A/N: I want to end on a nice, round number. If this isn't how you wanted it to end, I apologize. But the way it's gone...this feels like an acceptable place. I have enjoyed writing this little series quite a bit. It is now archived into one complete story, though that's not how it was meant to end up. But I like it this way and I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. I don't know about a sequel. I might right a little something about Yugi's adventures in Italy and becoming a bigger person and finally a man. It'll be ripe with OC's and you might not enjoy that, but it could be interesting. And there may be another part after that, but I like where it's ended, I believe. Some good and negative feedback would be lovely. :)
Summary: In the end, it would all be okay. But he had to grow up and out of it all before he could settle back into it.
Yugi held the letter lightly in his hands, as if almost hoping to lose it. For some strange wind to blow through his room and whisk it away. He had applied for the study-abroad program on a whim. And now it was here. And he was going. And it all felt surreal and loose, like a strange fitting skin that wasn't his.
"What's that?" Tea asked, setting her magazine down.
"Italy." She laughed and he laughed, but then a seriousness fell over the room. "I got it." She looked surprised for a moment, and then confused.
"I thought you said you wouldn't get it."
"I got it," he repeated. She sighed and leaned back against the pillows, frowning. "What?"
"You were so sure you wouldn't get it." He set the letter down and stood awkwardly near the bed. "I mean...this means you're leaving." He nodded. "Like, for a whole year." He nodded again. She shook her head. "I don't know."
"Me either." They looked at one another for a long time, but Yugi couldn't really concentrate on her face. He glanced away, feeling like he'd committed some kind of sin. She reached up and took his hand.
"You should go." A soft smile crossed her lips and she nodded, as if reassuring herself. "You will go. Because you deserve it. More than anything."
- - - - - - - -
Joey ran from one side of the gym to the other. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Sweat soaked his shirt, ran down his chest, was pooled in his palms as his nails dug into the skin. He ran hard and fast and with great concentration and precision. Suicides always made him feel better. Ever since he'd come to college. Running made everything bearable. The noise of his sneakers pounding against the shining wood of the gym floor created a kind of music that moved from one end of the building to the other, a steady rhythm, complimented by his heart. He heard a voice and it took a moment for him to snap out of his trance and realize Yugi was calling to him from the open door. He looked at him blankly for a moment, and then registered his arrival.
"You're obsessed," his friend said, grinning.
"Shut up." But Joey couldn't help but smile along with him.
They walked along the path near the gym and Joey tried to work through what Yugi was tell him. "So you're leaving."
"Yes. I think."
"You think. What does that mean?"
"I have to accept it first."
"So accept it."
"It's...harder than that."
"Tea?" Yugi nodded. "What does she think?"
"She thinks I should go."
"So go." Yugi bit his lip and Joey saw, for a split second, a flash of fear and confusion, before it was quickly covered with a nonchalant shrug of dismissal.
"We'll see." Joey sighed and looked toward the gym and considered never going back inside it ever again. But he looked back to his friend and saw a person he couldn't really understand anymore. They rarely saw one another. Yugi was always with Tea or people he'd met over the years. Something had separated them and, quite frankly, Joey saw no point in coming back to where they had once been. It seemed like a lifetime ago. He understood now what people meant when they said you grew apart from your old friends in college. He'd always assumed that that kind of thing happened to other people, but never him. Not the four of them.
But that's how it was now. He couldn't argue with the facts when they stared him straight in the face. When they stood uncomfortably in front of him, expecting some kind of assurance. But he could offer none.
"It's your choice, Yug. If you want to go, go. I just don't want you to live with anything you'll regret later."
"Regret. Yeah. I've got enough of that, I think."
And Joey didn't ask what he meant because he knew it all already. And if there was anything else he didn't know, he figured it was because he didn't need to. He said his goodbyes knowing full well this would be one of the last times he saw his old friend. Time had been alternately good and bad to Yugi. Joey didn't need to know what his future would hold.
- - - - - - - -
There were subtle things that had changed about Yugi that only his closest and oldest friends would have been able to see. People meeting him for the first time assumed that he'd always been so charming or so sophisticated. That his flirting had come naturally since his youth. That his intelligence, while, in truth, having always been there, was inborn, rather than something he'd perfected. He was sharp, cynical, and charismatic. Most people assumed he'd become a politician. Tea knew otherwise.
She knew the same timid Yugi existed beneath the hard exterior he'd forged. He could be shy and awkward with her, even after nearly two years. At twenty-one, he could still be as goofy as he'd been at sixteen, and she cared for him all the more in those moments.
But she didn't love him. And he didn't love her. And they lived with this truth and lie between them each day. He never said it and neither did she. There were subtle ways of showing affection and there were the normal ways. He left her little presents and they had sex. It was a strangely balanced relationship that, outwardly, looked so very normal and extraordinary, but within was crumbling. The letter from Italy was the last crack. The earthquake came next.
Yugi accepted and didn't say anything else about it. He got packets of information for many weeks, many phone calls. He spoke in rapid Italian over the line and laughed about things Tea couldn't understand. He argued at length about literature he'd be reading there and talked about places she'd never seen and probably never would. Her dancing career was at a standstill and she had changed her major to teaching. Yugi comforted her with assurances that teaching would take her further, but she often wished he'd convinced her to stick with her passion. She felt like she'd sold out. Meanwhile, Yugi was chasing his only love across the world.
"It's going to be amazing," he told her while she tried to read for class. "You should here this grad student, Patruchio. Great name, I know. I mean, seriously. He's written three books already, can you believe that?" She made the normal noises of agreement and continued with her work. Yugi talked at length about professors and students. Eventually, she snapped her book shut and stood. "Where are you going?"
"I can't concentrate."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I'll be quiet."
"It's not the talking, Yugi. It's the subject matter." He looked confused.
"I thought you were happy about this."
"I am. But I really don't want to hear about it anymore. I'm going home."
"Wow. Okay." He turned and waved.
"What the fuck does that mean?" she said suddenly, throwing her book to the bed.
"Don't act like you're so excited and then get all pissy when I want to talk about it."
"Excuse me! I'm so sorry! I forgot that you were the one who didn't even want this three weeks ago. You were wandering around here acting like it was the fucking end of all ends for three days and then just accepted it. Now you won't shut up about it. I'm going home."
"I thought you were happy for me."
"And I thought you wanted me to dance," she said, rage and frustration making her voice harsh and violent.
"You won't make any money with this fucking literature degree. I could have been a dancer, Yugi. That's what I wanted to do. And a long time ago, you would have been right there cheering me on. But for you, it's all about you. Just you. And no one else. You don't want me to have a chance, you don't even talk to Joey anymore, and you wouldn't even give Atem another try-"
"He had his chance!"
"Love isn't so fucking numerical!" she screamed. "He loved you! And you wanted to be with him. But you gave up and now he doesn't really care. And neither do you. About anyone. Me, Joey, Tristan, Atem!" She grabbed her book. "I don't want to see you anymore. And I don't want you to come to my room or wait outside my classes. Because you are not the boy I fell in love with in high school. You aren't that kid who stood up for me and Joey and Tristan, even when everything was against you. You're just some second-rate pretentious asshole who thinks he can fill the holes in his life with all these things you try and do to make yourself feel like more of a man. You're different. And I don't like you." She slammed the door and stormed down the hall. She didn't expect him to come after her and was relieved, actually,when he didn't.
And when she realized that what she'd said had been honest, she broke down and cried before she even got back to her room.
- - - - - - - -
Yugi didn't know these things about himself.
But when he heard the words come out of Tea's mouth, he realized their truth and their weight and cried and wondered what happened to him.
The venom in her words sank into his heart and, oddly, created a cleansing feeling. He could make it all better, but he had to do it away from here. This was the place where everything had gone so wrong, and this was the place where it needed to end. But it could stop happening far away. Who he used to be was still hidden beneath the strange skin he'd grown for himself. The skin he'd felt when he'd received the letter was the skin he knew he wore now. And it could be shed. It was only a skin, after all.
Tea said she didn't want to see him, and he knew she hadn't been lying. But he didn't go to her dorm to see her. He went to see someone else.
Atem had stopped talking to him at one point. Not out of anger, but out of time and direction. There lives had separated and neither regretted it. But now Yugi felt that hollow spot where he knew Atem had always belonged. And he knew he'd been filling it with pointless nonsense for the past two years simply out of necessity. Atem was surprised to find Yugi at his door that evening. He squinted and then grinned.
"Hey you." He frowned, suddenly, upon seeing Yugi's expression. "What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry." Yugi leaned against the door frame and began to cry softly. "I'm just...sorry." Atem nodded and brought him inside, shutting the door behind them. "Everything you ever did, I never meant to push you away. And I never wanted to...to make it seem like I didn't want you. Or that I didn't feel that same way. Because I did. And I sometimes think I still do, but I just don't know what to do about it. And people keep telling me that I seem so calm or relaxed, but they don't know that...that inside I'm just this - this ball of wires and I'm freaking out and I can't figure anything out. And I think that...that you do. And Tea and Joey and Tristan do. But I just push you all away and try and make myself what other people think I am and I only lose everything. And I'm sorry and-" Atem put a hand on his shoulder and silenced him.
"Yugi. It's okay." And that was all he needed. Atem pulled him close and felt the satisfaction of being the one to initiate the kiss. Yugi stiffened. His contact had only been with Tea for two years ago. A foreign tongue entered his mouth and surprised him at first, but he gradually felt better about it. Everything they'd been holding back for so long imploded that night and erupted into a bizarre turn of events that left Yugi feeling complete and broken all at once.
They made love quickly and harshly at first. Atem let Yugi take him and he was quick. It didn't last long the first time around. And it wasn't romantic. They spoke about childhood and Italy and art and Tea and all the things on their minds. Atem took him next and it was a bit of a longer moment. They kissed. Teased. Slept. In the morning, Yugi dressed carefully and Atem showered.
"You'll go, won't you?" Yugi nodded. "You should."
"I'll be good for you."
"I hope so."
Atem walked him downstairs and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Take care of yourself, Yugi."
- - - - - - - -
Three months later, he thought he'd leave alone. But as he stepped outside he found that someone had sent his cab away, and that Joey, Tristan, and Tea were all waiting by Joey's car, smiling and holding gifts of farewell for him. They took a detour to their old highschool and the old haunts on the way there. A year ago, Yugi's grandfather passed, so they left some flowers by the grave and went to get burgers and told stories. At the airport, Tea kissed him gently on the lips and they smiled, knowing the dust was settling. Joey cried unashamedly and Tristan tried not to, but failed miserably. Only Tea remained dry-eyed.
"I'll miss you," she said. "But have a good year."
"Yeah. Don't forget to write and mail us stuff..." Joey couldn't form logical sentences anymore. Tristan opted not to speak.
"I love you guys."
"And we love you," Tea said. Yugi nodded and turned away from them, heading toward his gate.
A thousand and one things could happen in the next year, but he would only really try to exist. To be and feel and see what he could. To shed that layer of skin that was not his. To become the person he used to be. To return to that time, but remain in this one. It would be hard, he knew. But that was life. That was his existence. A struggle, he now knew. A feeling of pushing against the wave of time and change. He could not determined what the future would be. But he was fine with that.
Atem had told him to take care of himself. And he would do his best. In his heart, that's what he promised the one person who could fill that hole. And if he couldn't do it in a year, he'd spend as long as he had to trying. He wouldn't come home until he'd healed himself. Until that skin was gone.
It was the least he could do.