I Surrender

Lyrics from Celine Dion's 'I Surrender'

There's so much life I've left to live
and this fire is burning still.
When I watch you look at me,
I think I could find the will…
…to stand for every dream
and forsake the solid ground.
And give up this fear within
of what would happen if they ever knew…
I'm in love with you?

Fear. Fear has ruled my life for the past seventeen years. I know most people tend to forget that I'm a teenager – I am the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, after all – but I can be just as clueless and confused as the next person.

Gozabura took away what was left of my childhood with his evil machinations, turning my inventions into weapons of death – but I'm not going to let him ruin the rest of my life. He thought that he had quenched my passion for life, and turned me into something as ice-cold and heartless as he was. For a while, after his death, I wasn't sure that he was wrong. I couldn't feel anything for anyone except Mokuba, and I thought Gozabura had succeeded in stomping out every last shred of my humanity. Then I met…him.

Joey Wheeler.

The mutt infuriated me so much…and yet, I couldn't live without him. Joey was the only one who'd fight with me. Mokuba and I never had any real problems, and everyone else was too scared of me to try anything. The kids at school practically worshipped me, when all I wanted – though I couldn't admit it to myself at that point in time – was to be treated just like everyone else.

Joey gave me that, and so much more. Our first arguments showed me that the fire inside me was still there; the heart of who I used to be. I wasn't always Seto Kaiba, CEO of KaibaCorp. I used to be just Seto Ai, son of Seiko and Mazaki Ai.

Joey treated me like I was still Seto Ai, still like everyone else. That normalcy is what gave me the courage to approach him about my feelings; even when I knew he most likely didn't feel the same way.

Ironically enough, he did. Guess we were both hiding our attraction behind volleys of angry barbs.

It had always been a dream of mine to have friends. Before my parents had both died, I was too young to spend much time with other kids, and then I was taking care of Mokuba. In the orphanage, most people stayed away from me because I was smarter than them, and after Gozabura adopted us…well, enough said, ne?

I could've had friends when I went to high school, but I was too scared to act like I cared about anything. Up to that point in my life, everything and everyone I cared about had either been taken away from me – or used against me.

Other than Mokuba, Joey was the first person that I allowed myself to care about, mostly because no one knew I cared about him – and they still don't. When we first got together, neither of us were sure where this relationship was going, and we both wanted to keep it quiet. Once we were comfortable with each other…well, I'm the CEO of KaibaCorp. However much I might wish for there to be no prejudice against gays…you've heard the saying; if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. In short, just because I wish for it won't make it real, and I can't afford to let the public know that I'm gay.

I know Joey wants to tell his friends – but he's also afraid to. The truth is, so am I. But I wonder what I'm more afraid of: the others hating me if they find out…or of them liking me?

'Cause I'd surrender everything
to feel the chance to live again.

However much I may have opened up since Joey and I got together, I am still holding back. We've been secretly 'dating' for almost seven months, and things are getting slightly tense in the intimacy department. I know he wants to go farther than heated kisses and hesitant touches, and so do I…but once again my fear gets in the way.

I've never shown anyone the scars. Not even Mokuba. Joey has never asked me why, even when we go swimming together in my pool, I never take my shirt off. And while I am glad he didn't ask, because I am afraid I might have lied to him…telling him the truth now will be that much harder for the delay.

Gozabura's attacks were more mental than physical, but his physical assaults were powerful. I was ten when they started, fifteen when they ended, and through those five years, he went from being three times to only twice my size. And I couldn't hit back, for fear that he would start in on Mokuba…

He never did any lasting damage; I only had a total of five broken bones in those five years, though there were numerous cracked and bruised ribs. But he was very skillful with a knife…and it is amazing how scores of shallow cuts can leave a lasting mark…or marks, as the case may be. Even though the best plastic surgeons that money can buy have operated on them, there is only so much surgery can do.

Scars. Dozens of scars, all across my back, creating a latticework that represents five years of torment. They are very faint and have faded with time, but I know that if Joey and I ever become…intimate…he will see them…feel them. So far, I have managed to keep the knowledge of Gozabura from Joey; I don't want to taint his goodness with the darkness of my past.

Gozabura froze my heart; Joey melted the ice with the fiery depths of his love. He has gotten me to live again, really live, but there are still parts of me that I keep hidden. I want to live; be free of Gozabura's ghost and his hold on my life. But in order to break free of the chains he placed on my heart, I will have to surrender myself to Joey, trusting that his love will hold strong even once he knows all of me.

I just hope I have the strength of heart to give myself to him.

I reach to you…
I know you can feel it too.
We'd make it through…

He is sleeping now, right by my side where I knew he belonged all along. I reach out to brush a lock of blond hair out of his eyes and he smiles slightly as if he knows it's me.

I finally told him last night. Showed him the scars, and explained the history behind them. And instead of being disgusted by them, or even pitying me, he accepted them, and my explanation.

And then he turned the tables on me by showing me his own scars.

What I had originally thought were just the vestiges of injuries received in numerous childhood fights were exactly that – only the fights were with his own father.

Before I could get myself worked up about it, he said, "It almost never happens anymore, Seto, don't worry."

"People like them don't change, Pup," I told him, wondering how he could lie to me with such a straight face.

But he shook his head. "He only ever does it when he's drunk. And since I started fighting back, only when he's so out of it that he doesn't remember."

"Remember?" I said faintly, while trying to get over the fact that he said that he fought back.

He smirked. "Remember dat I'm younger 'n him, stronger 'n him, and in waaay better shape than him. It doesn't change anything dat happened in the past, and I'll never love 'im like I used to, but we have a sort of peace now, which is really all I hoped for growin' up."

"If you're sure…" I said slowly.

"I'm sure," he assured me before leering at me and continuing, "Now…you're showin' more of yer skin than I've ever seen before and I wanna get acquainted wit' it, if ya don't mind."

And those were the last coherent words that were spoken that night, as right after he finished speaking he pounced me and proceeded to trace every scar on my back – with his tongue.

Of course, afterward, I had to return the favor. And Joey's scars were all over his body, which only made things more interesting…

I should have known we could make it through anything. Yugi may talk about trusting in the Heart of the Cards…but I think I just need to trust in our own hearts.

A thousand dreams I still believe;
I'll make you give them all to me.
I'll hold you in my arms and never let go…
I surrender…

I had a thousand dreams growing up, about what I wanted my life to be like. The longer I stayed with Gozabura, the more those dreams reflected my yearning to be rid of them, but some of them were simple. Like finding someone to love.

I wondered sometimes, about Joey's dreams. He's very reticent to talk about himself, but he believes in fairness, so, just like when I showed him my scars, he returned the favor.

I know I haven't heard all his dreams, yet; I might not get to hear them all before I die, but even if I don't, I'll die trying.

That's one of my newest dreams – that when I die, I go in my sleep, with Joey in my arms. That way I'll never have to live without him. I have surrendered my heart to his keeping, and I hope he keeps it always.

And somehow I feel that he has the same dream…

I know I can't survive,
another night away from you.
You're the reason I go on,
and now I need to live the truth.
Right now, there's no better time.
From this fear I will break free.
And I'll live again with love,
and know they can't take that away from me…
And they will see… Yeah!

I don't know much longer I can continue like this. It's killing me; the secrecy, the clandestine rendezvous, being away from him more often than not… Meeting Joey in secret after school for a few hours just isn't enough anymore. I want to be with him all the time: in the morning, in the evening, in the dead of night. I want to go to sleep with him, wake up with him, eat breakfast with him, do laundry with him…make love with him.

I must've had a thousand dreams about that last one. Joey, and me, naked together, kissing and touching, and caressing, and…

God, it makes me hot just thinking it, about loving him.

I wish I could tell him all these things, but for all that he freed my heart from its chains of ice, I still have a hard time verbalizing my feelings. His love, his passion, his fire is what rekindled the flame within my own heart. If it weren't for Joey, I might have stayed dead inside my whole life. He helped me live again.

And I want to share that with the world – or at least our friends. Yes, our friends. Téa will always get on my nerves because she's so perky, Yami and Yugi will always be my rivals, and Bakura will always be…slightly insane…but when the going gets tough, or someone tries to take over the world or my company, I know I can count on them.

Unfortunately, there are two problems with wanting to tell them about us: one, none of them like me all that much, mostly because they don't understand me; and two, in order to hide our relationship, Joey and I have kept up our masquerade of being enemies, and they've never liked the way I fought with him. They completely disregard the fact that Joey doesn't seem to mind…

And I'm completely disregarding the hidden third reason: that I'm afraid. I've been afraid almost my whole life; first when Mokuba's and my mother died, and I had to pretty much take care of him on my own; then when my father died and I had to take care of Mokuba and protect him from the other kids at the orphanage; and when Gozabura adopted us, I was afraid of him and I had to protect Mokuba from him. I never had time, when I was younger, to be afraid of what people thought of me, which is why I haven't really made all that many friends; I don't give a shit about what people think about me…or at least that's what I let everyone think.

Joey helped me realize that I don't have to be afraid all the time, but the fear that everyone will hate me once they find out about our relationship still plagues me. Most of his friends don't hate all that much anymore, but some of them are just looking for any excuse to. I'm afraid they'll blame me for turning Joey to 'the dark side', for using my age and experience to seduce him. Never mind the fact that he's actually two months older than I am, and never takes shit from anybody. And the fact that neither of us was all that experienced when we got together. What do you expect? We're seventeen.

But the more time we spend together, the less those fears get to me. One day, maybe I'll have enough confidence to break free of them and tell everyone. One day, maybe I'll be able to live my life the way I want: with love. One day, maybe I'll be confident enough in our relationship to realize that no matter what they think, their opinions won't take Joey away from me.

And then, maybe we can tell them, and they'll all see how much I've changed.

I'd surrender everything
to feel the chance to live again.
I reach to you…
I know you can feel it too.
We'd make it through.

It's been almost a year since I first told Joey of my feelings. I told him that I liked him, and found him attractive…but I didn't tell him I was in love with him. I was, even then; I never would have approached him if it was just a case of passing lust.

It's the last thing I've kept from him; my feelings, my scars…my love. I just don't know how to surrender that to him. I have only ever said those words to Mokuba…and a part of me is afraid that I will never be able to say them to anyone else.

Joey has said them to me, countless times. Only when he thinks I am asleep, or cannot hear him, though. I think he is waiting for me to tell him first…it has always been that way, throughout our rather stormy relationship. He waits for me to make the first move. I threw the first taunt in our fights, I approached him about my feelings first, I was the first to show my scars…and I will have to be the first to say those three little words.

He always seems to know when I am nearing the point of revelation. Back before we even became sort of friends, he always seemed to know when I had shown up to fight, and when I hadn't. Our last few fights before that day I approached him he seemed to have an air of anticipation about him. And in the few weeks before I showed him my scars, I could sense of aura of patient waiting; waiting for me to reveal myself to him. And each time it happens, I can feel him, feel something about him say, 'I'm here, ready to listen.'

I wonder if I give off vibes like that, ones that say 'I'm here, I need to talk'. Because it's not necessarily when I feel I'm ready to talk that I reach for him, but when I think he's ready to listen.

Our way of communicating may seem strange, but I know as long as we do communicate, we can make it through anything.

Even the walls around my heart; the ones that prevent me from telling Joey I love him.

A thousand dreams I still believe;
I'll make you give them all to me.
I'll hold you in my arms and never let go…
I surrender…

I've thought about it, you know. Telling him. I've come up with a thousand different ways of saying how I feel, but none of them seem right.

Maybe it will come to me in a dream. Though with my luck I'll just blurt it out one day, most likely in the most completely wrong situation. I wish I could get him to make the first move this time, just this once…make him give me those words when he knows I can hear. Then maybe I won't be so scared.

But I'm not, always. When we are together, and I'm holding him in my arms, that's when the words are so close to the surface I can almost taste them. I get so close to saying them then…

But I can't quite surrender that last part of myself, of my defenses. Not yet.

Every night's gettin' longer,
and this fire is getting stronger, baby.
I'll swallow my pride, and I'll be alive.
Can't you hear my call?
I surrender all…

Our relationship is a fire, fueled at first by our fights, then by our friendship, now by our love. And that fire blazes ever more brightly as each day goes by. Every night we spend together, whether we're making love, watching a movie, doing homework or just sitting together…it brings us closer together, makes me even more thankful that we are together.

And I hope there will never come a time when those embers are banked.

But lately…I have sensed some dejection on Joey's part. I know that it's because I have not yet told him how I feel. I've skirted around him, telling him that I care about him like no one else, that he is the best thing in my life since my brother; I know those words mean a lot to him, but he yearns to hear three specific ones…

I just don't know if I can give it to him.

I'd surrender everything
to feel the chance to live again.
I reach to you…
I know you can feel it too.
We'd make it through.
A thousand dreams I still believe;
I'll make you give them all to me.
I'll hold you in my arms and never let go…
I surrender…

"Hey, Seto," Joey murmurs, ducking underneath the bleachers and dropping down beside me.

"Hey, Pup," I greet him, and pull him in for a kiss. I had a merger to negotiate, so I spent most of the past week at the office. If he'd taken me up on my offer to move in with me, we could spend more time together when I have to work long hours, but he said that his friends would be suspicious, so we haven't seen each other in four days, and that's four days too long.

"How'd yer business deal go down?" he asks, rather breathlessly, once we've pulled apart.

I shrug. "Pretty well. Most of the higher-level employees seem competent, so maybe my workload will actually decrease. We'll see."

Joey nods, but his eyes keep shifting around, as if looking for something. I have to ask, "What are you looking for, Joey?"

He starts and blushes, then, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment, says, "Tristan lives near meh, so we walk ta school tagether most days, 'cept if I oversleep. He's noticed that we haven't walked tagether all that often fer months, but when he gets ta school, I'm already here. He asked meh about it, point-blank, and if Yugi hadn't 'a shown up right den, I don't know what I woulda told 'im. I still don't know what I'm gonna tell 'im when he asks, and I'm afraid he might be followin' meh ta find out what's goin' on."

I sigh and lean back against the metal support strut. No offense against Taylor, but he isn't the most observant of people; if he's noticed, then so have the others…but they haven't said anything. And I've been thinking about what to tell people if they noticed…and haven't come up with anything. In the past few months, Joey's friends have lightened up about me, so maybe if we told them the truth they wouldn't freak. Taking a deep breath, I say, "Well, if he asks again, tell him the truth."

There, that wasn't so hard to say, was it? Just because my gut is clenching and I feel like I'm about to hyperventilate, it doesn't mean anything.

Joey's looking at me like I just did the Macarena in a pink tutu. "Are you nuts?!" he finally shouts, then, furtively looking to make sure no one heard him, he lowers his voice and continues, "I t'ought we agreed not ta tell anyone?"

Sighing, I pull him to lean against my chest and say, "Pup, we knew this would happen eventually; I'm surprised we've kept our relationship a secret for this long, actually. Besides, I thought you wanted to tell your friends about us?"

He grunts and snuggles in under my chin, one hand tracing circles on my left thigh. "Yeah, but…what if dey freak? I mean, they're mah best friends, I don't know what I'd do wit'out 'em. And even if they're okay wit' us bein' tagether, they're sure ta go ballistic over how long we hid it from 'em."

Well, I can't do anything about his first concern, but the second… "You don't have to tell them how long we've been together," I point out. "And if they ask, just say a couple of months – no one needs to know it's been almost twelve."

A soft smile comes over his face and he says, "Hey, yeah, our one year anniversary is comin' up, ain't it?"

I smile and shake my head. No one would know it to look at him, but Joey Wheeler is, in actuality, a closet romantic. "Yes, Pup, it is. Two weeks from Friday. I was wondering if you'd like to come over and spend the weekend with me."

He gives me a discerning look and declares, "You got somptin' planned, don't ya?"

I just smile and say, "You'll have to wait and see, Pup."

Lunchtime was very interesting that day.

I normally don't eat lunch with the rest of the student body. I usually either sit outside or stay in the classroom, depending on the weather, so I can get some work done while I eat and not be bothered by the other students. That day, however, it was raining, and I decided to brave the cafeteria. Apparently some of the girls in my grade had figured out where I went each day and had stayed behind after class, hoping to talk to me. I was not about to listen to them try and flirt with me, so I decided to just seclude myself in a corner of the lunchroom, and hope my glare and 'Aura of Menace', as Mokuba terms it, would keep any invaders away from my space.

The table I chose was, while the only free one in the room, also only a few yards away from the table my Pup and his friends were sitting at. And by some divine providence (or maybe just weird lunchroom acoustics) I was able to hear everything they said.

Starting with Tristan continuing the conversation that had been interrupted that morning.

"So, Joey," he said, pretending to be nonchalant. "You never did answer my question this morning."

Joey gulped and sort of slid down in his seat. His eyes flicked around the table, probably hoping that someone would save him from having to answer, and they finally landed on me. I tried to give him an encouraging look without anyone else seeing.

It must have worked, because he relaxed slightly, even as Yugi asked, "What question, Tristan?"

"Joey hasn't walked with me to school in almost forever, and yet he's always here before me," Tristan explained. Shooting Joey a calculating look, he continued, "I want to know how he manages it."

Ryou shrugged and said, "Maybe he just leaves early."

Téa snorted. "Early? Joey 'Just Five More Minutes' Wheeler getting up early?"

"Hey, now, I ain't dat bad," Joey interjects, and they all turned toward him, expectant. That was a tactical error on his part, but it is annoying to have the people around you talk about you as if you aren't there. His friends have done it to me dozens of times.

"So you do get up early?" Téa asks skeptically. She and the rest of the group turn to look at him, waiting for an answer.

He seems a little unnerved by all the attention and gets that 'deer caught the headlights' look on his face. "Uh…not really, I just…I gotta go, guys," he says and grabs his books before rushing out of the cafeteria.

Ryou, Yugi and Téa seem bewildered; Tristan just seems ticked off. But I've finished my lunch, and this is a golden opportunity to spend time with the mutt before school is out. Grabbing my briefcase I head out in the opposite direction from which Joey did, and go look for him.

I finally find him in the Art classroom. Joey is a lackluster student in most classes, except English, since he's already fluent, but in Art he positively shines. He could possibly be a professional artist one day. I've got several of his pieces scattered around the mansion, and they bring such warmth to what was formerly a cold place, making the Kaiba mansion a home for the first time since Mokuba and I moved in, as apposed to just a house.

He's standing in front of his current project – the teacher wanted us to paint landscapes, and this one is of the beach. Most likely the same one that he used to go to with his sister. It looks so lifelike that I almost expect to hear waves crashing upon the shore.

"You'll have to tell them sometime," I point out, and he turns to me, not at all surprised to see me there.

"Yeah, I know," he says sadly. "But when I do, t'ings'll change."

"The question is: for better, or for worse?" I concede, striding forward to stand next to him. I put an arm around his shoulder and he leans back against me, sighing in pleasure.

"You don't truly think they'll shun you just because we're together, do you?" I ask, not quite fearfully, but not quite assured of a negative answer.

He turns to me and looks me in the eye for several minutes, obviously thinking about his answer carefully, weighing each aspect of his friendships in his mind. "No," he says finally, sighing in relief. "But I'm not sure if they'll trust me like dey used ta. I mean, I've kept this…us…from them for almost a year. They're mah best friends, and I should have told 'em, but…"

He was scared, I know. So was I. "You aren't the only one who's scared," I admit, taking his hand in mine. "At least your friends like you; most of them can barely stand me."

He wraps his arms around my neck and snuggles under my chin. "Seto…" he says compassionately. "If dey knew ya as well as I do, dey'd like ya, too."

"But I don't want them to know me as well as you do," I say mock-petulantly, pouting.

He giggles and shakes his head at my antics. He leans up, and our lips meet in a tender kiss. Joey's warm mouth caresses mine firmly and before I know it I'm moaning under my breath (most of which is devoted to keeping me from suffocating) and arching into him, my left hand coming up to cup the back of his head and pull him closer. We stand there for long minutes, trading control of the kiss back and forth in a battle for supremacy, like the winning edge in a Duel Monsters game, until finally the warning bell rings, signaling the end of lunch and the resumption of classes.

Giving me one final brush of lips against lips, he pulls back reluctantly and says, "Five minutes until class. I betta go; I got Chemistry across campus from 'ere." He's panting slightly, out of breath from our passion.

My own breath is short as well, so I just nod and say, "Yeah, I have Physics. See you back here in an hour, though, right?"

He quirks a grin at me and says, "You know it, Blue Eyes," before grabbing his bag and heading off to class.

I think I'll just stay here for another minute or two and try to convince my raging hormones to calm down.

The rest of the day was…odd, to say the least. Ryou and Téa were in my Physics class, and they were both giving me surreptitious looks – at least, I think they were.

I was thankful when the bell rang and I could get back to Art class; Joey was the only one of his friends who was in that period. Normally my koi and I try to act no differently in this class than in any other, but today Joey sidled over to talk to me for a little bit when no one was looking our way.

"Hey," he whispered, under cover of moving his easel nearer to the window, seemingly to get better lighting. "Were Ryou and Téa actin' funny in yer class?"

I paint some leaves on a tree on my canvas and nod slightly. "They kept giving me looks," I grumbled under my breath. "Why? Tristan and Yugi also acting suspicious?"

He inclined his head and added some dots of sand to his own masterpiece. "Ya t'ink dey know?" he asked in a strained undertone.

"Maybe," I allow, moving back a bit to analyze my painting. Needs more yellow on the sun, I decide, and move in to daub some paint on the canvas. "They know something's up anyway. But I don't know why they would suspect I have something to do with it."

"Meh either," he said, and that concluded our conversation.

Our last class was English, and all of Joey's friends were there, including Yami and Bakura. And they were all giving us looks. Something was definitely up.

I was trying not to think of all the possible implications those looks could have, because today was Thursday, and Joey and I had fallen into a routine. He didn't always come over on any other night of the week, but on Thursdays he spent the night and stayed until Monday morning. I was going to have Joey almost all to myself for three and a half glorious days, and I wasn't about to let the suspicious actions of my fellow classmates get in the way of enjoying my lover.

Though I shouldn't have been surprised when, no more than ten seconds after I met up with Joey by my car, his friends showed up. All of them. And they were not happy.

Joey just stands there, his jaw hanging open, and after a minute of watching his friends stare at us both without saying a word, I give in; they know, and nothing we can say is going to turn back the clock and take their knowledge away. So, reaching out, I close Joey's mouth, pat his face in a mock-condescending manner, and stage-whisper, "I think they're onto us, Joey."

"Nooo," Joey deadpans, elbowing me none-too-gently in my ribcage. "You don't say, huh, Seto? I never woulda guessed."

I just smirk at him and turn to our little audience, who are watching us with varying degrees of shock and surprise. Steeling myself to be polite, I say, "Is there something we can do for you?"

"Yeah, actually," Tristan says through gritted teeth, deceptively calm. "You can tell us WHAT THE HELL YOU TWO WERE DOING KISSING IN THE ART ROOM!" he screamed.

Both Téa and Yugi clap their hands over their ears at the volume, and, I swear, I think my hair was almost blown off by the force of Tristan's shout. And…hold up? They saw us?

I think Joey's just come to the same realization I have, only he doesn't have a good comeback. I suppose, as his koibito, it falls to me to fill in for him when he can't fulfill his requirements as class clown.

"We hadn't seen each other in four days, and I mistakenly thought we were alone," I say in a clipped tone. "And what were you lot doing spying on us, anyway?"

Yugi clears his throat and says haltingly, "Ano…when Joey ran out during lunch we got worried about him, so we went to look for him, but we couldn't find him. Finally, Ryou suggested the Art room, and when we got there, you two were…" He blushes and waves a hand, apparently at a loss for words.

"Kissing like crazed porn stars," Bakura supplies.

"'Kura!" Ryou exclaims, blushing red as a tomato.

Joey and I just exchange eye rolls.

"We weren't dat bad," Joey states, glaring at Bakura.

"But…you two…are dating?" Téa finally squeaks out.

"Yes," I say and Joey nods in agreement.

"For how long?" Yami asks.

Joey looks at me I give him an almost imperceptible nod. In for a penny, in for a pound so the saying goes. Might as well tell the truth; we've come this far. "About a year," I say quietly, and wait for the fireworks.

The wait is not long.

"WHAT!?" Tristan screams.

"He said we been goin' out fer about a year now, Tris," Joey says aggravatedly. "What, you getting' hard 'a hearin' in yer old age?"

Tristan frowns and glares at us. "How could you keep this a secret for so long?"

"Yeah, Joey, we're your friends," Yugi says, in a hurt voice.

Joey's face falls and he scuffs his feet. "Yeah, I know. It's just…you guys 'ave never liked Seto, and I didn't want ya ta hate meh fer dis."

"We could never hate you, Joey," Yugi says, and Téa and Ryou quickly second that, Tristan nodding his agreement.

Joey looks at me, one eyebrow raised, and I know he's waiting for me to say it. Might as well…

"I told you so, Pup," I say pompously, and he grins, shaking his head.

"Yeah, you did, Set," he agrees, smiling and nodding.

"But what I don't get, is why you two still fight so much," Tristan says. "I mean, you say you've been together for a year, but yet you're still fighting."

I shrug. "Keeping up appearances; as long as you thought we still didn't like each other, you'd never suspect we were together."

"I can understand why Joey might be wary of telling us about your relationship, but why didn't you want us to know, Kaiba?" Yami says darkly. "You've never seemed to care what we thought about you."

I narrow my eyes. He is not implying what I think he is…yes, actually, he is. He thinks I'm using Joey… I start to growl subvocally; Joey is the only one who can hear me, and he places a hand on my arm. Just one touch, and I'm calm…well, almost.

Turning to Yami, I spit out, "Because this isn't ancient Egypt, Pharaoh. Back then maybe nobody cared about anyone's sexual preference, but in today's world, if you're known to be gay, it makes everything an uphill battle; especially in the business world." Calming slightly, I finish my diatribe with, "Besides…I've never liked airing my private affairs."

"And, y'know, in case you've forgotten, Yami, we're in high school. It's not exactly da tolerance capital of da world, ya know?" Joey says sarcastically. "I kinda like gettin' t'rough gym wit'out bein' beaten up by homophobic football players."

We all fall silent for a moment; seems that no one knows what to say. Finally, Ryou speaks up.

"But…how can you go from fighting with each other all the time, to…dating?" he asks hesitantly.

I shrug. I know how, but I'm not about to tell everyone how I confessed my innermost feelings to Joey one rainy day. Thankfully he saves me from having to give an answer by saying, "Well, ya know, there's a thin line between love an' hate, an' all dat."

Téa groans. "And it's getting thinner and thinner every day."

"What do you mean?" I ask curiously.

She throws a tired smile at her friends and says crossly, "Aside from Tristan, every guy in this group is gay. It's enough to give a girl a complex."

I smirk and say, "Well, if it makes you feel any better, you can consider me bi."

She snorts and tries to hold back laughter, but is soon giggling uncontrollably. Soon, everyone is laughing – well, everyone except for Joey and me. Even Yami and Bakura can't contain a few chuckles.

Exchanging a look with Joey, I say dryly, "Was it something I said?"

He just chuckles inaudibly and shakes his head, pulling me in for a quick kiss. "I 'tink you've been hangin' around wit' me way too much," he admonishes, his breath rushing over my face. "You're startin' ta talk like me."

"Horror of horrors," I joke, swaying tantalizingly closer to his lips. "Next it will be the Brooklyn accent and bad grammar."

"Nah, next I'll start usin' four syllable words all da time and master dat 'Death Glare' of yers," he says softly, shifting slightly so he's leaning up towards me.

"I'd like to see you try, Pup," I say and pull him in for a longer kiss. I couldn't care less that all his friends are staring at us; right now I just want to hold him in my arms.

Besides, it's nothing they haven't seen before.

Right here, right now;
I give my life to live again.
I'll break free; take me.
My everything; I surrender all to you…

Right now…
I give my life to live again.
I'll break free; take me.
My everything…I surrender all to you.

Tonight is the night…our one year anniversary. I just hope I can go through with what I have planned.

Joey's friends finding out was actually a good thing. One worry that has weighed heavy on my mind was that Yugi and the others would reject Joey if they found out about us. Since that day almost three weeks ago, they've been nothing but supportive – though their niceness is beginning to get on my nerves. I'm not a people person; I can only take so much 'togetherness'.

But I don't want to think about Yugi, or Téa, Tristan, Ryou, Bakura or Yami. Right now, all I want to think about is Joey.

Joey, who, right now, is giving me a nervous look from underneath his lashes, and nibbling on his lip in an unconsciously seductive manner. The romantic evening I planned was surprisingly simple – I cooked him dinner. Now, I figure we move on to the gift exchange part of the evening…but I think he's a bit nervous about that.

"Hey, Pup," I say softly, tilting his chin up so I can look into his eyes. "Why don't you go get your present for me, and meet me in my lab? That's where yours is."

He nods and runs off to the front hall, where he left the package. I already know approximately what it is – it was large, flat, and smelled slightly like turpentine. Good bet it's a painting. But of what, that's the surprise.

I head down the hall towards my lab, and start getting everything ready. My gift is a little more…unusual. I used my computer holographic technology to create a miniature hologram that he can take anywhere; I just hope he understands the meaning behind the figures I chose…

By the time I have everything set up, Joey's back from his errand. He slowly makes his way through the rows of machinery until he's standing right behind me.

"What kinda present do ya need all dis stuff for?" he asks, carefully placing his package on a nearby table. "If it's a computer, dat'd be nice, but I don't really need one."

I shake my head. "No, it's something a little more…complex than that." Picking up the silver box that I spent the past two months designing, I place it in front of him and say, "Here, flip this switch, and you'll see."

He gives me an uncertain look, but does as I ask. When the switch is flipped, a hum is heard throughout the room, and a light appears over the small circular platform on the top of the box. The light quickly divides in half and changes into two distinct forms – one, a Blue Eyes White Dragon, the other, a Red Eyes Black Dragon. They're coiled around each other like an Ouroboros, only with two heads – and neither of them is biting the other's tail.

Joey is looking at them is awe, and I smile, pleased. He likes his gift. But he'll like it even more when he finds out what other features this hologram has.

"Dragons, Fly," I command and they take off from the platform and fly over to their respective duelists. The Blue Eyes perches on my shoulder and the Red Eyes hovers just in front of Joey.

"You can touch it," I tell him, when he remains immobile. "It's almost solid. Go ahead," I coax, when he still seems hesitant.

Finally he reaches out and beckons the ebony dragon closer. The great lizard complies and flies over to perch primly on the back of his hand. Joey laughs in amazement and says, "Seto…dis is…I mean…wow."

I smirk and say, "Shall I take it to mean you like your gift, Pup?"

"I love it," he breathes, and starts to say something else before he catches himself and stops. I know what it was – he was going to say 'And I love you'. But, as always, he doesn't want to push me.

A pang of love zings through my heart, so intense and profound that it takes my breath away. Whatever it is I did to deserve Joey Wheeler's love, I'll never know, but I am so glad he is in my life.

"I'm glad," I say sincerely. "But the battery won't last long before it has to be recharged; you should probably turn it off now."

He sighs in regret, but nods and flips the switch. We both watch our great beasts fade from sight in silence.

Not wanting things to get too melancholy, I break the gloomy atmosphere by grinning widely and rubbing my hands together with faux-maniacal glee. "Now, what about my present?"

He laughs at my antics and gestures toward the package he'd brought in. "Right over dere. Open it."

Almost reverently I untie the cord holding the thick brown paper closed, then remove the paper itself, revealing the most gorgeous work of art I have ever seen.

It's a portrait of the both of us, standing in the foreground. We've got our arms around each other, and are kissing passionately. In the background, my Blue Eyes and his Red Eyes are coiled around each other in a pose reminiscent of the gift I gave Joey. I've never seen anything so realistic, so…lifelike. It almost feels like I could reach and touch the portrait-Joey's lips and they'd feel just as soft as my koi's do. This is, by far, his best work yet.

"Joey…I don't know what to say," I croak. "I…"

"I know, Seto," he says softly. "I know."

But he doesn't. He doesn't know for sure, and I'm tired of being scared. With Joey, I have no need to be scared, and I'm not going to be.

Carefully placing the painting back on the table, I walk slowly over to him, coming to a stop not even a foot away. I reach out and take him into my arms, wrapping them around him. I pull him close, looking deep into his eyes. Joey has this look on his face, like he knows something important is about to happen, but he doesn't know what.

Taking a deep breath, I prepare to surrender the last part of myself that I've kept hidden. "You are…one of the two most important people in my life, Joey Wheeler," I say solemnly. "And I don't know what I would do without you."

He smiles softly and says, "Same here, Seto."

"But I don't know that you understand exactly how much you have come to mean to me," I continue, and I look straight into his eyes as I say that one simple phrase…those three little words I've never said to anyone besides Mokuba. "I love you, Joey," I whisper, my voice cracking with emotion, and I see him gasp in delighted surprise.

Joey's looking at me as if I've just given him everything he's ever wanted – I know he's everything I've ever wanted. He just stares at me for long minutes with an incredulous smile on his face. "I…I love you, too, Seto," he finally manages to get out.

"I know," I say. "I've always known."

And then our lips are meeting in a clash of fiery passion, and I realize that it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be to surrender. Joey will keep me safe…always.