There were many new sights and sensations seeping through the haze his mind had wrapped itself in.
Yes…everything was very hazy indeed. Perhaps it was a protective mechanism to deal with everything that happened to him. Perhaps it was a brand new illusion. Perhaps, most likely of all possibilities, it was the physicality of what had happened to his body; weakness, the anemia, the pain…the psychological anguish. The possibility that he was dead crossed his mind as well, but he lazily brushed that aside as occasionally, he could feel the twinge of discomfort that was now the normal state of his body, increasing, tearing pained sounds from his lips.
The haze surrounded most of his senses tightly. But it was obvious that some things were determined to make themselves known to him.
He thought he saw gold.
It was the strangest dream.
He was still in the space station. On the floor, sprawled open and violated. The implements of his torture, now lifeless and dull without their eerie blue lights and without the chain of commands bringing them to action, scattered around him and still ensnaring him in their clutches. He was still too weak to move away from them. In his dream, moving hurt. So much. It was strange. But it wasn't stranger than the sight flickering before him.
The stars were still shining… then they weren't. Their bright lights and their beautiful colors were drowned by a peculiar new source of illumination. It was white at first, blinding him momentarily. He closed his eyes against it and for a while thought that it was the end of the strange dream he was having. That he was going to continue his sleep…perhaps never to wake up again. Or wake up to Yami's cool voice declaring his love for him and to start his torment all over again.
The light was still there…but it was different now. Everything looked so beautiful so suddenly. He felt a new kind of ache going through him. Not one from the many wounds on his broken body. This was an ache behind his sternum. The kind of fluttering in his heart when he saw a sight too beautiful to stay unfazed witnessing it.
The light was now gold threads. Hanging in the air above him, around him. He stared at the cables, previously lit with cold blue, now glowing the breathtaking yellow of gold. His mind was too baffled, too convinced that this was a dream, to try and think of any possible scientific mechanism behind what was happening. All he could do was keep his eyes fixed on the tormenting cables, as each segment of them became alive with gold.
He only just made the realization that, like the blue of Yami's command on them…the golden, too, was making them alive. They moved.
Unfortunately, the burst of pain resulting from their movement sent him tumbling back to sleep and just as his eyes closed, he realized something with a burst of amazement.
He wasn't dreaming…
The haze remained with him. It all blurred together. Reality and dreams. He thought he felt warmth on his back, his head being cradled in someone's lap. Familiar hands were brushing his hair and a familiar scent was around him, but he wasn't nearly done trying to savor it properly, when it was gone again. The golden was gone, too. There was cold fluorescent lights, suddenly. Loud noises, a strangely familiar whirr.
He didn't know what was real anymore. He recognized a pair of gray eyes he had missed so much. They were wide with fright, worry…a hint of horror that was unexplained, considering that this was a dream, wasn't it? He reached out for their owner, needing a physical contact to soothe the ache within him at how much he just …missed them so much. His hand was held, but not by his long-missed brother. It was turned around instead and he could feel himself attempting to cry out at the seemingly unbearable pain of the jab of a needle into the back of it.
It seemed a bit silly to his addled mind. After all, he couldn't even begin imagining what his body looked like after all this time in captivity. How was the tiny prick of a needle so painful to him? A surprisingly clear part of his mind supplied that perhaps it was because he suffered so much abuse, that he was now unable to withstand even the tiniest of discomforts?
There was more fluorescent lights. More darkness to intermingle the series of sights and sensations he was experiencing.
There was a stranger with a disposable mask calling his name. Gently tapping his cheek. He felt himself frowning and turning away from the touch, scrunching his eyes shut again against the lights that stabbed at them.
They flew open again when he heard a familiar voice. Of course, all he could manage was a slight slide of his eyelids apart from each other, letting in the lights and sheer power of will that he didn't know he still possessed kept him from the urge to close them again, so he could seek out the source of the voice.
He was dreaming, for sure.
He didn't know what to do. He wanted to close his eyes again and continue this dream…but he was afraid that anything he did differently, any breath the wrong way, the mere act of blinking, may erase the unattainable impossibility he was witnessing.
He stared for what seemed like hours at the mixture of gold, bronze and red that materialized from the figments of his torn and tattered mind, unable and unwilling to tear his eyes away. Strangely aesthetic and otherworldly, the sight was unfamiliar and he was more convinced now more than ever that he was seeing things made up by wishful thinking from his tortured mind. He had finally been pushed to the very edge. He was hallucinating. But this was a good hallucination. So, so good he never wanted it to end. He never wanted it to stop.
And so he kept his eyes open, until they became tearful and burned uncomfortably. He blamed it on the lights. The broken part of him knew better. He was crying. The ragged dregs of his pride were feeble and unconvincing in front of the tightening in his chest and the closed up sensation in his throat. Hot trails slid down towards his hair from the outer corners of his eyes and the burn was unbearable. Yet he endured it.
He hungrily took in his fill of the sight of the bronze skin with gold-like hues shining underneath the cool fluorescent lights…the way the warmth of it made everything look cold and lifeless. He stared as keenly as he could at the crimson eyes beneath a crown of golden hair, and a literal crown of gold, with Horus' wings at its sides. He surprised himself by clearly reading anger and disbelief in those familiar eyes. A familiar expression, one he had seen many times before but never as intense as it was at that moment. It was very strange. Especially as it was mingled with an outlandish softness.
Words were spoken but he couldn't process them. The only thing he could determine was the familiar soothing voice they were spoken with. The lull and very subtle hoarseness that laced the words. The sound was stirring a sense of calmness in him that he hadn't felt in forever. And with that calmness was a strange thrill, a race of his heartbeat. The two sensations were paradoxical to one another and confusion filled him.
He was breathless with the mix of sensations rushing through him.
The only thing that kept him sane…was the fact that he knew this must be a dream.
In spite of that, however, he kept his eyes open and fixed on the vision of his lover. The one he left
behind against his will, far, far away. Not just miles away…not galaxies away…but dimensions away from him and without any means for them to get reunited.
He was still allowed the small comfort of dreaming. He would be damned if he wasted it by even blinking, even for a millisecond. Not if he could help it.
He hadn't put into consideration outside factors, however. The pair of hands moving him, handling him, suddenly were not included in the precautions he should have taken against moving or making this lovely vision disappear. They weren't rough, but he was the one who was just too…fragile.
They had moved him to his side and a burst of nauseating pain rushed through him and the only thing he could do was squeeze his eyes shut against it, not even blink, a gasp tearing through his lips.
The darkness extended for what seemed like forever. The only thing infiltrating it were bits and pieces of conversation.
"But he was getting better… he woke up!"
"I understand… but this is common. He's been starved for too long and we underestimated the severity of it…what happened with him, it's called refeeding syndrome. He's been given more calories than he could handle at the moment. We will recalculate his needed calorie intake and he will get better."
"I suggest you make sure that your recalculations are done right this time. Do not underestimate things or I will have to ma…"
He drifted away from that particular conversation into more obscurity. He remembered an uncomfortable sensation of something being pulled out from within him, a burn in the back of his throat and his nose… something that tasted like the strawberry-milk cartons that he hadn't tasted since he was a kindergarten student. Once again, the golden skin and the soothing tone was there. The crown was gone… the plain, lavish-fabric tunic was gone… the beloved hair was pulled back from that familiar face and the ceremonial clothes were replaced with a white t-shirt… he smiled and wanted to make a comment, but was pulled back into the darkness.
"This isn't your fault."
"Of course it is… I've sold him out…"
"I would hardly describe this act of courage so lowly. What you have done was heroic."
Both voices speaking were familiar. Both were equally comforting. He didn't understand their conversation, but the sound itself was enough to lull him back to slumber. He rose to awareness to hear another snippet of conversation…
"It's been two months and eleven days exactly."
A small curse was spoken under an exhaled breath.
"I've been trying so hard to work the Cube… I… I should have been quicker."
"It took Seto ten months to work it out." There was a slight pause. "Don't tell him I told you that."
A small chuckle followed that request and the gorgeous sound made him smile contentedly, even with his eyes closed, helping him drift off into the comforting void yet again.
The strawberry-flavored concoction was gone. The haze was starting to fade as well. The periods of lucidity increased and with it, he realized that something was…wrong, for lack of a better way of putting it. There was no pain anymore. There was no endless hours of staring at the distant galaxies and burning stars, trillions of light years away from him. There was no longer overstretched muscles, awkwardly-bent joints or cables holding him in place… making his skin sore and bruised.
It was all gone. He was pleasantly full… he could remember the rich taste of what he could recognize as yogurt…something warm and strangely healing; some sort of soup. The tangy, delicate savory sensation of apple juice that left a very pleasant aftertaste in his throat which had known nothing for the past while but bitterness of bile and the burn of screams torn unwilling from him.
The blackness of the universe was hidden from view. There was other sights ahead of him. There was an artfully designed room that inspired a sense of nostalgia in him that almost brought tears to his eyes again. The dim lights, coming from a side lamp somewhere next to him. Casting shadows and hues everywhere. Accentuating this color and dimming that. Offering a variety and change that he didn't realize he missed in the cold darkness of his station.
But what truly made all the difference in the world for him…was the complete lack of pain and discomfort. It was not a total absence of unpleasant sensations, don't get him wrong. But compared to what he had been going through for the past while, the tiny twinge of a needle in the back of an arm, or the slight dizziness in his head or even the dull ache of his limbs…it all seemed like a gentle pat on the arm. He was warm. Not uncomfortably so, but just right. The covers on him were soft and light and fluffy. The fabric of whatever he was lying on was gentle on his skin. There was a pillow behind his head. A pillow. Not just any hard uncomfortable pillow or a super-soft one that offered no support whatsoever. No, this was…heavenly.
He could no longer blame the haze for what he thought was his imagination. He could no longer feel so sure that this all wasn't real.
Lucidity and clarity of mind was returning to him. And with it, confusion and lack of understanding was making itself known.
And with that confusion, he found himself waking up.
He blinked and looked around him. The first shock was seeing that, for real, he was no longer in the large open area before the open windows of his space station. He was in an actual bed, which was in the middle of a room painted with soft creams, browns and a hint of grey. The lights were not the harsh white nor were they direct from above him. They came from a lamp located next to his bed. He looked around him, the recent lucidity of his mind and the return of his usual intelligence now that he was pain free and –from the sated sensation and the absence of hunger cramps—well-fed, allowing him to notice that this was a hospital room.
There was a monitor upwards, next to the bed. He was slightly disturbed to observe that there was a ventilator sitting underneath that monitor. There was the blue clip of a pulse oximeter attached to the index finger of his left hand, connected to the monitor, and a blood pressure cuff attached to his right upper arm. An IV cannula was taped secure to the back of his left hand. There was a crash cart located also next to the bed.
It was apparent that effort was made to make the room as luxurious as possible while making it functional as an ICU room.
He made those observations while trying to figure out where he was. He tried recalling the design of his space station and found that the memory of the place brought a nauseating feeling rising within him. He was about to throw up for real, when the room's door opened and someone walked in.
The nausea and unpleasant sensations within him were banished away as Atem closed the door behind him and turned towards the bed.
So did Atem, once he noticed that he was awake and looking at him.
He stood in his place, arms hanging next to him, allowing Seto to hungrily, shaken and confused, rake his eyes over his frame. He was not dressed in the ceremonial attire Seto last saw him in. Neither was he wearing the plain tunic that he, Seto, had pulled off of him right before they made love. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a loose t-shirt. It was why it all looked so bizarre. So otherworldly and so unbelievable. It was more difficult to convince himself that he wasn't dreaming, imagining things. Because if he was, then surely, Atem would still be dressed in his apparel as King of Egypt. Not…as if he was dressed for a casual day out.
Once again, he flat out refused to blink. He knew that if he did, this was all going to disappear. He stubbornly kept his eyes open, feeling them widening with the alarm and surrealism of the situation in all its entirety. He could feel his hands fisting in the soft covers draped neatly over him, the slight tremble in them that the firm grip concealed. A distant part of him was mortified that, while the tremors of his hands was hidden by the grip he had on the covers, there was nothing to hide the way his lower lip trembled. He supposed there was nothing to hide the way his eyes shone with the sheen of sudden brightness that he knew was associated with the burn that prickled at their corners.
His vision grew hazy. But he was determined not to muck this up by blinking. He stubbornly kept his eyes wide open for as long as he could. He didn't know how much time passed. He didn't exactly care. All he did was continue the stare he directed towards Atem's unreal vision before his eyes. The surreal idea of it all was enhanced by the sweet sound of the pitter-pattering of the rain on the windows in the far wall away from the bed. By the warmth surrounding him, the comfortable press of soft pajamas against his skin, which wasn't bruised or aching.
He supposed that many hours passed after he lost the battle and had to blink when the previous sheen of tears became a generous well that overflowed from the corners of his eyes against his will, forcing him to unconsciously blink and he almost groaned at that moment, knowing that when he reopened them, Atem would be gone. He was hysterical to find out he was wrong, when his eyes flew open again, only to be met by the same vision of his ex-rival and long-lost lover before him, wearing these modern clothes and approaching his bed.
Once again, he found that he lost all sense of time. He could remember the initial gasp of surprise when Atem first touched him. the smooth hand that extended to wipe away at the hot trail of tears that left a cooling track on his skin. The astonishment at the solidity…the reality of the presence before him.
He supposed that the lapse in memory and awareness that followed was a result of being shocked into the realization that all of this was real. That he was no longer stranded alone under the mercy of a rogue, maddened creation of his which somehow developed human-like sentience. He was no longer being punished for whatever it is the AI deemed him guilty of. He really was away from all of that. And more importantly… the vision of copper, gold and crimson wasn't just that.
Solid, definite…warm and strong, Atem's arms were around him, letting him press his face against the unbelievingly reassuring shoulder, letting him feel the very real, very comforting tempo of his beating heart. Long, familiar fingers were running through his hair, soothingly rubbing his scalp and the familiar baritone voice was whispering little reassurances into his ear every now and then. He couldn't hear what was said or, more accurately, couldn't understand it.
The reality of what was happening, the way it seemed too good to be true stunned him into more sleep. The last thing he knew before the period of lucidity passed into more sleep was the way he held on to the t-shirt Atem was wearing and the way he finally, finally comprehended one of the things that was being said to him. The promise that if he got more rest, he would wake to find Atem still there.
Blind trust in his ex-rival made closing his eyes again very easy. Now that he realized that this wasn't a dream, or a hallucination born from pain, starvation or a hopeful mind, he could fall asleep once more, knowing that Atem's promise would be fulfilled.
After all, hadn't he screamed that he would find him again…? And there he was, with him again, away from the evil that he had been enduring for the past while.
He was shaken to awareness again by Atem with the promise of food. He remained silent, watching Atem moving the bowl of soup closer on the little table, which he placed on the bed in front of him. His motions doing this were as fluid as everything else he did. Seto was afraid to move lest he disturbed the perfect balance with which everything was moving around him. Only his eyes moved, following the smooth, easy motions Atem made, arranging the little table with a bowl of vegetable broth in the middle and a loaf of white, fluffy bread next to it. There was a glass of orange juice that was such a bright yellow color that his eyes were so unused to, he had to blink a few times to adjust to its brightness.
The room was still silent. He could see orange street lights filtering in through the blinds on the windows. Time was such an unfamiliar concept. He felt so lost. He wanted to ask what time it was, where he was. What happened. He could only remain silent, however, allowing only his gaze to wander as Atem sat on the edge of his bed, cutting up the loaf of bread into little cubes and lining them up next to the bowl of soup.
He kept watching him, wondering what he was doing, until he looked like he was done doing whatever it was he was doing at the moment and looked up at him with bright crimson eyes and a soft smile.
"Let's eat, then, shall we?"
Unbidden, something strange happened. A pleasant sensation rose within him, and he felt an unfamiliar tug on his lips. He was smiling. He was sure it was small, weak. Pale and insignificant in the face of the brightness that was seated before him, glorious and golden and just gorgeous. But he couldn't help himself. He smiled and nodded, feeling insanely euphoric at the way his smile caused a burst of happiness to blossom on Atem's features.
"Would you like to try?" he asked.
Seto's fingers twitched.
They felt alien. He hadn't used them for a while. The idea of doing this for himself was very appealing. He didn't have to think too long about the answer. He nodded.
Atem smiled and handed him the spoon. His fingers wrapped around his hand as he dropped one of the bread cubes into the bowl of soup. With his hand still around Seto's he helped him load some of the warm liquid onto the spoon, as well as some of the vegetables which were cut into little pieces and some of the soft, tender pieces of what he recognized to be chicken. With it, he scooped the cube of bread which had softened slightly from the soup.
Steadying, Atem's hand remained on his as he raised the spoon to his lips, guiding the shaking trek upwards and making sure he didn't spill anything on himself. The little assisted victory made the taste of food so much better and his smile widened impossibly.
From then on, he continued eating with Atem's guiding hands. It was a slow process and by the end of it all, he was tired and Atem had to take the spoon from him, coaxing him into eating the last bits of his meager meal, pleading and cajoling. They came to a compromise. He ate the last bits of chicken and had the juice to wash it down, instead of finishing everything on the tray.
He settled back against the pillows. Warm and happy and full, he stared with half-lidded eyes as the tray was cleared from the bed, placed along with the little table away. Atem returned with a hot towel and wiped gently at his mouth and chin where little drops of the broth had escaped and were scooped before they dirtied his clothes by the scraping of the spoon. He then had his hands wiped clean as well.
"You really are a good nurse, aren't you?"
It was the first thing he spoke for what seemed like ages. His voice sounded alien to his own ears. It was low and rasping. He almost cringed, but was distracted by the pleasant sound of Atem laughing at his statement.
"An innate talent, I suppose," he amiably told him. "You're special, though. I don't offer my services as nurse to anyone."
The corner of his lips rose up slightly, "Do your priests know you're playing nurse for me…? Again?"
"Seth wanted to come with me," Atem remarked calmly, sitting down in the bedside chair. Seto raised his eyebrow at him, so he added, "Someone had to be Pharaoh in my place. I could trust no one else with the job."
Seto went silent. His thoughts drifted. The gravity of what Atem just said hit him. The monarch left home… his people. Left it all behind and chased him all the way here. He was god back home. And he had left it all behind for him. Very much the same way he did back then. Left everything behind to find him. He didn't think of it thoroughly back then, but now that Atem did the very same thing for him, he realized how far they were both willing to go for each other and it left him breathless. He didn't know what to say about it.
And so, he didn't say anything about it. Instead he rolled his eyes.
"You'll go back to find Egypt in ruins… that Seth fellow is a bit of an idiot, if you ask…"
"I am not going back, Seto. I am staying."
Whatever wit he had gathered, the sarcasm he usually spoke with that wanted to reemerge and bring him some semblance of normality, it was all silenced. He stared unblinkingly at Atem, who offered a silent smile after interrupting him and held his gaze for the longest while, then started speaking of inane things. He spoke of the weather, he spoke of Yugi and how he brought him clothes. He said that they were the weird leather the kid usually wore and then when he complained, he brought him something simpler instead. He made observations on how Yugi and Mokuba were both looking so much older.
Slowly, the shock and insane happiness at the words ebbed away.
He spoke on and on and Seto never tired of listening. He allowed the chatter to pull him into the comfort of restive sleep.
The next time he woke up, Mokuba was the one seated in the chair beside his bed.
He supposed that no matter how old Mokuba got, how much stronger he became, what position he held…he would always have zero control on the worry he had for him. He also supposed that that worry was warranted. After all, he always got himself into a lot of trouble, making his little sibling mad with concern for him. The sinking feeling of guilt in the pit of his stomach added to the nostalgia he was feeling ever since he woke up. Years ago, after his chess-game with Gozaburo… Mokuba had thrown himself into his arms and wept with worry after it was all over. After getting defeated by the soul of Atem residing within Yugi… and after getting set free by the very same person from Pegasus' castle, Mokuba had wept in his chest with worry. The standoff between him and Noah… when they almost died; countless other situations ended in the same way.
And just like all other times, Mokuba was silently crying while hugging him close. This time it was a bit different though; Mokuba wasn't just crying in his arms. This time, he was the one being held closer to his younger brother's shoulder, the kid holding on as if he was going to disintegrate and disappear into fragments.
It took a while for them to both calm down. Mokuba did not sit back in the seat next to the bed. He stayed beside him holding his hands in his. Long fingers that resembled his own very much stroked over the fading brownish bruising. A stray tear dropped onto the top of hand and he frowned, wiping it away with his other hand, and looking up at Mokuba.
"I'm sorry…" he said. He felt so responsible for the gray hairs his brother had in his head. He scared him way too many times and it filled him with unease. This time was the most serious of all others, he knew.
Mokuba shook his head. "Please…don't apologize. This…this is my fault."
He frowned in confusion.
Mokuba shook his head, looking away from his questioning gaze. "I… I was coming for you. He… the AI. He threatened to infiltrate the database in Kaiba Corporation's mainframe computer. And from there, he would proceed to make copies of himself onto every single computer that exists on earth. He said that if I try to do anything, he would burn the entire planet down. I didn't… I didn't want to leave you, Seto…you must believe me. But I didn't have a choice. I was not… I didn't want to leave you behind but you know what it would mean if he had done what he said he would…"
The apologetic rant had been interrupted several times by sobs and repentant stutters. Seto had to stop Mokuba from speaking any more. He leaned forward, pulling on the sleeve of the shirt his younger brother was wearing, pulling him into his arms again.
"It's alright. It's alright, Mokuba," he said.
The younger man stared up at him miserably, guiltily and realization dawned on him as he recalled the snippets of conversation Mokuba was having with Atem while he was still in the state of delirium he had been trapped in. He recalled the heart-wrenching expression Mokuba used to describe what he did he felt horrified at his brother's pattern of thinking.
"I've sold him out."
"Mokuba you've done the right thing…" he rushed out. He made sure to keep his voice calm and level, holding the gray eyes with his own.
He thought maybe he should add to this statement. But for some reason, he couldn't. He never was the very talkative or consoling type. Except where Mokuba was concerned. But this time seemed very different. He felt very tired. Very drained and unwilling to think of anything else to say. He prayed that these words were enough.
"You've done the right thing," he repeated his words.
He missed Mokuba's response to his words because he sank back into the comfortable pillows and closed his eyes for a few moments. He reopened them when he felt a touch on his hand resting next to him on the bed. he stared at his brother's hand resting on his own. He felt oddly disconnected and dissociated from the situation. It was a very strange sensation. The relief he felt surging through him at his brother's familiar, welcome, missed touch and the way he was, in contrast, too tired to offer any other response other than the tranquil look through half-lidded blue eyes and a pale semi-smile.
Thankfully, the younger man beamed back at him with such brightness, he thought he might be blinded by it. A part of him prudently provided that perhaps, this pale tepid response was a much more welcome one than the complete lack of it of the past while.
"Where's Atem?" he asked the question he was itching to voice the moment he became aware of the absence of his former rival in the room when he woke up. The panic that surged within him was odd. The way he felt as if a part of him was missing. He had to ask. Perhaps reassure himself that this wasn't a dream, no matter how real everything looked.
Mokuba smiled and patted the back of his hand reassuringly. "He went to get something to eat. More accurately, Yugi took him to get something to eat. He still has a problem with the hospital's vending machine." He then paused, snickered lightly to himself and added, "It was a bit of a problem trying to explain the way he was so clueless about these things. Had to say he was a foreigner. Which he is. In a way. Wasn't hard to convince people, with the way he showed up dressed in full Pharaoh attire."
Automatically, without thinking of the consequences of what he was saying, he asked.
Mokuba's head shot up at him and he stared long at him, as if he couldn't believe he asked this question. Seto couldn't blame him. He couldn't believe he asked either. He wasn't even sure if he was ready to talk or listen to anything related to what happened to him in the past while. But it was late to take back the question now and he thought he might as well listen to the answer.
Mokuba was silent for a few moments, as if gathering his thoughts. Then he explained that things had been calm for that one day he was away. He knew he had been gone for only one day because the very next one, he had been contacted by the AI, who had tried to infiltrate the Corporation's mainframe and, naturally, Mokuba was notified and he traced it back to the space station. He told him that either he allowed that access or he would never see Seto again. It was then that he had to make that ugly choice. Angry and terrifying, Yami promised that he would regret that decision.
Over two months passed since then. The AI had been sending him continuous footage of Seto's current state. It was so easy to give in sometimes. Isono had advised him to, once. He just couldn't do it, no matter how hard it was to watch him deteriorating on the screen through which the images or video messages were sent. With superhuman willpower he managed to hold out against the AI's constant influx of disturbing imagery.
Seto knew that if he wasn't feeling so sickly, he probably would have flushed with humiliation. In the flood of unpleasantness he was experiencing, he didn't think of the possibility that Mokuba could have seen him this…weak. This beaten and defeated. He supposed there was an upside for the anemia weakening his limbs and making his heart palpitate irregularly. He managed to sit and listen stoically without an outward reaction.
Mokuba thankfully didn't linger longer on the topic. He told him that a week ago, he received another contact but this time, it wasn't a recorded message or an image. He was surprised to find a familiar face behind the screen. Familiar in an eerie way. It was both scary and comforting at the same time.
It was the same as the AI's. It was also very different. The appearance of it itself wasn't different except for the golden tan of the pale skin the AI's image possessed and the way he was suddenly dressed in ceremonial attire that looked very outlandish, very ancient and very powerful. What really made all the difference, though, was the facial expressions on that familiar face.
The AI had none. This familiar face had them in surplus. Anger and disbelief, fading behind horror and worry and desperation as he spoke to him, asking for help.
Mokuba had been suspicious. Questioned and probed and asked for proof. After all, with how evil the AI proved he could be, he could just be pretending. After long, long minutes of trying to prove himself that he was, indeed, Atem and not the ruthless AI holding his brother hostage, he had presented the Quantum Cube and told him that he used it to travel Dimensions much the same way Seto had explained to him. he had snapped that Seto was in a very bad state and that the station could now be accessed if Mokuba so wished.
Mokuba had kept his questions for later and checked for himself and found that very easily, he took control of the space station once again. A swift glance at the station's database told him that something had completely wiped out entire codes and sensitive storage parameters, deleting all the data and binaries that brought Yami into existence in the first place.
The station was now running on the very first design Seto had set up for it before making the AI in charge. Everything had been restored to its old settings.
It took him less than just a couple of hours to have Seto safely back to earth. Atem hardly left his side since then. He had been in intensive care for the first three days. It had been a whole week since his return back.
Silence hung in the room for a few minutes after Mokuba was done speaking. Seto took his time to absorb in the information. He took a few moments to appreciate that Mokuba really had grown up to become very considerate. That although he had asked for information on what happened, his brother was mature and thoughtful enough to skim over a lot of other details that was left unsaid that would have sent his fragile mentality—the limits of which he was sadly aware were untried—into collapse.
"When can I leave?" he asked after a while.
Mokuba smiled a little, "Let's just get you moving around properly on your feet and we'll see about everything else. Take your time and don't rush things."
He was about to argue, when the door opened and Atem walked in, holding a packet of chips and a can of Pepsi. He was unable to do anything other than stare at the bizarre scene before him that just made so much sense, it filled him with a bittersweet ache.
"This thing tickles," Atem observed, staring at the can of fizzy drink, then glancing up at them with a surprised look.
"Didn't know Yugi starved you when you two shared his body," he automatically, playfully teased.
Atem shook his head, "I left the care of basic body needs to him."
"You are far above such menial tasks, I understand."
At that, Mokuba started laughing.
Seto and Atem exchanged looks and smiled. The monarch pulled a chair closer and took his seat beside the bed, waiting with Seto for the younger man's laughter to subside. From then on, the conversation was lighter and about less depressing topics.
They stayed in a light-hearted mood for an hour or so until Seto received a visit from the chief resident in charge of him who sat down and explained the exact extent of damage they found and repaired and how exactly they were going about his treatment plan. Apparently, he had been starved too badly that his liver and gall bladder were suffering the consequences. Not just that, his intravenous diet had lacked so many nutrients, that his bones had thinned. He needed physical therapy to return to normal mobilization again.
He wasn't sure how to feel about the bleak days ahead of him. He had no words to offer to the young man who smiled encouragingly at him, asking him to take his time –an expression Mokuba had used just a little while ago—and that he promised they would get him back on his feet and back to normal.
He supposed normal was something that he was never going back to. He didn't say anything, though, as the young man excused himself and Mokuba followed him after a phone call which he answered in short, clipped tones. His brother promised to return in the morning since he had plenty of work that absolutely couldn't wait. Seto nodded, said goodnight and the younger man gave him a quick hug with one arm and left.
Atem turned back towards him and smiled after the door closed. He got up from his seat and, confidently, without pause, climbed up into the bed next to him. Mindful of the myriad of wires attached to him, he laid down next to him. and like everything taking place between them, they settled with ease into a comfortable position, with Atem's arm snaking beneath his head as some sort of a pillow, his other hand joining their fingers, settling them on top of Seto's chest.
He turned his head towards the monarch's chest, propping his forehead against it and feeling the thrum of his strong, healthy…real heartbeat under his skin. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, as if to savor the sensation, then jolted himself into reopening them by berating himself mentally, what if Atem went away while he had them closed like that?
The gasp associated with the fright of the thought drove the familiar undertones of Atem's scent into his nose, reassuring his jumping heart with the whiff of cinnamon that visited him only in dreams. He angled his head upwards, meeting the crimson eyes with his own for the longest while.
Without prompt, Atem's eyes softened and he comfortingly promised, "I am here, Seto. I am not leaving."
Seto felt his throat closing up ever so slightly at the words. He felt pathetic. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do to alleviate that sensation. So he tried to divert his thoughts away from the surge of negative feelings flooding him.
"Mokuba said you were already there with me in the space station…how did you deactivate the systems?" he asked in quiet tones, staring at their joined hands, making note of the difference in their skin tones, the way his hand was pale, his veins blue and prominent while Atem's bronze hand shone with a beautiful aura of health.
"The Cube transported me to the place from which the last journey was made. It was an easier journey to make than the one I made last time I arrived here to help Yugi when he called. The Cube made it so," Atem was saying and Seto basked in the way his chest reverberated beneath his ear.
"But how did you deactivate the systems? I tried everything…" Seto insisted. The matter puzzled him to no end. He had tried every override that he could think of while locked in Yami's captivity. And every single one was a big, disappointing failure.
A chuckle bubbled beneath his ear and he tilted his head up to fill his eyes with the sight of that gorgeous smile that tugged on the corners of wine-colored lips. Crimson eyes stared down at him with a little smirk, "You are asking for a scientific, proven method, Seto… and as always, I will tell you that not everything can be explained to you in such terms. I have left the Millennium Puzzle back with Seth…but the Puzzle never was the source of my magic, merely a tool through which I can channel it."
Seto let the words sink in. A flashback of golden hanging all around him invaded his mind and he almost gasped with realization, recalling vividly the frankly impressive way everything glowed golden, the way the cold blue of the optic-fiber cables was banished by it.
Atem was still speaking, "I have destroyed that evil entity living in your station's wires using that magic. I have thoroughly enjoyed doing it, as well."
Seto let the words sink in.
A derisive snort was heard from above him and he looked up to see a haughty, cold expression on the usually-warm features, as the monarch added, "I was disappointed, even. For all the pomp and the way he dared think of himself as my replacement, he was a sad, sad disappointment. Didn't take a minute to destroy him completely."
Against his will, Seto felt himself smiling, then the smile turned into a little chuckle.
"You arrogant little shit," he snickered slightly and looked up to meet Atem's questioning gaze. "The sad, sad disappointment as you call him could have singlehandedly destroyed the entire world."
Atem snorted again, dismissively and proudly shrugging, "Didn't stand a chance against me."
Seto shook his head and smiled. He lowered his gaze once again to let it rest on their hands, letting the silence hang over them for a few minutes.
"I am glad you came."
His words rang for the longest while in the room. Seto could swear he could hear them even after he fell asleep surrounded by the impossible warmth Atem seemed to emanate all around him. he woke up the next day with Atem still next to him, kissing him softly. Very softly, chastely on the lips, on his closed eyes and on his forehead, while slender fingers stroked his hair gently. The softness of the touch and the warm heat of the sun entering the room and brightening it impossibly with its rays left an ache so unbearable in his chest that he felt a single tear slipping through the corner of one of his eyes which slid open to meet Atem's eyes.
It was how they woke up from then onwards on most days. His physical therapy had started that day. It was plain horror at first. Tiring, frustrating and with seemingly zero progress. He had become irritable, snapped and was unbearable at times. Atem easily handled the attitude. With patience at times, with an angry snap of his own at others and with Mokuba's interference, although that was a rare occurrence.
But progress started to make itself known and soon, within a month of his return to earth's surface, he was able to move around independently. At first with a pair of crutches and with difficulty, then with a cane. Slowly, that too was discarded and with its disappearance, Mokuba sat with him, asking him to take his position back as Kaiba Corporation's CEO.
Mokuba had been shocked into silence. Seto himself felt that he was too shocked by the way he calmly and automatically turned down the request. His brother told him to think about it and not to be rash and left him, promising to return in the morning. He had thought the matter overnight. By the time Mokuba returned, he was more sure of his decision than ever. He requested to remain on the research and development of products, but didn't think he could get back into position as the company's president. Not yet and not in the foreseeable future.
Mokuba calmly listened to him. Atem stood with his back to the wall and his arms crossed, listening to the conversation silently and observing what was going on without saying anything. Eventually, Mokuba smiled and told him that he understood.
The matter was settled. Seto sometimes sat alone, wondering why he had acted so selfishly with Mokuba. Perhaps the kid didn't want to do this anymore. Perhaps he hadn't signed up for this long-term job that he, Seto, had dumped on his shoulders and abandoned ship. He had brought the matter up with Atem later on and the monarch told him to speak to Mokuba about it. But when he did, the younger man shook his head and easily told him that the company was now his to do with as he pleased. If he was unhappy, he would sell his shares and get another person to be CEO. The kid had smiled and told him that he enjoyed sitting at the head of the table during meetings, if he was a bit too honest.
The worry that he hadn't done his brother justice still niggled at him. And along with the nightmares that plagued his sleep for months after his discharge from the very expensive, very private hospital he had been held in, it all made for a very bumpy ride that was his path towards full recovery from what he had been through.
Atem was there for it all. The good days where he felt almost normal. Where he could forget everything that happened and succumb to the physical aspect of their relationship, where they fell into bed together, mindlessly undressing each other and wanting nothing more than skin-on-skin contact. He was also there for the very bad days. The nights where they were both jerked awake by screaming nightmares and the days where the panic and flashbacks crippled him into a useless mess at home that didn't eat, didn't sleep and didn't function right and never felt like he could regain use of his body once more.
But eventually…the good days were still more plentiful than the bad ones. And after both traveled dimensions in search of the other, it was safe to say that they had successfully found each other.
Seto supposed that that was all that mattered eventually.
A/N: Thanks for reading. And sorry for the frankly useless oneshot xD I just felt that Jailbird left everything so unfinished and that so many loose ends were left untied. I hope this puts a nice little ribbon at the end of the trilogy.
It was a lot of fun to write. I hope you enjoyed reading. Let me know what you thought, everyone.