Chapter 8 – Withdrawal

DISCLAIMER: So this pirate walks into a tavern with, believe it or not, a steering wheel stuck down the front of his pants. For a while, the bartender tries to ignore it because that's good customer service, but in the end he has to ask, "Alright, I'll bite. What's with the steering wheel?" The man looks down at his pants and says, (I've been told I have to say it like this,) "Arr! I don't know, but it's driving me nuts!"

There were many strange things Katsuya Jounouchi had gotten used to over the last two and a half years. Random drop by visits from the world famous or ridiculously rich; the occasional kidnapping or murder threat; games becoming the whole basis of a person's existence. When he was truly being honest with himself, he almost thought that he would be perfectly adjusted to cope should he one day wake up in a whole alternate reality with talking Duel Monsters and magical dragons.

But his best friend could still surprise him.

Jounouchi chewed his bottom lip, watching with wary calm as Yuugi fed another hundred yen into the slot and picked up the plastic gun for the first-person shooter game. He had been playing for almost an hour, racked up enough points to fill the high score board alone, and showed absolutely no signs of stopping.

Some people released their frustrations with kendo or defenceless boxing bags, others yelled at their friends or screamed into their pillows. Ryou had a habit of locking himself up in his kitchen and cooking himself full seven course feasts that no one else would ever get a bite of. Jounouchi had never seen Yuugi really angry, but he had always kind of made the assumption Yuugi was one of those people that listened to music until it all just went away.

As it turned out, however, Yuugi liked to shoot virtual bullets into unsuspecting video game characters until their bodies no longer jerked from the impact.

"So," Jounouchi said slowly, watching quietly as Yuugi repeatedly squeezed the trigger in a futile attempt to shoot the game's narrator, "You think you're ready for a new game yet, Yuugi? Wouldn't ask, only… you've been playing this one every day for the last four days and… I think you're making the arcade guys nervous."

"No thanks," Yuugi said quietly.

"See, they're starting to think you're using this game as, you know… practice for the real thing, and… you can understand why that might worry some people."

"Sorry, but…"

"So they asked me to ask whether you're planning on continuing this."

"I am," he said simply, and Jounouchi took a deep breath, nodding.

"Okay, that's fine. They don't really mind, because all the more money for them, and they're actually just grateful you're not playing one of the games that gives redemption tickets, 'cause they only have so many TVs to give away," he said, but Yuugi didn't acknowledge the joke. Jounouchi tried to laugh, but in the end just grimaced and leaned forward, trying to catch Yuugi's gaze. "Na, Yuugi… nothing happened, did it? You're not… you're not really mad, are you?"

He didn't say anything, instead remaining focussed on his game, and Jounouchi bit his lip.

"You… wanna talk about it?"

He shook his head silently.

"Because you know, we can talk about whatever. Girls, school, other guys, games, the meaning of life, I'm all ears. Whatever's bothering you, I'm more than happy to listen and help any way I can," he offered, then waited a beat for Yuugi's answer. When none was forthcoming he lifted his hand to start chewing his thumbnail, thinking about all the possibilities. Yuugi had been acting weird since he started talking to Yamino, but that had been happy weird. This was the kind of weird that made Jounouchi worry about Yuugi maybe picking a fight with someone that could beat him to a pulp. This was a side of his friend that he'd never seen before. "C'mon, Yuugi…"

"I'm fine," he said quietly. "I don't need you to worry about me. I just want to play my game. Please, just… let me play my game."



He stared at him helplessly for a moment, then sighed and stepped away, nodding. "Okay. Didn't mean to bug you, only it's just," He paused, his hand hovering in the air near Yuugi's arm, uncertain as to whether he should touch him or not. "It's not just the arcade guys you're worrying, here."

Although he didn't physically move, something changed about Yuugi's face or posture, at that. He blinked, then shook his head and refocussed on his game, leaving Jounouchi to step back and head off to another game station.

He picked the row of sit-down fighting games, which were usually Yuugi's favourite. He had lost his first game to the computer system when he noticed someone sitting down in his peripheral vision, and so turned to meet Yuugi's apologetic gaze.

"I'm sorry, Jounouch-kun," he said quietly. "I haven't had a very good week."

Considering that they didn't usually talk on a meaningful, personal level that often, it was surprisingly easy to tell Jounouchi the whole story about Atemu. He had started off by almost avoiding the topic, but after Jounouchi suggested they go get a burger and he had curled into the familiar booth of Burger World, he found himself telling Jounouchi everything, from their old relationship to how angry he had found himself when Atemu had decided risking a relationship wasn't worth his moral fibre.

Jounouchi had gotten very quiet when Yuugi admitted Atemu had kissed him, and he stayed silent almost a full minute after Yuugi had stopped talking. Yuugi had stopped Anzu from telling him any of this on Sunday, but now he was beginning to wonder why. Jounouchi was his best friend for a reason, after all.

Jounouchi waved over the waitress to order another round of burgers with the lot, and Yuugi sat back, waiting for him to finish thinking. Jounouchi wasn't much for introspective thought, so it was only expected that it would take him a while to work everything through.

"I thought you liked girls?" he asked finally, as the waitress walked away.

"I do," Yuugi said blankly.

"But you didn't mind Yamino kissing you?"

He paused, only vaguely seeing the connection. "I liked that too."

"So you like guys."

"I… guess so?" He wasn't sure if he was answering or asking, and apparently Jounouchi caught the question mark too, because he sat back to give Yuugi a long, searching look.

After another moment he nodded and pointed out the window. "Fantasy-speaking, and assuming she's got a great personality, 'cause I know that matters to you. Would you go out with her?"

Yuugi blinked and followed Jounouchi's finger, coming to rest on a girl leaning against the road gate a few metres away. "I… guess."

"What about her?"

This girl was walking down the street with a mobile to her ear. "Mmmaybe."

"Either one of those girls there?"

"I suppose –"

"What about that guy?"

Yuugi paused, reluctantly letting his imagination drift over the young man Jounouchi was pointing to now. He was talking to a little girl—his sister, by the look of it. He seemed pretty nice, and his smile was nice enough… "I really don't know, Jounouch-kun."

"Seriously, Yuugi."

"I don't know," he repeated, his blush creeping up to his hairline. "Yeah, maybe?"

Jounouchi nodded as well, sitting back in his chair like he'd solved the mystery of the universe. "So you could do both. Kinda weird, but cool. Girls apparently think that's 'cute', these days."

Yuugi blinked at him, completely lost for a second, then laughed, his blush only getting worse. "I never really thought about it." He hesitated, eyeing Jounouchi nervously. "You don't… you're not creeped out?"

He paused, giving the question the same amount of thought he always believed Yuugi deserved. "Well… surprised is more the word. I mean, Otogi I could believe, because I've seen him checking me out in the changing rooms, but you… no offence, man, but I never really imagined you with even a chick. I thought the porn and stuff was really more just because it was offered to you."

Yuugi blinked again, then shrugged a little. He'd never made a point of thinking about it. "I did like Anzu. And now I kinda think I might like Atemu."

"They are pretty similar, sometimes," Jounouchi said, draping one arm over the back of the booth. "Maybe arrogant, mean and obsessed with their appearance is your type."

"Thanks for the tip, Jounouch-kun," he said blankly, but his friend just grinned. They paused as the waitress returned with their food, and Yuugi took a bite out of his burger to think before continuing. "Problem is that Atemu might be right. I've never really thought about it before, and it's only because this whole thing has made me think about it that I am. Like he said, maybe I'm just thinking I like guys because—"

"You're eighteen and horny as a rabbit?"

"—a guy likes me," he finished with a grin. "It's just annoying me that he won't even let me think about it. He doesn't want to hurt me, so he's not going to come near me, and who cares if that hurts me, because at least we're not risking anything."

"I dunno if that makes sense," Jounouchi said, and Yuugi spread his hands.

"It doesn't! But when I talked to Grandpa, he said it was for the best. He said I'd been happy without Atemu for years, so why should I put myself in a situation that might make me unhappy?"

Jounouchi raised an eyebrow, confused. "But you don't like that either?"

"Which is what I said to Ryou-kun. And Ryou-kun said 'better the devil you know' and what the heck does that even mean?" he demanded, and then took a vicious bite out of his burger and chewed angrily. "He can't talk! His first kiss was a guy, and now he's set up for life with him – a guy that can't even call him by his real name!"

"Well… it is different, I mean… He never liked girls," Jounouchi said haltingly, but Yuugi waved it off as unimportant to the conversation.

"He says I should be happy being unhappy like this because at least I've got a good memory of our friendship that isn't spoiled by a doomed relationship. He says Atemu is doing the right thing for everyone involved by just cutting it all off at the pass!" he said, and Jounouchi frowned, shoving half his burger in his mouth to consider.

It took him a while, and the rest of his burger, but Jounouchi eventually dusted off his hands and sat forward, holding his hands up like he was gripping a ball in front of himself. "Alright, Yuugi, I'm gonna give this whole Devil's Advocate thing a shot here."

"Huh? Devil's what?"

"First off… well, it's got nothing to do with it, but the fact is, none of us really like Yamino," Jounouchi said bluntly, and Yuugi hunched forward in disbelief. Jounouchi grimaced, but continued anyway. "I'm sure he's a great guy once you get to know him, but none of us really do. Anzu says she can tolerate him when you're there to soften him up, but as it is, he comes across as a jerk. I mean, I liked him enough on the trip, don't get me wrong, and he's got your interests at heart and all that, which is great. But still, from what I figured, he's still a jerk."


"—is a jerk in lots of different ways," Jounouchi continued pointedly, and Yuugi shut his mouth again. "He's… actually, he's kinda your opposite, in a lot of ways. When something's wrong, you wait until it actually interferes with your life, then you deal with it. From what you say, at the first sign of a problem, Yamino makes tracks, and that's how he deals with it. Think about it in real terms, here. Are you actually capable of dealing with that kind of relationship?"

Yuugi lowered his head, picking up another hamburger. He knew Jounouchi was trying to help, but he could feel that unfamiliar anger returning. Of course he knew how to react to Atemu's moods and methods of dealing with things. They had been best friends for ten years, many of which included the years that Atemu had to deal with people who had problems with his colouring, and his bad school marks, and before he learned that the end to an argument with someone he didn't like did not end with punching the other guy out.

"And they're right, Yuugi. You do have a habit of just doing what other people want you to. If you got in a relationship with someone that likes you as much as Yamino seems to, and then realised you didn't feel the same, you'd probably end up staying because it made him happy," Jounouchi said, picking up his chips to start in on. "It's not that they—or me, now I think about—want you to be unhappy like this, so much as we don't want you to get hurt, and this whole thing could just turn out really ugly. Too much of a risk."

"What are you risking?" Yuugi said quietly, but Jounouchi didn't seem to hear the pronoun.

"Just everything important, man. Don't worry, you'll find someone else. Someone safer for a first relationship."

Yuugi put down his burger and buried his face in his hands, biting his lip to keep from yelling. "What, exactly, is a safe first relationship?" he demanded quietly, but Jounouchi just grunted and continued on with his chips, clearly not getting the problem. It was starting to seem like no one would.

Despite its location and the position of its occupant, the apartment above the CBD Ninja Doujou was rarely silent. It was home to two boisterous teenagers and a man that was only quiet when he was working. Things only got worse on Saturday nights when he invited his senior students up for a night of illegal drinking. There was no such thing as quiet when they were throwing a party.

"So here's to Atemu Yamino!" Ozawa shouted, lifting his glass up above his head. "He's arrogant, irresponsible, disobedient and has dishonoured my doujou more times than I care to remember; but his dishonour has resulted in several videos that rake in the cash for me. You were a lousy student and a worse ninja, Yamino, but damn am I sorry to see you leave my classes. Cheers!"

"Cheers!" Atemu echoed, saluting his former master with his drink, and the whole class chorused the word before tipping their glasses back to drink.

After ten years of training, Atemu had decided to give up ninja as a practicing sport. It had been coming for three years, since he had started professional gaming, and whenever a tournament came up, he would no longer have time for the classes that were called twice a week. Besides, everyone in the whole doujou knew Atemu wasn't really cut out for ninja – it took most of his concentration to stay silent during the exercises, so he was only a reasonable fighter when he could make noise. But after school and gaming, Atemu just couldn't be bothered to put the effort in, any more.

Not that Ozawa was going to stop using him for promotional videos, of course.

"But Yamino can't leave," complained Atemu's sparring partner. "We need the gay mascot, man!"

"What?" laughed Ozawa.

"We're losing our mascot, we need another gay guy to exploit," he said, and Atemu snorted.

"You could always take his place," suggested another student, and the whole class exchanged evil grins as Satsuza burned bright red with a blush.

"I'm not gay!"

"Uh huh, we believe you."

"I'm not!"

"Aw, he's so pretty, we could even dress him up in a skirt and make him our girl mascot!"

"You are not getting me in a dress!"

"Hey, yeah, it'll be a slogan! 'We accept all kinds – just look at this freak'!"

"Yamino, help!"

"Not a chance," he said, smirking behind his glass as the teasing group pounced on Satsuza and began dragging him off to torture further. His smile faded as the objecting shouts moved across the room, and he looked down into his glass, eyeing his wavering reflection in the drink.

"Really is a shame to see you go, Yamino."

He looked up, raising his eyebrow at Ozawa, who was standing in front of him, holding both his drink and the bottle it came from in the one hand. "Master?"

"Ahh, good, if you start calling your teacher by name, he's within his rights to kill you in your sleep; whether you're still a practicing student or not," he said, and then turned around to fall back into Satsuza's seat. "You're welcome to come back and spar with your comrades any time. If your teacher finds out you're going to seed, he's also within his rights to attack you and drag you back here for retraining."

Atemu smirked, watching silently as Ozawa leaned back and poured himself another drink, eyeing the amber liquid with a trained eye before taking a fast drink.

"So," he said, gasping out the burn, "what's wrong with you?"

"Excuse me?"

"As painful as I'm sure leaving my illustrious doujou is, somehow I doubt that's the reason you've been an even worse fighter than usual, lately, or why you're moping around at your own farewell celebration," he said, and turned to look at him face-on, still sharp-eyed despite the alcohol he'd already consumed. "You're never exactly what I'd call exuberant, but it's been a month and you're still acting like someone kicked your puppy." He paused, pulling back for a second before frowning. "I didn't just make some obscure sexual reference, did I?"

Atemu stared at him blankly for a moment, wondering just how much his master had already drunk. "No."

"Damn, I have a feeling that would've been funny. So? Speak up – confide in your teacher."

"I'd really rather not," he said honestly, a smirk fighting its way over his lips when Ozawa scowled at him.

"You have no respect. I have thirteen year old beginner students with more respect than you."

"Yeah, but they're still little and scared of you."

"I am a master of a silent and deadly martial art."

"I'm aware of that," he said, nodding agreeably. "But that doesn't make you scary."

"I could murder you in your sleep, in a locked house, and no one would ever know how you had died."

"I'm aware of that too. But you're too honourable for it and my house has security cameras on every entrance."

He paused, considering that for a moment, then shook his head in frustration and decided to move on. "You are still underage and I'm allowing you to drink alcohol in my apartment."

"Excellent argument, master."

"Your sarcasm only draws attention to your teenage immaturity."

Atemu chuckled, leaning back and crossing his legs in one smooth movement. "It's just a personal problem, master, and an old one. Discussion will not affect it."

"Perhaps. But a release of the emotions is integral to an inner balance, one which brings all hidden meanings to light and allows us to achieve the impossible," he said, sliding the hand still holding his whisky bottle through the air in a graceful arc that was probably intended to symbolise chi. Atemu just continued gazing at him blandly, and Ozawa scowled. "Just tell me what's wrong, you disrespectful moron, or I'll stay curious and that will disrupt my chi which will affect my training. And I will take it out of your hide."

"It's about a boy. Still curious?" he asked, but he lost his smile when Ozawa motioned for him to continue. "I mean a boy as in –"

"Yamino, the whole doujou knows what you mean. And I have seen many hours of security footage. If I was uncomfortable, I would have expelled you long ago."

"Damn," he said irritably, and Ozawa hid his chuckle in his drink. Atemu sat back again, staring into his drink as he tried to think of a way to either phrase his problem or tell his master to take a hike. After almost a full minute, interrupted by several quick glances only to find Ozawa still waiting patiently, he sighed and surrendered. "Is it more honourable to cut off a wounded hand that might turn gangrenous, or to leave it alone and hope it heals on its own?"

His master paused, taking a slow sip of his drink and swilling it around his mouth before swallowing to answer. "Personally, I would take the hand to a doctor for treatment, but considering the source of the metaphor, I would suppose that wasn't an option," he said thoughtfully. "Whose is the hand?"

"Old friend."

Ozawa nodded slowly, trying to work the metaphor through his mind and into a likely possibility. "You fell in love with a friend?"


"For the gods' sakes, Yamino, everyone's done that before," he said, rolling his eyes in exasperation. "It's standard procedure for life. Don't act as if you're a special case."

He scowled but didn't answer, and Ozawa narrowed his eyes in consideration before continuing. "I can see how this might be a problem, however. Am I to assume this friend prefers female companionship?"

"That's the real problem. He's never had a 'companion', before."

"Ohh… How old is this kid?"

"My age."

"Ohh… Poor bastard."

Atemu slammed his free hand down on his knee, irritated, but Ozawa just laughed and saluted him with his drink. "For once you are honourable, Yamino, but I feel you may have chosen a poor circumstance to be so."


"From what you're saying, I assume that this kid is somewhat willing to explore the possibility of a relationship, but you, knowing he is still young in the ways of the world, are refusing to allow the opportunity to arise. Knowing you, you probably tried to cut yourself out of his life altogether. Much like my doujou, to use a well-placed simile," he added, glancing around at the mingling class. "What you are doing is being honourably selfish. True, you are not forcing yourself or your feelings on an innocent, and that is as honourable as you can be in this modern world of supposed acceptance. However, what you are really doing is protecting yourself. This way, you can keep the perfect image of your friend, and you appear to be taking the moral high road. To everyone that only thinks of the surface, you are doing the right thing. You are being good, and honest, and kind. That is what it appears to be."

"But you don't think so?"

"I don't know this friend of yours, so I am in no position to assume anything about him, but to have reached this age and not have any experience in matters of 'companionship' implies one of two things. One, he is hideous in either mind or body. Or two, either he or others around him have been so far unwilling to risk the pain of a relationship." He paused, offering a knowing smile to match Atemu's frown. "The safest road is a lonely one, Yamino. Or, to quote my daughter's favourite movie at the moment, 'if you never let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him'. Imagine living your life without ever doing anything. It wouldn't be much of a life, as far as I can see."

Atemu closed his eyes, struggling to find the words to argue. "With all due respect, Master, you're missing the point. He doesn't know how to pull back from danger when it's there. If I got into a relationship with him, he might end up hating it, and he wouldn't… he wouldn't want to hurt me by pulling out."

"How do you know that, if he's never been in the situation before?"

"Because he wears his heart on his sleeve! He's made of frikking glass!"

"A truly touching way to describe someone you care about so deeply," he said dryly, and Atemu flinched, the phrase somehow jarring something in his memory. Ozawa frowned, tilting his head forward in a pointed gesture. "You make him sound very young and shallow, Yamino. I wonder if you dishonour your friend by assuming so much about his thoughts and wishes."

Atemu blinked rapidly, completely lost as to how he should react to that. Ozawa met his gaze for another long, bleary moment, and then pushed himself up off the couch, leaving Atemu alone with his thoughts.

A sliver of darkness moving past the doorway was the only sign Dendera saw of her brother being up and moving. It had been five weeks since he'd come home from dinner at Yuugi's; five weeks since she'd seen Yuugi himself; and five weeks since she'd seen more than a glimpse of her brother before he disappeared either into his room or out of the house. It was fairly strange, all things considered, because from what she remembered, Yuugi had always made her brother much more visible.

She paused, fidgeting with her controller for a moment before leaning forward to turn off her playstation. Her brother's angst was always much more entertaining.

She found Atemu in the kitchen, staring down at the container of instant coffee as the kettle came to a slow boil. He looked the same as he usually did when she saw him these days: as if the world were ending. And, like he had since coming home drunk from his farewell at the doujou, it seemed like it was his fault they would all being dying in a ball of nuclear fire. That or he was about to begin a huge gaming tournament… it was hard to tell, with her brother.

"Go away," he said shortly, before she could even take a full step into the kitchen.

"I didn't say anything!"

"Go away," he repeated.

"So when're you going to bring Yuugi over for dinner?" she asked, ducking under his glare to push herself up on the kitchen bench. "What've you guys been doing all month that doesn't involve him coming over where I can talk to him too?"

He grunted, turning off the kettle and instead turning to grab a whole bottle of coke zero from the fridge before stalking out of the room. Dendera blinked twice, then pushed herself off the counter and hurried after him. "You do know it's like ten o'clock in the morning, right? Are you really gonna drink that?"

"Shut up," he snapped irritably, but she knew better than to be deterred. She followed him up the stairs, and just darted into his room before he had even touched the door to slam in her face. He glared at her again, and she smiled, waiting for him to either try and forcibly remove her, ignore her presence, or try and find another room she wouldn't follow him into. All were futile, and they both knew it, but it was always interesting to see him try.

After several long, drawn out seconds, Atemu took a step closer and leaned down until they were eye-to-eye. "You are the most irritating member of our extremely annoying family, Dendera. And I will give you ten thousand yen, right here, right now, if you stay the hell away from me for the next two weeks."

"No deal," she said bluntly, and Atemu's left eyebrow twitched once before he stepped back and turned away, heading over to his computer. She smirked triumphantly, setting her hands on her hips. She loved it when he tried to ignore her.

She jumped over to sprawl across his bed and pulled down the blue stuffed rabbit he always kept on his headboard for reasons she couldn't fathom. It gave her something to play with while she gave him a few minutes to relax his defences.

"So, does all this mean you and Yuugi aren't talking, again?" she asked, peering up at him to watch as his eyes narrowed in annoyance. "You did something stupid again, didn't you? Does Yuugi hate you this time, or is it the other way around?"

He didn't react, and she rolled onto her stomach to better appraise his lack of expression. A non-reaction was quite often admission of stupidity, but since he wasn't gripping anything and getting angry, she figured this was a little more complicated than simple hatred. She put her chin in her hand, thinking back over all her relationship manga and movies about all the possibilities here.

"You don't still like Yuugi, do you?"

His hand curled into a fist on his knee, and she raised an eyebrow at it, amused. "Ohh, I get it! You told him you liked him and he doesn't like you, so now you're not talking to him because you're all embarrassed! Ohh, that's so cute and adorable and big brother, I just may have to hug you!"

For a moment, Atemu didn't react, before he very suddenly turned his head to look at her face on. "You could never understand, now go away," he said roughly, and her smile fell. If he was being so obvious about it, she knew he was lying. That meant she was wrong. Damn.

She tapped her fist against the rabbit's stomach, considering again. "You told Yuugi… but he doesn't like you… and he's all creeped out?"

He rolled his eyes up to the ceiling before meeting her gaze again. "If you understand, then you understand I want to be left alone! Do your big brother a favour and get out!"

"Right, that doesn't sound like Yuugi at all," she said, and frowned, furrowing her brow as she tried to come up with a good reason. "Okay, well… maybe… you didn't tell Yuugi?"

He shook his head slightly and went back to his computer, too frustrated to comment any further. She fiddled with the rabbit's ears, trying to tally possibilities within what she'd already learned.

"You told Yuugi you liked him… but he already has someone?" She waited for some minute reaction, then punched the rabbit with both hands, irritated at her own lack of success. "Come on, big brother, give me something here! So far, the only other thing I can think of is you telling Yuugi and him telling you back, but then you two'd be getting it on rather than not seeing each other, unless you did something like tell yourself he wasn't ready for it or something, but not even you're that stu-"

She cut herself off, blinking at how tightly clenched his fist was, and then up at the tense muscles in his neck, leading on to a set jaw. She leaned further over the rabbit, her eyes widening the longer she stared at him. "You didn't."

For a second, he didn't even blink, and then he slowly turned to meet her gaze again, clear and steady. "I already told you that you were right before; Yuugi isn't interested in men, let alone me."

"Liar!" she cried, shoving herself up onto her knees. "You liar! You cheap, dirty cheat! Yuugi said he liked you back, and you're too scared to do anything about it! You're doing exactly what Dad does – telling yourself Yuugi isn't gay because that way you don't have to worry about being in the wrong! You cheat, cheat, cheat!"

"Shut up!" he snapped, spinning around in his chair to glare at her. "I know Yuugi better than you, and I know how he works – he just said that because he thinks it's what's best, not because it's what he really wants!"

"You don't know that! You probably didn't even give him time to talk before you decided! You're just assuming things because it makes you feel better about being a coward!"

"You are too young to understand," he snarled. "You can't possibly understand the consequences of something like this!"

"I'm only three years younger than you!" she shouted, clenching her fists by her side. "I've had a boyfriend, I'm just as experienced as you!"

"It's not about age or experience! Yuugi's never had a relationship, and I am not a good choice for his first!" he shot back. "Think about it! I've wanted him since before I even had hormones – he's my everything, dammit! First relationships are too dangerous even without someone who feels as much as I do!"

"That's such bullshit!" she cried. "Firsts are always scary and always dangerous! You say you're protecting him, well that's great, but what happens when he does have his first and that person doesn't care about him as much as you do?"

Atemu opened his mouth but didn't answer, and Dendera inwardly flinched, suddenly realising she actually had her brother listening. She pulled herself a little further upright, thinking fast, because she knew this would never happen again.

"You always fall madly in love with your first lover, don't you? You think they're your whole world and the only person you'll ever be with. So, chances are, when Yuugi does get a girlfriend or whatever, he's going to put everything he has into it! And it probably won't be a first for the other person, and they might not care as much, so Yuugi's gonna get hurt even if they do actually care about him! At least when it's you, you'll care about it just as much as Yuugi!" she said, then blinked, relaxing her hands as Atemu's shoulders fell a little. "If it does fade or doesn't work out, then at least you'll have both lost something important. You'll have both lost your first. And if it does, well then at least you know what he's going through, and you can help him. And that's way more than I had with my boyfriend. It's way more than most people have."

Atemu continued to stare at her blankly for almost a full minute, and then leaned forward. "Have you been talking to my Ninja Master?"

She blinked. "What?"

"When did you actually start using your brain for more than annoying me?"

She gaped, too confused to return an irritated comment, but Atemu actually offered up a small smile. She continued to stare at him blankly, but he just sat back in his chair with a hand to his mouth, gazing at her like she was holding the answers to some great mystery out for him to see.

"You're crazy, big brother," she said bluntly, and he smirked, his lips barely visible past his fingers.

"You may be right, at that."

Even after being lectured by both Ozawa and Dendera on how selfish he was being, it took Atemu a long time to come to terms with what he was really doing, and even longer to work out what he had to do about it. Now matter how he looked at it, they were right – he was just running away from a relationship with Yuugi because he was scared of the consequences.

He was scared of hurting Yuugi, it was true, but he was more scared of losing Yuugi completely. As it had been for the last four years, he had always subconsciously known that he could have gone back to Yuugi. It would take effort to change things, but he'd always known it was him keeping them apart. As it was now, he could keep his fantasy of a possible relationship, because they had never had one to fall apart.

But now that it had been repeatedly pointed out to him, Atemu knew what he had to do. He would have to apologise to Yuugi, first off, and then gently test the waters to see if Yuugi could forgive him and/or give him another chance.

Unfortunately, his plan for doing so fell apart the moment he walked into school the first day back from summer vacation, only to meet Yuugi's gaze from across the classroom and then his glare.

Apparently a month and a half had not been long enough for Yuugi to calm down.

Atemu swallowed, shifting his gaze across Yuugi's friends. Most of them weren't even looking around at him, and when he did manage to catch someone's eye, it was Ryou. From the cool reaction he had gotten after the first kiss, Atemu had assumed Ryou would be just as angry as Yuugi, but he was surprisingly greeted with a quick smile and approving nod.

Over the rest of the day, Atemu noticed that reaction was generally echoed by most of the group. When he had to team up with Jounouchi for a reading in English, the blond actually gave him a wink like they were conspiracy partners. Anzu even thanked him for stopping to let her leave the classroom first, when they were going out to electives.

It carried on for almost a week, until he began to wonder if it was some kind of practical joke, and if he should prepare for a very painful end. The only negative reactions he had garnered at all were from Yuugi, who was glaring whenever Atemu met his gaze, and doing an excellent job of avoiding him in study hall and breaks.

It would have been frustrating, if Atemu wasn't almost certain he deserved it.

The ridiculous idea of dragging Anzu aside and asking her to get Yuugi alone with him for a few minutes was almost appealing when the class filed out on Friday afternoon, Atemu watching from his seat as Jounouchi and Yuugi left together, talking about some video game Atemu was glad he had never heard of. He had cleaning duty in the science room that afternoon, and he was looking forward to it even less than usual. Time alone with nothing to do but clean almost always resulted in a depressing circle of thought. There was too much for him to be depressed about right now, even without the added cleaning.

He sighed, slipping the last of his books into his bag. If Yuugi was still avoiding him by Friday of next week, he decided as he stood up, he would just talk walk over to their little group some lunchtime and start talking. He would pull one of Dendera's tricks and just keep talking and following Yuugi around until they were done. Not really his style, but if it worked, he would try it.

It took him a few minutes to get to the science rooms, and by the time he did, most of the students had already left. He was alone as he threw his bag onto a hook and grabbed a cloth to start washing the beakers.

The problem was really wrapped up in how damn right everyone was. He was honestly and truly the only one that was really at fault. He could blame Sugoroku and Yuugi's friends for being over protective, but if he was being honest, he knew he wouldn't have cared what they thought.


He blinked, his hand slipping on the soap dispenser he had been picking up. Yuugi was standing halfway into the classroom, his fingers nervously tapping on the door where he held it. He looked slightly irritated, and a little apprehensive, but determined, all the same. "I want to talk to you," he said bluntly, and Atemu straightened his back in surprise.

"Yeah, I wanted to –"

"I just – I think you should know I'm – Everyone always says that I don't get mad, and I guess that's fair, because I often don't, but sometimes it's just because I don't want people to think I'm angry with them personally," he said, his eyes flitting all over the classroom but never landing on Atemu himself. "But that's usually because I'm not angry with people. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion and should do what they think is right. Usually I'm okay with that, because what other people think and do is their own business. But – but this last month, I've been thinking about that, and… and well, this time—in this particular circumstance, I mean—what everyone's been doing hasn't been their own business. It's been my business. And yet everyone's still doing what they think and do. So… I just – I wouldn't tell my friends that, because I don't want to hurt their feelings, but you said we're not friends any more, so it's okay for me to tell you that I'm angry. At you. And everyone. But mainly you. I just… you should know that. So you don't think it's my friends that are upsetting me, and try to help me like you did the last few years with beating people up. It's you I'm mad at," he added, and Atemu blinked.

"Yeah, I figured that one out," he said slowly, and Yuugi nodded quickly.

"Good. I'll go then," he said, and then slipped back out of the room. Atemu furrowed his brow, then gasped and put down his cloth. This was his chance to talk to Yuugi alone!

"Yuugi, wai-" he began, but stopped when Yuugi stepped back into the room, looking a little more frustrated with his hand up and finger pointing at the ceiling.

"Because it's not right, is it? What you're doing isn't fair, and it's not fair for me or you or anyone, so that means it's not right! You're just making decisions about how I should think and feel, and I'm the only one that should be able to do that, aren't I?" he cried, finally meeting Atemu's gaze as if asking for confirmation. "No one should know what I want unless I tell them, except me! No one can make choices for somebody else! But they all are and I'm so sick of it!"

Atemu blinked again, and Yuugi gasped, suddenly realising what he'd said. They stared at each other for an instant, Atemu's eyebrow rising in question, before Yuugi suddenly spun around and disappeared out the door again. Atemu stepped back on his heels, setting a hand on his hip, but he didn't have time to think of anything but the fact Yuugi was either being very strange or somewhat adorable before Yuugi was back, waving his pointed finger as if he was realising something important.

"They all keep making decisions for me!" he cried. "They all say 'this is what you should be doing' or 'this is what's right' or 'this is an acceptable risk'! And I keep wondering what the heck an acceptable risk is, and they just keep giving me examples but no explanation!"

Atemu hesitated, then nodded. "Like I did with us."

"Well, yeah, but at least then you didn't tell me I should like you for it!" he cried, waving whole arm now. "I'm so mad at you, and I'm mad at them, but I can't be mad at them because they're trying to be nice! Why don't any of you think I can think?" he demanded, and then stiffened up at his own words. He hesitated, and Atemu almost thought he would walk out again, but Yuugi instead took a few steps forward, touching his own chest over his heart. "I like you. I like Jounouch-kun, and Anzu, and Ryou and Otogi-kun and Honda-kun and Bakura-kun and I know I like all of you. I know I want to spend time with all of you. And I know I don't like Pegasus-san, and I know that just because he hasn't tried to kidnap me this time doesn't mean I should come when he sends me a pretty invitation. I know that because when someone scares me like he does, I shouldn't spend time with them."

Atemu nodded, not entirely certain he knew where this was going but all too happy to let Yuugi just continue rambling. He looked supisingly stressed and long overdue for a good venting.

"I know who I like and who I don't like, and I know who I do and don't want to spend time with, and I know when someone is dangerous! I don't need other people to decide that stuff for me, because I'm fully capable of it on my own!" he shouted, then heard his own voice reverberate through the room and lowered his voice to a dull murmur. "I'm sick of everyone thinking I can't. I'm sick of people making decisions for me. I'm sick of everyone acting like I'm some useless child that does everything wrong."

They hesitated, and Yuugi slowly raised his eyes to meet Atemu's gaze. The glare from earlier was gone, replaced by an indescribable look that Atemu couldn't bring himself to understand. It was lonely and tired, asking for something but utterly certain it couldn't be given. Atemu had to turn away and pick up his cleaning cloth, because he really didn't know what to do with that look.

"How is it that my friends can trust me to make it through huge life and death things like kidnapping and death threats, but don't think I can handle something like this?" Yuugi asked quietly. "They trust me enough to talk to me about their relationships, and they ask me about them… but as soon as I want to have one, they tell me I shouldn't."

"I don't know," Atemu murmured, wiping a beaker down rather than look at him. "Maybe you should ask them."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because they'd think I'm angry with them!" he cried, throwing his hand up in frustration. "And I'm not, I'm just… really mad."

"What's the difference?"

"If I was angry, I wouldn't want to talk to them, but I do! It's just this one little stupid thing that irritates me like nothing else, but I know they're trying to help, and they're just doing it because they care, but it's still really annoying!" he said, and then slumped back against the counter with a heavy sigh. "I want to yell and get mad, but I can't do that with my friends because they'd think I was really angry at them. They'd get really worried and careful and stop acting like normal because they'd be trying to calm me down or something. But I just want to – I want to – I want to tell someone that the world is a terrible place and I hate everything, even though I don't, and I want them to just listen and know I don't mean it!"

Atemu smiled, lowering his eyes at the thought. It would figure that Yuugi wouldn't actually know how to just vent out his frustrations with words, or even what the word for it was. "But you're doing that now. With me. And you're definitely mad at me."

"No, I'm angry with you," he said, and when Atemu glanced at him, he was met with a half-hearted glare. "You're the worst of the lot. You keep protecting me from things I don't need protecting from. I've survived kidnappings and fires and death threats and all kinds of stuff without you, but you keep acting like I'm gonna break if you don't wrap me up in cotton wool!"

He smiled despite the snark, putting down his beaker to look at him sideways. "Only because I don't know and wasn't there for the other stuff. I'm overcompensating."

"Well, you shouldn't!" he said firmly. "I can take care of myself! I can take risks – I want to take them!"

"I know. And I'm sorry," he said quietly, and had to bite back his smile when that made Yuugi choke on his next words.

"You – what?"

"I'm sorry," he repeated, turning to look at him properly. "I'm sorry I made assumptions and ran away and didn't let you think about any of this before I did what I did. I keep jumping the gun and not giving you any time to think. And I'm sorry."

Yuugi gaped at him silently for a few moments, blinking rapidly. Clearly an apology had not been what he'd been expecting.

"I know I've been doing this since we were young, but I never realised," Atemu continued calmly. "But some people have been pointing it out to me, lately, and I'll try not to keep doing it so pointedly. From now on, should there be any further… developments between you and I, I will… try and give you time to decide what you want, and I will listen when you tell me and act accordingly. Or at least give it a try, because I've been doing pretty lousy so far."

It took several seconds before Yuugi's working mouth managed to make any sounds, and when it finally did, it was just somewhere between a grunt and a very weak moan. He hesitated a few moments longer, then grunted properly, stamping his foot. "But you're doing it already! I'm trying to be very angry and upset with you and there you go being all intelligent and sensitive and saying exactly what I was eventually planning on getting around to telling you, only you're saying it way better than I was going to! I was just going to call you a jerk that's telling me what I want when it's the complete opposite of what I really do want!"

Atemu frowned, trying to work that one out in his head. "So… what is it you do want?"

"Right now?" he asked blankly, and Atemu shrugged.

"It's just that you say you can't vent at your friends, because they won't understand you're just venting, rather than really yelling at them. Yet, from what you just said, and given that what I said was that you don't want to be close to me, you really do want to be my friend. Yet here you are, venting at me, which would suggest you don't want me as a friend," he said slowly, and Yuugi nodded firmly.

"That's right."

"But you do want to be close to me?"

"Yes," he said, then blinked and looked off to the side, considering, before nodding again. "Yes. I've got enough friends, and they have been much better friends than you were, because they're always really easy to read and never give me weird looks that I don't know how to deal with. I don't need you as a friend, Atemu."

"I see… so you just want to be able to vent at me?"

Yuugi grimaced, shaking his head. "That too, but it's not what I really want," he said, then took a deep breath and stepped forward again. "Atemu… I like you. And… while I do like you like I like Jounouch-kun and Anzu, I also like you as… something else. I've tried to figure out what it was like, this last month, but I've been really frustrated with you, and that's kinda… confused me a little. So I haven't actually come to a decision about how I like you, so much as I definitely know I like you a lot."

Atemu tilted his head, absently licking his lips to hide his amusement. He was almost certain this was both the best and worst confession he'd ever heard in his entire education. And if it ended like he was hoping, he was going to be replaying it in his head over and over again, after it was done.

"So what I'm saying, here, is that I'm really not happy with what you said at the start of the break, because I'm not happy with us not even being friends, and I don't think I'd be happy with us being friends, and I know that's contradictory, but if what TV and movies tell me is true, then it's perfectly normal," Yuugi said finally, reassuring himself before his final statement. "I think there's something I really, really want to explore between us, and I know you want to explore it too – you're just being stupid and thinking I can't take a risk. However, as we decided before, I can take a risk and I want to take this risk, and so I think we should definitely take this risk. What do you think?"

Atemu blinked, the sudden question catching him off guard. He'd been too happy with what Yuugi was saying to expect anything more. "Me?"

"Yes, Atemu," Yuugi said, his frustration still clear in his voice. "Do you want to do this or not?"

He frowned, setting his hands on his hips as he walked closer. "I think this is an insanely dangerous idea. I think it could all go horribly wrong, and I'm scared of losing you, and I want to just avoid the issue altogether, because you might not be as capable as you think you are. Not to mention Grandfather Sugoroku, Jounouchi and Anzu might all kill me if we do this," he added, but then smiled gently, nodding at Yuugi's scowl. "But if you protect me from your friends, I think I might be okay with being not-friends with you."

Yuugi continued frowning up at him, confused. "Not-friends as in not friends, or not-friends as in more than friends?"

"I have to admit I prefer the second option," he confessed, and Yuugi bit his lip, clearly having to force his frown to stay in place.

"So… that makes us…?"

"We'll have to take it slowly though," Atemu said firmly, even as his hands rose to hold both of Yuugi's shoulders. "I don't care how frustrated you are, or how angry you get at me, I am not taking advantage of you being eighteen and still a virgin."

"Hey, I do have self-control, you know!" he cried, but then swallowed hard when Atemu took a pointed step forward, into his personal space. "B-but the slow thing might be good. Because – because I don't want there to be any – I mean… nothing really open and… Bakura-kun-like. No possessive holding and growling at people that touch and… stuff."

"That's not what normal relationships are really like, Yuugi," Atemu said quietly, slowly letting his hands move down over Yuugi's shoulders to his chest. "I'm not going to be happy if you keep looking at girls, but I'm not going to kill anyone to look at you." Yet, he added silently, before his mind was reoccupied by the way Yuugi's eyes closed when Atemu's hands slid over his ribs.

"And – and no open declarations, I mean… the school doesn't have to know about this."

"I'd rather keep it quiet until I'm a little less nervous," Atemu agreed, his hands lingering on Yuugi's floating ribs due to the way Yuugi shifted when he touched them.

"You're nervous?" Yuugi asked, opening his eyes to give a pointed look at how close Atemu had moved. "This is you nervous, in this situation?"

He hesitated, then slowly leaned down, his hands pushing Yuugi up so their lips met halfway. He was still terrified; certain that they were both wrong—that Yuugi didn't really want this and neither did he—but it was ridiculously easy to give into the kiss. He made a point of keeping it reasonably chaste, for now, but even that felt almost right. It felt good and natural to take his time with this; to drink Yuugi in one stage at a time, because the rest would come.

Maybe this was what Kenichi had always wanted from him. Maybe this readiness to take time was what he'd been missing.

He pulled back, smiling when Yuugi followed after, but just hunched over to further wrap his arms around Yuugi in a tight hug. "You should see me when I panic."

"I'd like that, one day," Yuugi said weakly, his voice amusingly hoarse. He coughed, as if embarrassed by his own show of weakness, and continued, "So this does mean we're… together, right? No more looking at girls and for you, no other guys?"

"That's the basic idea, yes."

"Oh… good." Yuugi hesitated another moment, then pressed a little closer into Atemu's hold, curling his arms up over Atemu's own. He clearly wasn't accustomed to this kind of hug, because his hands stalled on Atemu's shoulders and stayed there, as if he weren't sure what to do with them from there.

But Atemu could understand that. There was a fine line between not being ready for something and just being inexperienced. He knew they'd both be walking that line for a few months, but even as terrified as he was, he still felt somewhat alright with it. It was Yuugi, after all. He knew he could walk the steps with Yuugi.

As long as those damn friends of theirs didn't get in the way. Damn, Otogi was going to be on his case about this for weeks.

"Hey, Yuugi," he said suddenly, the thought reminding him that they were still in school and Yuugi had last been seen heading out the door. "What're you even doing here?"


He pulled back, letting his arms loosen until he could look at Yuugi but still hold him. "Weren't you going home with Jounouchi?"

"Oh… well, yeah, except, you know… I noticed you had cleaning duty today, and that reminded me of That Day, and…" Yuugi blinked, shrugging absently as he looked off to the side. "I was just getting more and more angry at everyone, so I figured I should deal with it. It'd already been a month – waiting around any longer would've been a waste of time," he added, and Atemu flinched.

"Cheap shot," he muttered, and Yuugi grinned, pushing forward to lean against his chest.

"Can I come over to your house for dinner tonight? I think I might avoid my house for a while until I'm ready to tell them about this," he said quietly. "It might take them a little while to admit they were wrong."

"They'll get over it. I did. Mostly," he added haltingly, and smirked when he felt Yuugi laugh against his chest. He tightened his hold until they were just leaning together, resting his chin in Yuugi's hair and gazing out across the classroom. "But until then… I'm more than happy to have you all to myself."

"That doesn't sound as comforting as it does possessive."

Atemu didn't even bother to answer to that one. It was all the same now, really.

And now it is done, and I can go hide, and hope you all review to tell me what you thought. Or at least that you caught all the references.