya and out the doors without a second glance. Yusaku and Yuya stumble out of their hiding spot, and Yusaku is faced with the full brunt of Atem’s intense glare.

“Yuya, Yusaku,” Atem snaps. “We’re going to the arcade after work today. Make sure Yusei and Judai know. Yuma too, he’s got some time before he leaves on that school trip.”

“What’s going on?” Yusaku asks, but Atem is too busy completely ignoring him to answer, stalking into his office like a teenager with a grudge to settle and slamming the door behind him.

“Team building exercise,” Yugi answers instead, wearing a thin smile. “Mandatory. Sorry. Atem and Kaiba have this really intense rivalry.”

“...What does that have to do with the entire staff going to the arcade?” Yusaku asks, his blood running cold while Yuya slumps over a nearby chair with a sigh.

“You’ll see,” Yuya says.

 


 

What Yusaku ends up seeing is grown adults act like children when it comes to competing over kid games. 

No one appears exempt from this rule — Yusaku walked in and the first thing he saw was Yugi and some dark haired boy engaged in what looked like chess, but with capsules and monster statues instead. Yugi didn’t even glance at him while handing him a small bag of tokens, so engrossed in his game that Yusaku got by without much of a greeting.

“You know I’m the regional champion at Capsule Monsters, Yugi,” The black hair boy says, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed, a smug grin on his face. “You’re about two turns from getting curb stomped.”

“Mokuba,” Yugi says, in the sweetest voice possible. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to destroy you.”

Yusaku next sees Yusei and some tall, extremely loud blonde haired man engaged in a racing game, something called Accel Synchro. The both of them are riding plastic motorcycles and giving it their utmost attention. Yusei is winning.

“It’s okay, Jack,” A small, green haired child standing next to the two says. “You’re still pretty cool even though you’re not the king at this game anymore.”

That appears to have been the exactly wrong thing to say, as Jack stops concentrating on the game to turn and yell at the small child, who seems unperturbed about it. Jack loses spectacularly shortly after this, and Yusei gets off the fake motorcycle, turning away from his screen and sees Yusaku. He waves, and reluctantly, Yusaku accepts his fate and approaches.

“Welcome to Domino Arcade,” Yusei says, faintly smiling as the noise besides him escalates. “Thanks for coming, I know it probably wasn’t how you wanted to spend your evening. Where’s Yuya?”

“Still picking up all the tokens he spilled by the machine while trying to do some complicated coin tricks,” Yusaku says, slightly mollified by Yusei’s calm demeanor, a slightly less weird oasis in a desert of odd people. “What am I supposed to do here?”

“Play games,” Yusei answers, shrugging. “Atem and Yugi make nights like this a team-building thing, but it’s mostly so they can duel Kaiba. We’re along for the ride in case it rolls teams, but it also happens that half of Kaiba’s main customers have an interest in these nights as well. So it’s kind of fun.”

Yusaku looks at Jack and the green haired child, who are still squabbling, and back to Yusei, who just shrugs, wearing a small amused smile.

“Want to try racing me?” Yusei asks.

“No,” Yusaku says, but does anyway. He climbs into the plastic bike once Jack gets off, feeling distinctly out of place. Jack makes a bunch of criticisms about his posture, and Yusaku gets the feeling his spine will never quite mold into the perfectly straight back pose that Jack seems to suggest.

“Don’t listen to Jack,” says the green haired boy. “He hasn’t won at this game in months.”

“No one asked you, Rua,” Jack says. “Be quiet.”

Yusaku isn’t a fan of most games, partly because he doesn’t have the time to indulge in them, but he especially isn’t fond of video games. Hasn’t been fond of them for a long time now. The saving grace of a racing game is that there’s no declaration of failure, no nightmares flashing before his eyes, just numbers between first and last place. It’s close, but not the same, so Yusaku can keep his eyes on the screen — as long as he finishes, as long as he gets to the end, it’s fine.

Yusaku comes close, but Yusei still takes first place, his initials lining up next to the #1 spot. The game asks if he wants to try again, and Yusaku politely informs Yusei he’d like to waste his tokens somewhere else. Maybe something like a gambling game; the faster he burns through the tokens Yugi gave him, the more likely he could make an excuse and leave early.

“Yusei is like the king at this game,” Yuya says, who must’ve shown up sometime after Yusaku got roped into this. “You did pretty well to keep up with him until that last lap.”

“How long do I have to be here?” Yusaku asks as Yuya begins walking towards the back of the arcade, leaving Yusaku to follow. “I don’t mean to be impolite I just — I have somewhere to be, later.”

“Eh, you could probably leave in like thirty minutes if you really want to,” Yuya shrugs. “Kaiba and Atem are already in the middle of their strategy game thing, so it looks like they aren’t even going to bother pretending to need a team tonight. I think.”

They find Yuma next, playing some sort of dungeon crawling game, furiously hitting the buttons and wiggling the joystick. Atem and Kaiba are nearby, and the sheer focus they have on some Magician VS Dragon fighting game was more scary than anything else.

Yuma is proving to be surprisingly adept at whatever it is he’s playing — Barian Invaders , or something — and it actually appears as though he’s managed to make it to the final boss of the game. He dodges and counter attacks with practiced ease, and almost has a perfect run, just a few points shy of a new high score. The monster dies, dramatically, and Yuma throws his arms up, also dramatically. After the game happily informs him that he’s won, he inputs his name to add to the high score list.

Yuma’s name makes it to 2nd place, slotted in right below a player who called themself ASTRAL.

Yuma abruptly stands up, and it’s at this point he notices the two behind him. Yuya enthusiastically waves, Yusaku tries to mimic it but can barely muster a vague shaking motion with his arm.

“Hey Yuya, and new guy!” Yuma gets up and walks over to them. “What’s up? Yuya, have you tried the new Performapal game yet?”

“There’s a new Performapal game?” Yuya asks.

“Yeah, I heard they made a new one ‘cause they pulled the plug on the old one, Performapal Skull Bat Something?”

Performapal Skullcrobat Joker ,” Yuya says, and then melts into a puddle on the floor. “Nooo, I loved Skullcrobat Joker. How could they do this?”

“Really?” Yuma tilts his head to the side. “I’ve never even seen you play that while it was here.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Yuya says, voice muffled by the floor’s carpet. “I love all the Performapal series. All of them.”

“...Okay then,” Yuma says, and then smiles at Yusaku. “Wanna join me for a co-op game? Gagaga Cowboy can do two-player.”

He points to a game over his shoulder, down a few from the game he was just playing — a large game set up with plastic gun controllers and brightly colored art of a cowboy wearing a large red cape. Yuma is almost about to pull him over with just the strength of his pure unadulterated enthusiasm when Yusaku’s eyes land on a key aspect of the game.

“I don’t play VR games,” Yusaku says, backing up and nearly tripping over Yuya.

“Oh, are you one of those people who get dizzy playing them or something?” Yuma grabs Yusaku’s arm, keeping him from toppling over. “Trust me, it’s more like an overlay over reality than a real VR game, like a pair of goggles that let you see stuff on top of everything. It’s really fun—”

I don’t want to play, ” Yusaku snaps, and Yuma lets go of his arm.

The arcade feels suffocating now, like the walls have been bleached a sterile white and have narrowed in on him when he wasn’t looking. The music of twenty different games all playing at once, the dizzying colors of the floor and walls, all of it is for a minute muted and lost, and Yusaku has to dig his nails into the palm of his hand to keep himself grounded.

“...Okay,” Yuma says. “Um. Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Yusaku says, but doesn’t mean it. “I need to go.”

“Right now?” Yuya asks, standing up with the help of an arcade console. “Uhh quick question, should I come with you or meet up with you later? Because I don’t remember the way back to your apartment.”

Their living situation is the last thing on Yusaku’s mind, but he takes a moment to pull himself out of a fight or flight mode. Yuma meant no harm. Yuya means no harm. They’re just… kids. Regular teenagers. They don’t deserve the brunt of his anger.

They aren’t Hanoi.

Yusaku softens, or at least, he tries to.

That has to count for something.

“I’ll meet up with you later. I won’t be out long,” Yusaku says, and Yuya perks up. “...We can grab dinner then, I’ll pay. I’ll text you when I’m on my way back.”

“Really?” Yuya’s eyes get all round and shiny, like a polished nickel. Even if Yusaku had wanted to go back on that promise, he is now faced with the expression of a child who has been promised far too much to let him down now. Yusaku takes note of this danger for the future.

“Yeah.”

“Aw yeah!” Yuya starts cheering, and being a generally enthusiastic guy, high fives Yuma, who looks just as happy even though he has not been promised free food.

Yusaku leaves the arcade, passing his coworkers all engaged in typically weird things — Yugi seems to have gotten involved in the Atem VS Kaiba battle, and is doing well if Kaiba’s growling is any sort of indicator. Judai is playing some sort of virtual tennis game, and keeps flinching like he’s actually getting hit in the face with a tennis ball, so that’s probably not a positive sign. And Yusei is helping the short green haired boy — Rua, play a skateboarding simulator; the kid is very enthusiastic, and very bad at the game.

It’s a cold night when Yusaku finally gets outside, a lot more quiet and the street much less painfully colorful. It’s helpful, taking a breath of chill air, and not being assaulted by so many sounds and flashing lights all at once. It wasn’t a bad experience per say, but one Yusaku wouldn’t really want to deal with too often.

When was the last time Yusaku went to an arcade?

Probably… when he was a kid. Before things changed. Before time stopped.

It felt weirdly normal in a sort of detached way, like something he’d be doing if his life was on a simpler path. Like something he would have wanted, maybe, like Yuma and Yuya did, if he was only able to forget.

Yusaku shakes his head, clearing his thoughts. No use in thinking about it, not when he’s committed to what he’s doing now. Not when the whole reason he’s doing what he is now, is because he can’t forget. And he can’t forgive.

Tonight, he will hack into SOL Technologies archives.

Chapter Text

Judai has been chosen to teach a new hire how to do his job so he doesn’t have to. Most people call that “being fired” but Yugi is nice, so he phrases it like “you’ve been promoted”. There is zero change in his job title because it’s still ‘waiter , the only difference ends up being is that he no longer has to run salad bar role or support duties, because they’ve gone and hired someone Young and New and Shiny to do these roles for them, in addition to the other Young and New and Shiny kid they already hired for that exact purpose.

Which is all great, probably, but for some reason, this means Judai is supposed to be a job trainer for two whole days.

“I thought being promoted was supposed to be a good thing,” Judai says, sitting in his seat backwards and slouching over the top of the chair. “Like, I thought it was that I get less work to do. Doesn’t Yusei have more experience training people anyway? Shouldn’t he train this Yuya kid like he did with Yuma?”

“That was the plan, until Yusei showed up to work soaking wet and with a fever,” Atem says, leaning on Yugi’s desk. Atem has a perfectly nice and empty desk just a few feet away, but he seldom uses it, instead choosing to crowd around Yugi’s whenever they’re both in the room. “Now we have no choice. Congratulations.”

Normally, Yusei is immune to all sorts of sickness, so Judai is reasonably sure this must be a sign that the end is near, and that Yusei is probably going to die from hypothermia or something equally incurable.

“Yusei insists that I not take him to the hospital,” Yugi says, his face stuck somewhere between concerned and exasperated. “I’m particularly worried about how high his temperature is… And he won’t go home either. He’s acting rather strange today, so I don’t want him to be left alone.”

“He can’t be near the food or customers in this state,” Atem says. “So you either train Yuya Sakaki, or you watch over Yusei.”

“Do I get to pick which job I’d prefer?”

“No.”



So Judai gets ready to meet Yuya Sakaki for training on his first day on the job.

Jokes on Atem, being out in the main area with a trainee working is slightly more appealing than tending to the sick anyway. Judai feels a little sorry for Yusei, but not sorry enough to fight for the chance to catch that fever.

He’s stuck waiting by the door, though, because this Yuya kid is late , so Judai practices balancing plates, thinking about an old TV show he watched as a kid, about heroes and aliens and by the time Judai snaps out of it, he’s been waiting for like, forty five minutes.

Judai begins tapping at the podium in impatience, waiting has never been his strong suit.

...What is their late policy anyway? Is Judai supposed to like, be the Responsible Adult and chastise the kid when he gets here? That doesn’t sound like something he would do, but then again, there’s that promise he made to Sho’s brother about growing up, so maybe he should give it a go?

It was a really dramatic speech, promising his best friend’s brother that he’d mature while said brother was experiencing actual heart failure, and while he might’ve gotten very caught up in the moment, Judai meant every word of it. But there’s being a grown up and being a jerk while pretending it was being grown up. The last time he tried, it ended up being the latter. He isn’t very good at this, but at least he’s trying? But would Yuya know the difference?

While Judai is debating the virtues of being mature, seconds away from making a venn diagram with the crayons they have stashed nearby for children, someone bursts through the door wearing a crooked nametag and a very loose necktie, and they’re definitely no one Judai has seen before.

“Uh. Are you Yuya?” Judai asks, putting the crayons down.

“Yeah. Sorry I’m late. Are you Yusei Fudo?” Yuya asks, slightly out of breath. “I was told I was supposed to be training with him today.”

Judai’s first impression of Yuya Sakaki is… he’s dressed in awfully bright colors for such a dour kid. Even from a few feet away, he can tell this Yuya kid emits an aura of gloominess that Judai suspects that goths can only dream of obtaining.

“Sorry, Yusei’s busy dying in the break room right now,” Judai says. “I’ll be training you in his place instead. Nice to meet you.”

“I — Did you say someone’s dying ?” Yuya asks, his eyebrows rising upwards. “I was told this is supposed to be a normal restaurant job.”

“It is, Yusei’s caught a fever from non-work related activities,” Judai says, tossing the kid his nametag. “He’s a rebel without a cause right now, free from his previous gang-related activities, so who knows what he’s doing off hours that got him all wet in the middle of the winter.”

“He has — what?

“We here at the, uh, millennial whatever cafe do not support getting the... pneumonia… plague, or advocate its existence.” Judai says, handing Yuya a menu. Yuya clutches it like a shield, looking at Judai like he’s not sure how serious he is. “He’s probably still getting paid for showing up though, Yugi is such a softie. But don’t let his eyes fool you. Yugi is lethal at poker.”

“Who’s Yugi? Who are you?

“My name’s Judai Yuki! C’mon, let’s get started.” Judai takes the kid by the shoulders and rushes him to the kitchen, while Yuya wears a look resembling a deer caught in headlights.


 
“Could you — just, try not to look like you’ve been sent to assassinate Maximillion Pegasus?” Judai asks, a bit desperately, after Yuya has inadvertently scared off another customer with his face when asked to bring out more salad plates. If looks could kill, Judai wouldn’t have enough time to bury all the bodies before the cops showed up. “You gotta loosen up, man, seriously. Can you smile? Just a little? Please?”

“Why?” Yuya turns to glower on him, and Judai suppresses the immediate fight or flight instinct it gives him. “I’m just here to work.”

“It makes people feel better when they’re not being glared at or, you know, feeling like they’re eating somewhere where a dark phantom isn’t about to cut them in half for giving a bad tip.”

He looks unconvinced, so Judai tries a different approach.

“Smiling makes people happy, you know?” Judai demonstrates with his own face. “When things are rough, a smile can go a long way. Even if we’re just a restaurant, we should do our best to help people at least feel comfortable while they’re here, and not spend all our time brooding in the corner.”

Yuya, to Judai’s relief, drops some of the tenseness in his shoulders, slouching forward and sighing.

“I understand. Sorry,” Yuya says, looking at his reflection in the glass window, and eventually his mouth curls up a little at the corners, like he’s remembering something nice. “Smile… Yeah, I can do that.”



The next day, Yusei still shows up to work — sicker than a dog, communicates more in coughs than in actual words, and still refuses to take a single tablet of tylenol.

“I’m going to spike your food,” Judai tells him, handing Yusei a glass of water. He’s waiting for Yuya to show up, and he’s late by… two hours? So he’s killing time by trying to convince Yusei to do something that’s good for his health. “Like, it’ll be so full of medicine that it’ll be beyond obvious but by then you’ll be hallucinating from your high temperature and won’t even notice.”

Yusei thanks him with a barking cough that forces him to double over before he’s even able to take the glass. By now, Judai’s convinced that Yusei is attempting to communicate via morse code and his coughing.

“I’m. Fine.” Yusei manages, gritting his teeth.

“Yes, those sure are the words you’ve been repeating since yesterday,” Judai responds. “Just like nearly passing out every time you stand up are sure fire signs of good health. Hey, what’s the protocol for when a new hire is super late again on the second day?”

Yusei looks up, and even with his flushed face he manages to look concerned with him.

“Yuya Sakaki still isn’t here yet?” Yusei whispers hoarsely.

“Nope,” Judai says. “Yuma came in to cover — he got in a fight with one of his friends or something and decided that working on a Saturday is better than, quote, ‘ listening to Astral question literally everything I do like he’s new to humanity as a whole, all day every day’ . So I guess I’m not being fired after all.”

“Fired?”

“Okay, fine, promoted , whatever. I’m still running support staff… support, since I’m not on the support staff but I’m still supporting them so—”

“Um, Judai?” Yuma sticks his head into the room, pressing a small bag of ice to his forehead. “Yuya has arrived, and he’s… creeping out the customers out front. Can you make him stop, please?”

“What happened to your face?” Judai asks, ever the pinnacle of the word tactful .

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Yuma says, wearing the world’s most adorable scowl. He enters the room refusing to make eye contact with him, and sits down next to Yusei, and if that’s not the bravest thing Judai’s ever seen then nothing is. Kids have no fear in the face of illness. Yusei is looking at him a bit strangely.

“What’s that in your—” Yusei coughs. “In your hand?”

“An icepack.”

“The other hand.”

“Oh, this?” Yuma holds it up, something shiny dangling from a string. “I dunno, found it when I was walking to work this morning. I wanted to try and see if I could get here in record time — kattobingo — so I was taking a bunch of weird and random shortcuts and that’s where I found this. I didn’t beat my record, by the way, but I’m sure I’ll get it next time!”

“Is it like a rock necklace or something?” Judai asks, glancing at it idly, while dumping an entire bottle of DayQuil into Yusei’s soup.

“I guess?” Yuma stuffs it into his pocket. “I think it’s one of those spinning things, I forget what they’re called. It might be fake. It just looked cool, so I picked it up.”

“So you normally pick up trash you find on the ground?”

Yusei throws a tissue box at Judai’s head.

“Ow!” Judai glares at Yusei, who meets it head on. “Come on, you know what I mean! Not like trash trash, but stuff someone probably threw out! Useless stuff.”

“Nothing is useless,” Yusei says softly. “Nothing is trash.”

“I’m going to chalk that up to being fever talk.”

Yusei throws the bottle of medicine at him next.

Ow ! Stop that!”

“Can you go deal with Yuya already? Jeez.” Yuma sinks back into the sofa, kicking his legs out. Yusei sides with Yuma, and stares at him pointedly in agreement.

“Fine, fine, I’m going.”

So Judai throws another tablet of Make Sickness Go Away Pills at Yusei (that Yusei still dodges, even with fever dulled reflexes), and goes to make Yuya stop doing whatever it is he’s doing.

Yuya Sakaki is… just standing by the front podium where the host stands, projecting air of extreme smugness, one that Judai would argue rivaled the Manjoume brothers themselves.

“I’m sorry,” Yuya purrs to a young couple waiting to be seated. “We don’t have any booths open.”

“There’s… There’s one right behind you. There are multiple booths open, I can see them from right here .

“They’re not open.” Yuya repeats, with a smile full of teeth. “Bye.”

This kid’s facial expression have made leaps and bounds from yesterday, having morphed from stone faced serious into leering and uncomfortably arrogant. Judai is pretty sure this cannot be counted as an improvement.

“Hey, uh, Yuya,” Judai slides in between them. “Let’s give them the seat behind us and get back to… training. Sorry for the delay.”

The customers look relieved, and Yuya looks put out, like a child who’s plaything had been confiscated by the Toddler Police.

“You know you were supposed to be here two hours ago, right?” Judai says, once the customers have been safely seated in a corner of the restaurant very far, far away from where Yuya could feasibly find them while training.

“Was I? Must have slipped my mind,” Yuya says, wearing a look that says he was fully aware of when he was supposed to be in.

“...Okay.” Judai says. “Let’s uh, just get back to training okay? We covered the salad bar yesterday, so today we can move onto laundry—”

“Actually,” Yuya says, examining his nails. “I’ve completely forgotten everything I’ve learned yesterday. Can we do it again? Laundry sounds terribly boring anyway.”

Judai is really, really wishing Yusei had never gotten sick.


 
“Okay,” Judai says, his voice hitting a pitch that’s slightly higher than normal. “Okay, so, murder isn’t allowed in this building .”

“They’re not dead , what kind of amatuer do you think I am?” Yuya rolls his eyes with a huff. “You can’t punish corpses for trying to dine and dash, after all. I’m doing you a favor here.”

“Favors don’t involve us getting sued for assault and unlawful detainment ,” Judai says, considering locking Yugi inside his own office so he can’t come outside and have a heart attack upon seeing three teens duct taped together and dangling from a nearby tree.

“Whatever,” Yuya yawns. “You might want to call the cops before they fall, though, because I’m certainly not cleaning this up.”

And then Yuya leaves Judai alone with three people tied to a tree branch, strolling off in the direction of the front doors.

“Uh. So, I don’t have a phone right now,” Judai tells the teens. “But um, I’m sure we have a pair of scissors inside somewhere…?”

One of the teenagers bursts into tears.



“Feeding customer’s food to carnivorous plants isn’t normal, right?” Judai whines, while Yugi patiently ignores him. “Why did you guys even hire a kid with — with vicious evil plants ?”

“This is why you don’t touch carnivorous plants,” Yugi says, patting Judai’s bandaged hand gently.

“How was I supposed to know they’d come alive and snap their jaws of death on me? Please tell me Yusei is better now. I’d like to stop having to be the responsible one.”

“Yusei isn’t here. He might have decided to stay home today,” Yugi says, but the confidence in his voice is slightly ruined by him checking the window as if Yusei would sneak in through there. “...But if you see him, please tell him to go home.”

“Sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s going to work as well as it did the last twelve times you suggested it.”

Right on cue, they hear the rev of a motorcycle pull into the parking lot. Yugi makes a face, and promptly draws the shutters so he doesn’t have to face the awful truth — he has a employee with a strong work ethic. It’s tragic.

Judai goes outside, finding Yusei and some passenger on a bike that’s not Yusei’s usual bike. Where did he get this? Green with yellow racing stripes? Those aren’t Yusei’s favorite colors. Judai doesn’t actually know what Yusei’s favorite colors are, but they probably aren’t green and yellow anyway.

“You know, if you keep showing up to work sick, Yugi may actually pretend to fire you to keep you home,” Judai says, strolling up to this substitute motorcycle. “Nice bike. What happened to your old one?”

“I’m borrowing it from a friend,” Yusei says, taking off his helmet. He’s not as pale as yesterday, and while his voice is still kind of scratchy and soft, he’s sounding better than before, so Judai counts that as progress . “I’m using it until I can find mine.”

“Find it? Where’d it go?”

“...Someone took it,” Yusei says, and his face is actually kind of scary for a second, in the way that it tightens and how his eyes narrow — Judai gets the feeling that this is a serious personal matter, and wants to pry a little, because Yusei handling issues alone was half the reason he was hired, but Yusei is also a stickler for keeping things private. “That’s kind of what I came here  today for, actually. I might not be able to come in for the next couple of days, so I was hoping to ask if can you cover for me?”

“You’re actually taking a few days off?” Judai says, bouncing on his heels. “Yugi will be over the moon. I knew putting drugs in your food would was a good idea.”

“The amount of medicine you put in was enough to subdue a small bear,” Yusei informs him. “If you wanted to kill me, you could have just said so.”

Classic Yusei.

At this point, the mystery passenger Judai had completely forgotten is there to remind them all of their presence, by jumping off the bike and promptly tripping on the ground. The helmet he’s wearing protects his head, so no harm done to anything important, but the kid still rolls around on the ground like he’s been mortally wounded.

“Yuya?” Yusei asks, blinking in mild confusion. “Are you alright?”

“That’s Yuya?” Judai inches away, still thinking about predator plants and how teeth should never be on fauna. “Why do you have Yuya with you?”

“I found him on the other side of the city,” Yusei says. “He seemed lost, so I gave him a ride here.”

“I’mmfinee,” Yuya says, yanking his helmet off. “Fine!”

“Sure you are buddy,” Judai says, giving the kid a helping hand up, once he’s sure he isn’t hiding some man-eating plant on him this time. Yuya positively beams at him, and takes Judai’s hand with a surprising amount of grip. “You’re uh, late again though.”

“I couldn’t find the right station to get off at,” Yuya says, grumbling. “If I had a bike I would have been here on time , and it would just be way cooler. But I’m still in the process of getting the right parts and I want this really particular computer chip for it but Rin says we don’t have enough money for it so—”

“How old are you, again?” Judai asks.

“Uh, I’m fo—,” Yuya starts to answer, and then freezes, eyes wide. “...What did I put on my application?”

Something legal and truthful, Judai’s hoping, because while Judai is kind of lax when it came to following rules and guidelines, Yugi is the one who’d have to deal with all the issues of hiring a teenagers not quite old enough to work. Atem though, Atem makes exceptions, and he would probably figure out a work around. Maybe.

“I need to get going,” Yusei says, breaking the stalemate Judai had going between his own Inner Yugi and Inner Atem, arguing about child labor laws. “I’ll be back this evening to talk to Yugi. I’m sorry to ask this of you so suddenly, Judai.”

“You better,” Judai says. “I’m probably going to be pulling a bunch of non-stop shifts to cover for you. You are banned from ever getting sick again, by the way.”

Yusei smiles at that.

“Thanks for the ride!” Yuya says, looking starry eyed. “And um, I really like your bike, even though it’s not yours exactly, and I really hope you get your old one back! I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have mine stolen.”

Yuya can’t imagine it, but apparently he can really empathize, because Judai sees tears almost well up in his eyes. Judai also spies a few strands of blonde poking out from beneath that red and green mess he calls hair. Does he dye his hair? How many colors does one need until they’re satisfied?

“Thank you,” Yusei takes back the extra helmet from Yuya and puts his own on. “I’ll see you both again soon. Good luck, Yuya.”

Yusei speeds off in what Judai can only assume is an immediate violation of every speed limit in the city, because Yusei drives fast and never looks back, kicking up a storm of dust in the parking lot. Yuya stares like he’s just watched his own personal hero drive off into the sunset.

“So, ready to start your shift?” Judai says, checking his watch. “...One hour behind schedule?”

“Right, yeah, work,” Yuya says, turning his attention away from the road. “So, I was totally paying attention before, but just in case, pretend that I wasn’t listening. What am I doing again?”

And so Judai plans on Day Three of what was supposed to be only a two day training session. 



Yuya is clearly Trying His Best, but it’s kind of like he’s never been in a restaurant before and it’s like watching a maelstrom of good intentions vs bad handling in human form. Judai might’ve found this more amusing if he hadn’t known Yuya, but since he unfortunately does, it just makes him concerned.

“Is Yuya okay?” Yuma asks, while Judai tries drowning his sorrows in soda. “Yesterday I tried talking to him and he tripped me into a wall . Today I said hi and Yuya dropped all the salad bowls into the garbage can because I startled him.”

“Nothing is okay,” Judai says, wondering if this is how Yugi felt when training him. “Everything is weird.”

“Can you like, make sense or something?” Yuma makes a face at him, probably because Judai is at least half contributing to the weirdness itself. “You sound like Astral right now and it’s really annoying.”

“Who’s Astral again?” Judai asks, lying his face on the counter.

“This weird guy who’s living at my house for this abroad program thing,” Yuma says, wiping down the counter, and pushing Judai’s face out of the way as needed. “He’s like, from a different country and all which is cool, but I don’t think he’s ever talked to a human being in his life before, he follows me around and always tries telling me what to do. It’s like having a second older sister! But even worse because at least Akari doesn’t follow me around at school.”

Judai kind of wonders how Yuma even landed a job in a restaurant when it’s a never ending series of doing what people tell you to do, but maybe Yuma has a better understanding of the separation between work life and personal life than Judai does.

“I dunno, Yuya has mood swings or something,” Judai says, rolling out of the way of Yuma’s cleaning spray. “He was pretty good at this on the first day. Aside from the fact everyone was terrified of him.”

“Maybe you should help him out,” Yuma says, looking dubiously over at where Yuya is trying to refill the food at the salad bar. “I think he’s putting the carrots in the tortellini dish.”

“You are a fellow kid,” Judai says, “You go help him.”

“Not happening. Besides, you’re not that much older than me and helping him is actually your job right now.”

He can’t argue with basic logic, unfortunately, so Judai goes to the salad bar with an open mind but a cautious heart.

“We can probably salvage an engine, that would be easier,” Yuya is muttering to himself, while indeed pouring carrots into the wrong dish, oblivious to this fact. “But it probably wouldn’t work with the frame blueprints I’ve made, I’d have to remake the thing entirely. ”

“Yuya?”

“It’d make more sense to build one from scratch, but finding the materials for that would take way more time… Not to mention Rin’s still concerned about how much everything will cost…”

Yuya .” Judai reaches out and shakes his shoulder.

“Huh?” Yuya flails for half a second, before righting himself. Judai catches the pitcher of carrots because it can become a orange massacre on the floor. Yuya blinks for a second. “What?” “

“I was calling your name.”

My name?” Yuya scowls, like Judai had the gall to somehow mispronounce it. “My name is Yu—... uuuuuya, yes.”

There is only so much strangeness that Judai can take before even he starts to suspect that something is off.

“Okay,” Judai says, thinking of that promise to be an adult and coming to a regretful conclusion that it was time to make good on that promise. “Okay. Okay .”

“Uh...?”

“I don’t really know what’s up with you, or if you’ve got some kind of multiple mood swing personality disorder,” Judai says. “But I’m beginning to get kind of worried? Like, yesterday you nearly killed me, and the day before you were really mad and gloomy, and today you’re like, some kind of weird fusion of—”

“WHO ARE YOU CALLING FUSION,” Yuya screeches, undoubtedly destroying Judai’s eardrums and startling Yuma from halfway across the room. “MY NAME IS YUGO NOT — oh, oh no.”

“What,” Judai says.

“Crap,” Yugo says.


 
Half an hour later, Judai is witnessing a line of doppelgangers sit in Yugi’s office, with varying degrees of guilt and annoyance apparent on their identical faces. It’s like a surrealistic painting, a wash out of colors that did not compliment each other. Beneath what was apparently the world’s most tomato colored wig was hair that equally defied expectation — Yugo’s hair appeared to resemble a blueberry banana swirl smoothie, and the other two had hair that Judai could not believe fit under a hairpiece.

“Way to go, Fusion ,” the Second Doppelganger sneers, his hair two shades of bright purple, shaped like a tarantula who figured out how to make itself three sizes too big.

The First Doppelganger, Living Proof Punk Isn’t Dead, the beginning of this terrible cycle, the betrayer of Judai’s trust , also had hair that was kind of purple, kind of really dark, and now matched that aura of sheer punk and sulkiness that Judai had pegged upon first seeing him.

“Shut up Yuri,” Yugo, The Third and Hopefully Final Doppelganger, kicks Yuri’s chair. “You nearly got Yuya arrested but somehow I’m the mess up here?”

“But I didn’t, did I? Besides, Yuto agrees with me,” Yuri says, kicking him back.

“We wouldn’t have gotten caught if you had more brains than a pawn,” First Doppelganger, Yuto apparently, mutters.

“So before I call your parents,” Atem says, holding a flip phone that looks old enough to rival the children sitting before him. “Do you want to tell me why you all felt like pretending to be ‘Yuya Sakaki’ and playing at being an employee here?”

Silence.

Yusei is standing behind Yugi, leaning against the wall and showing off how well he can be perfectly still like a statue. Yuma is nodding off beside Judai, sitting on Atem’s empty desk and jerking awake every time he starts leaning a little too hard to the side. Yugi, sitting behind his desk, shares a glance with Atem. Judai is hoping they decide to vocalize whatever mental conversation they’re having with their weird maybe twin maybe soulmate powers that Judai is absolutely certain exists when there’s a soft knock at the door.

Yuma gets up to open it, blinking the weariness out of his eyes. When he opens it, he just stares for a bit.

“Another? Which one are you?” Yuma asks with a yawn, and isn’t that a terrifying sentence to hear when Judai only has one side of the conversation within view.

“The one and only,” says someone, shoving their way into the room.

Judai instantly recognizes the hair, because, well, he’s been training “Yuya Sakaki” all week, and that tomato inspired hairstyle is disctive enough that Judai’s sure he could’ve picked it out from the produce section with both eyes closed. The main difference with this one is there’s a pair of goggles strapped to his head, the lens opaque and featuring a star design.

“Yuya!” Yuto sits up, looking like an alarmed cat. “What are you—”

“Hi,” Yuya #4 says, looking past his twins and right at Atem and Yugi. “I’m Yuya Sakaki, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Are you supposed to be the real one?” Yuma asks, eyeing his hair like he’s tempted to check if it’s a wig. “Because if not, this joke is getting really old.”

“I’d do a backflip for you if that could prove my overused identity,” Yuya says. “But unfortunately, I’m in a bit of a bind you see.”

Judai watches as Yuya adjusts the jacket draped over his shoulders, and reveals an arm in a sling.

“Broken?” Yusei asks, frowning.

“Very broken in at least three places,” Yuya says, “It’s why my brothers here were impersonating me for the week. I can’t do very much with my arm like this.”

“Why didn’t you just tell us?” Yugi asks, hands folded on his desk. “Why go to the extreme of having your brothers pretend to be you?”

“It was the simpler option,” Yuya shrugs, and then winces, his good arm going to cradle the cast.

Judai can’t really imagine a scenario where that is the ‘simpler option’, and he’s the ruling supreme king at ridiculous scenarios, three years running. He’s about to make this point verbally, but Atem stops leaning on Yugi’s desk and walks up to Yuya before that, and well, in the interest of getting his paycheck Judai cuts himself off.

“How did you break your arm?” Atem says, his eyes narrowing.

“Tripped and fell down some stairs,” Yuya says, without pause. “Happened a few days ago.”

“Is that so?” Atem says, looking just as unconvinced as the time Judai tried calling in sick from the parking lot, where Judai could see Yugi and Atem through the window.

“If you don’t believe me,” Yuya says, fishing something out his pocket with his good hand. “I’m actually trending on most popular streaming sites at the moment.”

“On what now?” Atem says, squinting at the video Yuya begins playing from his phone. From Judai’s position, he can see absolutely nothing, but the sounds tell enough of a story: indistinct yelling, wind, general sounds of people running, and then a very clear “ oh shit, yuya! ” followed by what Judai guesses are the sounds of someone falling down several flights of stairs. After a few seconds Judai hears a faint, “ ow ”.

“And this is… ‘trending’ ?” Atem asks as Yuya puts his phone aside, and he most certainly does not know what that means but no one is willing to call him out on it right now. “It’s a video of you and another attempting parkour and you then tumbling down some stairs resulting in serious injury.”

“You don’t go on the internet much, do you,” Yuri says, doing that unpleasant thing with his face. “Yuya’s pain is hilarious , but that isn’t the problem here.”

“There are thousands of videos of people doing dumb stuff on the internet,” Yuma yawns. “My friends have posted a ton of videos of me running into walls or tripping over flat ground, and it’s never gotten like five hundred thousand views.”

“You don’t even need my help walking into walls,” Yuri says, smiling eerily. “Amazing. You truly are prime example of the idiocy of regular teenagers.”

While Yuma makes a face at the eggplant child, Yuya ignores them and continues with his testimony.

“Would you believe my brother does this for a living?” Yuya says. “This isn’t the first video I’ve helped him with, but I’ve uh, never quite wiped out so badly before and. I guess I wasn’t ready to deal with the backlash of failure. Like father like son, huh?”

Yuya laughs, but it’s more painful than anything to hear, laughter so fake and rehearsed it made Judai’s skin crawl. Yusei and Judai share a glance. This is awkward. Very, very awkward. And Judai is trying to make a lot of subtle hand gestures at Yusei because they should do something right? They should help right? But Yusei just blinks at him slowly, so maybe Judai isn’t good at communicating via desperate hand signals.

“Zarc said he wasn’t going to post it,” Yuto speaks up, but he never removes his gaze from the floor. “He acted so upset when he saw you, he promised not to post it, but then he goes and does it anyway because he thought it would garner a lot of views. And it did , but now we can’t even go outside without being harassed by people who want to push you down another set of stairs because it looked funny on camera and it’s all because of him .

“It’s not fair to say it’s Zarc’s fault,” Yuya says, turning to Yuto. “ I’m the one who fell like an idiot, it’s not like he pushed me.”

“Then how is that your fault?” Yugo says, throwing his arms up. “You tripped! It happens! What isn’t fair is putting that on a channel with seven million subscribers and just telling us to suck it up! Everyone is picking on us about it too! I can’t go five blocks without someone asking if I’m the ‘ stair guy from the Zarc video’ ! But it’s even worse for you, and we all know it!”

“Fusion here has a point,” Yuri says, examines his nails like this whole situation is beneath him. “It’s not like our brother is incapable of video editing and cutting your part out. That video was also just another in a short series about him climbing all the building in this city, which has been done to death already . He didn’t even need to post it, but he did, and we’re suffering the consequences for it. Time to face the facts brother, Zarc doesn’t care about us anymore, except for what we can give him in view numbers.”

“You’re wrong,” Yuya says, his good hand going to grab at something around his neck, but his hand encloses on nothing but air, and eventually he puts it back down. “He cares. Zarc has always looked out for us. He drove me to the hospital, he paid for the medical bills. He said he was sorry.”

“He paid for all that with the money he earned posting that video,” Yuri sneers, leaning forward. “Did you know? He’s considering launching a mini series where he pranks us on camera, something else he promised he’d never do when he started doing this whole vlogging thing. I heard him discussing it with one of his friends. It’s all harmless fun, except we’re stuck paying for it. We’re just a means to an end.”

“Shut up—!”

Enough ,” Atem says, loud and clear, and all the bickering becomes silent. “This is clearly a personal matter that I think you all should deal with as a family.”

Yuya reaches up and adjusts his goggles, pulling them down so they cover his eyes. He looks remarkably emotionless, then, with his eyes hidden and his face set to something resembling stone. Judai thinks it’s — very sad, and looks practiced. Like he’s had to do this many times.

“But for what it’s worth,” Atem says, with a small sigh. “I understand why you choose to do what you’ve done. I won’t call your parents. It seems clear you’ve had a lot of things to deal with, and I am not unsympathetic to them. You can all go home.”

“It’s late. We’ll call you kids a taxi,” Yugi says, grabbing the landline and beginning to dial a number.

This is — inconclusive. This is bad . Why aren’t they helping out these — these four children ? They’re barely teenagers but he can just feel the misery in the air, kids who are suffering from something dumb and not their fault . Judai opens his mouth to say something but Atem cuts him off with just a sharp glance. Judai knows that look. It’s the same look he gives him whenever they’re talking about something and Atem already knows the endgame, and the path to not messing it up. But Atem also wants them to just stay silent! Judai throws another glance at statue Yusei, who looks equally conflicted, and Yugi, who is staring at the phone in a very distracted way.

And then, Yuma walks up to Yuya.

“Hey,” Yuma says, and Yuya turns his head very slight to face him, face stone cold and closed off. “What school do you go to?”

“I — why? What does it matter?”

“What school?” Yuma presses.

“Miami Second Junior High,” Yuya relents, tugging at the jacket hanging around his shoulder as evidence.

“I go to Heartland,” Yuma says, unfolding his arms. “But they’re pretty close yeah? Like maybe ten, fifteen minutes away if you use the subway.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Cool, then it’s settled. After school my friends and I will find you at Miami and we’ll walk you guys home.”

“You’ll do what now?” Yugo says, sitting up in his chair.

“Walk you home. Or I guess wherever you wanna go? My friends will probably cool hanging out with you too.” Yuma says, scratching the back of his neck. “Though we’re gonna have to walk you to work too I guess, which is going to be a pain if we’re on different shifts. But you’re support staff too right? So we should be fine.”

“Why would we be caught dead walking with you ?” Yuri drawls.

Because ,” Yuma says, “I have a lot of friends. And we all walk together, we’ll be a crowd. I can’t guarantee nobody won’t still like, approach, but they’ll have a harder time bothering you with us around. I could probably even get Shark to scare some people off if I beg hard enough, though, ugh, he is not going to like being seen with a large group of people.”

“Strength in numbers!” Judai blurts out.

Why ?” Yuya asks.

“Oh, Shark’s a loner,” Yuma shrugs. “He’s really got this tough guy personality or whatever and he spends all his time skipping class on the roof but somehow hasn’t been suspended? Which is super unfair because—”

“No, not that, I don’t even know who Shark is,” Yuya interrupts, pulling his goggles back up. “Why would you do that? I don’t even know you.”

“Um, because you’re upset and getting picked on by people?” Yuma asks, like it’s the simplest answer in the world. “And I can help? I don’t really get the question.”

Four identical looking people stare at him in what feels like disbelief, or maybe just a stunned silence. Judai can’t really see all their expressions from his angle, but Yuto’s head is turned at such an angle that it cannot be good for his spinal cord, and Yugo is practically bursting with energy, only being confined to his seat by Yuri pulling on the back of his shirt.

“Like a pendulum,” Yuya mutters, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. “Weirdness just swings back and forth to us, huh? This is not what I expected when I applied for a job here.”

“A pendu— oh!” Yuma says, then starts digging through his pockets, until he pulls out the piece of garbage he showed Judai and Yusei the other day. He holds it up, shining in the dim light of Yugi’s office, swinging from Yuma to Yuya. “Hey, weird question, but do you want this?”

And Yuya snatches it out of Yuma’s hands so quick Judai doesn’t even see the exchange, just Yuma with a pendulum one second, Yuya cradling it to his chest in the next. His brothers abandon their chairs and crowd around him, all pushing each other aside to get a better look.

“No way.”

“That’s definitely Dad’s pendulum.”

“I thought I’d never see it again.”

“Didn’t you lose it when you fell down those stairs? How’d it get here ?”

They collectively turn to Yuma, and it is creepy how they move like a single unit with a hive mind. Yuma apparently isn’t bothered by it.

“I found it while on my way here a couple days ago. Weird right?” Yuma says, way too relaxed compared to everyone else in the room. He gently tugs on the pendant around his own his neck. “I have a necklace from my Dad too, from both my parents actually. It’s super important to me. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to it. I just got a similar feeling when I saw yours lying on the ground so I picked it up and—”

Yuma doesn’t get to finish, because in the next second Yuya takes two incredibly fast steps forward and grabs Yuma in a tight hug.

“Thank you,” Yuya says, and his shoulders start shaking. “ Thank you.



Atem kicks them all out of the office because it was getting too crowded and Atem makes up rules whenever he wants, apparently, and he expects them to follow his orders. When Judai, the last the leave walks out the door, he takes one last look inside. Atem and Yugi are wearing identical smiles, like this is how they knew it would turn out.

Their weird mental mind twin soulmate powers are terrifying .

“The taxi will be here soon,” Yusei says, leaning against the bar. Out of the corner of his eye, Judai sees Yugo, hiding behind one of the booths, and watching Yusei with stars in his eyes. “After the kids go home, I’ll help close up, and then I’ll drive Yuma home.”

“Don’t you have some punk to beat up for stealing your bike or something?” Judai asks, pouring himself a glass of soda.

“Not exactly,” Yusei smiles, albeit faintly. “Just a score to settle with a friend. That’s all.”

Progress .

“Besides,” Yusei continues. “I shouldn’t dump all my work on you to go after a lost cause. To be honest, I probably won’t be getting it back. And I… don’t want to leave all my friends behind to go chasing after my bike. I might actually have to take up more hours here instead of less once I’m not sick.”

“More hours? Why?”

“Since I’ll probably have to build a new motorcycle from scratch again.” Yusei sighs. “A lot of those parts I salvaged from junk yards, and I’ll probably have to do it again. But being able to buy some of the more complicated parts would save me a lot of time.”

“Can I pick the color of your new bike?” Judai asks.

“Sure.”
 



“This means a lot to me,” Yuya says, while his brothers bicker about who gets shotgun. He’s clutching the pendulum in his good hand, pressing it close to his heart. “I mean it. It’s the last thing my Dad gave to me before he disappeared. I can’t believe you, of all people in this city, found it, at this random restaurant I applied to. It’s like fate.”

Sometimes it seems like world has something planned for you, Yusei told him once, when Yuma first met him, like it has a set path for you to follow. But that’s not it. Destiny exists only as a concept — you make your own future. Fate is something we create for ourselves.

“Guess that’s just how things work out sometimes, huh?” Yuma says, staring out the window and into the sky, dotted with a handful of stars. Wondering if somewhere out there, Mom and Dad are watching over him and Akari. “I’m really glad I could get it back to you.”

“And that thing about walking with us to school and stuff…” Yuya says, “You really meant that?”

“Yeah, of course. Well, okay, I need to actually ask my friends first but once I explain it to them there’s no way they’d say no, I promise.”

“Thanks,” Yuya says, and then barks out a short laugh. “Hey, what’s your name? You already know mine because of my brothers, but I don’t actually know any of your names.”

“He’s Yuma Tsukumo.” Someone who is not Yuma answers, and Yuma turns to see Yugi walking out of his office towards them, posture open and friendly like a field full of sunshine and tall grass. Atem follows shortly behind him. “You’ll get to know the rest of your coworkers when you’re fit to work again.”

“Work what now.”

“Work,” Atem says. “You are an employee here, and while we’re granting you time off to heal, we do expect you to return once you’re ready to do so. But only you. We hired one Yuya, not four.”

“You mean I’m… not fired?” Yuya asks, eyebrows shooting upwards and blinking at Yugi and Atem so many times Yuma starts to wonder if there’s something wrong with his eyes.

“No, Yuya, you’re not fired,” Yugi says. “And as long as you’re not quitting, we’d be glad to have you work here.”

“I… yeah, sure,” Yuya says, nodding like he isn’t sure if he’s still in reality or another dimension anymore. “Thank you. For everything.”

“Judai!” Atem turns and shouts over where Yusei and Judai are talking, and Judai is startled into spilling his soda. “When Yuya gets back, you’re in charge of training him.”

“Seriously? Again?

Chapter Text

“Is the line good to go?”

“All signals encrypted and stable,” Kusanagi says, doing that thing where he types so fast that his hands look like they’ve been blurred out. “Go for it.”

“You sure SOL Technologies will have what you’re looking for?” The AI bounces around his new prison cell, a laptop that Kusanagi pulled out from some dusty shelf in his basement. It’s so old that even with the upgrades Yusaku hastily threw into it, it can barely handle the sheer size and RAM the program takes up, but even though the fan whirls as loud as a jet engine, the AI moves with minimal lag.

But it can’t support VRAINS software so when they need Ignis to help sort through the data they will, regrettably, have to let him out.

“This is an awful lot of work for something that might not be hoarding the data you want.”

“It has to,” Yusaku says, hitting the mute button on the laptop and dialing the number on some cheap burner he grabbed a few days ago. It rings only for a few seconds before someone picks up.

This is Ghost Girl,” someone with the voice of young woman says, “I’ve been waiting for your call, Playmaker.

 


 


“Secret federal agent, I’m calling it now.” Yuma smashes the attack buttons with reckless abandon. “What else would explain the secrecy?”

“That makes no sense. What agency hires kids?” Yuya scoffs, watching Yuma’s character miss every single attack on screen despite his obscene rate of fire. “Plus Yusaku wouldn’t have time to have another job on top of this one and school, right? There’s gotta be, you know, a realistic reason.”

“Maybe he’s just anti social,” Judai says, yawning. He’s kicked back and made a comfortable spot out of a plastic car seat, feet somehow perching on the dashboard, ignoring the game begging him to insert tokens. “Maybe he’s got a loner rep he wants to keep up. Have you considered introducing him to Yuto?”

“Should we really be gossiping about our newest hire?” Yusei asks, leaning against the machine that Judai wasn’t using correctly. “It doesn’t seem like something he’d care for. He seems reserved for a reason.”

“That would imply he cares what we think in the first place,” Judai says. “Bet you five bucks Yusaku is a narc hired by Seto Kaiba, looking for the secret ingredient to our Exodia dish.”

“Probably the worst idea you’ve spoken so far,” Yusei says, “Do you even have any money?”

“Speaking of Seto,” Yugi says, looking up from his phone. “Are they done yet?”

Judai puts in enough effort to lean forward a bit and glance down the aisle, where Atem and Kaiba were still playing. It was a bit difficult to see them, what with the crowd of people surrounding them who were lured in by the noise and theatrics.

“BLUE EYES WHITE DRAGON, BURST STREAM OF DESTRUCTION.”

“BLACK MAGICIAN, BLACK MAGIC ATTACK.”

“No,” Judai says, leaning back. “But good news, if they keep this up we’ll all be kicked out of the arcade in no time.”

Yugi looks mildly torn between extreme exasperation and the desire to go over there and win the game himself to finally get this duel over with. The unfortunate virtue of patience wins over and he goes back to his phone and scrolls through his news app with a sigh.

“I’m sure Yusaku is an average everyday high schooler,” Yugi intones in that voice where he says things and no one particularly listens, like when he’s talking about the profit margin of salads or why Judai and Yuma can’t have a jungle gym in their back parking lot. “We wouldn’t have hired a cop masquerading as a teenager who’s sole mission is to find out an nonexistent ingredient to a dish Seto Kaiba doesn’t care about.”

“You can’t hide the truth forever Yugi,” Judai says. “I know Exodia is the end-all be-all of dishes, and one day I will prove it.”

“This isn’t what Yusaku is here for and you know it,” Yugi says, sounding a bit like he was dying on the inside. “And the Exodia recipe was lost at sea, but no matter what I do I can’t get Atem to take it off the menu. So we’ll never make it again anyway.”

“And here I was hoping I’d actually get to see it one day. So much for the best dish in existence,” Yuya sighs. “Back to you-know-who, I just look at him and feel, I dunno, sad? Like maybe he’s just really lonely. Fortunately, entertainment and smiling is my specialty.”

Wearing a dazzling smile, Yuya spins on his heel and with an elaborate flourish, pulls out a bouquet of plastic flowers out of thin air, as well as some confetti shaped like doves that explode into the air and trickle down on the ground in a flurry. His magic trick is appreciated by no one, including the cleaning staff who glare at him from a few aisles over.

“Power of friendship huh. Sounds magical,” Judai says, blowing a strand of hair out of his face. “New cooler idea, he’s an android sent back in time to help you build a new motorcycle, Yusei.”

“If he starts giving me tips on my new engine schematics, I’ll let you know,” Yusei says.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Yuya. I believe in you,” Yugi says, placing a hand on Yuya’s shoulder, which would be a touch more heartwarming if he bothered to look up. Yuya, tossing the bouquet over his shoulder, peers around Yugi’s hand to see what he’s reading.

Lotten Town Prisoner Scandal?” Yuya reads out loud. “What’s that?”

“Oh, that.” Yuma briefly glances at them over his shoulder. The split second of distraction is all it takes for Yuma to lose in a sudden and violently colorful 8-bit explosion. “My sister covered that story last month. Something about, slave labor, a mine, and cowboys somewhere down south?”

“Something like that,” Yugi says, scrolling past it. “It’s a pretty terrifying story truthfully, but currently I’m more interested in what’s going on with all these SOL Technologies leaks. New tech company comes to the city this past year and all it’s done is release software and scandals that makes even Industrial Illusions look tame.”

“Ugh, this is just like listening to Akari work at home,” Yuma glances back sadly at the Game Over flashing across the screen of his game. “I’m out of tokens. Anyone else got any leftover?”

“Lost all of mine at Super Tennis VR,” Judai says sourly. “My gym teacher was a liar, tennis does not get easier the more you play it.”

“I’m out too,” Yuya makes a show of emptying his pockets. “I sort of got roped into playing against Yusei’s friend Jack in Accel Synchro. Spent all my coins trying to make him eat dirt.”

“Jack was more worked up than I’ve seen in a while,” Yusei says, with a small smile. “I gave him the remainder of my tokens to continue battling Yuya.”

“Bah,” Yuma says, slumping over the controls in defeat.

 


 

 

Yeah, I can get you what you need,” Ghost Girl says. “But you know the usual price I charge.

“You just want me to act a decoy again,” Yusaku says, in a flat tone. “I’m sure VRAINS is much easier to navigate when everyone’s more focused on me rather than a ghost in the system.”

It’s not like I send them after you,” Ghost Girl laughs, light and short. “You’re just an attractive target for the system, since they’re always on high alert for the Ignis program you went a snatched, you know. I’m really the one doing you a favor by giving you something to deal with it.

“Don’t expect anything extra for it,” Yusaku says. “Dealing with the security is already bad enough. I have my own goals to accomplish and I won’t take on anymore risk to that.”

Calm down,” Ghost Girl says, and he can tell she’s probably smirking at him from the other end of the line. “I’m not asking for you to get yourself caught. After all, where would the benefit be in that? I’m sure we’re all in this for our own profits, after all.

“No honor among thieves,” Yusaku looks away, as the Ignis frantically tries to get his attention from the muted laptop. “Send the code over. I need at least half an hour to get what I need before any big alarms trigger, and then I’ll let SOL chase me around a bit while you do your treasure hunting.”

Confident aren’t you?” Ghost Girls says, and Yusaku can hear her typing away at a keyboard. “I heard the head of security has made it his personal mission to take down Playmaker and retrieve that little chatty program they lost. You ought to be more careful. Akira Zaizen isn’t a hacker, but he is determined.

“I’m sure he is.”

Yusaku turns back around. The Ignis has opened up a word document with the words, THIS IS A TRAP, in bright, bold letters stamped across the top. Yusaku pushes the screen down until he can’t see it anymore. Lots of flashing lights imply this action is not well received, but Yusaku is turning away again to focus on anything else.

Okay, the code’s on it’s way. I’m sure you’ll have it decrypted in no time,” Ghost Girl says. “Use it to get into SOL’s databank when you’re ready. Good luck.

The line goes dead, and Yusaku tosses the burner phone into a bin. Reluctantly, he raises the prison laptop screen back up and looks at the wall of angry text Ignis has created in the meantime. This is absolutely not worth un-muting, so Yusaku leaves it for later.

“I know it’s a trap,” He says to the angry eyeball on screen. “It always is with Ghost Girl. Put your processing power towards something useful instead of opening up Paint and badly drawing me getting arrested by SOL Technologies.”

“Package received,” Kusanagi says, doing too many things across multiple screens, already extracting the program from a zip file and running probably a dozen different scans on it. “I’d estimate we could have it ready in an hour. Then head in through the backdoor and look for the database with info about the Lost Incident.”

Yusaku glances at the clock on one of the screens - half past six. Yuya would be getting suspicious by now, if not really hungry.

“I can’t,” He says, feeling a headache coming around, as Kusanagi turns to look at him with wide eyes. “We'll have to do it late tonight. I can be back in a couple of hours, probably, to start.”

“Are you - feeling okay?” Kusanagi asks, and tries to feel Yusaku’s forehead before his hand is swatted away. “What’s going on?”

“I promised my coworker I’d treat him to dinner,” Yusaku says, feeling uncharacteristically like a child as Kusanagi stares at him. “It’s the coworker who’s staying at my house for the week, I left some arcade meet up we had to come here. I can’t avoid him if I try to ditch this. I’ll be back as soon as it's safe.”

Kusanagi stands up and places both hands on Yusaku’s shoulders. It’s very quiet for a moment other than the whirling fan of the Ignis Prison Laptop, and Yusaku is moments away from asking what’s wrong because this is unsettling when Kusanagi finally breaks the silence.

“You’re making friends,” Kusanagi says, almost reverently.

Not this again.

“I’m leaving now,” Yusaku snaps.

The high pitch of the fan almost sounds like the Ignis laughing at him.

 


 

 

“Cotton candy spotted,” Yuma says, and Yuya perks up immediately at the sight of Yusaku, cautiously making his way back into the arcade that is even more crowded than before.

“Yusaku!” Yuya waves. “Over here!”

“You’re all still here?” Yusaku asks.

“Nothing better to do,” Judai says, yawning. “I kind of have to get a ride from one of these guys anyway, so I can’t leave until either Yugi or Yusei does.”

“Oh, sorry Judai,” Yugi says, looking apologetic as he glances up from his phone. “Atem and I took the subway to get here.”

“I called dibs on Yusei taking me home!” Yuma interjects. “He already said yes!”

“What?” Judai whirls upon Yusei. “Yusei, how could you?”

Yusei, who looks to be in the middle of texting someone on his phone, does not seem to notice.

“Because I asked first?” Yuma says.

“Rude!” Judai says, even though it clearly isn’t. “Your house is only like four stops from the nearest station, while mine is on the outskirts of town and you know it!”

“Sounds like a personal problem,” Yuma says, and then grimaces. “Besides, I have to get home and pack before I go to bed for that numbers camp thing I have to go to this weekend.”

“Be honest, you’re not even going to bother packing until you wake up late tomorrow morning,” Yuya says, nudging Yuma with his elbow.

“Just because it’s true doesn’t mean you have to say it,” Yuma responds, looking kind of bummed out by the apparent truth of it.

“Yuuuuuuuuuuuusei,” Judai whines, trying to get Yusei’s attention and making as much progress as a fish climbing a mountain would. “Come on Yusei, this is blatant favoritism denial - I’m supposed to be your fav and you’re not treating me that way!”

“Mhm,” Yusei says, still looking at his phone.

And for no reason that Yusaku can understand, Judai drops to the tacky ugly carpet, clutching his heart. Yuma huffs out a laugh from beside him, but smothers it with his hand.

“Yusei,” Judai says, “Yusei I’m dying. I’m dying of hypothermia and heartbreak and death you are the only one with transportation capable of taking me to a hospital. Yusei look at me.”

“That’s nice Judai,” Yusei says.

“Technology has claimed another soul,” Yuya says, in a deeply solemn tone as he gestures to Yusei and Yugi. “Pray in the hope that one day they will return to us, the reason the took shelter in their digital devices to begin with.”

“Hm?” Yugi says, looking up. “What’s up?”

Yusaku is a little lost, amongst the sudden burst of laughter from everyone around him. A little disconnected from the close knit circle of people that feel almost a world away. That hollow feeling in his chest that has been a part of him for so long felt all the more pronounced here, watching his coworkers goof off and not knowing how to be a part of it.

But when Yuya grabs his shoulder and brings him closer to them all, to watch Judai snag the tail of Yusei’s coat from his pitiful place on the ground and get dragged along the carpet like the world’s worst cape when Yusei finally realizes there’s something going on, something almost settles into place.

 


 

 

When Atem finally gets tired of winning, he strides back over to all of them with an aura just short of smug surrounding him. Kaiba, apart from literally shoving aside some of the crowd that was around them, leaves with an elegant flourish from his oversized jacket.

“You’re all still here?” Atem asks, like he wasn’t the entire reason they had been forced there in the first place.

“You have my wallet.” Yugi says, sighing.

“I’m stranded.” Judai says.

“I’m fine.” Yusei says, but he’s still looking at his phone so who knows where that statement was directed at.

“I’m hoping to get a free dinner.” Yuma says.

“I am getting a free dinner,” Yuya says, elbowing Yusaku who feels distinctly uncomfortable as everyone’s eyes turn to him.

“I’m… bribing Yuya with food?” Yusaku offers, hoping that throwing together words that sound like a lie but are in fact the actual truth was the right thing to say.

“Looks like you two are becoming fast friends,” Atem claps him on the back. “Here, I’ll make it up to everyone and save you the trouble. Dinner’s on me.”

 


 


“You know,” Yuya says, lifting a can of tomatoes over his head as he squeezes past Yuma who’s on his way back into the freezer. “Usually when someone says ‘dinners on me’ that means we all go out to eat, not back to the restaurant we work at so we can do more work.”

“Less complaining, more lettuce,” Atem says, flipping a burger at the grill.

“We ran out of lettuce ages ago,” Judai says, as he chops up potatoes with far too little attention to where he was swinging that knife.

Yusaku, who is next to him trying to peel potatoes, edges a little farther away, and bumps into Yuya who nearly side steps him right into a wall.

“Yugi, why are we missing half of our salt shakers?” Yusei asks, rifling through a bunch of boxes on the tallest shelf, due to the blatantly unfair fact that Yusei is pretty tall.

Someone was trying to stack them into a giant glass pyramid,” Yugi sighs, as he pulls out some paper plates from a box. All eyes, without hesitation, move to Judai. “They fell when someone bumped into the table and shattered.”

“It would have been a great monument,” Judai says, unrepentantly. “A tower reaching to the sky, a mountain that I could’ve stood my Elemental HERO Neos action figure on.”

“What, the weird glass thing you were making in the middle of the room that customers were complaining about last week?” Yuma asks, popping back out of the walk in freezer with some ice cream.

“Yes. My Neos monument. Admittedly, it wasn’t that great, and I may have failed completely, but I will succeed in the future!”

A paper plate cuts across the room like a frisbee and hits Judai in the back of the head.

“Ow!”

“Judai,” Yugi says, with the face of an angel. “Please hurry up with the potatoes.”

“We’re ordering cheap plastic shakers from now on,” Atem says, flipping another burger.

“Those would be easier to stack,” Yuya whispers, and Yusaku, for some reason, smiles.

 


 


Yusaku’s most predominant thought in the following hour is that it’s very loud, like he’s eating at the school’s cafeteria, which is pretty impressive that a group of six can make enough noise to rival an entire student body.

At least it would be impressive if Yusaku was the type who appreciated these kinds of things, but having spent a good part of his life doing the very opposite of being loud and attention grabbing, a very large part of him wanted to duck into the bathrooms and crawl out a window to escape.

Except that was extremely suspicious behavior, at least to normal people. Yusaku’s not sure if Judai or Yuya would consider it weird or a fun new way to leave work without a customer accosting them before they got to the door.

Yusaku is seated between Yusei and Yuma, also right at the spot where the two tables everyone pushed together to make one slightly larger table met. Yuma manages to make rice balls look like they taste better than ambrosia with the way he devours them. He is also the only one who has rice balls. Yusaku’s not sure when he made them.

“Don’t think Atem making us cook our own free meal means that you don’t still owe me,” Yuya says, pointing his useless fork at Yusaku, since everything they’re eating is essentially finger food.

“You just got free food and you still want more?” Judai says, leaning over and butting in before Yusaku can say anything.

“What kind of question is that?”

“Where does all the money from your paycheck go? Into a locked safe when you can sit upon piles of gold like super financial hoarder?”

“I am the supreme dragon king,” Yuya says. “All four dimensions bow before me.”

“There’s twelve dimensions, not four.” Judai corrects.

What does that even mean? Yusaku almost debates asking, but the topic moves on just as quickly as it arrived. He turns slightly to his left, to see if Yugi and Yusei had a topic he could follow.

“Domino City’s infrastructure needs repair,” Yugi says, twirling his straw through his water, clinking the chunks of ice in it with every movement. “The subway system in particular. I’m worried about what would happen if a huge natural disaster occurred, like if a earthquake hit. Or a tsunami? What if both happened at the same time?

“It would be a deadly occurrence that would doubtlessly level about a fourth of the city and take at least a decade to repair and recover from, given our lack of defenses and preparation. The lower class citizens would in particular be devastated,” Yusei says immediately, like he’s had this answer ready for a long time. “But the subway system is actually fairly well built. You’d likely still be able to access it in the event of a almost catastrophic event, though the trains might not be able to still run in it. It might also make for decent shelter.”

“Oh,” Yugi says, faintly. “That’s good.”

And Yusaku turns in the opposite direction.

“Why do you need to go to a camp to learn about numbers?” Atem asks. “Numbers haven’t changed since their inception, right? What’s the point?”

“I don’t knoooow, they keep changing things and I can’t keep up!” Yuma wails. “But I got a 39 on my last test so if I don’t figure out how to boost my grade I’m doomed.”

“Challenge your teacher to a game,” Atem says. “If you win, you pass your semester. If you lose, you pay twice the amount of tuition.”

“I’m pretty sure I don’t have that kind of money,” Yuma says. “But this sounds promising, and I’m desperate, so please continue.”

“The key is not just picking a game you know how to play, but also a game that tempts your opponent into succumbing to the inner darkness within themselves and try to cheat, thus winning you the game by default.” Atem says, throwing a fry in the air and catching it perfectly with his mouth. “Of course, this only works on the obviously corrupt. Otherwise you need to win fair and square.”

“I don’t think my teacher is full of inner darkness,” Yuma says, thoughtfully. “Mr. Kitano is a really nice guy. Though, I guess he did accidentally release a bug that crashed the entire school’s computer network a few years ago.”

Computer. Yusaku latches onto the one topic he knows more than almost anything.

“Was that the Crashbug virus?” Yusaku asks, almost in relief.

“Yeah, I think so,” Yuma says. “I guess it leaked outside of the school too? My sister was complaining about it for weeks, it deleted one of her articles or something.”

“It infected the entire city,” Yusaku says. “Everything from traffic lights to bank ATM’s, malfunctioning and entirely going wrong. It was incredibly adaptive and hard to counter, it took a full day for it to be quarantined and then neutralized. The aftermath of it resulted in a complete overhaul of the city’s cybersecurity framework and networking.”

It also led SOL Technologies to create a building in this city, being hired contractors to find and fix the problem, and where SOL Technologies went, Yusaku followed.

“You know a lot about computers,” Atem says, in the tone Yusaku recognizes from someone who equates technology somewhere close to witchcraft.

“I studied it in school,” Yusaku says, trying to smooth over his obsession as something normal and not a tell tale sign of someone with a extensive hacker background. “We spent two weeks on the Crashbug virus.”

He also spent an additional month trying to figure out new ways to get past the better encryptions and firewalls, and the history of anything SOL touches Yusaku knows like the back of his hand.

“Impressive,” Atem says, and he seems like he means it. “Can you make websites?”

“Uh-” Yusaku is momentarily thrown off by the switch in the conversation. “Kind of? Why?”

“Yusei runs our website,” Atem says, eating another fry. “But he’s so busy he doesn’t have a lot of time to maintain it. Can you do that instead?”

That’s a lot different than making a website, and also a lot different than the job he’s signed up to do. Programming a website is also a different language than -

“He’ll pay you to sit alone in the break room sometimes with your laptop and update the menu on the site,” Yuma says.

“I’ll do it.” Yusaku answers immediately, sealing his fate.

“Good,” Atem says, satisfied. “I’ll have Yusei give you whatever you need to access it on your next shift.”

“That’s great and all,” Yuma says. “But I’m still doomed on my math weekend trip. Do you have any tips on how to make algebra easier?”

“No.”

Yusaku’s phone buzzes in his pocket, so he pulls it out under the table and glances at it.

10:16 PM: Ready whenever you are, Yusaku

From Kusanagi.

It’s funny, or maybe cruel, how reality returns to Yusaku so quickly. Hanoi has never seemed so far away in the moment before it comes rushing back, and Yusaku is blinking away memories of a sterile, blank room and the numbing sensation in his limbs.

He shakes his head, trying to clear it. He’s losing focus.

Hanoi is what he came here for. Not to make drag others into the mess that is his life.

“Yuya,” Yusaku says, quietly trying to interrupt his animated conversation with Judai. It takes a few tries before Yuya notices.

“What’s up?” Yuya says, shoving the last of his fries into his mouth.

“I’m not feeling so good,” Yusaku says, cradling his stomach with one arm. “I think I’m going to head home early.”

“Oh are you okay?” Yuya asks, trying to reach over and compare the temperature of his forehead to Yusaku’s. Fortunately, he waves him off in time.

“Yeah it’s just my stomach,” Yusaku says, feeling deeply uncomfortable as if he actually had a real stomach ache for some reason. “You don’t need to worry, it happens sometimes. But I’m gonna go home and lie down for a bit.”

“Do you want me to go with you? I don’t mind leaving a little early.” Yuya checks one of the weird clock ornaments they have on the wall. “Or do you think you can wait a bit? I bet I can find some medicine in the break room that Judai hasn’t found yet.”

“No, it’s okay,” Yusaku says, trying to figure out how to carefully ditch someone who knows where he lives and will probably find it weird if he shows up later and Yusaku's not home. “I think I’ll be fine on my own. You know how to get to my house right?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“I’ll see you later then,” Yusaku says, shoving away from the table quickly. He’s distantly aware of some people shouting bye at him and Yuya patiently explaining that he’s probably fine, his stomach is just upset, probably from Atem poisoning their hamburgers, but that all fades away as soon as he gets past the doors.

The cold air has a harsh bite to it and it grounds him.

As soon as he rounds the corner, far enough away from the glass doors, he drops his arm from around his stomach and yanks his phone out of his pocket.

I’m on my way, he sends to Kusangi. He’s got a smaller window than usual, but if he has to he’ll make up something else to tell Yuya. And then he’ll never have anyone stay over ever again, because it complicates things far too much.

He needs to focus.

Yusaku is going to find the source of his nightmares, the source of his pain, the source of everything behind the Lost Incident and make them suffer, just like he did. This is his life, or what remains of it. Therapy didn’t help. Time didn’t help. This is all he has left.

For some reason, he wonders what Yuya would think of that.