It's been a while since she's been here.
She walks around the room, fingers trailing over all of her old comic books, her school work, a picture of her parents. It feels surreal - she was so much smaller the last time she was here, the last time she slept in that bed, lived in this room. Then she spots it, sitting innocently when it is anything but.
The Puzzle Box.
Next to it is a necklace, a rough leather cord holding onto a locket shaped like a Duel Monsters card.
She knows both of them and it makes her heart hurt to see them together.
"I'm happy for you."
She turns, and he's there. He's bronze and beautiful for the first moment, like the king he really is, but then it fizzles out, like an illusion, and he's there again, looking just like her. No crown, no golden bands. Just leather clothes and a Duel Disk. He smiles softly, the expression heartbreakingly fond and sincere. She feels the tears well in her eyes and the words catch in her throat.
"My beautiful girl, don't cry." He soothes, pulling her closer and wrapping her in the strength of his arms. "I would never ask you to choose. You know that."
She clutches him to her, holding on with every ounce of strength she has. She doesn't know how long this will last - she wants to savour every last moment she has.
"Shh." He croons, stroking down her hair. "It's okay."
"I wasn't ready." She whispers, feeling his hand still.
"I know." He replies, thick with regret. "In truth, neither was I. I had back everything I was, but I had to let go of everything I'd gained, stolen through it was. And you . . . how hard it was to walk away from you. Had I turned to face you again, it's quite possible I would have never been able to go to the afterlife. I can't ever begin to tell you what you mean to me, the invaluable gift you gave so willingly. I can't repay you for what you've done for me."
She pulls back just enough to look up at him. He cups her cheek, leaning forward to kiss her forehead.
"The fact remains, I am happy for you. And I hope that I do not ever stand in the way of the happiness you deserve."
"I love you, Atem."
He laughs, bright and ringing like wind chimes. "And I you, dear one. But your heart has room for more than one."
She glances back at the necklace, itching to grab it.
"See?" He hums, grinning. "Plenty of space."
"Are you sure?" She stumbles, holding onto his other hand.
"Of course." He strokes over her cheekbone, softening as he only did around her. "I want you to embrace happiness. I'm afraid I've made you live my darkness with me for too long. Accept that which is freely given. You know as well as I do that from him, that speaks more than his words ever will."
"I've already said goodbye." She feels the tears begin. "But I don't want you to go. I don't know if I can have you and lose you again so fast."
"That's the beauty of it." He pulls away, leaving one last caress. "The hard part was saying it once - now that is over."
"Atem, don't leave me-"
Pale skin burns away and bronze returns, eyes red like the morning sun. He's grace and beauty and it hurts all the sharper.
"When the time comes, I will find you again, and I will bring you home, where you belong. Embrace this happiness, Yugi. For me."
He woke up to Yugi sitting upright in their bed, tears running down her cheeks and clutching her hand to her heart. She was breathing hard, like she was choking back sobs, her fingers tangled in the shirt she borrowed to sleep in. She was normally a calm sleeper, but her side of the bed was a mess, as though she'd been roughly jarred awake.
"Yugi?" He murmured, sitting up. Distress was not something very common for her, nightmares even less so.
She met his gaze, eyes wide and helpless in the dark. He pulled her over, thankful that he was so large. He wrapped himself around her, curling closer when she started to cry.
"Do you want to talk about it?" He whispered.
Vehemently, she shook her head, sobbing harshly into his bare chest. She clung to him as though he was the only thing in the universe, fingers digging into his skin.
He held her through it, well after she cried herself back to sleep. He had never done well hurting her, and he always took less kindly to those who hurt her. But right now, he had no enemy, no objective, no vengeance - just a pain in his chest that grew worse with every second he spent thinking about what would drive his wonderful woman to tears.
She was avoiding him.
He'd woken up the moment she had that morning, immediately getting his phone to cancel all of his meetings or pass them off to Mokuba. She'd insisted that it was just a really intense nightmare and that he shouldn't put his life on hold for her. She'd smiled weakly the whole time he dressed, even though each time he asked, she told him to go.
He wound up cutting the meetings short anyways, too uncomfortable with the thought of her being alone. As soon as he entered the mansion, she dodged past him, muttering something quickly about going to see her grandfather. He offered to drive her, to visit as well, but she pretended not to hear him.
"What's up with Yugi?" Mokuba asked, having run into her at a grocery store on the way home. She had skirted into another aisle and purposefully wove away from him in the store.
He sighed heavily, slinging an arm around his younger brother, now at his shoulder instead of his hip. "I don't know. She ran from me this morning too."
"After you came home from the meetings?"
"I'll take care of your stuff for tomorrow. Whatever's up with her, I think you two need some time alone."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course! I can't leave my big brother in a time of crisis, now can I?" Mokuba winked and walked out to the kitchen. He'd become a remarkably good cook in the last few years. Her influence, probably.
Hours came and went without so much as a text. Mokuba made, ate and cleaned up from dinner before retiring to his room for the night.
As for himself, he'd done no such thing. He sat in the living room, with the fireplace, and tended it. It was something simple and cathartic that helped to clear his mind and stop it from overwhelming him. He'd spent many hours down here when Gozaburo had been alive, just trying his best not to be noticed. It was easy to lose track of time, watching the flames and feeding the fire, cleaning the ashes away each time a new log was added. He didn't do this often anymore - had no real reason. Now, if he was troubled with a design, he would come down to the little island in the kitchen, sit at the far end, and watch the two most important people in his life talk and laugh. They would smile at him when he came down from the office, then just continue their conversation. When the answer came to him, he would quietly leave, a smile of his own on his lips.
Footsteps halted at the door and he looked up, finding her standing there. She seemed surprised, but then, the last time he'd knelt before the fire was the whole night before he kissed her for the first time.
"Seto?" She questioned lightly, as if she was afraid to break the stillness. He beckoned her over, more than a little grateful when she didn't just scamper off to their bedroom or back out the door. "What are you doing up so late?"
He blinked up at her, taking her hand and pulling her gently down onto his lap. "It's late?"
"Almost three in the morning."
"I think I should be asking you what you're doing out so late instead."
She looked away, down at her hands. "I had to take a walk. Clear my head."
He snuck his own hand into hers, still so much bigger after all this time. "Clear it of what?"
She didn't answer.
He readjusted her, so she was facing the fire. "I used to come down here when Gozaburo was driving me crazy. He must have liked having the fire going, because this was one hobby he never bothered me about. Who knows, maybe he was just smart enough not to test me when I had access to fire."
She squeezed his hand. She'd never understood how his adopted father could be like that to him, but she'd stood quietly by, supporting him as he stuttered out the story for the first time. He was sure that he was in love with her when she dabbed the tears from her eyes and smiled, whispering I'm proud of you before kissing away the tears he hadn't been aware had been falling.
"No matter the reason, this became a really good outlet. I spent more nights than I care to remember waking up on the floor." He rested his chin on her shoulder, curling around her again. Gently, he nosed her cheek, pressing a fluttery kiss to her jaw. "Please don't feel like you have to run from me."
She rested her head against his. "It wasn't you I was running from."
He wanted to press, but he knew if he did, she would flee again. So, he settled down for another night spent in front of the fire.
He woke up on his back, a pillow underneath his head and a blanket over him. Slowly, because he wasn't as young as he used to be, he sat up. Something rolled down his abdomen into his lap.
The clatter of porcelain startled him and he snapped up, finding her placing a cup of coffee on a coaster next to him. She smiled softly, sadly, before sitting down beside him.
"I had a dream." She started, then bit her lip, flickering her eyes up at him bashfully. He was keenly aware that his reactions would decide the fate of this conversation. So, he took a sip of his coffee, moaning in pleasure because she always made it the best.
"I was worried. You don't get nightmares."
"It wasn't a nightmare." She was quick to begin. "It was a dream. Even a good one, funnily enough."
"People don't usually wake up from good dreams in tears."
She bit her lip, took a deep breath, then lowered her own coffee. "I saw Atem. He came to see me."
He looked down at the Puzzle in his lap. "Go on."
"I . . . He meant the world to me, for a really long time." She started, nervous and fidgety. "There was an inscription on the Puzzle Box, talking about how the one who was able to assemble the Puzzle would be granted it's dark power and one wish. Well, I managed to finish it. And the wish I had . . . I wished for friends."
She blew out a breath, not meeting his gaze.
"I know it sounds stupid, especially now, but I had no one. Grandpa tried his best, but there's only so much he could do. My parents love me, but they're . . . distant, and I have no other family. I grew up alone, and on top of that, I was bullied ceaselessly in school. So, I wished for friends. At first, I thought the wish had been granted when Tea stood up for me, when Joey and Tristan defended me. I was sure that it was the magic of the Puzzle at work. Even now, I think about it. That it was the Puzzle that compels them to be this way. But what I never expected was him."
"Atem." She nodded. "At first, he was surly and reclusive, only coming out when there was a game involved. He had no idea who he was, why he looked like me, or what he was doing inside the Puzzle. I didn't think too much about it until I specifically didn't wear it to school one day and he was still there, tethered to my mind. It wasn't too long before he would come out to talk to me when I was alone, or when people weren't looking. He became a huge part of my world in a really short amount of time. Even when things started happening, like Duelist Kingdom, I didn't really pay it any attention. He was my best friend, my co-player, my partner. He became part of me, and a huge part of who I became in those months and years that followed are tethered to him and who we became together. I . . . I fell in love with him, and him with me. I gave up my own soul to Dartz when he lost the game. I couldn't lose him. It was wonderful when we were reunited."
She shook her head, like she was clearing memories. "But I didn't expect it to end so soon. So abruptly. I had him one moment, right up until the end of the duel, but as soon as he walked through that golden door, part of me was missing. The silence in my head was deafening." She laughed, a little hysterically. "I know that sounds absolutely insane."
"Not really." He took another sip. "I would feel lost if Mokuba suddenly vanished, even if I knew why and I agreed."
She perked up, meeting his gaze finally. "That's it exactly! I knew he had to go, I lived it right along with him. And I know it's selfish to have wanted to keep him, but I'd lived with him humming along in the back of my mind for years. When I dueled, it was us duelling. We were so much the same that no one noticed when we swapped control, when he took over my body. It wasn't me and him, it was us, in everything. And I . . . I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready for him to go, for us to be parted, and I certainly wasn't ready to live without him."
He took another sip and nodded. "The only thing I don't understand is why you ran."
"You've been avoiding me for two days."
She cringed. "I don't want to make it sound like I don't trust you, because I really do. But I . . . No one knew the extent of my actual relationship with Atem." She winced again. "I didn't want you to feel like you were competing with someone, even a dead man."
He nodded slowly. "I know I'm not. Not even from Atem."
She blinked at him. "You- You do?"
"Of course. You know how I am about being your rival."
She chuckled wetly. "Yeah, I guess so."
She was laying on the bed, texting Tea when he walked into the room, sitting down next to her. She dropped her phone and looked up at him, surprised to find him holding out a jewellery box.
She sat up, folding her legs under her, then pulled off the golden ribbon. She opened the box and pulled out a necklace.
It was a thicker silver chain, chainlink of course, with a Duel Monsters card locket at the bottom, matching his. She glanced up at him, checking his reaction, but he was impassive. Carefully, she popped it open, gasping softly when she spotted it.
It was a monster card, but she didn't even look at the attack or defense points. Her eyes were glued to the illustration; a powerful man clad in white, trimmed in purple and crowned in gold.
"The Millennium King." She breathed, fingers trembling. "Seto, where did you get this?"
"I had Pegasus make it." He met her stare, reaching up to wipe away her brimming tears.
"Of course." He pulled her closer, resting his forehead against hers. "You mean the world to me, Yugi."
She tossed the necklace aside, throwing herself into his arms. She tackled him back onto the bed, kissing him senseless. He chuckled into her kiss, rolling them over.
"I love you so much." She smiled.
"I love you too." He nuzzled into her neck, smiling down at her.