With and without him

x

Warnings/notes: pesudo-Ancient Egyptian AU, Seto/Joey, slight Yami/Mahado, mentionings of Anzu, ooc, sap, anachronisms.

Disclaimer: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh. This ficlet is part of 'Feast of the King's Shadow', meaning its title is taken from this novel by Chaz Brenchley.

written at 17th october 2003, by Misura

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Four weeks. Twenty-eight days and nights. That was how long it had been since he had last seen the worthless mutt that the Pharaoh had assigned to be his personal guard, before sending him away on some 'secret mission' without any explanation or a 'by your leave'.

Not, Seto hastened to reassure himself, that he would have objected to the annoying blond's removal out of his direct environment. He was glad to be rid of the nosy guard, who only kept his mouth shut while eating. If he'd never see Jou again, he'd praise the gods.

That he kept having those odd dreams about the boy, in which Jou knelt at his feet, proclaiming Seto to be his 'master', words that gave him a strange, warm feeling, meant nothing at all. They'd never come true, for one, since Jou'd rather die than make such a statement. Besides, Seto didn't have the least desire to see him in such a humble position.

Well, he would enjoy to humiliate the mutt like that, naturally, but he wasn't the kind of person who delighted in having people crawl for them. Being left alone was enough. Being left alone was what he longed for, the way he liked his life to be. He didn't need any company, least of all from some stupid guard who had more brawn than brains.

"Seto? Are you still with us?" Mahado's voice cut through Seto's reveries, reminding him he was supposed to be attending a council-meeting. Not that anything interesting or important was ever said on occasions like this one, but he usually managed to maintain a facade of polite interest.

Giving Mahado a curt nod and putting a scowl on his face, Seto tried to recall which subject they had been going to discuss in today's gathering. New taxes? The restoration of the sphinx? Or had that been yesterday?

"Do you have any objections to the proposal Mahado had just defended then? If not, we can move on to the voting," Yami sounded smug, his tone of voice setting small alarm-bells ringing in the back of Seto's still somewhat hazy mind. Unfortunately, he couldn't really come up with any remarks about Mahado's previous speech if he hadn't even had a clue what it had been about.

Seto shook his head, hoping he had not just agreed to resign his position as High Priest or something like that. He thought Yami didn't dislike him quite that much, even though there was no affection lost between him and the Pharaoh, but one never knew ... Yami could act quite unpredictable at times.

"Excellent. Those in favor, please raise your hands." Mahado and most of Yami's other pet-priests lifted their hands to show they supported their Pharaoh in this, as in everything. Seto did nothing, having decided it would be best to cast a neutral voice under the present circumstances.

Not that it made much of a difference; any plan coming from Yami was sure to be accepted, especially if Mahado approved of it as well. Ironically it was often the youngest Priest who opened his mouth to speak against the equally youthful Pharaoh when his idealism led him to some unrealistic proposal, while older (but apparently not wiser) men remained silent.

While a scribe wrote down the decision of the council and the count of the votes, the other priests rose to file out of the room. Yami and Mahado remained seated, talking softly while glancing in Seto's direction every now and then in a way that did little to ease his discomfort.

Deciding he might as well find out whatever prank had been played on him, Seto rose to saunter over to the Pharaoh and his favorite advisor, who also washis lover, if one was to believe the rumors on the street.Seto didn't, more because he preferred to doubt anything he hadn't seen with his own eyes first, than because he had such a high opinion of the Pharaoh.

"Ah, Seto. We were just talking about you." Mahado grinned, obviously not in the least bothered by the glare Seto sent in his direction at such a frank admission.

Yami nodded solemnly, though the corners of his lips were quivering. "We were wondering why you kept so quiet during this session. After all, the matter at hand concerned you directly."

That particular statement didn't make Seto feel any better. "And just what -was- 'the matter at hand'?"

Mahado and Yami exchanged a look. After a brief moment, Mahado bowed his head, while Yami turned back to Seto, ruby eyes twinkling with barely suppressed mirth.

"Why, Seto, haven't you been paying any attention at all? Your marriage to the Lady Anzu, of course."

xxxxxxxx

"You are such a sadist, Yami. How on earth did you come up with -that- one?" Mahado chuckled, staring at the door through which Seto had vanished. Yami gazed at him innocently.

"What are you talking about? Anzu's a perfectly nice and sweet young woman. Dozens of nobles are vying for her affections, or even a mere invitation to one of her parties." Yami smiled, sipping his fruit-juice with a contented expression on his face.

"She's hoping -you- will make her queen, you know." Mahado sounded serious. "Lots of people would say she's a perfect match too, with her lineage and character."

"That's not my problem." Yami shrugged. "I'm the Pharaoh; I can do whatever I want. I can marry whomever I want to. But really, don't you think my little ploy should shove Seto in the right direction? After all, he can't marry her if he's already bonded to someone else."

"Maybe." Mahado considered Yami's words. "He's stubborn and firmly in denial of having a heart."

"Ah, but he's right. He -doesn't- have one." Yami smirked at Mahado's confusion. "He got it stolen the first day he met Jou. And, whether he likes it or not, I will not rest before the two of them have accepted that they are meant to be a couple as much as you and me are."

"Poor Seto. I could almost feel sorry for him," Mahado mused. "You really can be a sadist, you know that?"

"Hmmm, but you love me anyway, don't you?"

"Still, I'm glad we only voted not to raise the import-taxes on salted fish this year. Things might have gotten pretty awkward otherwise."

xxxxx

Hardly aware of the servants who hastily got out of his way as they saw him coming, Seto stormed through the corridors of the palace to his private quarters. A rational part of his mind pointed out that even the Pharaoh couldn't make him marry against his will and that he therefore had no reason to be so upset, but ...

The impact with which he bumped into someone who rounded a corner sent both of them stumbling to the ground, the unfortunate person who would get a fierce tongue-lashing as soon as Seto'd be back on his feet letting out a soft yelp.

"Can't you watch where you're going, Seto? Really." Brown eyes stared into blue ones, their owner being none other than the main-subject of Seto's dreams these past few weeks and about the last person he had expected or wanted to see right now.

"Mutt," Seto grumbled, by way of greeting. He wasn't quite comfortable with the blond lying sprawled over him, but he'd rather bite off his tongue than -ask- Jou for anything. "What are you doing here?" Jou's clothes were different from his usual garb, he noted, and his blond hair looked like spun gold. He wondered what kind of mission involved getting even more beautiful than before.

"I was told to report to you, since I've been promoted to the head of your personal guard. By the Pharaoh himself," Jou sounded stunned. Pleased, but stunned too.

"That's nice. Then you can stand watch over my wedding," Seto snarled, noticing the flash of panic in the mutt's eyes with a mixture of satisfaction and hope. Wait. Hope? What was he hoping for?

"What wedding?" Jou questioned, before quickly adding: "I mean, I can't imagine any girl stupid enough to want to marry a cold-hearted bastard like you."

"Never mind. It's not going to happen," Seto replied quickly, wriggling a little to give Jou a hint that maybe it would be nice for the two of them to get back on their feet. Preferrably before someone saw them in this position. If Mahado or Yami spotted them like this, he'd never hear the end of it.

"Awww, come on, Seto. Tell me! I'm pretty comfortable right here, you know." Jou had apparently followed Seto's line of thought and was now making a pitiful attempt at cajoling him.

"No. Get off of me." Seto glared at Jou, who was as impressed as he always was when Seto glared at him, which was to say: not at all.

"Be nice and I'll consider it." Jou grinned. Seto scowled, figuring this was going to be a looong argument. Neither of them had noticed the pair of spectators, until one of them spoke up, probably because they were too caught up in each other.

"I know you haven't seen one another for four weeks, but really ... can't you do this kind of thing in a bedroom?" Mahado stared down at them, before turning to Yami, sadly shaking his head. "The morals of youth nowadays ... "

Yami grinned. "Maybe I should give them a royal order to withdraw to a more private place? Would that help?" He turned to Jou and Seto, raising one eyebrow.

"But ... he doesn't ... " Jou sputtered. "I mean ... I want to ... but he ... you said ... "

"You're not making any sense, mutt," Seto rolled his eyes, wondering how he managed to sound so cool. "As usual."

"Oh, shut up, Seto. You want to kiss him silly, he wants to do the same to you, so be a pair of good boys and go live a little," Mahado scowled. "You're acting like five-year-olds!"

Jou blushed crimson, trying to say something before -finally!- helping Seto up from the floor.

"Well? Do I have to -command- you?" Yami inquired, tapping his foot impatiently. Seto was reminded of Pegasus, his teacher in the Shadow Games. "I didn't have Jou take a vacation so the two of you could go on ignoring each other!"

Seto sighed. He should have known this was all a set-up. Well, too bad for Yami this wasn't going to work. Jou would never -

"Sorry, my Pharaoh," Jou bowed, before grabbing Seto's sleeve to drag the slightly bewildered priest along to his quarters, while Yami and Mahado stared after them, a smile playing on Mahado's lips.

"What do you think you're doing?" Seto demanded sharply.

Jou shrugged. "I'm just obeying orders, like a good soldier. Or a good mutt."

xxxxx

"I don't like you, you know."

"Yeah, I'm not too fond of you either."

"I wonder how they knew."

"Who can say? We can always ask them ... later."

"Definitely later."

"How about ... tomorrow morning?"

"I think you'd better make that tomorrow afternoon."

"Reeeaaally. You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"

x- ending of this snippet -x