This fic calls for an author note in the header! First off, I don't own somewhere between two hundred and five hundred words of this, as I borrowed them from episodes 201 and 202 of the dub. Second, one colon means switching narratives, three colons means a short time jump. Third, I really hope you enjoy because I know that I did!
Princes Don't Cry Over Thieves
Atem leaned an elbow on the arm of the throne and rested his chin in his hand. He gave a sigh of boredom.
"Is there something that displeases you, my king?"
The Pharaoh looked up at his advisor. "No, of course not, Shimon." He tried to give a reassuring smile. The ceremonial Festival of the Pharaohs was grand, indeed, but having grown up around such grandeur, Atem had become largely immune to the pleasures of such lavish events. He sighed again. This festival was not only the marker of his ascension to the throne of Egypt, but also a marker of his utter confinement. From this day on, he would never be permitted to be entirely alone; there would always be someone watching, just to monitor his safety. He longed for his days as a young prince, when he had been able to wander freely. Atem stared blankly at the lovely women who danced before him to the beat of the drums and allowed his mind—the only free piece of him left—to wander into the past…
The young prince lay still in his bed for a long time, listening for the guards to pass outside his quarters. He held his breath as their footsteps grew louder and stopped at his doorway. When they moved on and faded into the distance, Atem threw back his linen sheets and stole out of his quarters in the opposite direction. He did his best to blend into the shadows left by the moonlight that seeped in through the windows high above his head, pausing whenever a guard would walk by, hoping desperately not to get caught. There really shouldn't have been anything for him to worry about—it was his palace, after all—but he knew that should Master Shimon find out that he was sneaking around at night, he would likely receive double the work to do in his lessons as punishment. Because he didn't already have enough pointless work to eat up the time he could be spending with Mahad and Mana. What use did a pharaoh have with mathematics and hieratic, anyway? Wasn't that what advisors were for? The only part of his lessons he found even remotely entertaining was combat, and that only because Mahad was there with him to make things interesting. When Master Akunadin wasn't looking, they would pretend that he was the doll against which they sparred, and that they were skilled enough to defeat him, so long as they worked together.
Atem wished that he had Mahad by his side at this moment, so that they could explore together. But thanks to a prank that Atem had played that evening—for which the ever-loyal Mahad had taken full credit—his friend had been confined to his quarters for the remainder of the night, with guards to make sure he did not escape his punishment. Atem pondered whether the expressions on the guards' faces when he had dumped a jarful of sand on their heads from his balcony had been worth having to explore the dark palace alone. The prince slipped into the nearest shadows when he heard a shuffle coming from his right. He warily looked into the room he had been about to pass, hoping that it had been nothing but his imagination.
It was one of the palace storerooms, one dedicated to food. Leaning against the shelves was a boy with limestone-white hair, eating a loaf of bread he had no doubt lifted from this room. His eyes were closed. He certainly looked like he was enjoying it.
As silently as he could, Atem tiptoed into the storeroom. He stopped directly in front of the thief boy, who was still eating peacefully with his eyes closed. Atem studied him carefully. The boy was lean; his muscles flexed visibly under his skin with every movement. His bare chest was well-defined. Were he clean and not wearing tattered pants cut off at the knee, he might have been something along the lines of beautiful. Atem was so enraptured by the boy that he did not see the tanned, leathery hand that slipped into a pocket, only realized that there might be a knife involved when it was pressed delicately against his throat. His breath caught, and he noted that the thief's eyes were still closed.
"I'm eating," the boy murmured through a mouthful of bread.
"It's not your food to eat!" Atem hissed back, resisting the urge to swallow for fear the knife would pierce his skin.
"And you think that this bothers me?" he replied calmly.
"You're stealing from the Pharaoh's palace."
"And yet in all the time I have spent quieting my hunger, you're the first person to have come upon me. Perhaps you should mention to your king that the palace's security is seriously lacking. Not that he would listen to you, but still."
Atem's face flared in fury. He took a step back and ducked under the thief's arm before tackling him to the ground, sending the shelves he had been leaning against toppling down. "He would." The prince straddled the thief and forced the hand clutching the knife down to the thief's throat. Atem looked into the boy's face with a smirk; he was bewitched by the flat, lifeless eyes that stared back at him. They were the same color as the lavenders of the royal garden, brought upriver from the shores at the mouth of the River.
The thief took the chance to throw a leg around Atem's waist and rolled over on top of him, attempting to use the momentum and disorientation to force his knife down, but to no avail, for his opponent was surprisingly strong for a spoiled palace boy.
A smug grin stole across Atem's face; perhaps it was good that he spent more time training to fight than studying his scriptures. He drew his legs in and pushed the thief off himself with his feet, sending him down onto the fallen shelves with a royal clatter.
"What was that?"
"It sounded like it came from one of the storerooms!"
Atem sat up and looked over to the thief boy, who was lying across the shelves with a stunned expression. Maybe he had stolen from the Pharaoh's palace, but…Atem couldn't let him get caught. He felt that, just maybe, he had found another accomplice in his less-than-princely escapades. His gaze darted around the room, looking for anywhere he could possibly hide the thief from the fast-approaching guards. A singularly massive amphora sat in the corner of the room. Atem lifted the lid and looked inside; although it smelled strongly of red wine, it was empty. "You," he hissed at the thief, "get over here if you don't want to get caught!"
The thief sat up and gave him a blank stare. "Why should I trust you?"
"It's me or them!" As if to reinforce Atem's words, the pounding of feet grew louder.
"Fine," the thief grumbled as he pushed himself to his feet and stalked across the room.
"Get in," Atem ordered, pointing to the clay jar before them.
In response, the thief cocked an eyebrow. "You're kidding."
Atem frowned. "No, I'm not! Now get in and don't move until I come and get you!"
Only when shouts came from the hall outside did the thief relent and allow the small prince to help him into the amphora.
Just as the first guard walked in the door, Atem dropped the lid onto the jar. He turned and gave them the mischievous grin he reserved for being caught in the act.
"At ease, men," said the lead guard as he lowered his spear. "It's only the prince." He frowned at the overturned shelves and the scattered food. "Looks like he got hungry. Back to your quarters with you," he said, taking hold of Atem's arm and pulling him out of the storeroom.
The prince did not put up a fight. He knew that if he did, there would be absolutely no possibility of escaping his quarters a second time to retrieve his newfound accomplice.
"Now go to sleep," the guard said as he released Atem. "You're going to need it when Master Shimon hears about this." He closed the heavy wooden door of the prince's quarters.
When the man's footsteps faded, Atem huffed haughtily and muttered, "I'm the Prince of Egypt. I don't take orders from you," and gave the cold stone floor a kick with his slippered foot.
Atem barred his door behind himself and the thief. He watched as the thief took in the finery that clothed the room around them.
"This is where you sleep?"
"In here," Atem replied, taking the thief's wrist and pulling him through a linen-draped arch to see the massive four-poster bed—twice as tall as the prince—against the far wall.
"You're awfully spoiled for a palace brat."
"Well I am the Prince of Egypt," said Atem as he puffed out his chest and drew himself up as tall as he could. He looked over at the thief beside him just in time to catch a dark cloud in his eyes; had it been a color, it would undoubtedly have been blood red. Atem gave a slight frown. Perhaps he shouldn't have said that. "What's the matter?"
The thief blinked, and the cloud was gone, replaced by his usual flat lavender. "I just didn't realize who you were."
"Well didn't you hear the guards when they came into the storeroom?"
"I was rather busy wondering how long I was going to have to sit in that jar." The thief crossed his arms. "If you were going to hide me in a place that smelled of wine, there could have at least been a little there for me to drink."
Atem's expression hardened. "I'm sorry for hiding you in a place that was remotely comfortable!"
"Remotely is right!" The thief took a deep breath and proceeded to eye the bed with more than a hint of envy. "I've never seen anything so superfluous in my life. To think, all the money that was spent on your bed could have gone to helping those worse off than the royal family. Of course, it figures that you would all put yourselves before your people."
Atem caught the not-so-secret longing that pooled with the venom dripping from the thief's voice. For the first time, the prince realized that he didn't even know the boy's name. He coupled the facts together and spoke slowly, as though this would afford his next statement more impact. "You can lay down on it if you want," he began. "But only under one condition."
After a moment's pause, the thief replied, "What's that?" His eyes never left the bed before him.
"Tell me who you are."
There was a clear battle going on behind the thief boy's eyes. Was the Prince of Egypt trustworthy enough for a common thief to give up his name just for a few moments on that lovely bed before him? The answer clicked and he spoke. "My name is Bakura. I came from a village on the outskirts of the kingdom. It's gone now."
Atem blinked. "Oh. That's…unfortunate." He tentatively reached out, considering whether or not it was wise to go about trying to comfort…Bakura.
His gesture was rebuked with, "I don't need your sympathy, Prince. I've been taking care of myself for floods now." Bakura left Atem's side and dropped onto the bed. A small smile stole across his face as his eyes drifted shut. "I would ask how you sleep at night knowing you have so much while your people have so little, but I think I know now…" He languidly folded his arms behind his head and crossed one leg over the other. "Heh, I could get used to this."
The prince lounged beside Bakura, allowing his eyes to give the thief a generous sweep. Or five.
"What are you doing?"
His deep violet eyes snapped up to meet the flat lavender of Bakura's, which laughed up at him. Atem watched as Bakura looked him over, felt the eyes linger perhaps longer than was appropriate on his middle.
"You know," the thief began, startling his companion, "you don't look half as strong as you really are."
Atem did not even realize that his spirits had been on the rise until they fell from the sky and shattered into a thousand little pieces.
"I can't decide if it's an asset or a burden." Bakura reached out and ran a hand up one of Atem's slender arms, pressing his fingers against the stone muscles near the prince's shoulder.
Before he could suppress it, a tiny shiver went up his back. Atem frowned at the smirk he received. "What's so funny?" he demanded.
Bakura's insolent smirk only widened. "Oh nothing. I was just thinking that I might be able to consider you one of the few men who doesn't make me want to slit his throat."
It took a moment for Atem to register the remark for what it was. "…thank you?"
"Would it be out of the question to request that we explore the palace together on another night in the foreseeable future? I…enjoyed myself tonight. And I think that you could say the same. Am I right?" He twisted his fingers to rest against the bottom of Atem's chin and held his eyes with a knowing gaze.
The thief's perception dazzled Atem to no end. He had expected Bakura to be—at best—interpersonally inept, uncouth and barbaric. After their brawl in the storeroom, he had certainly not anticipated the way each suave gesture was making his heart pound like an Arabian stallion galloping along the parched shores of the River during the dry season. "Yes," he replied. "I would like for you to return."
A single sharp tooth peered out from between Bakura's lips. "I'm glad you feel that way," he breathed against Atem's ear.
Atem caught his breath and wondered at where those lips might next fall.
Bakura dropped his hand and sat back. "The sun will rise soon. I should leave." He slid off the bed, leaving Atem to crave the warmth that he had not realized radiated from the thief's body.
Atem followed Bakura onto the balcony. He marveled at the efficient scan the thief's eyes made of the surrounding area before he made his way over to the near left corner and swung his dark, sinewy legs over the edge. "You'll return soon, right?" asked the prince, hoping there was nothing in his voice to betray the desperate hope in his heart.
"Mmm…soon as I can," Bakura answered before dropping from the balcony and sliding down the slight incline of the wall beneath him without a backward glance.
Atem failed to keep his attention focused on the lovely women who danced among the feasting guards before him. The gauzy pink fabric tucked into the golden bracelets on their wrists fluttered like wings as their smooth, supple bodies swayed to the music that filled the massive throne room. His eyes darted around, all too often coming to rest upon his faithful friend, the High Priest Mahad. The Pharaoh smiled fondly at the times they had spent together as children.
His only priestess's cry of, "Mahad, quick!" took several moments in registering. By the time Atem had realized that his life may have been in danger, Mahad had swept in front of him and stopped a—no doubt poisoned—dart from striking his king.
The sacred guardians, gathered at their king's side, spoke angrily to the would-be assassin. It was ultimately Mahad's voice that melted though Atem's shock and returned him to the matter at hand.
"We are in the midst of a sacred ceremony! Cast this man to the dungeon!"
Atem absently watched the proceedings, allowing his mind to occupy itself with other events, in a time when the High Priest Mahad had been his closest friend, and nothing less…
The prince made a clean upward sweep at the wooden doll before him, his wooden broadsword meeting the doll's neck with a satisfying, heavy thump. He rested the sword against the ground and leaned on the hilt as he watched Mahad do the same. Atem looked over to his uncle, Master Akunadin, who was nodding approvingly at their progress.
Master Shimon entered the small enclosure of the courtyard and summoned Master Akunadin away on important business, leaving the two palace boys alone with their fragile practice swords and the not-so-fragile doll.
Mahad took another swing. His aim was too high, and the sword swept right over the doll's head. It was very unlike him; Mahad's accuracy was nearly perfect, as Master Akunadin had often told him himself.
Atem's head tilted to one side. He could tell when there was something on his closest friend's mind. "What is it, Mahad?"
Mahad turned to the prince with a smile. "Nothing, my prince."
In one swift motion, Atem lightly struck the backs of Mahad's knees, something he would normally have blocked on pure instinct. "You're distracted."
He sighed in resignation. "It is only that I do not know what trouble you managed to get into while I was locked in my quarters. I heard the head guard talking to Master Shimon about you this morning, and neither looked pleased. Please, tell me what happened."
Atem looked around, ascertaining that they were, indeed, quite alone in the courtyard. "Do you want to know what they think they know, or what really happened?"
Suspicion shone clear in Mahad's eyes. "Go on."
"Last night, I snuck out of my quarters to explore the palace. I was in a servants' hall when I heard something moving in one of the storerooms. I went in and met a thief. We got into a fight, and the guards came running. I hid him and took the blame for the mess we made."
The expression on Mahad's face was at once astonished and disapproving. "You didn't let him take the blame for it?"
"Of course not!" responded Atem with a hint of indignation. "He would have been dragged off to the dungeon! I snuck back down and took him up to my quarters, where we talked. His name is Bakura."
Mahad's eyes flashed. "I trust, my prince, that you warned him not to return?"
Atem's breath caught. "Of…of course, Mahad. Why would I do anything else?"
The apprentice magician shot him a look that stated clearly that he could see right through the lie before landing a perfect blow on the doll's neck.
With an effort, Atem kept his face devoid of the worry his friend's reaction had instilled in him and took a swipe at the doll's middle, accompanied by an insolent exclamation of, "You will surely fall to our combined strength, Master Akunadin!" He cast a grin to Mahad; to his concern, he did not receive one in return.
"Let the Festival of the Pharaohs continue!" declared Akunadin.
Atem could see that Akunadin was annoyed. "Is there a problem, Isis?"
She held her hands around the eye at her throat and closed her eyes at it began to glow. "My Millennium Necklace senses an evil force approaching the kingdom."
Akunadin's manner altered completely at this news. "How close?" he demanded.
None of this boded well for the continuance of the festival as Shimon had suggested. The young Pharaoh turned to the old grey-haired man beside him and asked, "Shimon, what's going on?"
"This being lurks just outside the palace walls," Isis continued, "and he bears a great power!"
Atem wondered tensely just who this "he" was.
"Ah!" Mahad winced in what looked to be terrible pain as his Millennium Ring glowed at his neck.
"Mahad is something the matter?" asked Akunadin.
"The Millennium Ring…we are in the presence of pure evil!"
Akunadin's eyes widened. "Oh no!"
Atem's eyes were drawn to the entrance of the throne room when a guard was flung to the ground with a cry.
"Who goes there!" demanded Mahad.
A muscled young man stepped into the room and stood over the fallen guard. He was dressed finely in a blood red robe adorned with white embroidery. Gold ornaments hung from every limb, jangling together when he shifted. His head was covered by a piece of cloth, weighed down by a chain made from beads of gold and lapis lazuli. "Pardon the interruption, but apparently someone left me off the guest list!"
The voice was unmistakable. "Bakura!" cried Atem. This appearance did not bring back such fond memories. Against his will, Atem reflected upon their last meeting, which had not left him and the thief on as agreeable of terms as he would have liked…
Atem leaned against the balcony, staring off into the night, waiting. He looked down when he heard scuffling against the steep stone wall beneath him. It amazed Atem to no end the way Bakura was able to scale any surface, no matter how impossible it seemed. He gazed with rapt attention at the thief's dark figure as he grew steadily nearer. Atem admired the way Bakura's alabaster hair fluttered in the cool breeze that came off the River, the way his flat lavender eyes shone in the treacherous white light of the full moon. He was so utterly transfixed that the skillful dark hand that emerged over the edge of balcony startled him. He reached out and gripped the wrist in both of his own hands, positively miniscule in comparison, and pulled until the thief—his thief—was able to swing a leg over and gain his balance on horizontal ground.
Bakura snaked his hand around Atem's waist and leaned down, kissing the prince—his prince—more softly than was his wont.
Surprised, Atem reeled back. What could possibly have possessed his thief to do anything so reckless? He pulled him backward off the balcony and into his bedchamber. "Since when must I remind you to be careful?"
A smirk stole across Bakura's face. "Did I displease you, my prince?" The last two words dripped with sarcasm. He cupped a hand around Atem's cheek and held the regal violet eyes with his own.
"Well…no, but, really, Bakura, you can't just…" Something about being this close to Bakura always sent Atem's mind reeling; he was eternally frustrated by the way his thief could make him so flustered. He found it wrong that the future King of Egypt should crumble to the touch of a mere petty thief.
"We haven't met for so long. I was starting to fear that you would forget my face and call the guards upon seeing me sneaking in." His teeth closed around his prince's ear, lingering just long enough to elicit a low, stifled moan before lowering his lips and whispering, "Perhaps we should become reacquainted?"
Atem took his thief by the wrist and pulled him over to the side of his four-poster bed. He allowed himself to be drawn into Bakura's lap as he sat on the edge of the linen-covered mattress. His eyelashes brushed against his cheekbones as he kissed Bakura with the intensity of the long, lonely nights he had spent waiting impatiently for his petty thief to return. He pushed himself up onto his knees and loomed over Bakura, who traced his fingers along his prince's smooth, bare back.
The two fell back together, Atem nesting comfortably on Bakura's chest. "I heard that your father fell ill," the thief muttered.
At these words, Atem's body stiffened. He could feel a lump forming in his throat. "My…my father was carried to the Valley of the Kings yesterday."
"Oh." A hand tangled itself in the prince's hair.
"I'm going to become the Pharaoh. My coronation will come sometime before the moon next waxes full."
There was a long pause before Bakura spoke. "What do you think of it?"
"It's always been my destiny to succeed my father as King of Egypt. I just never expected for it to happen so soon…"
Atem did not catch the flash of deep, blood red in his thief's eyes before closing his own and drifting off to sleep.
Atem's eyes flew open at the panicked cry of Mahad. The prince saw hovering above him, holding that same knife as long ago in the storeroom, Bakura, wearing a murderous smirk on his face. He rolled out from under his thief—the thief, the common, petty thief—and off the bed, landing hard on the cold stone floor. "Mahad, the guards!"
"But my prince—"
The young magician disappeared at the urgent demand, leaving the prince to fight the thief alone.
Atem shuffled backward as Bakura advanced on him. Only one word would leave his lips. "Why?"
Bakura twirled his knife lazily in his fingers, taking one casual step after another, slowly walking his prince—the prince, the common, high-born prince—to the balcony. "Did I fail to mention why I was stealing food from the royal palace that night?" He touched his palm to his forehead and chuckled darkly. "Silly me, where are my manners? You see, my prince, I entered the palace that night with thoughts of nothing but revenge. That is, until my empty stomach got the better of me, and we met. I nearly killed you when you told me you were the Prince of Egypt, you know, but I thought better of it in the end, lucky for you. Instead, I got a tour of the palace from the Prince himself! How good of him to point out the Pharaoh's quarters to me."
"I planned to kill him, of course," the thief responded curtly, "to exact revenge for his order to massacre my entire village of Kul Elna for the creation of the precious Millennium Items that his sacred court holds."
Atem choked. "My father would never have ordered such a thing! He was a wise and kind king! He abhorred violence!"
"If your father didn't order the massacre, then tell me who did!" Bakura demanded as he pressed his knife to Atem's throat. His frown deepened at the silence he received as an answer. "As I thought. Unfortunately, he died before I got to him, a peaceful death in his sleep, I am certain. It isn't fair and I won't stand for it! The sins of your father have been passed down to you along with the crown, so you must die!"
The prince ducked under Bakura's arm and stumbled back into his bedchamber. He rested his forehead against the hard wall of sandstone bricks for a moment, trying to still the swirling sea of betrayal in his mind. Waves of pain crashed like thunder in his ears as he watched the wild thief approach.
The usually flat, lifeless eyes burned with a deep, irreversible hatred, betraying more passion than they ever had during the long nights of semi-innocent lovemaking he and the prince had shared. "It's really too bad," he murmured. "I might have loved you had you been anyone else."
Atem dove at Bakura, knocking him to the ground. He caught the knife hand and forced it downward, his strength doubled in his fury.
"You don't have the courage to kill me!" taunted the thief as he pushed against Atem with his full might. "I know you don't!"
"Just as I clearly did not know much about you, you clearly know almost nothing about me!" he replied. With a final burst of energy, he pressed the knife into Bakura's cheek, cutting horizontally beneath his right eye. Blood welled in the wound, and Atem jumped away. Bakura was right: he couldn't kill him.
The thief rose to his feet with a grimace. "I know more than you might think." He touched his fingers to his face; he looked at the blood as he pulled them away. Before Atem even saw the knife move, another slash appeared, this one above the first. "The village of Kul Elna will always be above you, my prince." Bakura made one long vertical cut straight through the center of the two smaller cuts. "I shed an eternal tear for all I have lost."
Atem gazed in horror as the thief licked the blood from his knife.
"Guards, seize him at once!" Mahad's voice cut through the painful silence that hung between them, thick as a fog on the River in the early morning.
With a final glance of pure hatred, Bakura disappeared off the balcony, leaving behind himself a trail of wetly glistening rubies that fell from the cuts on his face.
Atem rested an arm against the balcony and laid down his head. His heart felt too heavy; he was wearied from carrying it only this long. He watched the sun rise over his kingdom. Shame filling his mind, he wondered how he had allowed himself to become so involved with that thief, that nameless, vengeful thief who had stolen into the palace with the sole purpose of assassinating the King of Egypt. How could the prince have possibly allowed such a petty, worthless young man to make away with his heart as well? He resolved to put him out of his mind.
Light footsteps came to a stop behind Atem. Only one person would dare intrude after having received strict orders not to bother the prince until he emerged from his quarters.
"Why Mahad?" A twofold question.
The young magician clearly chose to answer only the easier of the folds. "I thought you might desire company despite your orders, my prince."
"Thank you, Mahad. I would like that very much." Atem watched out of the corner of his eye as his closest friend came to lean against the balcony beside him.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
"The sunrise, the city, everything. There's so much beauty in the world, if only you know to look for it."
A sad smile graced Atem's lips. Mahad always knew what to say when he felt as though nothing could possibly repair him.
"There will always be people like that thief, my prince. I think this has proven a valuable lesson for you."
Atem nodded. "Will you leave now, Mahad?"
"As you wish, my prince." He bowed before turning to leave.
"Don't," Atem said, "do that. There is no need to bow to a friend."
"Of course, my prince." With that, he was gone.
The way Mahad used those last two words with the utmost seriousness, utmost respect, stung Atem deeply. He longed for the informal, sarcastic way that the thief had used them, almost as though he were mocking the very idea. Perhaps he had been. Atem shook his head violently, trying to shed the painful thoughts of the thief, but to no avail. He bit back tears; he couldn't cry, he couldn't. "Princes don't cry over thieves," he murmured to himself. "Certainly not one like him." As Atem held his head in his hands, he resolved to put him out of his mind…by the time of his coronation.
And now here stood before him, on the day he had resolved to forget that they had ever met, that thief who had broken Atem's heart, leaving him a stronger man.
"What do you want from me?" the Pharaoh demanded.
Bakura took long, deliberate strides, just as he had that night. "Now, is that any way to speak to an old friend, your highness?" The last two words were spoken in that same sarcastic snarl. Perhaps Bakura would never change. The scar from that night had healed, leaving an irreversible reminder of his words. "The village of Kul Elna will always be above you, my prince."
Atem realized that to become the same kind of beloved Pharaoh as his father, he would have to put the whole of Egypt above Bakura in his heart. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath at the troubling idea. "So let it be written," he mouthed, "so let it be done."
I believe the I have become a Casteshipper. Anyway, I am very proud of this fic, and I really feel that it's closer to par with the other contestants' work than anything I've written before. ^_^
Concrit is appreciated! Review pwease? :D?