Yugi’s question was hardly audible over the sound of mashing buttons and epic battle music. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"Not a chance."
Yugi almost snapped his controller in half as he died – again – to the triumphantly roaring boss on the screen, his character's lifeless body visible only for a moment as the screen faded to black. He wasn't having great luck in the real world either, though this situation was arguably less dire.
"Why not?" he asked, turning to the friend sitting next to him on the couch.
"Because you're a terrible liar," Joey remarked. "Also, you should upgrade your sword with a fire rune, it makes this fight stupid easy."
"I don't want to grind for the crystals to make one, the Ember Summit sucks. And I'm not lying."
Joey snorted. "Could have fooled me."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that you totally have a cr—"
"I do not!" Yugi interrupted, maybe a little too loud. "Will you stop saying that? He's going to be here any minute."
"What's the matter?" he teased. "Worried your little secret will get out?"
"No, it's just weird." Yugi returned his focus to the game, reloading his last save and hoping the conversation would end there.
Too much to hope for, apparently, because Joey continued. "Sure. 'Weird' like all those times you're conveniently sitting next to him in class so you can be paired up together, or taking every single recommendation he makes, or when you 'zone out' it's always coincidentally looking in his direction."
Yugi was staring at the screen, way more intently than he needed to. "Are you finished?"
"Not yet. We've known him for, what, three years?"
"Three and a half," he blurted, then resisted the urge to slap himself.
Three years, five months, and twenty days, his brain corrected. Which didn't help.
"Ha!" Joey exclaimed, like he'd just solved the greatest mystery of the century. "Proof!"
"How is that proof?"
"You only keep track of dates like that when you've gone off the deep end."
Yugi cursed his attention to detail. "Are you finished now?"
"Not until you admit it."
"I'm not going to do that."
"Come on, just say it. No one else is here."
"Your grandpa doesn't count. Say it!"
"Nope. Not happening. I'm going to the Wilds of Namombaa for the armor upgrade."
Joey bounced up and down in his seat like an impatient toddler. "Come on, Yug'. Just once. One time."
"Too busy grinding for upgrade material, can't hear you."
"Just say 'I, Yugi Mutou, have a crush on—'"
A rapid knock interrupted him. Yugi paused the game and shot out of his seat, rushing toward the front door, turning around to point accusingly at Joey.
"Not a word," he hissed.
Joey responded by waggling his eyebrows.
Yugi rolled his eyes, and returned his attention to the front door. He put his hand on the knob, took a deep breath, and yanked open the door with a smile.
"Hey!" he greeted. "Sorry, I...huh?"
There was no one there.
"What's the hold-up, Yug'?" called Joey.
"There's nobody here," he called back. He stepped out from the threshold and scanned the front of the house. Nothing.
"What? What do you mean?" His voice got louder as he approached the door.
"Do you see anybody around?"
Yugi stepped out to look around one side of the house. There was a small alley that people would hide in sometimes. Maybe some kid thought to play a prank and duck in there to wait out whoever answered the door. He squinted into the darkness – nothing.
"Weird," he mumbled.
"Hey, uh, Yug'?" Joey asked, but he sounded different. Higher pitched, just noticeable enough. "You sure there's nobody here?"
He backed up from the alley, still trying to see if one of the many shapes could be a person. "Yeah, I don't see anybod—"
Someone clamped down on his arms with an iron grip, and put their mouth right up to his ear. "Boo!"
Yugi shrieked and jumped out of his skin, ripping himself away from whoever grabbed him. He whirled around and saw two people doubled over laughing: Joey, in the doorway, and behind him in the street was—
Pulling himself together – just barely – Atem straightened up, adjusting the overnight bag slung across his shoulders, and waved his open palms back and forth. “Surprise! Happy birthday, Yugi.”
Instead of answering, Yugi marched forward and punched him in the shoulder.
“Ow?” Atem said, more of a question than an exclamation of pain.
“Come on,” Yugi said, walking past him to the door, where Joey was still recovering from his laughing fit. “Both of you, get inside before I lock you out.”
“Like you would,” Joey said, finally catching his breath. He stepped out of the doorway as Yugi approached, heading back into the house.
“What, you don’t believe me?” Yugi challenged, but Joey was already in the living room.
“Nope,” Atem answered instead, coming up behind him. “You’re too nice for that.”
Yugi looked away hurriedly, hiding behind the pretense of closing the door. “Flattery will get you nowhere.” It was a complete lie that he hoped sounded convincing.
“Yug’,” Joey called, “if you don’t get back in here, I’m going to fast travel you to the Ember Summit.”
Yugi’s embarrassment evaporated. “You better not!”
As he rushed to save his game from his friend’s clutches, Atem gasped as he trailed behind. “You’re finally playing Full Moon Heroes?”
“I’ve been obsessed,” Yugi answered, over his shoulder. “I meant to stop playing when Joey got here, but it’s just so good.”
He slid into his seat on the couch, snatching the controller away from Joey, who had been playfully hovering his finger over the button to open the map. Atem stood by the couch, watching in excited awe.
"What part are you at?" he asked.
"He's just died for the fifth time to the Frozen Dreadmask," Joey answered. "And refuses to get the fire rune upgrade."
"I already told you, I'm getting the armor upgrade instead," Yugi said, already engrossed in the game again, mashing buttons happily to slice through jungle-themed enemies.
Atem bonked himself on the head with his palm. "I wish I would have thought of that. I went to the Ember Summit to grind and I hated my life."
"The Ember Summit isn't that bad, guys," Joey insisted.
"It's the worst."
Joey threw his hands up. "I hate arguing when you two are in the same room."
"Why?" Atem asked.
"Because you agree on everything."
"Not on everything."
"Yeah, I agree," Yugi said. He flicked his gaze to Atem, who returned it with a wink that shot straight down his spine. He smiled like an idiot.
"That was not funny, Yug'," Joey said.
"You're right, it was hilarious."
Atem laughed, as if to emphasize the point. "Alright, I'm going to put my bag down somewhere so I can sit with you guys and actually get the party started."
"You can put it upstairs in my room with Joey's stuff," Yugi offered.
"Sweet, I'll be back."
He took the stairs up two at a time, and Yugi, watching him go, was suddenly jealous that, of all the features they had that were virtually identical, height wasn't one of them. Plus, it was an excuse to stare.
As soon as Atem was out of earshot, Joey nudged him in the ribs. "Dude."
"It's so obvious you like him."
Yugi shushed him emphatically, and glanced at the top of the staircase to make sure Atem wasn't coming back down. "Why would you even say that?"
"I haven't seen you stare at something that long since the latest Duel Monsters expansion."
Yugi scoffed, returning his focus to the game. “And you’re bringing this up because…?”
“Because if you don’t tell him, he’s going to figure it out.”
“Who’s figuring what out?”
At Atem’s question, followed by his feet skipping down the stairs, Yugi sat up ramrod straight in the exact definition of what not to do when asked to “act natural.”
“Nothing!” he squeaked.
“You’re not gonna tell him?” Joey asked.
Atem walked behind the couch to sit down on the arm closest to Yugi. “What am I not being told?”
Joey shook his head, exasperated. “Yugi isn’t telling you that—”
Yugi smacked his arm, panicking. “Joey, don’t—”
“—he got the new Mortal Kombat for his birthday.”
“For real?” Atem asked, rocking forward so enthusiastically he almost fell off his perch. “That’s awesome!”
Yugi’s smile looked more like a grimace. “I wanted it to be a surprise until after I beat the Dreadmask.”
“Well, let’s beat him then,” Atem said. “I’ve been waiting for this game forever.”
Yugi shot eyes full of daggers at Joey, who smiled innocently. “You heard the man, Yug’,” Joey said. “Let’s melt this creep.”
Grinding up the armor upgrade went relatively quick, with Atem leaning over from time to time to hand out eager advice, strategies, and weapon builds to more easily beat the boss of the hour. He’d beaten Full Moon Heroes three times over in a month, and was half the reason Yugi even picked up the game in the first place. He probably would have bought it anyway, but knowing Atem liked it gave him a little extra push to be excited to play. And speaking of push—
“Press X when he’s got his arm up,” Atem instructed, as Yugi dodged another attack from the Frozen Dreadmask. “Ranged attacks have a chance to stun when he’s winding up.”
“I hate his stupid AOE,” Yugi grumbled, making his character jump over an expanding circle of spear-like icicles shooting out from the ground. He chipped away at the boss’ health with a few slashes before ducking away again.
“If you would have gotten the fire rune—” Joey started.
“Hush, I’m concentrating.”
And he was. He was watching every movement of the Frozen Dreadmask, throwing out attack after attack, trying to maneuver behind it for the backstab bonus, but it was always somehow predicting his movements. It whipped its head around, opened its grotesque mouth, and breathed pure ice in a pale blue cloud. Yugi mashed the dodge button, just on the cusp of escaping the cloud, but—
“Damn,” he cursed, as his character was frozen to the spot, becoming an ice statue, health ticking down steadily. The Dreadmask pulled itself to his frozen form, slashing downward and taking off another chunk of his health, bringing him down to less than half.
“Ah, you’re done for,” Joey lamented.
“Wait, wait,” Atem said, eyes glued to the screen, “the armor upgrade lessens your time frozen. How many seconds does it—?” He cut himself off with a celebratory clap as Yugi’s character broke free of its ice prison in a curtain of glittering ice crystals.
The real Yugi made a sound like a parrot trying to imitate an entire crowd of people at once, half jumping out of his seat as he dodged a second attack, gearing up for another attack when he noticed the third attack.
The Dreadmask was raising its arm.
“Get out of there!” Joey warned.
“Press X!” Atem screeched. “Press it!”
He could do one or the other – not both. One button, one chance.
The Frozen Dreadmask had its arm as high as it could go. Time slowed down as Yugi made his choice at the very last second. The room was silent.
His character fired a magic ranged attack into the Frozen Dreadmask. He watched with bated breath as the bolt of energy scattered across its body. Yellow stars appeared over its head. It was stunned.
All three of them exploded into yelling and chanting – “kill it, now, come on!” – as Yugi sliced into the boss again and again, taking off chunk after chunk of health until—
The Frozen Dreadmask collapsed.
This time, Yugi did jump out of his seat, cheering and holding the controller aloft like a trophy. Both Atem and Joey leapt up with him, passing out high-fives and agreeing that the fight was “totally awesome.”
“That armor upgrade,” Joey said, “worked a lot better than I thought it would.”
“Are you kidding?” Atem countered. “It saved his life.”
“This is what happens when you believe your friends,” Yugi replied with a pointed look to Joey.
He threw his hands up in surrender. “Hey, the fire rune worked for me.”
“I’m so glad the stun worked,” Atem said. “There was no guarantee that it would actually do anything.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” Yugi said, brushing some invisible dirt of his shoulders. “I just believed really hard.”
Atem rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “I’ll try that next time.”
“How about we play that new Mortal Kombat, huh?” Joey asked, poking Yugi’s side until his hands were shoved away.
“Alright, I’m going,” Yugi said, plopping back down and saving the game. Atem returned to his perch on the arm of the couch and Joey sat back down with his legs crossed under him.
Yugi closed out of Full Moon Heroes and scrolled through his library until he found the new game, freshly installed. He selected it and hopped up from the couch as the company logos faded up on the menu screen. He picked up a second controller from a shelf below the TV and tossed it at Joey, who caught it effortlessly.
“You two can go first,” Yugi announced. “Because I need a break and a drink. You guys want anything?”
“Soda, please,” Joey said.
“Water’s fine, thank you,” Atem replied, picking up Yugi’s discarded controller.
“Bo-ring,” Joey groaned. “This is a party.”
“He can drink whatever he wants, Joey,” Yugi chastised, turning around and heading for the kitchen.
He heard a sarcastic, “yeah, Joey,” from Atem as he left, and hid a smile, even though no one else could see him. He couldn’t help it, at this point. He was just happy all the time with Atem around, no matter what was going on. Everything he said made him want to laugh, even if it wasn’t funny. And everything that he said that was funny – which was a surprising amount – made him dissolve in laughter, regardless of how funny it actually was.
Textbook definition crush, basically.
Yugi pulled open the fridge and shook himself out. Now was not the time to be getting all mushy. Atem and Joey were staying overnight for his birthday, so he had to get over himself as quickly as possible. No weird stuff. No long stares. Nothing noticeable. All of that ends now.
He took out a water bottle from the fridge, along with two sodas – one for himself – and marched confidently back to the living room. He was going to be a good friend and a good host tonight. That’s all. No stupid romantic business.
That was the plan, anyway. But as soon as he stepped back into the living room, he saw Joey and Atem already in the middle of a fight, shouting playful jeers and mashing buttons wildly. The most important part was Atem wearing the brightest smile Yugi had ever seen in his life.
He was only a little disappointed at the sound of his plan shattering on the ground into a million pieces.
“Never have I ever jumped off a building,” Joey offered.
After video games, a break for birthday cake, and more video games, the sun had long ago set and the three of them decided to wind down with some more traditional party games. “Never have I ever” was the obvious choice, all of them holed up in Yugi’s room for the night, sitting crossed legged with fists on their knees. So far, it was anyone’s game, with three fingers each extended to reveal their “have evers.”
“Your questions are way too ridiculous,” Yugi said, then watched as Atem slowly extended a single finger. His jaw dropped. “No way.”
“You survived?” Joey gasped.
“It wasn’t a tall building,” Atem said, a little sheepish. “I jumped off my house back in Cairo, my cousin dared me to.”
“I would have broken every bone in my body,” Yugi said, half-awed and half-afraid as he imagined trying to jump off the roof of his own house.
“I think I sprained my ankle, but that was it.”
“Man,” Joey said, shaking his head. “I didn’t expect anyone to have done that one.”
“It’s my turn now, right?” Atem asked.
“Okay, let’s see.” He tapped his four fingers on his knee as he thought. “Never have I ever shoplifted.” Yugi and Joey looked at each other knowingly, and each extended a finger. “Both of you?”
Yugi shushed him. “You know I help out in the game shop sometimes,” he started. Joey was trying to choke down a snicker and Atem’s eyes had already popped out of his head. “I help Grandpa take stock of everything and set up the displays. And sometimes if there’s a Duel Monsters pack I want I just—” he shrugged, and mimed plucking something off a shelf and slipping it into an invisible pocket.
“Has he ever caught you?” Atem asked, leaning forward conspiratorially.
Joey elbowed him. “He’s got to know, right? When the numbers don’t add up?”
“The shop doesn’t sell out all the time. We donate the extra stuff, and there’s not really a way to keep track of them after that.”
“So he never finds out?”
Yugi shook his head. Atem mouthed “wow,” looking simultaneously impressed and scandalized. “What was yours, Joey?” he asked.
“Oh, I just stole a candy bar once.”
They all laughed at the sudden shift in scope, and almost didn’t notice the door opening.
Yugi’s mom peeked in at them. “Alright, boys, Grandpa and I are heading to bed. Try not to stay up too late.”
“’Night, Ms. Mutou.”
The door was shut with a soft click, and the three of them went back to laughing, a little quieter for courtesy’s sake.
“It sucks that no one else could make it,” Joey mused.
“Yeah,” Atem said. “I would have liked to see who else jumped off a building.”
“Definitely Tristan,” Yugi agreed.
Joey elbowed him again. “Téa would have freaked when she knew you were taking stuff.”
“Totally,” Yugi laughed. “She probably would have demanded I fess up to Grandpa and give everything back.” The two of them laughed, but Atem just looked confused.
“Really?” he asked. “Why would she do that?”
“I dunno, man,” Joey said, shrugging. “It’s just how she is.”
“Lawful good,” Yugi added.
“No, I get that,” Atem said. “I meant why would she get angry at Yugi like that?”
Yugi blinked, confused. “Why wouldn’t she?”
“Doesn’t she like you?”
Game completely forgotten, Yugi fixed Atem with the most bewildered expression he’d ever made in his life, while Joey completely lost it in a fit giggles next to him.
“What?” Atem asked, looking a little self-conscious.
“I think she might have liked me in middle school,” Yugi said. “Not anymore though.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m very sure.”
Joey, gasping for breath, pulled himself together enough to butt in. “Atem, dude, she likes you.”
Atem now looked as taken-aback as Yugi. “Me? Why would she like me?”
“How should I know?” Joey countered. “You wanna ask her or something?”
“No! I’m not even—she knows I don’t like girls, right?”
Yugi shrugged. “She knows, but I don’t think that matters when it comes to feelings.”
“I guess not. I was so sure though.”
“Why? What gave you that idea?”
Atem sputtered for a response. “I guess I just saw you two hanging out together a lot and stuff. You walk to school together and she’s like—” he waved his hands in circles in front of him, like he was trying to waft an answer into his brain. Yugi and Joey exchanged confused glances. Eventually he gave up. “I don’t know, I guess I just made something up in my head. I thought you two liked each other.”
Now it was Yugi’s turn to laugh. “No way, you’re being serious?”
Of all the expressions for Atem to be wearing, he looked almost relieved. “Shut up—”
“Don’t pretend like you didn’t like her, Yug’,” Joey interrupted.
“That was so long ago, though,” Yugi explained. “I’m over it.”
“Who do you like now?” Atem asked.
Yugi, frozen to the spot, wasn’t even looking at Joey, but he could almost hear the grin in his voice. “Oh, are we asking this question now? Because we should definitely do that.”
“No, we shouldn’t,” Yugi choked out, looking anywhere but his friends, stopping just short of closing his eyes.
“Come on, Yug’.”
“Please?” Atem scooted forward, egging him on. “We promise not to tell.”
Yugi buried his face in his hands at that perfect, sweet, well-intentioned promise that was completely useless in his situation. “I would rather die.”
Joey snorted. “That’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think?”
“Dramatic and true.”
Atem laughed. “It can’t be that bad.”
“It’s that bad,” Yugi insisted.
“I don’t believe you.”
He popped up from his mask of shame. “Why doesn’t anyone believe anything I say?”
“No one’s crush is that bad.”
“Fine. If you tell us yours, I’ll tell you mine.”
If Yugi knew anything about Atem – and he knew quite a bit – it’s that he could never back down from a challenge. He was hoping this would give him a minute or two to come up with a fake person to have a crush on while Atem confessed, as well as prepare to have his heart broken.
But he was shocked when Atem leaned back on one hand, stared at the wall, and said, “Yeah, I’m not gonna do that.”
“You—what?” Yugi stuttered.
“I’m not doing that.”
“God, both of you?” Joey groaned.
But neither of them were paying attention. “You just said nobody’s crush could be that bad, so what’s the deal with yours?” Yugi asked.
“Nothing,” Atem insisted, still staring at the wall.
“So why don’t you want to tell us?”
“Because I just don’t want to.”
“That makes no sense.”
Joey interrupted their stand-off. “You’re both hopeless and also blind.” He stood up and grabbed his bag hidden in the corner of Yugi’s room. “I’m getting ready for bed.”
Then he left, both Atem and Yugi staring after him, nonplussed.
“Guess we should get ready for bed too, then?” Yugi suggested.
They stood up, and Atem decided that he wanted to make eye contact again. “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” he said.
“No worries,” Yugi said. “Sorry about putting you on the spot.”
They smiled at each other and went about their business. Yugi did a mental victory lap: crisis averted. For now.
Yugi didn’t know what time it was, but it was definitely still night. And night meant that there wasn’t supposed to be lights on.
He blinked open his eyes, still wrapped in his blankets, and saw his door cracked open, letting in the bright beam of yellow light from down the hall that had woken him up. He yawned hugely, and sat up, scanning the room. Joey was snoring heavily, curled up on the floor in a sleeping bag. Next to him was another sleeping bag – Atem’s. It was empty.
Half-delirious, and not entirely sure he was even awake, Yugi swung himself out of bed and stumbled out the door into the hall. He followed the light down the hall to the bathroom, along with the sound of running water and someone muttering in a language he didn’t understand. He crept up to the doorframe. He didn’t even have to peek in, because the door was wide open, and what he saw made him very sure that he was awake.
It was Atem, bending over the rushing sink. He looked pale in the face, like he was about to be sick or had been recently, and water trickled down his nose and from his mouth. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he was speaking rapidly under his breath in Arabic, the same sounds over and over, like a mantra. His hands gripped the edge of the counter so hard they shook.
“’Tem?” Yugi said, half-yawning. “You okay?”
Atem cracked open his eyes just barely, cutting off whatever he’d been saying. “Yeah,” he breathed. “I just. Had a nightmare.”
If it were anyone else, Yugi would have wished him better sleep and gone back to bed, but with Atem he knew better. He wouldn’t tell anyone why, but he had horrible nightmares and memories to pair them with. They had something to do with why he left Egypt, but no one ever pushed him for more.
“Do you want to play something?” Yugi offered. “There’s a lot of different games downstairs to get your mind off it.”
Atem smiled gratefully. “I’d like that, yeah.”
He cut the water off and dried his face on a towel, and they tip-toed downstairs as quietly as possible. Yugi flicked on a table lamp, flooding the living room with a dim white light
“What do you feel like?” he whispered. “We’ll probably have to stick to board games to stay quiet. There’s also cards and puzzles.”
“Puzzles sound fun.”
“Puzzles it is.”
Yugi pulled out a five-thousand-piece puzzle of sailing ship braving a storm from a box of miscellaneous games under the couch. He held it up for Atem to look at, and he nodded.
They spread the pieces out on the floor and worked in relative silence, only talking to point out where different pieces went, or to hand over ones they think would fit. If their hands accidentally brushed, neither of them mentioned it. If they ended up closer to each other at the end of the puzzle than they were at the start, they didn’t mention that either.
Working together, it didn’t take very long for the puzzle to get done. The roiling ocean, the cloudy skies, and the ship’s masts being tossed in the wind looked exactly like they did on the box, give or take a few puzzle-piece shapes.
“Nice,” Yugi decided.
He smiled wryly. “I don’t want to ruin it to put it away.”
Atem laughed quietly. “Me neither.”
Yugi tried to swallow the fact that his heart was in his throat. It wasn’t often that they got to be alone together, with no one else around, and no one else expected to come around. It would be the perfect time to—
Atem snapped like something had just occurred to him. “I’ll be right back,” he promised. Yugi didn’t even have the chance to respond before he hurried up the stairs as quickly as he could.
Yugi took the opportunity to get himself under control. What were the odds – really – that this would go over well? Waiting until he wasn’t obligated to go to bed in the same room with, and then wake up in the same room with, Atem would probably be a better idea. Somewhere that they wouldn’t be around each other and make things awkward the whole time.
But what if it does go over well? a tiny hopeful part of his brain wondered.
He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. Their stand-off about confessing crushes had given him more encouragement than was probably warranted. Yugi didn’t confess because his crush was literally right across from him, in the same room, and asking who his crush was. It was the perfect storm of everything terrible and awkward. If it had been anyone else, he wouldn’t have had nearly as much trouble. What were the odds that Atem had the same issue for him?
But there was also the chance that he was just shy about stuff like this. Maybe he was like this about everything romantic. Maybe—
Thumping down the stairs alerted Yugi to Atem’s return. He quickly made himself look as normal and inconspicuous as possible. Hopefully.
“I meant to give this to you earlier,” Atem said, sitting back down. He was holding a tiny wrapped box, tied with a purple bow. “We were all kind of distracted with the new game and stuff, but better late than never.”
Yugi took the box, and smiled at him. “You didn’t have to get me anything, remember? I just wanted to hang out with my friends.”
Atem looked… embarrassed? Shy? “Yeah, I know. I just wanted to get you something anyway.”
Yugi wasted no time opening the little box, taking off the wrapping paper and folding it neatly off to the side, and revealing a jewelry box. He flipped open the case and…
“Is this…?” he gasped.
A tiny necklace sat curled inside the box, a golden triangle about the size of both his thumbs put together hung on a thin silver chain. It had the Eye of Horus engraved onto the center, and the rest of it was covered in lines in a pattern unmistakable.
“I know you really loved that Puzzle artifact that your grandpa brought back from Egypt,” Atem explained, hands clasped in his lap. “And when it had to go back to the museum you were really upset, so I got this made for you.”
Yugi’s head snapped up from admiring the necklace, eyes bulging. “You got this made?”
“It’s not like people sell charms of Ancient Egyptian artifacts very often. So, I got it made.”
Speechless. That was the only accurate word. Speechless. “I don’t even know what to say.”
“You like it?”
“I love it.”
As if to show just how much, Yugi carefully took the necklace out of the box and clipped it around his neck. The metal was cold against his skin, but the ecstatic look on Atem’s face when he put it on warmed him right back up.
“Believe me now?” Yugi teased.
“When have I ever not believed you?”
“Do you want me to list just today?”
They laughed quietly together, still conscious of the late hour. But Yugi cut himself off to take a deep breath to stop the words he was avoiding from crawling up his throat and revealing themselves without his permission. Unfortunately, it was noticed.
“You alright?” Atem asked.
He wanted to brush it off and forget about it, blame it on being tired. But instead of saying that, his mouth moved on its own and said, “I need to tell you something.”
“Tell away. I’m all yours.”
Please don’t say that, he begged silently. “First, I want to say that we’re friends before anything else, okay?”
Atem was starting to look a little worried. “Okay?”
Yugi squeezed his eyes shut and blurted everything he wanted to say in one breath, so fast he could hardly understand what he was saying. “The reason I wouldn’t spill who my crush was is because it’s you and I didn’t want to make things awkward between us if you didn’t like me back and honestly I’m not really sure this was a good idea either because I don’t want to—”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down.”
Yugi stopped talking altogether. He risked cracking one eye open. Atem’s expression was impossible to read.
“Did you say,” he said, slowly, “that your crush is me?”
Atem sat back on his hips and ran a hand through his wild hair, smiling and shaking his head. “I don’t believe this.”
That’s what he says? Yugi thought, surprised and, frankly, fed up. Of all the things to say, he says that?
He sat up straight and said, “Oh, come on.”
“Nobody believes a single word I say.”
Atem tiled his head curiously. “That’s not what I—”
He was still going. “I mean, seriously, even when I’m telling the truth? What is going to take for you guys to believe me when I talk?”
“Should I just say ‘hey don’t forget to believe me’ all the time? Like—” The rest of his sentence got stuck in his throat as Atem leaned forward to press a kiss on his cheek. “Oh.”
“I believe you,” he promised, with a soft smile. “don’t worry.”
And Yugi believed him in return.