the_goldenpath: made by <lj user="torakaka"> (Yu-Gi-Oh! - Puzzleshipping fics)
[personal profile] the_goldenpath
Title: Hold my prayers up to the sun
Fandom: Yu-Gi-Oh!
Characters: Yuugi x Yami no Yuugi (Atemu)
Prompt: #87, Life
Word count: approx. 10.000
Rating: PG for shounen-ai.
Summary: AU. Store clerk Yuugi falls in love with museum curator Atemu Khalfani… two worlds apart, is it possible for love to conquer everything?
Author’s note: Unrepentant fluff. Characters are older, around 23-25 years. Made-up surname for Atemu. No money is made off of this. Feedback is greatly appreciated. Written for entertainment purposes only.

Key: ----- = scene change




-----------------------------



Yuugi flipped the sign on the door from ‘open’ to ‘close’. It had been a long day at the Game Shop, and not a very fruitful one. Tired, Yuugi turned the keys to lock the door and walked back to the counter to take the cash register with him. His feet were killing him; hopefully Atemu would give him another one of his spontaneous foot rubs, he could really use one! At the thought of his boyfriend, Yuugi’s lips automatically curled up into a wide, loving smile. Atemu Khalfani, curator of the Ancient Egyptian exhibition and board member of the Domino City National Museum, sure had a wonderful ring to his name. And he was all his; that thought turned Yuugi’s smile even wider and brighter.

Their relationship had improved, but Atemu still had trouble to open up. Some people were simply more introvert than others, and Yuugi had learned to accept that. He couldn’t deny that the curator wasn’t doing his best, and he reminded himself to be more patient and to not pressure the other into changing into someone he didn’t feel comfortable with. They needed time to learn how to read each other and Yuugi also had to remind himself that not everyone moved at the same pace. He was Yuugi, and Atemu was Atemu; as long as they kept communicating, they could work things out and face any problem along the way. Even though communication was the problem every now and then, Yuugi couldn’t put all the blame on Atemu. He had started this relationship with the unrealistic expectation that he and his partner would shift into this perfect balance of understanding, equality and love. The love and equality were there; Atemu treated him with much care and respect. It was the understanding that sometimes went amiss; for example, the curator hardly ever displayed emotions or affection in public, something that Yuugi was very fond of demonstrating and he couldn’t understand why Atemu would only show his love in a private, safe environment. Yuugi knew that he himself could be a real nag sometimes, and that pushing his partner to his limits wasn’t a good idea.

He stared at the front door and checked his cell phone. Atemu hadn’t sent him a text message that he’d be later today. What was taking him so long? He expected him to come through that door any moment now… oh no, I’m turning into a controlling boyfriend! Yuugi all but raced up the stairs and bumped into his mother in the kitchen.

“Yuugi-kun, no running in the house,” she said.

“Kaa-san, I’m over twenty,” Yuugi said, a little petulant.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t tell you what to do. I’m your mother!” She winked at him to let him know she wasn’t that serious. “Dinner’s almost ready! Atemu-kun isn’t home yet?”

“He’ll be here soon,” Yuugi said. The curator could be distraught when leaving the museum, it wouldn’t be the first time that he’d taken the subway to the other side of town or got out at the wrong stop. Yuugi had barely finished his sentence or he heard a key being stuck into the front door and he brightened up.
“There he is!”

“Good, good. Yuugi-kun, after dinner, your grandfather and I would like to talk to the both of you.” This time, his mother’s tone of voice was deadly serious. Yuugi looked at her quizzically.

“About what, kaa-san?”

She didn’t answer as she was interrupted by Atemu entering the kitchen. “Good afternoon, Atemu-kun,” she said. “Dinner’s ready in just a few minutes.” She knew he liked to change out of his suit into casual clothes after the workday was over. Atemu returned the greeting, but not even in front of his mother-in-law he would kiss Yuugi, so the latter had to do with a very chaste peck on the cheek.

As Atemu went upstairs to change, Yuugi called for his grandfather. Sugoroku needed time and some help to get from his bedroom to the kitchen. Even though he was in good spirits, his general health had taken a nosedive and the family had to call upon the help of a caretaker again. The elderly man didn’t like being dependent and he didn’t want to burden his grandson. No matter how often Atemu, Yuugi or his mother said that they didn’t mind to help him, he wouldn’t have any of it. This evening wasn’t an exception, and Yuugi waited patiently for Sugoroku to walk over, with the help of his cane.

“Take a seat, jii-chan,” Yuugi said as he put the bowls on the table.

“What’s for dinner? Ooh, we’re having tofu nimono?”

“I knew you’d like it!” Yuugi’s mother put the last bowl on the table when Atemu returned. Yuugi beamed at him, very tempted to kiss him on the spot. Atemu could put on a garbage bag and still look amazing; he smiled at Yuugi before taking a seat across of him. As usual, the amicable conversation covered topics about the daily grind: work, the weather, politics, the news and anything else that came up. Yuugi’s mother repeated that she and Sugoroku wanted to talk to the both of them after dinner. Atemu arched an eyebrow; he wasn’t used to her being this serious and formal. When everyone was finished with their meal, Sugoroku went to the living room while the others took care of the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. Atemu and Yuugi followed suit to the living room. Yuugi was a little queasy. He’d never seen his mother this serious before, only when she was pushing him to get good grades back in high school. What could be so important that she and his grandfather wanted to talk to him about?

“Yuugi,” it was his grandfather who took the lead, “I’ve noticed as of late that the Game Shop isn’t doing that well. It runs mostly on the sales of Duel Monsters, and that’s not enough to keep the store afloat.”

“That’s true, jii-chan,” Yuugi admitted. He was very open about the revenues of the store; he had nothing to hide. Sugoroku didn’t meddle with how Yuugi ran the Game Shop as he had officially retired, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t interested in how the store was doing. “If you’re worried about money, there’s no reason to. I make more than enough to support our family.” He glanced over at Atemu, who contributed financially to the household as well, now that he had all but moved in. He hadn’t returned to his host family ever since he got back from his trip around the world, presenting the Puzzle to the general audience.

The elderly man shook his head. “No, it’s not about money, Yuugi. I know Kaiba pays you a good salary for your work on his R & D team. I’m a little worried that it’s taxing on you to split time between two jobs, especially when one job isn’t bringing much joy and is slowly turning into a burden.”

“A burden? What are you talking about, jii-chan?” Yuugi asked, suspiciously. Unbeknownst, he reached for Atemu’s hand. The curator sat quietly next to him, listening attentively, unsure of the direction this conversation was taking. Sugoroku folded his hands together.

“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought,” he said, “and it’s time for me to face the inevitable. I’m getting older and I’m in need of much more help than you can give me. It’s for the best if I were to move to a caring facility.”

“What?? No! Jii-chan!” Yuugi shot up straight from his chair. “No way! You’re not going anywhere!”

“Yuugi, please hear me out. I don’t want to burden anyone of you with taking care of me, 24/7. I don’t want you to be bogged down by me and an ailing Game Shop. I never made the transition to sell modern video games and consoles and nowadays, people don’t play board games anymore. The store is old, I’m old and I’ve always been an old-fashioned man in many ways, Yuugi. You’re young, you have a partner, your own family, and you have an entire life ahead of you.”

“Don’t talk like that, jii-chan! You can stay with us, in this house… your house!” He was totally flabbergasted at the thought of his grandfather withering away in a caring facility.

“I know it sounds very upsetting, Yuugi-kun,” his mother said. “I’ve been giving it a good, hard thought as well. Grandfather needs more and more specific care, and we’re not outfitted or trained to give it to him.”

“We can make adjustments,” Yuugi said. “We can draw up schedules and rosters to do what needs to be done!”

“It’s just too much,” Sugoroku said. “I can barely walk the stairs. I need help to get in and out of bed, and to get dressed. I can’t ask of you to do that all for me.”

“Of course you can!” Yuugi refused to see any difficulty.

“I knew you would react this way, Yuugi-kun,” his mother continued. “Believe me, I’m not happy about it either, but we can’t run away from the truth. I don’t want to see you crumbling from the pressure of juggling two jobs, your family, your obligations and forgetting all about yourself…Remember when you held that job at the accountant office and how miserable you were, working for Takana-sama? It’s not about finances, it’s about happiness and what’s best for you, me, grandfather, Atemu-kun, all of us.”

“So… you want me to close the store?” Yuugi asked, voice high-pitched.

“My idea would be to sell the house and the store, yes,” Sugoroku said, sounding tired. “You can work fulltime for the R & D team and focus on your future with Atemu-kun. Your mother can find an apartment and I’ll be taken care of, without being a bother to you all.”

“You’re never a bother to me, jii-chan!” Yuugi was overwhelmed. He turned to his mother. “Kaa-san, why are you agreeing to this? This isn’t right!”

“I agree that you and Atemu-kun should focus on a future together,” she said. “It’s not my choice, Yuugi-kun. Grandfather wants what’s best for us, and he doesn’t want to be a burden… no matter how often you or I will tell him that he isn’t one. The house is his, and if the store is no longer profitable… wouldn’t you like a place to live with Atemu-kun? Together, just the two of you?”

“We already have a place,” Yuugi said. “It’s right here! We live here just fine!” He looked at Atemu. The curator had never complained about his living circumstances and the conversation seemed to confuse him. He probably didn’t understand Yuugi’s attachment to the house. Atemu had lived in Cairo all by himself and when he came to Japan, he had lived with a host family for a while, with no one else but Kaiba Seto. Unlike Yuugi, he had never lived somewhere long enough to build up a strong emotional connection.

Sugoroku looked miserable. “If I sell the place, you’d be relieved of the Game Shop. You shouldn’t keep working at the store because you feel obligated to or just to do me a favor. I’ve never seen the store as my life work, and I’m not sad or upset to see it go. With the money, you could afford an apartment with Atemu-kun. For me, I’ve found this private assisted living facility that looks very good.”

“But…what’s going to happen to you, kaa-san?”

His mother shrugged. “Like grandfather said, I’d search for an apartment, somewhere close.” As her husband, Yuugi’s father, never was home due to his constant business trips and she didn’t seem to keep hope for his miraculous return anytime soon, she wasn’t going to invest in a house. “Yuugi-kun, if you want to stay here and continue the Game Shop, no one is standing in your way. We just want the best for you and your future.”

“B-but…” Yuugi couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His mother and grandfather had been talking about what was best for his future, without even asking him, and they thought that selling the Game Shop and the house was for the best?

“We understand that we’re overwhelming you,” Sugoroku said. “It’s not like we expect an answer or a decision right away. I want you to think about it, just like I’ve thought about it.”

“Jii-chan…” Yuugi was flabbergasted. He wanted to say more, but his grandfather bade him goodnight, as the discussion had exhausted him. Yuugi’s mother helped him to his bedroom, leaving Yuugi and Atemu alone in the living room. Within a second, he flung himself into Atemu’s arms. It was a big consolation that Atemu immediately wrapped his arms around him in a comfortable hug, gently petting him. Yuugi pressed himself closer to him.

“What is wrong, habibi?”

“I don’t want to leave,” he said.

“Leave? What do you mean? Nobody wants you to leave.”

Yuugi clung to him. “The house,” he said. “I was born here, I grew up in here. I want my family to stay together! I don’t want to leave this house!”

“Jii-chan said that it had nothing to do with money, but if it would make you feel more secure, I could buy the house,” Atemu offered.

“Do you want to stay here? With me?” Yuugi asked breathlessly.

“I like the quaint structure of the building,” Atemu admitted. “It is cozy, and it gives a homely feel. I like it here, yes. With you,” he added as he looked at Yuugi’s face.

“Then we should buy the house, and have jii-chan live with us!”

“We have to respect his choice,” Atemu answered. “If he really wants to be in an assisted living facility, if they can provide the care he needs…. I think he has a point, at least concerning the Game Shop.”

“I know.” Yuugi heaved a sigh.

“And here I thought I was the one who had the most trouble with changes.” Atemu tilted Yuugi’s head, his fingers caressing his skin. “The store is a lot of hard work with fairly little result. Kaiba is hounding you from day one to work fulltime for him.”

“Maybe quitting the Game Shop would be for the best,” Yuugi said, albeit reluctantly. He had been working on his R & D projects whenever business was slow, and business had been really slow. His grandfather was right, the sales of the Duel Monsters game wasn’t enough to keep the store going and as of late, customers had been asking Yuugi for advice and strategy tips rather than buying the cards or booster packs. Yuugi was overwhelmed indeed. He had never thought that his grandfather would consider moving to such a facility, let alone his mother living on her own in an apartment. What was going to be left of the Mutou family? He lost himself in Atemu’s warm embrace, comforted by his presence.


--------------------------------



The Domino City National Museum had overhauled its exhibits and Yuugi and his family had been invited for the festive launch of the museum’s new, more modern approach. Atemu, in his position as curator of the Ancient Egyptian exhibit, had put his foot down when it came to the interactive ‘improvements’. As he was also a member of the board, they had begrudgingly accepted his protests, and so his exhibit was exempt from any modern technology, safe for the lit displays. Yuugi was curious to see what kind of improvements the museum had implemented.

His mother had come along with his grandfather, the latter using a wheelchair for mobility. Sugoroku simply couldn’t stand on his feet for a long period of time and it reminded Yuugi painfully about his ailing health. As his mother and grandfather were enjoying the exhibits, Yuugi went in search of his boyfriend. Atemu however was surrounded by other guests, so Yuugi looked around for someone else to talk to. He saw a very familiar woman standing to the right, holding a glass of alcohol-free champagne and looking a bit absent-minded. He walked up to her.

“Ishizu-san, congratulations on your new position,” he said politely. She smiled at him.

“Thank you, Yuugi. That means a lot to me.”

“Are you leaving soon?”

She shook her head. “My first trip is not planned for another two months, which gives me plenty of time to prepare and get acquainted with the changes in my tasks and responsibilities.” She hesitated. “Yuugi, I was wondering… I want to ask you something, but please forgive me if I am being rude.”

“What is it that you want to ask, Ishizu-san?”

Ustaaz Khalfani… did he…” she was searching for words, “… did he not accept this position because he thought…” Her voice trailed off.

Yuugi wasn’t really sure what she was trying to say, but he got the gist of it. “Ishizu-san, don’t worry,” he said. “You deserve this. Atemu didn’t accept the position because he wants to stay with me. I want him to be happy and I would’ve supported him no matter what, but our relationship would’ve become massively strained if he were to chose his job over me. He has a partner now, a family, and he’s discovering that there’s more to life than just work. It was a very conscious decision to take a step back.”

She looked relieved. “He made the right decision, then. I am very happy for the both of you, to enjoy life together. I was just worrying that I had… stolen something from him.”

“Ishizu-san… why do you feel that you owe him so much?”

Ishizu lowered her head. “Ustaaz Khalfani brought us to the modern world,” she said. “Before we met him, we lived underground in a far distant place in the desert, stuck in ancient, outdated traditions and beliefs that were… slowly killing us. Malik was so much younger, and rebellious. He didn’t want to adhere to these old traditions - he didn’t believe in them, and they were holding him back. I wanted Malik to become so much more, I wanted him to enjoy the world instead of becoming bitter and reclusive. I just didn’t know how. Coincidentally, ustaaz Khalfani led an archaeological expedition close by our home, uncovering the large stone slabs you’ve seen displayed at the museum. I offered him my expertise and he offered me a job at the museum in Cairo in return. When I told him about my siblings, he insisted that they should come too.” She showed Yuugi a soft, warm smile. “He gave us a home and a purpose, Yuugi. For that, I owe my entire world and my life to him.”

“Ishizu-san…”

She bowed to him. “Nothing that you say will change my mind. But that’s why I want so badly to see him happy. He’s always working, closing himself off for everyone else. I feared for his health and well-being. I wanted him to find the same happiness as he had given us. Maybe I pushed a little too much here and there, but I’m very happy that I brought the two of you together... somehow. I can’t take all the credit.”

“You pushed me into his office, Ishizu-san,” Yuugi reminded her, but chuckled nonetheless.

She blushed very, very slightly. “I hadn’t meant to be so abrasive.”

“I know, I know. I forgive you,” he said mock-dramatically. “After all, you did give me a push in the right direction.” He turned his head around, spotting Atemu in the crowd, thanks to his conspicuous hairstyle.

“He deals with the dignitaries and officials so much better than I do,” Ishizu sighed. “I can’t wait to travel and see more of the world.”

“Are you taking Rishid-san with you?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t like to leave Malik alone.”

“He’s not coming along with you?”

“Malik wants to go to college and preferably stay in one place for awhile. Ustaaz Khalfani has put in a good word for him at Domino City University. He has to take a special entrance exam and if he gets a good score, he’ll be allowed to attend classes.”

“That’s great to hear! He told me he wanted to go to college!”

“Yes, true,” Ishizu said. “Malik didn’t have a chance at regular education due to the unique origin of our family. I’m very glad he’s going to do something he really, truly desires. I’d love to have Rishid coming along with me, but I’m not sure if I trust Malik to take care of himself on his own.”

“He’s always welcome to stop by our place,” Yuugi said.

“Thank you, Yuugi. I would rather have both my siblings with me, but I understand and respect Malik’s wish. He’ll have plenty of time left to discover the world, be it on his own or with his friends. I really like to see him doing something that he wants, instead of someone else taking decisions for him.” She was about to say more, but a guest approached her and Yuugi said his goodbyes, not wanting to hog her time. He made eye contact with Atemu who acknowledged him, but he was swamped with guests and officials who wanted to talk to him.

Instead, Yuugi searched out his mother and grandfather and as expected, he found them at the Ancient Egyptian exhibit, in front of the display case with the Puzzle. The strange and fascinating upside-down pyramid was bathing in gentle light that brought out its magnificent splendor perfectly. Yuugi gazed at the object that had brought him and Atemu together, and he full-heartedly agreed with the curator to not subject this wonderful artifact to a laser show as to make it ‘hip’ and ‘modern’.

“It’s beautiful,” Yuugi’s mother said. “Is it really solid gold?”

“Solid as can be,” Yuugi answered, his eyes resting on the Puzzle. It was impossible to get any closer; the security system protecting the display case was courtesy of KaibaCorp.’s advanced technology.

“We’re going home,” Sugoroku said. “You’ll stay here with Atemu-kun, until the party is over?”

Yuugi nodded. “I’ll see you at home again, kaa-san, jii-chan.”

“Sure. Thank you for the lovely night out, Yuugi-kun.”

He watched his mother pushing the wheelchair to the elevator. The Ancient Egyptian exhibit was on the first floor, impossible to reach for his grandfather on foot. Jounouchi would act as a driver this evening; in his condition, Sugoroku wasn’t able to go by public transport. Yuugi was very grateful that his best friend was willing to drive; he decided to cook him an extra nice dinner as a thank you for his rendered services. It would be nice to have him over again; it had been a while. Everyone was so caught up in their lives and time was flying so fast…

The evening was almost at its end. The majority of the guests had already left, others were still around, enjoying the atmosphere and networking. Yuugi knew this was a part of Atemu’s work, but he was bored out of his mind. A few people tried to talk to him, mistaking him for the curator, only to apologize as soon as he friendly explained that he wasn’t the person they were looking for (seriously, didn’t people pay attention to one’s skin color?). Finally, the last guest in Atemu’s presence said goodbye to him, after exchanging a business card and promising to be in touch soon. As soon as the man had left, Yuugi turned towards Atemu.

“You’re tired,” he said promptly.

“Yes,” Atemu said. “It has been a long day, and an even longer evening.”

“Why don’t we go home? Surely you’re finished by now?”

“Yes, yes,” Atemu said but before they could leave, he was cornered by other people who still wanted to talk to him and by the time they finally left the Museum, it was too late to catch the last subway.

“We should call a taxi,” Yuugi said. Jounouchi had gone home after dropping Yuugi’s mother and grandfather off at the Mutou residence and he didn’t want to bother his friend to make another trip, and certainly not at this late hour. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number of a local taxi service. The friendly lady who answered his call told him there’d be a taxi within five minutes. Yuugi shivered from the cold and scooted closer to Atemu.

“Have you given it some thought?” the curator suddenly asked.

“I did,” Yuugi answered and heaved a sigh. It wasn’t a lie, but he wasn’t exactly telling the truth either. He had given it very little thought, simply because he didn’t want his family to break up like this. He had been procrastinating on this subject, as it held such big consequences. “I’m not sure what to do,” he continued. “It would take a lot of money to bring the Game Shop up to par with the needs of modern gaming communities. I do like to give advice and to interact with customers, but I think I like working for Kaiba-kun’s R & D team even more. It’s just that I can’t seem to let go of it, you know?”

“The store has seen wonderful years, Yuugi. Times have changed. Do you feel it is really worth to spend that kind of money on the store? Would the Game Shop run any better if you could cater to the gaming community? Is your heart in it?”

Yuugi was silent for a moment. “I guess it’s not,” he said. “Not completely.”

“I know how hard it is to let go of something,” Atemu said and he looked over his shoulder, into the direction of the National Museum.

“The Puzzle.”

“It is not mine.” Atemu sounded wistful. “I gave it up for the greater good, to allow the world to see it, to share it with everyone else. It would be a sin to keep it to myself, even though my heart was yearning for it.”

“It connected you to your father,” Yuugi said. “It has an emotional value.”

“Just like the Game Shop has emotional value to you.” Atemu looked like he was going to touch Yuugi’s cheek as he raised his hand. “Sometimes the heart weighs heavier than the mind.”

In anticipation of his touch, Yuugi leaned a little into him, but he was blinded by the lights of the arriving taxi. He groaned; he was longing for Atemu’s physical contact and silently cussed out the taxi for choosing this moment to arrive. It was a short ride home as at this time of night the streets were devoid of traffic. Yuugi yawned. Tomorrow was Saturday, so he could sleep in. He decided to continue the conversation with Atemu then, as they were both exhausted. He took care of the taxi fare and they went inside the house, completely dark as Yuugi’s mother and grandfather had already gone to bed. They sneaked upstairs, without making a sound, to their bedroom in the attic.


-----------------------------



It was almost noon when Yuugi woke up, unsurprisingly. He was surprised however, to find Atemu still rolled up next to him, sound asleep; he was an absurd early riser. Yuugi gently shook his shoulder. “Time to wake up, sleepyhead.”

Atemu opened his eyes, albeit slowly. “What time is it?”

“Very late.” Yuugi leaned into him to kiss him on the forehead. “We didn’t have any plans for today, did we?”

“Not that I recall.” Atemu shifted a little and pulled the blankets so tight around him that he was completely covered, except the top of his head. “It is cold.”

“It’s just November,” Yuugi laughed at him. “You’re going to be so miserable when it’s actual winter!”

“Yuugi-kun! Are you awake?” His mother’s voice was audible from downstairs. Yuugi jumped out of bed, trotted to the door and opened it.

“Yes, kaa-san?”

“Your grandfather and I are leaving!”

“What? Why?”

“We’re meeting up with the people from the assisted living facility,” she said.

“Oh, sorry!” Yuugi said. “I forgot about it, kaa-san!”

“I thought so,” she said, not offended. “It’s been such a busy week for the both of you! Why don’t you take it easy today? We won’t be back until late.”

“Sure thing, kaa-san! See you later!” He closed the door again. A day off, without any obligations and no one in the house but the two of them... Yuugi rubbed his hands and traipsed back to bed. Who could pass up on this incredible opportunity? First, he had to dig out Atemu from all the blankets and sheets he had rolled himself into, like an oversized piece of sushi. He pried and wiggled here and there, and managed to get close to Atemu after wrestling himself through layers of bed linens. He slid his arm over his chest and snuggled up to him. He wanted to feel the other’s body heat; despite Atemu’s complaints about the cold, his body was warm like an oven and Yuugi wanted to absorb it, revel in it.

“What was that about?” Atemu mumbled, eyes closed again.

“Kaa-san and jii-chan are going to visit that facility today,” Yuugi said. “It’s a weird idea that he wants to live there. It’s not like him at all.”

“If it is truly his decision…”

“I’m not sure. He keeps saying that he doesn’t want to be a burden, and he thinks he’s doing what’s right for us.” Yuugi said. “I don’t get it - he’s not doing what’s right for him. He can stay here and we can help with everything he needs.”

“What if…” Atemu opened his eyes lazily, “if or when you decide to quit the Game Shop, we could buy the house and remodel the store into living quarters for jii-chan? We could remove the wall between the store and the stock room to create plenty of space for a bathroom and a bedroom.”

“That’s a great idea! If we buy the house, he won’t have to worry about money, and he can still live with us!”

“That is, habibi, only if it is your decision. Remember what jii-chan said? He did not want you to do anything out of obligation towards him.”

“I know, I know. But he’s my grandfather.” Yuugi was enthusiastic about Atemu’s suggestion. “As soon as he’s home again, I’ll talk to him about it. I’m sure he’s going to love the idea!”

“Hm-m.”

“Oh no, you’re not going back to sleep, mister.” Yuugi poked him in the shoulder.

“But the bed is so warm,” Atemu cajoled.

“You’re warm too,” Yuugi said, his finger tracing the outline of Atemu’s jaw.

“What do you have in mind?” Atemu asked, enjoying the attention. Yuugi hesitated for a moment. Atemu’s question was innocent in itself, but it brought up an issue that Yuugi didn’t know how to deal with. He was very happy the way their relationship had evolved and developed, but it was still a mystery to him why Atemu never went beyond kissing and cuddling. Yuugi was dying to take it a step further, without pressuring his partner into doing something he wasn’t ready for. But how much longer did he have to wait? Maybe he should simply brush the subject and see how Atemu reacted…

“I want to kiss and cuddle some,” he answered. Atemu tightened his embrace and they kissed. Yuugi didn’t realize how passionate his kisses were until he heard Atemu gasp for breath.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Ah, yes,” Atemu answered. “I... I have never been kissed like that before.”

Yuugi was enamored with Atemu’s compliment, and appreciated his honesty. “Come here, then you’ll get some more.” He was pleased by the greediness Atemu displayed and they kissed again and again. Yuugi brought up his hand to tug at the buttons of Atemu’s pajamas top. His heart skipped a beat when the curator mimicked his movement. Those long, slender fingers on his skin, the anticipation in itself was so exciting…. Yuugi put his hand on Atemu’s cheek, the curator avoiding his gaze as his fingers trembled, fidgeting with the buttons. Suddenly, he let out a nervous, short laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Yuugi asked, curiously.

“The thought just crossed my mind,” Atemu said, “that my hands held the most ancient artifacts, fragile and precious, and I knew perfectly well how to handle them… yet I cannot get a goddamn button undone.”

Yuugi chuckled. “That’s all right. Just take your time.”

As Atemu continued to fumble with the buttons, his nervosity transferred to Yuugi, who couldn’t help himself. “I’m sorry I put on such a difficult garment,” he commented and chuckled: “Next time I’ll wear a shirt.” He burst out into laughter and before he knew it, they were both laughing. They held onto each other, shaking with laughter, but Yuugi noticed that Atemu’s smothered laughs started to suspiciously sound like a sob. Alarmed, he held him tight, his arms around him, rocking him back and forth. Atemu’s arms dropped to his sides, lying lifelessly in Yuugi’s embrace.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Yuugi said, shocked. “I didn’t mean to make fun of you.” He pressed a gentle kiss on the top of Atemu’s head. “I wasn’t laughing at you.” He shifted the position of his hand, fingers caressing the other’s skin and touching the nape of his neck. “It’s all right.” He continued to comfort him, his arms around him, pressing a kiss every now and then on the top of his head. The curator had buried his face against Yuugi’s chest. “It wasn’t about the buttons, was it?” he said, voice soft and low. “I wish you wouldn’t fight yourself so hard, my love.” Yuugi kissed him again. “You’re fighting so hard, that it’s killing you. It’s scary and unnerving to lower those walls. I’m right here. I’ll never judge or condemn you.”

“I know,” Atemu said and his voice was barely audible. “I am sorry.”

“You don’t have to be.” Yuugi was very content to hold Atemu like this and he stroked his neck and hair, petting and caressing him. “It was too soon, wasn’t it? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have put any pressure on you.”

“You did not.” Atemu shook his head. “I want it myself, I want it so much.”

Yuugi’s heart jumped for joy. He couldn’t detect any apprehension or doubt in Atemu’s voice. “Then why are you fighting against tears?” he asked. “It’s okay to cry.”

“I am sorry,” Atemu repeated, mumbling. He fisted his hands in Yuugi’s pajamas top, his knuckles turning white.

“You’re completely tensed up,” Yuugi said. He nuzzled him. “We’ll just stop, all right?”

“NO!” Atemu tightened his grip, tugging at the fabric so hard that Yuugi feared he was going to tear it apart. “No, please,” he said, whispering.

“We’ll just stop for now,” Yuugi stressed. “It’s all right.”

“We can continue,” Atemu said, but he didn’t move.

“No, my love. You’re terribly upset and it wouldn’t bring either one of us any pleasure if we were to continue.”

“I am fine,” Atemu said, a little petulant.

“Look at me,” Yuugi said. “You always look at me. I can’t stand it when you don’t look at me.”

Atemu didn’t comply. Yuugi pressed another kiss to the top of his head.

“You’re not fine at all. A lot has happened, but I’ve never seen you cry before. What’s the matter… was it the strain as of late?” As he continued to stroke Atemu’s hair, another thought popped up in his mind. “Is it about the position at the Museum? Do you regret giving it to Ishizu-san?”

“No, no,” Atemu denied, and Yuugi believed him. He kept petting and stroking his hair, as it was comforting for the both of them.

“What is it, then..? Something I can do for you? Something I can help you with?” He didn’t expect an answer from the curator, and he wasn’t upset or disappointed that Atemu indeed remained silent. It didn’t matter how long it would take took for him to calm down. Humming a non-descript tune, Yuugi kept petting and stroking, even though his mind wandered around in circles, asking himself what could be bothering Atemu so much.

“I am afraid,” he provided the answer, breaking the silence.

“Of what?” Yuugi asked. “What’s keeping you from opening up, my love? Jii-chan and kaa-san are really fond of you. I love you. People all over the world respect you. Jounouchi-kun and Honda-kun think you’re too distant, but they respect you as my life partner and regard you as their friend. You’re good at what you do, you’re intelligent and handsome... what could there be that frightens you?”

“Losing,” Atemu answered. He finally looked up and Yuugi was stricken by the grief in his eyes.

“Losing..? You’re not going to lose me,” he immediately answered. “I’m with you. I’m yours. I’m not going to let you go.”

“What about the others?”

Yuugi didn’t understand it at first. “The Ishtars, you mean? I guess that’s the way life goes. People change, things change… we both don’t deal well with changes. We think too much with our hearts, not with our minds… what was it that you said? ‘The heart weighs heavier than the mind?’ It’s the truth. It’s life. It’s not easy. We can’t always keep things the same way, and we can’t keep everything under control. A lot is happening at the same time and we both take it too hard. Is that what’s bothering you?”

Another moment of silence. “It happened again,” Atemu said. “Almost. Jii-chan… kaa-san…”

Yuugi took a sharp breath. He realized what the curator was talking about. “Family,” he said. “You’re afraid to lose your family.”

“My mother passed away when I was just a toddler,” Atemu said. “I do not even have a picture of her. My father told me a lot about her, but… I just do not know who she is.”

“You only had your father, until he passed away as well.”

Atemu nodded. “Yes.”

“And then the Ishtars came along… you took them under your wings, and you regarded, and still regard, them a family.” Yuugi wished he could tell Ishizu; she’d be indefinitely pleased to hear that the man she held in such high regard, returned the sentiment. “You’re not losing them, my love. Yes, Ishizu-san’s going to travel and Malik-kun’s going to college, but that doesn’t mean that they’re no longer in our lives. They’ll always be here, in our hearts, and I already offered Ishizu-san that Malik-kun is always welcome to stop by our place.”

Atemu nodded again. “But… what about our family now?”

Yuugi didn’t let go of the embrace. “I think your idea’s really fantastic, and I’m sure jii-chan will be very happy with it. We can all stay together in this house, my love. And even if they do leave, for whatever reason… we can’t force them to stay. It’s their decision, their choice.”

“I want everything to stay the same,” Atemu said, his voice still soft. “I want to keep everything under control. I do not want any more people to walk out of my life and leave me alone.”

“I’m not going to let you go,” Yuugi repeated, and tightened his embrace for good measure. “You’re mine, totally and completely mine.” It was out of his mouth before he realized it, and his cheeks turned red. He had meant every word of it, possessiveness included. Atemu seemed to feel comforted by his words, effectively snuggling even closer. Yuugi tried to understand his grief. Atemu had never experienced a regular family life, so it wasn’t abnormal for the curator to get anxious at the thought of losing everything he had just acquired. It made Yuugi feel proud and happy that Atemu saw his family as his own; he hadn’t lied when he told him that his mother and grandfather were very fond of the Egyptian.

“You must think I am weird,” Atemu said.

“Of course not,” Yuugi said. “What makes you think that?”

“About… what just happened. That I am not… ah, ‘jumping your bones’, as per the expression?”

“My, I wonder who you got that from?” Yuugi grinned.

“It was Jounouchi-kun, when he was comparing…”

“I knew it was him,” Yuugi quickly interrupted him. “That’s the way Jounouchi-kun talks. It’s a bit of a crude expression, my love. Not really fitting for a curator.”

“Oh! I see.” It brought a small smile to Atemu’s face, though. “I still have much to learn.”

“Are you feeling better?”

“I feel stupid. It is… you know, you once said that you were not going to wait forever, and it keeps replaying in my mind. I try to take my defenses down, I try to open up and talk… but sometimes it is like… there is a clump in my throat and I cannot speak, there is a weight on my heart and I cannot lift it…”

“You were alone for so long, and you simply are more introvert than I am,” Yuugi said. “I’ve said that, yes, at the start of our relationship. I waited for you, and I’ll keep waiting.”

“But not forever,” Atemu said.

“If I was immortal, I would,” Yuugi reassured him. “The most important thing is, that we keep communicating. You’re doing what you can. I don’t think that you’re weird, and there’s no need for you to feel stupid. We’ll take it step by step, all right? You like to kiss and cuddle, that’s a start.”

“M-mm.”

“Do you want to stay in bed?” Yuugi asked.

“We should get up,” Atemu answered. “We already skipped breakfast… and lunch…”

“Yeah, you’re right. We should do something…” Yuugi slowly broke up the embrace, nothing too abruptly, and stretched. “Do you want me to turn the heater up?”

“I will take a shower first,” Atemu said, “that will get me warm enough.” His voice lacked enthusiasm, which got Yuugi worried. He could see the defenses rise back up in place, closing the other off again. True, they came down easier, those walls that had provided Atemu with a sense of safety and security, but after an open, vulnerable moment they were quick to get back into position. Yuugi was about to heave a sigh, when his eyes darted through the room, to a large black case in the corner. He smiled. Of course! How could he ever forget? He went out of bed and retrieved the large cello case.

“I think you need this,” he said. “Play something for me?”

“Right now?” Atemu arched his eyebrows, but a lovely hint of excitement was visible on his face.

“Right now,” Yuugi said, his smile turning in a grin. He put the case on the floor and opened it, but didn’t touch the instrument. It was Atemu’s property, and he knew better than to touch the instrument of a musician. While Yuugi moved a chair in place, Atemu got out of bed and lifted the cello from its protective case. Before he could sit down, Yuugi already had taken the seat.

“Habibi..?”

“Come sit in front of me,” Yuugi said, opening his arms. Atemu was a bit perplexed, but he did as he was told and all but sat on Yuugi’s lap. He wrapped his arms around the curator’s waist.

“It makes playing a little bit difficult, like this,” Atemu said, slightly apologetic.

“I want to feel it,” Yuugi said.

“What?”

“The sensations you feel when you’re playing. Your heart and soul. Play something for me, please. Anything.”

Atemu moved the cello into position and curved his right arm, his fingers wrapped around the bow. His left hand was on the instrument’s neck, touching the strings. After a moment of silence, he started to play. Long, solid strokes, eliciting those typical elongated, low, melancholical notes. Yuugi closed his eyes and listened. It made his heart cry, to hear that melancholy, which he translated to Atemu dealing with his grief, the mourning he still did for his father, for his mother, his lost family. When would all this pain end? Could he, Yuugi, do anything to take that pain away, or would it still stand between them, until the end of days?

His folded hands rested against Atemu’s abdomen, the deep, dark tones traveling through his body. He could feel it rumbling, the intensity of the music increasing as the tones got lighter, more uplifting. Yuugi kept himself as limp as possible as he leaned against Atemu, moving along with every of the curator’s movement. With his eyes closed and focusing on the music, he could only imagine what Atemu was feeling. This… overwhelming, all-encompassing sensation of bathing in beauty, of experiencing this marvelous wonder, bathing in sound that seem to come from everywhere, enveloping, embracing. The tempo went up, the bow moved faster, fingers darting over the strings to keep up with the music turning into jubilant cries of ecstasy, higher and higher until it ended abruptly.

He wasn’t the only one breathing heavily. Yuugi tightened his grip on Atemu again and pressed a kiss to his neck.

“That was so beautiful,” he said. “What a gift you have.”

Atemu turned his head a little and craned his neck. “You really liked it?”

“It was amazing,” Yuugi said. “No wonder they say music can move you to tears. What did you play?”

“Händel, Sonata in G minor, Opus 2, no. 8.. It is actually written for two cellos…”

Yuugi pecked him on the cheek. “Don’t think for a moment that I’m going to learn how to play a cello, my love.”

Atemu made a pouty face which invited Yuugi to kiss him again. “Want me to join you in the shower?”

“Yes, that would be amazing,” he said. “Let me take care of the cello first.”

Yuugi watched him as he got up to put the instrument back into its case again. He had really enjoyed this wonderful moment, living the music through Atemu’s movements. He felt very hopeful, as the part of the sonata had ended on such an uptempo, higher note. It gave him the confidence and reassurement he needed; that after the grief and pain, love and light would follow, and maybe it would be sooner than he thought.

“Why don’t we all go out for dinner tonight?” he said. “My treat!”

“Great idea! Now I really need to take a shower…”

“Oh, you’re so vain!”

“I am not!”

“Dolce and Gabbana or Prada?”

“I do prefer high quality fashion, yes…”

“Are you telling me I look like a slob?”

“You know I like to see you in a suit. If you start working full-time for KaibaCorp., you will have to get yourself some business suits, habibi.”

Yuugi pursed his lips. “Fine. But only if you help me. I’ll admit my sense of fashion isn’t really up to date.”

“Does that mean you have decided to do it? Working for Kaiba, I mean?”

“Yes. If jii-chan agrees to live here with us, I’ll happily give up the store.”

“Are you sure?” Atemu looked at him.

“I’m sure,” Yuugi said. “I keep telling you that life changes, people change and things change in general… so it’s a bit hypocritical to keep clinging to something and refusing to see that it’s no longer under my control. I’ll be sad to see it go, but I know what I’ll get in return.”

“I will stand by you, no matter what you decide.”

“I know. Now, get your ass into the shower. If we keep standing here and do nothing, it’s going to be dinnertime before we can get ready!”

Atemu grabbed the towels and hurried to the bathroom. Yuugi took off his pajamas and smiled to himself as he easily unhooked the buttons. That time would come. Step by step. One day they would be in each other’s arms and explore, without any walls or defenses between them. Just this moment, he had gotten an uplifting reminder that everything was going to be okay. There wouldn’t be a problem in the world that they couldn’t overcome. Strength and kindness, compassion and confidence, love and care… the balance wasn’t there yet, but he had good hopes that it would come.

“Habibi!” he heard Atemu’s muffled voice, followed by the sound of running water. Yuugi dumped his pajamas on the floor and hurried to the bathroom as well, smiling from ear to ear.


--------------------------




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