And finished. This one will now join the completely re-posted pile. Thanks for sticking around.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
The next few weeks were almost unbearably busy, as the royal house prepared for the burial of one of their own. No sooner than Avaris had taken his leave, with a promise to make the arduous trek to Egypt at his first possible convenience, and a small skirmish between Egyptian soldiers and Hyksos citizens erupted in one of the outlying villages. The people were quickly calmed, but the pending threat caused Atemu to move a contingent of men in closer to the royal city under the pretense of helping to rebuild one of the small farming towns that had suffered much damage due to a fire that had started in the fields. Whether it was deliberate, or not, was still under investigation.
To add to the burden, whispers of an uprising circulated throughout entire the country, unnerving royalty and peasant alike. But nothing concrete had been established by any of Atemu's spies, no one person to blame for their existence. And so the funeral had gone on as planned, the need to for closure outweighing any thoughts of peril. If anything went wrong, the infantry division of Atemu's army was just beyond the next rise, giving assistance to the villagers of the burnt town – close enough to provide reassurance, yet far enough away to allow the mourners some semblance of privacy in their grief.
Although Hyksos burial customs were slightly different than what he was used to, Atemu, along with the other Egyptians, did his best to keep up with the unending chaos. And as their group stood out on the plains, not far from the palace itself, watching the last of the mud bricking being packed into the opening of the tomb that would now be Anzu's final resting place, the Pharaoh mused on his young lover's sister, and her part in all of their lives. True, he hadn't known the young lady very well, but what he had known of her impressed him greatly. Had she lived she would have been a very valued member of his court.
However, the lives of mortals were left up to the gods' discretion, and for some reason they had felt her presence no longer needed in the realm of the living. A cooling breeze drifted across his face, and Atemu turned his head towards its soothing presence, wondering if, perhaps, it was a gift from the girl who had not long ago crossed to the other side, giving her appreciation for his thoughts.
The group stood in the bright, shining sun, their eyes lined with tears as they gave Anzu's closed-off tomb one last, longing look. From the distance a faint dissonance could be heard, its unusual presence pricking at Atemu's ears. He glared at the general direction the noise was coming from as it continued to grow slightly louder in volume with every passing second. And then he rolled his eyes, glancing over at Marik, mentally cursing all the rowdy villagers to perdition for their need to create a ruckus on such a somber day.
It was only as he met Marik's widened gaze did he happen to realize that the festival ushering in harvest was not to be held until the week after. By that time the din had become so loud that it almost drowned out Marik's sharp intake of breath. It sounded as though it came from just beyond the next gentle rise, from around the sides of the palace.
"Son of a –!" Marik spat, reaching for the sword strapped across his back as he eyed the corner of the palace where the noise seemed to be coming from. "Pharaoh, Yugi, we must retreat! Seto, you know where our men our, lead them out...I'll follow behind!"
No sooner than his head guard had spoken those words and Atemu caught sight of a massive horde of people flying around the corner of the wall surrounding the palace grounds and down the hill towards them, many carrying pitchforks and other objects that would do damage to whomever they were aimed at in their high-held hands. Their intentions were clear, and as the horrified Pharaoh glanced around at his own pitifully unprepared group, it didn't take long for the others to recognize their threat.
Yugi blanched, his face taking on a white sheen. "Oh gods, the baby is still in the palace!"
"There's no time!" Atemu grabbed his hand, half dragging him towards their horses. "We'll have to trust that his nursemaid has the sense to seek out safety."
With a mighty heave Atemu tossed Yugi's slight figure up onto his mount, gathering the reins of his own stallion so that he could mount as well. But as he sought to pull himself up onto the horse's back he heard Yugi's shout of alarm, and glanced in the direction the younger teen was pointing. A gasp of dismay left his lips as he caught sight of what looked like their nursemaid rounding the opposite corner of the palace wall, running for her life with a small bundle held tightly in her arms, a smaller crowd of stragglers hot on her heels.
He then whipped his head around as he felt Yugi's horse wheel around and bolt in the direction of the young woman racing from the palace. His heart leapt into his throat, time slowing down, the roaring shouts of the crowd fading away to a murmur as he realized his lover's intent. "Yugi! No!" He shouted, momentarily frozen in astonishment.
A red mist faded the corners of his vision, breaking him free of his temporary paralysis and he grabbed a fistful of his horse's rich black mane, hoisting himself up onto his back.
"Seto, Jou, take Ryou and Malik – gather our troops and meet us at the ridge!" He yelled as he wheeled the horse around and bolted after his lover's fleeing form, calling back to Marik, Tristan and Bakura. "Protect Yugi! He'll never make it!"
And then he bent low over the horse's flying mane of hair, willing them to go faster, to overtake his charging lover before the crowd surrounded him. He knew what Yugi was attempting to do; he was trying to save Honda and Anzu's baby from a terrible death. The peasants who had revolted would not distinguish between a small child who was not responsible for their plight any more than they would spare the lives of the elderly and the infirm who had taken residence in the palace shortly after Yugi had returned. They were on a terrifying rampage, and anyone in their way would meet with the gods.
As he slowly closed in on Yugi's determined form Atemu whispered a fervent prayer to those gods, hoping that they were indeed looking down on the scene and that they would intervene before he lost the one who held his heart in his irresponsible – and undeniably brave – hands. He bit back a scream of rage as his younger lover made it to the fleeing nursemaid, realizing that he was still entirely too far away to prevent the villagers from descending upon them.
"Hurry!" Yugi held out his hand to the young woman who had become his nephew's nursemaid. The crowd was only seconds behind her, and closing fast. Oh gods, he was too late. They were all going to die!
She scrambled up in front of him, her hands tangling in the horse's mane just as Yugi kneed his mount into motion. What happened next was a complete blur to all those involved. Yugi felt a hand snatch at his shirt, just as the horse reared up in fright, villagers crowding around from all sides with weapons held at the ready. He tried to keep his seat, struggling against the hands that clawed at him, a sharp pain pierced his leg, and suddenly he was thrown to the ground, his horse gaining its freedom with the young woman clinging precariously both to it and the baby at her breast.
Atemu saw it all, his blood pressure soaring at the sight of his lover disappearing into the angry mob of villagers. He was only seconds away, he had to get there in time, he just had to! Yugi had done nothing to these people who had so violently turned on him; in fact had fought for them against the tyranny that his father instigated. With an enraged cry the Pharaoh urged his horse on even faster, only to be passed by Marik's shrieking form as the head-guard shot into the midst of the crowd, Honda close on his heels.
The group converged on the crowd, slicing and hacking, horses trampling anyone who happened to venture too near their hooves, trying to get to the boy who had disappeared into their midst. An unpleasant shock radiated from Atemu's sword hand as he clashed with a scythe that one of the villagers had raised against him, and he gritted his teeth against the sudden urge to drop the weapon. But he refused to let go, he would not give these men the advantage that came with losing his sword. With a quick flick of his wrist he threw off the scythe and brought the hilt of the sword down on the man's head without thinking twice.
The battle raged on, Atemu taking out all those within his range, hacking his way closer to where he had seen his lover disappear, but the noise level seemed to grow louder and he disengaged from an enraged farmer, quickly running him through to glance up at the main crowd who had now spotted the melee and were heading straight towards them. The extra soldiers and guards that Marik had thought to station around the palace were nowhere to be found, and Atemu had the sneaking suspicion that they had been set upon by an even larger part of the mob that had not yet made it behind the palace.
Where were Seto and Jou? Had they even made it to inform the soldiers of their peril? His heart sank with the thought, as he turned away yet another weapon aimed at his heart, dispatching yet another villager with a short slice of his sword.
As he spied this new crowd of angry villagers he redoubled his efforts to get to Yugi, praying that they could escape with their lives. There was no way they were going to be able to hold them off on their own.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Blood spattered and bone tired Atemu sank to the ground cradling his lover's still form. Exhaustion set in on him as the rage flowed from his body, as though escaping into the ground below. He was shivering, trembling from head to toe. Did he even want to know if Yugi was alive? The boy hadn't so much as moved since he had found him lying prone on the ground, trampled and bloodied.
Atemu gave a harsh cough, ending in a deep sob, as he brought the cherished, silent form of his lover up against his chest. Listening intently for a breath, for a sign, for anything that would indicate that the gods had heard his pleas. His eyes closed, he tried to concentrate on hearing his lover's heartbeat.
A minute passed. Two minutes...
"I cannot..." He rasped, his eyes hopeless as they clashed with those of his friends. "I cannot...feel him..."
The baby that Yugi had fought to save began to wail piteously in the near silence. Atemu closed his eyes, feeling the threat of tears, his fingers still searching for a sign that his little one lived. Each beat of his heart reminding him of what he could not find in Yugi's still form. What now? Could he go on now? What he truly wanted to do was die. To go back to the glade where he had lost sight of his little one, and offer himself up to the rampaging crowd, to death. He had no other reason to go on living.
He could still hear the noises of the battle from where they were, a contingent of his men having come to their aid just as the bulk of the villagers had reached them. But it was too late. It was all too late. He had hesitated too long.
His hands stilled, tears trickling down his face. Yugi was gone, and had taken his will to exist right along with him. Bemusedly he wondered if his friends would let him go with the flow of his thoughts. Would they let him commit suicide by mob? Large, angry tears slipped past his lashes to pool on his chin, dripping into his torn and dirty clothes, onto Yugi's bloodied, upturned face. So still. So perfect. Why had the gods taken him?
The group surrounding Atemu slumped to the ground in varying degrees of shock and defeat at the announcement, the baby's crying a shrill reminder of what they had lost. The battle had been fierce, but they had found Yugi before the main group of peasants descended upon them, and they had prayed that perhaps he was only unconscious as they snatched him from the hands of the mob. A tear trickled down Ryou's face as he gazed down at his friend's battered form, his lip quivering. They had lost Honda early in the fray, only to catch sight of his mangled body, neck bent at an awkward angle only the dead could achieve, as they fled the battle.
And now it looked as though they had lost Yugi too.
The young nursemaid began to sob loudly, cuddling the tiny child to her breast in an effort to comfort herself as well as his squalling. Malik choked back a hoarse sob, leaning heavily against Marik. Bakura wrapped Ryou up in his arms as the boy broke down. But nothing prepared them for the anguished cry that Atemu let out as he buried his head in Yugi's still, broken form. It was eerie, heart-wrenching, a cry of mourning, of loss. A sound that none of them had ever heard uttered from their Pharaoh's lips.
"I want them destroyed! And I want what is left of this country demolished! No mercy!" Atemu snarled, as Seto approached the group with the troops that he had gathered, having spotted their group on the top of the rise. "They shall learn the folly of earning my ire for this stunt. And lastly, I want the perpetrators of this incident brought before me when I return to the palace. Their heads shall adorn the pikes as a reminder of that lesson till the flesh has rotted from their bones."
Seto bowed before his king, his eyes tearing as he stared down at the beaten form of his Pharaoh's treasured lover. "As you say, so shall it be done, your Highness."
Jou skittered to a stop next to the group, having been delayed by his stubborn mount. But when he spotted Yugi's still form held in Atemu's arms, heard the orders the Pharaoh had given, and the tone in which they were given, he let out an agonized shriek, bolting towards the pair only to have his lover snatch him just shy of his goal and wrap him up in a fierce embrace. He fought the hold furiously, his desperate cries adding to the chaos.
And as his friends grieved for him, Yugi struggled towards consciousness, trying to take a breath against the steel band that wound around his chest. He woke to the sounds of his lover's anguished cry, and his best friend's answering scream. He heard the orders his lover had given to his men. And he needed to make his presence known before they were carried out.
Exhausted, sore, and completely humbled by the sounds of Atemu's sobs, and the saltiness of the tears that dripped down on to his face, Yugi fought to hold onto what little consciousness he had, opening his mouth to make them aware of his state. But Atemu was too far gone to comprehend that he was moving, and the man was not letting him breathe. Finally he choked out a breath, pushing feebly at the strong arms that held him so tightly, but his pitiful attempts had no effect. Of course it might help if his body responded to his brain's commands, but for some reason it just would not obey. That left him no choice but to attempt to communicate his discomfort in other ways.
"Please...don't do this Atemu..." He coughed, praying that he could be heard above his friend's wails of mourning.
With the last of his strength Yugi pressed a shaky hand against Atemu's heart, praying that his lover would understand, but before Atemu could answer he slipped back into the comforting blackness.
It was that hand over his heart that caught Atemu's attention. His eyes widened as he realized its importance. "Yugi?" He questioned softly, settling the boy onto the ground and pressing an ear to his chest, praying hard. As he felt the shallow rise and fall of his lover's erratic breathing Atemu closed his eyes to give a brief prayer to the gods, and apology for not believing in their powers. His little one was alive! Barely, but with even the smallest sliver of life there was hope, and he would hold out until it there was none left at all.
"Here, let me see him." Seto commanded gently, removing Yugi from the Pharaoh's constricting grip.
He moved away, Marik holding Atemu back against his will to follow the priest, and set Yugi gently down on the ground. His eyes traced the gash in the side of the young consort's leg, the bruising on his face in the shape of a foot, the bloody tears down his arms and across his chest where his clothing had been ripped apart. He followed the shallow breathing, marking softly with his hands the bruises that marred the pale skin, feeling for broken bones and internal injuries.
After giving the boy a critical once over Seto eyed his ruler. "His left leg shall have to be reset, his broken ribs bound. It is the wounds to his head that worry me. I shall make an offering to the gods for his survival, but it is all I can do."
By now the rest of the group had gathered around the high priest, awaiting his prognosis. Disentangling himself from Bakura's bruising grip Ryou shuffled forward. "Let me care for him, your Highness. I have practice in dealing with the wounded."
Atemu eyed the white-haired teen solemnly, beseechingly. "Please Ryou, bring him back to me. Do not let him die."
A swift, sure nod was Ryou's response as he began directing Jou, and Malik on what supplies to gather in order to patch Yugi up so that he could endure the ride back to Egypt. As the group of former Hyksos fulfilled their missions Seto reassured Atemu, coaxing the anxious ruler to speak with his troops instead of getting in their way. And after the third attempt to draw him away from where they were working on Yugi's unconscious form the high priest snatched his Pharaoh's arm and dragged him, protesting, from the clearing.
Once out of sight of the group on the hill Seto rounded on his younger cousin. "Atemu, enough! He is alive...but if you insist on being in the way he might not be for much longer. Let them do what they need to. All your presence would accomplish is to make Ryou nervous, and disrupt their attempts to heal him."
Atemu chewed thoughtfully at his lip, with another longing glance at the rise. "That I do not wish to do. But 'tis not my wish to be parted from him either, at such a critical moment. I want to be present when he opens his eyes; I wish for him to speak of his love for me, to see him breathe evenly and know that he will be alright."
"Atemu..." This time Seto's touch was gentle as he tipped his cousin's chin up so that he could meet his tearstained eyes. "He will live. And you shall be able to do that and so much more here soon, but now is not the time. Meet with your men, give them their instructions, and let Ryou and Jou do their work. The gods' will shall be done, and he will live long and healthy, as you shall. Have faith."
Atemu turned his head, wiping the evidence of tears from his eyes. "You are right, Seto. I should have more faith in their powers. Come, let us meet with the men, and dispatch this little rebellion."
Smiling as the glazed look left Atemu's eyes, at his return to his normal business-like manner Seto shook his head and followed behind his Pharaoh. The meeting was brief, the men already understanding their mission before the words even left their leader's mouth. In fact, they were ready to go, showing their impatience with the shuffling of their feet. Seto hadn't even finished his blessing and they were already making their way to their mounts. He could see it in their faces; no one, but no one hurt their Pharaoh and got away with it.
He almost felt a stab of pity for those who had instigated the riot. Their death would not be pretty, nor would it be swift. Egyptian pride was great, and these people had stomped on it carelessly. No, this was not going to be pretty at all. He could practically taste the soldiers' lust for blood, their need for retribution.
After watching the men ride out towards the battle Seto turned his eyes towards his cousin. Atemu needed some patching up as well. Young or not, he had done their country proud, carried himself well throughout the skirmish. Their men would finish this; it was time for them to head home.
"It is time to leave this place, your Highness." He stated.
Atemu nodded solemnly. "That it is."
And as the two of them made their way slowly back to where the rest of their small group had gathered, Atemu turned to his cousin in the dying light. "I wish to thank you for everything that you have done for me Seto. For reminding me of who I am, and of my duties, and of my faith. Once we return to Egypt I wish to have Yugi rule beside me as my equal. Would you take care of the ceremonies for me?"
"I shall do that for you." Seto nodded. "Would it be too much to ask if...well, Jou and I..." He stammered for a moment, unable to force the words out.
A slender hand was set on his shoulder, squeezing lightly. "I understand what you are asking, my priest, and I shall allow it. Your happiness is worth the chiding we all shall take from Akunadin, and that is all he needs to know. Let us end this. I shall meet with the troops standing by on our way back; let them know they are needed here."
Seto nodded silently, his gaze drifting over to where the others were still busy preparing for their departure. It had been understood from the first moment of rebellion that it was time for them to go home, back to Egypt. There was nothing more they could do for the country of Hyksos that couldn't be done from the safety of the palace itself.
"Come." Atemu commanded, turning to make his way up the hill without waiting to see if his priest would follow.
And follow Seto did, the two of them seeking out their lover's forms in the shade of the trees. It appeared that in their absence not only was Ryou able to patch Yugi up enough to endure their journey, but that the others had been busy making a sort of stretcher to attach to the back of a horse in order for him to ride comfortably. Ryou explained the contraption as the pair approached the group, letting Atemu know that he was to ride with Yugi and keep them appraised of his condition.
The last of the preparations was made with little to no words exchanged, Atemu enduring Ryou's attempts to patch him up silently, his mind on the future.
As Ryou gathered his discarded supplies it dawned on him that neither he nor his brothers had any belongings left to take with them to their new home, and the knowledge was startlingly somber. A few of them took one last glance towards their former home as they mounted up to leave. Belief in the gods, and trust in Atemu's judgment told them it was well past time for them to move on. It just felt so wrong, to give up, to let the rumors and the tyranny of Yugi's father and his cohorts win over what they knew in their hearts was right.
"You are not giving up on them, Ryou." Atemu stated when the younger white-haired teen expressed his misgivings, settling the blanket around Yugi's sleeping form. "They shall be assimilated into our country, and treated no worse than the other Egyptian citizens. We have done what we could here, 'tis time to take a different approach to this dilemma."
Ryou gave it some thought before nodding his head in agreement. "You're right. It just feels like we're giving up by leaving them like this."
"This too shall pass." Seto remarked, reining in his horse so that he and Jou could be a part of the conversation. "And we shall all be wiser for it."
"Yeah, and it's not like we're leaving them to those idiotic aristocrats." Jou nodded.
"No..." Atemu glanced around at the group beside him. "They are finished. They shall all be apprehended, and marked for the traitors that they are before they are put to death. 'Tis up to Yugi whether their families live or die, but those who instigated this farce – their fate shall be decided by me."
"Why not by Yugi too?" Malik questioned from his perch atop Marik's horse. "Doesn't he have a say in it?"
"Insofar as it was his life they tried to take, no he does not. My anger against these men will not allow me to wait until he has awakened to decide their fate. When he has recovered I shall value his input, but this demands immediate retribution. I have not remained on the throne for as long as I have by putting off the punishments of those who have sought to harm my people or discredit me as a ruler." Atemu returned, his eyes hard even as they sought out Malik's for understanding.
"I understand, and I don't think that Yugi's going to have a problem with that, your Highness." Malik capitulated thoughtfully.
In the wake of his silence Atemu thought to further his explanation. "I do not seek to undermine his authority, Malik, but he is not awake, nor will he be aware enough to make these decisions when they need to be made."
"Just so long as you let him know why you made the decisions you did." Ryou spoke up.
"That I shall do. But in the meantime I wish only to bask in his living presence, and not have to worry about the decisions yet to be made."
With that being said the group slowly spread out, knowing that their Pharaoh needed some time alone to think. They journeyed through the night, slowly making their way across the changing landscape, heading towards home.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~
Those in the antechamber of the Pharaoh's private rooms were treated to the rare sight of the Pharaoh himself breaking off in the midst of his conversation to rush out of the room.
"What is it, little one?" Atemu skidded to a stop beside the bed that had been Yugi's prison since the moment they had made it to the palace.
Yugi pouted, putting on a convincing act from the moment his lover's feet had crossed the threshold, pulling at the loosely tied restraints and he allowed the crocodile tears to well up in his eyes. His voice pitiful and designed to stir sympathy. "Please let me go, love. I promise I won't try to walk all the way to the throne room without an escort again until I'm fully healed. Please...!"
Atemu chuckled softly, leaning in to place a kiss on his lover's brow. "No, you will not. And this is how we are going to make certain of it, little one. I am sorry, but until you learn to behave you shall have to deal with your punishment."
Yugi only pouted all the harder. He could see Atemu weakening against him despite his strong words to the contrary. "Please..."
"Is it really wise to keep him tied up like that?" Humor was evident in the ancient voice that sounded from the opposite side of the chamber where Solomon had entered, his brother's trailing behind him.
Atemu shot Yugi's grandfather a look just as the pair of elderly men broke out into laughter. "Insomuch as he has been found wandering the palace instead of keeping to his bed until he is fully healed; yes. I would say 'tis a wise decision."
"But I was bored...and lonely...I just wanted to be with you." Yugi's pout was turned on full blast. "I miss you, Atemu...please let me go?"
Atemu gave a long, heart-felt sigh, turning to release the cloth that held his lover in his bed. "Very well then, but only if you promise to stay put."
Once his hand was released Yugi captured Atemu's wrist in his, staring into his eyes, pleading for him to understand. "Only if you stay with me for a little while. I don't like it that we're sleeping in separate chambers. I need you...here...with me."
A loud guffaw was heard from across the chamber, some incomprehensible muttering following on its heels as Sugoroku handed a heavy pouch of gold coins over to his youngest brother.
"I told you he would give in without a fight." Siamun crowed, earning a glare from Atemu and Yugi for his gloating.
Sugoroku only continued to give his brother the evil eye, until Solomon commented that they would be needed to fill in for Atemu, as he was not going to be back in court now that Yugi had put his foot down on the subject. And so the three elderly men filed out of the room, bickering amongst themselves, oblivious to the glares that followed them out.
"I swear to all the gods..." Atemu shook his head with a wry grin, and then turned his attention back to Yugi, stroking his face gently. "You know why our sleeping arrangements are thus. I would not have you re-injured by my restlessness – "
" – either you're here, or I'm there." Yugi stated calmly, eyebrow raised. "I'm not going to die because of your tossing and turning...and besides, that's the reason you get so little sleep. So decide."
But before Atemu could so much as open his mouth he was pulled down into a warm embrace as Yugi made the decision for him. Any thoughts of objection were promptly smothered by a pair of feather-soft lips on his and the Pharaoh only sighed in contentment. Everything else could wait, he decided, his little one needed him here. And here was the only place he wanted to be.
The pair cuddled up together on the bed, Atemu running his hands over Yugi's body, ever mindful of his injuries, as he ran through the affairs that needed his attention. Jou and Seto's small ceremony was to be held after the last of the harvest festivities, and Yugi expressed a desire to attend.
After mulling it over for a few moments Atemu relented, with the stipulation that Yugi would not be walking anywhere and that the injured royal was to obey him when he said it was time to rest. Of course this started a debate that went long into the evening hours concerning stubborn Hyksos, and annoyingly high-handed Pharaohs, that had the pair laughing until they cried.
Life was finally as it should be. Sure they had lost friends along the way, but they would see them again, in the afterlife. Now was their time, and they planned to make the most of it.
~ o ~ O ~ o ~