Atem felt rather than heard their laughter dissipate, hands still holding Yuugi steady at the arms, and Yuugi leaning haplessly into him. He wasn’t entirely sure who had started the laughing, but he thought it might have been him. It had been one of those terribly mutual things; flickering between them, blurring where Atem ended and Yuugi began, and far too familiar. They’d spent far too long anticipating each other, far too long walking in-step –
And Yuugi tipped Atem’s head down to kiss him, arms curled round the back of his neck.
It occurred to Atem, maybe a split second before it happened, that he hadn’t expected that. It then occurred to him, a moment later that he hadn't moved. His hands dropped, hooking into Yuugi's shirt to stabilize the sudden shift of the world. Every second was some strange revelation creeping through his skin, and again – again he reminded himself – he hadn't seen this coming.
As easily as Atem had his expectations uprooted, Yuugi pulled away with a smile, settling his hands on Atem's shoulders. Once Yuugi had been such a small thing, eyes wide and fervent, but now they stood eye to eye, and Yuugi's were still as bright as ever. Atem ran his tongue over his upper-lip, raised a hand to brush his fingertips after it.
"Sorry," Yuugi offered, and Atem blinked.
Atem squinted, letting both hands fall to his side as Yuugi released his shoulders, "I'm just," He studied Yuugi's guileless eyes, some quiet roaming through his body. He breathed out, "Surprised?"
He adjusted his footing, still feeling uneven.
"You do look a little surprised," Yuugi smiled sheepishly, and scuffed a foot to the ground, "You okay?"
"Yeah," Atem squinted again, still trying to get the universe to readjust, "Just- surprised," He rolled the word about his mouth, dissatisfied with the flavour. He ran a hand through his hair, feeling sluggish as he did so, "I'm sorry? I must have- I must have seemed terribly rude..."
Yuugi laughed, pressing a hand to his mouth, hiding the fond smile on his face, "You're fine," Yuugi scruffed at his own hair, brushing his bangs out of his eyes, "Penny for your thoughts?"
"It's an expression, I learnt it from an American friend I have," Yuugi explained, "It means, what's on your mind?"
"Oh-" Atem studied the ground, flushing, "Same as you I think?" He shrugged, shoulders limp and useless, "I was just thinking you're pretty hard to read," -when I can't hear your thoughts.
"Ah," Yuugi scrubbed at his face, only worsening his blush, "Well, I thought I was being pretty obvious," He kicked at the ground self-consciously, "Since, you know, I, uh," Yuugi paused, "Um, kissed you."
"There's that," Atem looked off across the water, "Um, yeah..."
Yuugi shifted his weight to his other foot, "Uh, so," He swallowed, "I kind of did this all wrong, but what I mean is-" Atem looked back slowly, suspecting the feeling that had sprung up in his chest could be called agonized, "I like you."
"Oh," Atem quickly flicked his gaze back to the sunset glistening in the water. He would have sworn his temperature had risen by several degrees; his face was definitely on fire, "Um."
The silence was a physical thing, sitting contently between them and occasionally jabbing Atem somewhere between his ribs. So with more courage than he was convinced he had, he tried to look at Yuugi. He ended up staring at Yuugi's knees, eyebrows furrowed. He had to fill this silence, or at least meet Yuugi’s eyes, but all he managed to do was gaze – flushing – at Yuugi’s shirt.
“Um, Atem-kun,” Yuugi said carefully, as though testing out his voice, “Not to pressure you…or anything, but,” Yuugi stopped short there, mouth shut and wincing, “Nevermind.”
Clearing his throat, Atem managed to look at Yuugi’s throat, “No, What is it?”
“Well, I just said I like you.”
“Yeah,” Atem mumbled uselessly, “You did.”
“Oh-” Yuugi flicked his head to look the other way, his voice sounded awful, straining. Atem finally looked at Yuugi’s face, but it was turned away from him, “Sorry about that.”
“About what?” Atem peered at Yuugi, tipping forward to try and look him in the eye. Yuugi swallowed, pulse flickering in his neck.
“Well, you don’t feel… you know,” Yuugi fidgeted, “I put you in an awkward position.”
Atem gave another dull blink, squirming, “No, it’s not like that-“ It was awkward though, and Yuugi laughed softly, turning his head to stare out across the water. Watching Yuugi uneasily, Atem shifted on his spots, arms crossing over his chest. He took a steadying breath, but it made his words soft, barely audible. “I don’t know how I feel.”
“I didn’t-” Yuugi glanced at Atem, and when their gazes met, they quickly looked away again, “I’m sorry,” Yuugi mumbled, “I didn’t catch that.”
“I said,” There was something choking in the back of Atem’s throat, “I don’t know how I feel.”
“I think that means you don’t like me like that,” Yuugi explained gently.
“No, it’s not like that,” Atem repeated firmly, now gazing down at his feet. The world had changed beneath him; grown unsteady and unsure. Like the floor had opened up under him.
Beside him, Yuugi twisted to look at him, “Do you like me?” He paused, “Like that…?”
Atem fought the urge to squirm at the question, instead folding his arms tighter across his chest, “I don’t know; I’ve never really thought about it.”
“That usually means-“
“It doesn’t mean I don’t like you,” Atem interrupted, voice sharp, “It means I don’t know,” Yuugi hummed, sounding unconvinced, and Atem pressed his fingers to his forehead, teeth gritting, “Please- I’m not making fun of you. I’m not trying to- I’m confused.”
Bracing himself, Atem gazed at Yuugi, attempting to smile reassuringly. The expression slid off his face into an anxious frown, as Yuugi studied him silently.
“I’m sorry,” Atem mumbled, “I really,” His voice shrank, cowering in his chest, hiding inside his ribs like a heartbeat, “I really care about you; I’m not trying to hurt you.”
Nodding slowly, Yuugi swung his arms out by his side, working out the tension in them, “Okay,” He decided.
“Okay?” Atem blinked several times, his face scrunching up in confusion. Yuugi wrinkled his nose at Atem in imitation, “Stop that,” Atem grumbled, “What’s okay?”
“You’re okay,” Yuugi waved a hand, “We’re okay. Look- I put you on the spot, so, let’s just take a step back,” He hesitated, before smiling sadly at Atem, “I care about you too.”
“Oh,” Atem covered his mouth sharply, biting into the pad of his fingers. He could feel his face blazing under his hand, and gave a muffled response, “Thank you.”
Giving another nod, Yuugi looked back across the water, hand shoved into his pockets. The silence slipped between them again, settling more comfortably in the space, and Atem finally plopped down at the edge of the water, “Come on,” He looked up at Yuugi.
“It’s getting late,” Yuugi glanced behind him, smile faltering, then growing strong, “I shouldn’t.”
“I know, but stay anyway,” Atem’s eyebrows furrowed nervously, “Please?”
“Okay,” Yuugi nodded, sitting down cross-legged next to Atem, who swung his legs out over the edge, tapping his heels on the wall, “We’re still friends, right?”
“You’re my best friend,” The honesty burned in his throat, and Atem shut his eyes, leaning into the breeze off the water, “I’m sorry I messed earlier up – you were honestly very smooth.”
“Oh, well, smooth,” Yuugi snorted, dropping his head to look down at his lap, “That’s good.”
Hair still soaked from the shower, Atem could feel a line of water sliding down the back of his neck, as he sat down on the soft floor of the cubicle. Pulling the keyboard tray out, he fidgeted with his credit card, tapping it on the desk. Truthfully, it was a bit rich to call it his credit card, as the name read Kazama Shunsuke.
Attempting to legitimately acquire a credit card in Japan had began as a joke with a lousy punchline, and ended with Atem throwing a handful of shopping coupons in the face of a receptionist. He was seen as a risk for credit investment, so this was a solution – not a good solution – but a solution.
Logging into the dueling network, Atem shuffled a handful of booster cards he’d acquired on his route home, and flashed them by the card scanner. His barley tea was sweating in its can, and between sips he adjusted his deck. Halfway through organizing his new extra deck, an alert chimed through his headphones, and he glanced at the corner of his screen.
Dueling NetWork – Kazama Shunsuke -  Messages
Clicking the alert, Atem studied the first dueling request, before adjusting the jackpot. A moment later his counter-offer had been accepted and the screen lit up with a rudimentary dueling field. The match was quick, even brutal, and between turns Atem continued to fidget with his credit card.
[IM: Iwanaga Tetsuya] Good duel ～☆ Rematch y/n?
Atem clicked his tongue, tapping his card against the desk again. From the cubicle next door, there was a muffled thump through the partition. Setting his card down, Atem thumped back at the wall, before pulling his keyboard closer, tapping rapidly into it, and scrolling down through the kanji so rapidly he passed the correct one twice.
[IM: Kazama Shunsuke] Glutton for punishment?
[IM: Iwanaga Tetsuya] Hungry for victory (۶ૈ ᵒ̌ Дᵒ̌)۶ૈ !!
[IM: Iwanaga Tetsuya] I’ll beat you next time.
He studied the computer for a moment, fiddling with the keyboard. It was early morning already, and he had already earnt ¥12000 from Tetsuya Iwanaga in his last game. Still, Atem’s winrate was beginning to attract attention, and he didn’t really need the money.
[IM: Kazama Shunsuke] Tomorrow.
Pushing the keyboard tray away, Atem flopped back against the cubicle wall. There was another IM coming through from his opponent on the screen, and he glanced at it, before dumping his headphones next to the monitor. It was close to eight am, but in this windowless underground room it could have been midnight. His bank account had deeper pockets than the day before, and his internet café cubicle was still ridiculously cheap.
Hitting his head gently against the wall, Atem stared up at the coloured lighting on the ceiling, shutting his eyes after a moment. Yuugi liked him – like with the underline, the italic, the meaningful dip in tone. Yuugi like liked him.
Like liked him.
The thought rattled in Atem’s skull, rebounding and skittering through his mind. He couldn’t seem to click it into place, and trying to force it was giving him a headache. It was strange and uncomfortable trying to figure out what that meant to anyone, let alone him. Growling at himself, Atem knocked his head even harder against the wall, and then winced when the person on the other side kicked out at the wall.
Clambering to his feet, Atem almost tumbled forward, grabbing for his hotel keycard. Staggering towards the door, he kept his eyes fixed on the edges of his cubicle; he had no desire to see what his neighbours might be up to. He'd accidentally glanced over the partition once, and he had absolutely no desire to repeat the experience.
Flushing, Atem made his way towards the elevator, foot tapping and getting more desperate for fresh air. He jabbed at the elevator button twice more, before the light above the door flashed a downward arrow. Groaning expressively, Atem all but stomped into the elevator, pacing in the small container before finally stalking out of the building. Tossing his head back, he breathed in deeply, sucking the air into his lungs.
He flicked round, and Ryou hitched his bag higher, waving cautiously at him, “Bakura?” As Ryou darted over to him, Atem looked over Ryou's oversized jumper and colour-faded jeans in confusion, "Aren't you meant to be at school?"
"Oh," Ryou adjusted his bag strap, fidgeting with the tab, "Probably, I guess," Almost cheerily, Ryou shrugged at him, "So how are you?"
"Good," Atem ventured after a moment, and Ryou gave a pleased nod in response, "And you?"
"Terrible," Ryou answered brightly, kicking at the ground with one foot, "I had an early appointment, but I was up late, so I decided not to sleep, and now I'm really tired," He laughed, and Atem squinted at him, half-heartedly laughing with him, "Turns out it wasn't even today; it's tomorrow. And now I'm tired."
"I'm actually sorry I asked," Atem could feel himself faltering, "Did you want a coffee or-"
"I could use some company," There was an awkward tug at Ryou's bag, his long fingers catching on the strap, and causing several of the pins on it to chatter, "I can't fall asleep, or, well not yet. I can buy if you could just talk at me, please?"
"Sure," Atem paused roughly, blinking, "What should I talk about?"
"Well," Ryou nodded towards a nearby shop, "How's Domino treating you, Atem-san? You've been here, um," An apologetic smile, frayed at the edges, "How long?"
"More than a month," Atem rolled his eyes, face scrunching, "Why does everybody have to ask me that?"
Chuckling stiltedly into the back of his hand, Ryou shifted his bag again, "Don't worry, you stop being new when someone else arrives," Ryou flicked a strand of hair back over his shoulder, "This place looks good."
Shuffling into the café, Ryou meandered sluggishly towards the counter. Each footstep was absent-minded, and Ryou stopped halfway through to tie his shoelaces. Moving past Ryou, Atem approached the waitress putting in his order, when Ryou materialized at his side, dropping his coins into the plate left on the side, "Same for me, please," Counting his coins twice, then a third time under his breath, Ryou finally pushed the plate towards the cashier, "So, how is Yuugi-kun?" Atem's jaw clenched, and Ryou drew back to look at him worriedly, "Not good?"
"We're good," Atem protested, and Ryou's eyebrows disappeared beneath his fringe.
"Oh, well, if you're sure," Ryou sounded snide, but when Atem tried to glare at him, Ryou was unconcernedly collecting their drinks from the waitress, "I hate ordering, so thank you," Passing one to Atem, and sliding into an empty seat, Ryou set his drink down before tipping his head gently, "So what happened with you two?"
"Why do you-"
"I actually know Yuugi-kun pretty well," Ryou cut over Atem. Waiting to see if Ryou had more to add, Atem found Ryou sipping at his drink instead.
Shaking his head, Atem slid in across from Ryou, "What do you think happened then?" There was a dangerous note of challenge in his voice, and no matter how carefully he played the words, he couldn't quite pull the aggression from his tone. To his credit, Ryou simply raised his eyebrows at Atem, and Atem sighed pointedly, "Why aren't you at school?"
"My father's never paid attention to my absences," Ryou replied.
"That's no excuse."
"That means," Ryou continued, "You shouldn't either," He picked his cup up, turning it round in his hands, studying Atem over it, "If you break Yuugi-kun's heart, I bet Jounouchi-kun will break your arm."
"I bet he would too," Atem sighed, leaning back in his chair, "I don't really see how I couldn't at this point."
"Ah," Ryou smiled softly, "Left, or right then?"
Groaning, Atem leaned back in his spot, "I don't want to."
"Well of course not," Ryou chuckled, "Nobody wants their arm broken," Amused, Ryou took another sip of his drink, the fingers of his other hand tapping on the table, "So, I was right," It wasn't a question, and Atem glowered at Ryou tiredly. Waving a hand, Ryou set his drink down, "Don't worry, I'm too tired for this kind of drama."
Unconvinced, Atem rolled his eyes, snorting softly through his nose, "What do you call this?"
"Curiosity," Ryou shrugged, rolling one shoulder back, "I'm not going to break your arm."
"Thank you for that," Atem remarked dryly.
"Although, Yuugi-kun's friends are going to be surprised," Ryou poked a finger at the table, looking to the side guiltily, "They seem to think it's just a matter of time. You know how it is."
"I suppose," Atem raised an eyebrow, "You don't consider yourself his friend?"
Startled, Ryou jolted upright, no longer slouching in his seat, "Oh, I-" He coughed, hurriedly reaching for his drink, "I wouldn't want to presume," With Ryou deliberately smothering his words into a gulp of coffee, Atem strained to pick them out, and Ryou flushed, "We have a lot of painful memories."
Automatically, Atem leaned back in his seat, shaking his head, "That's not your fault."
"Yuugi-kun is kind about these things," Ryou corrected, tone sliding from uncomfortable to angered, "So you shouldn't take his opinion on this," There was a resentful crinkle of Ryou's nose, "He shouldn't be talking to you about this."
"He didn't," Ryou's eyebrows quirked with confusion, mouth twisting, and Atem faltered, "I- it wasn't Yuugi," The hesitation dissolved, as Atem braced a hand on the table, glaring across it at Ryou, "But even if it was, you shouldn't dismiss Yuugi for being kind; it's not ignorance," He leaned back in his seat, arms crossing protectively over his chest, "If anything, you're being ignorant for giving up on yourself."
Ryou's features frosted over, the twist of his mouth baring in a snarl. It was an expression Atem hadn't seen since the Spirit of the Ring, and it was like seeing a ghost in the flesh, "If you think I've given up on myself, you don't know what that word means," Ryou got to his feet, staring Atem down as he hitched his bag over his shoulders. One eyebrow raised disdainfully, and Ryou's voice was clipped, like using the blunted edge of a blade, "Good luck with Jounouchi-kun."
With that, Ryou turned on his heel and stalked out of the café. Slumping in his spot, Atem rubbed at the back of his neck, and after a moment, took his phone out. Writing a short message of warning to Yuugi, Atem halted mid-tap to pull a face at his phone. After yesterday, Yuugi had all but told him it was his move, but Atem didn't have anything to say yet, so how could he break the silence? He stared down at the unsent message, thumb hovering over the next button, before deleting the text with a resentful expression.
Fidgeting with his phone, Atem took a deep breath in, before typing out the message again with gritted teeth. It didn't matter what was going on between them; if Ryou still thought Yuugi was sharing secrets about him, Atem was not going to leave Yuugi in the dark.
[To: Aibou] heads up i pissed bakura off
Before he could decide against it, Atem hit send, but now, staring at the message, he was dissatisfied. He combed a hand through his fringe, mussing it, before tapping at the phone again.
[To: Aibou] he might be pissed at you too sorry
There was an agonizing wait before the reply, and when the phone finally vibrated, Atem's insides clenched, like a a hand had squeezed his spine. Almost dropping his phone, Atem opened the text hastily.
[From: Aibou] ?(ο´･д･)??
Dumbfounded, Atem squinted at the text, "Really?" He murmured, cupping the phone in both hands and typing out a reply.
[To: Aibou] long story
[From: Aibou] ...I've got time?
The reply was almost instantaneous, and Atem's face scrunched up, hunching in his spot as he hurriedly typed back.
[To: Aibou] its complicated
[To: Aibou] okay its not. just awkward.
He gave a short huff, scratching at a spot on his neck, and put his phone down. Pushing it away slightly, he cupped his drink in his hands, staring down at it. Atem tilted his head one way, then the other, eyes flicking towards his phone, and with an exaggerate sigh, he pulled it back towards him.
[To: Aibou] best if i explain in person. i kinda messed up sorry
Pushing his phone away again, Atem half-sneered at his coffee, and instead drummed his fingers on the table. He wasn't sure if the shift inside him was relief, or worry, but he swiped his phone up at the familiar buzz. Opening the message, he gave a heavy exhale, pressing a hand to his forehead.
[From: Aibou] kk ヽ(´･ω･`)､ Hope everything is okay?
Atem's hand drifted back through his bangs, brushing them away from his face, before he settled in to type out his reply. His thumb hovered over the send button, before he added a kamoji as an afterthought.
[To: Aibou] me too, ttyl (^o^;)
Nodding, Atem stowed his phone back into his pocket, and abandoning his drink, left the café. The tension that had begun to ease in him came back, slowly knotting up in his nerves. He ground his teeth, scuffing a foot at the floor and shoving his hands into his pockets, took off down he street. He'd been congratulating himself on being able to talk to Yuugi, forgetting that he didn't know what to say.
It wasn't as though Atem was avoiding the matter, it was just that Atem needed a level head, and duelling the best way to clear his thoughts. That was exactly why Atem was scanning the duel listings at the Black Crown Arcade. The fact he was glad Otogi was at school was purely because he had no interest in dueling Otogi, and not because Otogi might ask after Yuugi.
Although judging by the listings he probably would have dueled Otogi, and been glad of it too.
The regular duelists had not changed much in the time Atem had spent away from Domino City, and besides, he had beaten many of these duelists at the Kame Game Shop a month ago. The challenge was lacking, and Atem gave a stilted yawn, eyes flicking through the lists once more. He bounced his duelist chip in his hand, trying to find someone at least diverting.
There was something lonely about his skill that Atem had never felt before, but then he had never dueled alone before. Yuugi had always been at his side, and if Yuugi was not there, his friends had been at his back. Even in Egypt there had been Falah to talk to, and there had been purpose. Now, Atem was stranded, disconnected from his future as much as his past.
Bracing a hand on his hip, Atem approached the counter, "I was interested in dueling-" He glanced up, eyes narrowing, "Tsuda Kenjiro. Here's my chip-"
"I'm sorry, sir," The attendant dipped her head, pony-tail bobbing as she did so, "Your presence has been requested in Duel Room 3."
"Requested?" Atem squinted, automatically looking towards Duel Room 3, before turning back to the attendant, "By who?"
"I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to say," Once again she dipped her head, looking both genuinely apologetic and petrified, "Please proceed to Duel Room 3."
"And if I decide not to?"
"I'm sorry, sir," She looked incredibly cagey, gazing at him with huge eyes, "Please proceed to Duel Room 3."
Anubis, Atem decided. The God had stuck his muzzle directly into Atem's business before, and the weather had been decidedly warm this morning. Besides, who else could hope to command this level of influence?
Nodding at the woman, he smiled reassuringly, "That's alright, I think I know him."
"Do you?" The attendant stammered, eyes going wider and face going slack. Gathering herself, she gestured towards the Duel Room, "Sorry, please go right ahead."
Moving away from the counter, Atem considered his options. Although he might be able to avoid meeting with the deity, the only reason he had to avoid the encounter was the forceful way Anubis was initiating it. Apart from that, he was more curious than rebellious, and with that Atem marched towards Duel Room 3. Pushing the door open, he called out, "You didn't need to get my attention this way, you know."
"Should I have sent you a notification on DuelingNetwork?" Kaiba's arms were folded across his chest, the sweep of his coat curling about his feet. An unimpressed eyebrow was arched, "Kazama Shunsuke."
"Kaiba?" Atem looked the duelist up and down, hearing the door click shut behind him, "What are you doing here?"
There was an airy swish of Kaiba's hand, "I tracked your duelist chip."
"Of course you did," Atem rolled his eyes, wishing he was more surprised to hear that, "I take it you know I'm committing credit fraud."
"I'm more surprised you don't exist," Kaiba replied silkily, eyebrow still raised, "Sa-Re Atem is as false an identity as Kazuma Shunsuke."
"Doesn't mean I don't exist," He gave a swift gesture down himself, "Clearly I do."
Kaiba's expression didn't waver, "I should have you arrested."
"And you haven't?"
Atem tapped his foot on the floor impatiently, "Well, what do you want?"
At this Kaiba gave a sharp laugh, mouth curving into a familiar - even welcome - grin. Raising his arm, he pointed at Atem with a graceful sweeping movement, "I want a rematch!"
The duel had fallen to Osiris this time, his special ability threshing through Kaiba's lifepoints with a ruthless efficiency. Rather than angering Kaiba, Atem had seen the man's expression turn from eager to enraptured when Osiris materialized in a flash of wings. As they exited the podiums, Kaiba had offered his hand to Atem, head tilted with interest, "You are a rare duelist," His eyes narrowed, "I have been thinking of hosting a second Battle City-"
"I won't participate," Atem took Kaiba's hand, shaking it resolutely, "But I wish you luck."
"Are you sure?" Kaiba released his hand, face unreadable.
He nodded in a single deft motion, regret welling into a fierce smile, "I'm sure," Atem shrugged, "I wish I could, but-" He thought for a moment, smile fading, "My time has passed," That caught Kaiba's attention, and he tilted his head, opening his mouth, then closing it again without speaking. Instead, Kaiba reached into his pocket, offering Atem an envelope, "What's this?"
Atem pulled the envelope open tipping a credit card and passport into his hand, as Kaiba cleared his throat, "It's security," The man crossed his arms, eyes blazing when he spoke again, "As long as you are alive, your time is now," He showed his teeth, somewhere between a snarl and a smile, "The next time we duel, you will know that."
Curling his fingers around the documents, Atem looked back up at Kaiba, "I'm sorry," Kaiba faltered, "It's just there's somewhere I need to be."
Atem scanned the school building, and then his phone again, face darkening at the time, "I should have dueled Kaiba twice," He muttered under his breath, ducking his head back down to his phone and setting a hand on his hip. Shaking his phone boredly, Atem glanced back at the school and stopped.
Jounouchi's face was pressed right up against the window, and though he was too far away for Atem to tell, Atem suspected he had a massive grin on his face. Still watching Jounouchi in the window, Atem tapped a message into his phone quickly, and then set his hand on his hip. There was a brief movement when Jounouchi paused, looking away, before Atem's phone vibrated.
[To: Jounouchi] tell yuugi to check his phone
[From: Jounouchi] lol teach took it
[From: Jounouchi] 1 sec
A moment later, Yuugi's face appeared in the window, before both Jounouchi and Yuugi disappeared from view. Atem blinked, looking back down at his phone as a flood of messages lit up on it.
[From: Jounouchi] It's Yuugi here I'm so sorry ๑•́ㅿ•̀๑)"
[From: Jounouchi] ( ≧Д≦) I got my phone confiscated earlier
[From: Jounouchi] ?? what's going on?
[From: Jounouchi] Hang on, I'll come down now ;v;
Atem looked up again to see Yuugi darting past, and Jounouchi pressing his face back against the window. Waving at Jounouchi awkwardly, Atem slipped his phone back into his pocket, pointedly ignoring the buzz of his phone, even when Jounouchi slapped a hand on the window. He gave a wide, expansive shrug, feigning confusion and was fairly certain Jounouchi was pulling a face at him.
"Sorry!" Yuugi panted, jogging towards Atem, his bag hanging loosely from one hand, "Morita-sensei caught me checking my phone," Yuugi came to a stop, hunching over to gulp for air. Looking up, Yuugi's face was flushed and his bag was trailing on the ground, "I hope you weren't waiting long."
"No," Atem shook his head hurriedly, waving a hand uneasily, "I just got here really," He paused, nervousness dimming, "Wait- he took your phone for that. That's not fair," Yuugi began to laugh between gasps of air, and Atem scowled, "Hey!"
"It's fine, Atem-kun, it's fine," Yuugi chuckled into the back of his hand, beaming at Atem with a clumsy smile, "Hey, how are you?" He tilted his head as he picked his bag up in his arms, "What even happened with Ryou?"
Reaching out to take Yuugi's bag, Atem sighed, looking off to the side, "I think he thinks we were gossiping about him."
"You don't need to-" Yuugi cut off, letting go of the bag and frowning, "We haven't."
Atem slung Yuugi's bag over one of his shoulders, nodding in agreement, "That's what I told him, but I don't know if he believed me, and-" He stopped, the same tension clutching down his spine as he looked Yuugi. Glancing up at the school building, he saw Jounouchi watching them carefully from the window, this time joined by Honda.
Following his gaze, Yuugi smiled awkwardly, "Sorry," Alarm spread across Yuugi's face, and he held both hands up in alarm, "I didn't say anything to them! Well, I mentioned something to Anzu, but she wouldn't have said anything because-" He trailed off, looking between Atem and the window, before nervously chirping, "Do you like parks?"
"Parks, there's a park," Yuugi gestured abstractedly towards the school gates, "I- They're kinda staring."
Anzu had joined Jounouchi and Honda in the window, and Atem grimaced, "They kind of are," He shifted the bag on his shoulder, and looked back at Yuugi, "Park. Park is good."
Relieved, Yuugi began walking towards the gates, and after one last glance at the gang, Atem followed after him. Adjusting the bag as they rounded a corner, Atem glanced at Yuugi, and found Yuugi looking at him. He looked as though Atem had caught him mid-glance, and they both quickly looked away from each other.
"School good?" Atem asked, still looking the other way with a studious expression. As soon as he had asked the question, he winced over it.
Yuugi gave a soft chuckle, watching Atem out of the corner of his eyes, "School was good, except for losing my phone," The gentle tone more than anything else had Atem slowly looking back at Yuugi, "How was your day?"
"It's been good," Atem smirked, "Except for upsetting Bakura," He fidgeted with the bag-strap for a moment, blood feeling like quicksand, and thoughts just as slow, "I dueled Kaiba."
"That's why he wasn't at school, then," Yuugi shook his head, "I worry about his attendance almost as much as Ryou's."
There was a nervous check in Atem's smile, but he couldn't help it, arching an eyebrow at Yuugi, "I thought we didn't gossip."
"Well," Yuugi rolled his eyes, "I won't tell if you won't," There was a low silence between them, before Yuugi took a deep breath, bracing himself, and it was like the world was trying to swallow Atem whole, opening up beneath him all over again. Atem fell to a stop, but Yuugi hadn't noticed, beginning carefully, "Atem-kun, I-"
"I can't date you," Atem yelped, the words startled out of him. Eyes squeezed shut, Atem continued, an apologetic rush tumbling out of him, "It's not that I don't like you, because I don't not like you, I just can't date you-"
"I can't either."
"What?" Atem blinked his eyes open.
"I can't date you," Yuugi clarified, face burning and one foot scuffing at the ground. Despite that, he was staring at Atem uncertainly, "School rules," He gave a shaky shrug, and a shakier smile that didn't quite stick, "Honda-kun got in so much trouble with Miho-chan," Yuugi pulled at his sleeves, tugging them straight, "Um- S-so, what's your reason?"
Atem's skull felt rattled, the universe deliberately tossing him all over the place, "Huh?"
"Why can't you date me?" Yuugi studied his shoes, "If it's not- me."
"It's not you," It felt like his words were stumbling on the way out of his mouth, "You can't date me?"
"Um- well," Still staring down at his shoes, Yuugi bit his lip, "I can, but I shouldn't," Atem's eyes narrowed, unsure what to make of that, and Yuugi continued, face still flushed, "I wasn't trying to make fun of you, or- I don't know- mess with you; I did mean it, but," Yuugi fidgeted with his sleeves again, "Since you can't, I thought it might be easier if I- you know," Yuugi swallowed, "Made it easier."
"That doesn't make anything easier," Atem protested, scratching a hand through his fringe and leaving it in a tangle. Yuugi didn't look up, still staring at the ground miserably, and Atem shrank on the spot, "I- I'm leaving," That made Yuugi look up in alarm and Atem hurriedly waved both hands, "Not now! I mean, in six months, I'm going-" How to put this? "Back to Egypt."
Yuugi's face was a messy blush now, eyes far too bright and Atem had the horrible feeling Yuugi had been about to cry.
Atem flinched, "I'm sorry, it's not fair on you."
"On me?" Yuugi looked askance, voice sore, and Atem almost took a step back.
"Yes," He instead held his ground, "I can, but I shouldn't, because I can't-" Atem hesitated, the expression on Yuugi's face inscrutable, "I don't want to hurt you."
Yuugi's eyebrows furrowed, mouth setting in a thin line, "You really are egotistical," There was anger in that voice, and Yuugi blew his breath out in a soft huff, expression clearing, "Okay," Yuugi shut his eyes, running a hand through his fringe, "I shouldn't date you, and you shouldn't date me," It was stated as though reading out a series of rules, and Atem nodded slowly, but all that did was make Yuugi tip his head on the side, "Would you like to go out sometime," There was a brief pause, and Yuugi clarified, "On a date, I mean."
It felt like his chest was being crumpled in, "I just said I don't want to hurt you."
"I can handle myself," Yuugi interrupted, "I still like you," He paused, before chiding Atem irritably, "Even though you're making decisions for me," Yuugi shrugged a shoulder, an unsure, regretful look flickering on his face, "I just want to know how you feel, but you keep avoiding it," Yuugi looked down at the floor, "You won't say if you like me, but if I ask you, if you don't like me, you insist that's not it."
"I-" He didn't know what to do with his hands, "Of course I like you; you mean the world to me," The ache that had dug itself into Atem all day settled, and he went limp, staring at Yuugi helplessly. Tension finally relaxing in Atem's muscles, he gave a useless shrug, the bag sliding down his shoulder, "Of course I like you," He repeated it again, eyebrows furrowing, as confused as ever, staring down at the floor, "Of course I do.
"Hey," Yuugi leaned forward, brushing at Atem's hand to get his attention, and Atem's head snapped up like he'd been stung, "Sorry," Yuugi faltered.
"I-" Atem stared at Yuugi, "I like you."
"I like you too," Yuugi murmured, reaching out to resettle the strap of the bag on Atem's shoulder, "Would you like to visit the museum," Yuugi leaned back, a smile finally reaching his face, "With me," He looked to the side, blowing his fringe away from his face before continuing, "On a date, I- um- mean."
Atem scuffed his shoe against the ground, still looking remarkably like a deer dazzled in the headlights, "Yes, please," He managed, at last. He sounded ridiculous, like he was out of breath, like he'd been walking for days and Yuugi gave a nervous giggle, "Hey," Atem's confused expression cleared enough for him to scowl at Yuugi, "It's not funny."
"You really are," Yuugi's smile had curled into a grin, and Atem rolled his eyes, face burning as he hitched the bag-strap more securely on his shoulder. Yuugi was still laughing softly, one eyebrow raised, "I can't believe you said please."