Disclaimer –"Yu-Gi-Oh!" and all related characters, events, and concepts belong to Takahashi Kazuki and any other related owners/distributors/producers. I get no monetary benefit from this. My benefit is the enjoyment of dealing with beloved characters.
Epilogue – Honor
"There's someone here to see you, Atem."
Atem turned at his mother's voice as the woman let herself into his bedroom, waving off Atem's attendant who had been helping him get ready for bed. Nude but for the oils that kept his skin soft after his bath of natron salts, his hair combed and tamed as much as it would ever allow, Atem turned his back on his mother, arms folding, tone petulant in his irritation with the day overall and wanting it to be over with. "Well, I don't want to see them."
He knew he should have expected it, but still he jumped with a startled yelp at the sharp slap of his mother's hand across his bare bottom. He spun back around to face her, both hands clapping over his bottom cheeks, chin tucking as he met her eye.
His mother shook a finger at him, tone and expression both stern. "Akh-khnum-sa-atem, you will not take such a tone with me. Ever. You may be a son of the King, but you are not a spoiled one!"
Atem lowered his eyes, duly chastised. "I'm sorry, Mother."
He felt his mother's eyes on him for a moment longer, studying him to determine if he were truly repentant, before speaking again, her voice softer. "Now . . . as I said, there's someone here to see you, and I think you do want to see him."
Something in her tone made him look up, and he gasped at the sight of the man who stepped into the room. "F-father? Father!!" Without thinking, he bounced forward, leaping into his father's arms as the man knelt to receive him. "When did you get home? I thought you'd not be back for another month! Is everything okay? Father, I'm sorry for what I said just now. I'm so glad to see you! I really am!"
His father chuckled as he picked him up, standing again and hugging his son to him, one arm under Atem's bottom and the other at the back of his head. "I'm glad to see you too, son. Yes, everything's fine. The business in Men-nefer took less time than we had anticipated, so we came straight back."
It took Atem a moment, but then he registered where his father's hand was, the one behind his head – it was usually hugged across the backs of his shoulders. He stiffened a bit, realizing that his father already knew. He let go of his own hug and sat up straighter, pushing back from his father's chest.
Akh-khnum-ka-nen frowned. "No, son. Let me see." He stood Atem on the edge of his bed and bade him turn around. Flushing with shame, Atem obeyed, looking over his shoulder as his father surveyed the damage. Then, his father's gaze met his, the expression unreadable. "Akh-n-aden told me about what happened today."
Atem felt his heart stop in horror, his face going ashen, and he turned to face his father – and his back, and bottom, away – almost fast enough to lose his balance on the bed frame. "F-father, I-I can explain – !!"
The pharaoh caught his arm with one hand to steady him and held up the other for silence. "I have also talked to your mother and grandfather. Son…" Whatever he had been about to say died on his lips, almost as if he weren't sure what to say . . . though that could not be. Atem's father, the Lord of the Two Lands, always knew what to say and do.
He waited tensely, head bowed, for his father's pronouncement. His mother had not spanked him . . . likely because she had left him to his father to deal with. He suppressed a shudder, suddenly miserable with anticipation.
After a heartbeat, Akh-khnum-ka-nen released the breath he'd been holding . . . and stepped closer to embrace his son again, careful of the welts. Atem stiffened in surprise, then melted into the hug. "Son," his father said, "I know things are not easy for you, especially with your uncle. And I understand that you are frustrated with the fact that there are things no one will tell you – "
"I know, I know," Atem muttered. "Not until I'm older, right?"
Around his father's arm, Atem saw his mother give him a deeply disapproving frown – one did not interrupt the Living Horus – but Akh-khnum-ka-nen did not address the slight, only nodded. "There are many things you do not know – or know of – yet, my son, and many you will not have explained if you do discover them, not until the proper time. Until then, you must be patient. Hold your heart strong, Atem. No matter what others do to you, you must always remember to maintain your own honor, even if you do not understand what is happening around you. Never, my son, never let go of your honor."
Atem sighed, knowing his father was right, and nodded against the man's chest. "Yes, Father. I promise. I just want you to be proud of me."
Akh-khnum-ka-nen stood back, shifting Atem down to stand on the floor, and knelt to be at eyelevel, placing his hands on Atem's shoulders. "I am, Atem. I am very proud of you . . . and I love you. Very much. Never forget that. I love you, my son."
Atem felt the tears come to his eyes for the countless time today, and this time he didn't mind them at all as he threw his arms around his father once more. "Me too, Father. I love you too. Always."
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