DIS: Yet again, I was inspired to write an Ancient Egypt story! Hurray for me! You gotta love that time period.
Title: Morning Mist
Summary: BakuraxAnzu. Locked in a marriage with the Pharaoh, Anzu will do anything to escape. When the Thief Bakura is imprisoned, Anzu escapes with him to a new life with a man that is said to be heartless. One shot.
Disclaimer: I do not own YuGiOh. Tragic, but true.
Notes/Warnings: Thief Bakura/Anzu; one shot; set in Ancient Egypt; romance
Ra was reborn in the sky, his mighty wings propelling streaks of sunlight through the fading blue of Nut. (1) The workers of Egypt had risen only some time before Ra's rebirth and were starting out to the fields, the shops, the market, or whatever other place they needed to attend. The Egyptian aristocracy was still snuggled in their beds, as they had been up late drinking and dancing. The only exception to this rule was the Pharaoh Atemu, who had drifted from bed to stand on the balcony.
He was bare of any jewelry, his robe hanging over his strong frame as he watched Ra rise more and more above his kingdom. His eyes, wide as if he had never been asleep, stroked the buildings and he could hear the beginning sounds of labor. Soon, the Libyan slaves would be brought out to work. Atemu, just as his father, was a Pharaoh that nearly everyone liked. He had few enemies, but those that were his enemies were powerful foes. He was content with his life, as he was married and his kingdom was at peace.
Despite it all, however, there was an ugly wriggling in the pit of his belly, telling him that he was missing something. He turned slightly to look back into his bedchambers and knew it was because of the woman that lay sleeping in his bed. Anzu, although he had convinced himself he had loved her when the marriage was arranged, had never shown anything but friendly affection. She did not hold the passion of a woman in love, nor the admiration of a wife. She simply liked him...as a companion. He knew that this wasn't enough for him. Sometimes he wondered if it was enough for her.
He passed a hand over his face wearily and left the glorified spectacle that was unfolding before his eyes to return to his loveless bed. He slipped in the covers and sighed, closing his eyes for sleep to encompass him again. Unbeknownst to him, Anzu was wide awake, staring across at the wall. She glanced at him over her shoulder and then closed her eyes, satisfied that he had returned to sleep.
Anzu sat silently as the slave mixed the ochers made of iron oxides with animal fat in her ivory dish. She stared at the bottom of the dish where Hathor, the goddess of beauty, was placed. The blank eyes of the goddess stared back at her impassively. She turned away as the slave backed away, her hand on her left shoulder in a submissive gesture. Anzu picked up her eye paint container shaped as a hedgehog and took an applicator, carefully applying the paint to her eyes. She then touched her lips with the ochers from the ivory dish when she was finished with her eyes.
Yami had asked her to play the harp that evening and she had agreed, but was feeling less than enthused. She knew that he would casually ask her to dance afterward and she would agree, because he was her husband and he was Pharaoh. She had avoided all attempts at trying to get her to dance in front of the court; she didn't want to be compared to a common Khebait dancer, (2) something she knew would shame her parents if they were alive. They had always considered Khebait dancers whores for the nobility.
She rose to her feet, her light dress fluttering ever so slightly and held out an arm for the slave to clasp golden bracelets around her wrists. She then moved back behind Anzu to tie her necklace, which held three rows of gold rings threaded tightly together on twine. Anzu reached over and took the silver ring from the vanity, staring at the good luck hieroglyphs etched into the surface. She slipped it on her index finger and then left the slave girl.
I hate this life, she thought to herself, her face carefully blank. What am I but a doll? I never wanted to be the queen of Egypt. I certainly never wanted to be the wife of a man who clearly doesn't love me. I'll be surprised if he so much as likes me. We didn't even consummate our marriage. She hastened her step, eager to leave the palace and relax in her private garden. Her reed sandals slapped against the lotus tiles beneath her feet as she hurried through the palace corridors.
I wasn't even of noble blood, so why did he choose me? – Simply because I'm the friend of the High Priest's wife? I want to dance. I want to play the harp, the flute, even the bone clappers. I never wanted this life where I have to be regal and sophisticated, even while I sleep. I'm not allowed to go outside and work, to go without cosmetics, to wear a simple tunic and lounge in the sun by the Nile. No, that's not allowed of a queen.
Anzu turned a corner sharply and stuttered to a halt as she nearly collided with Atemu's advisor, Siamun Muran. He blinked at her owlishly, as if wondering where she could possibly be in a hurry. Pasting a false, prim smile on her lips, she said, "Pardon," and moved around him, starting down the hall in a leisurely fashion. She paused after a moment and saw that he had turned the corner. She continued on more quickly, feeling as if the walls of the palace were pressing in on her, suffocating her to the point where she might never escape the proper life of those in it.
At last, she broke out of the palace and only a bit more time later, she found herself at her private garden. The sentry glanced at her and then opened the gate for her. She gave a regal nod and as soon as she entered the confines of the garden, she dropped her straight posture, neutral expression, and blank eyes, and simply slumped on the marble of the fountain in the center of her small garden. She let out a deep sigh and rested her cheek against the warm surface, closing her eyes.
She lied comfortably with her dress hitched up mid-thigh and her arm thrown above her, pillowing her head. She stroked the surface of the water with her fingers, paying no heed to the sounds outside her tiny haven. However, when the sound of footsteps on stone came to her ears, she lazily opened an eye and saw that somehow, a male had entered her garden. She sprang up, but he was quicker, next to her with the tip of his dagger pointed against her throat.
"If you value your life, you won't scream," he whispered. His voice was low and husky, unintentionally seductive. She quickly eyed his attire and concluded he was a thief. His fingers were adorned with rings and a necklace with square folds of gold hung around his neck, similar hieroglyphs engraved in them. Her eyes rose from the necklace and his fit torso to his face. It was handsome, in a rugged sort of way, and his dark blonde hair framed his face. His eyes were blue-gray, a colour that was rare in Egypt, and there was a scar running along one cheek.
Definitely a thief, she decided to herself. She flicked a look to herself and saw only her necklace, bracelets, and ring. She had nothing else of value. Shaking slightly, she raised a hand, showing him the bracelet. He glanced at it.
"I don't want your gold," he sneered. "I need you to keep your mouth shut so that those fools don't find me." He withdrew the dagger, glaring down at her. "Remember: speak and you die." She heard a commotion outside her gate and knew that the Pharaoh's men were attempting to come through.
"Don't you think that she would say something if the Thief Lord was inside her garden?" Her sentry snapped at the men. "The queen comes here for peace and quiet, now leave me be or else I'll inform the Pharaoh of this!"
"Bakura could have threatened her!" One of the men said, but the sentry would hear none of it.
"Get away - now!" Anzu glanced at the thief, saw his dangerous look. She held up a trembling hand and then went to the gate. The men that saw her stared, shocked at her appearance. "My queen...I apologize for this. This filth insists that the Thief Lord is in your garden." He shot a dirty look to the small handful of men that crowded around. Anzu eyed each of them with a cool, appraising look.
"There is no one in my garden but myself. I would appreciate it if you searched somewhere else more productively." It was close to a sneer and although she was calm outwardly, her heart was thundering in her chest, slamming against her ribcage wildly. She hoped that the thief knew that she was trying to get the men away and not to rat him out. If not, the moment the soldiers were gone, her throat would be slit.
"Is that right?" Anzu started in surprised at the sound of her husband's voice and saw him arrive with a few other soldiers behind him. Atemu moved towards the gate and opened it, ushering her away. She stood frozen and he raised his eyebrows when she refused to move. "Anzu, if there is no one in there, then why are you guarding it so fiercely?"
"This is my garden," she quietly stated. "You told me only I would be here." Atemu's eyes moved over carefully and he nodded. She dug her nails into her thighs, hoping that he wasn't about to go against his word. The Pharaoh wasn't one to do so, but this was a matter that was completely out of her control. "You promised," she added weakly.
"Let me check, then, Anzu, and they'll stay out here." He withdrew his long sword. "They can guard the gate. Come, you'll check with me." She grudgingly followed him inside her garden and he kept his hand tentatively on her arm, as though he feared she would flee if he didn't keep contact with her. They went all around the garden, but the Thief Lord was no where to be found. Relief spread over her abdomen at the realization that the thief had left while she was dealing with the soldiers. She didn't need to be branded a liar by both Atemu and the thief. Anzu didn't want to think of what the punishment might be from her husband; she knew what it would be from Bakura.
"So...No one is here, then," he murmured, sheathing his sword. He turned to her and smiled reassuringly. "I had to check, you understand. This is, after all – " He was interrupted by a shout. He stiffened and then swiftly told her, "Stay here," and ran from the garden. Anzu stood where he left her, watching him disappear, and then defied his order by pursuing him.
When she passed the gate and turned the corner, she flinched at the scene that was unfolding before her. For whatever reason, the Thief Lord had lingered and just as three men started in on him, he took his silver-shafted axe and swung at one of them, slashing across his torso. The man screamed, stumbling backward. She saw Atemu gesture to the remaining men and they all moved in to capture Bakura. He might have been able to flee before that. Now, he struggled through them, slashing wildly, and Anzu covered her face as he lunged towards Atemu, the axe raised.
She didn't hear the sound of flesh being torn, but a roar of pure rage. She uncovered her eyes and saw that Bakura was pinned down and Atemu held his weapon. She watched with horrified eyes as Atemu bent down and said, "You should have run, Bakura, instead of being greedy and trying to kill me." He gave a thin smile and nodded to the men. "Lock him up good. We don't want him escaping like last time." His slight glare indicated whose fault he believed that was. Atemu turned and when he saw Anzu, his face softened. "I told you to stay. You shouldn't have seen this." He took her shoulders and guided her away.
Bakura paused in his struggling, watching as the queen subtly shifted from the Pharaoh's touch, holding herself and appearing like a woman who had been mortally violated. Atemu didn't attempt to draw her back into his touch, but sent an order to the sentry that guarded her garden and followed her back to the palace.
Anzu listened to the polite clapping of the nobles, her fingers sliding down the twelve strings of her harp. Her favorite instrument to play had always been the harp; it would rest serenely on a stand while she plucked the strings, her arms held away from her body, her fingers lightly arched as she coaxed notes from the strings.
Presently, she drew away from the instrument, listening to the steady rhythm of applause. She let her eyes move over the harp. Its body was wooden with a lotus blossom design painted at the bottom and a king's head carved into it where the strings began. Further up was the thin part that extended from the body and where the strings ended. There lied the tuning pegs and a hawk's head terminal. She loved it because it was so beautiful.
She returned to Atemu, who held a vertical hand to her and rose to his feet. Just as Anzu had suspected, he was going to force her to dance. "The queen is an excellent dancer," he announced, extending his hand towards Anzu, "but needs the encouragement to do so in public." Voices lifted obligingly, begging her to dance. Bright, male eyes peered up at her from the crowd, eager to see her lithe body curve with the music. She felt her stomach twist in disgust. These people were not worthy to see her dance. Even her husband wasn't.
But she gave her polite smile and inclined her head. She adjusted her split dress while the musicians tuned their instruments. The stand where her harp was placed was cleared from the center and she removed her sandals, stepping onto the cool tiles. She stared at the lotuses on the tiles as the musicians began playing. Gradually, her body moved with the music, interpreting the colours, the emotions, the form of the song with her graceful movements. She closed her mind from her audience, pretending it was her deceased family who watched her. She completely let loose of the façade she had been forced to permanently play and danced with fervent passion.
When it was finished, the applause was not polite, but rampant. The people that cheered were thrilled at seeing their queen's body move like a Khebait dancer's. To them, she had just transformed in their eyes and there was no reason to hide their lust. To them, she had returned to the peasant she had been when she first stepped into the palace. She gave a bow and met Atemu's eyes across the room. Anzu had never allowed him to see her dance before and saw a hidden look in his eyes. She knew it well, because there had been others who had directed it towards her when she first became his wife: he wasn't entirely sure who she was right then.
She gave him a low bow and then left the throne room, feeling shameful tears prickling behind her painted lids. Once she was outside the throne room, she fled outside where it was dark and where the darkness would conceal her depressed emotions.
Anzu wasn't certain what time it was when she found herself facing the prison. This was the elder of the two prisons where they kept the "mechanically skilled" criminals under lock and key. At night, there were no sentries as they added the worse possible methods of security on the criminals. Anzu stared for a long time at the building and then moved towards it, an idea beginning to take form in her mind. The Thief Lord Bakura has escaped from the prison before, she thought, stepping closer and moving through the door, quietly sliding it open. He's evaded Atemu's men several times. He's the best thief there is in Egypt. The only reason he was caught this time was because he got arrogant and tried to kill Atemu. If I make a bargain with him...
Anzu's eyes searched the darkness, her fingers stretched out on the cold wall as her feet found their way down the steps that led to the dungeons. I can get the keys easily. Getting him out of here wouldn't be difficult at all. I can do it. I can. She blinked as she came to the end of the steps and looked around, seeing moonlight spill through a window, giving light to the dungeons. She looked around and saw that only one cell was filled with a human form. The others were empty.
"Thief Lord," she whispered. There was a clanking of chains and she went to the cell, her hands closing over the bars. She flinched at the contraption that had been hooked on him. He was chained to the wall in a manner that made it so he had to remain upright, his arms stretched above him. A metal arm came around his neck, causing it so that he was unable to lower his chin; hooks around his legs kept them pinned against the wall. Furthermore, there was a gag in his mouth, tightly wrapping around to the back of his head so that he couldn't scream or supposedly call up any spirits.
"Gods, what have they done to you?" He didn't so much as make a sound, his eyes pinned on her warily. She pulled away from the bars and went to the office near the steps and saw sets of keys on the wall. Each key was held by a hook with a number. Guessing on the number of the cell he was in, Anzu grabbed the key and went back to his cell, shoving the key in the lock. She let out a breath at feeling the lock give. She pushed the door inward and went to him, reaching up and behind his head to undo the gag. She took it out and tossed it to the ground. "I'm willing to compromise with you."
"I don't make bargains with the Pharaoh's whore," he snapped curtly.
"Look at the position you're in. Do you think you have a choice?" Bakura flicked a look down along the length of his body, as if he hadn't noticed how thoroughly tied up he was. He brought his eyes up to hers, raising a cocky brow. "I can get the keys. Let me help you."
"And what do I have to do in return?"
"You have to take me with you when you leave." His eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he didn't give any comment on that, merely nodding his head. "Stay quiet. I'll be back shortly." Anzu moved towards the opening of the cell when his raspy voice called her back.
"Woman." She paused, looking back to him. "What's your name?"
"Anzu." At that, she hastened away from the dungeons, stumbling up the steps, not bothering to be careful. Her knee slammed painfully against the hard stone of the wall, but she merely flinched, pressing on determinedly. I'll be free soon, she rejoiced in her mind, breaking out of the prison and dashing towards the palace. Free! Free!
Bakura glanced at the window for the umpteenth time, aggravated with himself. He would never have put any trust in the Pharaoh's wife, but she had looked so hopeful peering at him through those bars that he couldn't help but think that she was being sincere. He might have been able to get out himself if they hadn't been so careful in how they pinned him down. His whole body was already aching from the stiff position he was forced to be placed in.
Where is she? She said that she could get the keys, he thought petulantly. He heard a sound from the stairway just as his thought ended and stiffened, uncertain whether it was the queen, a sentry, or simply a small rodent. He could hear the distinct sound of keys jingling and sent a prayer up to the gods that it was the girl back with the keys. His prayer was answered as she bound through, breathing a bit hard.
"Atemu is still entertaining the court," she told him breathlessly, unlocking each of the devices with trembling hands. "I always go out at night, so if anyone saw me, it's not as if it is anything for them to be surprised about. We'll have to leave quickly if we want to get out of Karnak before sunrise." Her fingers brushed against his jaw as she smoothed his hair from the lock on his neck and stuck the key in, twisting it. He felt the metal give and was grateful when he was completely freed. She stumbled back quickly, guarding the exit. "You'll take me with you." It was a command.
"Be careful who you talk to, woman," he warned, rubbing his neck. "I am not accustomed to following orders." Her cerulean eyes sparked with panic at the thought of him going back at her word. His mouth tilted downward in puzzlement. Even female thieves had admired Yami's good looks, so he was baffled at the queen's insistence at escaping from him. For a moment, he considered that Yami had abused her, but didn't think the man had it in him. "How old are you? You look younger than the Pharaoh."
"Ten and seven," she replied carefully. He grunted, glancing away from her. She was five years younger than him. He could hardly believe he was about to drag an aristocratic woman across the desert with him. He wanted to simply leave her there, maybe beat her a bit, but she had stolen keys from her husband and was helping him escape. Besides, Bakura could sense that the girl was on the verge of desperation, so intent was she to leave the Pharaoh's grasp.
"Fine, I'll take you, but it's some ways to where we're going. We'll be going down to Thebes. That's where I came from and it's where I'm going. Am I clear?" She nodded mutely, slowly withdrawing from her protective stance by the exit.
"Should we steal a dhow?" (3) Bakura raised an eyebrow at the bright sound in her voice.
"Perhaps. We'll have to see, won't we?"
Anzu knew that she had surprised Bakura once they started through the hooded streets of Karnak. She clung to his shadow, her footsteps light. As a dancer, she had learned to move without making any sound, and knew that it was a skill revered among thieves. She knew that they had only a bit of precious time before Atemu realized that Anzu had run off with his keys to Bakura's dungeon. When she had peeked in the throne room, the Pygmies (4) had been entertaining the Pharaoh and his royal court. They usually began near the end of the evening, something that she knew for certain from her two years of living at the palace. When she had informed Bakura of this, he had only said, "Time means nothing to thieves except when they are involved in their conquest."
Even though Anzu had barely known Bakura, she trusted him to get them out of Karnak safely. To anyone else, his moves might have seemed poorly thought out, even careless, but not to her. She watched him carefully, saw the flick of his eyes in places that hid predators well. She suspected he had memorized these streets from his first raid in Karnak. For that reason, she put her faith in his abilities. He didn't seem intent on losing her, either, because he would glance over his shoulder every once in awhile to make certain she was behind him.
You would think he wouldn't care if I was keeping up with him or not, Anzu reflected as he slithered into a shadow and she was close behind him. He probably would be taking more difficult routes if I wasn't around, but is making it easy on me. It's almost thoughtful of him. She smiled to herself and then was whipping around a building after Bakura. She could hear footsteps and thought Bakura would stop, but he only inched into the deeper part of the shadows, not missing a beat in his steps.
Ra was just beginning to spread his light along Nut's retreating figure when they arrived at the harbor. Bakura paced along the harbor and found a dhow with a male crouched in it. Anzu hesitated before following him, noticing that the man had waved a hand and was beginning to set the lateen sail. The male paused at seeing Anzu, eyeing her with obvious suspicion. "Did she follow you?" He demanded of Bakura, his voice lighter than Bakura's and silky, enticing her in too many ways that she didn't want to think about. "She looks like nobility."
"She's the queen," Bakura said, stepping to the dhow and ushering for Anzu to follow. She lifted her dress and stepped into it, causing the two males to stare at her in shock. She ignored the looks, not caring what they thought about such unfeminine behavior. She wouldn't have to think about any of that now that she was away from Atemu's court and his strict rules. "She got me out of the prison Atemu put me in. Seems she has an unpleasant marriage or something like that."
"Interesting." Anzu caught a glimpse of the male as he guided the boat out into the Nile's waters, the sail billowing out as the wind caught on it. Admittedly, he was more attractive than Bakura with the slender body of a dancer; his hair was dark blonde and long, hanging over his shoulders; his eyes were a brilliant lavender, glistening with hidden wishes that she couldn't read; his entire body was littered with golden jewelry, likely stolen from the Valley of the Kings. (5) "I suppose you're indebted to her somehow?"
"She wanted to get out of Karnak and away from Atemu."
"Is that right?" His voice sounded amused. "First time I've heard of a woman not wanting the little bastard." The boat floated along the waters, guided by the current and the wind. Anzu jumped a bit as the nameless man settled next to her, a taunting smirk lighting his gorgeous features. He reached out and took her chin in his hand, purring, "Does that mean any guy other than Atemu would suit you?"
Coldly, she said, "I'd rather go to bed with Bakura than you." He laughed and rose to his feet, moving back to the helm. Bakura's mouth was curved upward smugly.
"It's not every day that someone prefers me over you, Malik," he remarked.
"She's just picky," was Malik's cheerful response.
Anzu smiled to herself and returned to staring down at the greenish waters that flowed below her. She thought of reaching down to touch the water, but reconsidered as she recalled seeing crocodiles earlier in the year at the Festival of Opet. (6) She raised her eyes from the water to the streaks of sunlight that Ra omitted. Only yesterday morning she had watched Atemu stand at the balcony while the sun rose. Now, she was on a boat with two thieves, heading towards Thebes. It's amazing how quickly things can change, she realized, folding her hands on the starboard side (7) of the dhow, resting her cheek on them.
"We'll be on the waters for a couple days if the wind and currents keep up," Bakura told her, moving next to her, leaning his hip against the rail, squinting against the sunlight rising from the eastern horizon. Anzu straightened, letting her hands part, splaying her fingers on the smooth wood. "I think it is only fair that I should know why exactly it is that I am taking you from your husband. Most women would love to be in your position." He sounded sarcastic and it caused Anzu to frown up at him. He met her gaze impassively, appearing as if he wasn't even mildly interested in her answer. Nonetheless, she let out a sigh and prepared herself to explain herself. He was right: it was only fair to tell him, as he had helped her get away from her dull life.
"I hated it at the palace." Bakura raised his eyebrows, surprised. She shrugged her petite shoulders gracefully, saying, "I know that it sounds ridiculous. I was treated with reverence since I was the Pharaoh's wife, but I was originally a peasant's daughter. I never really got used to having people wait on me. I just learned how to control my expression so that nobody knew how I really fell. And anyway," she looked down at her hands, "you were right about mine and Atemu's marriage. He needed someone as a wife and my parents wanted me to have a better life than them. It was convenient for both of us, I guess."
"I wouldn't mind that type of life, just so long as I had some power," Bakura drawled. "Malik and I have both yearned for that kind of life."
"Maybe you would be better suited to it, but I wasn't. Every time I walked through the palace, every time I went to court with Atemu, the walls felt like they were closing in on me, trapping me in a box for a mere animal. I felt stifled because I couldn't do things that I wanted to because it wasn't proper."
"That's why you make it proper, girl. Are you honestly that naïve not to understand the Egyptian court?" Bakura pushed away from the rail, a disgusted expression on his face. "There is only one rule: what the Pharaoh and his wife does, the nobility do. They don't dare judge you because you're royalty. What the Pharaoh does, the men do. What the queen does, the women do. That's how the court works. You set the standards."
"No, not me," Anzu quietly answered, turning away from him and resting her chin on her hands again. "I was born a peasant and everyone knows it. I don't count."
Bakura steered at the helm during the night, the lamp swaying from the dhow giving some light to the dark waters they moved on. The dhow relied entirely on the currents now that it was night and there was only the slightest breeze blowing against the sail. After his conversation with Anzu, he had settled to sleep and woke from Malik's tap later on. He flicked a look to the female curled at the stern next to Malik, who had passed out almost immediately. His conversation with her had bothered him, even though he hadn't let it show.
From what I gathered, Atemu had married a woman from the nobility. Had I been mistaken or did he have another wife that Anzu never knew about? He had tried shrugging it off several times during the night, but the idea continued to creep into his mind, pestering him until he let his mind wander through several theories. There is something about all of it that doesn't quite fit, he mused. When I saw them together, he didn't go to comfort her like most husbands would, barely touching her, and she didn't even accept the small comfort he did give. A tiny smirk lit Bakura's lips. Obviously, there is something behind it all that Anzu hasn't told me yet. Well, whatever it is, I'm bound to figure it out if I have to pester it from her.
With that thought, Bakura settled his mind and continued his careful steering of the dhow.
Bakura's predictions were correct. The time of the dhow was brief, but pleasant. Anzu learned more about Malik than she did Bakura, as the former was more open and didn't evade her questions when she asked them. Most of the time she spent with Malik, watching him steer and pummeling him with questions about his life, how he had become a thief, how he had met Bakura, and such things. He answered them as quickly as she asked them and seemed completely comfortable with it. Bakura, however, was less inclined to reply, dismissing her whenever she asked anything too personal. Most of the time, she returned with the same question and he would either ignore her or snap at her.
Despite his harshness, she found herself drawn to him.
Whenever she was certain he wasn't looking, she would watch him brood over the waters, his face guarded, his azure-gray eyes hidden by the shadows from his bangs. By the time they arrived in Thebes, making port at the harbor, Anzu knew every line of Bakura's face and was accustomed to the stealthy way he moved. She knew his coming by his presence more so than his actual movements. Unlike Malik, who she had cuddled up to every night like a sister would a brother, Bakura had a larger presence that loomed over her and could envelop her. She knew what it felt to have Malik's arms around her; she wondered what it was like in Bakura's embrace.
"From here out, wench, you're on your own," Bakura stated bluntly as he reached inside the dhow and pulled her out to settle her on the wooden planks of the harbor. "I got you to Thebes, but can do nothing more for you." Malik chuckled to himself, as if denying that claim. Bakura shot a dark look to the back of his head.
"I have no deben, though." (8)
"Is that my fault?" He reached out, his warm hand brushing her chin as he fingered her golden necklace. "You can sell this for maybe as much as an ox costs – a hundred deben." His hand drifted down her arm, his fingertips lightly gliding over her skin. "The bracelets, too." He touched the bracelets and then frowned, taking her hand to see the silver ring. "This wouldn't sell for as much, but you could get some money."
"I'm not selling this ring," she bit out, jerking her hand from his. His eyes darkened, but he simply lowered his hand, giving no other indication that he was irritated. "This wasn't given to me by Atemu. My best friend bought this for me. I'm not going to sell it."
"Some gift," he sneered.
"I wasn't raised in a wealthy neighborhood," she snapped. He snorted, drawing back to glower down at her. She glared back furiously, looking ready to beat him over the head. After a moment, Malik joined them, slinging an arm around Anzu's shoulders and brushing his lips over her earlobe. Bakura watched him warily, his mouth taut.
"Well, Bakura might not be able to do anything else for you, but I'm always willing to help a woman in need." He smirked across at Bakura and suddenly turned her towards him. She blinked up at him in bemusement before he leaned down and pressed a chaste kiss to her warm lips. She jerked back in surprise, her cheeks turning pink. Malik laughed at her outraged expression, amused. "I'm just having my fun, Anzu, no need to look that way. Besides, I knew Bakura was going to be a prick and leave you on your own. We know a woman you can work for to get some deben. If you used to be a peasant like you said you were, then it'll be easy enough."
"Mara won't hire her," Bakura said flatly as Malik gestured for Anzu to follow him from the harbor. Unwillingly, the Thief Lord followed him. "The woman is known by everyone in Egypt as the Pharaoh's wife. She isn't going to get anywhere with her face being seen everywhere in Thebes. She'll blow our cover." He sent a moody look towards Anzu. "Just look at her. She screams out 'nobility.'"
"Shut up, Bakura, and stop being pessimistic," Malik responded flippantly. Anzu was encased between the two males as they moved through the oblivious crowds of the harbor, none of whom gave any of the three more than a cursory glance. Anzu hadn't been involved in many ceremonies or festivals with Atemu, so not many eyes had glimpsed her as the queen of Egypt. She doubted that those in Thebes knew her as the Pharaoh's wife. She was known in Karnak and Luxor, mostly from the Festival of Opet, but she had never traveled further than those two cities until now.
Anzu stifled a yawn as she was led into a quaint, but engaging tavern. As Anzu settled into a chair between Malik and Bakura, a round woman came bustling forth, her green eyes flickering between the three suspiciously. Her black hair was pinned up to reveal her circular, friendly face. "Been awhile since you two have been around," she remarked, settling down two cups. "I wasn't aware you had bought yourselves a whore."
"Watch who you talk about, Mara," Bakura said, reaching out to cover her hand as she set another cup down to fill it with wine. "This so-called whore is going to be working for you." Anzu stared at Bakura in utter bafflement and then looked at Malik, who was gazing across at Bakura with a dry expression on his face. Clearly his sudden opinion change was common to Malik.
"You think so, do you?" Mara answered haughtily, flipping his hand from hers. She jerked a thumb towards Anzu. "That girl will be spreading her legs more often than serving men food and drinks here in the tavern." She laughed nastily, eyeing Anzu. "I could probably make more money off of her in a private room than making her work out here in front. I'm not letting that girl work in my tavern, Bakura. You can find her a nice little alley where she can take the boys back. I don't bring those types of girls in for a good reason – you know that."
"Anzu isn't a whore," he stated in a level voice, causing Mara to pale a bit at the deceptive calm in his voice. "You will give her a job here. You owe me and Malik and I'm indebted to this girl." He tipped his head towards Anzu to indicate who he was speaking about. Mara, her lips trembling ever so slightly, turned her gaze back to Anzu, poorly concealed hate glittering in her eyes. Bakura leaned back in his chair, taking his cup and drinking from it. "Help her get cleaned up and something more suited to her station. Malik and I will wait here."
Mara's mouth twisted unpleasantly and she growled to Anzu, "Get up, girl, and follow me." Anzu stumbled to her feet and met Malik's eyes briefly, not wanting to be with the resentful woman for too long. He flashed a reassuring smile that had her hurrying after Mara. The woman took her into a room in the back of the tavern. Anzu blinked at the sunlight that gleamed through the window, particles of dust revealed playing around in the air. Mara left her briefly with a bucket and returned, pouring the water in the basin in the center of the room. "Undress and we'll see what we have to work with."
Slowly, Anzu undressed, folding the dress and putting it on a chair. She tucked her jewelry in the folds of her dress, keeping her ring on her finger. Mara crossed her arms and inspected her while she stood uncertainly. Before she had been allowed in the palace, she had undergone several purifying baths and priestesses had looked over every portion of her naked flesh. She was accustomed to a strange woman's eyes on her body from that experience and the different slave girls that had attended her in the morning.
Snorting, Mara shook her head and said, "It's no wonder Bakura and Malik didn't kick you into the Nile." She sighed and gestured to the basin. "Let's clean you of that filth that's on your face. There's no reason for you to look like a courtesan while you're working. Here's your soap." (9) Mara stood guard while Anzu scrubbed at her face, washing the rouge from her lips and the galena from her eyes. She washed thoroughly until it was completely gone. She washed the rest of her body after Mara left to retrieve her some clothes. When she returned, she had stepped out of the basin and was standing, shivering from the air.
Mara helped dry her off and then handed her a tunic, sarcastically drawling, "Know how to put one of these on?" Anzu snatched it from her, her mouth tight against any scathing remarks she might have for her new employer. She dressed swiftly, loving the feel of the familiar, rough cloth on her skin. Mara silently handed her a leather thong and she tied her hair back, slipping her feet in her reed sandals. "Let's go back to the boys, then..." She eyed Anzu, a puzzled look in her eyes. She no longer appeared as if she despised Anzu. If anything, there was a bit of respect in her lively depths after Anzu's production of dressing in the simple tunic.
Bakura had been trying – and failing – to ignore Malik's stare ever since Anzu and Mara had left. When he had had enough of the gaze, he whipped his head around and glowered at him, snarling, "What do you want?" His partner simply smirked, raising his fingers as he tipped his cup back to drink from, shrugging in the entire process. Bakura's lips compressed into a tight, angry line as he surveyed Malik. There were few people that he would trust with his identity, but those that did knew him well. Out of all of them, Malik was the only one who held no fear for him; he was also the one who could interpret any expression of Bakura's, no matter whether it was blank or not.
"You certainly have seemed to take a liking to that girl, Bakura," he commented idly, grinning as he set his cup on the table. "Everything about her is vague, though. Do you really think you can trust her by herself in a public place? She might tell someone that she knows the infamous Thief Lord and his partner." Bakura snorted in disbelief.
"Not likely. I don't think you realize how much she wanted to get out of Karnak. For a moment, I had convinced myself that Atemu must have been beating her. It's an easier conclusion than what the truth might be." Malik eyed him and then sighed, propping his arm up with his elbow resting on the table. He settled his chin in his hand, his lavender eyes gliding over the people that filled the tavern.
"The Pharaoh is rumored to be kind to those close to him. There is no reason for Anzu to run away unless he was harming her. I don't care if she was unsuited to that life or not. She threw away a perfect life – a life that any woman would dream of – to come down the river with two thieves and live like a commoner. Now, you tell me something – what is the sense in that?" Bakura remained silent, turning his head away to see Mara parting the crowds with her robust figure. He suspected Anzu was behind her. Malik took a last drink of his ale and got to his feet. "Let's see her, then!" Mara side-stepped, her expression neutral, and Bakura straightened, certain he was being faced with an entirely different woman.
Although she didn't look as elegant as she had in her dress, Anzu was still lovely in the plain, blue tunic and her hair pulled back messily, her bangs falling on her brow. Her jewelry was gone (likely hidden in the folds of the dress that she held), excepting the plain, silver ring on her index finger. Bakura grunted, saying, "Well, you won't be mistaken for a whore, at least." Mara's gaze sharpened when she looked at him and Anzu seemed a bit hurt by his comment. Malik watched the three and then went to Anzu, taking her elbow in his hand.
"Ignore him, he's just pissy because I was teasing him while you were gone. You can stay with us until you find another situation for yourself. Does that sound alright?" Anzu nodded and leaned into Malik a bit. Bakura watched them leave the tavern, his mouth twisted resentfully. He crossed his arms and kicked Malik's chair sullenly.
Mara tucked the chair beneath the table and leaned over to murmur, "Stop acting like a jealous child and actually get the girl for once. Malik has enough women after him." Bakura shot her a dirty look, lunging to his feet.
"Who says I wanted her?" He responded.
Anzu heaved the bucket of water, letting out a long sigh. The home in the mountains of Thebes that Bakura and Malik lived in was comfortable and it took hardly any time to travel to the city. She knew that she had surprised them both with her appearance, but didn't mind. She carried the bucket into the cottage-like home effortlessly. At first, it had hurt to lift anything heavy, but Malik had forced her to work her arms so that she would get accustomed to the weight.
She poured the water into a water jug and set the bucket aside, stretching her arms above her head. She poured herself a cup of water and let the cool liquid slide comfortingly down her throat. She sighed, leaning her hip against the table. Mara had sent a plainer, but feminine, dress along with Bakura as Malik had dragged her out of the tavern so quickly. It was made of light material like the dress she had worn to Thebes, but was a simple, emerald-died dress with nothing fancy to it. She found that she liked it much more than she did her other dress.
Bakura came striding from the adjoining room, flipping the cloth that covered the doorway inward, frowning when his eyes landed on her. "What are you doing lurking in here for?" He questioned. "We don't have an extra room, so you'll have to sleep with one of us." She blinked and set her cup aside to wash later.
"Oh, I'll sleep with Malik, then." His face set into a scowl. "O-or is that problem? I just figured since I've been sleeping with him on the dhow that you wouldn't want to change that. And besides, don't you want your bed to yourself?" Anzu knew she sounded defensive, but couldn't help it. If there was one thing that she disliked of Bakura, no matter how attracted she was to him, it was his dirty looks that he threw to her so often. She had barely known him and he had glared at her more than anyone else in her life!
"It's your decision," he said carelessly, shrugging. "I don't intend on housing Malik's whore, though."
Her fists clenched as a tiny, rational part of her mind snapped. Perhaps Bakura noticed the subtle change in her, because he took a step back, crossing his arms across his chest and seeming to loom over her despite the fact that he hadn't done anything. His intimidating gesture didn't stop her, however, because she took a wide step towards him and shoved him hard, causing him to stumble a bit in surprise. "I'm sick and tired of being called a whore!" She raised a hand and beat it on his chest angrily. "I haven't done one thing to anyone, but they keep calling me a whore! Whore, whore, whore! That's all I hear when they talk about me!" Bakura grabbed her hand and took her other arm, stilling her gestures, pushing her up against the table. Suddenly recalling who it was that she had just blown up on, she tugged uselessly at his grip. Her limbs shook from a combination of her spare anger and the fear that had just risen in her. When she raised her eyes to his face, however, there was no anger or irritation.
"Hm," he raised his eyebrows, a mild expression on his face. "So you do have a temper after all." He smirked and leaned down. His breath passed over her face, shifting stray, cinnamon brown hairs. She found herself frozen in place, unable to move or utter any sound. "I'll have to remember to call you names more often so that you get pissed off." He laughed softly, his grip on her wrists loosening. Gooseflesh popped up on her flesh as he trailed his fingers up her arms to her shoulders and back down in a slow caress. He drew away, a teasing smile on his lips. "Make your choice, Anzu. We all have work to do tomorrow." He left the kitchenette, where she stood dumbly.
Well, fine, she huffed in her mind. I don't think Bakura realizes how much more appealing I find him than Malik. If he thought I was kidding on the dhow, he is sadly mistaken. She followed him into the other room that was considered the den. "I'll share a bed with Bakura," she announced. Malik blinked, a surprised expression crossing his face. Bakura, leaning comfortably near the window, gave a slow, almost seductive smile.
"Then let's get to sleep."
As they moved through the hall where the bedrooms lay, Malik slid a finger over her spine as he passed to his room, giving a wicked grin as though he expected to be woken in the middle of the night. She blushed furiously and followed Bakura to his room. There was a candle lit on the side table so that after Malik's candle had disappeared they weren't submerged in darkness. Bakura went to the chest at the end of the bed and dug through it, standing up and presenting her with a long nightgown that he tossed at her.
"Change into this to sleep in," he ordered. She looked around for somewhere to hide behind, but found herself absent of any such object. Anzu turned her eyes back to Bakura to see that his mouth was curled upward deviously.
"I'll be right back." He shrugged as she left to the hall. She watched Malik's door while she undressed and pulled the gown over her head. When she returned to the room, Bakura was already in bed. She set her clothes on top of the chest and then went to the side of the bed that was empty. He waited until she was in and then blew out the candle. She sunk in the covers, her head resting on the goose feather pillow.
The moon that gleamed through the window gave her enough light to see the room. She let her eyes wander from every crevice where shadows lied, to the lit portions of the wall and floor, and the furniture in the room. It's been such a while since I've last slept in a bed, she mused, her eyelids drifting closed. She let out a soft sigh, tossing her arm above her head, covering her fingers with her hair. This time, though, I don't have to sleep in any certain way. I can just...sleep. She smiled contentedly to herself and mumbled, "Thank you, Bakura."
The thief waited until she was asleep to rumble, "Anytime, Anzu. Anytime..."
Anzu could hear sounds outside the window, but did her utmost best to ignore them. She was cuddled up to something, her fingers resting on something solid and smooth. She pressed her cheek closer to the warmth, running her hands up and then down, never once opening her eyes to see what it was that she was fondling. She frowned as she wondered, Am I cuddled up to Atemu? But then she recalled that she had left the palace. Wait...I fell asleep in Bakura's bed. So, then, am I...? She opened her eyes and slowly tipped her head back to meet an amused set of blue-gray eyes. She stared at him and then let out a yelp, springing away from him and tumbling off the bed, bringing the covers down with her.
"I would stay down there if I were you," he drawled from the bed. "You might not have noticed at any point in the night, but I sleep with my clothes off." Her eyes bugged out and Anzu was thankful that she was covered with the blankets. Above her, Bakura watched as she gathered the cloth around her head as if to keep herself as blind as possible. He chuckled and rose from the bed, opening the chest and dressing hastily. "Whenever you're ready, I'll take you down to Mara's. Get dressed. I'll be outside."
Anzu waited until she heard his footsteps recede and then pushed the covers off her head, peeking over the bed and releasing a long sigh of relief. She bent down to collect the covers and when she popped up, Malik was laying on the bed, his lavender eyes glittering with mirth. "Is it much fun down there?" He questioned, pointing to the floor with an index finger. "I rather prefer the bed myself. Maybe I'm spoiled."
"When did you get in here?" She sputtered.
"As soon as Bakura left," he replied, rolling on his back so that he was upside down. "I don't suppose you two got anything done during the night?" Anzu glared at him and stood up, tossing the covers on him. She went to the chest where she had set her dress and while Malik was struggling with the covers, she tossed the nightgown off and pulled her dress over her head. Just as Malik had found an opening from the blankets, she was wrapping her sash around her waist. He pulled the ribbon, making her fall onto the bed. "Hold still," he ordered, slapping her hands away. He finished tying the sash, his long fingers quick and efficient.
"You know, he likes you," Malik conversationally told her. "It takes a lot for him to like a woman, but you somehow managed it. You should be proud of yourself for accomplishing what other women haven't. Usually, he wouldn't trust a girl that he knows near to nothing about. As for me, I trust too easily when it comes to women." He took her shoulders and pulled her back against his chest. She stiffened when he nuzzled her ear, but he only laughed breathily in her ear. "Any other girl wouldn't have reacted to that the way you did, Anzu. You want him, a simple human attraction." He pressed a kiss to her neck. "But...if you betray that trust he's put in you, I'll kill you for him. Am I clear?" She nodded shakily. He squeezed her shoulders briefly in a reassuring gesture. He turned her head to him and landed a light kiss on her mouth. "Have fun at Mara's. I'll see you later." He climbed off the bed and left the room. She drew her arms around herself, biting her lip anxiously until she stood up and combed her hair with her fingers and followed his exit.
Her leather thong was in the kitchenette, so she took it and was tying her hair up while she was walking outside. Bakura glanced at her and raised an eyebrow, asking, "What took you so long? You're going to be late."
"I'm sorry. Malik interrupted me." Bakura snorted in reply. "Shall we?" He nodded and led the way down to the city.
Anzu knew that many of the other girls working in the tavern were irritated with her because she did a better job than them. Mara had whispered to Anzu at one point, "I'm feeling a bit ashamed right now. You're a spoiled little aristocrat and you work better than them!" Anzu had chosen not to inform her that she had been a peasant before that life, and spoke little to the other girls. All in all, she was quiet and the girls eventually stopped glaring at her and seemed to pretend that she wasn't actually there. She didn't mind that; it made her day easier.
At the end of the day, it was Bakura who picked her up. He had told her when he left her at the tavern's back entrance that Malik would come around to get her, so she was a bit surprised at seeing him there. She might not have noticed him, either, if he hadn't crept up behind her. She was drying her hands, oblivious to the sudden stillness in the room. Bakura's hand on her neck startled her so badly that she uttered a tiny shriek and dropped her towel. He snickered as she turned around, her face twisted in fury. "I was actually in a bad mood when I came here," he commented, a leer in place on his face. "I'm rather glad that I snuck up on you like I did."
Anzu fumed inside her mind, snatching the towel from the ground and hanging it up. "I didn't know you were going to pick me up." He shrugged and then glanced over his shoulder at the other girls that hurriedly returned to what they had originally been doing. One of his eyebrows rose smoothly and he looked to Anzu in question. She ignored the look, asking, "Are we leaving?"
"I sure as hell am not staying here," he sneered in return. He moved to the exit and she was right behind him, patting her hands on the tunic she had changed in at Mara's and holding her dress that needed to be cleaned. She already knew that she wasn't going to be simply ignored tomorrow when she went to work. It was clear that all the girls there had had their eyes on Bakura for some time and were mortified that some new girl was already on speaking terms with him.
Not to mention that I'm living with him and sleep in the same bed as he does, Anzu added in her mind, trailing behind Bakura, stroking the cloth of her dress absently. She supposed it might have been worse if Malik had come to get her, as he was more popular with the ladies than even Bakura. I don't really like working there, she confessed to herself. The men are rude and try to grope you while you're serving them; the women glare at you, even if they're prettier than you are. It's a miserable job, but I get deben from it. Shizuka and I would always work together in the village before she married Seto. I'm not used to working without a friend with me. She heaved a sigh. Surely I can get work somewhere else where there aren't any hostile people...?
"What are you sighing about?" Bakura inquired, turning to pause and wait for her. The streets were considerably empty as darkness had fallen over Thebes and most people were back in their homes for their evening meal and some time with their family.
"I was just thinking...Is working at the tavern my only option?" He frowned at her as she paused beside him. "I'm not complaining, it's just..."
"It's an unpleasant job. The customers are rude, Mara barely likes me, and the girls hate me. I don't like working in that kind of environment. Does that...does that make any sense?" His mouth was still turned down, but he looked like he was considering over her words and less like he were displeased. "I know I should be thankful, but..." She trailed off again, uncertain as to why she was unable to put her thoughts into words.
"What do you mean, 'the customers are rude'?" Bakura queried, starting down the road. Her jaw dropped a bit at his dismissive tone and then she jogged to catch up with him. "Do they call you names? Do they throw food in your face? What? What do they do exactly?" He glimpsed her black expression through the corner of his eye and he added casually, "Do they fondle you?" She refused to answer the question, not wanting to discuss how many different times and ways she had been violated that day at the tavern. For a moment, he didn't pursue the topic, but then he changed the conversation abruptly, "Why else did you want to leave Atemu?"
"I told you why I left. There was nothing else to it."
"You're lying," he casually stated. "Let me tell you what I think, Anzu. I think Atemu, being the pansy that he is, never acted like an actual husband. That, in turn, would make you a virgin. Are you still a virgin?" She halted in the road and turned to him, trembling with anger at such a personal question.
"It's none of your business."
"Oh, it's my business," Bakura purred, taking her chin in his hand. She shivered at the feel of his hot skin against her cool kind. "Trust me, Anzu, it's as much as my business as it is yours. If I find out on my own that you not only came to Thebes with two known thieves a virgin, and then let yourself be demoralized by a bunch of fucking assholes in a tavern, not only will your ass be red by the end of tonight, but this city is going to go up in flames." She gawked at him, shocked at his pronouncement. He released her, an almost serene smile on his lips. "Now, we can avoid all of that and have a milder version of those events if you just tell me the truth: did Atemu consummate your marriage or not?"
Anzu hesitated and then said, "No. He didn't. That was part of the reason that I wanted to leave, but mostly it was because of a life that I hated." She gestured to herself. "This was what I was born to. I like this life. It's comfortable. There are no rules but the laws that the Pharaoh makes. I can handle that. In the actual life that the Pharaoh lives in – those rules are too much for me." She gave a tiny shrug, smiling lightly. "I'm happier here."
"Humph," he snorted, taking her dress from her and striding down the road. She followed him, puzzled by his thievery of her dress. He hung it over his shoulder, his hand resting on it where it hung on his chest. "It is a sad day when a woman claims that she is happier with two thieves and away from as wealthy a life as she had. You must have a genetic defect." Anzu laughed.
"That could be it, or maybe I'm just not greedy like you and Malik." He smirked.
"Greed makes a thief efficient." She shook her head in disbelief and they continued on through the city in silence. As they drew into the outskirts of the city and to the mountains where their destination lied, Anzu's mind returned to her initial problem. She didn't bring it up until they were a few feet from the cottage, stopping and causing Bakura to stop, as well. "What are you doing, trying to get killed? Hurry up and get inside."
"About my job at the tavern..."
"We'll talk about it inside," he assured, nodding to the cottage. "There are all kinds of people roaming these mountains. They might not mess with me, but they'll be more than glad to try and take you for themselves." She jogged to meet him and the two of them entered the cottage together. Malik was at the table in the kitchenette and threw his hands up when they came through.
"About time! I actually made a decent meal for once and you miss out on it! I should beat both of you." He paused, a smile gradually forming on his lips. "Well, I would beat Bakura and kiss you to death." Anzu sighed and gave her eyes a little roll. He stretched out an arm and she shifted into his reach. He brought her against him in a companionable embrace, asking, "How did you like it?"
"She hates it," Bakura replied before she could even open her mouth. He tossed her dress in a basket near the doorway and settled in the chair across from Malik. Anzu withdrew from Malik's grip, seeing as how he was focused on Bakura now. "She wants a different job because guys are putting their hands on her. I told her we'd talk about it when we got home." Malik took a drink from the cup in front of him, a thoughtful look crossing his face. He turned his attention back to Anzu.
"Is that right, Anzu? Some guys are giving you a hard time?" By the sound of his voice, he was more than willing to take care of that issue of hers.
"It isn't just that," she told him before that protective gleam in his eyes gave birth to any violent ideas in his head. "I mean, mostly that's what is bothering me, but it's an overall uncomfortable position. Nobody likes me there."
"Nobody likes me, either," Bakura spoke up. "You don't see me complaining." Malik was drumming his fingers on the tabletop, clearly having seen that she was disinclined to compromise the issue of her job. He looked to Bakura over the table, giving a tiny shrug, indicating that it was his decision to make. Bakura sighed, shifting in his seat as Anzu turned her brilliant gaze on him hopefully. He grimaced, peering up at her, his mouth twisting uncomfortably. "Alright," he said at last. "Here's what we'll do...There aren't many jobs for Egyptian women that are...respectable...or anything that you want to find yourself in. That leaves you two options, Anzu – two. One is relatively simple and keeps you in Thebes. The other is not quite as simple. You can either stay here and learn a few of our trades and take care of the female chores of the place or we can ship you downriver to Amarna with some deben."
"Then I'll stay here," Anzu immediately decided. "I would be worse off in Amarna where I don't know anybody. What, um, do you mean by trades exactly...?" The two males smirked across at her and she felt a weight of dread settle in the hollow of her stomach as she considered what it might be that they had planned for her.
"Why, the trades of a thief, of course. What else?"
That night, Anzu lay awake in bed, staring up at the play of shadows on the ceiling. She had been laying there silent and still for a long time, her mind dwelling in the past. It wasn't until Bakura turned on his side to face her that she realized he hadn't fallen asleep. He propped his head up with his elbow braced against the mattress, his hand pressing against his temple. "Would you like to tell me what has you so absorbed that you can't relax enough to sleep?" He asked softly. She turned, pulling the covers up to her chin even though she wasn't cold.
"Atemu told me that I should never trust a thief and thieves aren't supposed to trust anyone but themselves or their own. I think it's ironic how the three of us ended up in this position." She laughed slightly. "I mean, I never imagined myself in Thebes with two thieves, one who is supposed to be the Thief Lord. It's just...strange to me, I guess. It's better than where I was before, though; I can at least say that much."
"There are exceptions to every rule." She closed her eyes as Bakura traced his fingertips over her face, gently soothing her skin. Although Malik was the one that touched her the most and was more open, she had never felt anything but friendly affection for him. With Bakura, it was entirely different and she still couldn't understand why. He had barely spoken with her until last night when she decided to share a room with him.
Maybe it's just his presence, she reflected as his fingers trailed along her jaw line, his thumb brushing her chin. While Malik is meant to cheer people and seduce them, Bakura has this...calming effect. He loses his temper easily, but he's always so calm in situations that most people wouldn't be. I feel like he's trying to hide behind a shell like I had been at the palace. In the end, it doesn't really matter...Just as long as he's there.
"Sleep, Anzu," he whispered, his hand leaving her face to take her shoulder and draw her against his warm body. She tucked her head underneath his chin and closed her eyes, comforted by his scent and the way his fingers stroked the skin of her shoulder bared by the nightgown.
"Ready, then, Anzu?" Malik said as soon as she came outside, looking for her two companions. She had been unceremoniously woken by Bakura, who had smirked at her and ordered her to get dressed and outside. When Anzu had finally managed to find herself out of the cottage, she knew that they were going to spend the day torturing her with the so-called skills that they deemed her worthy of. She cast a nervous look towards the weapons that they had set out; and over her head, the two thieves exchanged an amused glance.
"Obviously you won't be learning all of these in one day," Bakura informed her, pushing off the stool he had been seated in. Anzu peered at him suspiciously as he went to stand in front of them. He picked up a familiar object and turned it with a thoughtful look and then smacked it in his opposing hand. "You need to know what they all are, though."
"The silver-shafted axe. A personal favorite of his," Malik commented, coming up beside him. He picked up a bow and tossed it at Anzu, who instinctively caught it. "As for me, I like long range." He reached down and picked up a short-sword. "Or close range. It depends on my mood. As for you, though, Anzu, I would suggest the bow." He nodded to the object in her hands and Bakura eyed it, silently agreeing with his assessment.
"I've never used any of these in my entire life," she murmured, looking at the other objects.
"You will." Malik picked up two other swords, indicating the dagger, which was the shortest type of sword and with not quite as sharp of a tip as a short sword. The other sword, the long sword, had the bluntest tip and was the longest of the three. He juggled the three swords in his hands, saying, "If you're looking to just kill a man in his slip or something like that, you should go with the dagger or short sword since they're the sharpest. For a lasting combat, the long sword." Malik pointed to the two axes that Bakura had in his hands. "The silver-shafted axe is the heaviest, but is most effective. The battle-axe is lightweight and sharp enough to kill a person." He smiled. "So if nothing else, you can use the battle-axe when you're in danger. Don't worry, Bakura will teach you the swords and axes. I'm looking forward to that myself. But as for today..." Malik tossed the swords down just as Bakura mimicked the gesture. "I'm going to help you with the bow."
"I don't want to use a bow..." Anzu mumbled feebly, staring at the bow in her hand.
"Too bad," Bakura grunted, pushing the weapons out of the way. "Frankly, this is probably the only weapon that you're going to succeed at." She glowered at him as he started away from the cottage to do whatever it was he did during the day.
"...Put an arrow in his butt," she muttered to Malik, who laughed.
"Now that is something I would like to see." He dug in his pocket and withdrew a wrist protector and a bone finger guard. "Let me see your hands. You'll probably draw the string with your right hand – you write with that hand, am I right?" She nodded, dropping the bow and extending her hands while he put the guard between his lips. He slipped the wrist protector around and tied it securely on her left wrist; then, he took the bone guard and slipped it over her middle finger on her right hand. "The wrist guard will protect it from the whip of the bowstring when you fire an arrow. The bone guard will keep the pain from your finger when you pull the string taut. You won't always have time to put these on if we have a surprise attack, Anzu, so it won't always be this comfortable."
"You call this comfortable?" She raised her right hand next to her face, frowning as she wiggled her middle finger. He smirked and gave a shrug, picking up the bow and settling on the stool Bakura had been in only moments ago. She followed and watched as he took string made of animal guts and twined it around each end of the bow. He plucked it afterward and handed it to Anzu. He picked up an arrow with a triangular-shaped flint head and looked around.
"Alright, do you see that shed of ours?" She nodded, knowing that was where the weapons had come from originally. "I want you to shoot as close to the center as possible. Keep your feet shoulder-length width apart and your spine straight." He helped her settled the arrow on the string. "Now...Pull it back to your ear. It's going to resist since the string hasn't been worn out. Make sure you don't change your position." Anzu glanced at Malik with an exasperated expression.
"Just try. Oh, and keep both of your eyes open."
With a sigh, Anzu focused on the center of the shed. Licking her lips, she pulled the string back in a triangular shape towards her ear. The string protested, but she managed to get it there. Thankful that she had the bone guard, only able to imagine how much the flesh of her finger would be hurting, she glanced to Malik and saw him give a slight nod. With her arm trembling from the effort, she moved the arrow to the center and let it fly.
She lowered her arms and stared at the arrow in some surprise.
"What the hell...?" Malik muttered vacantly, gaping at where her arrow had hit. She watched him jog over to the shed while she watched uncomfortably. The arrow had flown directly to the center. She watched as he eyed the shed, brushing a hand over the end of the arrow. He turned and said, "Do it again, Anzu, but try and go to the same exact spot. The arrows are by the stool." She went and procured an identical arrow.
It's kind of like playing the harp, Anzu reflected as she settled the back of the arrow against the string. If you try and find all the notes by eyesight, you won't get anywhere. Your fingers have to feel where the strings are and you have to memorize the notes. With archery, you can't look at the string, but have to make the tip of the arrow and the target one. When she had it targeted on her last arrow, she released it and heard the split of wood and a thunk. Malik moved towards the shed and let out a low whistle.
"I don't even have to do anything," he called to her, turning with a bright look on his face. "You've got it in your blood. You could actually be a good thief, Anzu." He strolled over to her, eyeing her. "Are you certain you've never drawn a bow before?"
"No, but I play the harp. It's kind of like that, don't you think?"
"I wouldn't know. I've never played the harp. They have somewhat of the same structure, though, so it might be." She offered him the bow. "Keep that for now, Anzu. The guards, too. Until you get really accustomed to archery, you'll need a familiar bow. You can make your own later. I'll teach you that." He grinned. "You, however, get to spar with Bakura tomorrow." He laughed at her expression of dread. "It could be worse." She didn't reply as he began to collect the weapons and put them into the shed. She settled the bow against her legs and removed the two guards.
"What is it?" He answered, turning his head slightly.
"I figured I'd go down to get some fruit and we could have it with dinner. Where can I find the money?"
"Go put that away and I'll meet you in the kitchen with it." She rolled her eyes as he turned his back on her.
Of course. He's a thief. He's not going to trust someone else with their money. She picked up the bow and hauled it into the cottage. She went to Bakura's room and settled it against the wall, placing the guards in the chest at the end of the bed. She changed into her jade dress and quickly made the bed before going to the kitchen. Malik was leaning against the table, looking impatient. He handed her a pouch that clicked when it moved.
"There's enough in there for you to get some material to make a dress for yourself." He paused, a strange expression crossing his face. "Can you even – "
"Yes, I can," she interrupted sharply. One of his eyebrows rose at her tone, but he simply turned out of the cottage to return to his task. She grabbed a basket and tucked the pouch in her dress's sash before hastening down the hill to the market.
Just like in Karnak, the market was bustling with action. It was crowded and if one wasn't careful, a pick-pocket could easily get one's money. It disoriented Anzu for a moment, as she hadn't had to go to the market herself for a long time. Once she began twining through the crowds, however, it was if she had never been a queen before. Her eyes darted to and fro in search of fruit and cloth material. She found the material first and bought enough pink-died material for a dress; a few stalls away, she found a fruit stand and after examining the fruit, she decided it was good enough to buy. She bought two doom palm fruits and placed them securely in her basket, which she carried on her head as she started back to the hill.
As she broke from the worst part of the market, a hand suddenly locked around her arm and suspecting it to be Bakura or Malik, she turned mildly and nearly dropped her basket, shocked at who she was faced with. "...Seto?" She choked out. His cobalt eyes narrowed and he wordlessly hauled her away from the market. She let the basket drop from her head and propped it against her side, her arm looped around it as she stumbled behind the tall figure. A few people flicked curious looks at seeing the High Priest manhandling a woman.
Anzu found herself at the pier where she had first arrived with Malik and Bakura. Seto finally released her, tossing her arm from him as if disgusted. He turned towards the Nile, his body rigid with any amount of negative emotions. She pulled the basket in front of her, hugging it to her for comfort. "Seto...What were you doing in the market?" She asked in what she hoped was a calm voice.
"You dare to direct questions at me?" He hissed coldly, whipping around to face her. "How can you even be wandering around Thebes as if you are a common peasant?" Seto paused at that, a sardonic expression passing over his face. "Disregard those last words. The Pharaoh has ordered some of his trusted men to look for you. Be lucky I was the one assigned to Thebes." Anzu's skin paled with horror and a humorless smile curled his lips upward. "Yes...He has men all throughout Egypt looking for you."
"I can't go back," she told him feebly.
"You can't go back?" He repeated. "No, you don't want to go back. Explain to me why the hell you ran away, Anzu. What, did you release the Thief Lord, too, so that everyone would be focused on him instead? You're forgetting one thing: Atemu considers over his friends and family before his enemies."
"I had Bakura help me get out of Karnak." For any other man, that statement might have shocked them. Seto merely stared at her with an irritated expression, as if he had half-expected that. If he had been any other man, he wouldn't have paused to let her talk, but would simply haul her off. If he had been any other man, he would have sent men throughout Thebes to find Bakura. Instead, he had anticipated any move she could have made, was listening to her, and didn't seem to care where Bakura was at the present time. "No one would have recognized me except for those who knew me when I wasn't Atemu's wife."
"There are too many people that knew you then, Anzu," he told her grimly. "Why did you leave? You had everything."
"Yes, I had everything. I had wealth, people to wait on me, and I was queen of Egypt. I don't love him, Seto. He didn't even go to bed with me. I rarely ever saw Shizuka or Jounouchi. I had to do everything the way things were done in the palace. I couldn't run through the halls laughing; I couldn't dress myself; I couldn't go to the market without being hidden in a litter and having guards surrounding me. I was suffocating. I had to leave. I wanted my own life, one that wasn't controlled by propriety and rules." Seto's mouth thinned, as if he wanted to disagree with her. "You let Shizuka stay how she has always been – I'm not allowed that."
He heaved a sigh, closing his eyes briefly. "Alright...Who are you boarding with?" Anzu carefully averted her gaze. When she didn't respond, his eyes flashed open and he growled, "You cannot seriously be saying that you are living with a thief."
"Thieves," she corrected. "Him and his friend."
"...No. I'm not having you stay with common criminals. I'm taking you down to Amarna, where you'll be safe."
"Will you, priest?" A voice purred behind him. Seto stiffened as something sharp pressed into his back, turning slightly to see Bakura smiling at him pleasantly. Anzu trembled as her traitorous heart leapt into her throat. Seto was her friend, but Bakura was...something else. She couldn't quite put a label on him, but he wasn't just a friend. He was special and now that he was there, getting her out of this particular predicament, she couldn't help but cry out with joy in her mind. She was attached to him and Malik now.
"How long have you been lurking around here?" Seto queried in an indifferent tone.
"Long enough," Bakura assured. "I've grown rather fond of Anzu, as well as my partner, so I'm going to have to ask you to leave here without her. We already offered to get her to Amarna, but she preferred to stay with us instead."
"Well, how thoughtful of you," he sneered. Bakura raised an eyebrow and pressed the tip of the dagger closer.
"You might be taller, but I'm quicker and far more skilled. If you want your blood to spill in such a filthy place, I would suggest you halt your words. It's rather irritating, actually, to hear how arrogant you are." Seto's icy azure eyes flashed dangerously, but he merely turned his attention back to Anzu.
"You really want to stay here, Anzu?"
"Yes," she responded quietly. He snorted, but gave no derisive comment, taking Bakura's threat to heart. He was silent for a long moment, his eyes moving over the dirt-covered ground.
"I'll cover you, then...and give the Pharaoh a believable report of your death, saying that it was from a villager and that your cremation was taken care of. He'll call all his men in and you'll be safe. I don't recommend this, Anzu. You should go to Amarna, but since you want to stay with him..." He glared at Bakura. "...I can assume you'll be safe."
"I will. Thank you, Seto." She went to him and hugged him, kissing him on the cheek. Bakura watched it with a jealous expression, his mouth turned down unhappily. Seto noticed and flashed a smug look to him, purposely circling his arms around her waist and brushing his lips over her temple. The thief's face turned dark and murderous, a subtle warning that he would take only so much of the scene.
"Be safe, Anzu," Seto said and to Bakura, "Keep her safe." Satisfied, he turned and left them.
"Humph," Bakura snorted, twitching his nose. She picked up the basket and settled it on her head once again. He glanced at her and said, "Let's go home." She smiled at him from underneath the shadow of the basket.
A few nights later, Bakura sat outside alone, brooding. Anzu had gone to bed some time ago, as well as Malik. He had been avoiding teaching Anzu to learn the swords and axes, mostly because of the foreign feeling that rose whenever her looked at her. When he caught her with the High Priest at the pier, he had been sure his heart had stopped for a beat. At first, he had thought she might have called him to take her back to Karnak, something his naturally suspicious mind created; then, at seeing her almost pleading expression, he knew that Seto must have came on his own will.
Nonetheless, the entire incident had made him decidedly uncomfortable. He hated that the thought of losing Anzu had made his mind reckless enough to threaten to kill the High Priest of Egypt in front of hundreds of people. It hadn't only caused Seto to become more cautious, but it made Bakura nervous knowing that his mind had almost fell apart in that one instant.
I am not weak, he told himself as he stared vacantly up at the clear sky. The stars twinkled down at him, almost mocking him. He glared above him with a good deal of frustration. His mind was so muddled that the clearness of Nut seemed to mock him. Damn it all. He let his head fell back and his hand darted out as he heard the soft scuffle of a foot moving.
"As quick as when I met you, I see," Malik quietly said from the doorway, a laugh in his tone. Bakura released his wrist that he had captured, leaning back against the cottage, choosing not to respond to his friend's words. Malik took a position on the other side of the doorway, saying, "Anzu told me that you two encountered the High Priest some time ago. I never thought to say anything before since I figured you would tell me eventually. That you didn't tell me immediately is strange enough. What is going on in your head, anyway, Bakura?"
"I hate her," he growled.
"If you're trying to convince me, you need a little more conviction in that sort of statement. I suppose that might work if you said it to yourself. Your mind is willing to believe anything." Bakura sighed and pushed a hand through his hair, glancing towards Malik wearily. Although he knew there was a disturbed mind locked behind the carefree personality of his friend's, he couldn't help but admire how easily Malik dealt with his problems. He knew how to entangle himself in a mess of a relationship and slip out of it without any stress. "She loves you, Bakura."
"You think I'm lying? I know women better than you could ever hope to and trust me, she loves you. She preferred you over me on the dhow when we were coming here. She probably knows it, too, but doesn't want to say anything. As for you...Hell, I'd dare to guess that you might love her, too." Bakura let out a mirthless chuckle. "...You don't hate her."
"I'm not supposed to love," he spat bitterly. "It's a ridiculous emotion that doesn't hold through like everyone insists. It twists your mind so that you believe it actually exists. Your heart doesn't even feel anything – it's your fucking soul. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have a soul anymore. A man that can kill others without any regret has no soul, Malik."
"So you say," came the airy response. Bakura shot him an irritated look. "If you can say that to Anzu, straight in her eyes, and without pause, then I'll believe you. Until you can do that, you can shove all that up your ass."
There was a long pause in which Bakura absorbed that and tried to imagine himself saying that to Anzu and her reaction. He shivered, revulsion for himself churning his stomach at the thought of how much pain that would cause her.
"So..." He murmured. "I love her."
Just then, there was a snarl of voices and torches were hurled towards them from the hidden pathway that led to their cottage. Bakura and Malik leapt to their feet and knocked the torches away, stomping on them. Bodies came souring towards them, loud shots erupting from them. Without having to debate with themselves, the thieves darted towards the shed to get their weapons. They had weapons hidden all throughout their home, but as they had only so much time, they went to the shed instead.
The assailants split up, a small majority moving into the cottage and the others facing off with Bakura and Malik. Both males felt their stomachs clench in horror and looked to each other, mouthing, Anzu...!
Anzu heard the shouts in her half-sleeping state and scrambled out of bed, peering out of the window quickly to see Bakura and Malik dash towards the shed and retrieve their weapons. Four men moved into the cottage and she felt her hands become clammy, realizing that she would have to deal with them herself. She quickly crossed the room and grabbed her bow and the quiver of arrows Malik had given her. With shaking fingers, she tied on her wrist guard and shoved her bone guard on her finger before creeping towards the door, guiding it open.
During the past days, Bakura hadn't sparred with her, so she practiced on the bow and Malik taught her the essentials she needed to know if they were attacked. She had memorized it, knowing that he was telling her because they might not be able to protect her. The thought of protecting herself had never entered her mind before since she always had someone watching over her. Now that she actually had to do it herself...
Letting out a breath, she slipped out into the hall and pressed herself into the shadows, listening to the sounds of ugly voices and loud footsteps. She sent a silent prayer to the gods and then removed a triangular flint head arrow from her quiver, settling it against the string. She saw a hulking body move into her line of sight and aimed at its heart and released the arrow. There was a surprised gasp from the other three men as the front man let out a choking sound before crumbling to the floor, dead. All was quiet now, the men searching for their attacker.
Two others came into her sight, back-to-back, and with quick agility, she released two other arrows into the men. Her hands were shaking when she was finished, because the third man was utterly silent and unmoving. She inched forward, moving deftly so as not to make any sound.
Please, please...Where are you? Just leave. Be afraid and leave. She took another arrow and set it against the string, slipping out from behind the wall to shoot the man quickly. Her racing heart almost failed her and it was all for nothing because there was no one there when she came out with her bow prepared. Her eyes skimmed the dimness. Sighing, and convinced that she was safe, she lowered her bow and arrow. Just as she did, she was tackled and knocked to the ground. Her bow and arrow skittered across the ground from her reach and the man pressed the cold, copper blade of his long sword against her throat.
"Well, well, a cute little wench," he snickered. She gritted her teeth as his hands passed over her chest and down to the edge of her nightshirt. "I'll bet those son-of-a-bitches don't like it when someone else touches their girl..." Her eyes widened in fright as he reached down to tug on his tunic. "Heh..." She felt bile rise in her throat as his hand slid up her nightshirt, the rough pads on his fingers scratching against her smooth skin.
No!! Bakura, help me!! She screamed in her mind, clenching her eyes tight against the sight of him perched atop of her.
Abruptly, his hand stopped and he let out a gurgle, as if he were choking. The weight of his body lifted from her and she hesitantly opened her eyes to see Bakura standing above her, his blue-gray eyes dark. He withdrew his axe from the man's chest and tossed it away as he pulled Anzu up. She heard frantic footsteps and Malik came into view, a concerned look in his eyes. It immediately faded when he saw her standing beside Bakura.
"Oh, good," he breathed out. "You got them."
"I got one," Bakura corrected in a flat tone. "It looks like she got the rest of them."
"Mmm..." Malik's eyes lit up with pride as his gaze flicked between the corpses, taking note of the three that had arrows lodged in their bodies. "Very well done, Anzu." She gave a shaky nod. He looked to Bakura and back to her and said, "I'll start the pile outside, Bakura." His friend gave a curt nod, his jaw tense.
When Malik left, it was quiet, the only sound in the cottage being that of his receding footsteps. Anzu suddenly became aware that Bakura's hand was still locked around her wrist, as if he was afraid she would be hurt if she wasn't beside him. She shifted, uncertain, and then moved closer, pressing her chest against his chest. "Thank you, Bakura." His stiff body relaxed and he released her wrist, encompassing her against him. She gave a tiny smile and closed her eyes, wrapping her arms around his waist and snuggling close to him.
"We thought you were dead," he rasped in her ear.
"No...I was fine. I let my guard down, though, or else I wouldn't have been in that position." He didn't reply to that, pulling away. She blinked at him, unable to see his face clearly because of the shadows. "Bakura – " Her words ended when his mouth moved down on hers fiercely with a depth of feeling that he had clearly been suppressing. She might have fallen to the ground if not for the feel of his solid body. He crushed her to the wall, his lips burning against hers. She gave a tiny moan as his tongue skimmed over her mouth and she willingly opened for him. As she had never been kissed before, it was a completely new experience to have his tongue in hers, hot and invasive. It was a pleasant feeling, however, because there was no hesitation in his actions. He was dominant and confident, knowing exactly what he wanted and somehow knowing what she wanted, too.
"I love you," he murmured against her lips in such a simple manner that it might have offended any other women. For her, though, she was soaring over clouds that didn't exist, her whole body rising in jubilation.
"I know," she answered softly. "I love you, too."
Atemu turned as Seto paused in the opening of the balcony. He gestured him forward, turning back to brace his hands on the hard surface. Months had passed since Seto had given him news of his wife's death and although it was true he had never loved her, he had liked her as a close friend. He knew she resented him at some level and knew that she was unhappy. Somehow, he had a feeling that she had been trying to escape him and the life she had been chained to.
"Seto, I have been thinking," he told him in his quiet, rumbling voice. His High Priest remained respectfully quiet. "Out of the two of us, you knew her best. I regret never taking the time to make her happy or to truly listen to her. I put her in some uncomfortable situations and never truly thought about how it affected her. We were both unhappy being married to her...But let me ask you something...Do you think she is happy being dead?" He felt Seto tense beside him and smiled slightly to himself. "Give me your...honest...reply, please."
"...I think she is much happier now, my Pharaoh," he answered in a tone devoid of all emotion.
"I am glad. I had hoped she might be. Now that I know that she is, I can allow myself to be content, too."
"A wise decision," Seto agreed. Atemu turned to look at him and smiled; in that moment, it was clear to both of the males that the truth had been unveiled between them and that there was an understanding that the subject of Anzu's "death" was to never be brought up between the two of them.
(1) "Ra was reborn in the sky, his mighty wings propelling streaks of sunlight through the fading blue of Nut.": ancient Egyptians believed that the dawning of a new day was when Ra was reborn and at night, when the sun set, he died. Nut is the goddess that rises at night – or the night sky, to be put simply.
(2) Khebait dancer: acrobatic dancers that are trained to interpret sounds, forms, colours, and gestures through their graceful movements. They are usually hired at a noble's party.
(3) dhow: small Egyptian boat with a lateen sail
(4) Pygmies: dwarfs that were African and for the Pharaoh's amusement
(5) Valley of the Kings: Pharaohs burial ground near Abydos.
(6) Festival of Opet: begins a month and half after the start of the new year at the height of the Nile floods, when the weather is at its most sultry. The sacred part centers on the ceremony in which the gods of the Theban triangle – Amon, Mut, and Khonsu – are taken by boat from Karnak to Luxor, where special rites to ensure a fertile agricultural year are performed. At the end of the festival, the statues are taken back again to Karnak by river. There are parades where people put on fancy clothes and sing and dance through the streets.
(7) starboard side: right side – I seriously did not know this until I did this story!
(8) deben: money in ancient Egypt
(9) soap: ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and combined animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create a soap-like substance.
DIS: I felt it would be weird if there wasn't something about Atemu near the end. I know that most of my fics that set in ancient Egypt have some naughtiness to them, but a reviewer of my last one suggested I keep it out and I decided to keep it out of this to see how people liked it. In any case, I am SOOOO sorry it was this long. (Thirty-two pages on my computer!!) I can't, for the life of me, make a short one shot set in ancient Egypt. In any case, please leave a review telling me how you liked it. Ciao!