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In a still, dark apartment, a phone rings.

It continues ringing cheerfully, but receives no answer; unaware and uncaring that it’s shattering the silence of this pitiful place, it rings once more before falling silent.

“Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice message,” the answering machine recites dutifully. “At the tone, please record your message.” A moment passes, and then a soft beep plays.

“Uh, hi, Bakura-kun,” a voice says, muffled through the machine’s speakers. “It’s Yuugi. I was just calling because the arcade got a bunch of new games, and I was thinking we should all go together—you and me and Anzu and Jounouchi and Honda—and we could play them together? We were planning to check out the new diner, too, and apparently their pastries are awesome. So, if you could call me back whenever, that’d be great. Um, I’ll see you at school tomorrow. Bye!”

A click, then silence.

“This is weird.”

Yuugi worries his lip, glancing at the empty seat across from him in the diner’s booth. He takes a sip of his chocolate milkshake, sets it back down again. “Bakura-kun runs late sometimes—”

“Most times,” Jounouchi interrupts distractedly, his attention focused on shaking the final traces of ketchup out of the bottle and onto his fries.

“Bakura-kun runs late most times,” Yuugi amends with a withering look, “but he’s really been trying to come to school and hang out and… I dunno. Catch up, I guess. It’s just... weird that he wasn't in school, and it’s weirder that he didn’t call back.” Bakura always made a point to call if he had to cancel last minute, or couldn't make an event. It was usually reassuring, but now the lack of confirmation was unsettling.

“Considering his track record earlier in the year, I’m surprised they’re even planning on letting him graduate.” Honda, who took a chair rather than a seat at the booth, tips backward, hooking his feet around the legs of the table and balancing precariously upright. A waitress shoots him a dirty look, but says nothing.

“Well, we all know he couldn’t really help that,” Anzu says, idly stirring her coffee. They sit, quiet for a moment, the noise of the diner hardly more than a distant buzz.

Yuugi stands abruptly. “I’m gonna go to his apartment and check on him.”

“I’ll come, if you want,” Jounouchi offers, but Yuugi waves it off.

“Thanks, Jounouchi, but I’ll be alright by myself.” He grabs his backpack, fishes out enough cash to cover his food, and waves goodbye.

As soon as Yuugi’s gone, Anzu sighs out of pure exhaustion. “God, they’re both so dense. When will they just get over it and make out, already?”

“2,000 yen says they'll be holding hands within the next month,” says Honda, ever the romantic.

“Deal,” Anzu says without a moment’s hesitation, taking Honda’s hand and shaking on it. Jounouchi buries his face in his hands and groans.

 Bakura’s apartment is dark, but it usually is, so Yuugi figures he’s home regardless. He gently tests the doorknob, but it’s locked, so he digs into his pocket and grabs the spare key he’d made Bakura give him.

After a few moments of fumbling, he jams the key in the lock and twists. The door opens slowly to reveal his empty apartment, save for the old take-out containers scattered on the coffee table and the occasional article of clothing strewn on the ground. It’s hot and stuffy, with a slight, sickly-sweet musty scent. Yuugi scrunches up his nose, and walks in, shutting the door softly behind him. The answering machine is beeping red, so he guesses the call yesterday didn’t do much good.

“Bakura-kun?” he calls, standing stock-still to listen for any reply. “It’s Yuugi. Where are you?” For a few moments, there’s nothing but silence, before he’s able to make out the soft murmuring of a television.

Yuugi walks toward the noise cautiously, stepping over the piles on the ground, a knot of anxiety tying itself tighter around his stomach as his mind cycles through the terrible things which could have happened. He reaches Bakura's room before long, and, before he gets overwhelmed by his nerves, opens the door.

Bakura’s curled up on a couch, hidden under a barrage of blankets, his eyes dull as he stares through the TV set playing some old horror movie. His hair’s greasy and tangled, his skin a dull pallor, and he’s shivering badly, despite the room’s heat.

“Hey,” Yuugi says cautiously. He tries for a smile, for Bakura’s sake, but he’s sure it’s not too convincing. Bakura’s eyes trail slowly to Yuugi, and it’s a long moment of staring before it seems like he registers Yuugi’s presence.

“Oh. Hi, Yuugi,” Bakura rasps.

“You look horrible.”

“That’s—I prob’ly look worse than I feel.”

“How long have you been sick?”

“Oh, you know,” Bakura says airily, waving his hand around indiscriminately. “S’okay.”

“Why didn’t you call? I—I could have done something. I could have helped.” What was meant to be scolding comes out small and pathetic, and Yuugi feels a pang of self-hatred rise in his gut. He’s so useless.

“It‘s really no big deal. Sorry.” Bakura turns his face downward into the couch’s cushions. Yuugi sighs, holding back tears of frustration. He inhales, exhales, repeats for a bit until he’s steady.

“I’m making tea,” Yuugi says decisively, “and you’re changing out of whatever you’ve been probably wearing for the last two days.” Bakura tries to say something, most likely a protest, but his mumble is muffled by the pillow into an indistinguishable groan. “If you’re not going to have any sense of self-preservation, I’ll just have to be here until you get one.”

He turns to leave for the kitchen.

“I don’t wanna be a burden,” Bakura murmurs. Yuugi looks back at his feverish friend, and he softens.

“You’re not a burden,” Yuugi tells him softly. “Just… just get better soon.”

“Stay with me?”

“Of course.”

Yuugi waits for a moment until Bakura has settled back into watching the film, before quietly leaving for the kitchen. He flicks the light on, searches for tea—peppermint should be good—and sets a pot on the stove. The cabinets are coated in dust, but the mugs are spotless. While he’s waiting for the water to boil, he thinks about Bakura.

Bakura, who had always been alone, who had never thought he could rely on others, who didn’t think he was worth the effort. Bakura, who got food poisoning and didn’t think it was relevant enough to call a friend, let alone a doctor for help. Bakura, who loved horror films and board games and the occult and sweets, who was so determined not to be an inconvenience.

“What an idiot,” Yuugi mutters fondly.

The water finishes boiling, and he pours two mugs for the both of them. Carefully taking them both, he quietly makes his way back into Bakura’s room.

He’s asleep on the couch, his eyebrows furrowed as he curls in on himself tightly. He’s at least in a different shirt than before, a long-sleeved blue sweater. Yuugi sets down the tea on the table, throws the blankets kicked onto the floor back over Bakura, and sits in a chair by the doorway. The blankets seem to have eased him, a little, and his face softens to an almost relaxed expression.

The room is miserable and stuffy, and stinks of sweat. On the television, a woman cries as the ghost appears behind her, and the film cuts to a shot of an unconvincing blood splatter. Bakura’s snoring just enough to be noticeable, and there certainly isn’t much to entertain himself with. Regardless, Yuugi can’t think of a place he’d rather be. He takes a sip of his peppermint tea, and looks at the sleeping form of his dear friend.

“Don’t worry,” he whispers, a soft smile on his face. “I’ll still be here when you wake up.”