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If Only You'd Say So

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It's sometime in the middle of October when Judai knocks on his front door, throws himself onto Johan for possibly the biggest embrace all the dimensions had ever been forced to witness, evidently invites himself in, kicks his shoes off, and only then asks if it's alright to stay for a few nights.

Johan isn't above verbally admitting that he's absolutely thrilled.

"Up north is a lot colder than I expected," is one of many phrases muttered by his visibly shivering best friend, which Johan imagines he's meant to take as an indication that Judai had been at least partially living on the streets. It makes sense, with the news of him traveling the world. And while that idea worries Johan for half of a moment, it doesn't take long to remember that Judai is more than capable of taking care of himself. Of course, he still isn't quite happy about it, but he takes solace in the fact that he can at least temporarily keep that from happening in the kind of weather Oslo often faces. For anyone not used to it, he knows it can be pretty taxing.

He remembers asking, "How long are you staying?" not because he's concerned for what amount of time he'll need to provide for a whole other person, but because he knows himself well enough to predict that he'll need to plan for the disappointing feeling of seeing Judai off, whenever that happens.

It makes him feel a bit better when he hears a very non-committal answer. The estimation of, "a week or two, maybe," is oddly reassuring.

And, yeah, Judai still speaks in Japanese to him because while he's apparently been studying up on different languages, it still clearly comes most naturally to him when talking to someone he'd met under those same circumstances.

It's sort of nostalgic.

Nostalgic in the best possible sense, of course. Because a lot of the nostalgia he's felt in regards to Judai or Duel Academy in general hasn't always been in the most positive light. He sees Judai still in that outfit he'd seen the guy off in during their graduation - Johan used the excuse of his own taking place at another time, but really, he didn't care much to attend North Academy's graduation for longer than he needed to - and he sees the head of a cat sticking out of Judai's backpack. Gotta account for that too, he supposes.

He sees Judai's wide-eyed look as he observes Johan's home, likely mesmerized by more walls of glass than he'd ever seen in a house, and it dawns on him at that time that this is technically something of an intimate moment. Maybe he didn't notice it before because he'd been so caught up in Judai just being, but Johan definitely notices it now.

And, well.

He sees Yubel, lingering transparently behind Judai, looking Johan up like a cautious parent before turning their head away and resolving to pretend he doesn't exist.

He already had a feeling he'd see Yubel. Vaguely.

It isn't really something he has any firsthand experience with, but he's well aware of their existence. He tries to avoid thinking about them, but his discomfort becomes fairly obvious even before Judai starts to unpack his things and make a home on Johan's couch.

"Hey," Judai begins, the growing maturity in his voice becoming clearer when he takes on a more serious tone. It's not something Johan's been able to accustom himself to. He'd had a feeling that Judai's experienced quite a bit in the last few years, but he has no way of knowing what that entails, and has a feeling prying wouldn't be the best idea. "Is it really alright for us to stay here?"

The word us is what Judai puts emphasis on, and Johan knows what he means without it needing to be said.

Because that's how they've been from the moment they met.

And he takes one glance over to the ever-present Yubel, who gives him a stern and fleeting look before fading out of existence, obviously not one to enjoy scrutiny. He can barely blame them. Barely, because he thinks it's a bit hypocritical, but he wouldn't go saying that out loud. But he weighs his options for a moment, making a note not to take so long as to arouse any suspicion in his choice.

Johan pauses, then swallows and nods. "Yeah," he decides on with a smile that's a bit wider than normal on purpose. "Of course."

It doesn't take much to convince him that one of his top priorities is not getting murdered by his best friend's demon life partner.


About two days have passed and, okay, maybe Johan had been a little harsh in expecting the absolute worst out of Yubel.

Not that he was temporarily possessed by them, or anything.

Of course that doesn't make him an expert on understanding their ability to fly off the handle at even the slightest glimpse of his bond with Judai. Of course not. Why would it? Why would he possibly be paranoid at the concept of Judai currently living at his house while the source of his internal torment for a period of time is not only in the same vicinity, but also bound to Judai himself? And when he can remember in vivid detail what it felt like to have that bond and those feelings put on display without his permission and dissected, suppressed, picked apart, belittled, and - well.

Johan is stupid for even considering that they'd try to hurt him, clearly.

Clearly.

And there is absolutely no sarcastic spite in his thoughts at all. None. He's above that.

But the simple matter is that he'd just like to watch a movie with his best friend without feeling like he's doing something wrong. Because he's not doing anything wrong and the looks Yubel continues to throw at him aren't at all warranted. Though, to be entirely fair, he shouldn't be feeling this triumphant over something as simple as getting to spend time with Judai.

He does what he can to focus on the screen, but starts regretting showing Judai one that he's already seen more times than he can count. It's one he grew up with, after all. He practically has the movie memorized by this point, so focusing all of his energy onto it is hard, especially considering he already knows what happens. His arm's relaxed across Judai's shoulders and they're leaned into each other with such a casual air that Johan can't help but feel an odd bliss in the pit of his stomach.

But he cuts through this to keep himself grounded, turning to look at Judai's extraordinarily concentrated face. "Somethin' the matter?"

"Dunno," Judai responds with a little huff, looking even more frustrated, if a little embarrassed. "Kinda...not really following what's goin' on."

"Huh? It's got subtitles."

Giving a pained smile, Judai shrugs and looks away. "Yeah, I'm - I'm not a super fast reader," he admits, and it's like he can tell that Johan's about to suggest they rewind the movie so he can catch up, because he rushes to add, "It's cool, though! I get what's happening. Y'know, the gist of it."

He can barely blame Judai. The film's got something of an ensemble cast and thus follows a series of interconnected story-lines, all complex as they are. He'd always related deeply with one of the characters in particular, but Johan looks back at his childhood and wonders just what kind of parents would have allowed him to watch something like this as often as he did. It's not exactly child-friendly.

Maybe they just didn't care.

Maybe he should stop this line of thinking.

He nods his head in understanding. "I haven't seen this since I was a kid," he says. "Don't know how I followed it, back then."

Even as the credits start to roll, he still feels an odd emptiness.

Judai gets up and stretches his limbs out, and while Johan doesn't mind watching, the suddenly absent weight from his side makes him feel a deeper loneliness than what he'd like to dissect. He barely even registers as Judai turns to him with a carefree smile. "Want me to go make us something?"

But once he gets the question through his head, Johan stares at his best friend suspiciously. "What, you can cook?"

"Uh...you got stuff for sandwiches?"

He can't help the laughter that belts out of him. "That works! Raid the kitchen all you'd like. You don't need any help?"

Part of him might be worried that Judai's going to burn his kitchen down. Not that he distrusts Judai, but he's never seen the guy actually cook for himself, and is rightfully a little bit skeptical. The rest of him just wants an excuse to keep being in the same vicinity as Judai. But that isn't something he's going to admit out loud. It's barely even something he's comfortable admitting to himself.

But Judai just shrugs and grins at him. "Hey, you're letting me stay here. I might as well do what I can to treat you - y'know, even if I'm...using your groceries."

The way he trails off when he realizes the contradiction only makes Johan chuckle again with uncontrollable fondness. He waves Judai off in resignation. "Alright, alright!"

And the door to the kitchen swings shut, leaving Johan alone in his living room.

Well.

Almost alone.

"He certainly seems to be having a good time."

Johan immediately feels his blood run cold, then curses himself for that reaction.

Because Yubel doesn't even look like they want to hurt him, just crossing their arms and floating mid-air on their back, staring blankly at the ceiling. They look bored, not bloodthirsty. And he tries to ingrain that in his mind before he goes making any unnecessary enemies on accident. He probably shouldn't be this jumpy around them in general, or this paranoid.

Yubel just cares about Judai. That's all. Johan tries to keep that in mind as he takes a deep breath.

He looks up at them and gives a lopsided smile. "Well, I'd hope so."

While he's expecting the conversation to end there, he worries in the back of his mind that his words might come off as too snarky, even though he's purposefully not trying to be. They thankfully don't seem to react much to it, seemingly lost in thought. It's odd to see them so fidgety, crossing and uncrossing their legs mid-air and tapping a finger on their arm, like they want to say something and are just too nervous to do so.

Nervous isn't really a word that fits Yubel.

"He hasn't smiled like that in a while. Not since we saw his little friend back in the spring," they explain slowly, then dart their eyes to him momentarily before averting them again. "Thank you."

It takes Johan by such surprise that he barely even reacts at first. He tries to think back to the conversations he's had while catching up with Judai and concludes that the only person they could be talking about has to be Shou. The word little somewhat gives it away, too.

But then, he gets it through his head what's actually happening right now.

Letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, he feels his shoulders relax, if only a bit. "You're thanking me, huh?"

"Shouldn't I be?"

He winces, only now noticing how his question might've unintentionally sounded. "Sorry," he says, though they don't seem too offended by it. "You care about him, so of course you'd want to see him happy."

In response, they nod. "And it's the same for you."

They say it as a factual statement, like his and their feelings for Judai are one and the same.

His mouth goes dry.

Of course he cares about Judai. Why wouldn't he? They're best friends. Judai means more to him than he knows how to elaborate and there's no doubt in his mind that his feelings are reciprocated. So, Johan berates himself, wondering why he's suddenly gotten so anxious when what's being said isn't anything new. He's not going to apologize for caring about Judai because that's just how friends are.

But they've been inside his head.

They know the truth, and even the truth behind that. The kind Johan doesn't want to acknowledge.

And just before he can come up with a response, before he opens his mouth, Judai's voice booms across the hall.

Johan turns to see his best friend, walking through the archway with a plate in his hands and far too many sandwiches for the two of them to eat by themselves. He almost hates how Judai's grin somewhat quells his panic, but he swallows his pride and Judai naturally doesn't take notice. "Jeeze, you've got enough in there to feed an army! You really live alone?" and then Judai stops once he takes a good look at Johan's face. A look of growing concern replaces his previous one. "Hey, Johan, everything alright?"

When Johan turns back to Yubel, they're nowhere to be found.

His eyes linger on the empty space that once held them and he feels his heartbeat steadily return to a normal pace as he gives Judai a tired smile.

"Yeah, everything's fine."


It only dawns on him one day that he hasn't asked Judai much about the others, even though Johan hasn't done a great job at keeping in touch with them himself. So, he brings up during a lull in one of their many conversations, "How's everyone else doing? I haven't seen them in some time."

His voice almost falls off by the end and he feels an onslaught of somber guilt from the admission.

Is it sad that the majority of the people he could consider friends have come from a school that wasn't even his own? He'd spent years in his hometown, in his academy, and yet he'd never felt the types of bonds with others that he'd ended up developing in his brief time at Duel Academy. Perhaps there's something really wrong with him. He figures that has to be the case, because what type of person can only connect with others in life-or-death situations?

But he remembers caring about and connecting with Judai even before they'd been thrust into the nightmare that was the other dimension, so that can't be the case. He'd even liked the others, the people he'd categorized as Judai's friends and as Johan's as well by extension, regardless of how loosely the term applies in that case. He'd connected with people so rapidly and so intensely that he hadn't even hesitated to sacrifice himself for them when given the chance.

And now that he's enrolled in college and made it a point to isolate himself from making any new connections again, he doesn't even make an effort to keep the ones he already has afloat.

Johan thinks that he might be an idiot.

He isn't given enough time to dwell on that before he's distracted by Judai's sheepish laugh. "To be totally honest, I haven't seen anyone else recently enough to say. Manjoume's got a lot of work at all times of the day. Shou's the same," he pauses, and then his voice becomes a bit more strained. "Asuka's got more time, but...ha, well."

Her name wasn't one Johan had expected to have such weight held on it. "What?"

"Things are weird between us."

That doesn't sound good.

"Weird, how?"

"Last time we talked, she said she liked me. Asked me out."

The casual way it's said doesn't give Johan time to get a handle on his automatic response to that. Judai's eyes flutter to him as Johan sharply sucks in air through his teeth. He sees Yubel in the corner of his eye, gauging his reaction, and he's not sure what they're expecting from him.

He never got to know Asuka personally, but he liked her, generally speaking. She seemed more than willing to give him his space, to never dig too deep like too many people in his life have tried, and they never really clashed with each other. She was just a friend of a friend in his eyes, a nice acquaintance. But even he knew how she felt about Judai. It's not as if she was ever overt about it, but Johan considers himself smart and at least a bit more empathetic than most. It was never hard to see her true feelings.

Not that anyone really needs to be subtle in order for their infatuation with Judai to fly right over his head.

That being said, he's having trouble processing the idea that she'd actually pursue Judai. All after what they'd been through in the other world, at that. So, he tries to clear his throat as quietly as he can and asks, "How'd...that go?"

"I didn't get it, at first," and Johan has to stifle a laugh, because that's so predictable of Judai. He can see it in his mind's eye now. Asuka was probably about as obvious as anyone could possibly be about it, and he imagines Judai still didn't understand right away. "But, once I did, I couldn't do much other than to tell her I'd think about it. I haven't seen her since then. I don't know what I'll say when I do see her again."

Johan feels a tinge of pity for Asuka. How would he feel, in her situation? He imagines it'd hurt to not even get any closure, to not get an answer to a confession, and he thinks it might even be worse for her because of how long she's known Judai. She at least has a right to a response, he thinks.

But then Johan remembers the reason he's been ignoring his feelings - the ones that don't exist, by the way - and how the reason is living inside of Judai's head and the person that Judai's sworn his love to, and how Judai is by all accounts taken. That on its own makes his sympathy for Asuka quickly dwindle and he voices his confusion in the only way he knows. "What do you think she wants from you?"

Judai only shrugs and sighs heavily, separating himself from Johan and looking up to the ceiling in thought. "To settle down, probably. She's wanted to settle down for a while."

"Well, you've kind of already done that yourself."

The words are out of his mouth before he can even think about them and Judai shoots him an unreadable look. Was that the wrong thing to say?

He doesn't get an answer to that question, because Judai decides to move on as if he hadn't even heard it. "To be honest, I don't like her that way. Maybe I did a few years ago. I'm not really sure. I don't think I got that I didn't feel that way about her until I found out she felt that way about me," Judai spills his heart out in a way that's rather unusual for him. He stops himself and shrugs, like he's just remembered something. "Or until Shou told me I don't act as if I like her that way."

It's hard to keep from snorting when Johan hears that.

"Judai, are you telling me that you need your own emotions spelled out to you in order to understand them?" he asks bluntly, more as a statement than a question. "Because, honestly, that would explain a lot - "

"Hey, don't make fun of me!"

He laughs, and thankfully Judai joins in with him. "Sorry, sorry!" he exclaims, and once the mood's been lightened, Johan finds that they've leaned into each other without realizing it. He doesn't move away, even though there's a voice in the back of his mind telling him that he should. "Dealing with what you felt as a teenager is weird, though. Gotta be even harder when on top of everything else you've been through. Isn't it best case scenario that you don't like her that way, though?"

"Why?"

"Because...wouldn't that get in the way with how you're living now, if you did like her back?"

"You think it'd be a problem if I cared about someone else like that?"

That catches Johan off-guard. Wouldn't it be a problem? Johan hasn't heard of many relationships where it's natural for one person to like someone else entirely. He figures Judai and Yubel are fairly unambiguously devoted to each other, about as together as together can be, and he knows enough about married couples on television that suggestive affairs can cause a make-or-break situation. Then again, maybe making that comparison isn't totally fitting.

He's not sure. All he's sure about is that he wants to consider his words carefully. "Maybe not necessarily, but if it's someone like her - someone who wants to settle down in one place, and all - then it seems like that'd definitely clash with your lifestyle."

Then, Judai turns to him meaningfully and looks him in the eye. "Do you want to settle down in one place?"

It's not a question Johan had ever seriously considered. He guesses that's probably because he's lived alone in his recent life and has only had to answer to himself for what life decisions he'd want to make and when. All he knows for sure is that he'll definitely end up sulking for the rest of his life if he doesn't eventually get the hell out of Norway. It isn't that he dislikes his home, or even that he wants to make a new home somewhere else. He just understands himself well enough to plan ahead before he accidentally drops off the face of the Earth.

"Not really," he finally replies. "I don't plan to stay here too long once I finish my studies. I'd like to see more of the world, when I can. Staying still doesn't suit me much."

There's an odd, knowing smile that crosses Judai's face. "Then, I guess there isn't a problem."

Nothing could have really prepared Johan for that kind of response.

He feels alarm bells going off in his head and all he can do is stare dumbly at his best friend, not even able to verbalize anything more eloquent than a weak, "Huh?"

"Be right back! Gonna use the bathroom. Go get your deck so we can duel when I get back!"

Like the gears in his mind have come to a screeching halt and are desperately trying to start up again, Johan doesn't have the capacity to react fast enough to Judai's sudden retreat. The brunette's already disappearing down the hall before he even makes a move to jump out of his seat, and he only stops himself from bolting after Judai when he hears the faint sound of a door shutting.

Out of his throat comes a futile, "W - Wait, Judai!"

And yet, he's left in stunned silence. He's heard Judai yell from across his house more than once in the last couple of days, so he knows for a fact that the guy heard him and is just purposefully ignoring him.

Jerk.

He doesn't have the time to be irritated, though. From the corner of his eye, he catches a glimpse of something that makes his blood run cold.

Yubel, staring directly at him.

Because of course they'd choose now of all times to appear.

"Something wrong?" they ask, and he's not sure whether to be terrified or annoyed.

His head feels like it's on fire when he looks at them, as if he's just been caught doing something he shouldn't be. It definitely feels like he has. The implications of what's just happened between him and Judai send him reeling, but there's nothing tangible enough for him to grasp a real account, no door left open for him to explain himself. He carefully levels his eyes and his voice. Though, he ends up sounding a lot more defensive than intended. "I was just about to ask you the same thing."

Surprisingly, their expression only twists into what he can think to identify as confusion. They raise an eyebrow and frown at him inquisitively. He has a hard time figuring out what to make of that response.

It dawns on him that they might not be angry, after all.

He doesn't actually remember ever seeing them upset with him since Judai's arrival, now that he thinks about it. Johan may not have noticed until now because he just doesn't know how to deal with having a civil relationship with Yubel. It's something he'd resolved himself to working at if he ever got the chance to see them again, but he thought there'd be more resistance, that he'd need to try much harder to gain their trust than probably justified. But the truth of the matter is that Yubel doesn't seem to hold any ill will toward him. Or, at the very least, they're extremely good at hiding it.

What only puts him off more is when they cock their head to the side and narrow their eyes. "Aren't you going to get your deck?"

If they weren't basically like a ghost, he's sure he'd get more of an urge to punch them.

He blinks at their form as they block the way to the upstairs.

Like a ghost. Right.

At that realization, Johan's expression relaxes into an unimpressed frown. He promptly strides towards his room, straight through Yubel.

He doesn't hear them react and wonders why that's so disappointing.


Sometimes, the reason you stay in the closet is because your parents and your friends all grew up with very traditional values and could barely even handle the fact that you saw spirits, let alone anything else that might make you different from the crowd. And it just sticks with you until you're able to stand on your own and only rely on yourself, until you can be proud for who you are, until you don't have to look at the unique aspects of yourself and feel only shame.

Sometimes, the reason you stay in the closet is because you're in love with your unavailable best friend and his literal soulmate happens to be your former captor, an actual demon, and notorious for their emotionally unstable, world-threatening decisions.

Y'know.

Everyone's got their reasons.

But, the thing is that the subject of love has rarely ever come up in conversation with Judai, because they don't care to talk about that kind of thing when around each other. They'd never consider it. He didn't know which direction Judai fell - though, considering his current situation, odds were a bit in favor of Johan's suspicions - and Judai had never asked him about his orientation. Despite the fact that Johan has essentially tried to appear as openly himself as possible.

He's surprised that he hasn't gotten the obligatory question of do you like men from much of anyone at all when it comes to his time at Duel Academy.

Even before or after what happened in the other dimension.

Everyone had just looked at Johan's sexuality or the nature of his and Judai's relationship with a general passive not my problem and, considering everything that they'd all had to endure at the time, he can't really say he'd feel differently in their positions. And Judai, the one person he'd spent the majority of his time alongside, hadn't ever expressed any interest in what wasn't considered innocent.

Outside of...murder, he supposes?

Not the best way to put that.

The point is that he'd never expected that all to change over the course of one conversation, especially not when Judai was only supposed to spend a week or so over at Johan's house.

It's when they're finally catching up and Judai is telling him about all of their adventures, and he just casually mentions in-between his comments about how dangerous Death Valley can be and which countries are hardest to get into, he'd taken a stop to meet with his former classmates back at Duel Academy for a one-year reunion. It's a testament to how little effort Johan's made to keep in touch with others that he has no recollection of ever hearing about it until now.

He sets his coffee down on the table, early light painting the room with a serene saturation through the large windows. "You guys had a reunion?"

"It wasn't an official one," Judai replies with an incredulous laugh, then frowns and looks up in thought. "Well, Chronos did host it. I don't know how official that is, though. I think he just missed us. I missed us."

The way Judai says that last part catches him off guard, and Johan immediately thinks of the two of them. I missed us. He definitely feels that way and hopes that Judai feels the same. Mostly because Judai is his best friend and it's natural to want to see your best friend again when you haven't seen him in a while. There's nothing wrong with him wanting to see Judai, obviously.

So, he just smiles and nods his head in agreement. "That...makes sense," he states. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder is a saying for a reason."

"That's a saying?"

"You've never heard it?"

Face unreadable, Judai looks down to his drink and cocks his head to the side. "Guess not. It's a good one, though."

Johan downs the rest of his coffee.

The saying is one that certainly applies to how Johan feels about Judai.

Now, just where did that come from?

It's somewhat unsettling the more he thinks about it just how deeply his dependency on Judai has run and how easy it is to focus completely on his best friend. Of course, he's never exactly craved social interactions - none with actual humans, anyway. (Not that Judai totally falls under that category anymore, but Johan isn't going to think about that. That's another issue to go into for another day. Or, y'know, preferably another life.) Yet Judai is a different story entirely. That want comes back. Every time the other man is around, the walls in Johan's mind narrow and there's only him.

Wow.

Calm down.

He's tried to analyze their relationship before, see if there's actually something out of the ordinary or particularly questionable about how they interact in hopes of maybe toning it down. But it isn't like he has any frame of reference for what best friends are supposed to act like. He's just hyper-aware of the fact that something has to be wrong, but he's yet to find out what it is.

So, okay, he decides to go down the list of possible factors.

Maybe they just spend too much time together overall. Simple. Except a solution to that isn't really simple now that they're for the time rooming together. And, well, Shou always spent a ridiculous amount of time with Judai and they never seemed to have a suspicious relationship. It might've had something to do with him referring to Judai as a brother at any opportunity, though. Whatever. He's still going to scratch it off the list. Probably not that.

Alright, it could be how touchy they are. And it's not as if Judai is like that with everybody.

That's a possibility.

But even running all of the considerations through his head doesn't make him feel any better. One doesn't solve a problem by focusing on how others would view said problem. And if the problem has to do with him being dependent on Judai, he thinks there's really not all that much of an issue at all to begin with.

Johan can function perfectly fine without Judai around.

He's been existing so far, at least.


Things aren't awkward.

Things don't have a reason to be awkward. Nothing's ever happened between Johan and Judai. Not anything that wasn't completely and totally friendly, that is. And very likely the most scandalous interactions they've ever indulged in made them look like rivals. Very friendly rivals, of course. Because they are friends.

Johan feels like he's right about ready for a nap.

Considering the position he's currently in, though, he imagines he'd have quite the difficult time getting to sleep even if he were to try.

Calling things awkward would be a disservice to the deep, comfortable bond that he's worked to create with Judai. The fact that there's rarely ever a sense of tension between them despite the questionable nature of their relationship - stop thinking about that - well, Johan just has to say that it's something of a miracle. Or that it would be, if there were actually anything other than friendship going on between the two of them.

If that were the case, the fact that Judai's leaned up against his side would be distracting.

And, to be fair, you can't be distracted if you've got nothing to focus on.

Even looking at Judai is more difficult than usual for Johan, and that shouldn't even be in the realm of possibility at this point. Judai's wearing a brown jacket that's just a little too small for him, the sleeves of his undershirt sticking out past the rolled-up fabric. And Johan thinks to himself, why does that have to be a look? He also thinks to himself, why does that have to be a look that works on him? Judai doesn't exactly have much variety in his wardrobe, so why does everything happen to be so ridiculously fitting?

And, okay. There is absolutely no way that Judai doesn't know what he's doing.

Judai might not be paying much attention to anything but his deck at the moment, but he's still got to be aware of how he's basically leaning all of his weight into Johan, how he's practically got his head nuzzled into Johan's collar.

Except then Johan remembers just who he's thinking about. It frustrates him that he so quickly comes to the conclusion that, yes, Judai is perfectly capable of being totally unaware that his body heat is slowly infecting Johan's. Judai's perpetual clueless nature has seemed to have gotten dramatically less prominent, but the plausibility is still very much there. Johan wonders if it's actually possible for Judai to lose that trait altogether. Unlikely. It's part of his charm, after all.

He recalls narrowing down what would cause natural suspicion regarding their relationship to a few things - one of which, he's fairly sure, was the touching. People wouldn't exactly look at how they cling to each other and think of their friendship as anything but at least extraordinarily strong, if not out of the realm of what's considered platonic entirely.

It's not as if this is the first time they've been so physically close - far from it, honestly. This shouldn't be much different from normal. It isn't much different from normal.

He doesn't know why it feels as if it is.

Judai's voice breaks through his thoughts. "Hey," he starts, and Johan has to will himself not to jump at the three cards shoved in front of his face. "Tell me which of these traps I should put in my deck."

Now, he'd normally be having more of an issue concentrating - he'll even admit to himself that he was barely listening to the question in the first place - but the fact remains that Johan Andersen is a duelist first and a hormonal young adult second. Maybe that comes in third or fourth, even. He's just thinking according to the current circumstances, is all. So, when his eye catches something out of the ordinary, he doesn't hesitate to brush aside the problem at hand and furrow his brows down critically at Judai.

"...Why do you have Jar of Greed?"

Judai frowns defensively. "It's not that bad."

"I'm sure you could make it work," he gives a gentle yet still very condemning smile. "But I wouldn't recommend it."

All of Judai's focus seems to divert to shuffling through his deck with a determined expression and his new position is just as frustrating as his last, if not more. His entire body's pressed into Johan's and he's more or less resting himself on the guy, back leaned up against his chest like he's trying to climb into the guy's lap. It's ridiculous to think that Judai isn't able to hear his best friend's heart beating as rapidly as it is. Judai must be either purposefully ignoring it or really just that intensely concentrated, and the idea of the former being true makes Johan's stomach do flips.

It's like he's both freezing and sweltering at the same time and he can feel his breathing pick up. He wishes they could talk more about his cards, because that does wonders as a distraction from thinking about feelings. Usually. He hasn't come to a definitive consensus with himself about that yet, since dueling and feelings seem to sometimes intertwine.

The thing is, expressing feelings through dueling is what he's best at. He just knows it's not always going to work.

Especially not when Judai's placed his deck on the table in front of him and is currently cycling through it with only one hand, the other hand wrapping around Johan's waist and pulling the two somehow even closer.

Johan's head goes into a sudden panic.

The thought does he know he's doing this races through Johan's mind and he hates that it has to, because he rationalizes in his mind how innocent the gesture can be viewed from the perspective of someone like Judai.

"What's up, man? You doing okay?"

Blood pumping in his ears makes what Judai says sound muffled.

Johan swallows and freezes up.

He doesn't expect his words to come out as dry and cracked as they do. "I - I have to, uh," and he realizes that he doesn't even know how to think of a lame excuse, let alone a good one. So, he slips out from underneath his best friend, who promptly shifts into a sitting position and stares with an all too concerned expression, and Johan can only mutter out a quick, "Sorry," before rushing out of the room as fast as he can without quite literally breaking out into a sprint.

He turns the corner and locks the door behind him, only noticing after doing so that he's accidentally gone into the supply closet instead of the bathroom.

Momentarily, he hangs his head and wonders if his life is just one big joke.


Johan thinks he's just going to die, no matter what. If not by the hands of Yubel, he'll do it by his damn self. He'll just lie on his patio until the winter hits its worst and freezes him to death, or he'll just eventually starve. He sure wishes the gem beasts were corporeal so they could properly bury him in the ground, but he imagines they'll find a way around that. And he's fairly certain that Sapphire Pegasus will host his funeral. They'll probably make sure to invite all of their spirit friends. The color scheme will be everything.

Just then, he feels a phantom pressure dance on his chest and sighs at the small creature.

"You're going to have to write my will, Ruby," he groans to the ceiling. "I don't think I can be a person anymore."

It's officially been a little over a week since Judai abruptly disrupted Johan's life and turned everything he thought he knew on its head.

Thinking back on it is giving him secondhand embarrassment for his past self, mostly because he can pretty readily identify each point that escalated his current living arrangement from being a simple opportunity to spend time with his best friend, all the way to a ridiculous game wherein he dances the line between platonic and - decidedly not platonic. He refuses to put it any other way, even in his own mind.

Is it because of jealousy? Has he been jealous of Yubel?

That idea seems a bit ludicrous.

Maybe Johan likes to think of himself as above jealousy. Maybe the reality is that he's just too tired and paranoid and anxious to be jealous. All he knows is that it doesn't seem like the right word to use.

The silent breeze is broken through by the sound of the glass door sliding open and Johan throws an arm over his eyes, not wanting to see who he knows is approaching him, even if there's nothing he can do about it.

"Hey," Judai's voice hits him and Johan doesn't need to look to know that his best friend is casting a shadow over him. "C'mon, I can't have you both moping on me."

There aren't a lot of possibilities for who else Judai could be talking about, so Johan peaks out from under his arm and raises an eyebrow at his friend. "Just why are they moping?"

Vaguely shrugging, Judai looks away. "They hate it when I don't listen to them."

That's something he's got in common with Yubel, then.

It's sort of awful how the indescribable heaviness in his stomach starts to lift now that Judai's around, even though he's part of the reason why it was there in the first place. He's given something of a boost of energy.

Being around Judai somehow makes him feel younger. That's not to say he's exactly old or anything - really, he should be in his prime, considering his age - but he can often forget that there was a time in which he wasn't a lonely college student with no real direction. He's gotten requests for interviews, e-mails from old acquaintances who think they're his friends (he just feels bad for them, really) and more ignored acceptance letters than he cares to count. He doesn't know how he'd temporarily forgotten what normal relationships are like.

Being around Judai, he doesn't even have to try.

All things considered, letting Judai stay at his house has done a lot more good than bad. He was always sure he'd get out of his depressive funk one way or another and get back into the dueling scene, but this little wake-up call has considerably sped up the process. Judai being around reminds Johan of all life's greater aspects.

It's why he lets Judai drag him up and back inside.

It's also why he launches right into an apology once they've both settled in the living room.

"So, uh - about yesterday - I'm sorry."

As if not at all expecting that, Judai quickly turns his head to Johan in genuine surprise. Johan would be just about ready to accept that he'd just imagined everything that had happened the day before if it wasn't constantly playing on repeat in his head and reminding him that, yes, he really is that much of a mess. But Judai still looks as oblivious as ever. "Man, what? I don't really get what you're apologizing for."

Resisting the urge to groan, Johan quickly explains. "For running away out of nowhere like that," he says. "For acting all weird around you."

"Oh," Judai nods, then looks away. He pauses, then clears his throat, trying his best to sound as casual as possible. "Yeah, I guess you were acting a little weird. I get it, though."

That last part is what catches Johan's attention.

"You do?"

Judai gives him a weird, pained look at that and it makes Johan think that maybe he really does get it.

It occurs to him then that their faces are just inches away from each other. He's not sure when that happened.

Time seems to slow down, or speed up, or stop - Johan's not sure which direction it goes, exactly - just that he feels as though he'll never be able to look away. A moment passes, then another, and he thinks that they've been looking at each other for a little too long, that two people who're friends shouldn't be so focused intently on one another's eyes, and Johan wonders if the conflicting feelings reflected back at him are present in his own.

Then, before he knows it, Judai's lips are on his.

It feels nearly like he blacks out for a second. That might just be his brain catching up to the reality of the situation. But his brain quickly decides that it doesn't care much about working right now.

Surprisingly and thankfully, it's Judai who takes the lead, which hasn't ever been something Johan had considered when fantasizing about anything like this. Not that he has. He pushes that immediately denial to the side because even someone like him has to acknowledge that he has no hope of coming out of this with his dignity intact. There's nothing he can do to ignore his feelings anymore, not when they're so clearly out in the open. All in all, he just won't say this is entirely unwelcome.

Judai's hands reach around his torso and he feels himself pushed back into the couch, their legs intertwining and Judai practically straddling him. Their physical closeness takes on a new meaning.

No going back, now.

He opens his eyes and expects to see cautious brown eyes meeting his stare.

That's not what he gets.

The universe isn't ever that kind to him.

The name is out of his mouth before he takes notice of how intense and vibrant the mismatched green and red are, and he almost chokes on the word when he instinctively recoils, only to futily press his back into the arm of the couch, "Yubel."

He's pretty sure his brain short-circuits right then and there.

"Not happy to see me?" they ask, the corner of their mouth turned upwards, and that's a side of them that he's rarely even gotten to observe in passing. It's the side that would poke fun at Judai and bicker with him and berate him with the fondness and affection of a guardian - of a partner - all weighing down on any sense of real irritation that may slip through. It's the side he didn't even know could have existed when he was being held as their prisoner, but it's also one that's staring him in the face right now.

Their voice is an odd, distorted version of Judai's, and it's almost like they've molded it into their own.

He says just about the dumbest thing ever, "You kissed me," because stating the obvious is apparently all his brain can muster for him to do.

Thanks, brain.

The being above him gives a shrug, the notion seeming familiar on Judai but also strangely foreign. "Obviously," they reply like it's an afterthought. It's odd how content and casual they look while effortlessly pinning him down. Judai's always been stronger than he looks, but this is ridiculous, and has to be the result of some bullshit magic from when the two had fused together. Otherwise Johan would have half a mind to get jealous. And Yubel continues before he can even laugh at the prospect, "I did it because Judai wouldn't."

He goes still, absolutely bewildered.

"I don't understand."

A moment passes, and then another, before they break eye contact and let their head fall and shake from side to side in - what is that - disappointment? They let out a sigh of defeat or exasperation, he's not entirely sure, and let go of his wrists. The sudden freedom allows him to sit up, though they're still seated in his lap with their legs on either side of his, and he props himself with his elbows to get into a semi-comfortable sitting position. "You and him really are just alike."

He blinks at them and gives a snide raised eyebrow, frustration overtaking his previous embarrassment. "Well, sorry?"

"You should be!" they reply firmly, though there's an odd playfulness to their tone as they jab an index finger at him, and their mannerisms are so unlike Judai that seeing his body take them on is somewhat surreal for Johan to witness. "Judai would never have given you his love if you weren't so much like him."

That idea on its own should probably put Johan off, because he has a feeling that they're not wrong, but he's far too focused on being a complete lovesick moron at the words given you his love to think too hard about it. Now, at least. Johan's sure he'll have plenty of time to worry about the implications of their not-relationship when he's in a more stable state of mind, but the current him doesn't care too much about that at all. Pathetic, he thinks about himself, not for the first time. He's totally pathetic.

He wonders if this indescribable feminine air he can suddenly feel radiating off of Judai's body is one that was present when Yubel had instead been possessing him. Seeing their eyes through Judai is something of a spectacle while also being vaguely disconcerting, like he's being threatened just by the simple fact that they're staring at him.

But, he shakes his head, figuring he's spent enough time eyeing them up to the point where it's probably weird by now. He tries his damnedest to take firm hold of the conversation. "I don't understand why you kissed me."

"Oh?" they have the nerve to look amused, and he's not sure how that makes him feel. "I said why already. Judai wanted to, but he wouldn't, so I did it for him."

His glare hardens at them, feeling somewhat like he's being made into a joke. "I got that. What I don't understand is why."

They take this time to lean back and give him space. Then, they cross their arms seriously and the stance makes them look less and less like Judai by the second.

He lets them collect their thoughts and come up with a response. When they do, they speak slowly and carefully, though just about as blunt as he imagines anyone can be. "I got tired of looking at you two try to let the other instigate anything," they explain flatly, and it goes against everything he's convinced himself about them, but he doesn't move to interrupt. He lets them speak even as their tone gets increasingly frustrated. "Every bit of advice I gave him, he just said he'd consider to follow through with if he didn't outright ignore it. I decided to take matters into my own hands."

"W - Why would you want Judai to kiss me?" he finds himself demanding.

"Because," Yubel's response comes far too quickly for him to register right away. "Judai loves you."

His breath hitches, and he doesn't know why.

Actually, he does know why, but it's hard to pinpoint at first. It's different from the other times Yubel has accused Judai of loving him. There's no malice in their voice, no hatred or envy for what hasn't been stolen away, no wild delusion. He could ignore it, Judai could ignore it, everyone could ignore it when Yubel was still being affected by the Light, because they could just chalk it all up to their unbelievable paranoia. It was never something any of them had to fully confront or take seriously.

Least of all, Johan or Judai.

Because they were the victims in the situation. No one ever had the thought to see if there was any merit to Yubel's claims from the only two who could confirm or dispute them. It was all pushed to the wayside as they attempted to deal with collateral damage and pick up the broken pieces of what was left. It was all too chaotic to confront what had felt like such a trivial concern, despite it being what had seemingly stemmed into everything else.

There was too much going on for any of them to be worried about feelings.

But the way they say it now makes it sound like a fact, like a simple observation, and Johan doesn't know how to react to that.

It's never been quite so real. It's never needed to be.

And the reason for why is exactly what Johan decides to voice. "I thought he was supposed to love you, and only you."

"He loves me like he loves no other," they proclaim it as a fact without hesitation, and Johan can't dispute it, nor does he feel the desire to. Judai himself has said as much before. They knew each other intimately in a past life and now know each other even more intimately in this one. No one else can know what it's like for their soul to be one with Judai's, to be as close as feasibly possible for two people, and Johan's not even sure he'd be ready for that kind of commitment to anyone, even to the one person he knows he'd be fine spending his entire life with. That's why he doesn't feel jealous when they continue, "The bond between Judai and I is not one you nor anyone else could ever hope to replicate."

"Then, what's - "

Yubel cuts him off before he can question them any more, clearly getting impatient with his inability to comprehend the nature of the situation. "The bond between you and Judai is unique in its own way, as well."

That shuts him up pretty quickly.

He has a feeling that he knows where this is going when they say that, but all he does is clear his throat and ask, "You think so?"

They give a little scoff and scowl at him like he's a moron, which is exactly what he feels like right now, but he still doesn't take very kindly to it and shoots them a dirty look. Yubel just rolls their eyes, which is at least preferable to doing him actual bodily harm. So, he won't complain. Out loud. He might still complain in his head, but what are they going to do about it if he does? Nothing, that's what. Because they're not here anymore and they don't have any power over him anymore. Hah. One point Johan.

He's taken out of his thoughts when Yubel leans in again and he tries not to be intimidated by just how unearthly they appear even while in the body of a relative human. "I figured we were on the same page, but apparently not. We both want the best for Judai. We both want what would make Judai happy."

They're not wrong, but they shouldn't say it.

"You think you can just...humiliate me the way you did," he starts, wishing he were as angry as his head is logically saying he should be, looking down and seeing his knuckles turn white from how tightly his fingers are clutching the fabric on the cushions. The shame in his gut simmers. He feels as though he's being treated like some kind of toy. "Take over my body, say everything you said - and, what? Now, it's all just supposed to be fine? Now, I can be with Judai how we want to be together? Now, I can - "

He stops himself, feeling out of breath. Now, he can acknowledge the feelings he's been repressing for as long as he can remember knowing the guy? That's not something Johan's just going to accept.

Even though he for some reason wants them to get angry at him back, if only for the sake of sparking his own rage, they just nod in understanding and back off. And it makes him feel awful.

"You're angry," they observe, and he wants to say no shit, but they keep talking. "You have a right to be. I won't pretend that what I did to you was appropriate. I'm only saying that I understand how essential you are to Judai's happiness."

The little bit of fury he'd felt quickly fizzles out. He should be happy about this.

So, why does he feel anxious and sick?

Everything starts to gradually process in his mind and he averts his eyes from them, absently asking, "So, Judai does love me, then?"

Yubel's stare, while blank, speaks volumes. "Are you an idiot?"

He might normally take offense to that, but with the weight in his stomach lifting and his shoulders becoming lighter, he starts realizing that he has the opportunity to really consider his feelings for Judai without any accompanying guilt for what feels like the first time. It's like Yubel has voiced their approval of him and he thinks he cares about that a lot more than he probably should.

"You want me to be with Judai, then?" he asks, and winces at himself, because he feels like he's just been asking stupid questions the entire time. He gives a laugh to mask this and acts like the question was rhetorical. "I'm surprised you're not telling me you'll kill me if I hurt him, or something."

Judai can take care of himself, but it still sounds like something they'd do.

Putting a hand to their mouth, Yubel looks to the side in thought. "Even if you hurt him, Judai probably wouldn't want me to kill you, so I can't exactly threaten you with death," they speak logically before turning their attention back on him, and Johan can definitely see that. Not that he has any intention to harm Judai, but he imagines if he did, he'd have to do something pretty terrible for Judai to want him dead or even to forgive Yubel for killing him. "But understand that if you do anything to make me think you're crossing a line, I'll ensure that you'll wish for death."

Part of him wants to ask what they mean by crossing a line, but the rest of him isn't out of his damn mind.

And all of him is too distracted by the fact that their mouth is suddenly back on his after they say that.

Even knowing full well that it's Yubel doesn't stop him from melting into the kiss, letting them push him back onto the couch. They take control so naturally that he doesn't have a hard time letting their finger's - parts of them that are just as much Judai's - latch into his hair and roughly tug up at his shirt. His eyes are already closed before he notices and he can feel them smirk against his lips. He internally has enough self-awareness to snort at the situation. A threat right before making out with him. That's the peak of romance, right there.

It feels both incriminating and amazing for the few seconds that it lasts, right up until Yubel's face contorts into dumb confusion and shock. Johan's eyes fly open when he feels the other pull away.

Of course, Yubel has taken this opportunity to let Judai back in control.

Johan sees them in his eye's periphery. He doesn't even need to look directly at them, he can just feel how smug they are.

His attention shifts back over to Judai, though, because Johan's not sure whether or not it's alright for him to feel so endeared by how cute his best friend is when embarrassed. It's not exactly easy to get Judai flustered, after all. "Sorry about...all of that," Judai gets out, tone rigid, looking just about anywhere that isn't Johan. "They should really tell me when they're going to take control."

All the comments Johan's gotten from others about being selfless might hold some merit, now that he thinks it, because he immediately jumps to embarrass himself in response. "If it helps, I - I didn't really mind too much."

"You didn't, huh?" Judai asks with a small smile, quickly regaining his confidence, and the burning in Johan might not be coming from shame this time around.

He thinks of what Yubel's just pulled and wants to voice the first concern that'd popped into his head from the get-go. It's not like he fully understands the bond between the two of them or how it works, exactly. He wasn't even aware until now that Yubel could take over Judai. Though, he supposes it makes sense, since it's only one body with two souls now residing in it. He wonders if they tend to switch out more often than he'd realized, or if Judai had been purposefully avoiding doing so for Johan's sake.

It seems sort of unlikely, but he still speaks up. "How much of that could you see?"

"See?" with an odd look, Judai rubs the back of his head. "Well, I guess all of it. I wouldn't say see is the right word, but if you're asking whether I know what happened...then, yeah. I do."

Oh.

That definitely makes things easier, at least. Johan doesn't ever remember feeling shy around Judai, but this is about the closest he feels he's going to get. He cautiously asks, "Where do we go from here?"

Judai takes a minute or so to consider that, taking a look at Yubel, then shifting his gaze back to Johan.

"Where do you want to go from here?"

Something in Johan - his self-control, maybe - seems to snap. He slowly puts a hand to the side of Judai's neck and repositions them, pushing back against Judai and pressing a kiss to his lips.

His other hand finds Judai's waist and he focuses on taking in everything about Judai that he can. He faintly smells his own shampoo in his best friend's hair and doesn't know why that sparks a fire in the pit of his stomach, doesn't know why he's squeezing the two of them together like he's trying to somehow mold himself into Judai. The heat is at once all too much and far from enough.

He opens his eyes, wanting desperately to just look at Judai, but he spots Yubel in the corner of his eye and it temporarily takes him out of the moment.

They raise an eyebrow at him. They look a mix of entertained and content.

"Are they just," he interrupts Judai's continued attempts to keep their kissing going and the brunette pulls his head back to look at him. "Always going to watch us?"

The question makes Judai break out into a fit of laughter, which makes Johan playfully glare at him, but he can't even fake annoyance when the sound puts a smile on his face as well. Judai shrugs as he stares up at Johan. "What do you think?"

What does he think?

He silently answers the question by leaning back down and sucking at Judai's neck.

Yubel's gaze is still on them and he can feel its pressure, but he wouldn't say that's a bad thing.