Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh!
A/N: One-shot, set a month after Duellist Kingdom. I've used the Japanese names here simply because I've been watched the subs rather than the dubs in my recent rewatching of the series, and the original interpretation of Atem's early character fits this story a little better :)
It probably wouldn't have gone down in history as the most romantic setting in the world, but for Jounouchi's money, it was pretty damn perfect. Growing up in the shadow of an alcoholic gambler had given him an appreciation for Domino's grime-stained underbelly, the jagged foetid corners where as many miracles as monsters lurked. It had been his playground, his hideaway and his second home, and he walked well-worn streets with straight-backed ease, content, for once, to remain quiet and allow his friend to keep up the chatter.
Yuugi ambled along at Jounouchi's side, seemingly oblivious to the shift of menacing figures in the shadows or the dilapidated state of the roads and buildings; it was a gift, Yuugi's carelessness, it meant that he trusted you with his life as well as your own, and Jounouchi had come to treasure that trust. So when a hulking shadow began to move in the periphery of his vision, sharpening with intent, Jounouchi laid a casual arm over his friend's shoulders, tugging him a step closer and clenching his right hand into a fist at his side. Yuugi barely seemed to notice, only offering token complaints to being manhandled, but the signal was clear enough to those looking. Back off. Attack me and there will be gouging.
It was enough to keep the usual crowd at bay, anyway. For all his peacock-strut and bluster, Jounouchi had a very realistic estimation of his chances in any given fight situation and the ostentatious glitter of gold about his best friend's neck could be an irresistible target...but there was the trust, again, because Jounouchi had seen what happened to people who tried to take the Millennium Puzzle and he believed in the other Yuugi's ruthlessness almost as much as he believed in his Yuugi's goodness. Magpies drawn to that particular glimmer of gold quickly found themselves silent and flightless.
There were far scarier things in the world than alley bums.
So Jounouchi was happy just to walk, steering his friend with the lightest of touches, splashing through greasy pools of rancid water and grinning to see Yuugi's nose wrinkle in disgust.
"Wind'll change, you'll stick," he said, warningly, and Yuugi's consternation turned into a snort.
"I can make grown men crumble with a twitch of my nose," the Duel Monsters champion retorted, with a pointed flutter of his infamous eyes. "Getting stuck with an adorable frown would probably help me get on in life."
The blond man's grin widened. "Good luck sellin' that to the other Yuugi."
There was a pause as they both pictured the otherwordly not-Yuugi wearing an expression even vaguely resembling a pout. Yuugi broke it with a dismissive wave. "He's got magical powers, he'd work something out."
"...does he specialise in cosmetic surgery? I'd've thought brains were more his field."
"Jounouchi-kun, he's a spirit, not a zombie."
"He's good at turning people into 'em though."
"...Point." Yuugi's brow furrowed. Jounouchi resisted the urge to stare as his lips set into a little moue, pursing with thought; that line about bringing grown men down with a look might have been said in jest and Yuugi might be far too self-conscious to use his looks as a weapon, but if he ever overcame that shyness he would be a force to be reckoned with.
Despite his efforts, Yuugi caught his gaze and cocked his head on one side, clearly wondering what was on Jounouchi's mind. After a moment, he said, "I won't tell the other me that you think he's an undead devourer of brains."
"Thanks. Hey, he, er, he ain't listenin' in, is he?"
The thought-wrinkle deepened. Ever since returning from Duellist Kingdom, Yuugi's communication with the spirit of the Puzzle had grown increasingly frequent and his friends were developing an unofficial reference guide to Yuugi's expressions; blank eyes, for example denoted a full conversation. A tilted head meant the spirit had something to say that he didn't necessarily want to distract Yuugi's entire attention for. If fine black eyebrows drew down, creasing the teenager's forehead, Yuugi was likely to be checking up on the spirit's well-being or whereabouts.
None of them had worked out what the blushes meant.
"He's a- asleep," Yuugi said, his expression clearing. "I think. It's hard to tell – he's not...not very good at, er, talking."
Jounouchi nodded his understanding, squeezing Yuugi's shoulder briefly before releasing him. Guys didn't bother guys when they clammed up. Not even if they were two guys co-habiting the same body. "So he definitely ain't paying attention to what we're doing?"
"N- no he's...Um. Well, I guess he might, i- if something dangerous-"
"Cool," Jounouchi interrupted, before Yuugi could talk himself into a tangle. "Hey, we're nearly there!"
When Yuugi saw their destination, he laughed and swerved closer to elbow his friend. "The docks? You wanted to spend a free afternoon at the docks?"
"What were you expectin' on this side of town, the arcade?"
Yuugi shook his head, the riotous, spiked mane that passed for hair blowing around his face as they left the shelter of the warehouses. "I don't know what I was expecting!" he laughed, bounding forwards in a moment of childish exuberance to spread his arms wide to the wind, falling back a step as it caught in his open jacket. Jounouchi felt an unaccountable urge to join him, to lift his hands to the sky and laugh as it buffeted him back, but he settled for watching his friend enjoy the sea air. It could take so little for Yuugi to lose his inhibitions, given the right company; he peered over his shoulder, eyes alight with happiness. "So why here, Jounouchi-kun?"
He would have shrugged off the question, citing wayward feet and whimsy for the choice, but the sight of that slight body angling itself into the elements, braced against the world with only its own fragile strength, made the words catch awkwardly in Jounouchi's throat. "Dunno," he managed, after a moment; his voice sounded ludicrously soft, choked, and Yuugi's pose faltered, then collapsed as he turned to fix Jounouchi with a concerned look. "Seemed, um, appropriate. S'been a month, you know."
Concern gave way to understanding, then Yuugi smiled. "It feels longer," he acknowledged, resting a hand on his card-pouch. "The ship left for Duellist Kingdom from that pier over there, didn't it? With all those duellists on board..."
"And a couple of stowaways."
Yuugi raised an eyebrow. "Which is what you would have been, if you'd talked to Anzu and Honda before running headlong into trouble with Pegasus's henchmen."
Jounouchi's cheeks burned. "I could've taken 'em."
"I'm just glad you didn't have to. I prefer you without bruises."
Like most of the things that tumbled from Yuugi's mouth, the sentence was scattershot, random, and the lightness with which it was spoken belied the depths of its meaning. Jounouchi had long since learned never to take any of Yuugi's seemingly off-key pronouncements at face value so instead of shrugging it off with a joke, he took it as an invitation to step closer, stomach clenching with apprehension, and sling an arm around his friend's waist. "That makes two of us," he said, trying to ignore Yuugi's instinctive flinch.
The shorter boy relaxed, slowly. Growing up as he had, solitary and friendless, had left him with an inbuilt resistant to physical intimacy – he seemed to have learned that if someone reached out, it was just as likely to cause harm as it was comfort. Guess I played a part in that, Jounouchi thought, grimly, feeling Yuugi settle against him. "Hey," he said, tapping Yuugi's hip. Overlong hair rustled across his chest as Yuugi's head tipped back, tickling his nose, and he chuckled at his friend's automatic apology. "Did you ever think things'd turn out like this?"
Yuugi peered up at him. "Like this?"
Jounouchi shrugged, gesturing vaguely with his free arm. "Y'know, you and me in the number one and two spots. Saving your grandpa and winning the money for Shizuka. That whole crazy thing with the Puzzle spirit. Then- Then we just picked up right where we left off."
"...I guess not." Yuugi took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it out in a long sigh, absent-mindedly resting his cheek against Jounouchi's chest as he thought. The blond found himself concentrating on keeping his breathing steady; Yuugi felt unbelievably slight in his grip, too skinny beneath the baggy shirt and creased uniform, but the trusting weight of his embrace was almost overwhelming.
If it hadn't been for that question (his name never sounded better than in that tone, gently-rounded by Yuugi's unfailing politeness and shot through with warmth) or the curious tilt of Yuugi's head (so uniquely him) or the way Yuugi pressed closer to get his attention...If it hadn't been for all of those things, along with the confused lurch of desire that had become commonplace of late, maybe it wouldn't have happened.
Oh, I am going straight to hell, Jounouchi decided, when he realised that he was kissing Yuugi and that Yuugi, against all probability, was kissing back and the whole world was dancing in topsy turvy cartwheels because best friends did not kiss their male best friends.
And then, right on cue, hell decided to put in an appearance.
The body in Jounouchi's arms suddenly flexed, spasming as if against his grip, inducing him to release Yuugi's mouth with a gasp; muscles tensed beneath his fingers, hardening, and as he struggled to make sense of that, he found himself looking up into eyes that had lost any trace of good-natured innocence.
The other Yuugi was watching him with a detached air, his sharp features set into their customary mask of indifference, and Jounouchi hurriedly let go, stumbling back a couple of steps under the spirit's gaze. "Jounouchi-kun," the other Yuugi said, folding his arms with calculated slowness. "You were kissing me."
It wasn't a question, but the blond duellist felt obliged to nod a dumb response, all the while bracing himself for a Shadow Game challenge.
Dark eyes narrowed. "Correction. You were kissing aibou."
Jounouchi wasn't entirely clear on how the two Yuugis were linked/related, but he knew this definitely wasn't the one he'd intended to make out with, so he came out with the highly intelligent response, "Um."
The other Yuugi nodded, shifting so that he could rest his weight on one leg, hips cocking to that angle that meant his opponent was in big trouble. Jounouchi just stared - was the other Yuugi looking a little...awkward? "My apologies," the spirit said, with a blink. "I was unaware of the situation. I was resting, you see, and it caught me off-guard; that sort of emotional surge tends to signal danger."
Thin lips twitched. "Don't look so worried, I'm not going to send you to the Shadow Realm."
Sheer relief flooded through him, washing away the dread to leave only the red-hot squirm of embarrassment and gratitude for the other Yuugi's uncanny ability to know what he was thinking. "I, uh, appreciate that, man," he said, digging his hands into his pockets – without Yuugi in them, his arms felt incredibly empty, all of a sudden, and he wasn't sure that taking his friend into a manly embrace was strictly the best course of action.
"You should know," the spirit continued, either oblivious to or ignoring Jounouchi's internal turmoil, "aibou is absolutely mortified."
"I am not sure why." The other Yuugi glanced down at the Puzzle, stroking an absent-minded finger along one of the uppermost edges, his brows drawn down in consternation. "I am almost certainly better at kissing than he is."
The other Yuugi winced, as if someone had dug a pin into his arm. "And now he is yelling at me."
Jounouchi wasn't sure how much longer he was going to go without yelling. "I,er...I don't suppose you could...Switch places again?"
"Hm." The spirit stepped forwards, that slow, catlike prowl of a walk that was entirely his, and raised a hand to tap Jounouchi's chest, just once. "I know that I can trust you," he said, softly; as he spoke Jounouchi's skin prickled, every hair standing on end, and the faintest outline of an eye began to glimmer on the other Yuugi's forehead. "I can trust you to be good to him, even when you are not strong enough to be good to yourself, but know this; I reserve special torments for those who trespass on his heart. Watch your step, Jounouchi-kun."
With that, he was gone. Bright eyes blinked up at him where he had been standing and Yuugi yanked his hand back as if he'd been burned, cheeks crimson as he stammered apologies. Jounouchi caught his wrist before he could pull away completely, however, tugging Yuugi into his shadow and hooking an arm around his waist before he could protest.
"Got to tell you, that's the scariest thing anyone's ever done after I kissed 'em," he said, dazedly, and Yuugi's frantic stuttering gave way to a nervous, half-hearted laugh.
"Guess the other me is worse than anyone's overprotective dad, huh?" he replied, tension draining from him as he leaned into Jounouchi's embrace, hesitantly reaching up to rest his hands on the taller boy's shoulders.
Jounouchi shivered as Yuugi's thumb brushed against the bare skin of his neck, hair falling into his eyes as he looked down at his friend. "Well, being threatened with the Shadow Realm is a step up from baseball bats and thrown shoes, I'll give you that."
"Oh man." Yuugi's head tipped forwards and he buried his face in Jounouchi's T-shirt, cringing with embarrassment. "Other Me, I am going to kill you."
Jounouchi couldn't help but grin, tightening his grip on his friend. "Does that count as self-harm? 'Cause if it does, I am definitely going to have to intervene."
Yuugi shook his head fervently, the motion causing him to nuzzle even closer, and Jounouchi felt his insides turn over, glowing molten as he allowed himself to cling, just a little. "Hey," he said, trying for casual and missing by a good half-mile, "Now that the other Yuugi's been pre-warned, you want to try that again?"
"...Just let me lock my soul room door."