Conundrums And Contradictions

Joey Wheeler is a contradiction.

He irritates me like no other. And yet…for some strange, inexplicable, Ra-only-knows-why reason…I am attracted to him. Sexually attracted to him.

As I found out today, after school. And boy, was that a revelation…

We were fighting, as we normally end up doing each Friday, it being the only day I come to school.

High school. I have an IQ over 200, am smarter than most of the teachers, and I'm attending high school. I have a multi-billion-dollar company to run, and while the Circuit Judge who gave me emancipated minor status might have required that I finish high school as a condition of granting me custody of Mokuba, I'm going to do it on my terms.

Which involves me being around the other students as little as possible.

So, anyway, Wheeler and I were having our traditional Friday afternoon fight, and that's when…it…happened.

Wet dreams were bad enough, but at least they only happened when I was unconscious. I didn't have to deal with actual feelings. Unlike this afternoon. The first spontaneous erection I get in my admittedly short life, and it's in response to fighting with Joey Wheeler?!

Seventeen years old, I've never even been slightly interested in dating, and my hormones finally decided to sit up and take notice during one of my many fights with the mutt.

I must be even more screwed up than I thought.

I am, of course, conveniently glossing over what happened after my body's…southern rebel uprising.

I left.

Okay, I left, and "So what?" you might ask, but you see, the thing is, I always have the last word. He had just called me as cold-hearted as my dragons (a double insult, in my opinion) and then…'it'…happened…and I just turned around and walked away. Without throwing some cutting remark over my shoulder.

I'm at home now, in the garden, looking over the cliff at the ocean. It is a spectacular view, but I'm not really seeing it. All I'm seeing are his eyes – I always know how Wheeler feels by looking into his eyes, and judge my responses accordingly. But instead of only anger in his eyes, today I saw…pain?

All of this is reminding me of something I learned in my psychology class. The excitation transfer theory. Physical arousal – and no, not necessarily that kind, just something like adrenaline, an awareness – can be an indicator of many things. Fear, hate, anger…love. Most people, when they meet someone new and are aroused by them, automatically think they're sexually or romantically attracted to them, when normally that's not the case.

From the moment I met Joey he rubbed me the wrong way, and I thought I just really didn't like him. I wonder if I got it backwards. Maybe I was attracted to Joey from the start, but it took me this long to realize it.

I let out a sigh and flop back on the grass. This is too weird; me…and Joey Wheeler?

Well, another week has gone by, and it's time for my weekly meet-and-fight with the mutt. Hopefully I'll be able to ignore any…problems…that might arise.

Spying Joey just in front of me, facing away from me as he talks to Yugi, I take care to be as quiet as possible. I drop my briefcase on the ground with a clang and smirk as he jumps in fright and lands on his ass.

"I see you've set aside this special time to humiliate yourself in public," I drawl.

Yugi just shakes his head. "That's not very nice, Kaiba."

Kaiba – that name is the bane of my existence. It's his name – Gozabura's – not mine. But keeping it lets me keep a better hold on the company, so I put up with people calling me by it. Even people I like – well, respect, anyway. I don't like anyone aside from Mokuba, really. Although, maybe Joey…

"How about this?" I offer mock-placatingly. "I'll try being nicer if the mutt tries being smarter." Taking in Joey's murderous expression, I ask, "How 'bout it, Wheeler? You game?"

"Why I oughta…" he growls.

I smirk. "You watch way too many American Westerns, pup."

Picking himself up off the ground, he says, "I don't know what yer problem is, but I bet it's hard ta pronounce."

What a perfect opening. "You're my problem, Wheeler, and I can see how your own name must be pretty hard to pronounce – for you."

"Ya really are a jerk, Kaiba. And rude. No wonder no one likes ya; ya hate people."

"I'm not being rude. You're just insignificant." No, he's not, especially when he gets all worked up like this, but there's no need to let him know that. "And do I look like a people person to you? I don't have time to be nice to people, puppy; I have a company to run." Out of the corner of my eye I notice Yugi leaving, right after giving the both of us a withering look. Must be getting tired of our constant fighting.

"If ya have a company to run, then why are ya goin' ta school?" Joey demands. "You're always goin' on an' on an' on about how much smarter ya are dan meh; if you're so much smarter, why don't ya just take da Graduate exam and be done wit' it?"

For once the mutt has asked a good question. And the sparkle in his eyes is turning me on so much that I can't think of a good evasion – guess I'll have to go with the truth.

"It was the condition the Circuit Judge put on giving me custody of Mokuba – he wanted me to finish high school the quote-unquote normal way. Personally, I think normality is overrated – but then I've always been ahead of the curve."

He looks kind of…stunned? What's that about?

"Wait…" he says. "You have custody of Mokuba?"

I frown at that. "Of course I do, who did you think had custody? The Tooth Fairy?"

"Aren't ya a little young ta be his Guardian? I t'ought ya had ta be at least eighteen."

He looks confused. Confused looks good on Joey, which is a good thing because he's confused about ninety percent of the time.

"Eighteen or the equivalent." I continue before he has a chance to ask about that, "I got emancipated minor status when Gozabura died. I owned the company already, and had been working at it for years, so the Circuit Judge made me a legal, if not practical, adult. Since I am Mokuba's only living relative, custody automatically went to me. But that same Judge thought I was quote 'growing up too fast' unquote and decided to make it a condition that I attend high school."

"Why didn't you try an' buy 'im off?" Joey asks curiously. "I mean, ya use your money ta get ya everyt'ing else."

I scowl. Just like Wheeler to make assumptions. "Money doesn't buy everything, pup. Besides, that Judge held mine and Mokuba's lives in his hands, I wasn't about to fuck with that just because I didn't want to go to school."

He looks at me for a moment, and for some reason I can't figure out what's in his eyes. After a moment, he says, "Ya really care about 'im, don't ya?"

This argument has gone off-track somewhere, but lying has never really been my thing, so I tell the truth. "More than anything."

I inwardly wince as I realize how much I revealed with that one answer. Of course, maybe I shouldn't have been quite so truthful.

His eyes soften and he says, "Jus' like meh and mah sister. Maybe Yugi's right – we're really not all dat different."

"I wouldn't be all that sure – or do you really think you're a cold-hearted, cruel bastard who cares about nothing and no one?" I ask cynically.

"I…I never called ya dat," he stutters.

"The cold-hearted part you did. Last week, in fact. I believe you also called me cruel, as well, several times in the past. They were mostly justified, so don't worry about it. The bastard part was Bakura, and the part about me not caring about anyone was Yami, when he thought I couldn't hear him," I list. "You're not the only one who doesn't like me, Joey, you're just the only one who doesn't talk about me behind my back. You prefer a more upfront approach."

And now he looks sad. Greeeaat, pity from the mutt. Just what I don't need.

Love, on the other hand…

No, I am not going there now.

"I'm sorry," he offers, stuffing his hands in his pockets and scuffing his feet. "I just…from day one you've rubbed meh da wrong way, and I guess I just reacted ta it. Normally I don't let people get ta meh, but then again most people get tired of fightin' wit' meh after a few months. I never really t'ought about how hard yer life must be; ya acted like a jerk all da time, and I didn't really wanna be nice ta ya. But ya don't really make it easy ta be yer friend, ya know."

I am stunned. The mutt is actually apologizing to me? And what the hell was that about being my friend? "And why would you want to?" He looks confused, so I clarify. "Be my friend, I mean? You have Yugi, and now Yami, and Tristan, and Téa, and Ryou and now Bakura, though that thief isn't really worth much, and even Duke Devlin. If anything, you have too many friends; why the hell would you want me?"

"Ya can never have too many friends, Kaiba," he says cheekily.

Stone-faced, I say, in a clipped voice, "I wouldn't know. I don't have any friends."

Stunned is apparently as good a look on him as confused. Good thing, because it's gracing his face more often. "None?" he says in an incredulous voice.

I frown. "No. Unless you count Mokuba. No one likes me, Wheeler; the only people at the school who are nice to me are sucking up because they want something and it's pretty much that way all over."

"Ya don't even have any friends at work?"

"Why would I have friends at work?" I am honestly surprised by this – I mean, my board of directors, the Big 5, kidnapped Mokuba for ransom, tried to kill me and him, and tried to take over my company. That's pretty much business as usual at KaibaCorp. "You remember the Big 5, right? They were pretty much standard employees for KaibaCorp – they were intelligent, resourceful, good at their jobs – and they hated my guts."

"Ya don't even have anyone in yer whole company ya can trust?" he says, a horrified expression on his face. "Not one?"

I have no clue how we got on this subject, but I've never been able to rant to anyone about my life before, and it's actually kind of freeing. "Who would you think I could trust? My secretary? Admittedly, this one hasn't gotten on my nerves as much as the others, but that's only because she hasn't tried to seduce me yet. Plus, she actually knows how to type and file, which is more than I can say about half of my previous secretaries. The heads of the different departments all have egos bigger than Moto's hair and think they could run the company better than I do. Ditto my new board of directors, the sixth since the Big 5 were kicked out, by the way, since it seems to be a new trend forming that anyone I appoint to my board of directors will try and take over my company – so I have to fire them before they amass as much power as the Big 5 had. Three different maids that I hired to give the mansion its twice-monthly cleaning have tried to poison me, and the last gardener I hired tried to bludgeon me to death with a shovel. The only person in my life that I trust completely is Mokuba."

He stands there for a moment, most likely just taking all that in, before asking, "Okay, I can see how's ya might have problems wit' yer board 'a directors, and da maids and da gardener…but why would ya have a problem wit' yer secretaries tryin' ta seduce ya? Most guys in yer position would consider it a perk of da job."

I scowl. Of course, Wheeler is a teenage boy; he probably thinks about sex every five minutes. Kind of like I think about him every five minutes, since last week. Which is depressing, because from his answer he is apparently straight. Of course, until last week, whenever I thought about my sexuality – which wasn't often – I thought I was, too. "Mutt, I don't appreciate women twice my age throwing themselves at me in hopes of a raise. Especially ones who don't do their jobs. I don't hang out with people who only want me for my money; what makes you think I'd sleep with someone for that reason?"

He shrugs. "Most guys wouldn't care why da women were throwin' themselves at 'em. Why do you?"

In other words, he's implying that I don't care about people anyway, so why would I turn down sex with someone just because I didn't care about them? Does he think I'm as sex-crazed as any other teenage boy, or is he actually fishing for some sort of information about my nonexistent sex life? That confused look is back, and since we're not really fighting anymore – I actually think we're having a pretty much civil conversation here – I'm out of my element. Guess it's time for the old fallback – the truth. "I care because if it didn't mean anything to them, it would cheapen the whole experience. You might think I'm heartless, but I do care about people, Wheeler. I am quite capable of feeling love, and I see no reason why I should sleep with someone I don't, just because I can."

"Dat's a very mature outlook, Kaiba," he says, and seems to accept my answer. Wonder of wonders, there actually seems to be a brain in the puppy's head. "But somptin' you said keeps gnawin' at meh."

"And what's that?" I asked, deciding to forgo any 'dog with a bone' jokes.

"Ya said ya only trust Mokuba…but no matter how much ya might not like Yugi, or Duke, or Ryou, or Téa, or…meh…do ya really not trust us? I mean, none 'a us have tried to kill you, take over your company, or hurt Mokuba, so we gotta have somptin' up on the nameless masses, right?"

Is it my imagination or did he get this pained look on his face when he listed himself? Does it really hurt him, the thought that I might not trust him?

"I said Mokuba was the only person I trust completely, Wheeler. I trust you, Moto, and the rest of your pathetic friends more than the average person only because I don't think any of you have the ambition or the inclination to try any of that. But then, the 'nameless masses' as you put it, don't, either."

"'More dan the average person' meaning what, Kaiba?" Joey is like a dog after a bone – relentless when he wants to know something. I think he actually is trying to be my friend.

Will wonders never cease?

What I'm about to say I never thought I would reveal – at least not outside of a life-threatening situation. Looking away from Joey's face, I say, "You want to know how much I trust you and your friends, mutt? For the past three years there was no one I trusted enough to name in my will as my choice of guardian for Mokuba if I die before he's eighteen. I basically arranged for the company to be held in trust for him, and for the courts to grant him emancipated minor status as well. After Battle City, though, I changed it – he deserves to have as much of a normal life as I can give him, and a family is part of that."

He looks puzzled – almost as good as confused. "Who'd you put down?"

I decide to tease him a little. "It wasn't Téa's parents; Mokuba can barely stand the girl and I wouldn't sentence him to seven years under the same roof with a person he doesn't like. It wasn't Tristan's parents because they both work too much. Same reason for Ryou's father."

He looks impatient – guess I should get on with it. "It wasn't your mother because she lives in America and it wasn't your father because Stan Wheeler reminds me a bit too much of Gozabura."

He looks surprised and slightly afraid – the fear is probably because he thinks I know that his father is an alcoholic who likes to beat him up on occasion; the surprise because he realizes what I'm saying about Gozabura. But I don't want to listen to his questions, so I say, "I chose Solomon Moto, because he raised Yugi, and despite what everyone thinks I think about him, I don't hate Yugi. I see him as what Mokuba might be like when he grows up, if I can protect him from all the people who want to use him to get to me."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: stunned is a good look for the mutt. "You," he chokes out, "want yer little brudder to wind up like Yugi?"

I scowl. "Not exactly like him, of course not. But I'd rather him turn out like Moto than like me."

"You're not all dat bad, Kaiba," he offers, and I hear a trace of sincerity in his voice.

"It's funny, Wheeler," I say softly. "But that actually means something coming from you." This conversation has gone on long enough; any more and it will start getting mushy. "After all, it's always nice to be liked by man's best friend." I smirk at his astonished expression and walk away.

It's weird. Now that I've had a few weeks to get used to it, I kinda like having hormones. I'm still not quite used to getting turned on by thoughts of the mutt, but it is a nice feeling. Kind of warm inside.

Our regular Friday afternoon fights still continue, but with a change – they start out the same, small insults and teases, but they end up as civil, actual conversations.

I remember the second Friday like that; the week's time had only made Joey's curiosity grow, and we ended up ranting about our parents – me about Gozabura, my adoptive father, Joey about his real father. Except for the fact that Joey's dad only ever hit him when he was drunk, and Gozabura did it to make me do what he wanted, our home lives were pretty much the same. I asked him why he didn't try and get his mother to take him in and he said he didn't think she'd care. When his parents had gotten divorced, his mother had actually been offered custody of both of them, he said, but she only wanted Serenity. She said it was because he needed a man's influence in his life, but he wasn't so sure.

"Besides," he'd said. "All those fights I got into when I was younger paid off a few years back. Most times I take 'im down before 'e really gets goin'. 'E's old, Kaiba, and not in very good shape. And his coordination is off when 'e's drunk. I'm young, strong, and sober. 'E doesn't really stand a chance, which is why 'e's pretty much stopped pickin' fights wit' me."

I think we were pretty much equal in the shitty lives department. I could never fight back physically against Gozabura; mentally, intellectually, economically, but when it came down to a physical fight, I had to let him win. I was always afraid he'd go after Mokuba if I didn't. On the other hand, I did have Mokuba by my side, always. Joey's only seen his sister once in the last ten years.

I wonder which of us is happier? Somehow, I'm not sure either of us is.

It's been five weeks since I first saw Joey in a new light. Since I first started calling him Joey in my thoughts. Our weekly fight-and-talk sessions have started to contain more talking and less fighting, and our conversations are a bit more personal.

Last week I even helped Joey come up with ideas for a birthday present for his sister.

But along with our ever-more-friendly little chats, my obsession with him has grown as well. I've started thinking about him almost all the time, and actually found that quite a few things that used to annoy me – now turn me on.

I'm a pragmatic person at heart, but discovering I have a crush on one of my greatest rivals has even taken me some time to get used to. And then, of course, there's the fact that he could never like me like that…

Of course, it was slightly heartening when I found out that he's not homophobic. It was during last week's talk…

"So, Wheeler, I noticed both Yami and Bakura have enrolled here. Might I ask why? Surely they could have used the power of their Millennium items to help them learn about the 21st century."

Joey shrugs and blushes slightly. "I t'ink they just wanted ta spend more time wit' Yugi and Ryou."

I frown. "Don't they see them at home everyday? Other halves of their souls or not, I should think it would get to be a little much, seeing them all the time."

He rakes his fingers through his hair and grins. "Yeah, well, love makes ya do crazy things, I guess."

Now I'm the one who's confused. Hopefully it looks as good on me as it does on him. "Love? I realize the whole yami and hikari thing exemplifies a close relationship, but that saying normally only applies to…"

"Romantic relationships," Joey finishes for me. "Yeah, I t'ought ya knew."

"Knew?" Again – me, confused. Joey, however, is not, which is a real switch.

"That Yugi and Yami, and Ryou and Bakura are together. Ya know, couples?" He's still blushing slightly, and there's a glint of fear in his eyes. I wonder why?

"It figures two of my greatest rivals are in love with each other, that's just par for the course, but I thought Bakura wanted to kill all of you? And that he hated Ryou?" As far as I know, he didn't really have anything against me, just Yami and his hikari's friends.

"Ah, well, after dat whole Egypt thing, he found out da truth about a lot 'a stuff about his past and he's kinda mellowed out. He only goes around threatenin' ta send people ta da Shadow Realm on alternate Thursdays." He grins at his little joke, but the fear is still there. Fear of what?

"What are you so scared of, Wheeler?" I ask bluntly. I'm not much for beating around the bush.

He tries to give me this look like he doesn't know what I'm talking about, but I just stare him down and finally he capitulates. "I just…didn't know how you'd react."

"To what?" I am really getting irritated with all this dancing around.

"To findin' out those four are gay," he finally says.

I blink. Why should that matter to me? "Why should it matter to me? Gay, straight, bisexual; a person's sexual preference has never really mattered to me." Except my own, and I still haven't figured it out. I thought I was straight before, but then I'd never really been attracted to anyone; I was just going on the societal norm. For now I think I'll consider myself bisexual and be done with it.

I am, of course, conveniently glossing over the fact that I also care about Joey's sexual preference…

He looks as if a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. "Yeah, well, I wasn't sure…I mean, ya used ta go around callin' me a dog all da time; and now you've pretty much stopped, and I kinda like dat. I don't wanna have ta kick your ass 'cause ya decided ta start in on mah friends."

Okay, let's see if I can decode that Wheeler-speak: he thinks because I used to insult him, that if I found out his friends were gay, I'd start insulting them. And he likes the fact that we don't fight as much anymore.

"Wheeler, I don't normally go around insulting people about things they can't change. Your arrogant stupidity and tendency to act before you think can be changed; a person's sexual preference can't."

"Arrogant stupidity?!" And that actually seems to be a question, instead of a prelude to another insult war.

"Yes; you persist in your stubborn viewpoints even when you've been proven wrong. Yugi – or Yami, I've never figured out which – is the only person who's ever beaten me in a duel. You can't beat him, either. And yet you think someday you can beat me. I realize your friendly little games with Moto are only to help you practice, but the fact of the matter is: I am a better duelist than you, and you have almost no chance of beating me. I really wish you would desist in saying that you can, because it's getting on my nerves." And it does; if he only wanted to keep dueling me for practice, like he does with Moto, or because he wanted to be the best duelist, either of those I could understand. But as far as I can tell, he only does it because he wants to be better than me at something.

He's better than me at so many things already – making friends is a big one – why does he need this, too?

"Why does it get on yer nerves?" And why isn't the mutt getting angry? I'm confused again, so I guess I'll just go with the truth.

"Because you only want to best me in a duel so you can say you beat me. For some reason you've decided you want to be better than me, and while there's nothing really wrong with that, it irks me that you don't realize you pretty much already are, in lots of ways." Whoa, that was bit too much truth.

He's stunned – again – and I'm loving the view. The sun is starting to set and from this angle it's pretty much gilded his entire body. He's gorgeous…and most likely straight, no matter how cool he is with his friends being gay.

"I'm better dan ya? At what?" he finally manages to get out.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose. "Well, let's start with the most obvious," I list crossly. "I told you several weeks ago I don't have any friends. You have tons. The people at this school like you, Wheeler, they only fear me." Well, a lot of the girls and some of the guys want to get in my pants, but they don't really like me. "You're completely content with you and what you are; there isn't a day goes by I don't find some reason to hate my life. You may not get to spend much time with your sister, but at least you don't have to worry about anyone wanting to kidnap or kill her. Come to think of it, you don't have to worry about anyone wanting to kill you, either. I may be the better duelist, and I may have more money and power – but you have the better life, Joey."

He looks completely taken aback. Was it the fact that I pretty much said I envy him, or the fact I called him by his given name for once?

"I…nevah t'ought 'a it like dat," he says faintly. "I mean, I wasn't stupid enough ta t'ink yer life was better'n mine just 'cause you had money, but I didn't really think it was all dat bad."

I shrug. "It's not, really. Comparatively, anyway."

"Comparatively? Compared ta what?" he asks.

"To the rest of my life. I've never had any friends, never been around anyone who doesn't dislike me, other than my brother. I can't miss that, because I've never known it. Compared to the last sixteen years, this one isn't any worse. It's just not all that much better."

He gives me this look I can't interpret and then says, "Well, it's got ta be some bit better'n last year. After all, last year we both hated each other – now we're sorta friends."

He was serious about that? "You were serious about what you said, then? You really want to be my friend?"

He's blushing slightly and looks a bit embarrassed. Another good look for him. "I don't t'ink ya and I will ever see eye ta eye on a few t'ings, but…yeah, I don't really see any reason we can't be friends."

Is this what drowning feels like? Because I'm quite sure it's become hard to breathe all of a sudden…and I feel surrounded by warmth. "I…think I'd like that…Joey."

A wide grin crosses his face and he says, "Great!"

Friends…that's more than I ever though we'd be. Even if my secret wish is to be his lover, being his friend is enough…it'll have to be.

Six months. Joey Wheeler and I have been friends for six months.

Oh, it's an unusual friendship to be sure. We never talk around his other friends; never give any indication that we are friends. Though I'm not sure if Yugi and the others have even noticed that our animosity towards each other has all but disappeared; we still meet up on Fridays, but instead of fighting, we talk.

Being Joey's friend is…different. Especially since, as days go by, it's hard not to fall even forther in love with him. He is so amazing…if I had a hikari, I'm pretty sure he would be like Joey. I am not total darkness, and he is definitely not total light, but sometimes I feel as if he is my other half. Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could tell him how I feel…

I hear sneakers crunching over the gravel walkway and look up to find Joey walking over. Apparently his father got really drunk last night – he's sporting a black eye and he's cradling his left wrist against his chest.

"Hey, Kaiba," he says somberly. He carefully drops down beside me on the bench and lays his injured arm in his lap.

"Sprained?" I ask, casually gesturing to his arm.

He nods. "Yeah, he grabbed meh when I came in the door and twisted it good. I can rotate it, though, so it ain't broke."

"You should probably wrap it up," I point out.

He quirks a grin at me, but the light in his eyes is dull. "Don't have anyt'ing ta wrap it wit'."

"I do." So saying, I grab my briefcase and flip it open. I keep a first aid kit in here for emergencies, and an Ace bandage can come in handy for lots of things. Taking it out, I tell him, "Give me your arm."

He looks a little hesitant, but finally extends his arm, and I set about wrapping the bandage around his wrist. Not too tight, but not too loose, either. Securing the last clasp, I take a fleeting moment to caress the bit of skin left uncovered and then retreat. "That feel okay?" I ask, and hope he doesn't notice the huskiness in my voice.

He looks slightly flushed. "Uh…yeah. You're good at dat."

I shrug. "Gozabura always made me take care of my own injuries unless he broke something. I got to be real good at wrapping up sprained ankles and wrists, bandaging cuts and hiding bruises."

He nods in understanding. "Dad normally never beat meh up too bad, but we never had da money for first aid stuff, so I got used ta livin' wit' da pain."

He doesn't want to live his father, his father doesn't want him there…if he'd move in with me, all his problems would be solved. But I could never suggest that. "You shouldn't have to," I say, not voicing any of my inner thoughts, though I long to.

He quirks a discomfited grin at me and says, "Yeah, well, life ain't fair, Kaiba. We can't always have what we want."

"No…we can't," I croak out softly, eyes focused on his face.

He seems slightly spooked by the look in my eyes and I tear my gaze away, hoping he hasn't picked up on my feelings. Not quick enough to miss how he licks his lips nervously. That gives me all sorts of ideas about what he could do with that quick tongue of his…

"Kaiba?" he asks, a hesitant note to his voice.

"Yeah, Joey?"

"Do ya…I mean…I'm not sure I ain't just imaginin' it, but…do you like meh?" He can't look at me, and I'm glad of that, because if he were he'd see the sheer, unadulterated terror in my eyes.

"We're friends, aren't we, Joey? Of course I like you." There, that was completely true – and it will throw him completely off-track.

He lets out a sigh of frustration and says, "No, I mean…I see you look at meh, sometimes, and it's a look I've seen before, just not on ya."

Oh, Ra, this could be bad. "What kind of look?"

"It's da same kinda look Tristan gives my sister, da same kinda look Yami gives Yugi, da same kinda look Ryou gives Bakura… What I'm askin' is, do ya like meh…romantically?" He's got a pensive look on his face, but his determination is clear.

Strike that last thought; this is bad. He looks scared, but determined; how is it I'm terrified? "I…" I begin, but I have no clue what to say. He wouldn't bring it up just so he could tell me there's no chance, would he? I don't know… "I…yes, all right?" I hiss out. "What of it?" When in doubt, I get defensive.

He sighs and looks down. "It's just…why? I mean, I used ta irritate da hell outta ya, and even though we're friends now, I…"

I let out a sigh and also turn my eyes to the ground. "You remember in our psychology class about seven months ago when we were studying attraction?"

He gives me a funny look at the seeming non sequitur, but nods. "Yeah. I actually listened ta most 'a dat, 'cause it sounded like it could help meh get girls."

I wonder if he knows a knife goes through my heart whenever he says something like that? Something that makes it abundantly clear he's not attracted to me… "One thing that the teacher talked about was how if you got physically aroused – not like that, but basically revved up, like adrenaline – when you were around someone you'd just met, most people mistook it for romantic interest, when it could be any number of things: anger, fear, hate, general happiness… Most people I meet I don't like – at all. And when I first met you, I thought the reason I reacted so strongly to you was because I didn't like you, but… Remember a few months ago, the day I just walked away from our weekly fight in the middle of it?"

He nods. "Yeah, I wondered what was goin' on."

I flush slightly and turn away, my hands clenching and unclenching in nervousness. "That's when I first realized…that, maybe, I didn't actually hate you. The teacher said most people mistake one kind of physical awareness for love or liking; I went backwards."

"So…ya think ya liked meh from da start, ya just didn't realize it?" He looks stunned, slightly befuddled, and altogether gorgeous. And I still don't know how he feels about me.

"That's pretty much it, pup."

He frowns slightly at the nickname and asks, "But what made ya realize ya were wrong?"

Oh, hell no. No way am I going to answer that truthfully. "I just did," I say lamely.

He doesn't look satisfied by my answer, but accepts it anyway. And now it's my turn to ask some questions. "How do you feel about that?"

"Feel 'bout what?" But he's got a 'deer in the headlights' look in his eyes – he's scared.

"About me being attracted to you. How do you feel about me?" Now that I've got the upper hand once again, I feel more in control.

Of course, my whole world could be brought crashing to its knees if Joey says what I think he will…

He opens his mouth as if to say something, and then closes it. Finally he manages to get out, "I…never really t'ought about it, ya know? I mean, guys. Sure, Yugi is with Yami, and Ryou's with Bakura, but they're both each other's halves, ya know? And while you and I are pretty much polar opposites…I didn't even know ya swung dat way."

He's managed to turn this back to me again. Maybe he's not as stupid as I used to think… "Neither did I until a few weeks before we became friends. But it wasn't really that hard to get used to."

He frowns. "You changed yer whole sexual outlook and it 'wasn't dat hard'?"

I shrug. "It wasn't like I really had to change that much. I'd never been attracted to a girl before – didn't really have time – so when…this happened I pretty much just accepted that I'd never been attracted to a girl because I wasn't attracted to girls."

Astonishment washes over his features and he chokes out, "You've never been attracted ta anyone other than meh?"

Okay, is that fact supposed to be embarrassing? I'm not sure, maybe it would be if I had more friends and observed stuff like this…but telling Joey Wheeler that I've never been attracted to anyone but him is definitely not helping my self-confidence. I bet he's had crushes on tons of girls… "Yeah, so? Growing up I never really had time for anything but making sure Gozabura's attention never landed on Mokuba. And then I took over control of KaibaCorp, and all the time I used to spend doing that became the time I spent running the company."

He shakes his head. "Are ya sure ya didn't just have it right da first time and I irritate da hell outta ya? I mean, if you've never liked anyone like that before, what makes ya so sure ya like meh?"

And again, he's turned this back to me. Maybe if I give him the bald truth it will shock him out of being coy. "Because I have dreams about holding you, kissing you…touching you in ways you don't see even in R-rated movies."

He gulps and blushes red as his sister's hair. "I…uh…"

Too much shock; I need him aware in order to get the answers to my questions. "Look, Joey, just answer the question – do you, or do you not, like me that way?"

He's calmed slightly, but still has a frightened rabbit look in his eyes. "I…don't know. Seriously, anyone I ever had a crush on…this doesn't feel like dat. It feels…different. Not bad, just…and I'm not sure what it is."

He's not sure? Maybe if I gave him a way to find out… Lay it all on the line here, and hopefully this will turn out the way I want it. "If you had a way to find out for sure, would you take it?"

He's surprised now, but he nods. "Yeah, if you could give me a way ta figure out whether or not I'm attracted ta ya…sure, I'd go along wit' it."

This may be my only chance, so I'll have to make it good. "Then come here," I say, and grab his good arm to pull him closer, until our faces are only inches apart. His eyes are wide and there's awareness in them, awareness about what I plan to do. I lean forward just slightly, keeping my eyes open until just after his own flutter closed, and then I press our lips together.

Tentatively at first, I move them, and it's…odd, feeling his lips against mine. They're stiff at first, but then he relaxes; I guess as he realizes this isn't so bad. And it isn't; actually, it's kind of nice. His lips are warm, soft, slightly moist from when he was licking them out of nervousness, and they're moving slowly against mine…

He gasps for breath and almost instinctively I take advantage of the opportunity. In case I never get this chance again, I want to experience as much of Joey Wheeler as possible. Slipping my tongue slowly between his lips, I feel him start, and pause just to make sure he's okay with this. I shouldn't be surprised by the tongue that comes out hesitantly to greet mine, but I am.

I suppose if you look at it from an unbiased point of view, French-kissing doesn't really sound all that sexy – I mean, who knows what the other person's mouth will taste like? Joey's tastes like grape bubblegum and oranges…an odd combination, but fascinating and so intense. I can't get enough of it, and soon I'm devouring him whole, as he is devouring me.

We go on this way, trading control of the kiss back and forth for…who knows how long, when, almost simultaneously, we finally break for breath. It's only then that I realize I'm hard…and from how close we are, I can feel that Joey is, as well. I can only hope it doesn't completely freak him out.

We just sit there for a moment, catching our breath. Joey is the first to speak. "So…does dis mean I like you?" he asks. I have never heard him sound so heartbreakingly vulnerable. I'm going to have to take out the kid gloves if I don't want to spook him.

"What do you think?" I ask softly, my hand petting his thigh only a few inches away from his jeans-covered erection. He shivers slightly and leans toward me, moving my hand the final few inches.

"I–" he croaks out. "I…t'ink I do," he finishes on a whisper. He seems to finally realize where my hand is resting and pulls back until he's sitting on the opposite side of the bench. "But what does dis mean?" he asks, gesturing at himself.

"You think it changes you, now that you realize you're apparently bi?" I ask almost clinically. At his shamefaced nod, I say comfortingly, "It didn't change what you thought of Yugi or Ryou when you found out they were gay. It doesn't change you, either, really. You're still Joey Wheeler, Serenity's brother, Yugi's best friend, and…the person I am in love with."

I didn't think it was possible for him to be more shocked and scared than he was when I first told him I was attracted to him, but I guess even I can be wrong. "Ya…ya love meh?" he stutters.

Shit. I didn't mean to reveal that…and yet, part of me didn't like hiding this, this one thing that I could take pride in feeling. Most of my secrets are something to be ashamed of; loving Joey is not one of them. "Yes," I say softly. "It took me awhile to be certain of it, but…yes."

"I…" he trails off and shakes his head. It's several minutes before he speaks again. "I like ya," he says finally. "I'm attracted ta ya, definitely." He blushes at that. "But I don't know if I…"

"I don't expect you to," I cut in. "I never even really expected for you to return my feelings at all."

"Even if it wasn't what ya expected from meh…what did ya want from meh?" he asks timidly.

"For you to give me a chance," I say honestly. "And you did. I never thought we could ever be together because I thought you hated me. The fact that you didn't, that you took a chance on being my friend…it was more than I ever dreamed of, but it also gave me hope. Hope that I thought was futile…but apparently not."

He thinks about that for a long while, before finally saying, "I don't know how ta have a relationship, Kaiba."

A small smile crosses my lips and I say, "Well, you could start by calling me Seto."

He starts and a blush heats his cheeks. Red is a good color on him. "Ah…yeah, I guess I could."

My heart starts beating faster – does he mean what I think he means? "Does that mean…?"

"I'm…I'm willing ta try, Ka– Seto," he corrects. He looks shy, but also unwavering in his resolve. "If ya still want meh and are willin' ta put up wit' meh."

A genuine, full-fledged smile spreads across my face. "Oh, definitely. I've always wanted a puppy of my very own," I whisper before sealing our lips together again, drinking down his mumble of protest, turning it into a moan of desire.

Whether he admits it or not, he is mine…just like I am his. I've never liked being predictable, and though a dragon and a dog together might be almost a contradiction in terms, I'm not about to give Joey up.

This little conundrum is all mine. And I hold on to what's mine more fiercely than I hold onto my cards.