22. A New Year
Ishizu, Bakura, Odion, and Rashida were just returning from the tombs, where they had completed their second night of the vigil that was supposed to sustain Atem's and Seto's souls in the Shadow Realm, when Téa, Yugi, Joey, and Tristan got up to see the sunrise on New Year's morning before heading out to the airport for their flight that afternoon. Téa was glad that Bakura decided to join them in observing the Japanese rite, and the five friends climbed to the top of a small hill behind the Ishtars' house to wait for the sun to come up. It felt to Téa like a dark parody of Christmas morning, when they'd sat on the balcony of their penthouse in San Francisco, fondly reminiscing about their departed friend. Oshogatsu was supposed to be a joyful time, the birth of a clean new year, a fresh start. But all any of them could feel was loss and death instead.
Bakura seemed the most conflicted out of all of them. Although he didn't have a personal attachment to Atem the way the four of them did—on the contrary, his own dark counterpart had been Atem's mortal enemy—Téa could tell he was worried about how Atem's spirit might even yet be connected to the Spirit of the Ring, and that any such connection could prevent them from helping him. Bakura took an undue amount of responsibility for the havoc his darker half had wreaked while possessing him and, like Yugi, he retained many of the memories that hadn't really been his own after his darker half's departure. It didn't help that Marik had gone back to Greece the night before, and Bakura was clearly missing him.
The other four were still in varying stages of shock after seeing the tomb—the curse side of the blessing/curse that had been their deep and possibly magical connection to the other Yugi. None of them had slept well since arriving in Egypt, and that wasn't exactly helping them spring back. Of all of them, Tristan seemed the best off, looking merely tired and drawn. Joey had been ill ever since the tombs, to the point of having trouble eating—something Téa had never seen in Joey before—and being so tired that whenever his help wasn't needed, he would hole up in Ishizu's study and sleep. Téa, usually the cheerleader of the group, the one who gave the stirring speeches about friendship and sticking with it and never giving up, felt numb, like someone else had burrowed into her brain and set her on autopilot, walking her through the motions, but not letting her actually do anything substantial.
Yugi, naturally, was by far the worst. The somewhat erratic moodiness of their first day in Luxor had given way to something Téa found profoundly more disturbing. He seemed to have retreated into himself in a way she hadn't seen him do since the early days of their friendship, when she was the only one who would hang out with him—and that only occasionally—and he would use his games and puzzles to shield himself from the abuse of his classmates. He barely said two words to anyone, and when he did, it was often a barked instruction about the books they'd been packing, or to lay out an organizational plan for attacking the huge amounts of information once they got home. She also was pretty sure he hadn't gotten any sleep since they'd left London.
The first rays of the sun came over the horizon, the hatsu-hinode or first sunrise of the year. A new birth. Téa took a deep cleansing breath. Well, dammit, it was a new year. What had happened to Atem, and to Seto, that was the old year. It was done. This year would begin with them making it right.
"Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu," she said with quiet determination to her friends. The traditional Japanese New Year greeting didn't translate readily into English, but it spoke of darkness giving way to light, and that's exactly what would happen. They would see to that.
Bakura smiled at her. "Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu."
"Yeah." Joey nodded, seeming to catch her meaning. "Yeah, that's right. Akemashite Omedetou."
"Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu, Yugi." Téa touched his arm.
"Kochira koso." He shifted slightly to move away from her touch.
Téa clenched her fist and pulled her hand away, looking around to see if anyone had noticed the uncharacteristic response, and was grateful that no one had. Yugi was always polite even beyond the Japanese concept of polite, and he would always repeat the full formal New Year's greeting rather than reply what amounted to same here, even though technically it wasn't improper.
The physical slight was even more unlike him, and harder not to take personally. Even taking into account his general withdrawal from everyone the past couple days, he seemed to be pulling back from her in particular more than the rest. Their talk on the plane when he'd wept in her arms was the last time they'd held each other, and she hadn't even been able to so much as touch his hand since the day before yesterday. She knew it had to do with what he'd said on the plane, how Atem confused things in their relationship, and she wanted to understand, to be there for him, to help him work through everything he was feeling and to comfort him. He didn't seem to want even that much from her, however, and as much as she tried not to, she couldn't help but feel stung by it. He had always come to her when he needed someone to lean on.
Except… that wasn't really true, either. Yugi was at heart too much of an introvert to ever reach out to anyone, unless it was to offer something they needed from him. He never asked anyone for anything for himself, not ever, not in the entire decade plus that she'd known him. In the early days of their childhood friendship, when she'd still been more worried about her popularity and the perceptions of others to be anything close to the consistently true friend he deserved, he'd wait silently in the background for her to come back to him, and when she did, he always took her back without reproach. Later, when she'd gotten over herself and started being a real friend, he would accept whatever help and support she had to offer, but he would never, ever ask for it.
That same reluctance to ask anything of others had carried over to their physical relationship as well. While he'd always accepted her advances readily enough, he never made the first move. Like everything else in their relationship, though he wanted her presence, he never really seemed to feel worthy of asking for it.
But now he didn't want her presence, or her support, or her touch. Her help in finding a way to save Atem, yes. But her emotional support? That he actively rejected, and it was hard for her to separate how hurt she felt from her worry about how this was really quite uncharacteristic of him, and what exactly that might mean.
She sighed. Not an auspicious start for the New Year.
"Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu." Ishizu came up behind them, climbing the hill where they sat, a velvet bag slung over her shoulder. "I hope I'm not intruding. I'd like to join you, if I may."
There was a general round of consent, and Ishizu sat down on the grass on next to Yugi, opposite Téa, and set her bag down beside her. "I confess I am not very familiar with traditional Japanese observances." She gave Bakura a wry smile. "Although I am trying to familiarize myself for my fiancé's sake."
Bakura grinned. "Don't let her fool you. She knows more than she lets on."
"I'd be surprised if she didn't," Tristan said.
"Well, for one thing, I wasn't sure if it was customary to give gifts for Oshogatsu."
"Just money for children." Joey raised his eyebrows and eyed her sack. "If you've got money in that bag, I've been told I'm pretty much a child at heart."
"No, you just have the mental processes of a child." Téa suddenly felt a little better. Joey still looked a little green, but at least he was able to make one of his usual annoying jokes. It was something, anyway. Now if only Yugi would crack a smile….
"Oh, well I suppose it's just as well. I really only have gifts for Yugi anyway."
"No, see, here's where you're confused, Ishizu. Yugi just looks like a child." Joey smirked and gave Yugi an almost hopeful glance, Téa saw. So she wasn't the only one who had noticed Yugi's atypical behavior after all.
They were both disappointed, however, when the comment didn't get so much as a grunt from Yugi. He merely turned to Ishizu, his face blank. "That wasn't necessary, Ishizu."
"On the contrary, it is long overdue." She took her bag and placed it between herself and Yugi. Téa leaned over to see what was in the bag.
Ishizu didn't open it, however. "Not every important possession is put into a pharaoh's tomb when he dies. Some family heirlooms are passed down for future generations, particularly to daughters. As Atem had no daughter or any heir at all, any personal family items not interred with him would have been inherited by his cousin Seto, just as he inherited the throne. Eventually these items came to rest in the care of the Tomb Keepers' clan, which as you know, includes the Ishtar family."
Yugi's eyes widened in interest. "You have heirlooms that belonged to Atem?"
She nodded. "I should have turned them over to you when we first met, but I was reluctant to part with things that had been in my family for countless generations. It was hard enough to give up my Millennium Necklace."
Yugi's interest turned to a slight frown. "These don't belong to me, Ishizu. I'm not the Pharaoh. And Sara would say we're ethically bound to give them to the museum."
Ishizu gave a slightly condescending smile. "These are not archaeological finds, they are personal possessions of my family. I can choose to give them to whomever I wish, and I wish to give them to you. For Oshogatsu. So that you may have a new beginning to help you erase what has been done in the old year.
Joey slapped him on the back. "C'mon, Yuge, quit arguing and just check out the loot. I'm dying of curiosity here."
Ishizu slid the bag towards him. "It isn't much. There is no magical value to any of these items, nothing that will help you in your current quest. But I do think it will help you remember him."
Yugi opened the bag and emptied its contents onto the grass in front of him. Ishizu was right, there was nothing spectacular or impressive. It looked like a few household items and some sort of carved wooden box. But Yugi picked up each item with a reverence that Téa knew went beyond his interest as an Egyptologist. "This looks like a Kohl jar."
"What's that?" Tristan asked.
"The makeup the ancient Egyptians used to paint their eyes. And this is a jewelry box, I think." He held up the ornate wooden box for them to see.
"We think it belonged to the queen," Ishizu said.
Yugi blinked. "The… Atem's mother?"
He opened the box and took out the jewelry inside. There were a few rings and earrings, an amulet of some sort, and a rather simple yet elegant necklace. Slightly longer than a choker, it was a strand of gold beads alternating with red and blue stones that looked like jasper, turquoise, and a darker blue one Téa couldn't name. She leaned in to get a closer look. "Ooh, that's pretty."
Yugi held it up. "It looks like a betrothal gift."
"Yes, it likely was a betrothal gift from Aknamkanon to his queen." Ishizu pointed to the other jewelry. "And the rings and earrings were probably passed down to the queen from her mother and intended for the daughter she expected to have some day."
Yugi frowned. "In all the things we discovered when we went back into the Memory World, the one thing we never learned anything about was his mother. We never even found out her name or what happened to her."
"We are fairly certain she died when Atem was young, which would explain why he was an only child. It was unusual that Aknamkanon did not have other children with other wives and, of course, Aknamkanon himself died when Atem was little more than a teenager."
Yugi touched each piece of jewelry reverently, then put them all back into the box and closed the lid. He looked at the other items—a few pieces of pottery, a small statuette of a cat, something that looked like a wooden crocodile with moving jaws, and some sort of top.
"Dude, are those toys?" Tristan asked.
Yugi nodded then looked at Ishizu. "Atem's childhood toys? Why wouldn't they have been in the tomb?"
"He was too old for toys and would have no need for them in the afterlife. They would have been passed down to heirs. Why they were kept and not given to children in Seto's line, I do not know. But yes, they were most likely his toys."
"Toys, but no games." Yugi gave a sort of wistful half smile. "Never did outgrow games."
Ishizu smoothed out her skirt on the grass. "That is true; games were buried with him in the tomb."
He looked at her again. "Ishizu, I can't accept these. They belong in a museum."
"No, Yugi. They belong with someone who will cherish them for reasons that go beyond historical value." Her eyes glinted with a little mischief. "But I wouldn't mention them to Sara Drake or Professor Julius."
He considered this a moment, then gave a brief nod.
"Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu, Yugi," Ishizu said.
"Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu, Ishizu." Yugi smiled at her, and Téa hated herself for being torn between gratitude that Ishizu had brought him out of his funk, even just a little bit, and jealousy that she hadn't been able to do it herself.
She took a deep breath. Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu. Darkness giving way to light. Please let the light come soon.
To be continued in Part II: Standby Phase…