Author's Note: Hey everyone! Here's the next installment of Shades of Dawn. I am still working on the next chapter of Testify, and I swear, as soon as I get it finished, I'll post it.
Just a quick note on some parts of this chapter--I've never lived on a ranch, I've never owned horses, and I know very little about them other than what I've been able to find on the internet. I've ridden a horse once, in Costa Rica, but my experience is nonexistent beyond that. Just a heads-up.
On to the chapter!
Yugi was brought to semi-consciousness the next morning as a firm hand shook his shoulder gently. The soft rumble of a rich voice wafted through his mind, intending to draw him from sleep. The shaking ceased, and the warm hand and voice caused him to drift off again. The hand was suddenly removed, as well as all the warmth around him.
"Gah!" Yugi squawked as the sheets were suddenly yanked off his bed. The cool morning air nipped at his skin and he jolted awake. Violet eyes squinted and found Yami's silhouette leaning over him.
"Rise and shine, Yugi," Yami greeted with a chuckle. Yugi blinked and glanced over at the clock. The red numbers glared a painful 4:30 back at him. His mind boggled; Yami was already up and dressed! The older boy stood there in his black jeans and dashing black leather top.
"It's only four thirty!" Yugi cried incredulously.
"And not a moment to spare. Get dressed and I'll meet you downstairs," Yami replied, grabbing a long sleeved shirt and exiting the room. Yugi blinked rapidly for about thirty seconds, before groaning and dragging himself out of bed.
Grabbing the first pair of jeans he could find, Yugi threw them on and pulled a white tank top over his head, plus a dungaree jacket to ward off the morning cold. After slipping on a pair of black work boots Ryou insisted he bring, Yugi stumbled his way down the stairs. Yami just finished pulling on his own boots as the shorter one descended the stairs, his red long sleeved shirt hanging open over his shoulders. The cowboy straightened up and grinned.
"Ready?" he asked.
Yugi blinked. "What about breakfast?"
Yami shook his head. "Not until seven. We have some things to do first," he answered, placing his cowboy hat on his head. He beckoned for Yugi to follow and strode out the door.
"Where is everybody, Yami?" Yugi asked as he jogged to keep up. Yami lead him towards the barn. It was still dark, the sun just beginning to peak itself over the horizon.
"Joey and Ryou went with my dad to take care of the cattle," Yami replied. "They figured I ought to get you accustomed to horses in the meantime." Yami undid the latch on the barn door and pushed it open, moving a sack in the corner to prop it back and keep it from closing.
"First," he explained, "the horses need to be fed. There are some pails in the corner that have to be filled with grain, and then we hang them on the hooks in each stall. Once that's finished, they need to be groomed and lead outside while we clean out the old straw and lay down some new." Yugi nodded in understanding.
Yami climbed up into the rafters and fetched a large sack of feed, slinging it over his shoulder and climbing back down. He and Yugi began filling the pails with grain and hanging them inside the stalls. Yugi was a little timid at first, never having been around an animal so large. His fears were quickly dissolved, however, as Yami followed closely behind him every step of the way. With all the pails in place, Yami dug out a series of brushes, combs, and picks to begin grooming.
"Now," he said, "they need to be groomed. This will be a good chance for you to get accustomed to horses' behavior. Come, and I will show you."
Yami lead Yugi to the first stall on the far wall. Inside was the horse Yami had ridden in the corral yesterday; a stunning black stallion, speckled with perfectly round white spots from his hindquarters to his shoulders. Yami set the brushes on the floor and gave the horse a quick pat on the neck. He then turned to Yugi.
"The first thing you must know about horses," Yami began, "is that they are very, very sensitive. Not necessarily to physical touch, mind you, but they are very keen to emotion. They can sense when you're happy, sad, angry, or afraid, and can be easily startled. However, once you develop an understanding of their nature, working with them is easy."
Yami then proceeded to guide Yugi through all that was to be done. He guided Yugi's hands over the horse's coat with a soft brush and showed him the trick to removing knots in the longer hair on the mane and tail. Once assured Yugi would be okay, Yami set about cleaning the hooves--something he told Yugi he would do himself, lest something spook the animal and it decided to kick. Yugi found himself adjusting quite well, for the horses weren't unlike himself. He was shy, timid, and extremely sensitive, but once you got used to it, he was very easy to get along with.
Things progressed quickly thereafter; the pair bounced from stall to stall. Yami introduced each one to him individually, amiably chatting about their personality or how they came to be at the ranch. Yugi found himself enjoying Yami's company, and was a little disappointed when they'd finished with all the horses. He helped Yami lead them out into the corral for some exercise and the chance to graze.
"Once we've cleaned out all the stalls, we can go in for breakfast," Yami informed him.
The cowboy dragged out a wheelbarrow and a pair of pitch forks, and together, the pair made short work of the messy stalls. Yugi felt a little awkward at first, unaccustomed to the casualness of digging into a rather undesirable mess. He didn't voice his distaste, however. After all, Yami and his family had already done so much for him. Yami finished scooping out the last stall, leaning over on the pitch fork with a grin.
"I can see that's not exactly your favorite job," he commented.
Yugi blushed. He thought he had been hiding it better than that. Yami just snickered.
"Don't worry about it," he assured. "Nobody really likes that kind of job, but it is one that comes with owning horses."
"S-sorry," Yugi admitted softly, "I didn't mean to be rude…."
"It's okay," Yami chuckled. "Like I said, it's a dirty job…but someone has to do it." The cowboy winked. "We'll make Joey do it tomorrow. For now, though, let's lay down some new straw then head back to the house for some food."
Yugi nodded, watching as Yami dragged in a few bales of hay from outside the barn door. He helped the cowboy untie the bales and spread the straw over the floors of the stall. Violet eyes squinted as fresh sunlight began to filter in through the open barn doors, signaling that the rest of the world had finally woken up. Yugi wiped his forehead with his sleeve, having lined the last stall with fresh straw. He looked up and saw Yami finishing up on the stall across from him.
"I think that's it," Yami commented, glancing at the stables around him. "Shall we eat?"
Yugi gave a small smile and nodded eagerly. Together they made their way eagerly back to the house, the aroma of fried eggs and bacon wafting from the open windows. When they walked in the door, Uncle Al was already seated at the table, face hidden in a newspaper, and Joey was sitting beside him, practically drooling all over his plate. Aunt Kiya was still bustling about the stove, and Ryou had just pulled a pitcher of orange juice from the refrigerator.
"Good morning everyone," Yami greeted, receiving a chorus of replies back. Yugi followed behind quietly, offering a small nod to those who happened to catch his eye.
"Good morning, boys," Aunt Kiya said, flashing them both a smile. "Run upstairs and get washed up, breakfast is almost ready.
With a hearty breakfast out of the way, Yugi felt as if he could take anything fate decided to throw at him today. That was, until Yami stood and motioned for Yugi to follow him to the corral. Yugi knew exactly what was coming, and he wasn't quite secure around horses yet to actually have the drive to get on one.
"What's wrong, Yugi?" Ryou asked, noticing Yugi's sudden hesitation.
Yugi suddenly found the kitchen floor fascinating and fidgeted uncomfortably. "Are you sure about this?" he stammered. "I mean, I don't know anything--! What if I--"
"Yugi," Yami interrupted, his voice soothing and smooth as buttermilk. "I will teach you everything there is to know. I promise no one will laugh at you. Remember, there was a time that I was the learner. I know what its like to be afraid, but I also know you can do this." Yami waited until he received a small nod from Yugi before guiding both him and Ryou out to the corral.
Yami stepped into the barn, dragging a saddle and bridle with him, draping them over the fencepost. He sent Yugi a comforting smile before putting two fingers in his mouth and whistling sharply. Yugi looked up to see Yami's beautiful stallion come trotting in from the pastures. Yami stepped up and held the horse's face, petting its nose affectionately. He carefully slipped the bridle over Shadow's muzzle, buckling it under the animal's chin. With a gentle tug, Yami guided the horse over to the fence where Yugi stood.
"First off," he began, "there are certain do's and don'ts of riding horseback." Yami hefted the saddle and blanket from the fence and slung it over the appaloosa's back. Yugi watched Yami adjust the girth firmly and adjusted the stirrups. Once he was satisfied with everything, he turned back to Yugi to explain.
"The girth needs to be nice and snug," he said, slipping his hand beneath the strap around the horse's belly. "That keeps the saddle from sliding around when you're trying to mount or dismount. Make sure the bridle is on correctly--that the straps are not twisted or tangled." Yami demonstrated this, showing Yugi what the bridle should look like. "Next, the stirrup irons need to be pulled all the way down and their length adjusted. When you pull the stirrups up, they should reach about here." Yami pulled the stirrups, showing that they reached up just below his armpits. He smirked. "With me so far?"
Yugi blinked, a semi-clueless expression on his face. "I-I guess…" Yami flashed him a dashing smile.
"Good," he replied. The cowboy turned and glanced at Ryou, who was sitting on the fence amusedly. "Do me a favor, and go grab another saddle from the barn."
Ryou winked. "No problem, boss." He hopped off the fence and scampered to the barn, leaving Yugi and Yami alone. No sooner had Ryou left that Yami took Yugi by the hand and lead him into the field towards the grazing horses. Yugi would have blushed had he not suddenly jerked forward from a sharp nudge to his back.
Yugi yelped in surprise, catching Yami's attention. Both boys turned around to see one of the horses taking an interest in Yugi's shirt, nibbling on the sleeve. Startled, Yugi jerked away and scurried behind Yami. The horse tried to follow him, nudging its muzzle into Yami's chest. Yugi blinked in surprise when he heard a hearty chuckle from the cowboy.
"It's alright, Yugi," Yami assured, "she's just saying hello." He gave the mare a pat on the nose. "I'm surprised, she usually doesn't warm up to strangers so quickly." Yami glanced at Yugi, still standing nervously behind him. "She seems to like you Yugi, why don't you get acquainted? She's really friendly, and I think she would be perfect for you."
"…Are you sure?" Yugi asked nervously. "I-I don't really know if I can…."
Yami smiled gently. "You'll be fine, Yugi. I promise. The stronger your relationship is with a horse, the easier it is for you to work together."
Yugi shifted his eyes to the mare for the first time since it had suddenly appeared behind him. The horse's sleek white coat glistened in the morning sun, the red-gold spots splashed over her hindquarters sparkled like golden raindrops. She was absolutely stunning. Wisps of her red-gold mane fluttered in the gentle breeze. Yugi felt like he was gazing into the eyes of a kindred spirit. Awestruck, Yugi slowly approached the mare. How could he have missed how beautiful she was?
"She's gorgeous," Yugi murmured, looking up at Yami.
"You can pet her if you like, Yugi," Yami said. "She isn't going to bite."
Feeling courage well up inside him from Yami's words, Yugi slowly reached out with one hand. Amethyst eyes never left the mare's soft brown ones. She seemed to nod, assuring Yugi that what he was about to do was not forbidden. Yugi let out the breath he'd been holding when his fingertips came in contact with the mare's soft muzzle. A smile broke out over Yugi's face; the first true smile Yami had ever seen from him. The cowboy arched an eyebrow, surprised by how different the boy looked.
"Her name is Kuriboh," Yami finally said, clawing his eyes away from Yugi's softened expression. Yugi turned puzzled eyes up and looked at Yami.
"Kuriboh?" he asked. "Like the cards?"
Yami nodded and smiled. He patted the mare firmly on the neck. "I might have forgotten to mention her earlier, she's a bit of a new addition. She was extremely small when she came here. My father and I thought she would be to shy and timid to be housed with the other horses, but she had far more spunk than we gave her credit for."
Yugi brought his other hand up and gently stroked her neck, smiling as Kuriboh tossed her head and snorted happily. There was a peacefulness about her, something Yugi had never felt before. Here was a wild and powerful creature, willingly offering its companionship and tenderness to someone as small and timid as himself. An indescribable feeling bubbled up inside his chest, filling him with newfound energy.
"Yami," he breathed excitedly, "I like this one. Can I…?"
Rose-red eyes widened slightly in surprise, then softened as a smile spread across the cowboy's handsome face. "Of course, Yugi," he replied. "Come on." Yami lead both boy and horse back to Ryou, who waited patiently by the fence with a saddle and bridle. Shadow grazed nearby, idly waiting for Yami to return.
"Find one you like?" Ryou asked with a knowing grin. Yugi smiled softly back.
"More like she found me," he replied. Ryou winked.
"You need to get her saddled up, Yugi, before we can begin," Yami explained.
Yugi nodded. "Alright, what do I have to do?"
Yami retrieved Shadow, and proceeded to use him as a model to show Yugi how to prepare a horse for riding. Yugi remembered the cowboy's earlier instructions about the girth, bridle and stirrups. He checked and double-checked every step as he went along, hopping up on the fence to sling the heavy saddle over Kuriboh's back. Yugi wiped his forehead as he finished, opting to remove his long-sleeved shirt and toss it on the fence. Yami nodded approvingly, running expert eyes and hands over Yugi's equipment.
"Well done," he praised. "You catch on pretty quick." Yugi smiled slightly, feeling his confidence gaining strength. Yami backed away and stood next to his own horse, grasping the bridle and guiding the animal a little ways from the fence.
"Now," he began, "this is the tricky part. When you mount a horse, you always approach from the front and talk softly to keep him calm. Since you always mount from the horse's left side, you take the reins in your left hand and hold the pommel of the saddle." Yami demonstrated, glancing up at Yugi to make sure he was paying attention. At Yugi's nod, Yami continued.
"Turn the stirrup so you can put your foot inside--you want to have the iron on the balls of your feet--and be careful not to kick. If you accidentally kick the horse, he's going to take off before you're ready. Place your other hand on the back of the saddle and hop up," Yami paused as he gracefully sprung off the ground and swung his leg around, seating himself in the saddle comfortably. Shadow shifted only slightly as he adjusted to Yami's familiar weight. "Swing your leg over and move your hand up to the pommel so you can take hold of the reins and balance yourself."
"You might want to climb on from the fence," Ryou suggested. "You're a bit shorter than Yami, and you would have better leverage standing on something."
"Okay," Yugi agreed hesitantly. "Walk me through it again." Yami edged Shadow a bit closer to offer help should Yugi need it, and Ryou came to stand beside him.
Yugi took hold of Kuriboh's bridle and gave her a quick pat on the nose to calm her. As he moved to her left, Ryou held the bridle to help keep her steady at Yugi's first attempt. Yugi stood on the bottom rung of the fence, balancing himself by holding the pommel and slipping his foot into the first stirrup. He hopped to pull himself up and felt his foot jerk forward and kick against the animal's side. Yugi panicked when the horse started to move, losing his balance and slipping his foot out of the stirrup. The movement startled Kuriboh, causing her to whinny and dart forward. Ryou rushed to calm the mare, holding fast to her bridle and leading her away from Yugi as he sprawled to the ground. Yami quickly dismounted and came to help.
"Yugi!" Yami leaned down and offered a hand, pulling the smaller boy to his feet. "Are you alright?"
Yugi stood and dusted himself off. He was breathing rapidly and he looked terrified. Yami held Yugi's shoulders, feeling the boy tremble and wanting to offer some comfort. The look in Yugi's eyes told the cowboy that any confidence Yugi had managed to build up in his short time at the ranch had quickly dissipated. Yami sighed.
"It's alright, Yugi," he assured. "Everyone falls the first time. It wasn't intentional, it just takes practice."
"The fence makes it a little awkward, Yami," Ryou commented, bringing Kuriboh back over. "Is there anything in the barn we could use instead?"
"You can take a look if you want, Ryou," Yami replied. "That would probably be a better alternative."
Ryou gave Kuriboh a final pat before disappearing into the barn again. Yami looked back down at Yugi, who was still shaking. Yami tightened his grip on Yugi's shoulders and set his warm gaze to Yugi's.
"Yugi," he commanded gently, "relax." Yugi shut his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm his frazzled nerves. Yami smiled. "You did fine, I would have been shocked to see you mount successfully the first time."
Yugi nodded meekly, looking shyly up at Yami. Yami tossed him a wink and released his shoulders. He looked up as Ryou emerged from the barn with a wooden crate.
"Will this work?" the white-haired boy asked.
"Perfect," Yami replied with a nod. He turned back to Yugi. "Are you ready to try again?"
Clearing his throat, Yugi nodded again, running a hand through his hair stressfully. "Sorry," he murmured, "I feel like such an idiot. The one thing you tell me not to do, and it's the first mistake I make."
"Trust me, Yugi," Ryou assured, setting the crate on the ground, "you're not the first to beef it when riding for your first time and you definitely won't be the last. It's not unusual at all. Now come on, you can do this."
"Ryou's right, Yugi," Yami agreed. "Don't expect this to be the first time you fall today." The cowboy winked, and stood beside the smaller boy, Ryou moving to take hold of the mare's bridle.
Swallowing some of the nervousness in his body, Yugi stepped up onto the box, Yami hovering just behind him should his help be needed. Yugi placed his foot into the stirrup, bracing his hands on the saddle once again. He hesitated a moment, still a little unsure. Violet eyes widened fractionally when he felt strong hands take hold of his waist.
"Relax," a deep, soothing voice commanded him. "The horse can feel when you're afraid. You need to let go; place your trust in Kuriboh--she is your partner now."
Fighting a blush, Yugi nodded and hopped up, feeling Yami's hands tighten and help to lift him up. He swung his leg over and slid his right hand up to grip the reins. He fought for balance for a few seconds. Kuriboh tossed her head and shifted her feet a little awkwardly, but remained still for the most part. Once successfully seated, Yugi looked around in disbelief. Yami nodded in approval, a satisfied smirk playing across his handsome features.
"Well done, Yugi," the cowboy praised. Ryou nodded in agreement.
"See? It's not so hard."
Yugi nodded, chuckling uneasily. "So…now what do I do?" Yami proceeded to retrieve his own stallion and demonstrate proper posture and balance techniques. Yugi found it awkward at first, not used to sitting in such a position on something as uncomfortable as a saddle. Ryou began to lead Kuriboh around, Yami walking Shadow slowly beside him. Yugi had to resist the urge to squeeze his knees together to maintain balance. It was just so awkward and uncomfortable!
"You'll get used to it," Yami assured, "something's probably off with the way you're sitting. Once you find the right balance, it'll become almost natural."
Ryou let go of the bridle and allowed Yugi to wander freely around. Yami reached over and guided Yugi's hands, showing him the proper way to steer. "Keep your body relaxed," he instructed gently. "Move with the horse. Pull back gently if you want to stop, and try not to squeeze your knees together."
Yugi did as instructed, forcing himself to relax and slipping into perfect rhythm with the mare. Yami slowly released Yugi's hands, allowing Yugi full control. A smile worked its way across his face, happiness lighting up his youthful features. Ryou and Yami smiled back, offering their praise and congratulations.
Fully comfortable with walking, Yugi was ready to move on. Following Yami's example, Yugi lightly tapped his heels against the horse's side, spurring the animal into a light trot. Slightly unprepared for the difference in movement, Yugi was nearly bounced out of the saddle. Yami reached over, putting a firm grip on the smaller boy's forearm to help him regain his balance.
"Pull her to a stop, Yugi," Yami ordered, and Yugi immediately complied. Yami released Yugi's arm. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Yugi replied, a little breathless. "I just wasn't expecting to bounce around like that."
"It'll seem a little uncomfortable at first," Yami admitted, "but once you get more familiar with riding you'll find yourself falling into rhythm with the horse's motions."
"We should probably just stick with a walk for today, and teach him posting tomorrow," Ryou remarked, having saddled up and trotted along side of them himself. Yugi frowned.
"Posting?" he inquired.
"Don't worry too much about it for now," Yami answered. "We'll get to that soon enough, and your legs are going to be sore enough tonight as it is. Ryou's right; it's best that we take this slow."
The next few weeks were spent doing a combination of tedious manual labor and relentless riding lessons. With all his time spent working under a blistering Texan sun, all thoughts of his previous life in Japan--as well as the depression associated with it--seemed to fade away. Despite the sore muscles and deeply sunburned skin, Yugi couldn't help but enjoy it all. Ryou had been right--saddle therapy wasn't so bad after all.
"Need a hand?" Yami's voice startled him out of his thoughts. The cowboy hopped easily over the wooden fence and rolled up his sleeves. Yugi tossed him a lopsided grin and wiped sweat from his forehead.
"Nah," he replied. "I'm just about finished with these." As if to demonstrate his point, Yugi hefted the final sack of corn out of the truck and tossed it onto a shelf in the barn. Uncle Al had him bagging corn and grain at the mill all day, and the youth was glad to have finished unloading it into the barn.
"Mom sent me to come and get you," Yami explained. "Dinner's almost ready."
"Great," Yugi chirped with a grin. "I'm starving."
"At the rate you've been going this past week it's a wonder you haven't eaten everything in the kitchen," Yami chuckled.
"Not yet anyway." Yugi winked. "I just hope your dad takes it easy on me tomorrow. I've got sunburns everywhere." Yugi turned and looked over his shoulder at his back and winced. He lifted his shirt from the bed of the truck and gingerly slipped it over his head.
"Tomorrow's Fourth of July," Yami replied. "It's a holiday, so you won't have to work. I will warn you, though, that we'll be having company. We've got some family coming over for dinner, and they're not exactly what you'd call normal."
"What's the occasion?" Yugi wondered.
"Independence Day--family, barbecue, and fireworks."
Yugi quirked an eyebrow. "Sounds good to me." Yami grinned and the two made their way back to the house for dinner.
Having eaten his fill of pork chops and scalloped potatoes, Yugi helped Aunt Kiya clean up before wandering out onto the front porch. He sat down on the porch steps and leaned back on his elbows contentedly. Yugi closed his eyes and enjoyed the cool evening air.
The sky burned a bright orange, casting purple shadows in the wake of the surrounding hills. A warm breeze danced across the landscape and stirred Yugi from his thoughts. 'I've come a long way in just a few weeks,' he thought idly. A smile crept its way to his lips. In the short time he'd been living with Yami and his family, Yugi had grown exponentially in both confidence and personality. He no longer shied away from human contact and allowed his exuberant and cheerful nature to take control.
"Hey," Yugi glanced up at Ryou who stood just outside the front door. He smiled, earning a grin in return and scooted over so Ryou could sit next to him. "Have you talked to your grandfather recently?"
"Yeah, actually," Yugi answered with a yawn. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "I talked to him yesterday. He was really happy to hear I'm doing well."
"I'm sure he was. I'm really glad you came, Yugi."
Yugi looked down at his hands quietly. It scared him to think about what would have happened had Ryou not found him when he did. "Me too, Ryou," he whispered. "Me too."
"Yugi?" Yami's voice called out to him. A head of spiked tri-colored hair poked through the front door. Yami smiled when he spotted Yugi, immediately lifting the boy's sudden dark mood.
"Hey Yami," he replied with a smile. Something about Yami always put Yugi in a good mood. He saw Ryou grinning like a maniac out of the corner of his eye and glanced at him. Ryou shook his head, dismissing Yugi's silent question.
"Hi, Ryou," Yami greeted. "I didn't know you were out here too."
"Yeah," Ryou sighed. "Joey and I have to finish baling hay before we go to bed. I was hoping to put it off as long as possible, but…" he trailed off, glancing at the setting sun. He sighed again. "I guess I'd better get out there before it gets too dark."
"Joey's still in the kitchen," Yami informed him. "You might have to get out the cattle prod." Ryou just rolled his eyes and went back inside the house.
Both Yugi and Yami shared a chuckle at their friends' antics. A comfortable silence settled over the two as Yami took Ryou's vacated seat beside Yugi. The smaller boy leaned back once again, closing his eyes peacefully. Only when he shifted his shoulders did a wince skitter across his face. Sharp red eyes noticed this and narrowed slightly.
"Sunburn?" Yami inquired.
Yugi grinned and nodded sheepishly. "Yeah," he replied. "Kinda hard to work with a shirt on when it's been so freaking hot all week."
The cowboy quirked an eyebrow. "Wait here." Yugi stared dumbly as Yami disappeared into the house. The door was thrown open again almost immediately, startling him as Ryou emerged dragging a screaming Joey by the ear.
"I'm not buying your excuses again," Ryou was saying rather calmly--though Yugi could see his jaw tensed in irritation. "I have to finish baling hay, and you're going to help me. It's your fault we had to start all over in the first place."
Yugi chuckled, wincing at some of Joey's choice of "incoherent babble" and shaking his head. There was never a dull day with those two around. Silence settled once again, allowing Yugi a moment to wonder what Yami was doing.
He didn't have to wait long as the door opened again, revealing a very amused red-eyed teen. Yami chuckled and shook his head.
"Those two will never change," he commented.
"I agree," Yugi laughed. "It looks like we're the only sane ones around here."
"If that's the case, then I think we're in trouble." Yami held up the object he was holding in his hand. "But for now, let's take care of that sunburn."
Yugi looked at the plastic bottle in Yami's hand and blinked. "What is that stuff?"
"Cooling gel," Yami replied. "It stinks like hell, but it will ease the burns and moisturize your skin." He flipped up the cap and kneeled behind Yugi. "Take of your shirt."
Yugi blinked, a bit surprised at Yami's request, but grateful that the older boy would offer to apply the gel to his burns. Gritting his teeth against the sting, Yugi slipped his shirt up over his head and leaned forward casually, resting his elbows on his knees. He jumped and let out a little yelp as the icy gel hit his skin. He heard Yami chuckle behind him.
"Cold?" the cowboy inquired.
"It just surprised me," Yugi insisted, grateful Yami wasn't able to see him blush.
Yami chuckled deeply once again and began rubbing slow circles over Yugi's back and shoulders. Yugi couldn't help but close his eyes in peace as he felt the tension in his muscles literally melt away. Yami's hands were soft and gentle on his skin, soothing his discomfort and cooling his burns.
Yugi let out a hum of appreciation and Yami smiled.
Yugi hummed again, closing his eyes and resting his head on his hands in contentment. Yami's hands were gentle and his touches soft. The coolness of the gel spread over Yugi's skin like a much-needed breeze on a hot summer day. After what seemed like an eternity, the hands on Yugi's back stilled before their warmth left him altogether. He had to restrict a groan of protest as Yami snapped the cap back on the bottle and handed it to him.
"I'll let you hold onto this in case you need it again."
"Thanks," Yugi replied, offering the cowboy a shy smile.
They sat in a comfortable silence--Yami shifting slightly to sit beside Yugi--until the sun began to sink below the hills. The colors of dusk blanketed the landscape. A fiery orange glowed from the western sky, casting indigo shadows over the distant knolls and a caramel gold over the plains.
"This place is so different from the city I grew up in," Yugi mused aloud. "Everything here is so quiet, and the landscape is beautiful."
"Living in a city does have its advantages though, Yugi," Yami pointed out. Yugi shrugged.
"I guess. But if I had to pick, I would much rather have lived here."
Yami cocked his head to one side, a slight frown crossing his features. "Why is that?"
Yugi smiled slightly, locking his eyes with the other's. "You're here, for one thing."
Yugi giggled, bringing a smile to Yami's face and earning him a chuckle as well.
"But seriously," Yugi continued after a moment, "until I came here, I had no friends. The future had nothing to offer me and, to be honest…I was about to give up." Yugi stared down at his hands. Idly he fingered the bands around his wrists as the memories came flooding back. He shuddered. If it weren't for Ryou, Yugi knew he would have died that day. He felt his cheeks flush and was happy to blame it on the glow of the sunset. If Yami ever found out, he would never look at Yugi again.
"What happened?" Yami asked gently. Concern filtered over the older boy's features at Yugi's sudden somber mood.
The smaller boy shook his head. "It doesn't matter now," he said. A smile broke out and Yugi looked over to Yami. "I'm just happy I'm here, and that I met you."
Yami's gaze locked with Yugi's and the smaller boy had to stifle a gasp at what he saw there. Yami's eyes were so intense, so full of warmth and raw emotion that it made Yugi shiver. Yami smiled and draped an arm around Yugi's shoulders.
"I'm happy too."