“Happy birthday, Yuugi,” said the warm voice of a middle-aged man with blonde hair and kind brown eyes. Yuugi forced a smile and looked down at the slice of cheesecake on the table. There was a small candle in it, lit and waiting to be blown out. When he looked back up, Yuugi's heart ached in his chest. Beside the man was another; a tall brunette with piercing, blue eyes. He had reached out a hand to affectionately brush the blonde bangs away from the first man's face, almost like an afterthought, like habit. Yuugi looked away from the touching scene; it was not for his eyes and he could not handle it.
“You should make a wish,” the blonde man said and Yuugi nodded, heart heavy in his chest.
A wish, he thought with a hint of bitterness, a wish on my birthday.
Birthdays did not hold much meaning for Yuugi Mutou. Another year older, another year wiser? Yuugi scoffed at the saying. Wiser, he could be, but older? With hard eyes, Yuugi gazed down at the flickering candle. To become older meant loosening skin, crow's feet, hormones in your body that changed your chemistry and made changes to your appearance. Before him, were two men who had such hormones. They were both fifty years old, just like Yuugi, for he had just turned fifty years old that day.
However, even though Yuugi had just turned fifty, his face was still round, his skin still tight. There were no wrinkles around his eyes or mouth. There were no gray hairs at his temples. Yuugi Mutou held the bright face of youth with eyes that knew too much. And it was only by his tired, plum-colored orbs that one could discern that Yuugi was not as young as he first seemed. Yuugi Mutou, for all the world, appeared eighteen and not a minute older.
But this was a lie. A lie created by the magic in his veins; the magic that flowed in the bodies of every single person on the planet. This magic kept Yuugi's body young and healthy, eighteen years old every year, isolating him while it aged his friends, those lucky enough, and brought them, with time, closer to death. Yuugi had no such luck.
“I'm so sorry I'm late!”
It was the voice of relief. Yuugi knew that voice well. It was a voice, that, like his own, had not changed in thirty-three years. Glancing around, Yuugi let out a breath he had not known he had been holding, causing the candle's flame to flicker, the wax making its way down to the cheesecake. A teenager with white hair and dull, brown eyes came to a stop beside their booth in the tiny restaurant. Yuugi scooted to the side and made room for the newcomer and the pale boy sat beside him, grinning at Yuugi. The smile did not reach his tired eyes, as was usual.
“Happy birthday, Yuugi,” said the teen in his gentle voice and, across the table, the blonde huffed. The man crossed his arms and gave the pale boy a scolding look.
“Way to be late, Ryou,” he groused and the brunette beside him smirked only slightly, undoubtedly amused. He leaned back in his seat, comfortable in a way that said he was satisfied with his life.
“Ah, so sorry, Jounouchi,” Ryou said sheepishly and his tone turned hesitant, “I kind of got sidetracked.”
By the sound of his voice, Yuugi could not help but look at the pale teenager beside him with narrowed eyes and he realized then that Ryou looked significantly tired. More so than usual, Ryou seemed distressed. Stomach clenching, Yuugi swallowed dryly; he knew what this was about. A sense of déjà vu overcame him and Yuugi fought the feeling. He spoke, and it was as though he were speaking from script.
“What's wrong, Ryou?” he asked and Ryou turned to look at him with a hint of alarm, eyes shifting away quickly and his smile became strained.
“Nothing's wrong,” Ryou said and his voice was too cheerful.
“Ryou,” Yuugi said and gave his old friend a look. It was a look that said: I know you're lying.
Ryou's false smile vanished from his face and he looked down to the hands clenched in his lap.
“I thought I saw him,” Ryou whispered and Yuugi's heart skipped a beat.
It was just as he had suspected.
“Him?” he echoed as a hollow feeling took over his heart, and Ryou shook his head only once.
“It wasn't,” was all he said and Yuugi's eyebrows lowered, his brow creased. The hollow feeling increased until he felt mostly empty. It was always the same.
Placing a hand on Ryou's shoulder, he squeezed in comfort. Yuugi knew the him that Ryou spoke of. Yuugi knew him very well, too well. A flash of white hair and the echo of loud, maniacal laughter filled Yuugi's thoughts and he unwittingly shivered. The last time Yuugi had seen him was the last time...
His thoughts stopped in their tracks as the image of two gentle red eyes and an encouraging grin flashed at the forefront of his mind. Abruptly, tears came to Yuugi's eyes. Lowering his head to hide his expression with his long, blonde bangs, he desperately willed them away.
No, no, no, he thought, not here. Please not here.
With the pure strength of his will, Yuugi forced back the tears and Ryou nudged over the cheesecake slice. The candle was much lower, the wax was spilling onto the creamy cake. The flame flickered with the movement and Yuugi stared hard at it, overly aware of the couple across from him. He could feel their eyes on him, watching him, watching the both of them.
A wish, he thought and leaned forward, readying himself to blow out the candle, a wish on my eighteenth birthday. The sooner he got it over with, the sooner he could escape and return to his empty game shop where he could freely remember the other him. The him Yuugi refused to think about now.
I just wish he was back, Yuugi thought and blew out the flame.
* * *
As he was leaving, Ryou grabbed Yuugi's shoulder and stopped him before he could rush off. Yuugi sighed before turning to his friend. Jounouchi and the brunette had gone already, both far too busy to stay much longer. They had a company to run and had spared their lunch to meet with Yuugi for his repetitive birthday.
“...they will be back, won't they?” Ryou asked him, his voice quiet and subdued.
Meeting his gaze, Yuugi bit the inside of his cheek. He did not have an answer. He never had an answer. Ryou knew this, and yet the pale boy continued to ask him. And, as he always did, Ryou spoke again.
“...they have to,” Ryou whispered, “we can't stay like this forever.”
I think we can, Yuugi thought to himself, but did not say so.
“I'm sure they will,” Yuugi said, although he did not believe in his words. The brief look of despair that crossed Ryou's features told Yuugi that Ryou did not believe them either.
“I'll see you tomorrow for work at eight,” Ryou said then and he smiled. It was sad, but Yuugi could tell that he was trying.
He nodded in return, ignoring the falsity of it all and Ryou walked away. Somehow, Yuugi did not believe that Ryou was headed home. The teenager had said he had seen him, so Yuugi could only think that the boy would spend another night wandering the streets of Domino, looking for him. It did not matter that it was a lie and that he was not going to show up. Because he never did; they never did. But the small flickering hope that both boys held in their hearts could not be extinguished. They relied on that hope to keep them alive and determined to make it through another day, another week, another month, another eighteenth birthday.
Turning to begin his trek back to his lonely abode, Yuugi did not see the other teen in time to evade him. With a yelp of surprise, Yuugi stumbled into the other person who gripped his arms, steadying him. As Yuugi gazed upon the white shirt of the stranger, he immediately opened his mouth to apologize, only to freeze in surprise as the hum in his veins vanished. The hum that had woken Yuugi on his first eighteenth birthday and had reverberated in his body, keeping him young for thirty-three years had finally ceased; the magic was gone.
It was shock and disbelief that kept him still. He did not realize that the other person had also ceased to move. Yuugi stood with the stranger, held by him, searching for the familiar hum under his skin. He looked and looked, but not a trace of it was there. Eyes wide, Yuugi slowly realized that the disappearing magic could only mean one thing. The absence of the cursed magic could only be caused by the touch of his soul mate. With a gasp, the thought clicked into his head; he had found his soul mate.
Yuugi's heart skipped a beat and it felt as though his legs had turned to jello. His soul mate, Yuugi knew who the person was. That person was the other him; not Ryou's him, but Yuugi's him. The other him. The king that had whirled into his life like a hurricane and left him desolate and heartbroken thirty-three years ago was his soul mate and Yuugi knew this. He had been unable to stop the king's departure into the afterlife and had lived on with a small flame of a hope in his chest that he would see him again.
With trembling lips and burning plum-colored eyes, Yuugi lifted his head and only paused to register two stunned wine-colored orbs and a head of wild, red hair before launching himself onto the man and throwing his arms around him in a fierce hug.
It was a lie, it had to be. Yuugi could not believe this was real. The warmth of that chest, the firmness of that body, it had to be imaginary.
“...so you're my soul mate,” said a rich baritone and Yuugi's heart ached and tore at the familiar sound. He had not heard that voice in thirty-three years and it was like a balm to his anguished soul. He squeezed the young man tight and the man relaxed his grip on Yuugi's arms before enveloping him into a hug. The young man said, “It's nice to finally meet you.”
Suddenly, Yuugi pulled away to look up, heart squeezing in his chest. The young man, no older than Yuugi himself, with bright, violet-red eyes gazed at him with a soft smile and none of the love the king had held for him. Yuugi's eyes watered and his chest hurt. This was his soul mate, but not his king.
“...Atemu,” Yuugi breathed and it was like a prayer that he was wrong.
The teen cocked his head to the side and frowned. There was no recognition in his eyes.
“How did you know my name –”
Yuugi kissed him. His soul mate, but not his pharaoh, not even a little. He did not want to hear any more. It hurt too much. He did not want to hear it or believe it. The teen tensed considerably, but Yuugi did not move away. He did not want to believe it, no, no, no. It was not true. It was his king, it had to be.
Something within Yuugi shuddered and sprang open, searing through the air around him, and suddenly, the other teen reacted and he was kissing back, hard and passionate. His hands pulled Yuugi against him, fingers threading through his hair. Their mouths moved together and both held a fierce wish on their lips. They kissed for a minute, they kissed for five, they kissed forever and then the man was pulling away and staring at Yuugi, holding his face in warm, ochre hands. There was adoration, longing, and love in his eyes and Yuugi's heart stuttered in his chest.
“Mou hitori no boku,” Yuugi whispered and Atemu smiled with a firm nod.
“...aibou,” said Atemu and Yuugi's heart soared as the tears escaped his eyes.
A wish, Yuugi thought as his pharaoh pulled him close, a wish came true on my nineteenth birthday.