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The Mutou Yuugi that first stepped foot in Domino High never planned to go to college. He’d hoped to survive school without too much bullying, make friends besides Anzu, and eventually take over Grandpa’s shop where he could be surrounded by the latest games of all types to his heart’s content. But the Mutou Yuugi who entered high school was not the Mutou Yuugi that left it, and several years with a spirit sharing his body and confronting an array of powerful, morally questionable people and an ancient Egyptian evil kind of put him at a different mental state than when he’d entered high school. The world was a lot bigger than his little game shop and there was a lot he would love to know more about. Plus he had friends now who were all making their own way in the world. Yuugi had had to decide what to make of himself.

So, contrary to where he thought he’d be, he’d decided to go on in schooling. Learning more about Atem’s country and times was helping fill the gap he’d left. And learning about game design was right up Yuugi’s alley. In fact, Kaiba had even made subtle, backhanded remarks that insinuated that he wouldn’t mind having Yuugi’s brain coming up with games for his company once Yuugi was out of school.

So there he was.  In college and in over his head whenever he had classes that didn’t immediately relate to his obsessions. Yuugi still couldn’t really believe he was there. He could have just gone into pro Dueling like Jounouchi had. But as much as he loved Duel Monsters and always would, Duel Monsters had been a little too painful to play for a long while after Atem had left. Back around again to why college had ended up in his future.

Yuugi sighed. Game design, he was finding, required just as much knowledge about art and computers as it did crafting unique gameplay elements and storylines. Neither of which were his forte. Painting a figure for a tabletop game did not transfer over into sketching a character. And that was why Yuugi was at that moment sitting in the art building and hoping he could catch a professor or someone from one of the lower level art classes to get some tips, or at least some book recommendations.  He didn’t think his professor would be very thrilled with Yuugi’s current doodle designs. They looked more like balloon figure caricatures than a serious design for the video game concept he was piecing together for his class final.

Somehow Yuugi hadn’t expected a whole art building to be so...quiet. Or empty. He’d passed six classrooms and what looked like the entrance to a dark room, but there hadn’t been a single person. Maybe they were in a computer lab? Or one of the reserve-able workrooms upstairs? Or maybe there just weren’t any art classes taking place at ten thirty in the morning.

Yuugi wandered up a staircase and down a hallway. Whoever built the art building had an interesting idea on how architecture worked. In that there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to where the halls and rooms were in relation to each other and different floors. It would be an easy place to get lost in.

At the end of that hallway before it took a sharp left, there was a room with the door ajar and the light on inside. Yuugi clutched his sketchbooks tighter; finally, there was someone else in the building after all. 

The room’s occupant was painting, headphones over his ears with spiky red hair jutting out around them. There was a large canvas propped on an easel in front of him and a few more finished works scattered around the room. The current painting was still in a sketchy framework phase, rough shapes and colors blocking out segments of the canvas. In the paintings around the room, there were clear interconnected color schemes of purple and black and blue and red, with the occasional jarring yellow. The second thing Yuugi noticed was that every painting had wings—feathers, winged figures, or just silhouettes worked into an abstract design. Looking at them felt a bit like intruding for some reason. Yuugi tore his eyes away.

“Excuse me!” he said, raising his voice a little to try to get the painter’s attention. He edged further into the room. “Hello?” The painter set down a brush, turned to grab a tube of paint. “Hi,” Yuugi said with a wave. The painter jolted as he caught Yuugi from the corner of his eye, accidentally sending a paintbrush spinning across the room. It left a streak along an already stained floor.

The artist clutched at his chest with one hand, the other lifting one headphone away from his ear. “How long have you been there?!”

“Um. Just now actually,” Yuugi said.

“Oh.” The headphones slid off completely. The artist rubbed a hand against his face leaving a small streak of indigo just under his left eye. “Hi? Did you need something?”

Yuugi opened his mouth, then closed it, painfully aware that he’d just interrupted a private painting session for completely selfish reasons. Still, this was the only person he’d found so far... “You wouldn’t happen to know if there’s a professor around? Or if there’s anyone who tutors for drawing?”

“It’s kind of quiet today, isn’t it?” The painter glanced at his mixed paint and the canvas before shrugging and wandering closer. “The professors are all out today because there’s an art exhibit opening up in town with some work from an alumni featured in it. A lot of people have class assignments related to it too.” Yuugi vaguely remembered something being mentioned about an art exhibit. He’d been a bit too caught up with thinking up puzzle mechanisms for the game he was designing to pay attention that day. “As for tutoring,” the painter said, “I don’t think there’s anything formal like that here. You can always ask a professor or a classmate for pointers though.”

“Ah.” Yuugi deflated a bit. “I don’t know much about art,” he said. “I’m a game design major, not an art major.”

“Okay.” The painter nodded. “You know what, I’ve got a bit of time. How about you show me what level you are at and we can go from there?”

Yuugi glanced at the unfinished painting. “That’s okay! I can come back another day to talk to a professor!”

The painter smiled, and he looked too young to be in college the way it softened his face—not that Yuugi was one to judge; people thought he was still a middle school student on a regular basis. “I’m not working on an assignment. This is just for...for fun. I have time.”

“Thank you then.” With some lingering hesitation, he handed over his sketchbook. “I’m Yuugi, by the way.”

“Daisuke,” the painter replied, already flipping through the couple of pages Yuugi had filled with sketches. His eyes lingered on the little things Yuugi had drawn in the corners; duel monsters and doodles of his friends. On one page he’d written out hieroglyphics that Atem had recognized at some point or another and Yuugi’d sought out again in the immediate aftermath of his passing on. It was uncomfortably soul baring to have someone seeing some of the things in there.

“I’m not much of an artist,” Yuugi said while Daisuke looked at a doodle of Jounouchi with a hoard of Duel Monsters cards.

“Actually,” Daisuke said, not looking up from the page, “this isn't so bad. You have your own style developing here.”

“Yeah, but it's all just doodles. And they all look the same.” He hadn’t noticed until he was looking at examples of character design in his class, but all Yuugi’s doodle people had the same ‘U’ shape head and proportional chibi bodies with hair to distinguish them from each other.

Daisuke looked up with a hint of a smile curling at his lips. “I was worried it was going to be stick figures or something from how nervous you looked. You just need to practice more and play around with shapes.”

Play with shapes. Practice was a given, but Yuugi wasn’t sure how to really go about the actual playing around bit. “...anything you can recommend? Books or...?” Examples would be great.

Looking thoughtful, Daisuke nodded slowly. “Actually, yeah. Here....” He pulled a pen from seemingly nowhere, turning to a blank page in Yuugi’s sketchbook and jotting down a list. “These are some useful titles for character design, and these are helpful for things like anatomy. Even cartoon styles can benefit from that. You need to know what you're doing before you exaggerate it anyway...”

Yuugi’s eyes went wide as Daisuke kept adding to it. “So much...”

The pen paused, finishing a character with a slow slide of the nib. “Ah, this isn't all that helpful is it? You were probably looking for more of a hands on approach...”

“No, it helps!” Yuugi shook his head. When Daisuke held out the sketchbook, Yuugi took it from him. He ran a finger along the list, plenty of books to get examples from, much as he felt intimidated by the amount of things he didn’t know that they could provide. “I’m a little overwhelmed with everything. Somehow I just wasn't expecting to need to draw for game design....”

“Well... when you think about it, in most game design it's a team effort, so you'd have people who focus on character design and people doing coding and someone else working on story and dialogue.... So you don't have to be great at it, but it doesn't hurt to know how to do it either.”

“Huh. Good point. I'm more used to coming up with plots and puzzles.”

Daisuke grinned. “I have a friend who is in the design course too and he's the exact opposite. He's great at the art end but is having trouble with the whole game aspect.”

Yuugi couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to go into games if they didn’t know much about them. “Well what kind of games does he like?”

“I don't think he ever really played games until a year ago. I'm not sure even he knows what he likes. Having fun is hard for him.”

“Why on earth is he in game design then?” Yuugi asked, but then he thought of Kaiba who made games but only seemed to enjoy them if he was winning. There were reasons to do everything he supposed.

Daisuke smiled ruefully. “It's about as far from what he was doing before as he's comfortable going. He had a degree in criminal law before. And art history too I suppose.”

“Huh.” Whoever this friend was must lead an interesting life.

“Yup.” Daisuke shrugged before nodding at the sketchbook. “Here, try sketching some random shapes and once you've done that, make faces from them. That will help get some diversity. Try to figure out what the rest of them might look like and go from there.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem.” Daisuke turned back to his painting and after a moment, Yuugi sat a ways away and started sketching. They worked in silence, just the soft sounds of pencils and Daisuke’s paintbrush filling the space. It was surprisingly both relaxing and focusing to have someone working nearby; it was a motivator to keep working.

Yuugi couldn’t say how much time passed, but after a whole he had two pages full of sketches. They were still pretty simple, but trying to use different random shapes had helped.

Daisuke, noticing the pause, glanced over. “See? You’re getting the hang of it.”

Yuugi rubbed the back of his head. “Thanks. Sorry again for bothering you.”

“It's not a bother.” Daisuke grinned. There was another bit of paint next to his nose, purple like one of the figures slowly taking shape on the canvas. “I needed a break anyway. If you need any help later, I'm usually in this room...”

“I’ll keep that in mind!” Yuugi had other classes to get to now, and books to find from the campus library, but it was reassuring to know that he had someone willing to help. He waved to Daisuke and left the artist to his winged paintings.

*

Daisuke hadn’t been joking about being in the room a lot. Every time Yuugi had sought him out over the next few weeks to ask about techniques or opinions on how Yuugi’s designs were coming, he was always in the art room. The painting was almost done now, filling in from its rough figures to be something that reminded Yuugi of a yin yang, but with winged people instead of black and white images. It was a color-clashing purple and yellow piece, but there were other colors subtly worked in so that it balanced out somehow. Yuugi was sure Daisuke could have explained the color theory he was working into it, but Daisuke didn’t seem to like talking about his paintings. The one time Yuugi brought them up, he’d found the conversation deflected around to the sketches of Duel Monsters he had left in the margins of his notes. So Yuugi hadn’t asked again, even if he was curious about how if he stepped back and viewed it from a distance it almost looked like two more people overlaid the angels on the canvas.

Yuugi was content to let Daisuke keep his secrets. He was just glad to have a new friend and help on his project. Daisuke was easy to get along with and easy to work next to; Yuugi found himself visiting Daisuke’s painting room a lot more than he planned just for the atmosphere and quiet company.

It was sometime during the third week of this that Yuugi walked in to find someone else sharing Daisuke’s work space. The stranger had a notebook in his lap, bent over it with Daisuke’s head bent alongside his as the stranger wrote in the margins. They both looked up when Yuugi walked through the door. Daisuke smiled and welcomed him. The stranger lifted one eyebrow before staring at Yuugi like he was a museum exhibit. Yuugi paused in the doorway.

“Hey!” Daisuke said, sitting up and giving a wave. None of his painting things were out for once. The painting he had been working on had been set aside, perhaps finally complete. “Yuugi, this is Satoshi, the friend I told you about that was in game design like you. Satoshi, this is Yuugi.”

“The person you’ve been teaching to draw,” Satoshi said. He had a flat tone of voice that at first reminded Yuugi a bit of Kaiba, but there wasn’t any of Kaiba’s defensive hostility in Satoshi’s voice or body language. He looked curious if anything.

“Giving tips,” Daisuke corrected. “He already has a style.”

“Teaching,” Satoshi said. “Teaching art is giving tips and things to practice and watching students improve through their own efforts.”

Daisuke rolled his eyes good naturedly. “Satoshi’s been working on a game of his own, but he’s having a little trouble with character dialog. Think you could help?”

“I can try?” Yuugi said. But this was something that he was good at. Tabletop RPGs and text games had given him a lot of practice in this sort of thing. As he walked over, he thought he heard Satoshi whisper to Daisuke, “You always run into interesting people.”

Yuugi chose to ignore that and whatever connotations were behind it. He could give Satoshi the benefit of the doubt. And it was fun to help someone else with characters and plot for a bit instead of prodding at his ever changing character designs.

And that, Yuugi thought, was how he made friends with Satoshi and cemented himself in Daisuke’s friend group without realizing it.

*

Yuugi held up his latest sketches to his laptop camera. “What do you think?”

“Looks good!” Anzu said, smiling. Her hair was long enough to tie back right now, a bit flyaway at the moment since she had just got back from her morning run. Behind her Yuugi could see the early morning sunlight streaming through her apartment window. Here in Japan it was already well into its decent. Yuugi felt a little wistful of the past where they didn’t have to work around twelve hour time difference. “You’ve got a lot of details now. They remind me a little bit of us actually. All of our friends.”

“That’s what I’m basing it off of a bit,” Yuugi admitted. “The characters aren’t too close to us, but...” He couldn’t deny that he’d drawn on his friends for inspiration. “I wanted to write something similar to what we went through. Not so close that anyone who looks at it can figure it out, but for those of us who knew Atem...”

“Yuugi...” She looked at him with the same expression she’d had when they gave up trying to date, a bit sad, a bit worried, but mostly supportive friendship.

“I’m making something he’d like,” Yuugi said. He smiled because focusing on the good things pushed back the times he felt sad. “But enough about my game, how did your audition go?”

Anzu gave him a look that said she knew exactly what he was doing by changing the topic, but she launched into an explanation on how she’d managed to get a minor stage role as a backup dancer and how there was another audition coming up in a few weeks and that show was compatible with this one so she was going to try out for that. It sounded busy and stressful, but Yuugi couldn’t help smiling genuinely at the pride and determination in Anzu’s tone as she spoke. She was following her dreams and that made him happy.

“I saw Jounouchi and Mai when they were in town for a bit,” Anzu said toward the end of the conversation. “Did he send you the picture we took?”

“The one with the port in the background?” Yuugi nodded. Jounouchi and Mai were both pro Duelers now, and that lifestyle took them all around the world. It could be fun to see where he was at any given time.

“Yeah! They were heading out to semifinals of a tournament—not hosted by Kaiba this time, can’t remember who. He’ll probably call sometime soon.”

“I look forward to it.” Yuugi missed Jounouchi but he was glad all of his friends were finding what they loved in the world.

“Good luck with your game, Yuugi,” Anzu said waving at the camera.

“Have fun dancing,” he said back.

Like always, it was a bittersweet feeling to end the call.

*

Daisuke had started a new painting. This one wasn’t purple or yellow, but it did already show signs of wings. Yuugi sat off to the side and worked on making tiny pixel sprites for his character designs. While he wasn’t expected to actually make a functioning game yet, he couldn’t help starting it in his spare time. Making a plan and design and building it up in concept was enough to make him want to make it real. Today Daisuke wasn’t painting, though, but sketching, off in a separate corner. The soft scratch of pencil lead along paper was almost meditative alongside the sound of Yuugi’s tablet.

Yuugi was so caught up in making a tiny coat for a tiny pixel character based off Kaiba that he almost didn’t notice that the sounds of Daisuke’s pencil had stopped. He glanced up and found Daisuke looking at his character sketches again. “Hm?” he hummed in question.

Daisuke twitched, like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t rather than just looking at sketches he’d seen dozens of times. “You know, I don’t think you even said what your game was about?” he said. “You’ve talked about the characters and what they’re like, but...”

Yuugi set aside his laptop and tablet. “It’s a puzzle game,” Yuugi said, picking up his sketches. He pointed out characters as they become relevant. “The main character is a high school student that solves an ancient puzzle and ends up sharing a body with a millennia old spirit.” Beside him, Daisuke blinked rapidly, but leaned in to look at the drawings with new interest. “There’s the protagonist, and then there’s the protagonist when he’s possessed,” Yuugi said, pointing to the slightly different designs. Showing the shift in pixel avatar has been harder than drawing the design had been. The character didn’t resemble Yuugi or Atem much, but Yuugi knew what he represented and that was enough. “Whenever the main character is possessed, his abilities to solve puzzles goes up because the ghost was obsessed with solving them before he died. The protagonist doesn’t realize he’s being possessed at first, but as the story goes on and you solve more puzzles, other characters create challenges. If you can complete the challenges right, you can make friends, and making friends opens more opportunities.” Like making friends had given Yuugi more from life. He smoothed a finger along the possessed version of his character.

“That sounds pretty cool,” Daisuke said slowly. “Does the protagonist ever realize he’s being possessed?”

“Yeah.” Yuugi smiled. “As you go on, you unlock bits about who the spirit is and at some point you become able to talk to him. He can become another friend, and you can unlock even harder puzzles where you have to work together to solve them. The end goal is actually to solve the puzzle of the spirit.”

“And if you solve it?”

“Then you have to decide whether to keep the spirit or to let him pass on to the afterlife.” Yuugi’s heart hurt thinking about it. It was a risk putting so much of himself into this, but it felt right to do it. If he made it, it would be just the sort of tribute to Atem’s memory that he’d appreciate.

“Oh.”

There was something sad in Daisuke’s voice and Yuugi glanced up. He’d never heard Daisuke sound sad before.

“That sounds like it would be a hard decision,” Daisuke said finally. “Because you made friends with him.”

“Yeah.” The echo of heartbreak he’d felt in that moment of decision was still there. To be selfish or to do the right thing? To feel whole or to let his other half rest at last?

Daisuke touched the sketch of the protagonist, something similar to Yuugi’s heartbreak in his eyes. Almost like he also knew what it felt like to make that kind of a decision. “What would you choose?” he asked. “If you were playing through the game?”

“I’d choose what I thought would make the spirit happiest,” Yuugi said immediately. “The protagonist has all the friends he’s made over the course of the game to fall back on, but the spirit was stuck in the puzzle alone for a long time, and could be stuck for who knows how long after the protagonist dies. If it was the only chance to let him move on and be at peace, I’d choose that than the possibility of condemning him to being alone and forgotten again.”

There was the sort of silence that comes after a confession, too close and personal, with all the blatant emotions out in the open. Yuugi didn’t take his words back though even though he felt like it could reveal too much. Daisuke swallowed thickly. “I can tell you’ve thought a lot about the choices,” he said finally.

“Yes,” Yuugi said. Because the choice had once haunted him like a second ghost until he’d come to peace with it.

“I don’t know if I could be that selfless in making the choice,” Daisuke admitted. “If I was the protagonist and cared about the spirit, I don’t think I’d want to let go.”

Yuugi’s smile was wry, barely the upward twist of his lips at the edges. “That’s how hard choices and love work; you might not choose what you want but you’ll do what will make everyone happiest in the long run.”

With one last touch to the sketch, Daisuke pulled back. “Sounds like you’re talking from experience.”

Yuugi shrugged. He closed the sketch book, suddenly not wanting to look at it. Or maybe not wanting Daisuke to look at it; Daisuke looked unsettled, like talking about the game had brought up things he didn’t want to think about. “That’s my game more or less though. I’m working on the puzzles already. I like that sort of thing, so it’s fun to come up with.”

“It sounds like it will be a cool game.” Daisuke gave him a quick, there and gone smile, moving back toward his work space. “If you ever do make it, I think I’d like to play it.”

The idea of someone playing a game Yuugi made, playing a game and enjoying it, made him feel warm inside. Like a little part of him would reach out to each and every person who played it, giving them a connection whether they knew it or not. And a little part of Atem that went into this game would live with them too. He wondered if that was part of what Kaiba liked about creating games; it was forging a connection without the difficulty of actually socializing.

“Thanks,” Yuugi said. He wrapped that warm feeling up inside to bring out whenever he got frustrated about the project. Then, curious, he asked, “What would you choose? Would you befriend the spirit knowing you had to choose?”

“I wonder,” Daisuke said, introspective. “I might be one of those people that never finishes the game, not wanting to make that choice at all.”

Fair enough. Yuugi couldn’t fault that he supposed. It would be a pity to leave anything unfinished though. He always has preferred to see things through to their ends.

*

They were in the usual room, Daisuke starting a new painting again, this one smaller and like none of the other paintings in the room. A scenic painting, Yuugi thought, instead of abstract or angelic portraits. Satoshi was there today as he sometimes was, poking away at his game concept. It was not the sort of game Yuugi would be attracted to playing, full of dark and introspective themes with a main character that is slowly losing trust in his own mind and judgment. Whatever it means to Satoshi though, he looks like each bit of progress is cathartic so Yuugi had the idea that it meant about as much to his as the game Yuugi was working on meant.

The door was propped open to let airflow in and Yuugi had music playing in the background as he ignored homework in favor of building up his game world pixel by pixel. He had far far more respect for Kaiba’s skills now than he ever thought he’d have. Granted, Kaiba had a team that probably did the tedious stuff like making textures for terrain and background images.

He had just about finished up the layout of the school when he heard a familiar voice.

“Yuugi!”

Yuugi’s head whipped up, seeing his best friend standing just outside the doorway. He couldn’t put his laptop down fast enough. “Jounouchi!” Yuugi tackled his friend. Jounouchi whirled him around in a hug, grinning from ear to ear. “What are you doing here?” Yuugi asked when the room stopped spinning. “I thought you were in the middle of a tournament?”

Jounouchi laughed. “I got a place in the finals so I have a bit of time off before the semifinals finish up! Figured I'd visit my best bud and see how college life was going. Your campus is a hell of a maze by the way.”

“You should have called!” Yuugi said, pulling back. His face hurt from grinning. It had been months since he last saw Jounouchi in person.

“That'd ruin the surprise,” Jounouchi said. He set Yuugi down. While Yuugi wasn’t nearly as short as he’d been in high school, he would always be much shorter than his best friend. Jounouchi got twice the growth spurt Yuugi had gotten.

“A friend of yours?” Daisuke asked, and Yuugi realized they had an audience.

“Ahaha, yeah.” He rubbed the back of his head, finally noticing that both Daisuke and Satoshi were staring intently. “This is my best friend, Jounouchi Katsuya. Jounouchi, this is Niwa Daisuke and Hiwatari Satoshi.”

“The guy who’s helping you with your drawing, right?” Jounouchi said, remembering their Skype conversations. “Nice ta meetcha. Hope you don’t mind me barging in.”

“It’s fine,” Daisuke said, since it was his study room after all. “We could probably use a study break.”

Jounouchi grinned before turning back to Yuugi. “So, being around all these books and drawing, how’s your Dueling? Getting rusty yet?”

Yuugi narrowed his eyes at the challenge. “Rusty? Never. How about I show you, Mr. Tournament Finalist?” He reached for his bag. Even now he had the habit of carrying his Duel Monster cards with him. “I challenge you to a Duel.”

“Duel?” Satoshi asked sharply.

“Duel Monsters,” Jounouchi said holding up his deck of cards. He snorted at Satoshi’s blank look. “What, did you think I was gonna whip out a knife? I don’t look like that much of a delinquent these days.”

“Nope, just scruffy as always,” Yuugi said. He cleared a space on the desk before shuffling his deck, intent on his friend and opponent. “Duel Monsters is a strategy based card game,” Yuugi explained to the others. “With a certain amount of luck too.”

Jounouchi snorted. “Luck, fate, whatever you wanna call it.” He exchanged a glance with Yuugi.

“Heart of the cards,” they said at the same time.

“Anyway,” Yuugi said, “Jounouchi plays it professionally. I used to enter tournaments but I haven’t played much in a while.”

“Yet you still hold the title for King of Games,” Jounouchi said.

Yuugi shrugged. It was a title he didn’t feel like he’d earned. After all, Atem had done most of the Dueling to get it. “Anyone’s free to seek me out and win it properly.”

“If they can beat you.”

Yuugi shrugged again. They set up their station and drew their hands. It had been a while since he last Dueled, longer still since he Dueled without Kaiba’s technology bringing it all to life. It felt a little bit like high school, playing games at lunch. The cards were warm and familiar in his hands, feeling almost alive as they sometimes did. Yuugi wasn’t calling on anything, didn’t have Atem’s power over the shadows, but the cards still had presences even if he wasn’t using them that way.

“Huh,” Satoshi said, looking at the cards in their hands like they were something particularly strange and intriguing.

“Two thousand life points?” Yuugi asked.

“Standard Duel’s four thousand,” Jounouchi said.

“Yeah, but it feels more like high school if we play it that way.”

“Works for me.”

It was funny how normal it felt to play a Duel against Jounouchi—or maybe it wasn’t strange at all considering how big a part in his life Dueling once held, but he hadn’t Dueled anyone since the last time everyone was able to meet up together, and that was almost half a year ago. Everything still felt right though. His cards rose to the challenge like they always did, chipping Jounouchi’s life points down bit by bit. Even having an audience was familiar. Daisuke and Satoshi weren’t Anzu or Honda, but the balance felt right.

Yuugi called on his Kuriboh to end the Duel, just like old times.

Jounouchi made a face as the last of his life points drained away thanks to one of the weakest cards in the game. “One more turn and I’d’ve had you with my dragon. You’re still as good at this as ever, Yuug. No wonder Kaiba’s always trying to drag you into Duels.”

Yuugi snickered. “Kaiba just wants to beat me once and for all. Or make me test all his Duel tech.” If Yuugi ever took him up on that job offer, he had a feeling he’d end up doing more Dueling and product testing against Kaiba’s over competitive ego than actual game design.

“Wait,” Satoshi said from the sidelines. He had followed the game with interest, though it had looked like he was analyzing what game attributes made it enjoyable rather than enjoying watching the game itself. “Kaiba as in Kaiba Seto, billionaire game maker Kaiba?”

“Yeah?” Yuugi said.

Jounouchi sat back in his chair and laughed at Satoshi’s consternation. “Yuugi won the title King of Games years ago. He’s still the reigning champion Duel Monsters player and Kaiba hates it because Yuugi won’t enter tournaments anymore so no one can win the title from him.”

“They should just accept some other tournament winner as the best player winner,” Yuugi muttered. “Kaiba’s won most of the ones since I left the Duel scene.”

“Yeah, but Kaiba’s never satisfied til he can beat you.” Jounouchi turned back to their audience. “Moneybags was a classmate of ours in high school. Real ass, but he’s gotten better now that he’s stopped pulling shit that can get people killed. Still dramatic as heck though. Betcha he’ll come into the arena for the final on a jet pack or something with the Kaiba Corp logo all huge on the back. Or have it shaped like the Blue Eyes.”

“He’s a friend,” Yuugi clarified. Jounouchi always made Kaiba sound like an enemy when he hadn’t been anything like an enemy in a long time. “He wants me to join his company after school, but if I did that I’d have to Duel him because he’d hold my paycheck.”

Jounouchi snorted. “Sounds like the sorta manipulative thing he’d do.”

Yuugi hummed. “I wouldn’t mind Dueling him sometime though. I just don’t want to Duel at his command.”

“Fair enough. Beat him once and he either won’t leave ya alone til you have a rematch or he pretends it never happened.”

“...This is the CEO of the largest gaming empire in Japan?” Satoshi asked, skeptical.

“In the world,” Jounouchi corrected.

“Charming.”

“Eh, he grows on you.” Jounouchi grinned, lopsided. “Kinda like some sort of fungus.”

Yuugi rolled his eyes. “Kaiba is Kaiba. He’s there when it matters and tries. He actually has a pretty good sense of humor.”

“Yeah, at my expense.”

Yuugi patted Jounouchi consolingly. Kaiba and Jounouchi would never really get along, and that was okay. Besides, he figured that by now their back and forth taunts were just the only way they knew how to interact. The words didn’t really hit anymore. Yuugi was pretty sure that Kaiba even found it fun. Not many people insulted him to his face anymore. Jounouchi was a bit too straightforward to notice that though.

“I suppose he is still a good connection to have if you’re going into this field,” Satoshi said in what was clearly meant to be a diplomatic tone. It still came across a bit skeptical.

“He is.” Yuugi grinned. “Though I kind of want to set up my own indie gaming thing out of Grandpa’s shop and see how he reacts.”

Daisuke shook his head. “Save that for when you can actually do everything yourself.”

“Or have a team.” For a brief moment, Yuugi pictured combining the strengths of his friends from high school into the project. They all had something they could have brought to the table—Anzu with music, Hiroto with coding, and Jounouchi with story development and puzzles. Even Bakura could have helped with the graphic side of things. But he dismissed it after that moment. This wasn’t high school anymore and they each had their own lives to work through.

“Or that,” Daisuke said.

They were all quiet for a moment, then Jounouchi held up his deck. “Anyone wanna learn how to Duel?”

And then Yuugi was digging out the extra cards he still couldn’t help carrying everywhere he went, and Daisuke and Satoshi were tentatively Dueling each other, Satoshi frequently looking at the cards like there was something he didn’t trust about them, but Dueling all the same.

It was nice.

Yuugi sat back and watched friends interact, new and old.

It was very nice.

*

Jounouchi only stayed a few days, but by the time he left he’d made friends with Yuugi’s friends, corrupted Yuugi’s sleep schedule with first a Duel, then a movie marathon, and told enough stories about the Dueling circuit that Yuugi wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or relieved that he hadn’t gone into Dueling professionally. It sounded like a wild time.

Then he was off back to attend the finals. Yuugi promised to watch them. He intended to drag Daisuke into watching them with him too.

The quiet after he left was a bit like missing a limb. Yuugi found himself in the art building even more that week. Daisuke, in his comings and goings—though usually he was there before and after Yuugi arrived—didn’t comment on Yuugi’s extra time there. He just brought a few more snacks and had music playing to fill the silence when Yuugi didn’t feel like talking.

It was a nice reminder that new friends could fill the open spaces old ones left without really replacing them.

*

Lately Daisuke had been sketching. No paintings, no charcoal drawings or powdery pastels covering the worktable with colorful dust marks, just pencil and a sketchbook every time Yuugi was there. Yuugi leaned over one day to ask about any tips on drawing foreshortening and blinked at the lines on the page.

“Is that a sketch of me?”

Daisuke almost dropped the sketchbook. For a second, Yuugi thought he was going to slam the book shut. “Yes?”

It was Yuugi; spiky hair and dark clothing, a profile of him smiling to himself as he worked on his tablet. There were smaller more dynamic thumbnails in the corner—Yuugi walking, laughing, throwing down a card in Duel Monsters, dozing off on the worktable. In all of the sketches his distinctive hair shape stood out along with the outlines of his clothing. “So, was it the hair or the clothes that made me an interesting sketch subject?” he joked. Those were the two things that people always noticed first after all. Spiked, bright colored hair, chunky silver and gold jewelry, and a taste for leather and belts.

Daisuke surprised him by flipping back a few pages to show studies of Yuugi’s face—just his face. “Your eyes actually...” Daisuke mumbled. He flushed and Yuugi couldn’t help blushing a little too. The sketches of his face were...intimate for lack of a better word. His eyes were riveted on a sketch on the right, his penciled lips frozen in a melancholy smile and a far off look in the sketch’s eyes like he was looking at something only he could see. It had to be a moment he was thinking about Atem and he wasn’t sure what he felt about having that captured on paper.

“Oh,” was all he could say.

Daisuke flushed deeper. “If it bothers you, I can stop.”

Did it bother him? Maybe if it was someone he didn’t know, but Daisuke was a friend now. He could see Yuugi as he was in all his range of emotions. “No,” Yuugi said. “No, it’s fine.”

Daisuke’s shoulders relaxed, his hands no longer gripping the sketchbook so tightly. “Your eyes show what you’re feeling really clearly,” he said. “The other day I was watching you work and I couldn’t help...” He waved at the sketches. “I like how you look.”

Yuugi could count on one hand how many times people said they liked his appearance, and two of those times had been Anzu while they were dating. He opened his mouth to...to what? Compliment Daisuke back? Thank him? He shook his head. “I don’t mind you drawing me.”

“Ok. I’m glad.” Daisuke twirled the pencil in his hands like he needed to do something with his fingers. “I’m also glad you came here months ago. It’s nice to have someone else in here.”

“Considering you practically live here.”

“Yeah.”

Yuugi sat back, asking a question that had been bugging him for a while now. “You’re here pretty much whenever I’m here. And lately if I’m not at classes I’m here. Are you always here? Is this a free study or...?”

One shoulder lifted in a shrug as Daisuke couldn’t meet his eyes. “I only have one class right now. I kind of had to take a break. I’m only supposed to be here for my class project but it felt like the only place I could be for a while.”

“Oh.” Yuugi reached out. He didn’t think he was imagining Daisuke leaning into his touch, gravitating toward the hand on his shoulder. “Is everything ok?”

“It wasn’t, but I think it’s getting better.”

Yuugi waited to see if Daisuke would say more, but he didn’t. That was okay. There were some things that you couldn’t talk about with just anyone, and some things that just couldn’t be talked about at all.

“Painting helps,” Daisuke said. “Seeing friends helps too. You help.”

Yuugi squeezed his shoulder in support. “I hope I can keep helping.”

This time he was sure he wasn’t imagining Daisuke leaning into his touch. “Just keep coming around.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about me leaving anytime soon.”

*

“The cards aren’t normal,” Daisuke said one day as Yuugi was helping him form a deck of his own. He’d Duel him sometimes if Yuugi was really in the mood for Duel Monsters. Daisuke held up a Chimera card, spinning it between his fingers. “There’s something about them... They almost feel alive.”

“The game is based off of an ancient Egyptian game played with stone tablets with souls sealed inside,” Yuugi said. He drew a card, unsurprised to find the Dark Magician in his hand. “I know it sounds superstitious, but the cards have spirits still, the medium just changed.” Dark Magician was joined by the Dark Magician Girl, then Kuriboh. “If you call them, they can answer.” He waited for Daisuke to scoff or look skeptical. Instead, Daisuke was nodding slowly.

“I can see that. It explains the weird feeling they have... Is it the art itself that gives them souls? Can anybody make a card or is there something specific?”

Yuugi stared.

“What?” Daisuke shuffled through the cards, pulled out Harpy’s Brother and Shadow Spell. “Art has a spark of life. Sometimes more than that. Why not cards too?”

“Most people don’t believe it unless they’re Duelists,” Yuugi said, “and even the people who are and have lived through spirits manifesting still don’t always believe.” Kaiba didn’t for the longest time. He does now, though. His Blue Eyes are all the closer to him for it.

“I can feel them,” Daisuke said, tracing fingers along the image of the cards. “So can Satoshi. That’s why he keeps giving you weird looks by the way. He’s not sure what to make of it.”

“Huh.” Yuugi could feel his cards—specifically the ones in his deck, and sometimes a few others, but not all cards spoke to him, and he hadn’t been able to until after he’d had Atem and started Dueling. “If you can feel them, you could probably call them. Some of them are still connected to the Egyptian monsters, and some were created by Pegasus, the person who resurrected the game, but... So far as I can tell they’re all alive to some extent.”

“Sounds dangerous.”

Yuugi wanted to laugh, and not in a good way. The Egyptian God cards had definitely been dangerous. “It can be,” Yuugi said bluntly. “I’ve seen it kill people.” Daisuke stilled. “But I’ve also seen the cards save people, and these days you don’t see as much summoning.” Not since the millennium items were sealed away. “Even then, outside of the top circuit of Duelers it’s pretty unheard of seeing anything like this at all.”

Daisuke looked at the cards in his hands like he was seeing them all over again.  “And kids play with these?”

Yuugi stifled a laugh. “Like I said, not many people can actually use them that way.” He rested his chin on one hand. “I wonder what one would answer you?”

“I don’t think I want to find out,” Daisuke said.

“This one’s mine.” Yuugi held up Kuriboh. “And sort of this one too...” Dark Magician joined it. It was more Atem’s card, but it had answered Yuugi’s call before too. Kuriboh just liked Yuugi in general.

“A winged fur ball and a purple sorcerer,” Daisuke said. “Yeah, I can see how they fit.”

“Was that supposed to be an insult?”

“Maybe.”

“Hey!”

Daisuke laughed.

He did finish putting together a deck eventually. He didn’t look quite as relaxed around the cards after that though.

*

“It’s not going to work,” Satoshi said to Daisuke as he added details to yet another winged painting. This one was made up of subtle shadows and glints of light, all purple and blue and black. The lightest points were the glint of gold in the winged man’s hands and the white of his smirk in the dark. “I know it’s different for you, but no matter how much you paint him—”

“I know,” Daisuke said, sharp. “I know it isn’t going to bring him back, but I can’t help it. It’s like it’s keeping him here.”

“There’s no him, only them now.” Satoshi sighed. “Have you thought any more on going back to regular classes?”

“It feels like too much still.” Daisuke set his brush down. “Do you think if I paint him enough, people will remember?”

“Perhaps.” Satoshi was quiet a moment. “I thought things were getting better.”

“They are.” The clink of Daisuke’s brush being rinsed clean, picked back up to start again. “But better isn’t completely over it yet.”

Satoshi sighed again and said something under his breath.

Yuugi took that as a cue that today was really not the best day to be there after all. He slid away wondering who Daisuke had lost to spend all his time painting him.

*

“Congratulations on your win!” Yuugi chirped over the laggy Skype call.

Jounouchi grinned at him, thousands of miles away, but still as close a friend as ever. “Thanks! Mai’s kinda pissed that I beat her out in the second to last round, but she’ll get over it.”

“It was a good Duel,” Yuugi said, having watched it very late—or early depending on your perception of time—in Daisuke’s dorm room with his friend drowsing off next to him and waking on and off whenever Yuugi got particularly excited. The thought had been nice even if it hadn’t quite worked out how they’d planned. “What now?”

“Eh, Mai and I’ll be headed back to New York to catch up with Anzu. Stay for a while there til the next tournament sign up starts. Maybe we’ll get a chance to visit Japan again too, if the timing works out.” Jounouchi was still beaming. It made Yuugi feel warm and happy to see him happy, glad to see him confident in his skills and excelling in life. It had been the right choice for him to Duel professionally.

“Going to go on some dates?” Yuugi teased.

“Well, if Mai forgives me for Time Wizarding her Harpies again, yeah.” With a shrug, Jounouchi added, “Not gonna tell you the details though.”

Yuugi wrinkled his nose. “I don’t want to know about the details of that kind of date, Jounouchi. Mai and Anzu would kill you if you talked about it anyway.”

He laughed. “Yeah, yeah. Hey; what about you? Have any dates lined up?”

Yuugi made a noncommittal hum in the back of his throat. His legs kicked aimlessly against his bedframe. “Still not dating anyone, Jou.”

“But do you liiiike anyone,” Jounouchi teased. If he was in person, he’d be pulling Yuugi into a playful headlock by now.

Yuugi hummed again.

“Not even that Daisuke guy you keep talking about?”

Did he? He wasn’t sure whether he did or not. It had been a while since he felt those things, wasn’t sure if he could tell them apart from friendship right now. The two had always gone hand in hand. “I don’t know,” he said finally.

“Huh.” Jounouchi sounded thoughtful. His expression didn’t give anything away for once, whether he thought it was a good or bad or anything in between.

“What?”

“It’s the first time you haven’t said no when I ask that question,” Jounouchi said.

Yuugi felt a roiling mess of embarrassed and flustered because that, he realized, was true. He didn’t know if he liked Daisuke that way or not, but he wanted to spend time with him—did spend time with him almost as much as he could spare—and that meant something even if it might not be romantic. “I’ll tell you when I figure it out,” he mumbled.

Jounouchi laughed and wished him the best before launching into a story about Haga and Ryuuzaki, leaving the topic of romance behind.

It was Yuugi who couldn’t get the thought to stop lingering.

*

The semester was almost over now. Projects were done and it was just Yuugi with his laptop poking at his game again in Daisuke’s art study room. Daisuke wasn’t there for once, just his multitude of paintings. There was a tiny painting of Yuugi up there with all the other ones and he wasn’t sure what to make of that. His eyes glinting purple from a shadowed image. It could have been a threat or an invitation into a secret, and Yuugi kind of hoped it was the latter because it wasn’t a very good thought that his friend might find him threatening.

Yuugi got caught up in the minutia of coding and checking his plot and dialogue script with each advance. So caught up he didn’t even notice Daisuke’s arrival until he turned to get his character reference sheets and found Daisuke sitting in a chair back to front watching him, and looking like he’d been there for a while. Yuugi dropped the reference sheets.

Daisuke leaned forward to pick the few that had scattered up. “You’re really making progress on that aren’t you?”

“Some?” Yuugi said. “Not as much as I would like, but I’m only one person and there’s a lot to do for a game, even just a simple one.”

“It’s come along pretty well,” Daisuke said. He looked at the character sheets in his hand, at the Spirit’s sheet on top. “You’re not making something simple after all.” A double tap of his fingers against the chair back, a tic he had every once in a while, like his hands got restless but he tried not to fidget with them. “You’ve written the rest of the plot now, right?”

“Pretty much.” It had taken almost as long as putting together the sprite world had. It was harder than Yuugi had anticipated to create a game off his life even in a once or twice removed fashion. “I still have some dialogue to go but the main parts are all written.” It was the puzzles that were harder to make.

“Did you ever decide what would happen if the player chose to keep the spirit in the end?”

“If he keeps it?” Yuugi glanced down at his drawing. The spirit looked nothing like Atem, the only connection the eye of Horus worked into his design.  “The spirit stays with him, still locked in the puzzle.”

“And after the protagonist dies one day?” Daisuke pressed. “What would happen to it then? Would it pass along to another family member or...?”

Yuugi shook his head. Whatever had been between him and Atem, he couldn’t imagine it happening between anyone else. Not his grandfather, not his friends, and not even a hypothetical child in the future. “It’s a once in a millennium sort of thing,” Yuugi said. Fate, or more that they’d perhaps once been one soul before Atem had been lost. Egyptian mythology held that the soul had five parts after all. “The spirit would be stuck in the puzzle alone until by some chance someone else who was compatible was born, which could take a long, long time.” Yuugi smiled wryly. “I’m sure they would be happy for the lifetime they had together, but there’s the question of if that evens out against a possible eternity alone after.”

“Oh.”

“There’s also a point where the spirit could have taken over the protagonist’s body,” Yuugi said. “Instead he rescues the protagonist’s soul. So they’re both looking out for each other in the end.”

“Oh,” Daisuke said again. This time it was slightly choked. “With two souls that close, it makes sense.”

Yuugi hummed, agreeing. For him and Atem, it had made sense. Even for Ryou and Bakura it had a certain amount of sense, and that was with Bakura lashing out at all times and willing to sacrifice Ryou. In the end he hadn’t—maybe couldn’t—and it was all more complicated than Yuugi could understand. Daisuke looked like he understood, though. Understood in a way that only someone who had lived it could. “Why does it mean so much to you?” Yuugi asked finally. “I know what this means to me, but what does the story mean to you?”

Daisuke, instead of answering, looked at the paintings leaning against the walls. “It’s hard,” he said finally, “to choose what’s right when there isn’t a right answer that will make everyone happy.”

Yuugi didn’t press the topic. The faraway look in Daisuke’s eyes was something he was too familiar with. “We make the choice and keep going,” Yuugi said. “Because if they cared, they’d want us to try to be happy too, right?” He smiled, more a slight lift of the corner of his lips than a true smile. “We have people who care to fall back on and then we find other ways to cope. You paint. I make a game.” Daisuke looked back at Yuugi. They hovered over the edge of mutual understanding. This wasn’t something that needed to be explained to be understood. Pain and loss were universal as were happiness and friendship. “We’re doing pretty well with what we have, don’t you think?”

“Maybe,” Daisuke said. He sighed, then slumped abruptly, leaning against Yuugi’s shoulder. “How do you make it seem so easy to keep going?”

“It’s not.” Yuugi touched Daisuke’s hair, and maybe it was his imagination that Daisuke tilted himself into that touch. “But moving forward doesn’t mean the past never happened or that you can’t remember it or that you weren’t changed by it.” Atem changed everything in Yuugi’s life, from helping him make his first friend besides Anzu to opening up his world to so many more things than he thought it would ever hold. “I’d rather remember than forget, and if it’s hard, then it’s a good thing that there’s always someone who can help even if they might not be there yet.” Like meeting Daisuke and Satoshi had helped.

Daisuke breathed out a laugh. “Yeah. Thanks.” He moved away, back toward the side of the room that had become his as Yuugi had slowly taken over a part of his own. “When you finish that game someday, I’d like to play it,” he said. “With both ends.”

Yuugi nodded. In real life you couldn’t have both endings play out, but in a game? “When I get to the test phase, you’re one of the people I hope will play it.”

“I will,” Daisuke said with a quiet conviction more like an unbreakable vow than a casual promise. He started sorting through paint tubes and Yuugi pulled his character references to himself. He had a lot of work to go if he was going to meet that promise halfway.

*

The sun was bright and it was unseasonably warm for March, warm enough that they could sit outside with only a light jacket and enjoy the fresh air. Their convenience store bentou were empty beside them as they sprawled out in the grass and enjoyed the early spring sunlight.

Yuugi tilted his face toward the sun, eyes closed, a happy smile on his face. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I missed being outside so much. I didn’t even realize how much I was inside until it was winter and I missed the best of spring and summer glued to my computer.”

Daisuke, sprawled next to him, snickered. “You really do have to go out sometimes. I go out in the mornings to sketch. Believe me, your body will thank you for the sunlight.”

“Mm, no, I remember someone calling me a gremlin this winter, and gremlins don’t like sun.”

“You seem to like it right now.”

Yuugi aimed a half-hearted elbow jab in Daisuke’s direction. It missed and all he got was another laugh and a tickling poke to his side. Yuugi squirmed away.

“This is nice though,” Daisuke said.

“Yeah.” Tucked away in a quiet corner of campus with the first birdsong of spring and a cluster of daffodils a few feet away, it was peaceful. A little private bubble that wasn’t the art room and both more and less connected to reality because of it.

“I exercise most mornings too,” Daisuke said. “If you’re missing sunlight you could join me and—”

Yuugi groaned. “No, I am not a morning person!” Or an exercise person. Or someone who would ever combine the two.

Daisuke laughed at him. “Maybe that’s why you’re so short. Stunted growth from lack of sun, like a plant.”

This time Yuugi’s elbow connected. The tiny hiss of breath as Daisuke massaged the hit was satisfying. “I’m short because of genetics.” Gramps barely got over a meter and a half tall. Yuugi considered himself lucky to pass him up by a handful of centimeters. “I’m not sure why you’re so smug when we were both asked if we wanted children’s menus that one time.”

They watched wispy clouds chase like feathers across the sky.

“I think,” Daisuke said suddenly, “I want to paint something new.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He looked toward the daffodils and their bright green and yellow against the browns of winter hanging on. “I signed up for more classes this spring. I think...” Daisuke trailed off, voice going soft. “I think I can handle it now.”

“Great!”

The small smile Daisuke sent back Yuugi’s way was like the sun coming out from behind clouds.

*

It was Yuugi that moved first. It was less a conscious decision and more an inevitability, bridging the gap between them during a post-finals movie binge. Daisuke had looked at him for some reason—something to do with the movie that had immediately gone out of Yuugi’s mind because Daisuke had been smiling—and like an object caught in the Earth’s gravitational pull, he’d been pulled in by that smile. Lips, smooth except for the corner Daisuke was forever biting while he worked. It went on for an eternity. It lasted only a moment.

Yuugi pulled away. Daisuke’s eyes fluttered open; at some point he’d closed them. The movie kept going, white noise in the background of the moment. The air had the same feeling Yuugi got before he pulled the card that would turn a Duel on its head.

“Oh,” Daisuke whispered, both too quiet and too loud for Yuugi’s frantic heartbeat in that space of a moment before it was clear whether it was a good or a bad reaction. Then Daisuke’s hand was tangled in one of the heavy chains and gaudy pendants around Yuugi’s neck, pulling him back in. The second kiss was better because Daisuke was kissing back.

When they finally parted again, Yuugi couldn’t help but burst into giggles at how Daisuke looked more like he’d been hit over the head than like he’d been kissing someone.

“I thought—” Daisuke’s voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “I thought...your friend? You seemed...close.”

“Jounouchi?” Yuugi asked. He was almost in Daisuke’s lap, couldn’t help but keep touching him, fingers trailing on bare wrists and arms and along Daisuke’s strong fingers. “No, we’re just friends. He’s my best friend.” Yuugi reached up to touch Daisuke’s hair, like that kiss was permission to give in to all the little things he’d longed to do. “He’s dating Mai and Anzu. Or they’re dating him and each other. Or something.” He couldn’t stop smiling. “It’s complicated. And you’re not with Satoshi?”

Daisuke blinked, the dazed expression fading away. He caught Yuugi’s wandering hands in his own, lacing their fingers together. “No. Satoshi’s not interested in people like that. Isn’t Anzu your ex?”

“Yeah.” Yuugi kept grinning. Everything was right in the world right then. “And one of my oldest friends. But we didn’t work out, and she ended up falling for Mai, who also liked Jou, who liked her, and I don’t know how it all works with them, but they’re happy so I’m happy for them.”

“My ex only talks to me via her twin sister.”

“I think it helped that we were friends for a long time first. Friendship is more important than anything else.” And for Yuugi it always would be. Friendship had been part of what made him notice Daisuke. He wouldn’t have a romantic relationship any other way.

Daisuke scrubbed the back of his hair. “We weren’t not friends, but, uh...” He glanced in Yuugi’s direction. From this close Yuugi could really notice how long his eyelashes were. And how they were the same red as his hair. And how Daisuke was blushing and had very faint freckles from how he’d been making time to go outside lately. “I can see why being friends first can be good.” Their eyes met. Yuugi couldn’t look away, not even if Kaiba’s Blue Eyes were to burst through the door right then.

“I like you,” Yuugi blurted. “A lot. As a friend and more.” He gripped Daisuke’s hand tight.

Daisuke’s head tipped forward, their foreheads bumping together and noses brushing. Yuugi could feel the flutter of his eyelashes on his cheek and Daisuke’s breath against his jaw, so close, but not quite close enough. It was ticklish and electric, everything narrowing down to those points of contact as his heart beat too fast and hopeful in his chest.

“I think I like you too,” Daisuke said. He laughed softly, the tremors shaking Yuugi with him. “I like you a lot.”

“Date me?” Yuugi asked hopefully.

Daisuke pulled back and gave him a lopsided smile. “Yes. I can’t guarantee anything, but yes.”

“No one can guarantee anything,” Yuugi said. “If you worry over whether things will or won’t work out, you just miss out on actually living what you have.” If he’d learned anything over the years, it was to appreciate what he had when he had it. Friends, family, memories; all of that had been discovered and rediscovered with Atem and after him. This was just one more case of learning it again.

“I guess I should appreciate living then,” Daisuke said. He pulled Yuugi into another kiss. Yuugi took his own advice and just enjoyed the moment.

*

The game wasn’t complete, but it was far enough along to be playable in a rough way. It was far beyond the school project it had started as; in fact, Yuugi was already wondering if he could eventually submit it as his final project. It might just take the next three years of school to get it to the point where he was satisfied with its quality.

Still, it was playable. And Yuugi could feel the pride and weight of most of a year’s worth of work as he arrowed his avatar through a pixel world.

“So this is the game?” Daisuke asked. He sat next to Yuugi on Yuugi’s bed. He was the first person Yuugi was showing it to. The first person he would let play the parts that he had finished. If Jounouchi was here, he’d let him play it too, but Jounouchi was on a break in New York and Daisuke was the closest person to his heart right now even if he wouldn’t get the game the way someone who lived the events it was based off of would.

Yuugi handed over his laptop. “You can play through making your first friend and unlocking the spirit.” Technically you could play further, but only the main events could occur without any of the interesting side plots and puzzles and NPC interactions.

Daisuke settled against Yuugi’s side and let his fingers skim the keyboard, familiarizing himself with the controls. “It’s cool to see your character move,” he murmured.

Yuugi didn’t answer. He rested his head on Daisuke’s shoulder and watched him play with his heart in his throat. Somehow this was more soul baring than sharing the drawings. Than sharing the art room for almost a year, more vulnerable and intimate than kissing or any of the things that could follow that. This game was Yuugi baring his soul and most precious memories into something that perhaps one day hundreds of people would see and play. Those people wouldn’t know Yuugi, wouldn’t know how it mirrored his life or what it meant to him.

Daisuke knew him and how important the game was.

Onscreen, Daisuke played through the introductory puzzles and met the characters who would be the protagonist’s friends. He seemed to know how important this moment was because he didn’t say anything as he played, just followed along with the storyline. Yuugi could feel when Daisuke got it, right when the protagonist awakens the spirit and makes a wish. Yuugi had told him once how he became friends with Jounouchi. “It felt like fate,” Yuugi had said. As Daisuke continued, completing the puzzles as the spirit to get back at the bully and cement your new friendship, Daisuke finally looked Yuugi’s way.

“This is you, isn’t it?” Daisuke said. It wasn’t really a question with the certainty shining in his eyes. “Your story.”

“More or less,” Yuugi said. “I’m not including any ancient Egyptian gods or card games in this though. That would make it a bit too obvious.”

“The spirit?”

“He was a spirit trapped in the puzzle.” Yuugi hid his face in Daisuke’s shoulder. It felt so weird to talk about this to someone who hadn’t lived it, but so freeing as well. It wasn’t a secret hovering over his head anymore. “He was like a part of me, a part I didn’t know I was missing until he was there, and then he left.”

“You let him go.”

Yuugi hummed in affirmative. On screen, the protagonist’s avatar climbed into bed, the spirit’s outline hovering above the bed as he slept. It was the end of the intro chapter. It was a bittersweet feeling. Daisuke set the laptop down.

“That had to be a hard choice to make,” Daisuke said.

“It was and it wasn’t.” The hard part had been knowing he would be alone in his head again. The actual decision to let Atem have his peace in the afterlife hadn’t been hard to make at all. “There was only one way it could go in the end.” He wasn’t selfish enough to make any other choice.

Daisuke hugged himself, curling in on himself and it would have been closing Yuugi out except he was still angled toward him and hadn’t made any effort to stop Yuugi from leaning on him. “I.” He wet his lips. “I didn’t have any choice. With mine.”

Ah. “The person you paint?”

“Yeah.” Daisuke uncurled a bit. “He was a spirit of an artwork that was tied to my bloodline. Sort of meant to be closer to a curse than another half of a soul, but...”

“When you share a mind and body...” Yuugi said.

“Yeah.” Daisuke sighed. “He was half of a whole work. Return the two halves together, fix what shouldn’t have been separated... He doesn’t exist anymore. Not how I knew him. And after we sealed the painting he might as well not exist in any form at all.”

“We?”

“Satoshi.”

“Oh.” Yuugi thought of Bakura, the thief king he’d housed. He wondered if however Satoshi had been involved had been anything like their situation. Bakura’s relief at having it all over hadn’t been something Yuugi could fully empathize with even if they could both look inside and feel the missing pieces where the spirits had resided in their souls.

“I’d bring him back if I could,” Daisuke said. “It wasn’t a curse to me. It was to Satoshi though, and in the long run it wasn’t doing either of our family lines any good. I’d still paint him back if I could.”

Yuugi felt the part of his soul Atem had been in ache, like a phantom limb. He knew that emptiness well, but he was filling it with new bonds and experiences, bit by bit patching over the emptiness. He could be happy and mean it with his whole self again. It sounded like Daisuke was still reaching that point.

“It’s not possible,” Daisuke said. There was sadness there, but acceptance too. “It’s time to move on with living.”

“Souls,” Yuugi said after a long moment, “have a way of returning to each other.” From the Duel Monsters seeking out those they had been connected with in life like Atem and Mahado to parts of a whole like Yuugi and Atem had been, to even significant lives like Kaiba’s previous life had been to Atem. Even if it took a millennia, they found their way back. He’d see Atem again one day. And Daisuke would see his spirit again too; that was how the world worked. “Maybe not in this life, but you’ll meet again.”

“Thanks.” Daisuke said. He didn’t sound like he believed Yuugi, but that was okay. He hadn’t seen the things Yuugi had to have that solid certainty. Daisuke twisted against Yuugi until they were face to face. “I only ever told one other person about any of that. Everyone else lived it or already knew.”

“Me neither.” Yuugi smiled suddenly. “Although I had to explain it to Kaiba a few times and he lived it and he still doesn’t want to believe it happened.”

Daisuke laughed. There were tears in the corners of his eyes that they both ignored. “I know people like that too.” His laughter trailed off, both arms coming around Yuugi in a loose hug. “Thank you.”

He didn’t need to say more than that. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for existing. Thank you for being here.

*

Kaiba set down the file in front of him, one eyebrow raised as he surveyed the man in front of him. “Let me get this straight, Mutou. You agree to work for me if I hire your boyfriend and his friend as an artist and a coder.”

“Yep.” Yuugi in high school might have felt intimidated by the cold stare across the desk, but Yuugi had lived a lot of life since then. Kaiba wasn’t very scary at all in comparison to some of the things he’d seen. That and Kaiba was the one who wanted him as an employee in the first place.

“Why?” Kaiba demanded. “I was under the impression that you hoped to start an indie game company of your own. Your first game has a cult following already.” Kaiba said it like it was more of an insult than a compliment, though it was probably because he took it as a slight that Yuugi had made and sold the game without ever approaching Kaiba about it.

“I considered that,” Yuugi said, rocking back on his heels. He’d thought about it the whole time he was in college, made several smaller games besides the one centering around Atem’s counterpart, all of which had done fairly well. But those games had been made either by Yuugi alone or with Satoshi and Daisuke’s help, or one of his classmates, all on school equipment or Yuugi’s own laptop. “It was pointed out that you had the resources and teams already if I wanted to put any of the more complicated game ideas I have in mind into action. It would take me a lot longer to establish a brand and get a decent staff and funding of my own, and that’s not the kind of thing I’m good at.” Starting from the ground up was more Kaiba’s thing really.

“What makes you think I’d put you in charge of a team?” Kaiba challenged.

Yuugi frowned at him. “Well you’re not hiring me just because you want an excuse to make me test all your new Duel Monsters things,” he said.  “That would be a waste and you know it. You hate wasting resources.”

There was a moment where Yuugi thought Kaiba was going to get annoyed, but instead he smiled. Smiles did not fit well on Kaiba’s face. He settled back in his desk chair looking too pleased. “You’re right. I do hate waste. Which is why your friends had better be top notch or they’re not getting hired, deal or not. I can’t have useless employees.”

“I’ll have them send you a resume and portfolio,” Yuugi said. “Daisuke was an art major and Satoshi has been doing coding for indie games for the last year.” He had a running bet with Daisuke on whether Kaiba and Satoshi would get along or hate each other on sight. It would be interesting to see how it turned out.

Kaiba snorted. He was still smiling. He always was in a better mood when things went the way he wanted. “No speeches about the power of friendship and how you believe in their abilities?”

“I could give one, but I figured you’d prefer seeing their credentials over taking my word,” Yuugi said drily.

“Good. I don’t need to hear that sentiment anyway.” Kaiba steepled his fingers. “Are either of them Duelists?”

“Daisuke has a Wind-Dark deck but he only plays casually.” Yuugi put on as harmless a smile as he could manage. “Satoshi doesn’t like the magic clinging to the cards.”

Kaiba grimaced just like Yuugi expected him to at the mention of magic. “So you’ve found more people who believe in your mumbo jumbo.”

“You lived it, Kaiba,” Yuugi said, more amused than anything.

Kaiba waved a hand, turning away to gather up papers from a file. “Something happened. I’m sure science will reach an understanding of it one day.” He held out a stack of papers. “Here. Get these signed and back to my secretary by the end of the week and you’re all hired.”

“There’s not a clause saying I have to Duel you at your leisure in here is there?” Yuugi flipped through the stack, glancing at the pages.

“No.” Kaiba sat back in his chair again, smug and content that things were going his way again. “But you can expect to be asked to test things in the future.”

“Of course.” Yuugi hadn’t expected anything else.

“I expect you to be an asset to my company, Mutou.” Kaiba stared him down. “If I’m putting you in charge of a team, I expect high results.”

“Of course,” Yuugi repeated.

“Then we have a deal.” Kaiba waved a hand and Yuugi knew he was dismissed. “I expect those papers back as soon as possible. If there’s anything on there that you need to discuss, you have my office number.”

Yuugi had his private number too, but he could appreciate keeping their private and work lives separate. He stood up to leave.

“And Mutou?” Kaiba said as Yuugi was almost to the door. Yuugi waited. “Tetsuro? Really?” Kaiba asked, referencing the game character Yuugi had based off him. His character had the most dramatic character development of everyone, going from full on villain to reluctant heroic tag along.

Yuugi sent him a grin over his shoulder. “I thought it was a pretty good likeness.”

Kaiba huffed and Yuugi laughed, leaving him to the rest of the work day. As soon as he was out of the office, he pulled out his phone to call Daisuke and let him know their jobs were lined up. He had an idea for a game that Daisuke would want to be involved with. It involved a phantom thief. His boyfriend had experience in that after all.