"His name was Ramatuk," Atemu whispered to his sixteen year old twin while Shimon's back was turned to pull a pile of scrolls from a shelf, balancing precariously on a rickety step ladder that was chipped and seemed to be rotting. He clung to a bending shelf with one hand, the other swatting a golden reel aside to grasp the one behind it.
Atemu had seen Yuugi struggling to answer the first question on their small examination and decided to give him a push in the right direction, gently squeezing his shoulder. Yuugi smiled appreciatively, scribbling a vertical line of tiny images, but when he came to question two, he was stuck again and Shimon was already descending the ladder. He shuffled around the room, picking up bits and pieces and then flopping wearily into his desk chair, eyes drawn to his young student, the newest in particular. He could see he was finding difficulty in answering the questions by the way Yuugi tapped the quill against the desk and his eyes rolled skyward. Yuugi would certainly be a challenge to bring up to the speed of his esteemed twin.
It had been a week since Yuugi had begun lessons with Atemu's personal tutor and for a week he had floundered. He realised his abilities were nowhere near as impressive as Atemu's were and a lot of his hopes were dashed. Atemu had frequently tried to help him, but twice he had been caught and reprimanded and ergo, Yuugi was scolded for not completing his own work alone as intended.
After fifteen minutes had passed, Atemu placed
down his quill while
Yuugi continued to deliberate over question twenty seven, nervously fiddling with the corner of the parchment which was now torn and curled. Atemu glanced between his brother and their tutor, until Shimon barked, "Stop! Quills down! Atemu, pick up your own and Yuugi's paper and bring them over please."
Mutely, Atemu did so; frowning as he glanced over Yuugi's answers. Barely half were correct and he winced at Shimon's expression when he returned to his seat, forcing a supportive smile for the boy beside him who was playing with his leather wrist band, hiding his eyes when Shimon clucked his tongue. "I have done terribly, Atemu," he said quietly, worrying his lower lip.
"You were nervous, do not fear. It is natural," Atemu reassured, reaching over to stroke Yuugi's hair. "You will do better next time."
Yuugi tried to seem hopeful, but his thankful smile dwindled and quickly disappeared when Shimon stood, shaking his head. "Atemu, you did not answer question fifteen correctly and considering we studied the architecture of the step pyramid only last week, I am surprised, but you did answer the other twenty-nine questions correctly. Very well done." Yuugi nervously raised his gaze when his name was spoken in a tone of disappointment. "Yuugi, you correctly answered sixteen questions. You obviously did not study hard enough, therefore you will stay here for another hour and we will go over every question you answered incorrectly-"
There was a sharp knock at the door and a servant girl entered quickly, her face flustered, bits of hair that was dragged back into an untidy ponytail falling around her eyes. "I apologise for the interruption, Master Shimon," she said with urgency, bowing in respect. Dark brown eyes were lowered, "But his Greatness is unwell."
Yuugi's posture stiffened, but Atemu merely glanced towards Shimon to await his response. The old man nodded and dismissed the girl with a quick flick of his hand. She was gone without another word. "It seems we shall have to continue our lesson later, young princes," he said, hands sliding into opposite sleeves. Soft eyes fell, brow knitted into a concerned frown, silently wondering what could be wrong. Yet, it was imperative that the sons of Akunumkanon be first to attend him and after a moment of thought, he said "I am sure Pharaoh would like to see you both so you are dismissed."
Yuugi was quickly on his feet and halfway to the door when he turned, curious about Atemu's lack of haste. "Atemu?" he said tentatively, confused. "Hurry. Papa is unwell, did you not hear? We must get to him quickly."
Atemu stood slowly, nodding. "I am sure it is something minor," he said, quite calmly, seeming to care very little. He knelt down to adjust the buckle of his finely crafted sandals to perfection. "The Gods will protect him, Yuugi. You go. I have lessons with Karim now that I cannot afford to miss. I will find you when I am finished-"
"Atemu, this is our father," Yuugi interrupted, "and what if it is not something 'minor.' Why would the servant girl have looked so worried if it was 'minor'! You must come too."
Atemu smiled kindly, swiftly drawing against Yuugi's side to embrace him hard. "You worry too much," he whispered, squeezing him. "It does you no good, but if it puts you at ease, I will finish practise early and join you there. I am sure Karim will not mind." He frowned when Yuugi pulled away, violet eyes trained on a spot on the enamelled floor.
"Ok, Atemu, I understand," he said slowly and he had turned away and swept from the room before Atemu could say anything else.
Atemu had not been able to concentrate during his lesson with Karim, and he had been dismissed early because of this with Karim's blessing, yet another of the royal household ordering him to his father's bedside. After that, he had aimlessly wandered around the gardens, thinking and pondering, most prominently about Yuugi's mysterious behaviour towards him earlier in the day. He knew that Yuugi held their father in high esteem, idolised him as much as he did himself - of course he had noticed the way Yuugi looked up to him; it was impossible to miss - and he wanted to please him. Sitting in Atemu's shadow constantly must have been difficult and Atemu had tried his best to alter that, to bring him out of his shell with the subtlest amount of coercion.
This illness, though? It could not be serious. Akunumkanon was young, energetic and strong and as the son of Gods, he would not be beaten. Atemu had faith and that was all he needed to see him through.
His own conviction wavered as he stared at his reflection in the lily pool, mesmerized by a long legged insect skating across the surface with ease, leaving tiny ripples in it's wake. He sighed, long fingers skirting back and forth, shifting a baby pink lily around in circles with the backlash. That look in Yuugi's eyes when he had refused to go with him; it was unfathomable. He had never seen that expression, that disappointment. It hurt.
He had not seen that Yuugi needed him to go with him, to support him, to reassure him with his presence instead of empty assurances that nothing was wrong, making Yuugi feel stupid, paranoid, like the little boy everyone else saw him as. He had needed him and Atemu had let him down.
He slapped the water in anger, flopping backwards with a thud. Dust and dry grass wafted into the air and Atemu snorted for the moment of ineptness, but did not move to correct it, bringing his knees up and propping his head on his hands instead. Bits of grass stuck to freshly oiled hands and he wiped them against his cloak in frustration. Perhaps he should go and see his father. What harm was it going to do? And if nothing else, he would at least be partway to redeeming himself in the eyes of his twin.
Decision made, Atemu rose to his feet, adjusting his clothing to original perfection, except for the grass stain in the shape of one cheek smeared against his shendyt. He rolled his eyes.
Atemu could hear Harima's voice as he approached the room of the king and queen. He inwardly smiled - she was retelling a story, and her voice sounded rich and excited, the way Atemu would always remember it.
The queen exited the room as Atemu reached the door and she made a sound of surprise and then smiled, reaching over to caress his cheek. "Yuugi said you were not coming," she murmured, eyes twinkling. Her black wig was askew and she frowned, glancing at her reflection in the solid gold door before her to straighten it. "Your father is sleeping now, but I am sure he would appreciate you sitting with him for a while. He was asking for you."
"I was with Karim," Atemu answered quickly, as if trying to alleviate some of his own guilt. "I told Yuugi I would come later. I thought it was nothing serious."
Harima's soft smile faltered and then moments later, returned again. She leaned down to kiss Atemu gently, giving him a brief cuddle. "Of course," she said. Atemu gave her a bemused look. "Go in and see him and then please see Yuugi. I fear he is upset and my words did not seem to offer him any comfort."
Atemu crept into the room, spying Akunumkanon fast asleep amongst black silk sheets and masses of embroidered pillows. His skin seemed darker than usual, but he looked well enough, at peace, chest rising and falling at a steady rate. The physician was folding his tools away inside a white cloth and the smell of dried herbs and strange things Atemu didn't recognise drifted over to him. He grimaced, loathing the smell he could never recognise, waiting until the physician had gone before he moved closer. It was then that Atemu noticed Seto kneeling beside the bed, blue eyes fixed on his weary uncle, unblinking, never moving, almost waiting for-
"What business do you have in here?" Atemu said sharply, striding over to Akunumkanon's other side. Seto looked up in surprise, dragged from his reverie and Atemu's eyes never left his as he carefully lowered himself to sit on the edge of the bed, drawing the covers further upon his father's bare chest. There was a cloth against his forehead and Atemu lifted it away, briefly drawing his gaze aside to submerge it into the water basin on the floor. His eyes flickered to Seto's again, waiting for his answer as he pressed the damp cloth to moist skin again.
"Pharaoh is my uncle. I have every right to be here," Seto responded calmly. His fingers moved and Atemu realised he had Akunumkanon's right hand firmly clasped in his. Atemu scowled, but let him be. Atemu was the one who had left it this long and he knew was not the time for insult or offence. "Where have you been? I would have thought you might have been slightly more concerned, but you run off and play the warrior as usual. Practise, practise, practise. Poor Yuugi was so distraught."
Atemu felt the knot in his stomach tighten. He had not meant to brush Yuugi off like that, to hurt him in the way he did. He ignored Seto's jibe, staring at his father's expressionless visage with bubbling self disgust. He hated that Seto was right.
"What ails him?" Atemu asked. Seto quickly glanced between father and son.
"Thus far, just a fever. The physician has suggested degem to treat it and it seems to have had the desired effect. Since then, Pharaoh has been sleeping."
Atemu nodded along, frowning. A fever? How unusual…
"Is it serious?" he questioned, praying the answer was no. He was disheartened by Seto's shrug, feeling the slightest pang of guilt in his chest. Attempting to reassure himself more than anything else, he said resolutely, "He will be fine. He is a strong man and the God's look down upon him favourably. They will not take him into the skies yet." At least, he hoped, for Akunumkanon's skin was pale, dotted with beads of sweat. He did not wish to linger on thoughts of what might happen should the current pharaoh pass into the afterlife, what it would mean for the family left behind, for Atemu and for Yuugi.
Atemu gasped inwardly. He would become pharaoh! All of those years of training and practise and study and now… He was not ready, by any means!
Seto had noticed the stiffening of Atemu's posture and he smirked, leaning over and drawing Akunumkanon's hand into his lap. "Could you handle the responsibility, princling? Could you take upper and lower Egypt into your grasp and be the leader they demand? Could you willingly do the bidding of the Gods and act in their stead, in your father's wake? Or are you as afraid as the weakling you are?"
"I fear nothing, but for Egypt not to have my rule, but you, Seto," Atemu answered sternly, glaring over dark eyelashes, "will have much to fear when I am king. You presume too much about this illness. A few days will pass, father will rest and he will be fit once more."
Seto reclined, falling silent. It was not that he had no witty remark, but… "Atemu, the physician said he really is quite ill. I am serious when I say I think this may be time to make preparations for the succession."
The bowl standing on the small table beside the bed tumbled to the ground with a clatter when Atemu jumped to his feet in indignation, angered. "That is not your place to say, apprentice priest!" he hissed, fists clenched. "He will live! He will be fine! You have no faith, Seto."
Seto's expression was cool, even as Atemu stormed from the room. Weary eyes drifted back to his uncle, the pharaoh, Egypt's king, softening at the sight of him. Atemu was just as afraid as everyone else, though they tiptoed around the issue like frightened mice. Akunumkanon could die and they needed to be prepared for it when - if - it happened.
And sooner or later, it would happen.
"Yuugi?" Atemu whispered, his hand squeezing Yuugi's bare shoulder peering out from underneath black silk sheets along with a mass of untamed hair. The room was cast in shadows. Atemu had searched for his brother for hours, but had not found him until now, curled up in bed, alone. It was unusual that he did not seek Atemu for comfort and Atemu had wanted to know why. Yes, he had been caught up in himself lately, but Yuugi understood why, surely? He had a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure to handle.
He sighed. So did Yuugi.
The younger twin stirred and shimmied further under the covers, muttering a complaint in his sleep. Atemu chuckled, pulling the covers down a little way to see his face and Yuugi's nose wrinkled in protest, nimble fingers tugging the sheet up. When it wouldn't budge, an eye cracked open, slowly followed by the other. The smile that greeted him was familiar and warm and he sat up with a yawn, rolling his shoulders.
"I am sorry, Yuugi," Atemu said, needing to explain, if he could. "I should have been more sensitive earlier, but I genuinely did not think there was anything to be concerned about. All the same, I should not have brushed you off the way I did. I offer my sincerest apologies."
Yuugi smiled sleepily, reaching behind to free his hair from the tie it was in. Most of it fell around his shoulders, but some sprang upwards instead. "I am sorry too." He stared at his fingers knotted in his lap, smile falling. "Is father alright? He was sleeping when I left."
Atemu forced a smile of his own, nodding. "He is going to be fine, Yuugi. The physician seemed confident so there is no need to worry." Anything to keep Yuugi from becoming stressed. Even lying.
But it seemed worthwhile when Yuugi brightened, taking one of Atemu's hands in his. "I did not intend to be so cold with you earlier. I was just concerned."
Atemu smiled and Yuugi knew it was forgotten. It was rare for them to quarrel over anything, but even if they did, it was quickly resolved.
Atemu's free hand reached up to push back Yuugi's wild fringe, fingertips caressing tanned skin. Yuugi let out the softest sound in content, craving the affection his brother so willingly gave. The very thought of Atemu becoming pharaoh so soon, it terrified him. It was selfish, perhaps, but he didn't want his brother to be caught up in the rule of Egypt the way their father always seemed to be, snatching time with his family a mere handful of times in a month. What would become of Yuugi if that happened? He would feel so isolated and so, so alone.
Atemu had seen Yuugi's expression falter and instantly sought to comfort, crawling nearer to bring Yuugi to his chest. "Father will be fine, Yuugi, stop worrying," he murmured, pulling back to kiss his brow. He smiled at the scent of sweet almond, the taste lingering on his lips before it was swept away by his tongue. Yuugi sighed; head balanced against is brother's chest, listening to the strong heart beating. "And, I will try my best to spend more time with you, but now father is ill, I must study harder to help him to get better. Do you understand?"
Yuugi smiled wryly. "So you will be around less, you mean?"
Atemu's heart clenched. "I am afraid so, Yuugi."