Summary: (AU) All Yugi wanted was to gain his freedom. All Atemu wanted was a good entertainment. All chance wanted was for them to meet and a circus was more than willing to help. YYY.
Pairings: (main) YYY, (sub) BR, SJ, MM
Disclaimer: Kazuki Takahashi owns YGO.
Note: Okay, let me take this time to shamelessly pimp one of my fics, My Precious. Some of you might've read it already. It's so long ago! XD It's my first successful humor fic which is why I'm so proud of it. Hey, I've read it so many times and it still cracks me up – yes, I'm that shallow XP It's an SJ one-shot – I never would've thought of making one since I don't care much for the pair but it just fits. Please look at it if you're interested. Thank you.
VII. A Tamer of All
The palace of Atemu's kingdom had always been quiet. The air of solemnity and pride breathed through the walls down to the very earth the castle's foundation stood. Like a god towering over mortals it stood in the middle of the town with the surrounding houses bowing in constant adoration at its very presence.
…Until a loud fire-infused roar caused the worshippers to lift their heads up in a moment of shock.
"No, no! Jou! Camelot needs the whole cattle and an open field to feed in! Don't give him the chunks! Those are for the chimaeras!" Ryou rushed quickly to the Jou's side, dragging him as far as he can from the enraged dragon. "And you know that Camelot doesn't like you."
The blonde jester grumbled as he struggled to get up with the white wizard's help. He lifted one of his sleeves that were burnt slightly by the blast of flames the red-eyed dragon had sent his way. There were scorch marks on his arm and he hoped desperately that they were stains from his burned sleeves. Dropping his arm in annoyance, he turned back to the albino wizard and said, "Why the hell do you need to feed these stupid animals anyway?! Don't they go hunting themselves?!?!"
With a long sigh, Ryou answered, "Because…" he turned and led the blonde towards the hellhounds – the only beasts that favored the clumsy jester, "…it's dangerous without Yugi watching over them. Who knows what they'll swipe with no one to stop them." Using the firmest finger he could muster, he pointed at broken bones near the hydra's so-called lair. "Now, can you handle feeding Rome and Remus?"
A loud groan echoed from the jester's throat. "Do I have to?" he swung his arms over the fence that surrounded the wild beasts, letting his hands swing limply above the ground.
Ryou pursed his lips, wondering deeply about what he should answer to that question. In all honesty, he would rather not have Jou help him around with taking care of the animals. The jester was sure to give more trouble than help in his job. The circus certainly didn't need more things to pay for when they're already burdened with lodgings for the beasts and themselves, and their determined revival of their traveling troupe.
Causing damage to the palace was a big no-no. It had taken a bit of begging (mostly done by Yugi) and tons of compromise (all of which are proposed, yet again, by Yugi) to get the palace to house all of the circus' beasts and heaven knows how many wild ones they have. They had promised the palace that the beasts would be tamed and would cause little to no damage within the castle walls. With Jou around, they might just go and break it.
"You shouldn't have offered to help then." Came Ryou's absent-minded answer, "Besides, aren't you supposed to be doing your job as of the moment?" he said cautiously, trying to make the jester leave without telling him directly. Dealing with an upset Jounouchi would just be as hard as dealing with the beasts.
Jou groaned, his body slumping lower to the fence. "Don't remind me." He mumbled.
It was a truth that the circus had long since learned that money, no matter how despicable it was, was needed to survive in their world. Now that their ringmaster, who handled all their expenses, was gone, they were back to relying on themselves for income. With the circus disbanded, gaining income through means they've known was far from possible.
During the few months of Yugi's recovery, what remained of the circus had scavenged the town for available jobs. Mai and Anzu had easily squeezed themselves into a bar in the slums as waitresses. Shizuka had earned a place in the butcher's shop that supplied the circus with their beast feed – Jou was absolutely against making his little sister a waitress in some random bar where random dirty men would try and hit on her. Honda and Otogi had found themselves a hard-labored job in some merchant's business…despite Otogi's reluctance. There weren't many available jobs in the town and it was no time to be whiny.
Jobs came easy to Malik and Ryou. With the circus animals housed within the castle walls and Ryou being the only person able to handle them, he was immediately registered as one of the palace servants – no questions asked. Malik had also been entered into the palace hands. It seemed that both the king and the vizier wanted to keep him a close watch. It had bothered Malik at first but said nothing against it. It was a rough time for their troupe and compromises have to be made.
As for Jou…none of them could really say what happened. Honda and Otogi had said that the blonde was employed in the same job as they were until he got fired the day after he was hired. Apparently, he had made quite a big mistake that the merchant couldn't even bare to see the very strands of his hair.
Ryou had guessed that after that their resident blonde jester had tried a few other jobs only to fail at each. The blonde had always been a bit kooky and clumsy, quite accident-prone as well. Somehow, he ended up with the most peculiar and unexplainable job Ryou could ever think of for the blonde.
"You should be watching over Mokuba right now, aren't you?" Ryou had asked, hoping to get the jester to be guilty enough to see to his duties, "You'll get in trouble with the vizier if you don't do your job, especially when he was nice enough to offer."
The moment the blue-eyed vizier was mentioned, Jou had stiffened. He stood up straight in one swift motion and turned around to face his albino friend, "Ack! Don't mentioned that bastard!!!" he shouted, "He did not offer me that stupid babysitting job because he wants to, you know!" he crossed his arms, tossing his head to one side. "His royal-ness made him do it. Obviously, that guy don't have a single slice of kindness in him."
"Com'n now. You know it's not a bad job. Mokuba's a nice kid." Ryou smiled, moving beside the jester. "I'm sure it's a fun job."
A sigh escaped the jester's lips. "Yeah. I guess so." He agreed reluctantly, "But you don't know half of the things that kid gets himself into. It's like he sneaks out of their mansion on a daily basis! If I lived in a house like that, I'd never dream of leaving!!!"
Ryou laughed, finding the image fitting the boy too well. "But at least you have a job, ne?"
"ARGH!!!" The sudden outburst caused the albino to jump suddenly. Jou vigorously shook his head in frustration, "Why in the world did Yugi have to be so nice?! Why the hell did he offer to pay for these stupid animals' houses?!?!?!" he gave his hair one good pull before letting his head fall on his chest. "Then we wouldn't need to look for all these weird jobs." He grumbled.
The albino frowned. As far as he could see, it was only right for them to pay for the beasts' lodgings and their food. They weren't leeches and even if they were, they'd never leech from a castle that still doesn't trust them completely – Ryou would never risk being thrown back in jail. He's been there enough.
Besides, Ryou thought, we'll still need the money to revive the circus. He wondered what Jou couldn't see in that.
Ryou jerked his head towards the blonde. "Excuse me?" he didn't remember saying anything that could offend the blonde. Well, not unless he was saying out loud what he was thinking but that has never happened before.
"He saw me and he's coming here." Jou hissed through gritted teeth. His eyes were focused past the wizard beside him, straight at the long corridors along the sides of the palace. He bit his lip. "Of course that bastard would be here! Argh. I don't need to listen to his sermons right now." Quickly, he pushed himself off the fence he was leaning upon, eyes still focused on the figure that caught his eye.
"So sorry, Ryou. Gotta go now." The blonde made a short bow of apology before dashing away from the stables, to the opposite of where he was looking before.
Blinking a couple of times, Ryou turned his head to the palace halls and saw the striding form of Seto Kaiba who hastened his steps the moment Jou had ran away. A smile reached the wizard's eyes. He clasped his hands together and did what he never thought he would.
Thank you, Lord, for bringing Sir Vizier to this ground.
- - -
It had been weeks since they had set out from the capital. They had passed a lot of villages who had all paid tribute to his majesty…or rather, Yugi. He had passed by the villages before as the beast tamer and it felt weird to be treated so differently in his majesty's clothing. He had sat down in each of the villages in their best room and listened as the villagers complained about one thing or another and asked for so much more. Funny, they seemed quite contented when he was there with the circus.
"You don't need to be so stiff while you're riding in the forest, Yugi."
Violet eyes shifted towards crimson. "Oh." He said, blushing slightly in embarrassment, "I'm sorry. It just feels like everything is watching my every move." His shoulders slacked and he let out a relieved sigh. "Does it always feel this way? I mean, as you." He dropped the reigns clenched tightly within his fists, letting the king's stallion move on his own, and turned his head to Atemu.
"When I was younger, yes." Atemu nodded his head, "But I don't even notice it nowadays." He offered a smile which the beast tamer instantly returned. "Are you tired?" he asked all of a sudden but the other simply replied with a couple of clueless blinks, "Oh god, of course you aren't. You're probably – no, you're surely more used to traveling than any of us here. That was an unnecessary question."
Yugi shook his head, "No. It's okay. Thank you for asking." He smiled, "Are you tired perhaps? Uhm, your maje –Atemu." He felt his face grow hot when he mentioned his majesty's name. He knew that there were only a handful of people that could call the king by his name and it felt…a bit weird but pleasing to be given such a privilege.
To the surprise of the soldiers accompanying them, the crimson-eyed king laughed, "Ah, you caught me." He rubbed the back of his head. "I've never traveled like this before. The last time I did was during the war and I don't think it's considered traveling when you have an army marching behind you."
It was unusual to see the king acting so carefree and…well…happy. As far as the soldiers were concerned, his majesty had always been serious but they knew better than to be curious. The king's glare was something that none of them would like to be put under.
Yugi couldn't quite explain how Atemu became so calm and comfortable around him but he knew it started on this trip with a few words that slowly wove themselves into long conversations during their horse rides. The next thing the beast master knew they were already sharing laughs like long-time friends. And he was supposed to feel happy and pleased but somehow he couldn't shake that growing worry he knew he shouldn't have.
"But it's alright." Atemu shook the beast master out of his thoughts, "We should be nearing our destination soon. We'll rest there." He looked at the general for confirmation who nodded in return, "We'd prepare in the nearby town before going to that thief's hide-out." He mentioned the item wielder with the same venom he had used all the times before.
Yugi had nodded absent-mindedly as he let his eyes wander lazily around him before he put up the straight-faced and stiff act that, as Seto Kaiba had put it, all kings should use. At first – no, the posture had always tired him more than his regular routine with the circus beasts and he couldn't help but wonder if all those "kings" felt the same weariness as he did…if Atemu feels it as well.
With a sigh, he turned his focus to his majesty back again…until a quick golden flash made his head spin back to the edges of the dirt road, just where the forest labyrinth started.
"Well, you should prepare as well, Yugi, before we get to the town." Came Atemu's voice. He calmly turned his crimson eyes to meet the velvet ones of the beast tamer but Yugi had placed his attention some place else – where, Atemu didn't care to know. A familiar sourness stung him – he knew it all too well, that rush of uncontrollable irritation that had led him to make his soldiers throw people away from his sight.
Atemu shook his head hard. I can't get angry at Yugi for ignoring me. That's just… , He paused and tried to follow the beast master's line of sight but found nothing but grass and dirt. …too silly. Much too silly. , With another shake of his head, he focused back on Yugi and called his name, this time with more urgency, "Yugi."
Yugi jumped, startled. He fumbled on the saddle, nearly falling off, and then jerked his head towards his other self. He gulped. The eyes Atemu had put on his made him feel like he had done something he never should've thought of doing. He hunched his shoulders and lowered his head. Maybe he could look small enough to not be noticed?
"We're nearing the town, Yugi." Atemu's voice was calmer but stoic. He looked at Yugi, letting his eyes stay longer than necessary. Then he sighed. "You have to prepare, don't you?" He offered a smile which the beast master returned with a cheeky one of his own and it made him look like a child who got caught disobeying his mother. The king chuckled slightly, "Yugi." He raised and eyebrow.
"Yes, yes. Sorry." He mumbled, fixing his posture and taking the reigns back in his hands. He took one last look at the forest before focusing his eyes on the dirt road.
There was something shiny back there….
- - -
The town of Munin was a small village of clay houses and straw rooftops under the shadow of a towering jaggy mountain that protected them from the menace of nature. The people there were quiet and preferred to stay away from any stranger that came across their little town; and the sudden appearance of royalty sent them all scurrying to their homes, carrying the children playing in the mud.
Yugi swept his eyes across the now empty center of the village, watching the people peeking through cracks on their wooden doors and windows. He gulped as quietly and as inconspicuously as he could. Beneath him, his majesty's stallion stirred and snorted.
"Isn't anybody coming out…?" the beast tamer whispered to himself, his throat croaking for sounds of the village, not that of the forest. The two falcons perched near him flapped their wings and screeched, and Yugi unconsciously stroked their feathers to calm them.
Quickly, he was silenced by Atemu's crimson eyes. His majesty stared intently at his double then shook his head: Don't. Don't question. Don't voice your doubts. Keep your air of confidence. Yugi nodded his head. Atemu returned the gesture. Then, with one barely noticeable nod, he ordered one of the nearby soldiers to tend to their needs.
One by one, each of the soldiers went down their horses along with Yugi who was helped by his majesty himself. Curious velvet eyes scanned the empty roads of the village. Nervously, he toyed with the ends of his clean silk shirt until one of Atemu's hands swiftly stopped his fingers.
"Sorry." Yugi murmured.
A soft reassuring tap. "Don't be."
Violet eyes glanced at what little he could see of his majesty's head under bulky soldier's helmet. He hoped that his majesty didn't notice his slight falter. He was told from the very start, during his time of recovery, that resting his eyes on any of his people without the required audience was very unbecoming of a king. Oftentimes he had wondered what was so wrong about looking at his subjects but he could never gain any satisfying answer.
The village, he noticed, was very similar to his own, just before the war had destroyed it…though he could sincerely remember that they were much more open to travelers. Desperately, he tried to stop gnawing at his bottom lip. His posture was faltering, he knew and he was thankful for Atemu for keeping quiet.
At the far end of the town center, the doors of one of the houses opened. Slowly, an elderly man dressed in a multi-colored poncho, which reminded Yugi very much of his grandfather, came out with the aid of a young boy and a woman in her twenties. The old man stopped in front of the beast master and made a very slow formal bow.
"Your majesty." Came the raspy voice of the elder, "My apologies for the people of my village. This tiny town is hidden deep within the mountains and is rarely visited which is why we are not accustomed to," he paused and looked at the guards surrounding the king, "strangers."
Yugi took half a step forward, nearly stumbling as he did. "That is…fine." He said in a slow voice, choosing his words carefully.
The next few seconds came in silence. The village elder kept his eyes firmly at the beast master's chest, knowing very well how impolite it is to meet the eyes of royalty, but Yugi only felt the need to speak more. It was like a child tugging at the hems of his clothes along with an unbearable whining.
Giving to the whims of his invisible child, Yugi opened his mouth—
"Are there any lodgings in this place?" His crimson-eyed savior came once again to his rescue and Yugi let out a soft breath of relief. "For his majesty."
The voice was commanding, and the old man jumped out of his fixed gaze at Yugi's chest and gave one shaking nod. He whispered a few words at the young boy near him and the child raced back to the elder's house.
"I'm sorry but there are no inns in our village." The old man sighed, "We'll be happy to have you stay at my…uhm…house. There is nothing more we could offer." He turned his head away from Atemu and the beast master, obvious shame on his hanging head.
Atemu frowned. This town was unprepared for his arrival – no, unprepared for the arrival of any traveler. What possessed that notorious thief to settle down in this barren wasteland of a town? "Well, you should be prepa—"
"That will be fine, thank you."
A pale hand was place on his majesty's arm and Atemu quickly closed his open mouth, giving the beast master a curious look but Yugi refused to look at him. He knew he could not argue with the beast master under these circumstances – it would seem unusual for a king and a soldier to converse – and he stepped back, letting Yugi be led to the clay house of the old man. He followed diligently.
The house was much too simple and bare for Atemu's liking but Yugi seemed to love it though he tried to keep himself calm and composed. The king didn't bother to listen to the old man's blabbing and instead, opted for counting the cracks and holes on the walls they passed along with the spider webs that hung from the low ceiling.
Atemu barely noticed as the elder finished his explanations and left both him and Yugi in the main bedroom. The squeak of the door closing behind him was heard only by deaf ears. There was a soft rustle of hay as the beast master happily jumped on the straw bed on one side of the room. Only the beast master's laughter shook his out of his daze and he quickly scanned the room for any sign of any townsfolk. Finding none, he dropped his shoulders in relief. He took off his helmet and placed it on a nearby table.
"Your majesty…Atemu?" Yugi's eyes were focused on the ceiling of wood and straw, lying spread eagle on the thin white sheets of the straw mattress. "I'm sorry for interrupting you a while ago. I hope I didn't offend you." He turned his head to meet his other self's gaze, following as the other walked to his side.
Atemu looked down on the beast master and shook his head. "It's fine. I suppose it's unreasonable to ask for something they don't have." He smiled and smiled even wider when it was returned. Wasn't he suppose to "discuss" that interruption with the beast master? He remembered thinking that but why was he returning smiles instead?
"I'm sure you're used to much better lodgings. After all, the rooms the other villages gave you felt…almost holy." Yugi pushed himself up with his elbows and sat cross-legged on the straw bed. He shifted his position so that he was facing the king and looked at the other with clear round velvet eyes, "Is this okay then?"
Atemu moved and sat on the edge of the bed. Yugi shifted slightly, like a child moving to hear his father tell a story.
"Yes, I suppose this will do." The king smoothened the cotton sheets with his tanned hands, "Though it is very unusual for you to interrupt me when I'm speaking in your place." He raised an eyebrow at his twin who jumped back at his questioning gaze.
"I'm sorry." Small place hands covered his mouth in one swift gesture. Yugi kept forgetting that his majesty did not like it if he apologized unnecessarily or too much. When his other self remained silent, he continued, "I know you're speaking for me to help me and I'm really thankful for saving me all those times."
Atemu grinned. It was amusing how the beast tamer saw it as "saving" when he spoke in his "majesty's" place.
"But this village," Yugi took a deep breath, "This village reminded me so much of my home and I…well…I didn't want to…uhm…cause it any trouble." He gulped then blushed. Somehow, that reason sounded much more solid when he was thinking about it.
The king remained silent. He wondered what the beast master was feeling right now. Was it a bittersweet happiness? Or nothing but pure sorrow? Yugi looked uncomfortable, that much he could tell but he was never good at guessing what a person feels. He had never cared much for it in the first place. He knew one thing though: that losing people precious to you was very painful. He learned very well when he had lost his parents.
"I shouldn't bother you with things like this, your majesty." Yugi forced a laugh, rubbing the back of his head out of habit, "After all, we're here to take one of the millennium item wielders back to the palace not reminisce in other villages." With a bounce on the straw mattress, he stood up and smoothened his clothes, plucking the hay that attached to him. "So, what are we supposed to do now that we're here?"
Atemu stood up in a slow and graceful – almost lazy – manner. He looked at the beast master and, to Yugi's surprise, wrapped his arms around his shoulders.
Yugi blinked. He tried to turn his head to face his other self but it was tightly locked between the other's neck and shoulder. Carefully, he raised his arms and tapped his majesty's back reassuringly. "Atemu? What is it…?" he asked and the arms around him felt far tighter than before.
"It must be painful…" The voice was slightly muffled by the cape on Yugi's shoulders, "…to be reminded of your loss."
A big smile appeared on the beast master's lips and he suddenly felt like laughing. At first, he had though that it was the king who was asking for comfort but in fact, it was his majesty comforting him. His raised arms stopped its reassuring and instead, returned the hug.
He remembered speaking of his lost village to the king that night long ago and Atemu had reacted so differently from today. He wondered what had brought the sudden change but he felt much too pleased to bother to think of any reason. "Atemu, it's okay. I'm okay." He barely noticed his breathy whisper to his majesty's ear, "Thank you."
The king shook his head. His other self's words tickled his ears like a feather and he didn't want to let go of the other…at least, not yet. He was very thankful that Yugi didn't push him away and instead, returned the hug.
A loud banging on the wooden door interrupted them both but Atemu refused to hear it. Only when the door was slammed open and Yugi instinctively pushed his other self away did the king turn to face the metal clad soldier who stood in what seemed like shock in front of them.
His majesty's voice was coated in venom, the soldier expected that much after interrupting…whatever the king and the beast master was doing. Still, he, like every other soldier in the kingdom, wished little for his majesty's temper on them. After all, no person wants another's anger at him, especially if it's a king's.
"Is there anything important you wish to tell me or do you simply enjoy barging into other people's privacy?" Atemu stood in front of the guard, his arms crossed. The soldier was taller than him and he did not enjoy looking up at his subjects. He glared with his sharp crimson eyes.
The soldier gulped. He had forgotten to genuflect and despite knowing how late it was, he fell down to the wooden floor with weak knees. "Ye-yes, your highness!" His head was bowed down, "We've found the thief's lair!!!"
The poor man didn't know how long he was kneeling there but by the time he lifted his head, his majesty and the beast master had already left the room.
- - -
There was a cave in the outskirts of the town, at the foot of the mountain that towered over the village. It wasn't well hidden nor was it hard to find with the winding dirt road that led to the place. There were lit torches hanging at both sides of the mouth of the cave, illuminating little of the darkness that lie within. It was a hideout that didn't hide and Atemu was very suspicious at the welcoming feel of the cavern.
They were hiding in the forest, watching the torches flicker at every breath of the wind. It was a few hours past noon and it was better to act while the sun was still high and that sneaky thief could not use the night to his advantage.
"Secure all other caves in the area. We want to make sure that that thief doesn't escape from us!" Atemu swept his hand in front of him and the soldiers gave him a salute, running to their assigned positions, "I'll go in. The two of you," He pointed at two random soldiers, "will be my backup. I expect no mistakes from any of you." He unsheathed the sword on his side, giving it one full swing then sliding it back to his side in one graceful flow.
"Uhm, Atemu? What about me?" Yugi placed a hand on his chest. His majesty had already told him not to come and still he followed them but he wanted to help. Was that so bad? Because right now, he was neglected and he felt useless and invisible.
The king paused in his steps. He turned around. "I'd rather have you return to the town. I don't want you to be involved with this. You don't need to be hurt for no reason." He gave a nod to one of the guards who rushed to the beast master's side.
Violet eyes glanced at the metal clad man on his side then turned unwavering eyes back at Atemu. "Please, let me stay. I can help you." He shook his head vigorously, "No, I want to help you. Please let me, your majesty."
Atemu let out a long sigh. "Yugi, we are dealing with a very notorious criminal here and you are no warrior. You'll just get injured and end up creating trouble for us." He refused to meet the beast tamer's eyes. What was so wrong in wanting the other to be safe? That's right. He just wanted to protect him so this should be alright.
Yugi looked down on his feet and clicked his toes together. "But…but…the caves might get you lost…and…well…I could help you there. I could help find the right way." He nodded, turning his head to face his majesty. "Please." Don't leave me behind.
Atemu stared intently at the beast tamers violet eyes, caught in an invisible web. He turned back to the cave. "Don't get yourself hurt."
"I promise!" Like a child, Yugi's face lit up and he followed the king into the cave, skipping slightly in his steps.
The cave was very dark even under the light of the torches the two soldiers held in their hands. Yugi stared at the high ceiling and saw a handful of eerie yellow eyes. He smiled. The bright yellow eyes blinked then vanished into the shadows. A low and barely audible chuckled vibrated in his throat and he turned his eyes back to his majesty's proud back.
Then they stopped.
In front of them stood half a dozen splits in the road. Atemu looked at each of them and remained silent. He knew he should ask Yugi for help but no matter what words he formed in his head, they all sounded to helpless for his pride to carry. "Yugi—"
"We're looking for a person…right? A human being?" The beast tamer rushed in front of the group, his voice echoing in the vast curved walls of the cave.
For a second, Atemu was tempted to be sarcastic and say otherwise. He did not consider that thief to be a human being…like…ugh…him. He did not want to be similar to that person any way possible. But now was not the time to spill out his anger, especially on Yugi, and instead, he gave one nod.
"Then we can find him." Yugi gave a smile.
The next second, a high-pitched screech that could not be considered human resonated through the tunnel. The torches they were carrying flickered with the sound of loud flapping. In panic, the soldier drew out their swords but found no monster in sight.
"Hurry up! We'll lose them!!!" The beast master grabbed Atemu's sleeve and dragged him to the third whole from the left. Their escort followed suit.
"Lose them? Who are we following?" Atemu jogged to the beast tamer's pace. When he placed himself beside him, Yugi let go and suddenly, he wished he never did.
Yugi kept his eyes on the tunnel but still, he stumbled slightly on a rock. He pointed a finger at the roof of the cave and muttered, "The bats." He said, as though it was the most obvious and normal thing in the world.
The beast master nodded. "Yes." Again, with the same tone, "There are a lot of them here. They know these tunnels very well and they have very good hearing so I'm sure we can trust them to lead us." He stopped and jumped over a stalactite. He took a deep breath then continued running. "They don't like the torches so they try to stay away so we have to keep up at their pace. Is it okay?" He glanced at his other self, tilting his head to one side.
In all honesty, he was very dubious about getting help from blood-sucking night beasts, especially when he couldn't even see where those bats were hiding (he was following Yugi). For all Atemu knew, they were leading them to one of Bakura's traps. But he trusted the beast master. Either way, they'd be better off following winged rats than standing around and making coin tosses to choose their way.
It felt like they were going in circles. Atemu had tried to remember which way they took but the innumerable twists and turns and passages sent his memory in a crash. Everything looked the same and everything looked different.
"Damn thief, what kind of hellish tricks do you have up your sleeves?" he muttered under his breath.
"Hmm? Atemu? What is it?"
The crimson-eyed king was startled though he tried not to show it. He turned to the beast master and realized for the first time that they had all stopped running.
"We're here." Yugi pointed at the vast open space in front of them. Various tunnels and mouths decorated the walls. It seemed like this place led to many and many led to this place. "That person we're looking for is here, they say."
Atemu could see no sign of life around the area aside from the numerous bright yellow eyes at the very top of the cove. He took careful steps, his hands on the hilt of his sword. With keen eyes, he scanned the area, motioning for the soldiers to light any corner with their torches but he could not find any sign of that notorious thief. He glanced at the beast tamer. He didn't want to disappoint the other. A long and heavy sigh escaped his lips.
"To whom do I owe the honor of his majesty's presence?" The words bounced off the walls in a series of echoes.
That voice…! , In one quick motion, Atemu unsheathed his sword and the torches went out, leaving them all in a flustered darkness. "Damn you, Bakura!!!" He slashed blindly around him but a scream from the beast master, reminded him that he was not alone.
"Yugi? Where are you?" His voice was shaking in panic and he didn't like it. "LIGHT YOUR TORCHES, SOLDIERS!!!" he yelled in the darkness and a second later, he heard the sound of sparks. The torches gained life once again and they chased away the darkness that enveloped them all to the long shadows the people cast on the ragged walls of the cave.
Crimson eyes swept the cave, nearing desperation. He could not find the beast master. He could not find Yu—
"Hmm? You're not the king. Who are you?"
Violet eyes met coffee ones. Yugi did not know whether to be frightened or not. He was pinned to the ground – there was a couple of rocks beneath him and it hurt to be pressed down on them – with a curved dagger pressed to his throat. The arm pushed across his shoulders led to a man who eerily resembled one of his dearest friends. He would've pinched himself to see if he was dreaming, if what he was seeing was an illusion made by the darkness of the cave and the dim lights of the torches, but he could not move his arms with that man's legs in the way. And, he realized, the man was getting quite heavy and the rocks he was lying upon felt sharper by the second.
"I'm sure I saw that arrogant bastard of a king. He definitely doesn't look like this pipsqueak." The white-haired man raised an eyebrow, looking almost as if he had let his guard down if not for that cold metal Yugi could feel on his neck that kept getting closer and closer. "Maybe I shouldn't have blown out their torches so early."
A loud angry shout came closer to the two and a flash of silver swept across the man who had pinned Yugi. For a second, the beast master thought that someone was just sliced in half on top of him but was relieved to see the person jump out of the way, somersaulting as he did. Yugi was not prepared for such bloodshed.
The beast master took deep and even breaths. He rubbed his neck carefully then looked at his palms. In the dim orange lights, Yugi could barely distinguish the small slashes of blood on his hand. Only then did his neck start stinging.
Metal clashing upon metal, sliding with each other and sparking as they met. Wide violet eyes watched as his majesty and the man-who-looked-like-Ryou-but-wasn't fought with a dagger and a rapier. He sat there, staring in shock and in the corner of his eyes, he found the two soldiers as flabbergasted and frozen as he was.
Yugi felt the need to do something, anything to aid his majesty but everything was just so confusing and the clash of metal rang in his ears like war drums of an ancient tribe. He didn't know who was losing and who was winning, and if the help he was planning would help who he wanted it to.
Stop spinning, stop spinning! , He ran his hand through his hair, pulling at the roots to stop that oncoming headache. What am I supposed to do here? Atemu….
He had no time to think. He could not think. He pressed two fingers to his lips and blew a loud and high-pitched whistle that mimicked the screeches of the cave dwellers. The bright yellow eyes scattered on the roof grew wide. The beasts spread their wings and rushed in a spiral towards the thief and the king, causing them both to stop their fight. They waved their hands furiously, swinging their blades and hitting nothing but air, until the bats vanished through the numerous tunnels that decorated the cove.
There was a loud crash and when the banging in Yugi's head stopped, his eyes clear, Atemu had the white-haired man at his grasp, the blade of his rapier at the very place the other had pressed his dagger to.
"Game over, thief." Atemu pulled at the arm in his hand, stomping his boot on the other's back, "You know you'll never win against me." He flashed a triumphant and arrogant smirk.
Bakura grumbled, cursing so much that it sounded like he spoke a different language. "Fuck you! We had a deal, you bastard of a king!!!!" He struggled out of the other's clutches but only received a stomp at his back, "You're not supposed to arrest me, damn fucking blue-blood!!! That was part of that stupid deal!!!"'
Yugi could swear that smirk of his majesty was laughing on its own though he couldn't hear the tiniest snicker.
"You are not being arrested." Atemu tapped the thief's head with the flat of his sword, "You are being escorted to the capital."
- - -
"Damn fucking motherfucker."
Yugi blinked. He glanced around him but found no one other than him to react to the thief's curses. "Mister Bakura sir, you sure like cursing a lot, don't you?" he forced a nervous smile. That was all he had heard from the white-haired thief's mouth since they left Munin. Thinking about the village, he missed his hometown already.
Bakura snorted, "OF COURSE I'M GONNA CURSE THIS MUCH, YOU IDIOT!!!" he grabbed the metal bars that surrounded him firmly and rattled them with all his might. "You fucking call this escorting?!?! I'm frickin' locked in an animal cage!!!!"
The beast master gulped. He stroked the stallion's mane and set it to ride at the cage's pace. "Oh, I'm sorry but Atemu insisted that you be kept there because you were very very dangerous, sir." He placed a hand on the cold metal bars and looked the thief in the eyes, "Are you very dangerous, Mister Bakura sir?"
Bakura stared at the beast master in his majesty's clothes, riding his majesty's stallion and he twitched. Oh no, I'm not dangerous at all. I just fucking put a knife to your neck and THREATENED YOUR LIFE. No, I'm not dangerous. It's all a BIG scam. , He was so tempted to say but looking at that wide-eyed look on the other's face, he doubted any of it would get to his brain.
"No need to be polite to him, Yugi." Atemu smiled at his doppelganger then turned to face the thief in scowls. "What? I think that cage fits you well. You're much more of an animal than any animal I've seen." He put a hand to his mouth and snickered.
The white-haired thief glared, his left eye flinching, "And I see you've lost your backbone in all those lovely years we haven't seen each other." He leered at Yugi who jumped at his seat and looked away, "Since when did you get a fetish for decoys?"
Yugi blushed and Atemu poked the thief with the blunt end of his spear. "Shut up, thief!"
"What? Using this pipsqueak here as your shield is far too cowardly even for my standards!!!" Bakura felt a wave of satisfaction when the king looked worriedly at the embarrassed doppelganger, "Is this bastard bullying you?" he almost doubled over in laughter.
Yugi shook his head sharply. "No, no. Please don't think that way!" He turned to the thief and slapped a hand to his chest, letting the reins fall down from his fingers, "I'm the one who offered my help to the capital! Atemu was against it very much but I…I…I wanted to help." He bowed his head down. Recalling the event from before, he wondered if he really did be of some help.
Bakura raised an eyebrow. It was quite unusual, from the very start, for a commoner to call the king of the country by his birth name (and live to tell) but for the king to care about that said commoner's life was more than rare. He glanced at his majesty and found him following the other with a careful gaze. He snickered. Oh, so that's how it is.
"Say anything and I'm gonna thrust this spear through your chest." Atemu clanged the smooth metal spearhead against the iron bars of the cage, glaring at the thief who was more than happy to glare back.
"What? I was just about to tell the kid here that he dropped the reins." Bakura jabbed a finger at the stallion, "We wouldn't want your double to get wild with that stallion of yours, now would we?"
That seemed to snap Yugi out of his stupor. "Don't worry about it, Mister Bakura sir. He won't run away, right?" he leaned forward, caressing the horse with his small and pale hands. In response the beast snorted, tossing his head up as if to nod. The beast master giggled.
Oh yes, he remembered now. When he and the king were fighting in the caves, there was this whistle and then the bats started acting whacko, as if they intended to push the two of them away from each other. Could it be…? "Hey kid, what do you do for a living? A vagabond?"
Yugi stared at the thief. "Please stop calling me kid, Mister Bakura sir. I'm already 18."
If Bakura was drinking, he would have sprayed water all over the person in front of him. 18? The kid surely didn't look his age but then his majesty wasn't all that vertically blessed. He smirked. Maybe it runs in the looks? Or does it have something to do with the hair?
"But as for the job…." The beast tamer took a deep breath then grinned brightly at the thief in his cage, "I'm a circus performer! I handle the beasts!!!" He said proudly. How he missed his friends and the beasts. He can't wait to get back to the capital now.
"Eh? What the hell is a circus guy doing with this king???" Though it definitely did explain the other's skills, it did raise more questions with his relations with his majesty.
Yugi gasped, "Oh, that's because our ringmaster was the cause for the disappearance of the millennium items! I'm just doing my part." He nodded mostly to himself, "And besides, I have to keep the circus animals somewhere. The palace agreed to house them when I offered my help."
"And what's wrong with keeping them in the circus?"
The beast master froze. He didn't know how to answer that. He didn't want to seem like he bore any ill will towards his majesty and he didn't want to look like he was being bullied into this decoy job when it was he who offered. He sighed. What was he going to say?
"That is none of your business, thief. Since when did you get an interest in other people's lives? Aren't you so self-centered that you bother with no one but yourself?" Atemu had said this with gritted teeth. There was sting on his chest that kept on growing as Bakura and the beast master was immersed in a comfortable conversations. Was it…by chance…jealousy?
"Haha. Says the spoiled rich brat of the century." The white-haired thief sneered.
Atemu glared and "accidentally" let his spear almost run through the other. "Why not just sit down and keep quiet before you stay in that cage for eternity?"
"And you're asking for my help? Pathetic!" Bakura kicked the spear away. He leaned on the metal bars of the cage, creating a loud rattling noise, then fell down to the floor with crossed legs. "Fine. As long as you give me the same kind of food served to you, then I'll keep quiet. I'm not standing for crap like pig feed."
"As if you stand for anything at all." Atemu shrugged. It didn't matter anyway whether or not that thief was fed good food. "Well, the sky's going dark. We better make camp here." With those words, the whole entourage stopped. The king walked to his stallion's side and offered his help to the beast tamer. It was habitual by now and it was one of the few things he didn't mind doing on his own. But the beast master didn't respond this time. "Yugi?"
Yugi had his eyes focused on the trees. He recognized this place very well. He had wanted to come back here and check that thing that blinded him with a golden shine. He just hoped it was still there.
"Yugi? Are you alright?"
"Hmm? Yes, yes. I'm sorry. I got distracted!" The beast tamer took the king's hand and helped himself off the stallion's high back. He flashed a smile that was much brighter and happier than any he had before, and his majesty froze, a light touch of pink on his cheeks. "Thank you, Atemu."
Yugi was definitely going to find that flash of gold.
- - -
The forest air was cool and refreshing at sunset. It was the time of the day when the crickets would awaken and start planning their evening song. In the labyrinth of the misleading trees, Yugi walked in ease with one of the pair of falcons they brought on his leather-padded shoulder.
"Well then, Merlin! Let's start our little scavenger hunt!" The falcon rose to the air with his blue wings and the beast tamer quickly dropped to his knees and searched the ground.
He wondered if it was okay not to tell Atemu where he was going. He had told one of the ranks that he wanted to search the surroundings for some healing herbs. It wasn't an entire lie. He really did get a few herbs which were now stuffed securely in the leather pouch on his waist. Now that that was over, he wanted to search for his shine.
"Ah! I found one!" He exclaimed in excitement. He grabbed the piece from the weeds that grew at the roots of a maple tree and stood up quick, bothering little with the dirt on his clothes.
Yugi lifted the item to the sky and under the red-orange gaze of the setting sun, the shiny piece twinkled. It was a small gold piece molded into an unusual shape. It had corners and angles but it was no cube nor square or any other shape that came into his mind. It was almost as if it was a puzzle piece.
The beast tamer gasped. He was an avid fun of puzzles. "I have to find the rest of them!!!" he shrieked like a little child. Above him, Merlin circled around his head then dropped another golden piece to the beast master's hand. "Oh, that's great, Merlin!! Keep up the good work!!!" he pointed to his left, "You search there!" he pointed to his right, "I'll search here, okay?" With a screech, the blue-plumed falcon flapped his way to the left as the beast tamer rushed to the right.
It was a fun hunt for Yugi. By the time, the sun had vanished, him and Merlin had collected ten gold pieces; all of which were placed securely in his leather pouch, along with the herbs that were surely crushed the pieces.
"That should be enough for today, right? We wouldn't want Atemu to get mad at us if we don't return soon." The falcon screeched in reply and settled contentedly on the beast tamer's shoulder. It would be easy enough to get back. The orange glow of the numerous torches and bonfires in the camp was easy enough to spot, especially with Merlin around. Besides, he had traveled he forest in dark before. It wasn't so bad.
"Oh, are you shedding, Merlin? There's so many feather's on the ground." In one quick motion, Yugi fell to his knees and inspected the feathers. They were brown and black. Merlin's were blue and white. "Then whose is this?"
Yugi was a natural animal lover – that was something that need not be stated. So he followed the trail of feathers and it led him to the foot of the nearby mountain. He looked up in awe. It was vague but he could make out the signs of a large nest. Had an eagle chick fallen of her nest? Or was there an injured bird?
Violet eyes scanned the ground as much as he can with the limited light. He was thankful for the brightness of the half moon. He was used to the darkness of the forest but human eyes can only see so much.
Then he gasped.
"It's a griffin chick!" Nervously, he searched for any signs of the parents but was relieved to find none. Griffins were very protective and possessive of their young and despite his inclination to beasts, an enraged mother griffin was difficult to calm. He could save his life but not other people's. That was why the circus had never meddled with the griffins.
With a sigh, Yugi knelt down and gazed at the injured chick. She had made no noise at the sight of him and even seemed to be happy about it but Yugi knew better. "What am I going to do with you? I can't just leave you here…but…." He glanced once again at the nest on the mountainside then back at the chick. Should he risk it? A newborn chick with the smell of humans upon it would be eaten by its own kind. He wasn't sure if she was a newborn or if she had never seen her parents but he didn't want to be the cause of this chick's death. On the other hand, leaving her down here without the safety of her nest would surely kill her.
Yugi sighed. If it were Atemu, he wouldn't care about what would and would not happen. He would simply bring the chick to her nest. Sure, he knew that Atemu would not necessarily care about saving a griffin chick. He knew that Atemu wasn't a good king. He was selfish at times and arrogant at most but stuck to his decisions and Yugi had admired that iron will of his…even though the results weren't always good.
So, the beast tamer took a deep breath and scooped the willing chick into his arms. Her claws were sharp and it wounded his skin. He hadn't counted on seeing a griffin much less saving it so he only brought protection from Merlin's claws. He hissed but decided to ignore the pain and focused on climbing the mountain side.
It was dangerous to climb anywhere during the night but somehow, Yugi made it in one piece, save the injuries he received from the griffin child.
"Well then, don't fall off your nest next time, okay? I might not be the one who finds you and you'd get in a loooootttt of trouble." He wagged a finger in front of the chick that noticed little of it and instead, drifted off to sleep.
Yugi sighed. "Good night then, chick." He pushed away the pebbles and stones to one side and threw away the shiny spearheads that looked so new and so similar to the weapons of the ranks back at the ca—
He froze. What were those doing there…? In one quick motion that made his head spin, he turned to the direction of the camp. There was no smoke. There was no fire. But in Yugi's panicked eyes, he saw the orange glow of the camp as a monster from hell that swallowed them in a sea of flames.
My village was also burned to the ground…. That's right. So, is Atemu going to burn—
Yugi ran. He stumbled on the mountainside and fell flat on his chest on a nearby bush. He struggled to get up and crawled to his knees then ran once again. Above him, Merlin screeched and screeched but he could not hear him.
—to the ground—
Griffins were dangerous creatures. They were strong like dragons and ran around in packs like hellhounds. Mere foot soldiers could not match them and swords would be useless. Especially against enraged parents. Why couldn't they see that? Why couldn't they just leave them alone?
—just like everything—
The forest felt and looked like the maze it had never been to Yugi. He didn't know where he was going, if he was nearing the camp or running away from it but he was much too dizzy to care. He could hear the screeches of griffins and the screams of men and that was all that mattered.
There was orange light at the far end of the maze and he rushed to it, ignoring the branches he had broken and the cuts on his arms.
—I held dear?
"STOP IT!!!!" Yugi heard his voice so loud but the battle of metal clad men and the winged beasts ate his words as if it was nothing. His knees felt weak and he fell down on the ground. He shut his eyes tightly. He did not want to see the blood of both humans and beasts, and the battle between them.
Please, just make it stop. Just make it all stop. Make everything stop. Just stop. Stop. , Yugi wasn't praying. He was pleading with everything he had to whoever would hear his call. There was a soft thud and a rush of air, and as he opened his eyes, he was greeted by the screech of one of the griffins but he felt no fear.
Please…. , He bowed his heavy head. With a weary hand, he reached towards the griffin, knowing little of what he was doing, and clenched the feathers on his limbs tightly, "…don't make him disappear…." It was a plead said in a feather's whisper.
There was a rush of cool wind and Yugi felt refreshed, as though that wind blew away all his worries and his pain. When he lifted his head up, he saw nothing of the griffins but the feathers they left behind. None of the soldiers seemed to notice him as they all tended to their injuries and the damage of the camp.
"Yugi! YUGI!!!" It was a familiar and calming voice and even the loud and panicked screeching of Merlin could do nothing to block it.
"Where were you? Are you alright?" Atemu crouched down and placed his palms on the beast tamer's shoulders. "I saw that – that – that—"
"—that griffin land in front of you! Did it injure you? Are these its doing?!?!" The king grabbed Yugi's limp arm and stared at the shallow cuts all over them. "What happened?! What did that monster do to you?!?!?!"
"No…. He's not a monster…. Please don't call him that." Yugi shook his head clutched the king's arm tightly in one hand, "They didn't do anything. These cuts are my fault." His eyes felt heavy and he knew they looked very glassy but still he looked up and faced the king and what he saw made the tears fall from his eyes. "You're injured…." He rubbed his arm that was filled with cuts and bruises across his eyes.
"Oh, this? This is nothing compared to what my men suffered." Atemu ran a hand across the shallow but red claw marks that stretched from his shoulder to his chest. He could feel the beast tamer shaking and he was using his wounded arm to rub across his eyes. "Don't, Yugi. You're wounded too." He pried the arm carefully away from the other's face and was shocked to see the tears. "Why are you crying, Yugi?"
The beast tamer shook his head and refused to meet the king's crimson gaze.
"Come on, now." The king lifted his twin by the shoulders and let him stand on his own. He had made a move to carry him but the other pushed him away. "Let's just go back to my tent. Then we could take care of both our injuries." The beast tamer was silent but he let Atemu lead him towards one of the few tents that still stood amidst the chaos.
Atemu had refused all the offers of medical attention from his ranks. It was a harsh lesson during the war: that a king was nothing without his people. He could not fight alone and so, the safety and survival of his soldier meant everything. An injury as shallow as this – he glanced at his chest and ripped clothes – was nothing to fuss about. He could take care of this with his own hands.
What worried him most was the state of the beast master. He was crying and Atemu didn't know why. Yugi didn't weep when he was injured at the palace and he didn't scream when Bakura threatened his life. And he could not bring himself to believe that the cause of all this sorrow would be the beasts that Yugi adored. Most of all, if these cuts were caused by those claws and what did?
"Sit down, Yugi. We'll treat your cuts." Atemu smiled. It had always made him feel better when the beast master gave him a smile and he hoped he could do the same.
Yugi's head snapped up. Then he turned to his majesty and shook his head. "No, please. Let's treat yours first." Those clear violet eyes were begging so much that Atemu couldn't refuse and so the king sat down on the silk sheets of his bed and watched worriedly as the beast tamer walked with soft steps towards the makeshift table of chests. With a sigh, the king carefully took off his ripped tunic. The sooner they were finished with his treatment, the sooner he could tend to the obvious distress of the beast master.
Yugi took the leather pouch on his side and placed it on the table. He took the healing herbs he was thankful to find and placed them on the cloth. The golden puzzle pieces that shone so bright and happy a while ago suddenly looked dull and rusted and he quickly closed the pouch and placed it back at his side.
It was a silent process of grinding the herbs and to the king it felt long and painful. For what seemed like eternity, Yugi turned around with a plate of thick green liquid in his hands. The beast tamer sat beside the king and spread the dubious green paste across his majesty's wound.
Atemu flinched. The liquid felt cool to his skin but Yugi's touch felt like fire. He watched his other self wipe away the paste with a cloth when he finished then grabbed a few rolls of bandage. All the time he kept trying to meet those clear violet eyes but he failed each time. Yugi simply did not want to look at him.
Yugi wrapped his majesty's wound with downcast eyes. When he had finished, he leaned on the king's strong shoulders, feeling far tired than he had ever been in his whole life.
"Is it finished? We can work on your wounds now—"
"Why did you have to do it…?"
Atemu froze. He didn't remember doing anything to cause the beast master such a mood…or had he…? He desperately hoped he didn't.
"Why did you have to go and bother the griffins? Why did you have to hunt them down?" Yugi took one sharp intake of breath, clutching his majesty's arm tightly, "Why did I have to go and leave camp?" His voice sounded nasal and the tears in his eyes he could contain no more, "Why couldn't I just stayed here and stopped you from meddling with the griffins? Why did I leave you all?"
"No, Yugi. It's not your fault. Don't think like that." Atemu shook his head. His chest felt heavy when he looked at the beast master in this state. He couldn't bear it.
But Yugi heard none of Atemu's words. "I was supposed to stay here. That was my job. I was supposed to be here and be you and I failed you all." He was sobbing and he wanted to stop but no matter how much he gritted his teeth and held his breath, the tears kept falling.
Atemu frowned and he turned to face the beast master. He placed his hands on the other shoulders and shook him. "No. Your job is to die in my place. And I don't want you to die so I don't want you to do your job well." He had used his voice of authority. It was a voice that had never failed him but it did nothing to soothe the other.
"But you were all burning." Yugi said in one breath of horror.
The king scrunched his face, "Burning…? There was no fire, Yugi. What are you talking about?" his voice was in panic.
"Every single one of you was being swallowed alive by flames." The hand that clutched tightly at his majesty's arm was shaking wildly, "And I pleaded with them to stop but they wouldn't listen. They never did. They didn't listen when they took away everything that was important to me!"
Oh…Atemu realized now…it was fire that consumed his hometown and Yugi…his precious Yugi was afraid, very afraid. And fear, fear chased men like a cunning pack of wolves. He pulled his other self to his chest and hugged him so tight because he didn't want to let him go and it felt like he was vanishing right before his very eyes.
"I kept on pleading and begging until one of them listened and I just…I just…oh god…I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!!! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Yugi shook his head vigorously and it made him dizzy and tired. Desperately, he clutched at Atemu's back, pulling him into a tighter hug. "I just…I just…didn't want you to disappear!!! Don't disappear…. Please. Just don't disappear."
"It's okay, Yugi. I promise not to disappear. I promise." Atemu pressed his forehead on Yugi's own. He stared intently at those wide violet eyes and gods, did they look beautiful, like pearls fresh from the ocean floor. Why hadn't he noticed it before?
"As long as you promise to stay." The king smiled and Yugi gave nod. "That's good, Yugi. That's very good." He pressed his lips to the other's forehead then to his nose then his tear-stained cheeks. "Yugi, stay with me." Atemu knew little of what he was doing but it felt right and when he pressed his lips upon Yugi's own, he was lost.
His lips were was as soft as he had always thought it would be. Had he been thinking about this before? About keeping the beast tamer with him? About capturing those soft petal lips with his own? He couldn't quite remember and it mattered little at the moment.
Deeper, deeper. , There was a voice in his mind and it urged him to follow. The arms he had wrapped around the beast master wound tighter. One hand pressed on Yugi's back and the other trailed his cheek to his hair.
His chest kept screaming, Air! Air! But he didn't want to stop, didn't want this to end. Damn, who needs air?
His eyes snapped open. Slowly and hesitantly, Atemu left those soft lips. Velvet violet eyes fluttered open. In a nauseating daze, Yugi ran a couple of fingers across his moist and warm – too warm – lips. He kissed me…. , There was a knot, tying and untying itself in his stomach. At one point it hurt and he felt the urge to vomit; at another, it felt soothing and he simply wanted to sleep.
He kissed me. His majesty did.
It was a tsunami that crashed on him and woke him up. His dazed eyes grew wide in shock. He stood up straight, slapping both of his palms onto his lips. He gasped.
Atemu kissed ME on the LIPS.
"Yugi…?" Atemu watched as the beast master grew from flushed to beet red. He had almost laughed at the amusement until the beast tamer rushed out of the tent, never looking at his majesty. "Wait! Yugi! Don't leave!" He stood up, "We still have to treat your wounds!!!" he pulled open the curtain that served as a door for the tent rushed out.
He scanned his surroundings. The beast tamer was nowhere in sight. How could someone so significant be so inconspicuous in a sea of injured metal clad men?
"Where are you, Yugi? Where did you go?" Atemu wondered if he did anything wrong. Was that kiss a mistake? Had he made the beast tamer hate him instead of love him? He had kissed a few people before and none of them objected. Every single one of them was pleased and took advantage of that attention. Oh, but Yugi would never take advantage of him. He was much too kind. So why did he run away? "Why did you run away, Yugi?"
"Looking for the beast kid?"
Atemu whirled his head around and he saw that white-haired thief in his cage. It was funny how the cage that was meant to keep him away became his protection from that attack of those griffins. And it mocked his majesty to no end. "What do you want, thief?" His normally proud voice faltered and he sounded like a pissed off drunkard.
Bakura shrugged, "Nothing really. I'm safe from harm here and I've got good food." He smirked at the king's glare. "Besides, I'm the one who asked you a question. Looking for that circus tamer?"
Crimson eyes steeled at the mention. He stood up straight. "What do you know of Yugi? Where did he go?"
Bakura rolled his eyes. Was it some kind of noble thing? To answer questions with questions? He could go on asking that one question to mock his majesty to no end. Maybe he could test how long it would take the king to give up on him and look for the kid on his own. He snickered. That would be fun. "Why? Did you and your little boyfriend got into a fight?"
"Damn it, thief!" A fist banged on the metal bars of his protective cage. "Just tell me if you saw him or not?! Can't you just say yes or no?!?!?!" Another bang rattled the cage. "ARGH!!! I don't have time for this!!!"
It was a bit surprising. The arrogant king he knew from before lost that proud composure he had clung so stubbornly to at the face of the beast tamer. He wanted to mock the king but it seemed like none of his words would be noticed not unless he spoke of that kid. "Hey, don't get so worked up about it. For all we know, you're just caught in that little web of charm that beast kid has."
Atemu froze. He turned his attention back to the white-haired thief and asked cautiously, "What…are you talking about, thief?"
"What? You don't know?" Mock surprise, "Aren't you caught so well?"
"Don't play with me, thief!"
A low chuckle rumbled in Bakura's throat. "Of course you don't. After all, a house wife like you," There was a loud rattle on his cage and it felt like an earthquake, "would hear nothing of the outside world." He stood up and leaned on the metal bars so that he was looking down on the king. "Haven't you ever wondered how that kid could command all those beasts? What kind of spell – no, it's more like a charm. A natural charm."
Atemu looked up. It was something he hated to do, especially in front of that notorious thief but he wanted to hear this, needed to.
"I've heard of it a lot. It's a charm that attracts a lot of attention. It's supposed to be a dangerous one, to be the object of every pack's hunt, but it seems that kid has a talent for befriending the wild." The king remained passive and Bakura knew he thought of no connection to that fact with him. He grumbled and rolled his eyes. "What? You don't think that charm affects humans? Considering how fond you are of that kid, I can't see why not."
There was a dangerous gleam in his majesty's eyes. His affection for Yugi was not just a simple charm. Was this thief mocking him? Yugi was not some thing that he would be forgotten when dead. He wanted to keep the beast tamer, safe from harm and the sorrows of the world. And he knew that he could not bear his death, definitely not his death.
The screech of a bird caught his attention. Crimson eyes darted to find that distinct blue plumage. Glancing quickly at Bakura, he said, "Don't mock me, thief."
He rushed to that falcon – Merlin or Morgan or whatever its name is; he never could tell which is which – that flew low but swiftly over his men. The falcons were what Yugi used to keep in touch with the capital, sending letters every now and then but the bird that flew had nothing attached to its legs, and if that bird had anywhere to go, it would surely go to Yugi.
- - -
Yugi sat with his knees to his chest and his back to the sturdy trunk of a maple tree. He placed his chin on his knees and wrapped his arms – arms that were filled with cuts and bruises – around them, drawing circles on the dirt with his fingers. He sighed.
Why did he have to run straight in the forest? He was sure that his majesty was looking for him. It was deep in the night and he might get lost. Yugi didn't want his majesty to disappear like that. "He shouldn't have kissed me…." He whispered, pressing his lips to his knees.
He liked the king very much—
No, he shouldn't be thinking about things like that. He should just forget it all. It's all for the best. His majesty is surely just caught in his little web of charm. Taking it further would only jeopardize whatever they have now. Augh. Why was he thinking about this? Too much, too much! He should just forget it all. That's what he said. Yes, think about something else. Good things. Happy things. Bright things. Shiny things. Puzzles.
Oh. He remembered now. He had left the camp – argh! Bad things! Just the puzzle. The golden puzzle pieces that sparkled like stars. That was a good thing.
Yugi kneeled forward. He took the leather pouch on his side – thank goodness it was still there! – and spilled the contents on the dusty ground. The pieces fell upon each other, making a soft cling! as they hit. He took one piece and another and started to fit them but no matter what he used, none of them would fit each other.
"Hmm…I knew it. I'm missing a lot of pieces." The beast tamer leaned back and crossed his arms. "Searching the forest thoroughly would take months no matter how much help I get." He sighed, "I should just get back here one day, after all of this is over and look for it. It's be my great worldwide golden puzzle scavenger hunt." He proudly raised a piece and it sparkled under the light of the half moon. "I wonder what kind of picture you will form…."
He could hear the distinct flap of wings and the screech of a falcon. He blinked. "…Morgan?" The blue falcon fluttered slowly to the leather pad on his shoulder that he was yet to remove, "What are you doing here? Were you worried?" He giggled when the falcon nipped lightly at his ear, "I'm sorry. I promise I won't run away like that anymore."
"Well then, that's a promise to keep."
Yugi gasped loudly and he quickly grabbed the golden puzzle pieces and put them in his pouch. He wondered why he did but his head was starting to spin again and he couldn't think. "Your majesty! I-I-I-I didn't mean to run away like that! I'm sorry!!!" he bowed his head quickly.
Atemu took a deep breath. He straightened his shoulders and plucked away the leaves and branches caught on his arms. He had forgotten that he had nothing on his torso except the bandages that Yugi had wrapped around his wound and he suddenly started to feel cold but he shrugged it off and turned his crimson gaze at the beast tamer. "Are you going to stop calling me by name now? It would be very disappointing if you did."
Yugi could feel his face grow hot and he tried to shake it off to no avail. "But…but…but your maje—Atemu! I don't want to destroy anything between us!"
"…Between us…?" His majesty crouched in front of the beast tamer and placed a hand on his chin, forcing the other to look up, "Tell me, Yugi, is there anything between us?"
Yugi turned his head back down, knocking his other self's hand away. "I like you a lot, your majesty. I like it when we talk to each other because it feels comfortable and…nice. But when you…kissed me…." He turned his eyes sharply to meet the king's gaze, "You don't like me that way, Atemu. That's not real, not real at all! It's a fake, fake, fake—"
Yugi gasped, "You…you knew…?" he clamped a hand over his mouth and started taking deep and even breaths.
Atemu nodded, "Well, as much as I wouldn't like to admit it, that thief was the one who told me, just a few moments ago."
"Then you're gonna hate me now!" Small pale palms slapped over his eyes and he jerked his head down, muttering so much words that his majesty couldn't understand. "I should've known this would happen!"
A chuckle escaped his lips. Atemu knew he shouldn't be laughing but he couldn't stop it. The next second, a loud laugh rang through the forest and he leaned back, clutching his stomach with one hand.
"Why are you laughing?!?! This isn't funny!!!!" Yugi gritted his teeth. He raised a fist and slammed it as hard as he could on his majesty's leg. Then he gasped. "Oh my, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to hit you or anything, Atemu! It's just that…that…you were laughing at me!!! Don't do that!" Again, he pounded on the king's leg and, with shocked eyes, he pulled back.
"It's okay, Yugi. I didn't feel it." Atemu flapped a hand, taking deep breaths to stop his laughter. "Yugi," He said in a clear voice, "I don't hate you at all. Where did you get that idea?"
"But, but, but—"
"Yugi." He would never get tired of saying that name, "I like you and that's not because of that…that…spell-charm or whatever it is!" Atemu rolled his eyes at the suggestion. "And I was hoping that you'd trust me. That you'd believe in me just as I believe in you." He cupped the other's cheek and steadied his head, their eyes focused on each other. "Besides, you promised to stay with me, right? And I don't think that you're the type of person to break promises."
Yugi shook his head. That's right. He never breaks his promises, just as his majesty never breaks his word. But still, he didn't think he could stand to stay with a person bound under his…ugh…charm. It wouldn't be real and Yugi can't bear to live a fake life. Because it'd hurt far too much when the dream ends.
…believe in me just as I believe in you…
That was his majesty's words. And it felt like the right thing to do. But what if…if…or maybe—ARGH! His head was hurting too much. Why did he have to think—?
"Yugi." Atemu caressed his cheek with his thumb, "You think too much. Let's just get back to camp and treat those cuts on your arms." He stood up and dusted off his trouser then he offered a hand to the beast master. "I doubt I can find my way back before sunrise if I don't have your help."
Yugi hesitantly took his majesty's hand and squeezed it. Suddenly, he felt much better, much clearer and he smiled a thankful smile as he was pulled up to his feet. "Uhm…thanks…."
There was a shuffle of cloth and then the soft cling! of metal upon metal fell to the ground. Both Atemu and Yugi jerked their heads to the sound. He nearly forgot about those golden puzzle pieces and he felt embarrassed when his majesty crouched down to inspect them.
"Uhm…I'm sorry…. That's…that's…that's what I was looking for when," Yugi gulped, "I left the camp." He whispered, fumbling with his fingers.
Atemu squinted his eyes. The moon must be playing tricks with him because those small bits of metal weren't gold and they weren't shining like stars. "Where did you find this, Yugi?" he asked as he picked up a piece and examined it. It was cool at the first touch but the quickly warmed in his cold fingers, as if it had a life of its own.
"Uh…just here. In the forest. Merlin and I found them." Yugi felt more and more uncomfortable about the subject as he spoke, "A-Atemu, I'm sorry. It must seem very stupid of me to chase those things when I should've been back at the camp but…but…it was a puzzle!" He wailed, "And I love puzzles so I couldn't resist! I'm sorry! I really am!"
"No, no. Don't be." Atemu picked up the pieces and covered them with his hands. One by one, they pulsed in warmth. "You did well, Yugi. This," he showed one to Yugi, "is part of a very important item. All of these are parts of the millennium puzzle."
Yugi stared dumbly at the king. He blinked. "What?"
Munin: Norse mythology. One of Odin's ravens whom he sent each day to the world to gather knowledge. Means "memory". Name of the village in this story.
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Argh, why do I have to make such good angst??? Why couldn't they have kissed in a happy place with rainbows and butterflies??? Ignore the frustrated author.
So yeah, the falcons' names are Merlin and Morgan. Yes, King Arthur's yet again though I hadn't named them according solely to the story. You see, there's this species of falcons called the Merlin falcons. They have blue feathers with spotted white breasts though they're small for falcons. I used to draw them a lot when I was a kid :) Morgan because, well, Merlin.
Btw, I sketched Yugi in his beast master costume :) It's not very refined (I'm still not sure if I'll color it) but I'd like you to get an idea of what Yugi looks like in his costume. I've drawn Ryou and Malik but I'm having trouble with Jou's proportions. I'm just being OC. Anyway, if you wanna see it here's the link:
http://www.deviantart .com/deviation/39669670/ (remove the space after deviantart please)
Thanks to: Baka Shojo, frogger666, Black-Dranzer-1119, tai'sgirl23, spidy007, KagomeGirl021, biacebaolck, Qwest, DarkNileStallion, Annuket, silverwolf407, Ravel, Kiwee and Kyo lover with little sanity
Thank you all for waiting after my long and punch-worthy slump.