A/N: This was originally intended to be an addition to In A Word, but the idea took off and there was absolutely no way I was going to limit it to 600 words if it wanted to fly. So here you go. It's a subject matter that I actually have been toying with and have another story idea for, but it seeped in here when it saw the opportunity. Go figure. Oh well. It worked for Carry On, so hopefully it will work here.
Story dedicated to Hime no Ichigo, for without our former challenge this story wouldn't exist.
Cingular: (SING-gyuh-luhr) adjective
1. Of or pertaining to a cingulum, an anatomical band or girdle on an animal or plant.
2. Encircling, girdling, surrounding.
From Latin cingulum (girdle), from cingere (to gird). Other words
derived from the same root are cincture, precinct, shingles, and succinct.
Title inspired by song: Big Lie, Small World, by Sting.
Big Lie, Small World
Chapter One - Lies That Bind
Even now, seven years into the relationship, Atemu didn't know if he was satisfied with having Yuugi in his life. He didn't know how it had happened, or when, or why, or even if he had thought it was a possibility, but there it was. Had he wanted it? He couldn't answer that one, either. It was a concept that bothered him on long Sundays such as this, days that were neither cloudy nor sunny, neither overtly busy nor mundanely dull. The day simply was, paralleling him and his lover. They were. And nothing else. A state of just being was an excruciating place to find one's self in.
Perhaps this was the reason he had been standing on the street corner near the entrance to the subway instead of at work? Maybe. He'd never liked being underground and it was a rare occurrence indeed when he'd relent to his partner and subject himself to the mass transit that twisted beneath the city like a wounded beast. He detested the forced closeness to other people, the fabricated containment, the screeching sound of metal-on-metal and the rocking of the steel entrapment as it constantly rebalanced itself along the tracks. Yuugi was irritated by his aversion, by the silent and gruff treatment he'd receive whenever they did take the subway, but he was willing to put up with Atemu's obtuse demeanor if it meant saving forty-five minutes on a commute.
Well, whatever the reason for his bland, blank-staring vigil at the corner of the entrance to the underground rail system, the fact that he was there was enough to explain why he learned first hand the secret his friends had planned to tell him in second person.
It was absurdly obvious that Yuugi didn't know he was being watched. The man had no reason to expect that he was visible to the one person who wasn't supposed to be observing him. If the day had unfolded as it should have, as it always had and presumably always would, Atemu would have been at the internet café adjacent to work, enjoying a brief respite on his lunch hour to relieve the tension induced by a profession whose sole purpose was to listen to the concerns, complaints, and fears of others. Of course, in hindsight, Atemu figured it was only fair that should he break routine Yuugi should as well, and so he felt a modicum of justness in the fact that Yuugi was emerging from a jewelry store with his arm around the waist of a woman, his nose buried deep in her neck, brazenly kissing her as she laughed and swung her arm at him with the hand clutching a small bag brandishing the logo of the store. He should have been at work himself, should have been secretly reading the email Atemu sent him every afternoon and contemplating his reply while hiding the intrusion from his boss. Considering that he hadn't sent an email today, however, Atemu wasn't too perturbed that he wouldn't be receiving one later on when he got home.
Still, it was an… unusual experience, watching as his proclaimed partner held, tickled, caressed and kissed a woman who was not in their relationship. Atemu found himself slouching with his back against a streetlight, his arms loosely crossed over his chest and the tip of his toe balancing on the sidewalk, lazy scarlet eyes following Yuugi and the woman's antics. They weren't making much progress as they kept stopping to whisper into ears and laugh at private jokes. This, this non reaction of his, was exactly what Atemu hated about having Yuugi in his life. Ever since the younger man appeared on the scene, the proud, lively, and affectionate man Atemu had been disappeared as though he had been nothing more than ash in a violent wind; to be replaced by a stoic, even tempered man that rarely angered, never delighted, and certainly never anticipated. He simply went into a state of being, but exactly what that 'being' entailed was a mystery to everyone, including himself. It wasn't as though Yuugi ran the show single handed. Quite to the contrary, Atemu and Yuugi were both stubborn, hard-headed, born leaders that did not do well when another dominant male was in the room. But somehow the battles between themselves were less caustic than with others, the insults and attacks held back to the degree of stinging instead of lashing, and an amiable complacency was established. That was the whole of their relationship.
The neutrality of the relationship had a cingular decisiveness that cut them whenever either tried to step outside its bounds. He didn't know how much Yuugi felt it, but Atemu did. Like honey, it was a thick coating that oozed into his skin and left his thoughts with a sticky residue that was anything but sweet. From where it originated he didn't know; all he knew was that he had never felt anything like it before until he met one Yuugi Motou.
He sighed, slowly. Perhaps what he was witnessing was a good thing. It was a change. It was different. It was… unexpected. Their relationship had never included the unexpected. Hell, even their first kiss had felt as though it'd been scripted by an author bored with his subject and who simply wanted to get the scene over with. Both of them had known it was coming, both had a relative idea of what it would feel like, and neither had been surprised afterwards. There were no sparks, no fireworks, no… awe. That's what it all really boiled down to, after all. Their entire relationship, seven years of knowing each other, sharing their lives, and not a single event had occurred that had interested or amazed either of them.
What was the point in a relationship like that? It wasn't easy, and lord knew it wasn't a comfortable position to be in, wondering if it was really worth the effort of getting out of bed that morning, or sending the email in the afternoon, or making the attempt to make a nice dinner for someone who was unable to tell the difference. It ran both ways, and after several years Yuugi and Atemu had just stopped trying to impress the other. It was a pitiful existence.
Atemu let his cell phone ring several times before he bothered to reach into his pocket and answer it. The ring tone – Palladio, a string interpretation with a dance beat – told him it was Yuugi calling, but he didn't need to hear it to know that while his phone was ringing Yuugi was busy silencing the woman with a playful kiss that was light and tantalizing and, overall, enduring.
"Hey aibou," Atemu said automatically when he brought the phone to his ear. He didn't blink at the hesitation between his greeting and the one Yuugi gave him, instead sliding his free hand around to rest at the small of his back as he watched his partner reluctantly pull away from his kissing endeavors.
"Hey yourself, Até."
Atemu offered the standard reply: "You know I hate that."
Yuugi offered the standard jibe: "Why else do you think I use it?" He laughed lightly, unaware that Atemu knew it was because the woman had reached out to tickle him and that it wasn't because of their private joke. "How's your day going dear?" he asked. The sentiment may have been able to cause a pang of endearment had Yuugi not purposefully leered at the woman when he'd said it and his action observed.
"Well," Atemu began, eyes narrowing in thought when the woman leaned forward and nipped at Yuugi's neck, meanwhile covering his mouth with her hand in playful jest for him to keep quiet. "I can honestly say that the day was progressing as any other."
"Is that so?" Yuugi pulled away from the woman only to circle her and embrace her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides while she giggled and balancing his phone against his shoulder. "Nothing new and exciting to report from the world of psychiatry?"
"No." Atemu frowned mildly when he watched Yuugi angle the bottom of the phone away from his mouth so he could kiss his struggling captive into silence. "That world remains relatively steady."
"Mm-hmm," Yuugi hummed noncommittally, not really paying attention. "That's good." He rubbed his nose against the woman's and refocused himself on the conversation, noting, "Geeze, where are you? At the café? It's time for your lunch, isn't it? We usually don't get this good a reception."
A snort of amusement at the irony of the question almost made itself heard, but Atemu was able to keep it in check by clearing his throat. "I'm outside." It wasn't a lie. And, as of yet, Yuugi hadn't lied to him in the conversation except for the faint air of indifference that drifted over the line. A sudden feeling of annoyance jolted through Atemu's chest and he jerked at the power of it, balmy and unfamiliar. It was the first emotion he'd felt that clearly in months and it left him startled.
"Oh, okay," Yuugi said. "Anyway, I was calling to see if you could go to the store after work? We don't have anything for dinner since Jounouchi came over last weekend and I'm going to be stuck at the office until eight."
"We could just order out tonight, save us both the trouble." The words left his mouth before Atemu had a chance to think about them, and he blinked in surprise when he heard the voice that was his but wasn't. Why had he said that? Was he trying to compromise? Over dinner? That was stupid.
"I… suppose, we could do that," Yuugi said haltingly, suspending his play with the woman to tilt his head into his phone. "We still need to go to the store though, and I'd rather get that done so we don't have to worry about it tomorrow. I'd go but you'll be getting home before me tonight."
Of course. "Of course." To do anything other than the norm was silly. And yet, it was a little thrilling as well, to have not simply accepted Yuugi's request but to have countered it with one of his own. That didn't bother him, not as much as he and Yuugi fought, but… why had he countered with something that could seem almost… personal? Many things they were, but personal really wasn't one of them. "I have no plans for this evening. It'll give me something to do."
And with that said Atemu found the unexpected: he was smiling. It wasn't large, or friendly, or even a happy one for that matter. Just a slight upturn of his lips into a symbol of enjoyment that he hadn't expressed in who knew how long. But he didn't feel light and airy. He felt large, angular, and above all as though he weighed as much as an ocean liner. The weight was internal, too, like his chest was bearing the pressure and barely surviving the strain, his breath coming both easily and painfully in odd contradiction. That was when it hit him. That was when it all began to make sense and the professional in him laid out the pieces and began reading them like Tarot cards.
Idiot, Atemu thought to himself. You care.
He looked up, his eyes having fallen to his feet as the realization of caring hit him with the subtlety of a bus, and found Yuugi and the woman again. The pair was standing quietly together in a soft embrace, much subdued from their previous actions. Yuugi, though resting his chin on the top of her head and rubbing his hand slowly along her back, was caught in a frown that was unappealing on his features and revealed that his thoughts were not with the woman in his arms, but rather on the phone again in his hand.
"You were in good spirits today," Atemu said carefully, the smile morphing into a fleeting grimace that disappeared as soon as it was formed. It was replaced by what he felt was a neutral expression. "I hope you've had good company."
"Atemu?" Yuugi asked quietly. He paused, both his words and his movements against the woman in his arms, before asking, "What's going on?"
"Not a thing dear," Atemu answered, his eyes achieving a frightful clarity. A juvenile little man he was to let himself get caught up in and thrown by the notion of caring. He knew he was tired, but he didn't know he was this exhausted as to let his mind wander into the introspective. Maybe it was a good thing that Yuugi would be out late tonight. He could use the peace in the house to get some much needed sleep. "Everything's taken care of. I'll see you when you get home."
"Hmm?" Atemu's eyes narrowed again when he saw Yuugi start forward, nearly toppling the woman against his chest. The movement caught his attention and Yuugi hurried to steady her, mouthing his apology. Atemu smiled truthfully this time. It was nice to know that Yuugi was still capable of caring. Even if it wasn't for him.
"Um… I uh… don't forget the milk, okay?" Yuugi said weakly.
Atemu chuckled, the sound much lower in his throat than he'd intended it to be. "I won't."
There was a vehement, piercing wail that sliced at the eardrums and penetrated the heart of every pedestrian. Atemu turned his head towards the sound, looking up the street where cars were pulling over to the side. Eventually a fire engine appeared, making a slow, lumbering march through the afternoon traffic, chirping and clipping its siren in an effort to gain the attention of an uncooperative motorist. Atemu, satisfied with knowing the source of the sound, began to turn back in Yuugi's direction when his partner's voice came forcefully clear over the phone.
"Atemu, where are you?!"
"Like I said, aibou," Atemu repeated, catching sight of Yuugi who was looking all around himself and ignoring the inquiries of the woman with him. He didn't believe that Yuugi would ever find him in the crowd, even though he had most certainly heard the siren over the phone. "I'm outside." But as he finished speaking Yuugi turned in the only direction that would have revealed his location and spotted him, mouth dropping open and violet eyes widening to an almost comical size. Atemu looked at him blankly, feeling neither exposed nor angered. Really, all he felt was tired. And perhaps, if he were strong enough to admit it to himself, just a little sad. He blinked, once, the action only instilling his need for sleep, and decided it was time for him to go home.
"See you tonight, Yuugi," he said quietly, and closed his phone while he turned and descended the stairs to the subway.
He still hated the subway, but for once he agreed with Yuugi. It was worth tolerating if it meant he would get home that much faster.
To be continued…