Cheyenne: I didn't abandon you, I promise! Shit happens, and let me tell you: when the hard drive to your laptop fries, you know you're in trouble.
I'm sure you all know the drill by now, yes? The English class I am totally not posting this in does not belong to me. It belongs to the school board and I claim no ownership.
YGO! is an entirely different matter. For one, I'm not wishing it would suddenly explode :)
... Yeah, it's not mine either. Sorry for the wait, and have fun with this!
Thanks to Natoya for her amazing beta work of betaness!
This chapter is supposed to be confusing as all fuck.
Reviews = Insta-love!
Yuugi was up in an instant. His amethyst eyes, so wide and innocent, were narrowed in a look of pure determination. He didn't know if adrenaline bursts could come in this form, for indeed, he had never felt one with this kind of intensity, except for maybe once.
But dreams did not count, and the young pharaoh was forced to concur that yes, his dream had been just that. A dream.
And yet some things still lingered. He could taste the thief still: a mix of exotic spices and herbs all combined into something that threatened to drive his entire being mad.
Another lingering thought concerned the other's eyes. Oh, his eyes… those eyes he'd thought he'd never see again; the eyes that he had watched close as blood of a matching color poured from the wound, soaking the young pharaoh's hands and tunic as he screamed for help.
But had he really screamed? And why was he thinking this now? It did not make sense; he could not even begin to fathom why.
And yet, the hope still sparked in his chest. Perhaps the thief could love after all? Or was he just deluding himself? Were his friends right? Could Atemu really care for another human being after the life he had led? And was Yuugi really willing to risk the friendship of those he had grown up with? Laughed with? Played with?
The answer was surprising, yet simple. Yes. He enjoyed the sound of that word. He shivered at the mere thought it, for it empowered him.
He would risk it. He would risk everything for him—this man who had saved him, and yet tried to kill him.
It was almost terrifying, what he was suddenly willing to risk for this man.
But had Atemu really ever tried to kill him? Yes.
Yes, he had. That time in his room. But he hadn't. Yuugi had been sleeping. He wouldn't have been able to stop Atemu at the time, for he had been lost to the world at that time; lost in the murky land of his nightmares.
But the thief hadn't done it.
One, two, three. The burning of his cousin's village, his decision to let Yuugi live, and the battle.
The battle that had caused Atemu to wind up where he was now, in the med bay, sleeping.
A thought struck Yuugi then. The three strangers he had seen: the one in red, the one in purple and the one in tan. He knew who they were, yes, but what he didn't know was how they had gotten in and out.
He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of this before. Atemu's gang had been in the palace, and—
He paused, if only to let his frazzled-looking High Priestess catch up to him, watching her with a bemused expression. Upon hearing word of the thief's awakening, Yuugi's vision had swirled until he suddenly found himself on a frantic mission to Isis' healing bay. He had ignored the shocked expressions of his friends and their frantic calls in favor of what his mind was telling him.
He wondered if Atemu would be glad to see him at all. After all, it was his fault the other had got that sword shoved right through him.
Isis was looking at him funny. Yuugi assumed he had chuckled out loud at that last thought.
"My Pharaoh," Isis panted as she slowed. "What is so funny?"
"I was just thinking, Isis. Poor thief, impaling himself on a sword to save me. He hates me, you know. I think he's tried to kill me."
Isis looked like she was about to fall over so large were her eyes. Yuugi chuckled again, feeling slightly dizzy by this point.
He figured it was just the adrenaline.
"Don't worry so, Isis. I'm still alive, aren't I?" He upped the pace, wondering why Isis was still jogging when she was so much taller than he. "Malik doesn't think I should be. Aww." Yuugi pouted as Isis sent him another wary glance.
A sharp glance.
"Pharaoh," she corrected herself. Yuugi sighed; arching a brow lightly as he stopped just outside of a wooden door, arms crossed as he looked at is High Priestess.
"I am worried about you, Pharaoh," Isis said at last. "This man… he is just a thief."
"Mmm… tell me, Isis—what has the Tauk showed you lately?"
Isis was silent.
"I thought not." The petite pharaoh then held his hand out, pushing the door open lightly as he walked into the room, amethyst eyes searching until they rested upon the figure who was currently sitting up on his pallet, leaning on the glyph-covered walls with one knee up and an arm resting on said knee while one of the slaves tended to a wound on his other arm.
"You should still be resting."
A lazy turn of the head, and then those brilliant crimson eyes were focused on him and him alone.
"It is hard to rest, Pharaoh. I fear I gave away something I can never reclaim. A thief is not used to giving things away, you know."
"And what have you given away, hmm?"
"Very nearly my life, I suppose. I am guessing I have you to thank for this luxurious care?"
Yuugi suppressed a purr as Atemu arched his own brow, even the smallest movements languid. It wasn't fair, really: the man shouldn't be so damn tempting so soon after waking up for the first time in days, after being mortally wounded in battle.
Yuugi wondered if this mood he was in was just a result of his strange dream.
"You would be right," he replied.
"Your High Priestess looks less than pleased."
A pregnant silence penetrated the room as Isis scowled lightly. Atemu ignored her, though a slightly pained look crossed his face as he shifted his position, resting his head against the wall with a barely audible sigh, his eyes drifting shut.
"He still needs rest," one of the young slaves whispered, feeling his brow. "His body is much too hot; the wound has exhausted him completely." She looked at Yuugi, dark brown eyes large and solemn. She couldn't be older than thirteen, he was guessing.
Yuugi shook his head as the girl addressed him, sounding scared almost, like he was going to have her arrested and thrown in jail for even speaking to him. It was a logical claim, he supposed, for such past deeds had been executed without thought.
"I suppose, yes," Yuugi said at last, straightening his spine as he inclined his head. Atemu had cracked one eye open and was looking at him strangely. The young pharaoh looked down, a blush coloring his cheeks. "Yes, he should rest." Yuugi silenced Atemu with a look when the thief/slave looked ready to add in a comment of his own.
"In the meantime," Yuugi continued, "I want him well cared for."
"Is my life not worth anything to you, Isis?" Yuugi hissed, but he felt a large surge of guilt at the taller woman's solemn expression. She was just trying to protect him in her own little way, he knew. He also knew that he was being completely unfair, especially with that last remark. Isis valued his life above her own, as did the other High Priests. The fact that he had just said…
"Look, Isis, I didn't mean it," Yuugi mumbled, looking down. He suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Atemu standing there, not looking at him but at Isis.
"I will make this as easy as possible for you. I give you my word."
Yuugi's eyes widened at Atemu's statement. "You should be in bed!" he whispered furiously. Was it possible for someone's feelings to change so quickly? Or had it been something gradual—slipping by him unnoticed before rearing its head and pulling him down into the swirling depths of this new and strange emotion?
He enjoyed it, though. He enjoyed the warm feeling that seemed to spread from his chest all throughout his body. He didn't want to let it go.
Isis blinked slowly and calmly as she studied the looks between the two men, her eyebrows nearly shooting up into her hairline. She wasn't going to pretend that Yuugi's comment hadn't been hurtful and unexpected, and she was once again reminded of just how much the young man had changed. They had nearly grown up together, him being best friends with her brother Malik.
How quickly things can change.
She turned as she felt someone else enter the room. Mahado was standing there, the Sennen Ring draped around his neck. Isis inclined her head, nodding lightly. Mahado didn't reply, choosing to watch the scene in front of him instead. He looked almost saddened—regretful. Fearful. His expression puzzled the poor priestess, who was stuck standing there like the awkward third chariot wheel.
"Mahado, my friend. What puzzles you so?" She said, gliding over to the other keeper, who finally turned and acknowledged her.
Isis didn't even need to look to know to whom he was referring. Them obviously meant the former thief and their pharaoh, who seemed to be arguing lowly about something. Every now-and-then their voices would rise, though it was anyone's guess as to what they were actually talking about. The once-thief looked indignant a few times, and Isis' ears caught Yuugi sighed in that exasperated manner of his, like he did whenever he was beginning to lose his patience with something. She thought she heard her name once or twice, but dismissed it as her own paranoia.
"Not really?" Isis echoed, frowning lightly at the man's comment. Mahado shrugged dispassionately.
"You're looking for an explanation for the pharaoh's sudden change in behavior, are you not?"
Isis sighed. How did he always do that? It was the same way with the others. Kalim, Akhenaden, Shada… Of course, those three had been sent away on separate missions to bordering cities on Yuugi's orders the fourth day after the battle. He didn't like sending them away, but the tiny pharaoh knew that the powers of the Sennen Items might be strong enough to keep an enemy partially at bay. At least long enough for them to get a message out.
Mahado nodded right before he turned around, walking back out of the room. "So am I."
That scared Isis more than anything.
"Priestess?" She was brought back to her senses by a low voice, and she turned to see Atemu staring at her analytically. She forced her usual calm demeanor on, and with a barely noticeable nod, granted him permission to continue.
Not that he needed it. He was the single most disobedient person she had ever had the misfortune of meeting. Ah, still, she supposed he had his moments. She wasn't going to pretend it wasn't amusing to see previously High and Mighty nobles brought to their knees by a single slave.
The palace walls glittered as per usual, the golden columns decorated with richly painted hieroglyphs and depictions of their gods and goddesses.
The Pharaoh sat on his throne, his expression weary as he tilted his head up and to the side, exhaling loudly. The seven high priests and Isis, the single high priestess, were clustered around in their usual formation on the floor, down the stairs that led up to their deigned sovereign.
The thought brought a faint smile to her lips, even though it had little to do with anything.
"Atemu has agreed to abide your decisions. If you tell him to rest, he will." It was Yuugi that spoke then, earning him a vehement glare from Atemu, as well as a low growl.
Clearly the crimson-eyed other was not happy about this arrangement, but he'd play along.
But for how long?
"All right," Isis said at last. She then looked directly at Yuugi, her eyes sharp. "I trust you."
Hours later, the sky had darkened. The streets of Memphis were alive with torches and laughter coming from the many taverns. But in the actual streets themselves, the only figure in sight was one wearing a loose cloak with a hood. Egyptian nights were chilly, after all. Hurrying along, this figure paused at the door to one of the taverns before a shake of the head was seen. The figure then turned, moving further down until he came to a rather quiet building in one of the more remote areas of Memphis. Breathing out a small sigh of relief, the figure lightly pushed open one of the doors, slipping in before the hood was removed, revealing a bald head where a wig would usually rest, as was the custom of most nobles. Wigs made going out in the sun less of a challenge, especially when it was so hot. The rest of his face was rather plain, though if you were to look at this man in a crowd, you would find it was hard to look away. There was something there that held your attention.
Now, however, he just looked nervous.
The room he had entered was widely spaced and dimly lit. In the few sparse tables sat some sullen looking patrons, sipping their drinks and never looking up. To his far right, maybe more towards a corner, there was a bar-like thing, where the wine was made and stored, he supposed. It was the brightest part of the room.
The man swallowed, taking one step forward—a step he could easily hear above everything. There were no jokes, no laughing… just the occasional hushed conversations and stares as he glided past, his head held high.
The man halted, the hairs on his neck prickling as he recognized the voice. Without further breaking stride he slid over to the table with the lone figure, biting his lip as he sat down in the chair. The figure across from him chuckled, causing Tepemkau to look up.
The other was shrouded almost completely in the shadows, and though Tepemkau could tell the person had the hood of their cloak down, he could not distinguish any physical features. In fact, the outline of their head was rather odd. The sides made it seem like their cloak had been left up, even though he could tell, even here, that it had been removed. He growled. He was getting fed up with this person.
"I'm here," he said at last. He could see the figure's head nod, the outline of it bobbing up and down slowly. He saw a hand reach out, a golden ring on one slender finger as the other grabbed a goblet, pulling it back.
"I see that, Tepemkau."
"Why did you call me?"
"To warn you of course."
"Warn me?" Tepemkau's eyes narrowed. The figure shrugged.
"Indeed." The figure took another drink. "See, remember those instructions I gave you? I took care of them. Opportunity presented itself; I wasn't about to turn down such a… promising business proposition. I just need to finalize it." The figure laughed, causing a couple of the other people in the bar to turn and give them looks.
A serving maid wandered over. Her cheeks her hollow and her voice was raspy. Her dress looked way too big for her and her hair was cut in uneven chunks.
"Can I get you something?"
"Yes, actually, I—"
Tepemkau's eyes narrowed. The girl nodded, sensing the finality of the other person's voice as she wandered towards one of the other tables.
"I was thirsty," Tepemkau said tightly.
"Sucks to be you then, huh?" He could tell the figure was smirking just by their satisfied tone of voice. The figure then stood, but their hand was extended, telling Tepemkau that the same courtesy didn't extend to him. He would remain seated. But suddenly the figure leaned forward, pulling Tepemkau by the front of his cloak into the shadows.
"Now listen to me carefully, Tepemkau. My instructions for you have changed…"
The bar was back to its hushed interior only moments later. But as the strange figure pulled their hood up to leave, the councilman swore he could again see a faint gleam of silver before his elusive contact vanished once more.
The days passed uneventfully. He'd eat, he'd sleep, and he'd subject himself to the priestess' iron-like looks as she and the other slaves moved about to make sure he was comfortable. Occasionally the young Pharaoh would visit, apologizing every time he missed a day or so. Truth be told, Atemu was surprised. He hadn't expected the Pharaoh himself to visit, especially with all the work he figured Yuugi must have to do. Still, the amethyst-eyed young man continued to stop by, and Atemu found himself relaxing more and more, to the point where he even started to converse normally and with more than just one or two-word answers. Sometimes the image of their confrontation in the hallway would flicker in his mind, the effects causing him to pause whatever he did.
"Knowing what you know, why have you not tried to kill me yet, little Pharaoh?" Atemu asked, his whole body tensing up.
The young Pharaoh stared at him levelly through almost half-lidded eyes. Reaching up, he gently brushed Atemu's cheek.
"You... captivate me," the Pharaoh breathed. "I have never met a person would who willingly insult my high priests and myself without any regard for his own safety; never met a person who would openly stare his own death in the face as you did, Atemu." Yugi's hand dropped slowly, and Atemu turned away.
He did not know what to make of it. His moment of weakness, where his heartbeat had quickened, his breath shortened and his resolve weakened.
No. He should his head to clear the thoughts, focusing on something else.
A question that had been plaguing him since he started becoming more coherent was: How long would it last? How long would this whole thing last? He would not be injured forever, and though the wound would take time to heal, he would get better… unless he died. And that was a very real possibility he faced every day. Death. He had learned not to fear it, but there was a part in every man's mind that wondered how the end would come.
Atemu had long since accepted that his death most likely wouldn't be a quiet one; that it would most likely be by a sword or a rope, respectively. Such was the life of a thief. Old age was something very little of them reached. Once your bones started to fail you, rendering you unable to steal or do anything, you were as good as dead. There was no pity for the poor, and he did not expect any. From anyone.
But he was wrong. It was a rare thing, to be wrong, yet it seemed to be happening more and more. He was wrong about the attack that had led to his capture, though how the palace guards had found out still remained unclear, and he was wrong about… this palace. In general. He had been wrong about his punishment—he had expected death, and had been denied. He had been correct is assuming what everyone thought of him, but found that, to his surprise, not everyone made him feel unwelcome. Sure, he got the cold shoulder from many nobles who, along with the guards, seemed to delight in tormenting him, but he had been pleasantly surprised by the reception he had received from his fellow slaves, who had welcomed him with open arms, per se. They had accepted him. To them, he was like a mysterious savior. He was the man who had done what they all wished they could do, and whose followers continued his work.
Bakura wouldn't like being called a follower.
And the Pharaoh. Another thing he had been wrong about. He had expected a hate-filled greeting from everyone in the throne room and had gotten it—from everyone save his cousin and the strange, irritating little Pharaoh. The man who had saved his life, and the man whose life he had saved so many, many years ago.
The impact of his actions still hit him hard. The little boy he had saved from the invaders six years ago—the young boy with the biggest, most innocent pair of eyes he had ever seen—had been Egypt's crown prince. And because of what he did, he was alive now. His actions had finally come back to haunt him, and while some of the results were admittedly painful, some of them filled him with such relief that he found he had trouble breathing.
What if he had left the Pharaoh, then a young princeling, to die? What if he had been taken by the slavers and sold? What would Egypt be like then; with Anzu and whomever she married ruling the country?
He would be dead, he was sure of it. And yet, if he hadn't saved Yuugi, would he have even been caught? What would he have been like if he had not done what he had done?
He knew that, if he had left the Pharaoh to die and gotten caught anyway, he would be dead. And the rush of relief that came with this thought, this acknowledgement that Yuugi was indeed alive, continued to follow him around.
Yes, he had long since recognized and accepted Yuugi's decision to preserve his life.
But he did not like being indebted to another. Was that why he had saved Yuugi when he did? Or had he even been thinking at all? When he saw the sword fall, his instincts had taken over. He had taken the blow and fought back without a second thought. The sheer determination and adrenaline that came with it was enough to keep him fueled but it, like everything he knew in life, had faded away.
And now look at where he was.
But the question still remained: a blessing or a curse?
Lifting his arms, Atemu looked at the bandages still surrounding his torso, where just a week ago, a sword had been. The sword had been removed almost immediately, yes, and he had killed its owner, but the blood pouring out freely, with nothing to staunch it, had weakened his already anemic body.
Then he remembered arms around him and a voice screaming for help. He remembered the rush of battle around him and the calls of those dying and victorious.
And then a pair of eyes looming above him, wide and frantic.
Atemu remembered saying something, apologizing, perhaps, but whatever he had been apologizing for… the list was large. Was he sorry for dying? Nay, but perhaps…
Perhaps he feared death more than he thought.
Did he have regrets? Oh, many.
The strange dream came unbidden to his mind, but he shrugged it off. Pharaohs did not wander their palaces at night; it had merely been a fatigue-induced illusion.
But it didn't explain why he had kissed the Pharaoh.
Dreams were created by one's subconscious, he knew. Sometimes dreams brought forth a person's greatest fear or desire. He had been so used to fear clouding his senses during sleep that dreams had finally stopped affecting him.
Then he had this one.
He turned his head towards the speaker, tilting it lightly to the side. But he did not answer. His eyes were half-lidded and his posture was slightly stiff, but he didn't give off a threatening aura like usual. No, he was just… tired. He felt almost too warm, especially with Ra spilling his light into the room through the windows. Beyond the sill he could see Memphis—an expanse of white houses where the rich lived, and brown for the poor. He closed his eyes, exhaling. His house had been brown. Made out of simple materials—mud, clay… He remembered helping make it…
He snapped his eyes open again, feeling the priestesses' hand on his brow. He did not try and remove it.
"Are you hungry, Atemu?"
"No." His voice was raspy. The priestess frowned again before speaking sharply to one of the other slaves. Atemu knew the girl… Merit, her name was.
He imagined that whoever had named her must have loved her indeed.
He felt something being pressed against his lips and he swallowed greatly through pure reflex. He did not feel hungry.
He continued his silence, holding the cup in his hand, a frown knitting his brow.
"Isis…" His voice was clear now, and the priestess turned towards him as he spoke. She looked guarded. "Yuugi…"
Isis' eyes narrowed, presumably at his use of the Pharaoh's real name.
"Yuugi…" He stared at the water in his cup. Images were forming in it: images of his hometown, burning; his friends, dying; his family, dead.
The room was spinning. He did not like that.
"Someone get the herbs!"
The voices were so far away. He did not pay them any heed. His head moved towards the water cup as the liquid suddenly became as red and thick as blood. He stared at it in horror.
He dropped the cup, watching the bloody fluid seep into the floor as the cup hit with a loud clatter. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the priestess giving orders, but he paid her no heed. No, his attention was riveted on the blood, which was now beginning to take different forms: a man with the head of a falcon and a woman with the head of a cow. Another woman, this one with wings spreading from her hands, and a man with the head of a jackal, were next. Ra, the Sun God; Hathor, the goddess of love; Ma'at, goddess of justice; Anubis, god of mummification.
His eyes narrowed. His body felt hot—unbearably so. He opened his mouth, but the jackal-headed god was upon him. But behind him rose another figure, holding two things across his chest. Upon his head rested the crown of Upper Egypt—or rather, was used to be the crown of Upper Egypt—which was flanked with… something.
The God of the Underworld had come.
Then his vision faded completely, and all he saw was black.
"I can't believe Yuuge would turn his back on us like that," Jou muttered as he smashed his fist into one of the small tables that was placed around Ryou's personal quarters. The albino male himself was sitting by a wall covered in glyphs, nodding every now and then, though anyone could tell he wasn't really paying attention. Truth be told, he was actually looking more towards the window across the room than anything else.
He sighed again.
"That's the twenty-fifth time you've sighed in the past thirty minutes," Malik said. Ryou blinked at him—three times—before sighing again.
Ryou glared at his blonde friend. Malik shrugged. Jou, who had realized they weren't listening to him, turned to the two with a scowl.
"Didn't you hear me?"
"Yes, Jou. We've heard you for the past four days," Ryou said patiently. Malik sniffed and flicked over one of the sennet pieces.
"What? You weren't even playing!"
Jou and Malik glared at each other across the checkered, rectangular board.
"You're too busy griping about what our friend the pharaoh may or may not be doing on his own time."
Jou huffed. "Yeah, well… yeah. Shut up, Malik."
"You wound me," Malik said, rolling his eyes as he flicked over yet another sennet piece. One of Jou's, of course: to think he would flick over one of his own was unacceptable. He only wanted to see how long it would be until Jou noticed it was only his game pieces being strategically removed.
Actually, Malik was beginning to get quite bored.
He threw one of the sennet pieces at another piece, scowling as he missed and instead sent two of his own clattering to the floor.
"Yeah—hey!" Jou scowled as he saw over half his pieces knocked over and two of Malik's on the ground.
"Please don't," Ryou said softly, sighing. "I can't take your fighting anymore. I wish Yuugi was here—he always knew how to stop your skirmishes." The young man stood, wandering towards the surface where he kept his jewelry. He frowned lightly once he reached it. It was still missing. With a shake of his head, the young man sighed. He didn't even remember bringing it anywhere. He had just returned to find it gone with some strange symbol half-carved into the wood where it had rested.
Turning back to his two best friends, the young noble decided that this had to stop. Yuugi was their friend! Yes, he had made a mistake, but hadn't they all at some point? Yuugi didn't deserve this, and they didn't deserve Yuugi's kindness.
Briefly, Ryou felt a flicker of guilt eating his insides. He especially didn't deserve Yuugi's kindness, particularly with what he was doing once every week. But he couldn't help it: Bakura was so addicting.
Ryou shook his head, banishing such thoughts from his mind. "Jou, Malik!" he suddenly snapped, surprising the two squabbling blondes with the sharpness of his tone. "Look at us—we're fighting more than ever now! Yeah, I understand why you'd be mad at Yuugi, but can you really blame him? Our enemy attacked us in our home, and the result was devastating. On top of it all, a man might have died trying to save Yuugi's life, and you know how guilty he feels about stuff that like. It would kill him if that… man, Atemu, had died."
"… Yami," Ryou corrected himself softly. "Yami."
"You all right, Ryou?" Malik asked.
"And wait, Atemu? Who's Atemu?"
"That's Yami's real name, Jou," Ryou murmured.
"What? How do you know that?"
"Come off it, Jou. It's obviously that the word or name 'Yami' isn't Egyptian, and since the thief obviously is, it stands to reason that 'Atemu' would be his name, would it not?" Malik said sharply.
"How do you both know this? Like, how in Horus' name would you know it was Atemu?" Jou asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
Ryou and Malik looked at each other, Ryou surprised that Malik knew it and Malik surprised that Ryou did, before Malik coughed and Ryou said something about Yuugi mentioning it once or twice when Jou had been off doing something.
The honey-eyed blonde looked at them suspiciously before nodding.
"I think we should apologize to Yuugi," Ryou said at last. "I mean… I think… I think he needs all the friends he can get right now. He's been in and out of that med bay for the four days since the thief has been awake… we ought to help him out a bit, you know?"
Malik and Jou grumbled, but they finally nodded, and the three friends excited the room, unaware that a pair of eyes had just watched their every move.
"Right, what we need is a compromise!"
"A compromise, Marik!"
"I'm fairly certain we reached one of those weeks ago. Or have you forgotten already? Wouldn't be the first time."
"Shut up, Bakura."
"I merely state the truth."
"Yeah, your version of it."
"Stop snickering and shut up, Marik."
"And don't call me that!"
"So… about that compromise…"
"We reached one of those weeks ago, little girl. Don't you remember?"
"… That was creepy sounding even by my standards."
"That's pretty creepy, 'Kura. Mayhaps ol' Peggy here is hiding a secret fetish from us?"
"I am not little!"
"Sure you are."
"Shut up, Bakura."
"—And you're not my type, Khemet."
"I don't remember including you in this conversation!"
"I don't remember including you. Really, you're being terribly rude."
"When do you think they're going to notice we've eaten the rest of the food, 'Kura?"
Maybe worrying was a side effect of this strange feeling. Yes, Yuugi had known that, because of the severity and condition of his wound—especially considering where he had gotten it from—there was to be a high chance of an infection. Still, he had hoped the healers would have been able to clean that up.
Trust that soldier to have a dirty sword.
Yuugi clenched his fists and moaned lightly, sliding his eyes open from where they had been focusing on the sheet of papyrus in front of him. The symbols on it had begun to blur in front of his eyes, and finally he told himself it was time for a small break. The fever had been sudden, though he had been in a meeting at the time.
Yuugi grimaced just thinking about it.
"Pharaoh, we really think it's time you chose a wife. Egypt needs an heir, and—"
"I am plenty young," Yuugi said harshly, eyes narrowing as he leaned forward on the throne, the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt resting firmly on his head, as it usually did when he held meetings or appeared in public.
"Yes, sir, we know that, but the citizens of Egypt, sir—they need to be certain of their future. An heir would provide just that!"
Yuugi sighed. He understood where everyone was coming from, but did they not understand that this was too perilous a time for such talk? He imagined that, if the leader of their attackers had a daughter, they would have tried to wed him to her, but luckily for him there was no daughter. His duty to Egypt would have compelled him to marry the girl, even though he knew nothing about it.
And he would have done it. That was what set him off. Not because they said he had to, but because he thought he needed to. Which he did.
Really, it was an annoying little thing, this guilt and sense of duty. More often than not he wished he could be rid of it, laugh and ride out into the sunset, turning his back on his duties as pharaoh. But he could not, and the very thought of not being able to do so when he most wanted to was enough to put him on edge.
And then there was also the matter of Atemu…
"I see your point," Yuugi said, voicing his thoughts from before, "but I don't think this would be the ideal time. The enemy is cunning, as they proved from infiltrating the palace, and I'm sure they wouldn't hesitate to kill any nobles that may or may not try entering the city. At the very least they would kidnap them or rob them, leaving them to die in the desert. I would not ask that of anyone." Maybe that guilt thing wasn't so bad after all.
"Ah, but Pharaoh! We already have a noble family visiting the city! Do you not remember her from a few weeks ago?"
Yuugi stiffened. "Refresh my memory," he said carefully, biting his lip.
"The lady Rebecca and her family," the councilman said cheerfully.
Yuugi squirmed in his throne as he tried to stop himself from jumping up and yelling, "No!" in a loud voice before running from the hall.
"I do not think—"
"She'd be perfect," another councilman said, finally giving the first (and only) speaker so far a chance to rest. "She's young, maybe a couple years younger than yourself, and perfectly capable of bearing strong, healthy children!"
Yuugi squeaked, but no one heard him. Sending a silent prayer to the Sun God—Please, Ra, do something! — he continued to listen to the councilmen as they contributed as to why Rebecca would be a good match.
"I fear I must point something out." Yuugi had forgotten about the Keepers, who had been watching the meeting so quietly he hadn't had reason to believe they were even there.
Well, not that all of them were there, as Kalim, Akhenaden and Shada were off on respective missions while Isis worked in the medical bay, but Mahado and Seth were there, and Seth alone was hard to forget. He was usually adding comments in left and right if he could when it came to matters like this.
Ah, well, at least he was doing it now.
"While the lady Rebecca herself might be a good choice, for she certainly doesn't have the brains to scheme, it seems, her parents are a different matter. How are you to be sure they won't try and seize more power, as is their wont? And the more influence and power they have means the less we have." Seth ended this smoothly, not even batting an eyelash.
"I'm sure that wouldn't happen—we can limit their power."
"But we'd still have to give some of it away," Seth countered coldly.
The councilmen seemed to pause at that.
"At any rate," a third man spoke, "we've already invited them to the palace."
"With whose permission?" Seth asked, voice like steel as his eyes flickered to Yuugi, who was looking even paler than usual.
"Certainly not mine," the petite Pharaoh said, resisting the urge to cross his arms and scowl like the child he still wished he could be. "I certainly wouldn't have approved such a move."
The councilmen—all twelve of them—looked at each other nervously. "Well, you see—"
Suddenly a new figure entered the throne room. It was Isis, clad in her Keeper robes, the Tauk resting around her neck as she moved towards Mahado and Seth, whispering something lowly. Mahado nodded slowly while Seth was tensing up visibly, his knuckles whitening around the rod dangerously. Isis said a few more words before casting a quick glance at Yuugi, dropping her eyes before she said a couple more words and hurried back out of the room, leaving a baffled council and Pharaoh—along with one calm priest and one unstable High Priest—in her wake.
"What happened?" Yuugi asked, trying to keep his voice neutral. He almost cursed when a stray hint of dread and worry managed to work their way into his speech. When he received no answer he suddenly stood, eyes flashing. "Council is dismissed! This meeting is adjourned."
The councilmen quickly filed out, leaving the small Pharaoh alone with his two Keepers.
"Mahado! Seth! What did Isis tell you?" he demanded sharply.
Mahado tilted his head to the side, offering a small but unmistakable nod. "Isis says that the thief has contracted an infection—likely from the dirty blade of his near-murder weapon—and is now running a high fever."
"Stupid Atemu… just jump in the way of a bloody sword why don't you!" Seth growled.
Yuugi blinked, mouth opening and closing like a fish before it suddenly snapped shut. He stood then, eyes blazing, before abruptly leaving the room, his thoughts echoing Seth's growled statement.
He had resisted the urge to yell at the thief when he arrived at the healing ward, Yuugi remembered. Atemu mad merely looked like he'd been sleeping. His face had been smooth and peaceful and his body still, albeit covered in a faint sheen of sweat.
Yuugi glared banefully at the sleeping figure in front of him. "You just had to get sick, huh? Almost dying once not enough? You want me to die of a heart attack along with you?" He sighed and leaned forward, brushing away one golden bang. Isis and the slave girls had left promptly, leaving him alone.
It made Yuugi wonder what they were thinking.
"I don't understand you. I think being here is worse for you! Somehow I get the feeling that nothing like this ever happened to you when you were out there robbing everyone, hmm?" Yuugi arched a brow then as Atemu exhaled sharply, but otherwise did nothing. He kind of stared at the thief for awhile, wondering how it was that sleep was able to bring out the softest, kindest look in everyone.
Except maybe Seth. But then again, he had never watched Seth sleep. That would be kind of creepy.
He could see it now, yes.
"Oh hi, Seth. I just crawled in your window to see if you looked like an absolute prick while sleeping, too."
He could imagine Atemu doing that, and laughing at whatever Seth's reaction would be.
Yuugi smiled. "You'd better get better, my thief," he said, voice soft this time. "Rebecca's coming back. I'm going to need you there for support." He then paused, eyes becoming half-lidded. "Or maybe I just want you there for myself," he whispered, resting a hand on the thief's brow, with was far warmer than it should have been.
He remembered him being warm earlier. Had that been an early warning they had all ignored? He bit his lip, shaking his head. Leaning down, he lightly smoothed Atemu's hair back and kissed his forehead, sighing deeply. "I don't know what you've done to me." His words sounded slightly familiar. "I think you've stolen my heart, Atemu." He was struck by the familiarity of his own speech. "And you know… I don't really mind all that much."
Yuugi smiled at that, eyes sliding shut again as he exhaled deeply, but the peace didn't last, for at that very moment the door to his chamber was opened. Oh, it wasn't forcefully, nay, but it was loud enough to grab his attention, causing him to shift so his eyes could focus on the three people who had just entered the room.
"Umm… Yuuge? We, uh…" A sharp elbow from the white-haired male at his side made the speaker scowl.
The sandy blonde, noticing this, rolled his eyes. "Yuugi?" Malik said. "We've come to apologize."
"I was told I could find you here."
"You were told correctly. Now don't you worry about anything—the deal's been settled."
"It… it has?"
"Yes. Your presence here merely confirms it."
"When can I expect—"
"Tomorrow when Ra's journey ends."
"I see. Thank you for your help."
Then he slipped out of the brightly lit room, ever conscious of the decision he had just made: the decision that would change the monarchy of Egypt and its future.
His future, and the future of Egypt's nobles and Pharaoh.
A future that, he thought with dread, was no longer in his hands.