Disclaimer: Plain and simple. I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh.
A/N: My sincerest apologies for this story taking me nearly a year to complete. It's only two hundred pages, for crying out loud! But putting that aside, thank you so much to those who stuck with this story, and to any new readers who are just now reading it. I'm going to miss this story, this little blooper that was never supposed to happen and actually began as a comedy. It has been good to me.
I hope this chapter provides a satisfactory ending. It went in a direction I wasn't expecting, but I think it works. I do have one apology though: the last line. It insists on being there despite my efforts to… how shall I say it? Improve it a little? Oh well. Who am I to argue with the story's demands?
I look forward to seeing all of you in my next story. Thank you again!
Chapter Eighteen – A Fool's Game
It was late Sunday afternoon and, in typical Yuugi fashion, the new teacher had spent the weekend convincing himself that grading papers wasn't going to take him long and was now reaping the benefits of his splendid talent as a liar. He'd already spent the better part of the day on grading, and he still had three classes' worth of material to check, double check, and comment on before Monday morning. He wasn't planning on having a very interesting evening.
He jumped when his cell phone rang, having forgotten that he'd turned it on and set it next to his wine glass full of apple juice – he hadn't gotten around to doing the dishes yet and it was the only clean glass he had. Gasping in exasperation at his own jittery nerves he reached for the device and stared at the screen. He immediately recognized the name displayed on the screen and slid open his phone.
"Hey Sarah! What's shakin'?"
"Don't you sass me young man," Sarah laughed. "I'm going to be your grandmother soon."
Yuugi grinned, straightening the pile of papers in front of him while he spoke. "I still can't believe you agreed to marry Jichan."
"What, and miss being a member of the notorious Motou family? I'd have to be crazy."
"If you're crazy it's automatic admission." Yuugi reached across the table for the answer key that had been shoved away by the daring piles of homework. "So what's going on Sarah?"
"Oh, I just wanted to see how you were doing dear," Sarah said. "We haven't heard from you in a few weeks."
"Yeah, sorry about that," Yuugi said as he sat back in his seat, holding his phone between his ear and shoulder so he could examine his hands. He picked idly at the fingerless gloves he wore – a new pair, midnight black and still a little stiff – his thoughts tracing back to the man who had started him on the path of gloves. The original pair that Atemu had loaned him was stashed in his keepsake box under his bed, along with all his other sentimental valuables, were he could easily reach them on those nights where his longing for the other man was so great that he wasn't able to sleep.
"It's okay honey, we know you're busy with your own life. I just wanted to make sure you were alright."
Yuugi contemplated the pros and cons of saying he was great and didn't have a care in the world, but even if he did he knew that Sarah wouldn't believe a word of it. "I'm doing well, actually. I'm getting into this teaching thing, and there's really only a few students who're giving me trouble, but that's not their fault." He smirked secretly to himself, recalling the words of the professor who had taken him under his wing. "I haven't kicked their butts into line yet. They are freshmen, after all. Still a little cocky."
Sarah let her amusement shine through her voice. "Then they don't know who they're dealing with having you as their instructor."
"Damn straight." Yuugi shared a laugh with the older woman before allowing his mood to fall a bit melancholy. "It's been almost two years, Sarah."
"Has it been that long already?" she asked, her voice respectfully low.
"Yeah." Yuugi took hold of his phone and pressed it against his ear so he could hide his face in his arm on the table. "I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn't know it would be this hard. I miss him so much it hurts."
"You still love him."
"Of course. That isn't going to change. I just wish he'd contact me somehow, let me at least know he's alive." Yuugi groaned in frustration, stamping his feet loudly. "Let me know if he's met someone else…"
"Now Yuugi, don't get ahead of yourself. For one, what would him contacting you accomplish?"
Yuugi was quiet as he thought about it. "It'd probably make it worse because I'd want him to stay, or tell me where he was so I could go to him."
"And if he has met someone else? Would you stop loving him?"
"No," Yuugi whined, because it was true and he'd already resigned himself to a life of pining after the Egyptian.
"Exactly. And two, no one here believes that he loves anyone other than you, dear. Don't underestimate what you know you mean to him."
Yuugi sighed, raising his head from his arm and reaching for his wine glass, chugging the rest of his apple juice. "You're right," he conceded after smacking his lips. "You're right. Heh, thanks. My students aren't the only ones who need a kick in the butt."
"I'll always be here for you Yuugi," Sarah said, and he could hear the grin in her voice.
"Now," Yuugi said, eager for a change of topic, "about that wedding! What do you guys need me- hold on," he said suddenly, "there's someone at the door."
Yuugi quickly made his way around his kitchen table to the front door, narrowing his eyes to look through the peephole in an effort to see who was on the other side. The fading light and the distorted view through the curved glass made it difficult for him to discern anything more than that the person was male and so, with a shrug, Yuugi unlocked his door and opened it just enough for him to look around it and see who had come to visit. And he stayed in that awkward position, balanced on one foot, twisted around the edge of the door, with eyes wide as saucers and his mouth open, not moving or speaking, long enough to worry Sarah into calling his name several times in order to break the silence on the phone.
"Huh?" Yuugi said. The other man had yet to do more than offer him a small, friendly smile while he waited patiently for Yuugi's mind to start working again. "Oh. I'm going to have to call you back."
"… okay then Yuugi. Take care of yourselves." Sarah ended the call. Yuugi was too dumbstruck to find Atemu – Atemu, for goodness' sake – standing on the other side of his door to hear the implication of her words.
"Hey there, Yuugi," Atemu said quietly, his voice richer and smoother than Yuugi remembered, but that could have been the shock's influence.
Atemu waited a moment before smirking lightly, realizing he was going to have to take the initiative. "May I come in? It's getting cold now that the sun is setting."
"The sun?" Yuugi tore his gaze from the other man and looked over his shoulder, jumping in surprise and throwing his door open when he noticed painted colors appearing in the sky. "Oh! Of course! Come in, come in," he said, gesturing as he stood aside so Atemu could easily make it indoors. "Sorry about that. I didn't realize how late it had gotten."
Atemu walked far enough into the room so he could turn around and look at Yuugi, his fingers pushed loosely into the front pockets of his jeans as he stood with an informal calmness the younger man did not recognize. "Relax, Yuugi," he said after a silent moment in a near whisper, comforting in its hushed tone. "It's just me."
Yuugi nodded, accepting the opportunity to fully acknowledge and observe the man standing in his home, unconsciously bracing his shoulders against the door he had just closed. He was having trouble convincing himself that it was Atemu who was standing before him, but - … but he couldn't convince himself that it wasn't Atemu standing in front of him. It was very confusing.
The first thing Yuugi noticed was that the Egyptian had gained weight in his limbs and torso, and most noticeably in his face. He was pleased to see this, for when he had first found Atemu it had taken days for him to get the man to eat on a regular basis, and that didn't even include nutritional value which, to Yuugi's utter frustration, Atemu had shown no interest in. It looked good on him; took away the lanky, almost unhealthy appearance that had just begun to disappear with the attention he'd been given when he'd disappeared two years ago, and provided Atemu with a healthy appealing sheen that lifted Yuugi's spirits to no end. And his face, a little more rounded and full, though still angled in tribute to his homeland, showed nothing but lightness that spread like wisps of feathers from his smile to his eyes, which burned like quiet embers satiated in their hearth.
His hair was also a little shorter, though still long and just as deep a crimson-black as it'd always been, more tapered and controlled with a hint of wildness under restraint. Yuugi however didn't notice this detail. Well, he did, but not consciously. He only saw how gorgeous Atemu looked standing in the awful yellow glare of his living room's single lamp.
"You look different," Yuugi finally said, raising his eyes to meet Atemu's from their voyage over his body.
"So do you," Atemu said with a little humor.
Yuugi tilted his head to the side in question. "Really?"
"Yes," Atemu said, taking a step towards Yuugi and reaching his hand out towards him. He hesitated before his fingers reached Yuugi's hair, the pause pregnant with the years that had passed between them. His eyes lost a moment of confidence, and he lowered them to the floor before raising them again, his arm dropping back to his side. "Your hair is shorter. And…" He squinted playfully. "I do believe you are blonder than I remember."
Yuugi's hand rose reflexively to the bangs around his face that he'd recently had bleached. "Just fresher," he muttered. "I hadn't dyed my hair in awhile when I met you."
"Ah." Atemu shrugged, taking a step back and increasing the distance between them to a more comfortable level. "Well, either way, it looks good on you."
Yuugi couldn't stop the smile that formed because of the simple and honest flattery, and not to his surprise he found he didn't want to. He still hadn't recovered from the fact that Atemu had so suddenly appeared on his doorstep, on the first night he'd spoken to his family in weeks, on one of the worst nights he'd had in a long… while… aw man…
"That little minx," Yuugi said to himself, though it was loud enough for Atemu to hear and smirk at in agreement. He folded his hands behind his neck after pushing off from the door and stretching his back towards the ceiling. Shaking his head with fondness towards the older woman, he grinned at his houseguest. "That's why she called me, isn't it?"
Atemu bowed his head in acknowledgement. "Probably. I think we all seriously underestimate her still."
Yuugi narrowed his eyes. "Don't you try to play innocent here. I'm sure this whole thing was your idea. The two of you are a menace to the family and you know it."
He had meant it as a joke, but when Atemu lowered his eyes and turned away from him, not in weakness but with profound quietness, he realized that he'd crossed a line he hadn't known was drawn. Yuugi dropped his arms and took a few steps forward before hesitating himself, feeling the awkwardness of the moment and fully preparing to run into that notorious wall that so aggravated him. But as he continued to stand less than an arm's distance from Atemu he discovered that there was nothing preventing him from moving closer other than his own fear of doing so. He didn't sense any other form of resistance. It wasn't what he'd expected, and he found himself unable to act because of it.
Atemu was lost in his own thoughts but quickly emerged from them, forcing a shiver to run through his body to loosen its tension and pull him back to the present. He furrowed his brows when he noticed Yuugi's rigid stance, and his lips parted in concern as he struggled over his desire to reach out to the other man and whether or not he was welcomed to do so. "Yuugi?" he ventured carefully.
"I don't understand what's happening," Yuugi answered, his voice distant with his uncertainty. He glanced at Atemu before moving his eyes away, looking for something stable he could latch on to. His couch offered itself in his vision and he pounced, moving quickly to its side and sitting roughly on the cushions. He pulled his feet beneath him and sat with his knees under his chin, arms resting on the cushion. After several moments of not looking at Atemu he eventually pulled his gaze towards the other man. "What are you doing here Atemu? How did you get here?" He swallowed reflexively, emotion swirling in his gut like a riptide. "I mean, how did you find me? I haven't lived at home in almost a year."
Atemu's concern lessened after Yuugi spoke, but he was still cautious as he approached the diminutive couch and slowly sat on the opposite end, giving Yuugi plenty of time to protest should he wish to. He didn't answer until he was seated sideways, with one leg bent beneath him and his side braced by the back of the couch so he could easily keep his gaze on Yuugi. "I know, I mean, I know that now. But I didn't yesterday." He propped his elbow on the back of the couch and rested his head in his palm. "I figured the game shop would be the best place to start looking when I wanted to find you. I was happy to hear that you'd moved out on your own." He smiled lightly at this, but it was fleeting.
"Why would you be happy to hear that?" Yuugi asked, though he immediately regretted the question, because in his experience he wasn't going to be given a satisfactory answer. In fact, he was fully prepared for the response to be something along the lines of 'Isn't it obvious?' Again his assumptions failed him.
"Because it meant that even if you were waiting for me, you weren't letting your life slip away while doing it. You look surprised," Atemu added, noting Yuugi's wide eyes. "Why are you surprised that I'm happy for you?"
Yuugi shook his head in silent disbelief, but didn't otherwise deign to answer. "You don't sound surprised that I did- wait a minute… yesterday? Where on earth have you been?" he asked with incredulity, anger bubbling in his veins knowing that Atemu had made the effort to find him only to wait once he knew where he was living.
Atemu shifted his weight against the cushions, signaling his discomfort, before settling himself into answering the question. "I wandered around a little after talking to Seto and asking for a transfer."
"He gave you one? Just like that?"
"Well, no, I wouldn't say that," Atemu said, coughing into his hand. "But he eventually agreed to let me have a 'tour' of his other businesses as long as I didn't stay away longer than two months. It was an acceptable compromise."
"Two months," Yuugi muttered. "So you're telling me you've been here in Domino almost this whole time?"
Atemu offered an apologetic smile. "I did go to America for two weeks, if that makes you feel any better." According to Yuugi's scowl, it did not.
"Although," Yuugi eventually sighed, "I'll admit I'm surprised you hung around here. I thought you were dying to get away from me."
Atemu flinched at Yuugi's bitter tone, knowing he deserved it but unable to avoid being hurt by the resentment nonetheless. He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing with practiced motions. "Yuugi," he whispered, "please don't tell me I have to explain it to you again."
Yuugi crossed his arms and jerked his head to the side. "Don't worry," he snapped. "I wouldn't dream of breaking your delusion that knowing why you left made it easier to let you go."
"I'm sorry," Atemu said quietly.
Yuugi waved him off, annoyed that he was allowing his hurt to express itself as anger during this initial reunion. His motion caught Atemu's attention, and Yuugi found himself momentarily distracted as the other man stared at his hands. "What?
Atemu didn't answer at first, eventually shaking his head and raising his gaze from Yuugi's hands to his eyes, and then directing them to travel around the room as he spoke. "I just didn't expect to see you wearing gloves, that's all." He folded his arms around his stomach, hiding his glaringly gloveless hands against his sides. "I thought you only wore them because I was around."
Yuugi brought his hand in front of his face, turning it so he could see all sides, considering his response. "Well, I guess you could say I got used to them. And what about the necklace?" he asked, giving Atemu an accusing glance from the corner of his eyes.
Atemu instinctively fingered the puka shell necklace he wore, the very one Yuugi had given him, and lowered his eyes. "I'm used to it. You could say." His tone was conciliatory, and was able to soothe some of the bite in Yuugi's glare.
Yuugi debated over telling Atemu the entire truth, about how the gloves reminded him of the Egyptian and solidified the memories of their time together, but he was unable to bring himself to this admission. When Atemu didn't question him further, merely accepting the answer he was given, Yuugi felt a pang of guilt and decided to change the topic.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" he asked. He noticed he had resumed the defensive clutching of his knees and forced his feet to the floor open himself to communication. He certainly didn't want to erect the wall that was so noticeably absent around Atemu just because he was in a pissy mood.
It took a moment, but the air eventually shifted from angered tension to tentative amicability. Atemu kept his eyes lowered to the couch, though he did occasionally give Yuugi a doubtful glance. "I did and I didn't," he nodded, voice soft and non-threatening. "I'm a lot better than I used to be. There's still a long way to go, but I'm a lot better." He laughed, once. "The lessons of childhood certainly engrain themselves."
"Gotta kick'em out," Yuugi said without thinking. "Don't be a wuss. Hunt them down and shoot'em." He blinked his eyes wide open when his brain caught up with what his mouth had said, and he turned to Atemu in fear that he had again crossed a line. A grin met him, along with an affectionate stare and what Yuugi could only describe as a flirtatious tilt of a head, and for a moment, the two years that had passed without them seeing each other had never happened.
"Yeah," Atemu said, still smiling. "That's pretty much what my therapist says, too."
"Therapist?" Yuugi repositioned himself so he was sitting facing Atemu, cross-legged on the cushion and his elbows hanging off his knees. His curiosity overran all other emotions. "You're seeing a shrink?"
"Yuugi," Atemu scolded, his eyes narrowing in defensiveness and his tone alerting that he was not joking. "Don't be thick about it. There's nothing wrong with therapy."
Yuugi wanted to roll his eyes in the grand gesture of a man suffering because of misunderstanding, but he resisted when instinct told him that this was a delicate subject for Atemu. In fact, it was pretty amazing that Atemu had so openly told him about seeking help, let alone the fact that he had taken the initial step that was beyond the reach of so many people due to fear, ignorance, or social pressure. Yuugi lowered his eyes submissively and offered his apology. "I didn't mean anything by it."
Atemu was silent before loosening his arms from around his stomach and forcing himself to relax despite his guarded position. "It's alright," he breathed out, his voice gaining strength. "I'm still a little touchy about it, even though I've been going for a little over a year now."
"That's understandable," Yuugi said. "Knowing you," he added when Atemu gave him a confused look from beneath his bangs. "Help isn't something you've ever accepted easily, and this is something you went out and got for yourself." He paused for a moment, a smile creeping up and eventually presenting itself on his face. He didn't waver once he decided that he was going to lean forward and reach for Atemu's wrist, holding it gently as he couldn't get his fingers completely around the area due to the other man's crossed arms, and bowed his head until he caught Atemu's eyes.
"I'm proud of you," Yuugi said, and he smiled gracefully to Atemu's strained smirk. "You may be proud of me for moving on, but what you've done took far more courage than moving to the other side of town. I'm proud of you," he reiterated more quietly, the truth and sincerity of the sentiment beginning to melt away the anger he'd been feeling. He realized it didn't hurt so much knowing that while they'd been apart Atemu had been trying to help himself, to rid himself of his demons and become the person Yuugi had always known he could be.
"So what brings you here today?" Yuugi asked after a moment, a beautiful moment where he was able to simply sit and look at Atemu, who comfortably sat and looked at him in turn, both smiles never fading. He didn't notice how close he'd been leaning to Atemu until the Egyptian unfolded his arms completely and repositioned his legs beneath him, bringing their faces incredibly close – naturally close – together. Yuugi was able to take a quick breath and breathe in the scent that had been lingering in his mind, and his eyes closed momentarily at the goodness of it.
"My therapist, actually," Atemu said, his tone low to match the intimate closeness.
"Really?" Yuugi asked. His hand didn't seem to want to move from Atemu's wrist, and the other man didn't seem to have any objections to the contact.
"Yeah." Atemu made sure to look at Yuugi when he spoke, even if his head was tilted down in an almost coy-like manner that was anything but. "She wants to meet you."
"Me?" Yuugi thought about this before a knowing, roguish shadow fell over his features. "You've been talking about me."
Atemu shrugged playfully. "Maybe a little."
"Maybe more than a little."
"That's better." Yuugi removed his hand from Atemu's wrist and brought it up to his own head, touching his fingers to his cheek before reaching out to feel Atemu's temple, brushing them back lightly into his hair. His heart skipped a beat before speeding up when Atemu didn't shy away from the contact, but watched him with that newfound confidence Yuugi had first encountered when he'd opened his door. "Does she think I can help?"
"She thinks you're important to me," Atemu corrected softly.
Yuugi let his fingers become more adventurous in their exploration of Atemu's inviting hair while he thought, though those thoughts were interrupted when Atemu closed his eyes and leaned into the hand caressing his scalp. It was amazing how nice, how real this all felt, having Atemu back and in front of him, wanting to be there because this time he had come on his own and not as a result of Yuugi's cajoling. Oh, what it would be for all the world to stop right where it was so he could sit here on the couch, undisturbed, with the man he loved.
"Do you want me there?" Yuugi asked, letting his fingers ghost over the shell of Atemu's ear, vibrating the skin lightly. "Would you be comfortable with that?"
"I don't think anything in therapy can be considered comfortable. That isn't the point," Atemu chuckled. "But yes," he said, opening his eyes, "I'd like to have you there. If you want to be."
Yuugi wanted to kiss him for that. "Well, now that I know that you're around, you're going to find yourself hard pressed to keep me away." He curled his fingers around the back of Atemu's head and pulled him forward into a tickling Eskimo kiss. "Just tell me when and where and I'll be there," he added, relishing in the feel of Atemu's nose against his, the laughing eyes looking at him, the closeness it brought and the wounds that it healed.
"Good," Atemu whispered before blinking his eyes wide. "Oh! Shoot, I forgot."
Yuugi's face scrunched into a confused pout as he watched Atemu jump off the couch and head towards the front door, pulling it open and kneeling out of sight before his crown of dark red hair reappeared. He cocked his head to the side when Atemu reentered the room with one arm behind his back, a grin on his face that definitely belonged there.
"What was that all about?" Yuugi asked.
"These," Atemu said, exposing the bouquet of white heather he'd feebly hidden behind his back.
Yuugi cocked his eyebrow at the flowers; giving Atemu a suspicious glance he slowly accepted them. "You left them on the ground outside?"
Atemu had the grace to look embarrassed before the emotion passed and he rolled his shoulders in such a manner as to convey 'What're ya gonna do?'
"I hadn't decided if I was going to knock yet and had set them down while I paced… um, while I was thinking about it."
"I see," Yuugi said as he gently fingered the small petals. "And what do these mean?"
Atemu lazily pushed his hands into his pant pockets, settling his weight onto one foot and slouching for all he was worth, at ease now that Yuugi had accepted him and the flowers back into his life. "Well, I know you don't need protection," he began, repeating the conversation of an encounter three years old and as fresh as morning dew. "So I guess that leaves me with the fulfillment of your whishes. I have a vague sense of what they are."
"Do you, now?" Yuugi brought the flowers to his face and dipped his nose into the intense fragrance, inhaling deeply. "We'll see about that."
"You do realize that you'll be living with me again, right?" Yuugi said suddenly, lowering the bouquet and giving Atemu his stern professor's gaze. His expression grew dark when Atemu shook his head at the question. "And why the hell not?"
"Boundaries, Heba, boundaries," was Atemu's explanation. He turned his head to look at the small expanse of Yuugi's apartment, sniffing theatrically to show his disdain and missing the look of indignation that flared on Yuugi's face. "This place is much too small for both of us to be comfortable. No, this won't do at all." He raised a finger at Yuugi and shook it teasingly. "My therapist does insist that every person needs their space, even in a relationship."
Yuugi frowned. "Sounds like a quack to me." To his surprise, Atemu laughed heartily.
"So narrow minded," Atemu sighed, placing his hand on top of Yuugi's head to ruffle his hair, much to the younger man's chagrin. He retaliated by batting at the other's arm. "Seriously, though," Atemu said, slowing the tousling of Yuugi's hair and tracing his palm down Yuugi's cheek until his fingers were curled under the other man's chin, rubbing the sensitive skin affectionately as he talked. "Give me a couple more months, alright? Let me make sure I'm worth living with."
"You always were," Yuugi said honestly. "You don't believe that yet?"
Atemu smiled. "I do. There's just… one more thing I'd like to fix before I subject you to me."
Atemu shrugged in apology. "Just something for me to do."
Yuugi sighed, disappointment evident in his eyes. "Two more months, then," he said dejectedly.
"What?" Atemu asked, his fingers stilling beneath Yuugi's chin. It took a moment for him to realize what Yuugi was thinking. When it dawned on him he vehemently shook his head. "No! No, that's not what I'm asking," he said, kneeling on one leg before Yuugi. "I don't mean I don't want to see you. I'm just asking that we don't live together right away. That's all."
"That's all," Yuugi scoffed, rolling only his eyes because he was unwilling to break the contact with the hand on his face. "He says that like he's asking for a second helping of dinner." He huffed for the sake of it before nodding his agreement. "Fine. But only if you go on a date with me tomorrow night."
"You pick me up at seven."
"In the Beamer. I assume you still have it."
Atemu smirked. "A newer model, too."
Yuugi nodded in satisfaction. "Good. When you get here, you hand me the keys, I take you out," he paused to emphasize this point and waited a good minute before Atemu understood he was supposed to agree, "and then you take me back to your place, where you'll proceed to show me where I'll be living soon and where I'll be putting my stuff. You got it?"
"I got it." The grin on Atemu's lips proved as much. "And how will this fabulous evening of real estate perusal end?"
Yuugi was dead serious.
"With you trying to convince me why keeping you up all night kissing you isn't a good idea and failing, because there's no way in hell you'll make me believe you."
Atemu groaned, partly for play and partly out of true pain. "Guess I'll have to stay up and finish that report tonight, then," he muttered without enthusiasm.
"Damn straight," Yuugi said, leaning forward and wrapping his arms around Atemu's neck, sitting on the man's bent knee and hugging him with all the strength he possessed. "Because tomorrow I'm not going to be able to hold back how much I've missed you."
Atemu wrapped his arms around Yuugi's back and buried his face against the side of his head, holding him just as fiercely. "Please don't," he said, his voice thick with pleading emotion, "because I don't want to be the only one who's going to look the fool."
Yuugi barked out a laugh, squeezing Atemu tighter and ignoring the tears stinging behind his eyes. It would fit, he thought. Because only fools fell in love, and he was the biggest fool of them all.