Disclaimer: YGO? Mine? Right. And Anzu's all about killing people.
Author's Note: Random idea I had tonight. And, I should add, more a tribute to the whole father-son aspect of Yugi and Yami's relationship, which I was a fan of long before I shipped t3h puzzl3 lurv. :3
But I guess you can still see puzzleshipping in this if you squint. And have a sick mind like me. XD
Warnings: Ancient Egypt AU. Egyptian names: Atemu & Heba are Yami & Yugi. Dark themes. Be prepared for sudden "180s."
5-24-07: I cannot believe I allowed this on the internet. The number of grammatical errors in the first post was DISGUSTING. I spent a few minutes hating myself, corrected some of the more terrible mistakes, and am now reposting. So sorry for all the burnt retinas I'm sure the first copy must have caused…!
Up until that moment, he had been unsure about fatherhood. Oh, he was certainly old enough to be a dad, and it wasn't like he'd have to raise the kid all by himself—or at all, if he felt like it… but still, the thought of a baby, one that he'd helped create…
It frightened him, honestly. Made him squirm.
Even as he watched his queen's belly grow, even as he counted the days until the birth… he found the entire prospect nearly as unnerving as running all of Egypt. In fact, of the two, he'd gladly keep the throne and give the child to a stronger, braver man.
A better man.
But there was no time to find a "better man;" by the time the pharaoh had realized what he needed to locate, the queen was already in labor.
There's no way I can do this… he'd thought frantically, the knowledge plaguing his mind like a swam of metaphorical locust. (One might wonder if there were any real swarms present, what with the way he was pacing around in the throne room.) There's just no way. I'm not fit to be a father!
What was he good at, anyway? Nothing that would aid in raising a child, that was for sure. He wasn't particularly patient or kind. He was wise, but almost to the point of being obnoxious. As far as he was concerned, his only great talent lay in playing games… and how in all the hells would that help him?
He had no idea.
He still had no idea when he was told the birth had gone well: that his wife was fine, and that his new son was as happy and healthy as he could be. He was idea-less, helpless, and hopeless.
And then he saw him.
Up until that point, he was unsure about fatherhood. Which was a nice way of saying he didn't think he'd be good at it; didn't think it was for him. To be perfectly frank, he was sure it wasn't for him—wasn't what he wanted at all. Kids were great, but there were plenty in the world already. He didn't need one.
Up until that point, he didn't even want one.
But then his little son was brought out to him: cleaned and wrapped and sleeping in the arms of his nurse-maid. So small, so perfect—with little hands that curled into tiny fists, a rounded pink nose, and hair the same tufty colors as his own.
He was beautiful.
With awed reluctance, Atemu allowed the delicate bundle to be placed in his arms. The linen blanket that encased the child caressed the pharaoh's exposed stomach; the cool bands of metal decorating his arms glittered in the afternoon sunlight, reflecting the face of the slumbering baby. Atemu's crimson eyes widened, a gasp of surprise and wonder hitching in his throat: how could this little boy fit so perfectly in his embrace?
It's as if he was created specifically to be cradled by me.
The idea filled him with a strange sort of pride. He cracked a small smile, and timidly ran his fingers down the child's cherub face.
The way the little one curled closer to him made his heart swell.
And in an instant, all of the uncertainty vanished. Why had there been uncertainty in the first place? Had there been uncertainty? Surely not—there was no way that a love this fierce, this strong, could have materialized in mere minutes.
It must have existed for all of time.
Without a word to the lingering nurse-maid, the pharaoh spun towards the door— rocking the baby in his arms as he strolled fearlessly towards the balcony. It was time to show the citizens of Egypt his new son, and their new prince.
And as he strolled—a delighted new swagger in his step—, the young man came to an important decision: I will be a good father, he thought determinedly, hugging the child tenderly to his chest. No matter what; even if it kills me.
And if all I'm good at is games, then he will be the one I master. This little one will be my favorite Heba.
"Wheeeeere am I?"
Heba fluttered his long black lashes, amethyst eyes wide with inquisitiveness. He stuck a finger in his mouth, pensive, and tilted his head, trying to find the source of the omnipresent voice.
Atemu peered around his bejeweled hands. The 1-year-old screeched with delight. "Yea! There I am!" the pharaoh sang, holding the boy's teeny fingers and pretending to dance with him. "Such a good little searcher!"
"…my lord, is this really necessary?"
The pharaoh didn't even bother with eye-contact. "Whatever is the problem, Set?" he inquired calmly, his mouth curling upwards in a grin when Heba giggled. By the time the high priest had formed an answer, the young king was already gone: bouncing the toddler jovially on his knee, blissfully unaware of everything else in the world.
Set pursed his lips, blue eyes narrowed in irritation from his roost beside the throne. "Nothing, if you are unbothered, my lord. I merely wonder if the Queen of India might wish for a moment or two of your attention…?"
Blinking vacantly, the cheerful pharaoh glanced to his right, where a beautiful young woman sat on a spare throne, watching him with dark maroon eyes. He paused in his playing; Heba cooed and giggled, waving to the woman dressed in scarlet and gold. "Oh," Atemu said flatly, only just remembering she was there. "Yeah."
The queen offered him a half-smile, looking torn between amusement and her usual display of stoicism. "It's quite all right, my lord," she assured softly, her voice as rich and lovely as her clothing. "The little prince is every bit as important as me."
Atemu gave her a regal nod, as if they'd just come to an accord.
Then he promptly returned to playing peek-a-boo.
The Queen laughed quietly.
Set forced a smile, fighting the urge to scream.
"Perhaps you should let him learn to walk before teaching him chess, my lord," Mahado suggested with a small smile, pausing in the doorway of the throne room.
From his place on the marble floor, Atemu shook his head, crossing his legs and showing his son the little set of wooden tokens. "Nonsense!" he retorted without turning, though the excitement in his voice was clearly audible. "The sooner he learns, the better. All of life is a game; under my tutelage, he'll master it in no tim— no, little one, we don't eat the pieces!"
Heba blinked innocently, allowing his father to pluck the token from his lips. Then the two-year-old beamed and laughed, throwing a fistful of pieces in the air and watching with delight as they rained down upon his head.
Atemu cast the magician a grin from over his shoulder, shrugging. "We'll, we're getting there."
Mahado nodded, chuckled, and privately rolled his eyes, walking away as the pharaoh collected the tokens and reminded his son: "No matter what happens, we don't throw the pieces at our opponent. Unless our opponent is Set. Then it's okay."
The little boy squirmed in place, gnawing on his thumb under the stony stare of his father. A whimper fell from his lips; Atemu's frown only deepened.
"Well…?" he asked coldly, in a voice like rumbling thunder. It made the toddler quiver with fear. There was no way out—
There was only one thing he could do.
"…I'm sowwy," Heba murmured, eyes downcast and toes curled. He stuck out his chest, tucking in his chin to keep it from wobbling. Above him, the pharaoh had crossed his arms, scowling darkly.
"What are you sorry for?"
Sniffling, the small child began rolling back and forth on the balls of his feet. "For takin' the Puzzle…" he whispered, the guilt clearly eating away at his insides. "An' not asking… an' wearing it… an'…an'… an' bein' a bad boy!"
And then there were waterworks. With a noisy hiccup, Heba started sobbing: crocodile tears leaking from his wide eyes and slipping down his trembling chin, exploding with small splashes on the floor.
It was too much.
Atemu relented. "Oh… it's all right," he sighed, crouching before the child and opening his arms. Heba fell eagerly into them, crying into his father's shoulder. "It's okay… promise not to do it again?"
The pharaoh felt the buried face jerk in a nod.
"Then you're forgiven," he said simply, and carried his sniveling little one off to bed.
Heba hated having to attend to business with his father; all they did was sit around a table and talk, talk, talk. Never about anything interesting, either, like games or toys… there was only ever discussion on treaties and amnesties and things Heba didn't entirely understand. It was more than enough to make the four-year-old antsy, and downright irritable.
It was just so boring.
In fact, the only thing that kept him awake was making up games with himself— like how many ways could he trace a certain pattern on his armband, or how many times in a minute did the Prince of Persia scratch his nose?
The only problem with these games was that they tended to get nosier the more involved Heba became, and it was only a matter of time before—
"Heba," Atemu warned quietly under his breath, casting the boy and pointed look.
In his seat beside the pharaoh's, Heba quit fiddling with his bangles and resorted to silent pouting.
The meetings returned to being dull. Usually, anyway.
But sometimes—sometimes, when Heba least expected it,—his oh-so-serious father would make a face at him from behind a diplomat's back, or crack a joke that only Heba would understand…
And that made the whole ordeal worth while.
"Yes, little one?"
The child paused in his swinging, instead merely using the leverage of his father's arm to keep from falling on his rear. He smiled up at the pharaoh, wrapping his tiny, pudgy fingers tightly around Atemu's.
But he wouldn't continue.
Rather, he waited until Atemu looked away from the sunset, arching an eyebrow and squeezing their hands. The expression seemed to glow in the vibrant colored lights, much like the pillars and stone carvings that served as the framework for the balcony they were standing on.
In response, Heba giggled, twirling under his father's arm and pointing to the golden pyramid around his neck. "Daddy, why'dyou always wear that funny Puzzle?" he asked innocently, spinning around and around, stopping only when he became so dizzy he lost his balance.
But as he began the dangerous topple over, Atemu snagged him by his tiny waist and hoisted him onto his hip, chuckling all the while. Heba grinned, proud to have been the cause of his father's amusement, and clapped his hands happily when Atemu rolled his eyes and bopped his son playfully on the head.
"The Puzzle? You know why, Heba," the young man retorted, his gaze soft as he watched the child toy with the necklace, his small hands dwarfed by the shimmering pendant. The Eye of Horus reflected in the boy's eyes of vibrant violet. "It contains the power of the pharaoh."
"And what's that?" Heba pressed, holding the Puzzle tightly to his chest as he stared eagerly up at his father. His voice was excited, but soft: nearly drowned out by the hustle and bustle of the crowd bellow them. "What power is it?"
Atemu offered him a small smile, pushing a blonde bang behind the child's ear. "You know. Why don't you tell me?" he demanded in a teasing tone, lifting his regal brow.
"'Cause you tell it better!" the child whispered dramatically, face open and earnest. It was one of those expressions that made Atemu's eyes crinkle and glitter with all the love in his heart.
"Well… all right. Since you put it like that," he returned with a smirk, tickling the 5-year-old's belly. Heba squirmed and laughed with glee at the action, trying to catch his father's hands in his own... But when Atemu began speaking, his struggles slowed— slowed— vanished; he instead cuddled closer, finger in his mouth and head beneath his father's chin. "The Millennium Puzzle holds the magic of unity, and unity is the greatest power of all: it does everything from keeping friends together, to helping the Egyptian government run properly. It's because of unity that we're all here, and it's because of unity that we continue to be here. Without unity, we'd be nothing but alone."
Comfortable, warm, and protected in the pharaoh's arms, Heba curled up and closed his eyes, grinning. "But we're not alone, right?"
"We've got each other, yeah?" the little one pressed, wrapping his arms around his father's neck.
"And we'll always be together, right, Daddy?"
Atemu smiled gently, kissing the boy's crown. "Yes."
"That's good," Heba murmured, sounding sleepy. His left hand slid down to play with a few of Atemu's bangles, eventually clamping onto a string of round, scarlet beads. His weary lashes fluttered, eyes half-lidded and glued to the golden mystery. "…I like the Puzzle."
"I know you do. And it will be yours someday," Atemu whispered, swaying softly in time to the gentle evening wind. The night air smelt of lotuses, and the fragrance complemented the rising moon—full and round as a silver dish in a sky of vivacious pinks and purples. "When you become pharaoh."
"They started building your tomb today."
Atemu raised an eyebrow at his six-year-old son, who was staring determinedly at the dice in his hands. "…you say that as if I didn't know."
Heba shrugged his small shoulders, refusing to make eye contact. The dice fell upon the table top with a dejected clatter.
The pharaoh frowned. "What's wrong, little one?" he asked, voice saturated with concern as he watched his son from across the table. Heba responded by poking lamely at the die. "What's the matter?"
"…I don't want them to build it," the boy grunted after a pause, sounding a little choked as he flicked at the cubes. "That's all. It looks stupid."
Atemu smiled faintly, reaching out a hand to cover his son's. "You just don't want me to die."
Heba swallowed thickly, shoulders shaking. "That too…" he admitted softly, fingers curling into fists. His tiny voice seemed to echo through his empty bedroom chamber, like the breeze as it whispered through the draped windows.
"Oh, little one," Atemu murmured, standing with a clatter and walking over to the boy. His foot hadn't so much as taken the final step before Heba's arms ensnared him; he had buried his face in his father's stomach before Atemu could blink. "…Little one, are you crying?"
The boy shook his head briskly no, even as the hot tears stained the pharaoh's bare chest.
He chuckled, and gingerly detached himself from his son. As he did so Heba choked on a whimper, obviously frightened— but Atemu didn't let go of the boy's hands. Instead, he kissed each trembling palm and knelt before the boy's chair, smiling reassuringly.
"Little one, I won't be leaving this world for a long, long time," he promised, squeezing their hands in a pointed sort of way. "It'll take years and years and years before they even come close to finishing that pyramid—and I fully intend to be around when they're done. You have nothing to worry about; you won't be pharaoh until you're an old man."
Despite himself, Heba released a watery giggle, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand as he offered a timid smile. "'Cause we'll always be together, right?"
"That's right," Atemu nodded, straightening to stroke the boy's tri-colored head. "And even when I am gone, a part of me will always be with you."
"In the Puzzle, right?" Heba pressed, gingerly touching the cold metal of his father's Item. It glistened in the sunlight, much like the gauzy curtains. "Because we're united, too, no matter what."
"Uh huh," the pharaoh replied, confident in his promise, and bent down to brush his lips against the child's forehead. "No matter what."
For the first time since he could remember, his father was going away—without him.
"It won't be for long," Atemu assured with a smile, though his eyes seemed tired… more so than usual. "Just a few weeks. I'm not even leaving the country."
"Then why can't I come?" Heba demanded, tears in his eyes. He could feel his mother grabbing at the back of his shirt, trying to pull him away, but he resisted. "I've come with you before, and you promised I could come with you again, sometime!"
"Sometime, yes," Atemu sighed, running a hand through his hair, "but not this time, little one. I am sorry, but this will be dangerous."
Heba frowned at the words, his stomach twisting in knots. Dangerous…? He looked from his father, to Set, to Mahado, to Isis, and back again. Why would he need so many of his priests—plus a good half of the army—just to go into the country for a while? How dangerous was this trip, anyway?
"But—!" Heba tried, but Atemu had already mounted his horse.
"I'm sorry," the pharaoh repeated gently, reaching down to pat his son's head. "And I'll be back soon. Practice your games while I'm away, yes? Perhaps you'll be able to beat me."
Heba fought the urge to stick out his tongue, knowing his father was only trying to distract from the real issues. "I will, and I'll beat you, but where are you go—?!"
But the entourage was gone before he could find the words.
Heba wasn't sure what that meant, or what it was, or where it happened to be, but he did know that those words were being whispered quite a bit in the palace. He couldn't walk two feet down the halls without hearing some servants gossiping about it, and he knew that the High Priests were worried, as well—he'd heard them discussing it in hushed whispers as he passed their quarters in the hall.
His father, too, was distracted—more than likely about the same problem. He tried to extract some sort of answer from the pharaoh, but Atemu would merely shake his head and change the subject to something lighter, or make some brilliant move in the game they were playing— a move that would force Heba to refocus his attention.
But something was going on… and Heba knew it couldn't be anything good.
When Heba heard the news, his heart nearly froze: for the first time in a long time, there had been a Shadow Game. And not just any Shadow Game—his father had been forced into the duel.
"Father!" Heba cried, bursting into the throne room just in time to see the pharaoh sink onto his throne, gaunt-faced and contemplative. "Father, I just heard that you—are you all right?!"
But Atemu wouldn't respond. He was too busy staring into space… and then at his Puzzle… and then at the empty room around them. The priests had run off moments before; Heba had fought his way through them as he rushed to his father's side. They had looked like this, too—tired and worried. Especially Isis.
He had heard his father and Isis fighting the other day.
That was never a good sign.
Racing forward, the nine-year-old nearly skinned his knees in his hurry to be beside the pharaoh. "What happened?" he said again, grabbing his father's hand and tugging it gently. "Was it someone from that Kul Elna place? Was it—was it that thief I've heard of? Are you okay? Are you hurt? Father, what's going on!?"
As if waking from a trance, Atemu glanced down at his worried son and graced him with a tiny grin. "It… it was nothing, Heba," he then murmured, clearing his throat and straightening in his seat. "The thief is just… well, you know how thieves are. Don't worry, we've taken care of it."
But that only worried Heba more.
"… a war is starting, isn't it, Father?" he asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Atemu swallowed. "Worse," he admitted hoarsely, eyes glued to an invisible point in the distance. "A Shadow Game."
Then he pulled Heba into his lap and held him, refusing to let go for a long, long time.
The night was unusually dark—no moon, no stars, no candles to dispel even a hint of the gloom. It was the kind of night so black, so binding, that one couldn't possibly sleep. In fact, one could barely breathe…
And in that omen, Heba was warned of the evils to come— even if he had no power to change his destiny.
The door creaked; the 10-year-old sat up in bed, squinting through the shadows in an attempt to recognize the intruder. It didn't take long: "Father…?"
Atemu nodded wordlessly, slipping into the room like a spirit. On his neck, the Millennium Puzzle seemed to glow—the only source of light to be had.
Heba swallowed, watching silently as the pharaoh closed the distance between them, standing before the edge of the bed. "What's wrong, Father?" the boy asked quietly, his voice catching as his hands fisted in the blankets. "What's happened?"
For a long time, Atemu didn't responded. Rather, the young man simply watched his son: eyes wet, lips pursed, fists trembling.
And then he took a deep breath.
"It… that is… a Shadow Game," the pharaoh hissed, brow wrinkled and eyes shut tight. His entire body was shaking, and it was frightening to realize that—for the first time—Atemu was scared. "Isis warned me. A survivor of Kul Elna is coming. That is, he's finally here, and… and… this kingdom won't survive the night."
Heba sucked in a breath, feeling his heart stop. The kingdom won't survive? But— but his father was the kingdom, and that would mean—! "You… you're going to d…?"
No, he couldn't say it…!
"But—but you promised!" the boy gasped, bolting to his feet as the realization hit him. "You promised to live for a long, long time! That I wouldn't be pharaoh until I'm old! That—that we'd always be together!"
"I know," Atemu whispered, unable to face the stare of his child. "And I'm sorry, little one… but… we will be together."
The boy froze—confusion in his eyes. "What…?"
"The kingdom won't survive… There will be no survivors," the pharaoh murmured, in a voice that shook nearly as much as his hands. "Everyone will… this tomb thief is planning—but I can't let that happen to you, I can't—!"
A single tear shattered on the icy floor.
"Father, what are you—?"
But Heba cut himself off with a yelp of surprise, unprepared for the sudden weight around his neck. What the—? The shock wore off in an instant; he looked down, gawked, and plucked at the golden pendant in wonder, astonishment in his features. "The Puzzle?" he blinked, staring at the Item for a moment before lifting his eyes back to his father. "Why are you giving this to me?"
"It was supposed to be yours," Atemu breathed, touching his son's face with the tips of his fingers. "And it will be yours again."
Heba frowned, cupping the treasure with clammy palms. "Father," he tried once more, looking confusedly up into the pharaoh's conflicted face, "I don't understand. Please, tell me what's going—!"
But his plea ended in a noiseless gasp… he couldn't speak with Atemu's hands around his throat.
Panic filled his violet eyes. "Fa—!" he rasped, clasping the pharaoh's wrists and tugging futilely against them. "Wh—why—?"
Atemu closed his eyes and shook his head, tears splattering every which-way. "I'm sorry," he choked, pushing the child back until he had toppled onto the bed, eyes hazy and hands pawing weakly at his own. "I'm so sorry, Heba… but it's better this way. Better me than… than what that man has planed…!"
Heba gazed blearily up at his father, the desperate words drowned out by the rushing in his ears. He couldn't breathe— he couldn't think—he couldn't move. He felt dizzy and heavy and frightened and—and what was going on? Why was his father doing this—?!
He must have a reason…
"We'll be together again soon," Atemu promised, though his voice cracked and broke—tears streaming from his eyes as he trembled and kissed the boy's face, tightening his hold. "We'll be together forever…"
Everything will be all right.
The boy stared up at him, eyes half-lidded and clouded with tears. A muffled, choked cry oozed from his lip.
"I love you, little one," the pharaoh whispered—and crushed the child's windpipe.
There was silence. A silence that seemed to stretch from that spot and onto eternity—a never-ending emptiness full of nothing but darkness.
Then came the sobs. They filled the room with so much noise the pharaoh thought his head might burst, and he would have been happy for the reprieve. But no… no, he had a game to win. He had a civilization to save. He had a Puzzle to enchant and a death to suffer.
A death that meant nothing, now— he'd saved all that mattered.
And so, with careful, pained movements, the young pharaoh set his broken son upon the bedspread, lifted the Puzzle from his crushed throat—
And left the world of light forever.