So, last chapter! Important info about new fics down at the bottom but before then… Jesus. Thanks to everyone who's reviewed the whole way through, or some of the way, or who's just read the whole way through. This has been a tonne of fun and I'm sad to end it but I think this is the ending it needed. This chapter clocks in at a little over 13 pages. Please enjoy.


CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

(Track- Howl's Moving Castle "The Merry Go Round of Life")

There was no time to sleep. They dazed in the afterglow, sticky and soaked in sweat, warmth in the pit of Yugi's belly while they tangled. They only had a drifting fifteen minutes before General Ishtar started calling outside demanding they rise. They had a camp to pack, a journey home to make and a brief vacation to earn before business as usual. Breathing deeply into Yugi's hair, Atem had been half asleep and sluggish in the act of rising. It all came slowly, squeezing in each other's arms, groggily finding their feet, trying to dress…Normalcy.

They both realized what the paint was for when, trying to find something to wipe it the last of it off with, Yugi and Atem had been subject to a general clamour of native wolf whistling from the male and female nomads. The thick, gritty, substance had turned almost to jelly with the sweat of their coupling ruining the swirls to nothing but wet tracks dripping down Yugi's skin. The pilot realized it was some sort of 'spot the consummated marriage' custom. He guessed in a society of gypsies without sheets you needed some way to prove the groom had gotten lucky. Yugi snorted, Atem pawed at his neck bashfully and on his knees helped Yugi scrub at what was left rubbing carefully at the back of his thighs.

They ended up in the same transport as Bakura and Ryou. Something of a canvas covered jeep with a set of trailers on the back to carry the EX0D1A, the EY-3 and Bakura's testing mech. Strictly speaking they shouldn't have had the military equipment coming home with them to their private lives but procedure had gotten a little shot in the foot. Both governments were shambling and here in the desert was, Yugi guessed, inevitably more peaceful than in the wreckage of both capital cities.

They heard on the radio that Mahado had helped the Kaiba brothers ascend the throne, forced and option-less, before making an immediate offer for peace and assistance to the Republic. The whole world was shell shocked but if nothing else Dartz and Mahado had both nations desperately trying to recover from their gaping wounds together.

Yugi had no intention of going back to the Empire yet. Perhaps he wouldn't for years. Till the press circus died off he'd hide in Turtle Village with Atem (before he and Atem started another circus that was).

That however was about all the thought Yugi could organize, shamble together, before Atem fell asleep beside him in the back seat of the sturdy vehicle. The bohemian snored, raspy with that baritone, and as sandy air blasted through the windowless sides of the vehicle Yugi found himself lulling into the man's side cheek slumping on his shoulder.

Yugi realized three things before he fell asleep that made the whole action possible;

He had friends. Now those included Atem's friends. He had a network of people, a family (though he thought it hesitantly), who would and could help. He had the Knights, Mahado he sensed too and Mana and they wouldn't toss him in a lab or throw him in a prison for treason. Not now, not when they still depended on him. So the future was an open, unpredicted, book. Yugi had never had that kind of expanse before him. He had never been able to count on the fact that he had people behind him and years before him.

He realized secondly that…He may never be done grieving for Yami Sennen. That would take more years than Yugi felt he had left (he hardly felt twenty, nearly twenty-one, more like forty). Yugi loved him still and inevitably always would. Yugi had failed to save him and perhaps failed to make it clear to the world Yami Sennen died a hero not a monster. The only thing he could think to do, though he still wondered if it was selfish, was to try and be happy. He hoped that Yami would want that, that that would somehow defeat Heba's ghost from ruining Yami's memory or last moments on earth. Yugi knew now, today, as he closed his eyes that those last seconds of Yami's face would never be anything but blistering in his mind.

Thirdly, finally, Yugi knew he had Atem. In a weird way he had always had Atem backing him up, promised and waiting. Without memories the Bohemian had sensed their shared turmoil and scars. Atem would never leave him, never give up on him, could love him dirty and nasty and be sweet as honey. Atem was a good man, warm against him and softly secure. Yugi probably didn't deserve to love him. They had honesty though, trust, peace and a weird kind of love that in an inkling felt as golden as everything else about Atem. It would be okay as long as the farmer boy was around. Yugi would be okay. He knew too, or pretended to because really it was just a sense, that they'd conceived something. If Yugi didn't have some child in his belly the universe would feel incomplete in its great arching desire to make Atem's life legendary.

Did the republican know he did this? Know the whole universe seemed to condense into something too mythic to be real around him? Atem couldn't seem to realistically exist. He was too archetypal, fairy-tale, but then again Yugi was a living, indestructible, nightmare so perhaps Atem was just the natural counter. Either way Atem's life would read, and should probably, like a fable.

Heh, Yugi would be okay.

Yugi would never forget.

It was simultaneously both. He would know who he kissed goodnight for the next forty years but he would never forget whose dog-tags he was never going to take off and whose jacket he would wear until it split at the seams. Yami was never going to die in his heart and Yugi would never leave Atem's side after today.

Full circle?


(Track- Mozart "Greensleeves")

It was too hot for their suits or their normal boots. So with stolen sneakers in one hand, in hand-me-down clothes, Yugi and Jou waded in the sticky sand as the water rushed back sucking towards the tide. The trailers had stopped to refill gas, to get everyone a meal and let the children empty their bladders. Atem was still stretching in the back of the truck, helping Akefia, and in a dart to cool their legs, unneeded, the Imperial pair had headed for the water to enjoy the few hours they would hug the coast.

The water whooshed forward to hit Yugi's knees with a crash and in the sand there were stacks of shells. This wasn't a commercial beach, there weren't many anyway given most of the continent was a war zone rather than a set of tourist options. Or it had been a war zone till a week ago…

"What are you going to do?" Jou prodded.

"Going to hide in the Republic for a little while, go deep rural, with Horakhty. I've got dual citizenship now. The Kaibas can't force me to come back. After that…" he shrugged, "I don't know." Yugi had a life ahead of him. Marriage.

"Is that why you and Horakhty went shotgun?" The blonde laughed, hands shoved sloppily in his pockets as Yugi's swung free form by his side. "Escape plan F eh?"

"No," Yugi shook his head gently. "Not really."

"You like him?" Jou didn't seem to know what was more believable. It was funny that he questioned this. The blonde had never questioned Yugi about being a non-human, about the lab, about anything. In the end he hadn't changed a millimetre. A steadfast dog.

Yugi pursed his lips, hummed strictly but it fell into something of a stupid laughing sound a second later before tumbling finally into a sentence.

"Yeah," he confessed, "I think I love him."

"Is it cause he's… ya know?" The blonde shrugged, brushing at his neck. "I mean, Hell, I don't expect you to do anything anymore cause crap knows trying to predict you's like fucking meteorology but…" He chuckled, couldn't quite say the word.

"We're the last of Zion," Yugi nodded, "but… it's not that."

He stopped in the sand, caught the view of the horizon. Jou became steady beside him standing into the lean of one hip but still very tall.

"Well okay Boss," he consented amicably, "so long as you're happy it's all cool with us."

"Heh," Yugi tried not to smile but was sincere; "thanks Jou. You're going back the the Empire?"

The journey was roundabout but they'd pass the border eventually and Mahado would be waiting no doubt.

"Yeah, I'll keep you updated, scope out the situation." He nodded seriously. "Guys and I can let you know if you've got enough friends to come out of hiding or something, sound good?"

"Perfect," Yugi hadn't expected that much but the Knights always surprised him; perpetually these days. They were bonded strangely but… "What about your sister?"

"I haven't heard yet," Jou sighed. "I don't have anything she can contact cause we ran without our stuff and the news is shoddy cause they're all still trying to figure out what the fuck just happened, in Cyprus too, so I don't know. I'm just going to have to go home and see."

"You scared?"

"Shit tonnes," he slouched. "Just got to hope she's okay. She was under for a long time though and after the Emperor…"

They seemed to sigh together. The jacket round Yugi's waist felt heavier.

"You okay about Sennen?" Jou asked gently.

"I miss him," Yugi preluded solemnly but diverted. "Listen, good luck, okay? If…" It felt weird to try and say something that attempted comfort but it felt real, honest, in Yugi's heart. "If anything happens you've still got all of us."

Jou…

Jou smiled, shimmering a little in the eyes but as tough as ever threw one dirty arm round Yugi's shoulders even if he was mildly cautious about it.

"Thanks Boss," he murmured, "I know you get it. I'm sorry we couldn't help Sennen. I know that Heba stuff hurt him real bad in the head… I… We're family now though, right? You, me and the guys. Always, kay? So if ya need anything we'll back each other up."

"Always," Yugi promised, he wanted that just like he wanted it with Atem. "Brothers in arms."

He held up his ringed fist and grinning Jou bumped his against it so they could both pretend to be macho.


(Track- "Maybe" Annie 1999 version)

Yugi was accustomed to five am starts. They were a kind of equivalent universal. In the Empire kings woke at dawn in ceremonial garb for ministry meetings. In the Republic, in the rural depth of Bohemia, farmers roused with the sun to tend crops and cattle. Yugi had fallen from one extreme to the other. From thousand thread count, embroidered, coverlets in the palaces of Cyprus he'd changed hands to wake in a bed with a frame three generations old. Dirt lingered in gritty flecks between the stiff well-worn sheets under blankets hand sewn by mothers and daughters who'd slept here before him.

Atem settled on the edge of the lumpy mattress, which ached against the small of Yugi's back, and through misted thin dawn light pulled his boots from under the bed. The sun was coiling through the open shudders. Yugi could hear the grass rustling, smell the seeds and the rain on the breeze drifting in to the stagnant bedroom and just behind him Atem pulled up those thick leather boots which thumped on the wooden floor uproariously.

Sound travelled heavy and strong through the cottage, which in itself was just a few shambled rooms round a universal fire place, but Yugi still couldn't quite hear Grandfather Sugoroku snoring. Yugi pulled his wrists to his nose as Atem's shuffling dislodged the blankets and as he rose to rifle through the creaking drawers of the chunky old dresser Yugi nuzzled his own forearms. The woven bracelet chocolaty Odion had secured for him from the nomads on the journey here brushed his nose, thread coarse but interwoven ribbon soft, tiny little beaded purple baubles dangling off it nudging him. It wasn't the prettiest thing but it was stronger, Yugi had found, than most of the jewellery his inheritance had secured him from the Empire (he'd scored most of Yami's private effects in the hastily written will they'd found as well). The bracelet was meant to protect futures and families. So, naturally, he wasn't taking it off now.

Atem's boots thudded too loud to ignore and mumbling with bed warmth Yugi draped himself in the other direction wrapping himself in a nest of blankets. The dresser draw slid shut, boots clopped, and the first little twinkling bird chirped out the open windows. All in a tiny, tiny, village where everyone knew everyone else intimately and no one had locked their doors in four hundred years since the last witch burning.

Atem leant over him, gangly with a whiff of morning breath and a scrape of stubble, and kissed his temple resting his weight into his arm before disentangling. Atem didn't speak, couldn't contemplate making Yugi rise or stirring him further, but likewise the pilot couldn't truly sleep through the routine of the morning farewell. Not so much due to the boots but more to the cool muffle of Atem's lips and the security of it all. There was such a pattern here, such an atmosphere, that Yugi knew an inane peace. Yugi's lids fluttered sleepily, digging the heel of his palm into the groove of one eye, and caught sight of Atem foggily. Half twisting onto his side, chin craning weakly over his shoulder, he watched the little gold band round Atem's neck rise from where it had fallen onto Yugi's bare shoulder to settle on the standing man's clavicle.

Atem would put the wedding band round his finger later when the sun was too high for any of the farmers to be working under the heat. Until then, to save it from the dirt and the grind, he'd wear it round his neck while Yugi's chilled and warmed on his hand in the bed. News crews would have a field day wouldn't they? The royal mistress lost to little farmer's wife. Peace.


(Track- repeat)

The aching cottage door pulled shut in the next room not so long after Yugi slumped back into the bed but as the birds started to rouse he found, expectedly, he couldn't linger in place much longer without Atem's gritty body plied against him. Yugi ached into the other's element, into the man, and with him gone he found he pushed back the quilts. They were sweet, sewn on budgets, with love and practicality by women whose pictures sat in black and white round the home but they weren't Atem.

He pulled on a threadbare nightgown, all thick and cotton and ancient. It was cheap and hardly silken but so plush Yugi had fallen asleep in it on the couch more than once in the early spring afternoons. He dragged his nails through his hair, cared absently at tangles, dislodging scraps of dirt from his skin with his nails.

The bathroom was as old as Sugoroku and the water came from a tank hitched behind the house out towards the woods. The pipes groaned loudly every time he turned a tap and unable to stomach the sound at this hour Yugi wandered idly instead into the lounge. The wood flooring was lovingly varnished dark wood but every day, with Atem dragging more dirt and corn in, it needed a new sweep. So ash and dust clung to the soles of Yugi's bare feet cold and tingling.

"Morning," Sugoroku croaked from his rocking chair by the dead fire which dominated the room. He was hoarse, sandpapery it seemed, but his eyes twinkled even if he was half blind. He was almost completely deaf and petrified with arthritis from a youth hauling cattle round.

"Morning," Yugi yawned absently into the back of his hand and with an accustomed hand felt out the counters of the kitchen unlatching the shutters over the sink to expose himself to new morning light and blooming air.

Only half the plates matched. The cutlery was tarnished. The stove wasn't nearly as reliable as the cast iron implements Atem could use over the fire but Yugi made due. It was an inexact science but very few things here could taste foul. Everything here bloomed, flourished, with the affection and hard work of the villagers. Fathers and sons had hand reared the bacon, the woman two houses down the cobbled streets had given Yugi the eggs yesterday, the bread was baked on Tuesday, the scraps from last night Atem would've given to the chickens across the way this morning on his way out… Everything tingled with a kind of harmonious essence, a treasured simplicity, that processed Imperial delicacies lacked. The effect was so gently magically that even with the bread hand cut sloppily and the eggs a little burnt nothing tasted less than nourishing.

Yugi helped Sugoroku to the table. He was too stiff in the mornings before the heat loosened his muscles and if Yugi didn't know how kind the neighbours were he would've wondered how the old man had managed with Atem at war. It had been charity and camaraderie that had kept the old goat alive and now Atem had returned the village's new idol, all aglow, the townsfolk even tried to take to Yugi.

Yugi got heady halfway through his eggs and, rejecting the efforts of his plate to tempt him entirely, pushed them back to cradle the juice instead. His fingers would smell of the orange rinds till he showered. It was difficult to buy anything out here. No one could seem to understand why you would want to either. It was a place without time.

Atem would fuss at him to eat lunch but never push. He doted too much to demand anything so Yugi could lick his fingers, dazed, and know he could live off the remains of last night's apple pie cold in the fridge when his stomach woke up.

He wretched half a mouthful of eggs into the toilet, bile and juice mingling, a little while later in the bathroom after securing Sugoroku back in his rocker with a new chronicle. He spat out cupping water from the sink to wash his mouth and resolved to shower.

He had to slip off his ring, his bracelet, Yami's dog-tags and drape the dressing gown out over the window frame to shower. The water was never warm enough. Yugi held himself, hands smoothing over his stomach, and to wash his hair had to resort to potions and lotions made from olive oil and bought off trucks from gypsies who came through with commercial goods from four hours away at the nearest actual town (which only had five thousand residents to boast itself, a post office, a bank and a grocer). He pressed at the skin of his hips, felt a little worn and stretched but he'd hardly reached his prime truly. Yugi had never, honestly, been freer or more alive.


(Track- repeat)

The back veranda had a seat swing Sugoroku's father had cobbled together and upon which the old man had been conceived if the stories were anything to go by. Yugi found himself in it again for the fourth time that week before noon. He hadn't bothered with shoes yet and leaning into the swinging frame had forgotten the book in his lap three pages ago. He was almost actually hungry in a way he thought would stick but he wasn't eager to move as the sun reached the peak of the sky.

The town was too small with too much farmland for anyone to do anything alone. All the men, all the boys, ploughed the fields together and kept the livestock together. They drew lots to see who's fields got harvested or planted first by the group, they kept close count on who had how many sheep, and frugal but generous did everything as a unit. Atem had fallen back into it. The Horakhtys had land and livestock and things to do with seasons that Atem didn't want to escape. He was home so expected himself to help the others he'd been grown with. Harvest would start soon and when it did they'd cancel school because the boys wouldn't turn up for days to help their fathers. Not that the school went much past the ninth grade.

Around noon to three it was too hot for anyone to do anything without heat stroke so Atem came home. They ate, they lingered, and he'd wander off before dinner again to resume communal help. The sun was almost at that point now, so book in lap, Yugi waited and ignored the beginnings of an itch in his belly for sustenance.

Atem came up over the ridge and too lazy to swerve left to the gate hefted himself over the fence. It was made for keeping back sheep, not gangly legendary heroes turned farmers. That however was only for a few months of seclusion so Yugi could hide out. He needed to call Jou tonight actually, ask about Shizuka in the loony bin…

Atem skipped the middle step onto the veranda boots thumping and seemed nearly soaked in drying mud.

"Hey Baby," he cooed, glowing.

Yugi inclined up into him eagerly, into strong arms and tender kisses and sighing contentedly Atem sunk down next to him making the swing rock.

"How are you two?" He smiled between half a dozen kisses as Yugi patted through his hair.

"Hmm," Yugi grunted, tangling his arms round the man's neck to feel the pungent ripple of sweat rolling off Atem from a morning's physical labour.

"Someone giving you trouble?" Atem decided.

"I don't think it likes me." He sighed.

"It loves you," he promised, pushing the heel of his palm against the burgeoning swell of Yugi's belly. That wasn't the real problem though. Yugi knew offspring grew attached and quietly confident Atem certainly loved the little clump of cells already Yugi jus- "You're going to be a fab Mama, Baby."

Hit the nail on the head. Little monster Atem was he needed to stop half reading Yugi's mind (the Imperial blamed the EX0D1A locked in the barn). The pilot pushed into him, settling himself snug in the swing seat as Atem's thumb made rotations over the bump. Yugi barely remembered having a family. He didn't want to be the weak link in this equation because whatever happened Atem would be a glorious father. Of all the grand universal ironies this had to be one of fate's most absurd. Hiding out in the country, in some tiny blotch on the map, to start a family in secret before they escaped back to the world with Atem's child and a future and… God…

Yugi blinked round the burn creeping into his eyes. Fucking parasite was pumping him with hormones that made him all funny in the head. Though, even as Yugi thought that he ached in some kind of mutual apology to the lump for calling it a parasite. He longed, he burned, he loved it viciously and tenderly and brokenly and completely already and it was barely half formed let alone some babe in his arms…

A new Zion, millions of years after the rest had been wiped out. Atem and Yugi could create some new string of the species with a dreadful legacy, tradition, lineage… it was primal and mythic in the same stroke and secretive by its nature. The world wasn't going to be told. Yugi wasn't getting dissected. Atem assured him they were Bohemian citizens with too many friends in high places to be touched by modern science during this process but Atem had surrendered enough to his paranoia to let Yugi be heavy with young here in the middle of nowhere.

That wasn't to say no one knew. Lord it felt to Yugi like half the fucking planet knew. Atem was so glowing, excitable, he'd told every mutually trusted friend he could about his little gypsy young on the way.

Atem unwound a little, resting his boots on the heel and kissed Yugi snuggly. The pilot could spend an eternity without leaving those arms casually hooped loose round his middle. Atem never held, never pressed, never clung. He trusted Yugi was wild enough to come back and gave him a bizarre equal authority. Funnily, stirred, Yugi thought this might just be the perfect place to have the first babe. First? Lord last hopefully (not really Yugi would admit in private)…

"You know Shara?" Atem began casually in the breeze under the shadow of the sun. Shara was one of the men who owned cows in the next field, some old family friend. "He said Timaeus."

"Timaeus," Yugi rolled the word over, resting into Atem's shoulder. It tasted blue strangely. "It's handsome."

"I thought so," he smiled with a gentle laugh, "kind of cool. Old."

"Yeah," Yugi concurred.

"What do you want?" Atem gave a flexing, playful, squeeze.

A pause, that lasted only as long as it took to shot a bullet.

"Yami," he imparted honestly, all whispers but he could hardly keep secrets anymore. Atem had the key to every safe locked up in Yugi and he never abused any of them.

"Yami," Atem nodded absently, "if you want Baby."

"You can't like it." Yugi challenged.

"Course I can. It sounds handsome." Atem smiled gently. "You loved him and it was sad. Everything you ever said makes me think he wasn't a bad guy when you got to know him. He just got stuck in a bad place. It did that to a lot of people, my mum even. I don't hate him, or his memory, and I don't think anyone should. I'm glad that you still love him for who he was when he was clean and safe. I kind of miss not getting to meet him properly."

"Really…?"

"Yeah," Atem knocked noses clumsily, "so if you want to call the little one Yami I don't mind. It's nice. Everyone should have family who remembers them happy especially Sennen after what happened to him. He couldn't help it. He got lost."

"What if…?" Yugi swallowed round bile as his stomach tightened strenuously.

"Hmm?" He blinked, lowering his tone as if Yugi were some frightened foal. "What's wrong Baby?"

"What if Heba comes back?" Yugi felt his fingers roam unconsciously, nails stiff, over his own belly to settle like a cage. He didn't want it taken out. Ever. No birth and no learning to walk for this one. "What if this one…? And…" He took a breath. Sniff. Fucking hormones.

"Hey, hey," Atem hushed taking him a little closer. "Heba's never coming back. Ever. It's gone. You're safe and we're safe and he's safe and that little one's never going to have to know who or what it was. Heba's never touching this-" His palm pushed over Yugi's compellingly, "-or you or anyone else ever again."

"But what if-" It was a rare illogical moment for Yugi, foolish, but an ever present idea at the back of his mind like the memories ash and the screaming that wafted up to the heaven's from a world obliterated.

"If Heba ever comes back then we'll stop him." Atem promised. "We did it once. We can do it again. I'm not going to let anyone take this away. No one's ruining this world. It's too good a place and I don't think there are a lot of people left who'd let Heba try anyway."


EPILOGUE

(Track- Gumi "Transient Apple Salesgirl")

Ten years later

Atem Horakhty felt surreal. To say 'mildly' would be understating the effect of the day. After all Yami Sennen, his foreign predecessor to Yugi, was thirty-two when he died. Thirty-three more like but still, to Yugi, to them, Yami Sennen would always be thirty-two.

Befittingly after the negotiations with the Kaiba Brothers (co-regents these days inheriting down Mokuba's line) they'd decided not to give Yami Sennen a state funeral. Atem would've argued otherwise but Yugi was too dejected at the idea of a public grave that well-meaning and misunderstanding citizens would deface. They had a grave stone for him, state paid, in Turtle Village behind the house. It was an empty grave, next to Atem's adopted human parents, but to Yugi it was better than a mausoleum.

Yugi had only consented to return to the Empire a handful of times in the last decade outside official missions. The first visit, under Bohemian protection, to come to some agreement with Mahado and the Kaibas had been tenuous but clear. Dartz had clarified: if you don't want him, or the Knights, we'll take them and, if you intend to arrest them, well… we're going to have a problem.

Funnily that was still a bone of contention. There were a lot of Bohemians who liked to cry, very loudly, that Yugi Motou and the Knights were officially Republican turf these days even if they wore royal stripes. The whole label of international heroes transposed down to national heroes depending which side of the border you sat on. Atem was Republican but if they could contest it these days the Bohemians would to say Yugi Motou was too. Culture was funny like that. To think it could turn Yugi Motou from national nightmare to Blue Army sweetheart in the time it took to snap your fingers was…

Atem snorted, he wasn't good with heavy thoughts.

His official uniform itched but mercifully, in a well-guarded valley along the largest river in the country, Siege City was cooler than Turtle Village would've been at this time of year.

There'd be summer crops in Turtle Village, near Grandpa's grave, swaying all sour and dusty in the wind just like the ones over the wall of Siege City did now if he craned his eyes a little out the opposing window.

He unbuckled the second button in his collar given the first was perpetually undone. Medal coated or not he still looked scruffy. His chin found his palm and roving a little he pressed up on his toes in the god forsaken dress shoes to find the inner courtyard where elite ops trained five days a week.

He liked living in Siege. It was officially international; the conference point of the peace treaty between Bohemia and Cyprus. It was, also, home of the rebranded Knights who were now an international force. The eight of them, the original eight, were now part of a special ops division that specialized in international organized crime.

That changed the atmosphere of the city. Atem had watched it happen but weirder than that he found he… He liked the odd angles of it. The crass change in the local accent as the Imperials and Republicans intermixed properly, cross border marriages, Ishtar giving them all orders, Jou and Akefia yapping at each other on missions… A home, a peace, a unity he'd…

Atem counted his stars most nights. He was too lucky.

"Oh come on! Move your sorry asses!"

The wail came up hard from the inner courtyard. Little Knights in training, little hopefuls, agonized under the sun and biting their tongues dragged their feet on the cement. Yugi didn't like the gentler training tactics. He liked to make them sweat, make them cry, and whether Atem approved or not Yugi would get every single recruit to puke by noon.

"Move! Move! Move!" Yugi ordered in the high cut of his natural spat. The sound wasn't deep but it dragged to hiss totally masculine. "Come on you sorry pathetic fuckers! Show me something worth kicking!"

He hadn't changed a damn smidge.

Atem shook his head. Seriously? Poor, poor, kids. He snorted. He wouldn't get any mercy tonight either if Yugi dragged his ass to the officer's gym. Everything was a contest: who could do more reps, who'd burn out on less miles, who'd collapse sweaty and useless first… Yugi won mostly but Atem hated to make it easy. Ass that wouldn't quit his Spitfire had.

Though, actually, sometimes Atem wasn't allowed in the gym. Yugi had this thing every now and again, about once a month roughly, where ever so quietly he'd casually weasel Jou, Otogi and Honda off. He liked it when it was just the four of them, the original imperial four, training together. Yugi would never admit he was that nostalgic though.

Not that Atem didn't opt to do the same thing with Malik, Odion and Akefia…

Yugi…

Yugi looked really good in Republican clothes. It was a stupid little kink of Atem's but he liked seeing it. They had a preference for modern cuts away from the old imperial aesthetic and it suited Yugi weirdly well to have all those slim lines and clean colours. It was a distracted thought but Atem noticed this shit when he daydreamed instead of working. It was the reports. Atem Horakhty sucked ass at paper work.

If he snuck round the back stairs of the building could he get lunch without Mai catching him moonlighting?

Yeah he was a bad, bad, role model.

"-shit for brains!"

Yugi wasn't always so hard on them, really, he just…He lightened up a little in the later training cycles. Atem thought so anyway but he was one of a select few men who had the innate ability to distinguish between Yugi's varying intensities of scream. He needed it to know when he was in deep shit at home.

That ability, to scream he meant, was something Yami Horakhty had inherited in spades.

Atem groaned a little at that. Kid wanted to go to the Military Academy in Siege, fight tough in mechs just like his folks, but Yami and authority in general… He cringed. Anzu used to reel back uncomfortably when Yugi smacked the child round the back of the head stoutly, like he was prone to, but these days not so much. Yugi's kind of dismissive discipline of disapproval and sass was effective but infectious. Yami could out argue sailors (which he had on vacation with his uncle Akefia; another bad influence).

Atem had a policy with the boys, their boys, which was along the lines of: "If your Ma said no then I wouldn't do it. Hey, if ya want to try your luck, go ahead but I'm twice yer size and I don't question your Ma."

Yugi hated it when Atem called him that but it fell out after years in rural no-man's land.

Atem really, really, wanted Yami to… make friends he guessed? Then again the eldest Horakhty spawn didn't make himself easily likable and circumstance didn't help. Ego, pride, all sort of compounded into nine years of sass mouth in the little runt… It was Atem figured, on some level, that Yami was just defensive.

Yugi and Atem had (and still did) caused a media circus with their whole shot gun marriage fiasco. Showing up with a newborn at Siege after the negotiations didn't exactly help that. The press ate it up. The story had changed their images and these days people sort of saw them or used them as a symbol of the peace treaty. It was perfect spin.

The media however wasn't so big on Yami Sennen's legacy. Impressions ranged from general sympathy to loathing still after the long standing wounds of the Z0-RC festered. The rest of the world just didn't get it. The full story never really got out in a coherent way that anyone else could appreciate the same way Atem and Yugi did. After all Mahado and Dartz had capped any release on the knowledge that the Ancients of Zion had ever existed let alone that they still did. It was necessary for the personal protection of the Horakhtys. That in turn however complicated telling Yami's story…

How did you explain that Yami Sennen was a hero if you couldn't tell people, clearly, who Heba was?

There were therefore people that didn't like the fact that Atem Horakhty had a kid named after one of the most hated, tragic, figures in recorded history.

They might've loved Yami, their Yami, dearly. Atem might not have changed his name for anything given how it made Yugi so placated, so appeased, but he was sure that there were children, cruel kids, who had given Yami Horakhty smack. He was sure, bitterly, that someone somewhere had told their boy that Yugi Motou was a Sennen Loyalist and Yami was named after a monster.

The other boys were luckier in that stead but then the other two took more after Atem than Yugi. Yami was all Yugi. Yami could take it. Yami would be tough. He'd be nasty and rude no doubt but he'd have Mama's talent and Mama's success and someone would love him through all the crass mouthing. Atem hoped so anyway.

You know, in retrospect, they probably had the kids a bit early. Unnecessarily early, too soon, but… He wouldn't have changed it. Not a second of it. He didn't care if Yugi never took a press interview in his life, he didn't care about any of the potential fall-out… He cared about now. He cared about them being happy. He cared about how they had a network and drunken Christmases and the Ishtar rings and surrogate nephews and nieces …

Being an Ancient didn't mean Atem wanted to spend his whole life looking back to the sour, papery, taste of ash. He just…

You know he remembered it more exactly now. His pod had been upturned in farm construction near Turtle Village. Rising salt tables had brought it up and woken him lonely in the middle of nowhere. He'd been so drugged though that he'd wandered in a haze barely cognizant till he found the Horakhtys.

They'd told him they were his parents.

He knew now his human foster folks had lied to him but they were simple folk. They didn't know any better. It wasn't spite. Mister Horakhty and Sugoroku Horakhty had lost Missus Horakhty the same day they lost her baby. When they found some funny looking boy, wandering the fields without and real cognizance they took pity and mercy with a grain of selfishness. It wasn't something Atem had bothered to confront Grandpa Horakhty about in his final years. It hadn't been worth it. So they wanted a son, so they'd lied, but at least they'd loved him and given him a wonderfully happy childhood.

This, now, was where he needed to bother his attention.

He kind of felt half the skill of growing up was learning to let go of anger, resentment, bad things and days. He liked this world. He thought his mother and Yugi's mother would like it to. Hell, he even thought Heba would.

He hoped Yami Sennen would've.

He really, sincerely, did.


EXTRA: PROLOGUE: Approximately four million years ago.

(Track- Portal 2 "Cara Mia Addio" official extended version)

Dr H. Gem

He was so used to scrawling it over forms he found it hard to comprehend that this would the last time he ever wrote it.

It turned his stomach, tensed him, and very cold suddenly he found it hard to move. He tapped the pen on the clipboard filling the quiet and as his knees came up to provide a flat surface under the board he was acutely aware of the hospital whites.

Timaeus looked sick already beside him and reaching he took the man's hand gingerly. At forty-two Timaeus would be a little old to remarry he suspected. Still Timaeus took his hand, laced their fingers a bit more intimately than he would've liked and squeezed.

He could still feel the ache inside him from the last tear.

Another miscarriage

"Don't do this." Timaeus hushed, ignoring the unconscious glow of the security camera.

"I'm already cleared," he answered lazily. "Sides," he sighed, "this'll be a new world when I'm done. It'll be the single greatest AI ever constructed."

"Who cares?" Timaeus rasped. "You'll die. I won't have you anymore. I won't be able to kiss you anymore..."

"The HEBA's my baby," he tried to explain but his voice didn't have the necessary oomph to really fake passion over his resignation. He just wanted to die really.

"We can have children."

"No. I can't," he answered prickling with old grains of vicious self-loathing. "That's the fourth one we lost. I'm useless at this."

"You're not useless." Timaeus hissed, almost crushing his fingers.

"I don't want to do it again, there's no point Tim, I'm infertile."

"It doesn't matter," he tried, "I don't care. We can adopt."

"I care," he whispered stubbornly, "and I don't want to."

"It's the same thing," the Knight hushed, "it won't matter in the end. We'll love it like it was ours anyway. I don't care. I just want you."

"I love you," he promised. "But I want this."

Pharaoh's wife was half his age and now, four weeks from the wedding night; pregnant. It almost made him angry to see it on the newsfeeds. Embittered he lay the pen down to stroke up Timaeus' tense forearm as he held his fingers on the knight's thigh. It was over today; their marriage, his life, all for a brain scan and possible transplantation.

"You won't be you anymore," Timaeus choked, "and what if it doesn't even work? What if they don't even use your mind for HEBA?"

Timaeus didn't totally understand the process of the persona templates or the data configurations necessary in constructing the AI but it was probably better that way.

"It'll be fine." He promised.

"You're letting them kill you."

"I want the government to finish this," he murmured, "I want to be part of it."

"This thing won't be you," Timaeus whispered.

"It'll be close."

Realistically he didn't think so but his mind, his brainwaves, would teach the machine how to think with some sentience. His mind would be a layout formation to teach the machine how to be. The personality shouldn't translate, probably wouldn't survive, but something of him, some kink, might make it into HEBA in the finished, polished, version if they didn't replace him with another template.

He just wanted to be gone, dead.

Timaeus held him so tight, kissed him so hard, that he was sure the man would rip the hospital whites against his tender nature. He cupped the knight's cheeks, realized as he waited to leave that they were both crying.

When the hydraulic door closed he knew it was the last time he'd see Timaeus' face.

He hated that.

For a second he…

He was on the bench next through, letting them dope him up for this government approved suicide. He was going to be part of the only almost-living thing he'd ever made. Faux life. He swallowed, felt his eyes sting, knew as he closed them he'd never wake up again.

God he hated pregnancy, carriers, babies…

People.

He hated people.

He was gone.

Synapses turned to electronics.


(Track- repeat)

It was just a file, like ten million others burnt or salvaged, but when Yura the sixty-seventh Paraxia-Pura of Zion turned it over in his fingers it seemed unnaturally heavy. The ink seemed dark, the letters seemed to writhe upon the page, just from the knowledge of what it stood for and what they had left.

Very soon this file might be all that was left of their species. Very soon he and the Pharaoh and the other survivors of the planetary genocide of Zion would die. Everything would rot away at the hands of time. Their whole world was sighing to empty darkness. All while Yura's only child and Pharaoh's boy slept through an eternity perhaps never to wake again. For how long they'd last in the cryogenics, beside EX0D1A, just dreaming he could only guess.

The file was one of the original HEBA AI systems files.

This thing, this monster, was… Yura flipped the pages. He found an old picture, a mug shot, of the original Zion citizen used for the AI brain template. He was a well formed carrier, a little old, a little sharp but there was a kind of strength in his eyes Yura recognized in his own mirror these days now his only child was gone. Heba- the syllables still hurt- had taken everything from them and now squatting in this bunker Yura was still hesitant about whether or not the AI was really destroyed in the tectonic, radioactive, molten wasteland that was left of their planet and species.

He scanned one of the reprinted status pages.

"H.E.B.A System

Original Brain Template: Dr H. Gem.
Persona Match: approved.
6/12 AI prototype passed regulatory commission. AI into secondary development.
9/4 AI systems reject secondary brain templates. Persona matches unsuccessful.

12/16 AI H.E.B.A final prototype developed, original template (H. Gem) used, AI initiated to supreme authority control of all planetary network systems.

H.E.B.A authorization-

AMMENDMENT XX/XX/XXXX
Miss you Tim. Still.

Yura tensed.

Tim, Timaeus Gem, the husband of… A machine shouldn't have…

Then again it only made sense he supposed. He'd spent his whole youth reading scripture and astrophysics that suggested to him that nothing truly evil could come solely from nature or microchips. If Heba had been so vile, so wretched, then some part of the machine had to have been a living, breathing, soul once.

He found the picture again, of the dead Dr H. Gem, the carrier used for the project. He had been alive somewhere in the machine, his impulses, and it had…

Yura took the corners in his fingers and gritting his teeth ripped the image till the sound satisfied him and the pieces were inconsolable. To give Heba a living face helped. To give himself someone to hate so fully, someone who once could've loved or hated back more than a machine's cold approximation, satisfied somehow. Dr H Gem could've been reasoned with perhaps but as an AI nothing could be reasoned to Heba.

One carrier, some nobody that history would forget, had cost Yura his reign, his four thousand year old traditions and his only child…

He spat, thick and well-aimed, onto the note;

"Miss you Tim. Still."

And closed the file.


1 I call Yugi, H. Gem and Yura "he" because by human standards they would be even if they were the respective females of their species. Just a technical thing I decided to go with because Heba has always been a human 'he' here.
2 I have been assured that if you would like to do a second read through there are Easter eggs you might've missed the first time!

New Fics:

1 "In the East" will begin next week with a female Yugi. This is my only story with a female Yugi so, if that's not your thing, any others you see from me feel safe knowing they'll have a male Yugi.
2 Tracks will continue if they fit
3 The week after next I will possibly start posting "Tale of Two Apartments"

NEXT TIME: "In The East" Chapter 1:

Atemu is the second son the Sultan. He returns after three years as ambassador to the West intent on getting his father's blessing for his impending marriage to the Lady Anzu. Unfortunately the proceedings of his visit are complicated and Atemu is forced to broker a peace not only with the court but also with his father's white witch, the Gem-Faher, Yugi. Atem's inability to compromise, his stubbornness, his superstition and his romanticism may make the the issue impossible to resolve any time in the next ten years…