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Chapter 8 - Pieces

"Today I woke up and you were gone
The whole day wondering what I did wrong
It's like I'm falling from a mountaintop
My heart keeps pounding and it won't stop..."
--Default, Deny

Yugi walked into the above-store apartment he and his Grandpa shared to the muted sounds of an ancient episode of Matlock nattering away on the TV. He clicked the door shut quietly, in case Grandpa was asleep, then turned the deadbolt knob and put the chain on the door.

"Yugi?"

Yugi jumped. It was Grandpa.

"Sorry, Grandpa," he said quietly, trying to work up some of his usual jovial attitude, and only succeeded in producing a tight sort of strained voice that sounded worse than it would have sounded had he not tried to mask his misery at all. "Did I wake you?"

"No, no," Grandpa answered, shaking his head. "I've been up waiting. Where have you been, Yugi? It's late..."

"Sorry, Grandpa," Yugi said again. "I had to... I just... took a walk..."

Yugi's eyes were deliberately forced down as he pretended to have trouble taking off one of his running shoes. Grandpa frowned, but his gentle voice belied the concern so deeply carved into the years of his face.

"It's okay, Yugi. Just..." Grandpa hesitated, then sighed, watching Yugi with careful, measuring eyes. "Just let me know next time, okay?"

"All right, Grandpa."

Eyes still forced down, Yugi finally kicked off his shoe and in one sweeping motion, brushed quickly past Grandpa to the hallway.

"I'm just going to bed now, okay?" he mumbled hurriedly.

Without waiting for Grandpa to answer, Yugi vanished into the hallway in the direction of his room.

Grandpa took a few halting steps in Yugi's wake, but stopped in the shadow of the hallway entrance. He stared down the hall at the closed door of Yugi's room, and his brow furrowed, more sharply etching the creases that the shadows of the hallway traced into his face.

"Sure," he said softly, "that's fine, son..."

Yugi was leaning against the other side of the closed door, his eyes closed. He thought that maybe he should be crying, that he would really like to be crying right now, but he couldn't. There was nothing inside of him to cry out. He just felt numb. Hollow... and numb...

He opened his eyes, and the scattered pieces of the Millennium Puzzle winked back at him from the floor. Yugi watched them for a long moment, half expecting some sort of emotion to explode inside him, allowing him to weep, to scream, to something...

...but there was none.

He closed his eyes one more time. They burned, as though they were very tired.

"How could I have been so wrong," he whispered into the silence, "about everything?"

Slowly, wearily, he opened his eyes, trudged over to the scattered pieces and lowered himself to the floor...

...and - piece by tiny piece - began the arduous process of rebuilding the Millennium Puzzle.


* * *

On Friday night, the thinnest sliver of fingernail moon floated among the stars over the suburbs of Domino City, and Yugi stood watching it from Téa's porch. He had been on the way home from Joey Wheeler's house, and had decided to drop in to see Téa on the way by. Téa stood with him, and they were each sipping a cool glass of lemonade, talking.

"So, is Joey on his way?" Téa asked.

"Uh-huh. Tristan is going with him again. You know," Yugi smiled, "I think he kind of likes her."

Téa rolled her eyes and laughed. "Well, he'd better not tell Joey, or we'll be minus one Tristan!"

They both laughed, but then Téa added, more seriously: "You know, I think it's great that Joey's mom is letting him visit Serenity on the weekends. I guess she's finally softening up."

"Well, having your son win lots of money, and bring it home to pay for an operation to let your daughter see again will do that to you," Yugi added, not without sarcasm. But then he smiled. "But I think it's great, too. I just miss him... a lot... on the weekends, now."

Téa smiled sympathetically. "True. But Serenity's been missing him for years, now. It's our turn to miss him for awhile."

Yugi gave a very forced laugh. "Yeah. You're right, of course."

A nighthawk's eerie cry echoed through the silence that followed. Yugi took another sip of the lemonade he had hardly touched.

"So," Téa asked gently, "any sign of Yami since you put the puzzle back together?"

Yugi kept his eyes riveted on his lemonade. "Not even a whisper," he answered lowly. Then he added. "You know, I even played a couple of games, just to see if... if..."

His voice disintegrated into nothing. Téa chewed her lip, then asked, "Did you win?"

Yugi's eyes shot up to the tiny sliver of moon. They looked very bright, all of a sudden, and Téa felt a sharp knife of emotion twist inside at the emptiness she saw in them.

"Yeah, I won," he said brokenly. "But he... he just... wasn't there."

Téa sighed. The knife that had started inside was twisting itself into a nasty stomach ache.

"Maybe it wasn't a real challenge, you know," Téa suggested weakly. "Maybe you just need a real... hard game, or something."

Yugi laughed again. It was a hollow, joyless sound.

"Yeah, maybe that's all it was," he replied hopelessly. "Maybe."

Yugi set his almost-full glass of lemonade down on the patio table. "Well," he said, "I'd better get home. Got to work tomorrow."

Téa's stomach was still aching. "Sure," she said, then added, "Say, you want to go for a soda after work tomorrow?"

"Well, I don't..." Yugi began, then stopped. "Sure," he finished miserably.

He turned and walked slowly up the sidewalk.

Téa watched the hunched, dejected figure tread wearily away, trying to quiet her churning insides.

It's just as well, she told herself. It's probably for the better. Yugi didn't need that stupid puzzle anyway. All it did was put him in danger, and take over his life. Maybe now he could just leave all that crap behind and just be Yugi...

But the stomach ache would not go away. In fact, it got worse.

Téa threw both unfinished lemonades over the porch rail onto the lawn, and carried the empty glasses inside, feeling a terrible sense of concern, and now a growing fear.


* * *

 

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