Chapter Twenty Six
Interlude: Atem's Lone Days
To most people, being King and ruler of a whole country might sound like a tempting life of luxury. After all what else could be expected when you were rich, powerful and, to top it all, worshipped as a living god? Well, to the disappointment of all said people, it was sadly not like that. Because, honestly what good was there to the titles and the money when you could not have the one thing you considered most important? What good was there to being the bloody Pharaoh if I cannot even keep a friend, never mind something more?
To be quite blunt, all I wanted to do at the moment was walk to the nearest wall and repeatedly bang my head against it. Perhaps that would improve my common sense a bit…certainly could not make it any worse that it is already.
How could I have been so stupid? What is wrong with me and my loud mouth? I had never had trouble speaking my mind, or being eloquent about things, always phrasing them in a way that would not only make my point clear but avoid conflict or unnecessary offense to others, but with Harry…well, everything was different when it came to Harry.
The magician turned Priest had been a point of interest to me since his very arrival, because to be honest how could finding a Sa-Ra not be interesting? But with time and a lot of it spent together, that platonic interest had turned into much more. I grew used and attached to the time-traveler, enjoying our talks to the point where I snuck out of the Palace more and more frequently to meet with him at the gardens, and I was always looking forwards to our spars and practices. Any little amount of time I could spend with Harry was blessed.
I had never meant for it to happen, never even dreamt it could happen. It had started slowly and then, one day, the realization of my feelings just leapt at me with the strength of a charging bull and from then on, it had been both bliss and torture to see the wizard every day, so close and still so unreachable. And it was only made worse by the fact that I am so very inexperienced in anything of this nature, since I had never during all my years of life felt anything remotely close to what I feel for this foreigner fallen from the sky.
I fought it at first, of course, convinced that it was not right to feel like that for a friend, and not helped at all by the fact that said friend was male, I argued exhaustively with myself, spending long and sleepless nights locked in my room, pacing and thinking. In the end, it had all been useless, I was unable to stop it and even deny it.
Still, as frightening as all these new feelings were, they were also very…warm. I felt more hopeful for a brighter and better day, and my mood always lifted almost immediately whenever I so much as glimpsed at the young man who unknowingly held my affection, the mind-numbing tasks I had to put up with everyday became less grueling and mostly just an obstacle to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently before spending time with the other. All in all, it was probably the best time of my life.
And then it all went up in flames.
I almost flinched as he remembered the exact phrasing of my little talk with Harry, and had no trouble admitting that it sounded less that good for me. But it wasn't like that, and the magician had to know that! He had to know that I wasn't some self-centered tyrant willing to just tie him down like that to keep him like some sort of pet. I love him, for Ra's sake!
But the magician did not understand that, could not for some reason, and that broke me worse than anything had before, even Father's death or Mahaad's own passing. It was worse because all the light that had appeared on my world when I first found out my feelings towards Harry did not only go out, but actually became cold and bitter darkness, biting and snapping at the vulnerable heart whenever it got the chance.
That day, when Harry ran out after declaring that he could not even look at me, I felt such devastation and despair that I was almost sure I was dying. I went after the magician of course, tried to follow him and apologize immediately before it all became worse, but the negative emotions were too much and I felt simply unable to face my beloved, too ashamed of myself for not seeing what was right in front of me, for not understanding the other's plight.
Instead, I located Shada and asked for the Priest to direct a search of the missing magician, explaining only that I had made a mistake regarding Haru and would very much appreciate it if he could bring said young man back to the Palace safe and sound. Shada had returned successful of course, but I still did not dare to go back to the magician and apologize.
The next day was spent in careful thought and meditation, not only regarding my own mistakes, but also going over the newly revealed truth of Harry's origins. At first, I could simply not believe that something as strange as traveling through time could be possible, almost convinced that Harry had perhaps made that up just to keep his secrets safe and my questions answered with lies. But I could simply not think so lowly of my dearest friend and in the end acquiesced that such a thing might be possible, after all am I not the holder of an Item whose power should also be impossible?
I then found myself wondering about what the future would be like, what the years between now and Harry's time would bring for my kingdom. I was very much tempted to track down the magician and ask him personally, the temptation of knowing what the future held was almost irresistible. But I fortunately faltered. I can still easily remember all of Isis's warnings about the dangers of looking too deep into the future, of the way nothing was truly set in stone and the future was more like a river whose currents could change for the smallest of reasons. Sometimes it was better not to know and for now, I was content with knowing what little I did, even if I still desired to know more about Harry's life, if not the future itself.
Once I thought more deeply about it, it really was no wonder that Harry had seemed so very lost during those first few days in my kingdom, it must have all been completely unfamiliar to him. But then, the magician had endured and adapted to a culture he must view as primitive to his own, had gained a rightful place amongst them and had even seemed content with it. Still, in the end, Harry probably wanted nothing more than to return home and never see Egypt or its Pharaoh again, and I could not blame him for that.
That day was a complete nightmare. I spent so much time thinking of Harry, the mistakes made, the unknown future the magician came from, and finally about what in the name of all gods I was going to do about it. It was no wonder that I was distracted and almost unresponsive the whole day, leading to my Court worrying not only over Harry's suspicious absence but also for their Pharaoh's well-being. In the end, Shimon had insisted I return to my room and rest. The old man was not willing to risk the Pharaoh's health and seemed determined to take care of everything in the meantime. Ra bless you, Shimon.
In my distraction, I did not really pay attention to all the speculative and perhaps even calculating looks Akunadin sent my way. But then, even if I had been more attentive, I would have probably dismissed it as Akunadin's usual strangeness and overprotective behavior to both myself and my kingdom. It would only be much later that I would find out how wrong I was.
It wasn't until the next morning that I finally saw the raven-haired magician again. I made my usual trip to the gardens, a tradition I could not break even these days when the only reason for said trip seemed perfectly content to hide away in his rooms. Imagine my surprise when I actually found him there, sitting a bit tensely in front of one of the many ponds that decorated the royal gardens. I think it must have been a couple of minutes that I stood there, just looking at him and trying to remember how to properly breathe. Ra, I had it bad.
It was his sudden attack against the pond that woke me up from my Harry-induced trance. I walked closer, paying attention to his facial expression, so full of grief and anger that it pained me. I never want my Harry to have to suffer like this and if I could, I would take all that away from him and carry whatever burdened him myself. Yet, all I could do was try to make him understand, try to make the emotional load a little less by bringing some knowledge to diffuse his confusion.
I told him I thought he was as angry with himself as he was with me. Perhaps not the best opening line, but it was true and that is what counted most. His answer made me wince and I almost retreated, leaving him to his solitude if only to spare myself anymore pain. But I did not desist, I could not, not when there was the slightest possibility that we could put this misunderstanding behind us.
I explained then. I told him the reasoning behind my actions, which I will admit were rash and thoughtless at the time. He did not believe me at first, of course, and I would have to admit that, were I as angry as he seems to be right now, I probably would have reacted the same way.
I had to contain a sigh as I offered him my help finding a way for him to go back home. It hurt me to say that, and the hopeful look on his face didn't help matter at all. Did he really want to leave so desperately? But I care for him way too much to let something like my selfishness stand in the way of his happiness. I said I would let him go and, if there comes such a time when he asks me to, I will.
And still, I do not want to give up, I simply cannot give up. So I tried a last resort, I asked him for a chance. Once he had calmed down and seemed to accept my apologies and explanations, I mentioned the possibility of there being something between us…well, actually I think I was almost begging by that point, but I really could care less about my dignity when something like this was at stake.
Perhaps the gods finally heard my prayers, or maybe it was just a dash of good luck after such a long record of tragedies, but he agreed. He agreed! I am pretty sure I could have danced of happiness right then and there, but I barely contained myself and expressed my joy with a single kiss. It was a mere kiss on his cheek, but by Ra, it was bliss both infinite and temporary. I think I could get used to this.
We embraced and stood there in my gardens…our gardens. And for just that moment, all was well.