What should have been: take 4!

Chapter 15 – page 324

The Pharaoh jerked forward in shock as he felt the touch of a malevolent presence against the back of his leg. It slithered up the side of his body leaving a trail of coldness where it came into contact with his skin. A shiver ran the length of his spine at the chilling sensation. Even though he couldn't see it he could feel it, hear it; smell it even. The essence of evil seemed to permeate the very air he breathed.

And he was afraid – more so than he had ever been in his life.

The ground trembled beneath his feet every so often, making him constantly aware of the danger that was drawing ever nearer, even as his men scurried to complete the tasks that he had set them to. He feared that this was one battle his Khemet would not withstand. The sheer hopelessness of their situation nearly overwhelmed his mind, and he shook with the consequences of what would become of their world should he fail in his appointed task as guardian of the black-lands.

In an effort to calm his desperate thoughts he turned his attention to overseeing the placement of their artillery. Shadows surrounded the landscape as far as the eye could see, making the set up difficult – if not impossible – but still his men persevered. Here, in this barren wasteland, was where their final stand would take place, far outside the border of the royal city. Should the demon make it past their defenses all hope for the world as they knew it would be lost.

Their only reprieve lay in the ancient scrolls that Hm-nTr Seth had retrieved from the wreckage of his father's tomb. If his High Priest couldn't decipher them then their world would most likely return to the dust from whence it came – for they had no other recourse but to fight until there was not a one of them left to resist.

"Pharoah!" He turned his head as a welcome voice reached his ears. Now if only his Priest had the answers he sought…

"ARG!"

The furious clicking stopped and letter by letter the words on the screen began to disappear even quicker than they had formed, courtesy of one slender finger resting on the delete button.

Once the screen was blank the owner of that finger thrust his hands into his unusual tricolor hair and tugged in frustration. Damn it all. He couldn't do this. He couldn't! The colors on the screen blurred together through his tears, as if mocking him, and he turned away from his newest failure to stare blankly out at the dismal sky in an attempt to gather his scattered thoughts.

He had been on this chapter for so long, attempting to string together another thread, put together another thought. It wasn't as if he hadn't imagined this scene in his head at least a hundred times in the past two weeks. But after everything that had happened in the past couple of days he couldn't find the words to describe it. And at that moment he wasn't sure if he would ever be able to.

The icy rain drizzled down the frost laden window, its persistence only adding to the melancholy atmosphere of the room. And in the gloom a lone teardrop trickled down the side of his face as he reflected on his past mistakes and a future that had once looked so bright to him, if only for a short time. A choked sob cut through the near silence.

It shouldn't have been this way. Not like this. The whole situation was wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong! He slapped his hands down on the desktop, fighting for control over his unruly emotions.

Writing was supposed to be his emotional outlet. But how was he to relieve his stress through the characters if he couldn't seem to form a coherent thought, much less write one down. Why couldn't he get this to come out right? Why was this so hard?

"Why can't I get this right?!" He cried aloud into the room, as if expecting an answer. And in a way he got one.

It's your fault! Your fault, Yugi Mutou! It was your stupidity that did it. You killed Ryou! You!

"No! G-go away!" Yugi cringed, lashing out against the niggling little voice in the back of his head that had, for three days, plagued him to distraction for all of his poor decision-making over the past seven months. But really, what other choice did he have at the time? "I-I didn't do it! I didn't…" He choked back a sob and gave another violent tug to his hair in order to relieve some of the pressure that threatened to tear him apart from the inside. "It wasn't my fault…please…I didn't do it…"

After a few tense moments he managed to untangle his hands from his hair, allowing them to drop to the desk, where he laid his head down on top of them, tears flowing freely down his face to form a puddle on the expensive oak. He couldn't think, he couldn't breathe. The pressure was killing him. It was tearing him apart.

Why did every choice he made in life come back to haunt him in this way?

The only thing he wanted out of life was a friend. It was the only thing he ever longed for – someone to talk to, someone to share interests with, someone to listen, and maybe for them to confide in him as well, despite his weirdness. And for the last year and a half he had been in heaven, his wish granted in the form of a shy, soft-spoken white haired teen named Ryou that had been living in the last foster home that he was remanded to before he was able to scrape up enough money to file for emancipation.

But thanks to his stupidity, and one judge's decision that he was not responsible enough to take on the burden of caring for another, Ryou was lost. Taken from the world by his own hand.

For a moment Yugi thought he would choke on the bitterness. It was all his fault! Maybe the judge was right. It was his big mouth and rash decisions that brought about this tragedy, after all. His fault. He should have been the one to pay for his own mistakes. Not Ryou…never Ryou. Tears flowed relentlessly and the petite teenager pounded his head repeatedly against the desk in an effort to relieve his inner pain.

If only he could finish this story, the one they had both worked so hard to bring to life. Then, maybe he could find peace with his friend – join him in the abyss – find him in the next life. But he couldn't…not yet. He had obligations.

He had promised. Promised to tell the story, to find his spot in the limelight, to make something of himself – even if it was only for a moment or two. He owed Ryou the completion of this pledge before he joined him, even if it meant that he now had to deal with a character that was solely based off of his friend's ideals and personality.

It wasn't fair; Ryou should have been able to see this through to the end, to see the character born of his own imagination become an icon. They had made so many plans for when he would become a famous author. And now that he was here...

Without Ryou.

He cringed again. Sometimes there was no silencing that little voice. But it had been his decision to take his signing bonus and strike out on his own. And it had been his – and only his – decision to file the motion for emancipation three months later, after the story that Ryou had handpicked to send to the publisher hit the big time, when he got the massive bonus check in the amount of $253,000 for coming in tenth on the national best-selling list.

It was his decision to leave his friend behind – sort of.

He dropped his head in his hands with a silent sob. Ryou…Ryou, who had always been there with a bright smile and a kind word, despite the pain that he kept so well hidden from prying eyes.

He sniffled and closed his eyes wearily, one more silent tear slipping from beneath his lashes as he remembered what he wished so badly to forget. That day, the beginning of their dreams, the beginning of their plans…the beginning of the end. Why did Ryou have to pay for his mistakes?

He gripped what was left of the shredded envelope in his trembling hands, as tears rolled down his pale face. He hated his life. He hated the foster care system, hated the officials that always looked down their noses at him, as if he were a piece of dog shit smeared across their polished courtroom floors.

And most of all, he hated the families that took him in – not to give a stable, loving environment as they claimed – but for the measly amount of money that the state wanted to pay them for his keep.

He sighed, closing his eyes. Alright, so maybe he didn't hate anyone. But right now it sure felt like he did – even though he did understand their motives. He understood that everyone was just trying to get along in this cold, unfeeling world. His hands clenched uselessly. It's just…just…why did they have to step on him – and others like him in order to do it?

He was so close to having enough money to file for independence. So close. Or he was, anyway, before his newest foster mother learned about his talent for writing – or rather the pay that came with it. Maybe it was his fault. Maybe he should have found a better hiding spot for his cherished acceptance letter and signing bonus than in between loose floorboard in the tiny room that he was made to share with three other boys.

Someone was bound to come across the envelope eventually. He knew that. But he had figured that, since no one other than himself and his three roommates ever ventured into that far into the room, his treasure would be safe for a time. Now he was out almost twelve hundred dollars due to that mistaken assumption, and it remained to be seen whether or not he would be out the rest of the money that came from his illegally signed contract.

If he were honest with himself, he would have to say that he hated tattle-tales most of all. Well, okay, maybe not hate – but an intense dislike at the very least. Oh god how was he going to tell Ryou?!

Shaking himself out of the depressing memory of almost a year ago he let out a pathetic sniff, wiping the rest of the tears on the sleeve of his brand new shirt and turned the laptop off. It was no use now. He had nothing to give to this story right now. He couldn't concentrate to save his life.

Or anyone else's…

"Stop it! J-just s-stop it!" He cried out to no one in particular as the tears threatened again at the internal reprimand.

A listless glance at the clock told him that he still had another twenty minutes before he had to deal with his twice weekly torture that most students called English Lit. For a moment he wasn't sure whether he was relieved or not. It would bring him a most needed break from his nagging conscience, but at the cost of what was left of his sanity. His professor was a real slave driver.

For a couple of seconds he actually considered skipping the class completely. No one would blame him with what he had been through this week. And the class really wasn't worth much to him now. But again, it was a part of his promise to Ryou that he would get his degree. And he was quite certain that no one would give him the homework assignment that he'd miss if he didn't go. Rarely anyone talked to him as it was.

Just like high school – only more expensive.

He had always had a hard time making friends. Being two grade levels ahead of a person's age tends to isolate them a bit. And after his first novel was published and his pen name was declared a literary genius life became even tougher.

To the avid fiction reader his books were like a work of art, flowing seamlessly from romance to mystery, horror to heartbreak without losing sight of the characters true personalities. But to the foster families that took him in after his parents' untimely deaths he was an anomaly. A petite, slightly feminine child who rarely spoke, preferring to spend his time with his nose buried in the legends of the past as if that alone would bring him closer to his long lost loved ones.

He was often looked at with pity by those who became his temporary guardians – and scorn by the rest of the foster charges that shared the household as well as the students in whatever school he attended. He had nothing in common with anyone his age.

But when he met Ryou that day it was like the two of them clicked together – almost like two consecutive pieces of a puzzle. They had so many things in common. Besides both being children of archaeologists, both of them were enamored of the ancient Egyptian culture. And both of them were orphaned around the age of ten.

But it was their combined interest in the legend of The Nameless Pharaoh, a young royal who had saved his world from certain destruction – giving up his life in the process – which had brought them together. This story was born of a well-known Egyptian legend that they both had heard long ago and fell in love with.

This story that he was working on was to be the culmination of their combined love for ancient history and the Egyptian culture. But now there was no one to share the victory with when their prized creation was finally unveiled to the public.

Yugi grimaced at the thought. Ryou…Oh god...Ryou...I'm sorry...

His sullen gaze lowered to the oversized, blue school uniform that had been handed down to him from one of the family's previous foster children. It was two sizes too large, making him look as if he were swimming in his clothes, faded and literally coming apart at the seams.

According to his foster father with his diminutive size he was lucky to have been given one of the boys' uniforms rather than a girls' – which was almost the same thing, really, the cut of the jacket being the only difference. He hadn't found the man's insinuation very funny at the time, and still had a hard time finding humor in his inadequacies, even though everyone else seemed to.

Oh how he loved being on the shorter side of life. High school uniforms didn't cater to people of his petite size. This travesty was literally all he had to wear. Even at home.

Unless, of course, he had a court date or Family Services was coming over for a surprise visit. Surprise. What a laugh, he smirked sourly at his reflection. They always announced their visits. And on those days he had real clothes to wear, not this noticeably poor attempt at saving money. Every home was the same. This one would be too, of that he had no doubt. A forlorn sigh escaped his lips at the thought.

"Don't worry about it so much." Another solemn face appeared in the mirror beside his. "You get used to it after a while."

"Really? When?" Yugi softly questioned the other teen, wondering why he had chosen to talk to him. No one ever talked to him! He was too good at making himself invisible.

The pale, white-haired teen gave an imperceptible shrug before walking away. "When you learn to stop caring."

Not long after that moment that he learned what it was like to have a friend. A true friend. Someone to share his deepest, darkest secrets with – and have them share theirs in return. Why did he have to bring up the subject of taking Ryou with him? If it weren't for his big mouth maybe his friend would still be alive…maybe…

…"What in the hell did you do now?" Ryou hissed quietly when they were out of earshot.

"Nothing, why?"

"I've never seen her so happy, yet almost…feral, in my life." The white haired teen replied. "So give over, what'd you do?"

Yugi kept his gaze on the ground. "I submitted one of the stories as a historical fiction to that Tri-Star publishing you found."

Ryou paused in his walking to stare at the other teen in astonishment. "No 'effin' way! You really did it?! You really turned one of 'em in?! Which one? Wow! I didn't think…So then what happened?!"

"I sent them Destiny Preordained." Yugi blushed fiercely as he tried to answer the other teen's rapid-fire questions. "They gave me money, said they wanted more."

"The legend of the twins?! That was one of the best ones!" Ryou sucked in a breath. "I told you you were good! I'm proud of you man…but what's she all up in arms about. This's got nothing to do with her!" Ryou angrily jerked a thumb back at the house they had just left.

The smaller teen's shoulders drooped. "She found the money from my first check."

"Oh." Ryou shook his head, marveling at his friend's newest misfortune. "I'm sorry. I take it they spent it and now want us to respect their new property? Damn, I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it. It wasn't your fault. It was Arlen that ratted me out. He saw me try to hide it. I didn't think anyone was around when I hid it. But I guess he was…somewhere." Yugi's gaze drifted back towards the ground.

"That little jack-ass!"

"Yeah, but they took the book!" Yugi smiled at him, and for once it reached his eyes. "Mr. Jamison, when he asked for rights to publish said that they were impressed with the whole story in general. And it was all thanks to you! Thank you for finding that address. I don't know if I would have had the courage to even go looking for it. You're the greatest friend I've ever had!"

The smaller teen gave him a quick hug and Ryou embraced him back with a grin. "I always knew you had it in you. Good for you Yugi."

"So…you comin' with me?" Yugi asked hesitantly.

Ryou squeaked once before catching the smaller teen up in a bone-crushing hug. "I thought you'd never ask! Hell yeah!"

So now here he was, a famous author with two books on the best-selling list, and another partially complete story waiting in the wings – a story book ending for someone who had lived with nothing for so long. But the sacrifice had been so great…too great. Amethyst eyes clouded over again and Yugi quickly grabbed the remote, switching on the news to try and take his mind off his torment.

"– In other news today archaeologists believe that they have found evidence of a previously undiscovered tomb tucked against the cliff-side in the Valley of the Kings. There is even speculation that this tomb may belong to the Nameless Pharaoh that, as legend would have it, saved the world from certain destruction 3000 years ago –"

Danger!

Yugi's hair stood up on end as he jerked his head back in fright. The hissed voice had sounded so real, so near. He shot up out of the chair instantly, searching franticly for the owner of that eerie voice that he had heard in the completely vacant room. That voice had sounded so real. But there was no one there.

In fact, there was no one else in the quaint little two bedroom house that he had been renting for the past couple of months. By the time he had finished scouring every inch of the place for an intruder – and finding none – the anchor woman on the television had gone on to different, and less exciting, topics and his heart had slowed to a more acceptable rhythm. For a moment he thought he was going to have a heart attack.

Yugi pondered the coincidence of having that particular tomb being discovered before glancing at the clock. It was time to get ready if he intended to go to class, once again rethinking skipping out. He flipped the television off, shakily making his way out of the tiny room and into the even tinier bathroom. He tripped the light switch and flinched at the ghostly-pale figure that stared back at him from the hazy mirror over the sink.

When was the last time he'd had the presence of mind to clean?

His reflection looked horrible, that fact refused to remain hidden by the haze distorting the mirror. Enormous bags circled underneath blank, defeated amethyst eyes, his complexion bordering on a pasty white with the exception of the newly forming bruise where he had banged his head against the desk.

The blonde bangs that hung into his slightly child-like face were split and dry. The rest of his hair, which probably would have stood straight up had he the time – and the desire to actually care for it – drooped in black swirls around the nape of his neck ending in faded reddish highlights.

He sure as hell didn't look like a best-selling author. In fact he looked more like a vagabond. Small wonder no one liked him, he was such a freak. If only Ryou was here, maybe…Abruptly he turned on the faucet and splashed his face with the cold water. Was there anything that could take this pain away? Even for a moment?

Yet another tear slipped down his cheeks to mingle with the water and he let it go for the time being. If only he could change the past. If only he had said something, done something different, or maybe not said anything at all. But would it have changed anything? Anything at all?

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Unknown to the petite youth he was being observed, his pain and turmoil clear as day to the one who watched over him from afar. And she was distinctly unhappy with what she was seeing. She brushed a tear of her own away and murmured a brief, calming prayer into the still waters of the viewing pool.

"I knew I would find you here…" A commanding voice echoed around the cavern. "Isis, why is it that I always find you here brooding over the pool? What's done is done. There is nothing you can do now."

"I was just checking on the young one…" The lady addressed glanced over at the shimmering brightness that heralded the appearance of another of her kind with a solemn smile on her face. "Do you not realize that in each lifetime they seek out each other's company and stay together until they are forcefully separated? One has already fallen and I do not feel his presence in the afterlife this time. Soon he too shall follow in the other's footsteps. The evil of the past is awakening, and I fear there will be no one with the power to stop it this time."

The brightness shimmered closer to the pool, for the first time actually peering into the reflection of the sobbing teen. "It appears that he shall…"

With that useless comment the lady lost her temper, rounding on the other being with an unmistakable snarl. "Of all the…What will it take for you to admit that we were mistaken? This is our fault. Our fault! We should have interfered before it got to that point. He was one of us. They both were…Or have you forgotten that fact."

"We are gods. We do not make mistakes," the other being snapped. "You dare accuse me of forgetting who they truly are? They both chose their path millennia ago…and it wasn't here with us. Their need to walk the earth is the source of this whole mess. Apophis would not have dared approach either of them if they had stayed where they belonged. He is not strong enough."

Isis pushed away from her uncomfortable perch beside the pool, wandering around the cavern, her gaze lighting on the many stalactite formations of the cave, anywhere but on the being who had spoken so harshly of her only son, as she wrapped her arms around her form.

She understood her elder's obvious reluctance to contend with this matter but this was so unfair to those who were caught up in this catastrophe not of their making. And if her vision of the future came about it would be more than just her child and his rival that suffered. The evil from their past was about to make its presence known again.

But until Re admitted to their blunder there was nothing she or the others could do. He was their leader, the one they looked up to for advice and difficult decisions. If he had a problem with what she wanted to accomplish then there was a good chance that The Creator would deny her what she sought without even hearing her out. They needed to present a united front before requesting the almost impossible.

"Everybody makes mistakes. Even the gods." Isis replied softly. "Everybody."

"If we were in the wrong by staying out of it, do you not think that Ptah would have brought it to our attention at the time of our error?" Re countered with a casual wave of his hand.

"Bah," Isis dismissed irately, "He is the Creator. He need not voice his opinion on any of our doings. If we are wrong he would expect that we right the situation, but he will not interfere. You, of all beings, know this. You are often guilty of using the same tactic." She turned to face the other being, but found his attention immersed in the viewing pool for the first time ever.

"He never chastised Horus for his need to walk among the people, nor Set…no matter what his thoughts." She whispered gently.

Re blinked away his heavy thoughts. Isis had spoken so softly that he had nearly missed her comments in his distraction. The sight of one of their own in such a sorry state was startling, and he was almost stricken speechless. He had never looked directly into the pool, preferring to leave his fallen friend to his fate without looking back. But this time he had caught just the slightest glance of what was left of his old ally, and found himself unable to look away from the pitiful sight.

Eventually Re found his voice. He nodded his acknowledgment, deeply disturbed with the thought of what his disregard of the entire situation had wrought. "…Thus I do know."

"…Please, my lord. The human realm needs their savior. I cannot foresee the outcome of this fight as anything short of a catastrophe without his aid…without their aid." Isis' words trailed off as she perched at the edge of the pool, awaiting her friend's decision after presenting her case. "There are no options left…"

"It is a pity that he split his soul and allowed one half to be destroyed Isis, but it is not our world any longer. We are merely bystanders. As for Set…I refuse to make any concessions on his behalf. If it were not for his direct involvement this would have never come about in the first place…even if he did recant his ways towards the end."

"But if you could…" The lady's tearful plea was more than Re could stand.

The luminous being sighed deeply. They had had this discussion many times over the millennia, and each time he wondered if they had done the human realm a grave injustice by refusing to interfere on their behalf. "Very well, I shall request an audience with the Abrahamic God. If…and I say IF he agrees, I shall request an audience with Ptah. You know how much I hate this. This is His time."

"It would mean the world to me. I can see the young ones' futures with their other halves. It would mean a great many changes, but none that would affect the Abrahamic god's rule." Isis bowed graciously. "I wish for my child to return…even if only in pieces…

"I will do what I can. But I will not promise you what you desire. It is not for me to decide."

With a flare of brightness the being was gone from the room, leaving the other to contemplate the fates of her two fallen companions were the others agreeable to her plan.

"I do hope they take kindly to this idea." She whispered softly to herself.

The lady stood as she glanced around the desolate cavern. For so many years she and others of her kind had been left, forgotten. Their world shattered by the evil that had tried to make its way into the human realm. And that evil had left its taint on mankind. If only they were allowed to undo the one mistake that had been theirs to make – to let one half of the Nameless Pharaoh be completely and utterly destroyed.

It had been the down fall of their race.

Perhaps they would have the chance to rectify the situation. All she could do now was hope and pray.