A/N: Last chapter guys, can't you believe it? Longer author's notes at the bottom, as always. Enjoy!
When Yuugi's phone beeped to alert him of an incoming text message the second he switched it back on after the landing, he looked down automatically. He was expecting to see a message from Sugoroku, and he wasn't really sure he wanted to read it: it had been hard enough to say good-bye to his grandfather as it was. Instead, he saw that it was a picture message. The picture was of the back of a girl's hand, tilted just enough to be able to show off the ring adorning her ring finger without the light distorting the flash.
Yuugi recognized that ring even though he had really only seen it once, months ago when a very excited woman had been shoving it into his face. He smiled to himself and locked his phone without responding. He knew that the message meant that Anzu and Otogi had worked things out, at least temporarily, and he was pleased that Anzu had taken his advice about talking to Otogi. He fully suspected, though he'd not said as much to Anzu, that he would see their joint name up in lights someday.
As he glanced up, he caught Atemu looking away and concealed a sigh. It was what he deserved considering that he had second guessed his decision ever since he made it, even during most of the flight itself. Now that he was here it was too late to go back. Not that he could have said no to Atemu's puppy eyes anyway; the prince had been keeping a close eye on him from the moment that they'd left the game shop for the last time and started for the airport. Yuugi had the feeling that Atemu was worried he might change his mind after all.
But he wouldn't. No matter what challenges they faced, as hard as it had been to say good-bye to his grandfather, he knew this was where he wanted to be. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as the light switched off, letting them know that their seatbelts could be taken off. "I have to say, that was a much better ride to Egypt than last time," he joked, smiling at Atemu as he took the belt off.
"I should hope so," Atemu said. He hadn't quite reached the point where he could see humor in anything Vivian had said or did. Yuugi figured he probably never would. Even though the police had accepted their story about Vivian with very little fanfare and the investigation had officially been closed, Atemu had remained jumpy for days afterwards. It was like he still thought that Vivian might suddenly appear, or that someone might stumble onto some random clue that would let them know she'd been murdered. It would be good for him, being back in Egypt where he could finally start to relax a little.
"What, you mean you don't like being trussed up like a chicken?" Jou said with a grin, ruffling Yuugi's hair as he sauntered past and ignoring the indignant yelp he got in response.
"Seto, control your puppy!" Yuugi whined.
"Hey!" Jou protested.
Seto just smirked and reached out to link a strong arm around Jou's waist, effectively reeling him in. "Yes, Yuugi."
"I have to do as my queen commands, pup."
"Seto!" Yuugi squeaked, scandalized, his face flushing a deep pink. Seto, Jou, Mariku, Bakura, Malik and Ryou all took one look at him and burst out laughing. Even Atemu was grinning, and that took the edge off of Yuugi's ire. It bothered him a little bit that the whole 'queen' thing had spread so easily through their group - it was definitely not the sort of thing that he wanted going any further - but if that's what it took to make Atemu smile again he wasn't going to complain too much.
Their group slowly left the plane, assembling on the ground. His amusement gone, Ryou looked like he was half asleep, leaning heavily against Bakura. Bakura had a hand supporting him while he flicked through his cell phone with the other. Seto was staring at his phone, too, and Jou was covertly eyeing the snack shop. It was nothing new to them, of course. Malik, on the other hand, looked like he was going to pop with excitement. He was clinging to Mariku's arm while his head whipped in all directions, trying to see everything at once. Mariku was just watching his lover with an openly indulgent smile, too pleased that Malik was there to bother trying to tame him.
Yuugi wasn't sure how to feel. He could feel his breath catching in his throat as his feet made contact with the floor and he took a few steps away from the plane. His first introduction to Egypt had been less than stellar, but he really wanted to be able to put it behind him. He wanted to be able to feel the way he used to about the land, like it was a magical and fascinating place with an intriguing culture that he wanted to know everything about. He wanted to love the country that Atemu so clearly adored.
But just looking at the surroundings was making his throat feel tight. And when he saw the car that was waiting to pick them up, he knew he couldn't do it. It was black with tinted windows, almost an identical make and model to the one that Vivian had used. He stopped short, and, when Jou looked back at him curiously, said, "I-I forgot something on the plane. I'll be right back."
He turned around and darted back inside of the building before anyone could speak. The plane was empty by now, the flight attendant and pilot having gotten off once the passengers disembarked, and Yuugi sank down into the first seat he came across and buried his face in his hands. He was trembling all over and he hated it, the way his breath came in faint, harsh gasps that he couldn't control. It was mortifying. No one else was having any problems, not even Malik who had once sworn he'd never come back.
"You're fine," he muttered to himself, trying to ignore what felt like a gradual tightening in his chest. It felt like there wasn't enough air, even though that was stupid because there was. "You're fine, you're absolutely fine. Bandit Keith is in jail and Vivian is dead and there is no one left to do anything. Egypt is a wonderful place and you don't have to be so damn scared. Knock it off, this is ridiculous." He closed his eyes tightly, knowing that no matter what he said it was not going to work.
"Yuugi?" Atemu's concerned voice made him jump before he curled up into an even tighter ball. He prayed that he'd actually misheard, that it would be anyone else aside from Atemu. He didn't want the prince to see him like this, out of control and on the verge of tears because he was being so weak.
"Go away," he rasped, trembling even harder. The effort it took force the words out left him gasping.
Atemu didn't say a word, but he also didn't obey. That was the stubborn prince side of him, Yuugi thought ruefully, right before he was - literally - swept into the air. Atemu sat down right where Yuugi had just been sitting and then set Yuugi in his lap, wrapping his arms securely around Yuugi's waist. His back was pressed securely into Atemu's chest as the man whispered, "That's right, Aibou. I want you to take slow, deep breaths at the same time that I do. Inhale... exhale. Inhale... exhale. Inhale... exhale."
The steady movement of Atemu's chest gave him something to focus on, and gradually his pounding heart started to slow down and he was able to take deeper breaths. It left him feeling shaky and weak, so he was almost glad for the firm grip around his waist that kept him from trying to do something stupid, like get up before he was ready. He ducked his head and kept taking in the slow breaths, knowing that his face was bright red. He hadn't had a panic attack like that for quite some time. They'd occurred fairly often his first month back in Japan, usually after he woke up from a nightmare. It had gotten to the point where Sugoroku had taken him to the doctor and he'd been given some medication to control them.
He supposed that he should have realized that the sight of Egypt might make another attack come on, but he'd been so caught up in worrying about everything else that it just hadn't dawned on him. "I'm sorry," he mumbled after a couple of minutes had gone by.
"For this." Yuugi closed his eyes in misery, wishing that he'd done a better job of pretending that everything was fine. No one except for his grandfather had known about this until now, and to know that it was Atemu who had found out was almost unbearable. "I know you were excited about coming back and being able to show your father that you'd chosen someone who would be good for you and Egypt, and -"
"Yuugi, stop right there. If you're about to say what I think you were going to say, I don't want to hear it. There's nothing wrong with you having a panic attack because we're back in Egypt. In fact, I'm a little mad at myself for not having realized that this might happen." Atemu sighed, his arms tightening briefly in a comforting squeeze. "When I think about everything that Vivian put you through... it amazes me that you were even willing to get on the plane. So stop beating yourself up about this, understand?"
Yuugi took a deep breath. Held it. Let it out slowly. Only then did he try to respond. "But -"
"No buts, I mean it. You didn't say anything to me after Vivian, did you? We were sleeping in the same bed, so I know that you knew I was waking up from nightmares. But you never said a word to me about it. You just held me in your arms until I was able to fall back asleep no matter how many times I woke you up."
"That was different!"
"Not really. We both went through something that was traumatizing. And really, as far as I'm concerned, you have a lot more reason to be upset than I do. I was never in any real danger. I knew that Bakura, Mariku and Seto were going to be there the whole time. Besides, I'm going to be the pharaoh someday. It will be a part of my job to sentence criminals to death." Atemu sounded subdued as he spoke, and it wasn't too hard to imagine that this side of his job didn't thrill him, but his firm grip on Yuugi never wavered. "Yuugi, I would never fault for you for having this kind of reaction. You're my partner, and to me that means you can share anything with me no matter how weak you think it makes you look."
"Atemu... I... I thought that..."
"That I'd be unhappy or ashamed of you for having this kind of reaction?" Finally, Atemu let Yuugi squirm around until they were facing each other. The expression on his face was very serious. "Yuugi, you are one of the strongest people that I know. I thank the gods every day that I made the choice to go on that stupid show in the first place, even though it ultimately caused you and your friends a lot of time and suffering. I'm sorry for everything that Vivian did, but there has never been any doubt in my mind that I made the right choice when I gave you my ring and I am not going to change my mind now that I finally have you here."
The ring. Yuugi glanced down automatically. He was still wearing it, though it was now on his finger, and just the sight of it helped to calm his still racing heart. As the last vestiges of panic finally drained away, he leaned heavily against Atemu. He'd spent so long hating himself for having these panic attacks that it was hard to believe that maybe it was okay, it was natural, and he wasn't letting anyone down by having them. "I just feel like I'm letting her win," he said into Atemu's shoulders, his words muffled.
"I know. I feel the same way when I wake up at night," Atemu said quietly. "But you're not. By coming here, you're doing the exact opposite. Vivian would have hated knowing that you'd found the strength to come here. I can tell you with complete confidence that it would have driven her mad. I think that part of her knew that she and I would never get back together, but she just couldn't let the idea of you and me being together go."
"So is that why you chose me?" Yuugi asked, grinning.
"What? Yuugi, no! Of course not! Why would you -" The flood of protests came to a sudden stop when Atemu realized that Yuugi was shaking against him from laughter. He let out a mock huff of exasperation. "If you're feeling well enough to tease me, then I'm going to guess that you're feeling well enough to leave."
It was meant as a teasing remark, but Yuugi knew Atemu well enough to recognize the question that he'd just been asked. If he wasn't ready, Atemu wouldn't push him - but it probably wasn't just for Yuugi's sake, either. Atemu had been nervous about introducing Yuugi to his father from the moment that the plane left Domino City. He was worried that Aknamkanon would immediately start asking questions about a wedding, questions that neither of them were prepared to answer. Atemu was perfectly willing to put that meeting off for as long as possible. That was ultimately what made Yuugi straighten up.
"No, I'm ready," he said with a sigh. "Atemu, we can't hide in here forever. It's a miracle that one of the others hasn't come to find out what's taking us so long."
"I told them to stay away," Atemu said. He paused for a second, then rolled his eyes. "You're right, it is a miracle that they haven't come on board yet. Seto must have figured out a way to distract them."
Yuugi had to grin. For all that Atemu might have been the prince, it was blatantly obvious that Seto was often the one who was in charge. "Are you ready?" he asked quietly. He really wanted to know. They hadn't talked about what they were going to tell Aknamkanon, and really they probably should have. This would be their last chance.
"I don't know," Atemu said honestly. "I really don't, I - Yuugi, you know what my father has been asking of me for the past year. He's made it abundantly clear that he wants me to be married in the very near future. After I met you he backed off a little, but lately he's getting worse than ever." He looked Yuugi in the eyes. "You are the one I want to marry, but I don't want us to feel rushed into this."
It was way too late for that, and Yuugi didn't have to bother pointing that out because he knew that Atemu was already aware of it. Their whole relationship had been shadowed by the knowledge that Egypt needed its prince to have a partner. And Yuugi wanted to be that partner, make no mistakes about it. It had taken him a long time to be able to admit that, even if it was only to himself. He took a deep breath. Maybe it was time to admit it to someone else, too, someone who probably needed to hear it more than Yuugi could ever know. "Well, if I'm really the one that you want to marry then maybe you should ask me."
The look on Atemu's face when he fully processed what Yuugi had said was priceless. His jaw actually dropped, and he leaned back against the uncomfortable seat in disbelief. Yuugi merely smiled, thoroughly enjoying the moment. It wasn't very often that he surprised Atemu to the point where the prince was legitimately speechless. It was a good feeling. He waited patiently for Atemu to collect himself, trying to pretend that his heart wasn't pounding again for a whole different reasons this time. Tiny doubts were trying to work their way into his mind - what if Atemu didn't want to ask? and oh god, after this there would really be no changing his mind - but he forcefully pushed them aside as best he could.
Finally, Atemu blinked slowly and said, "What."
"You heard me. Atemu, I know your father wants you to get married. I can appreciate that he wants you to have someone by your side who will adore Egypt as much as you do. And after getting to know Vivian, I can even understand why he wouldn't want to hand everything over to you until you've found that person. He's probably afraid you might end up with another one of her." Yuugi held his hand up when Atemu went to protest. "But. If you're engaged, then that's the next best thing and he might be willing to accept that as a compromise. We'll make him accept it as a compromise. We could have a long engagement and marry later."
"Yuugi, I told you. I don't want you to feel like you have to do this."
"I know, and believe me if I didn't want to be here I wouldn't be," Yuugi said as firmly as possible. "You made it very clear to me that I didn't have to come back to Egypt with you if I didn't want to, and I appreciate that more than you could realize. I want to be with you, Atemu, and I want to do this for you. More importantly, I want to do this for us." He put his hand on top of Atemu's and squeezed. "If this is what you truly want, then ask."
Atemu stared at him for a moment longer before a determined expression flashed across his face. He urged Yuugi to stand and got to his feet, then knelt down smoothly. Yuugi swore that his heart actually skipped a beat when he found the prince of Egypt looking up at him. Even though he had been the one to suggest it, he still hadn't quite believed that Atemu would actually do it, that he really wanted Yuugi this much. And now they were here and it was all he could do to keep from losing it completely. He let Atemu take his hand, hoping that Atemu wouldn't notice that his palm was sweaty, and listened to the prince speak in awe-struck silence.
"My little one, my Aibou, from the moment I met you I knew that you were different from anyone that I'd ever met before. It wasn't just because I was pretending to be a normal guy, either. I know now that you would have treated me exactly the same regardless of whether you knew about my heritage, and that means a lot to me. I know you will do right by my country." Atemu's eyes never left Yuugi's. "Yuugi, being away from you was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. The whole time I was in Egypt without you, I felt like something was missing. There were so many things I wanted to share with you, and knowing that you might never be there for that to happen was a constant source of pain that I failed to hide even though I tried. It made me even more convinced that I want to have a future with you. I know that you will be a wonderful Queen, and... and that I love you. I love you so much." For the first time, his anxiety was clearly visible as he stuttered over his words. "I know I don't have a ring for you because I wasn't ready, but... will you... will you marry me?"
Oh my god, Yuugi thought. He'd expected to feel scared or nervous when he heard those words, but all he felt was a deep sense of right. A brilliant smile spread across his face. "Yes, I will."
Crimson eyes lit up with joy, and Atemu sprang to his feet and scooped Yuugi up into a fierce hug. Yuugi laughed out loud as his feet left the ground, knowing that he could only wrap his arms around Atemu's shoulders and hold on. He felt light and tingly and happy and it was made all the better by knowing that Atemu felt the same way. He looked down into Atemu's sparkling eyes and grinned as their lips met in a gentle kiss. For the first time in a very long time, he knew that things were going to be okay.
A/N: I feel like you should know I made myself squeal during that last scene! Looking back on this story, it was a difficult write - keeping magic out of a fandom that's built around it is hard - and it didn't help that I went completely off the plan I'd sketched out for it at some point. Fun fact: I'd change the title if I could. I realized about halfway through that I really should have called it The Prince and Me, but by then it was too late. I hate figuring out the perfect title for something after the fact!
Thank you so much to my readers who stuck with me and faithfully reviewed, who took a chance on a non-magic AU that was probably too much like a soap opera for our good, seriously. As for what's next, well, you may(?) be pleased to know that in about a week or so I'll have a new Yu-Gi-Oh story coming out. It'll be called Remind Me Again and the summary is as follows:
Yuugi thought everything would be okay after Yami departed to the afterlife, and for a little while it was. But then he woke up one morning and found out that no one except for the 3 hikaris remembers the Shadow Realm or the Millennium Items. It's like they never existed. Now Yuugi's been sectioned, Ryou is being hunted, and Malik is seeing shadows everywhere. Nothing is what it seems when the past literally comes back for revenge.
So yeah. If interested, please follow me so you'll know when it's posted or keep an eye out. Until the next one, darlings!