Two Hearts One Puzzle
SHIT HAPPENED AND I AM SO SORRY But hey, I'm in college now and have a very active rp blog on tumblr so it makes it really hard to get down to writing especially around this area of the story. Gah. Excuses, excuses, yeah yeah yeah. Deal with it. Here you go.
*insert usual disclaimer here*
If you've come this far you know the drill.
Chapter 10: Fleeting Chance
Yugi kept a steady pace down the hallway, his chain clinking against the cold stone floor as usual. His body was still a bit weak from the events of the past few days but he could manage to walk. With shaky legs and trembling hands he continued through the long corridor, unsure of what to expect when he entered the dining hall.
Mana had woken him that morning, telling him that the Pharaoh had summoned him for breakfast if he was able to make it there on his own. He was frightened and had every right to be after how he had been treated by the Pharaoh: forced into starvation, beaten nearly to death, mentally tortured, raped…he honestly wasn't sure how he could still find the courage to face the Pharaoh. Ryou's words resounded with him deep in his chest:
"He looks at you differently…"
What could that mean? If he cared at all for Yugi, then surely he wouldn't treat him the way he had. But he was simply a slave and nothing more. He had no right to be treated any other way; it was unheard of. The boy shivered and rubbed his arms. The memories of his suffering under the Pharaoh sent chills through his body. Yugi had stared death in the face more times in the past few weeks than he had for more than ten years working in the fields. It wasn't like he had a choice however; he couldn't just leave his position and go back to the fields, as much as he desired to. But one thing still stuck in his mind that he kept turning over and over like meat roasting on a spit.
Ryou believed in the Pharaoh so much…why?
Had he seen something Yugi hadn't? Something no one else saw?
Yugi's head began to hurt trying to think of what that could be. Glancing up, he saw the huge double doors that led to the banquet hall. The boy's heart skipped a beat. His feelings were completely mixed about the Pharaoh now. He hated him with a passion for what he did to his friends, but somehow he felt like he could forgive him.
No, that's stupid… Yugi thought. He's hurt me and my friends so much…why can I find it easy to forgive hi-no. That's not the right word. I feel like…I want to understand him.
No one knew any details of the Pharaoh's personal life. It was all kept very secret. Even the older slaves knew very little about the previous Pharaohs. Slaves didn't need to know much at all. But being in the position he was, as the Pharaoh's right hand servant…perhaps he could learn something no one else knew.
Maybe that's why Ryou trusted him.
Yugi had already promised Ryou he would try to believe in the Pharaoh, to understand him. He never broke promises to his friends. As much as he dreaded walking up to those doors and placing his shaking, clammy hands on the handles, he had no choice. He would have to face the Pharaoh regardless. Yugi already decided within himself to stay strong for the sake of his friends. He would not give up so easily.
Slowly, he pulled open the double doors and entered the banquet hall.
Atem sat at the head of the table, twirling a copper spoon in his fingers. His expression was unlike one he ever had, and difficult to describe. But with a single look you could tell something troubled him. Servants stood around the table as usual, but unusually tense. Within moments, that boy was going to walk through those doors and Atem was a wrecked mess from last night over him. The spoon in his hand was the only thing keeping him from almost smashing the table in half. It was the first time the Pharaoh had tried to show self-control; and for a slave no less.
It was crucial that no one else notice his only just realized feelings for the boy. He would have to remain as brutal and cruel as usual, but at the same time wanted to show some sort of comfort to him. Atem was still Pharaoh; he had to act like it or he would lose the control he had over his other subjects.
Then again, he was Pharaoh. He could do as he pleased.
Atem could hear Yugi's chains rattling on the floor outside the double doors and he gripped the spoon, bending the copper. The doors creaked open slowly.
Stay calm…he's just a slave boy…
Yugi was met with the familiar sight of Atem sitting at the head of the banquet table, surrounded by servants. Meeting the Pharaoh's eyes made his stomach churn and he nearly lost the food in his belly just from being in the same room as him. But Yugi managed to keep it down as he averted the other's gaze, swallowing hard as he took a step forward and entered the dining hall. He glided as calmly as possible over to Atem's chair and kneeled, bowing his head.
"Good morning, my Pharaoh," he stated plainly.
Atem grunted, a strange noise coming from the man. He snapped his fingers twice and two servants came to either side of Yugi, lifting him up into a standing position, much to the confusion of the slave. He noticed the Pharaoh tapping a finger at one of the chairs next to his seat.
"Sit," he ordered bluntly.
Confused, but not wanting to disobey, Yugi nodded and hesitantly took the seat, sitting as properly as he could.
Why does he want me to sit here…at the table…this is no place for a slave… Yugi thought to himself as he watched the servants being to bring out food for Atem. Surely he was simply to sit where he was told to. Perhaps the Pharaoh simply wanted to get a better look at the "disobedient slave-boy" he seemed to hate so much. The other slaves littered the table with fruits and meats and grains of all kinds as usual. A simple feast for a man of royalty. Yugi sat silently, keeping his eyes fixed on the seat across from him and away from Atem's eyes; but he was greatly surprised when Atem snapped his fingers again, causing one of the servants to place a platter in front of Yugi. Looking down, it had larger portions of food than usual: a large serving of rice, several whole fruits and a steaming hot loaf of bread accompanied by fresh juice instead of water. Yugi blinked, staring at the food for several minutes before he heard Atem's voice rack his brain.
"Eat what you are given, boy."
Dazed by the strange treatment he was being given, Yugi had no choice but to comply, and dove into eating the delicious food. It was higher quality than had ever been given to a slave, and surely not worth giving to a slave who had just days ago been beaten senseless for "disobeying an order". Nevertheless, an order was an order and Yugi enjoyed every bite. So lost in the wonderful taste, he made a happy humming sound to which Atem snickered under his breath.
"Enjoying it, are you?" he asked, taking a bite of wild poultry.
Yugi immediately realized what he had done and ceased, nodding his head slightly.
"Y…Yes, my Pharaoh…"
Atem smirked. But it wasn't his usual smirk that struck fear into anyone who saw it; it was…almost kind. Yugi saw it for only a moment before returning his attention to the food remaining on his place, which he quickly finished. He sat quietly as the Pharaoh also finished and the plates were cleared from the table, Atem resting his head on his hands folded together.
"You seem to like being treated like this. Perhaps I should give you such treatment more often~" the Pharaoh chirped as he rose from his chair and strode around the table behind Yugi. "Come. I have something to show you."
What in the name of Ra was going on? The Pharaoh feeding him such wonderful food, offering him a spot at his grand dining table...why did he put such effort into this? Didn't he say himself that he was a worthless slave and nothing more?
Trying to comprehend everything, Yugi quickly hopped down from his chair and followed after the Pharaoh, chains clinking against the floor. He was surprised Atem didn't take them in hand and tug him along, but he said nothing as they went along. A glance over his shoulder let Yugi see the servants giving each other strange looks as their eyes followed the two, some with disapproving glares to Yugi. He ignored them and returned his attention to the man in front of him, staying just far back enough to avoid getting caught in his billowing cape.
They wandered through the halls of the palace, footsteps echoing and passing several advisors who also wandered, the Pharaoh paid them little heed and Yugi kept his eyes on the back of the man's head; a sight he all too often saw. Eventually, they came to the grand hall before the throne room where the many elegant tapestries hung from the wall, covering every inch of space in huge depictions of the past. Again, Yugi looked up to notice the one that was missing, a torn edge at the top giving the possibility that someone at one point tore it down. But why? What had been shown on it that would cause that?
"So you noticed."
Heat seeped into Yugi's face as he saw Atem glancing over his shoulder at him, a curious smug look about him and Yugi quickly lowered his head. "F...Forgive me, my Pharaoh..."
He simply chuckled. "How could you not?"
They made their way right in front of it, the advisors seeing this and dashed away, knowing what that empty space of wall meant to him. Yugi stayed back as Atem placed a hand on the cold stone, fingers curling slightly as his expression darkened. Memories flowed into his mind and his previous temperament returned for a moment.
"The tapestry that once hung here showed the reign of my father, Aknamkanon. He was a fine ruler, magnificent and true. These lands were peaceful in his time as Pharaoh. That is..."
His hand stroked the gray stone, eyes narrowing a bit.
"...until he was fooled by his brother, my uncle, Aknadin. There came to be a time when the armies of neighboring countries threatened the peace of our land, and Aknadin convinced my brother that the only way to defend the people and this country was to create a set of powerful objects infused with magic that would allow his advisors to control the powers of darkness and gain victory in their war; the millennium items. He was wary at first, but ultimately agreed. However he knew not that these items were created from harvesting the blood, flesh and bone of ninety-nine innocent villagers from a place known as Kul Elna and forging them with gold. They were slaughtered for this purpose, a deed my father was horrified to discover after the items had been created. He had his brother executed for his actions and was filled with deep regret. Father could not bear to use the items once the war had ended, and they were sealed away in a tomb nearby with a guardian to protect them. However, one night, a thief snuck into the tomb and raided it of two items, leaving one of them in pieces after being found by the guards. He escaped, but left the item broken."
The Pharaoh's other hand came to rest on the puzzle around his neck.
"They were the pieces of the millennium puzzle, my prized possession, the last thing my father gave to me...this item hanging from my neck."
Yugi glanced it over. He always noticed the item but had no idea what it meant. So it was a treasure from his father...a magical object made from gold and human flesh...he cringed.
Atem dug his nails into the stone.
"I knew nothing of these events. I thought everything was perfect, a young child awaiting the day I would become Pharaoh and take my father's place...but...it all came too soon."
His fingers made a fist and punched the wall hard enough to shake the other tapestries. Yugi winced.
"A slave rebelled against the throne and broke into the palace, slaughtering servants and officials in his wake, blade in hand, screaming 'DEATH TO THE PHARAOH, DEATH TO THE PHARAOH!' as he entered my father's chambers where I had been. He immediately pushed me into an alcove before the slave saw me, allowing me to hide and be spared as I watched him kill my mother first before he stabbed my father through the heart over and over, tears welling at my eyes. The man laughed maniacally as he killed my father, dragging the body out of the room. I followed cautiously, knowing it would be foolish for me to simply retaliate. I was but a child and he a powerfully built slave. It was then that I saw him toss my father's corpse down this very hallway..."
He motioned this hand as if impersonating the slave, eyes never leaving the wall.
"...and that's when he tore the tapestry down and burned it, setting it aflame and laughing the whole time. I saw a horrifying image at that time...around his neck was one of the seven items...the millennium ring. He used it to vanish and escape the guards that swarmed him after he released the body of my father."
Eyes were gray and clouded, Atem held these memories in his mind for a long time.
"I rose to take the throne shortly after, just a child. My first decree was for the remaining items to be dispersed among my father's advisors, now mine. My second was to have the villagers nearby become slaves and work for me, building pyramids and statues, monuments to my and my father's honor. From that point on...I hated the common folk. They took away the people I loved so much..."
Now Yugi understood why Atem was so cruel to his slaves...all because of that one...it didn't excuse him one bit, but he was Pharaoh. Nothing could be said against him. Still...Yugi felt a bit of...sentiment?
Atem realized he was rambling and his spiteful demeanor left him, somewhat softer eyes returning to Yugi, who tensed a bit at the unfamiliar sight.
"Come." His hand slid off the wall as he turned back the way they came. "I have one more thing to show you."
Confused was an understatement of what Yugi was feeling now. Why was the Pharaoh explaining all of this to him? It made as much sense as to why he fed him such a lavish meal, him. A slave. Why was he telling such stories to a slave? His mind was a jumbled mess of thoughts and theories but he hurried after Atem as he led him once more across the palace. This time, they entered a small corridor which went on for a long way before opening again into a large hall where a pit and fire burned in the center, seating areas around it. The ceiling was lavish and adorned by marble carvings. Yugi looks around, amazed. He had never been to this part of the palace before.
"This is not the room I spoke of."
Yugi blinked when he saw Atem standing by an empty space of wall, his hand against the marble.
With a strong push, the Pharaoh revealed a secret door in the wall and opened it, ducking under with Yugi chasing close behind, following his king wherever he was leading him. When they got to the other side, Yugi's eyes opened in mystical wonder.
Sunlight poured into a beautiful garden abundant in green foliage and flowers, a pond and little creek running about, controlled by a hidden mechanism constantly supported by a container of water. Dew dripped off the leaves of plants and trees, grasses growing beneath his feet. Something Yugi had only heard of but never seen. The desert was far too dry for such lush greenery to survive. But here...with the lavish amounts of wealth the Pharaoh possessed, it seemed to be a simple task. Birds flew about, obviously imported from other areas of the world, their wings clipped enough to not fly high enough to escape through the empty ceiling which let in fresh air from outside. Several butterflies, also imported judging by their gorgeous colors and patterns, fluttered by, almost touching Yugi's nose.
The slave boy stared in awe. He never knew such a place existed in the palace. It was breathtaking, seeing such lush plants, flowers waving gently in a desert breeze. Atem strode across the room to the other side, picking up a small pot with a spout and going to the pond, kneeling and filling it with water. Yugi was puzzled. Why was the pharaoh doing that? Shouldn't he be asking him to? He was the slave. Atem never did anything like that on his own.
He watched as Atem carried the pot over to a raised bed of flowers and poured the water over them, letting it sink into the soil. There was the faintest hint of a ghostly smile upon the Pharaoh's face, and it stunned Yugi to see him make such an expression. It was kind...gentle. Never before had he seen the pharaoh this way. In his stupor, Yugi didn't notice that Atem saw him staring.
"This is my second prized possession; my garden. My...Eden, so to say." He gently watered the other plants nearby, aware of the boy watching him from entrance. His voice grew quieter and less gruff and deep than it usually was. "Mother always tended to this herself...so I decided at the least I would do that as well. This was her legacy...only so many knew of it."
His mother...Yugi briefly thought of his own mother.
So many thoughts ran through Atem's mind. What was he doing? He let the boy into his garden! Not even his trusted advisor Seth was allowed to know of this place. Did he actually care so much about this boy that he was willing to let him in on his secrets? So suddenly? What was wrong with him? Blurting out his family secrets that no slaves were worth telling, bringing him to sacred places that were tied with memories of his long dead parents...he was an internal wreck. Unsure what to do. He never felt so strongly for anyone before, let alone a slave. But he had finally discovered by it is he paid such attention, such effort into seeing him squirm, seeing his emotions wracked and his mind challenged. His heart had grown attached to this boy...for one reason or another. Seth told him to follow his heart...and that was what Atem had set himself upon doing. Though...he didn't know exactly how it is he would do that, but this seemed like a start. He knew how the other saw him, that he thought him a terrible king as many others did. But something inside told him to prove him wrong...show him the side no one else saw because Atem feared it to be weakness.
Yugi shuffled uncomfortably as he watched Atem tend to his plants. Something was up...Atem was acting strange...why was he doing this? It didn't make sense! Nothing that man did made any sense and it was tearing Yugi's mind apart. He couldn't stand it. One minute he's beating him to death with a whip, the next he's bringing him to his secret garden and spilling his life story! His face contorted in frustration and he clenched his teeth.
Atem noticed this. "You look as if you wish to speak, boy. You have permission." What the hell was that? He never let slaves talk to him, whatever the reason unless he spoke first. Was this boy really getting to him that much?
Yugi was stunned again. The pharaoh let him speak? "M...My Pharaoh..." he rubbed his elbow with one hand and avoided the other's gaze. "...wh...why...are you...treating me...this way..." Damn it! He was so blunt, Yugi braced himself to be struck by the Pharaoh's apparent bipolar tendencies.
The pot in Atem's hand held still. The boy wanted an answer...a verbal answer...for some reason, he felt compelled to indulge him. But with what? Surely he couldn't blab the truth. At least not all of it. He wrapped his brain around many lies, but ended up with a simple answer.
"I am Pharaoh. I do as I wish. And I wished to tell you such things and give you such things and show you such things as I have. Do you question me, your king?"
Yugi winced. That was an answer he expected. "N...Not at all..."
Accepting that, Atem went back to watering, moving to another location closer to Yugi, who stood frozen in place. He suddenly had a fit of curiosity...and an idea.
"Tell me something, boy..." Atem suddenly started, causing Yugi's heart to skip a beat. "...what of your mother and father?"
What? Why did he care about a slave's family? The Pharaoh was confusing Yugi to his breaking point, but somehow he felt a bit...relaxed around him now...as if his chain had been loosed, no pun intended. But at that thought, Yugi unconsciously raised his hand to touch the metal object clamped around his neck as he swallowed, thinking of how to answer. The memories were extremely painful...
"My parents...were killed when I was very little." Yugi rubbed his arm again, still avoiding Pharaoh's gaze. "The guards came and tried to take our food as usual...but my father rebelled and they killed him and mother...I buried them outside our house, but apparently not deep enough because wild dogs came and dug them up a few days later..." Sorrow flashed across his eyes as he bit back a whimper.
Usually, Atem was used to such sob stories. The lives of slaves were harsh and cruel, he expected nothing less from him. Though...this time, hearing it from Yugi, made Atem's heart twinge. His eyes softened slightly.
"How old were you?"
Silence filled the garden but for the little chirping of birds nestled in the trees and the gushing of water from the stream. Atem found himself looking over to Yugi, seeing him tremble at the very thought. Something came over him, a wave of pity and an urge to comfort. He never felt it before...but Yugi...looked so sad. He wanted to pull him into an embrace and hug him tight, to comfort him as best he could. Without even considering what he was doing, Atem set down the pot and came over to Yugi slowly, standing before him and carefully reaching out with his hand to touch the other's face in some sort of comforting gesture, awkward, but genuine in feeling.
But Yugi only saw this as he saw everything else Atem did...a way of hurting him. And thus he flinched before the Pharaoh's fingers ever touched his face, turning it away and clenching his eyes shut, expecting him to strike him across the cheek.
Fingers stopped. What in the name of Ra was he DOING? Yugi had been starved, beaten...emotionally scarred to a pulp and Atem thought it would help to reach out and...touch him? Those hands had brought upon many scars to the slave boy's body...his blood spilt time and time again. Not to mention the terrible things he did to his friends...the boy must despise him surely...
...and that's when Atem realized. The emotions he felt for the other, this...love...that he discovered...would never be returned. He had treated him so poorly, nearly killed him several times. And he...Atem laughed internally...he thought he could actually get close to Yugi like this? Showing him his secrets and asking about his, expecting them to just get along and for him to forgive him for his actions? He raped him...he raped him...how could anyone come to love a monster like him? It was only through that single motion, so simple and subtle but it was like a tidal wave crashing over Atem in realization. Atem didn't deserve him. Surely he could force the other with their positions to become his lover, but for once...Atem didn't want that. He had enough of the courtesans who served him at night, but left in the morning hurt and broken with no emotion toward him whatsoever, and none was returned. However this boy...Yugi...Atem actually...cared about him. But how had he shown that...how...
A heavy decision was made in his mind as Atem sighed, reaching to grab a copper key from his pocket and unlocking the collar from Yugi's neck, removing it and tossing it aside as it fell to the grass below.
Yugi was stunned, his eyes wide and staring at the Pharaoh.
Atem shook his head and he turned away so his back faced Yugi. "You're free."
Words couldn't form in Yugi's throat as he tried to speak, to retort, to ask why. They came out as soft chokes, his mouth drying up and he struggled to say what he wished to.
"You no longer have to serve me...Yugi...you may go wherever you wish."
There was a hint of sorrow in Atem's voice. But he knew in his heart this was the first kind thing he had done in a long time. He remembered an old proverb, "If you truly love something, set it free". For once...he was following the advice of his elders.
The boy hesitated. Why...why...why?! All of this...had led to him being freed? After all this time...did...did the Pharaoh actually want him to leave? He was letting him go? That meant...Yugi could see his friends again...his new family...he could be with them again. If he stayed...no...why would he stay? There was no reason. Despite today's events...the king acting so strangely out of his character. And this...
...could be his last chance to be free from Atem once and for all.
Without another word, Yugi turned on his heel and bolted out of the garden, through the secret door and tore down the narrow corridor at breakneck pace, just in case Atem happened to change his mind and came after him. The garden was left silent once more, and Atem alone.
The Pharaoh bit his lip, earring dangling about the sides of his neck as his fists clenched. Was it worth it? He was a king! He could have anything and anyone he wanted. But no...this was...different. For the first time, the slave wasn't something Atem had simply wanted. He couldn't have him. And he knew this deep inside his once more freezing heart. He placed a hand on the puzzle which seemed to glow with warmth, as if comforting him. It never did that before...but Atem ignored it, too lost in thought about Yugi no longer being at his side. Too lost at the knowledge that the other would never return his love.
The oasis pool was the one place other than his garden that Atem could relax in. It was built in a grand room with crisscrossed beams of stone as a ceiling, holes opening up to the open air and held up by pillars about the edges of the pool. The water was always glimmering, reflecting the blue light of the sky above and glistening in the hot sun. But with the half shade and surrounding stone, it was kept cool. There were no guards in this room, just as the garden, as Atem wanted nothing to increase his stress. He disrobed himself as he walked to the pool, dropping garments and leaving them, forgotten. His jewelry he kept, for he rarely let his entire head under water, as well as his under cloth, simply because of his rule should anyone disturb him. Unlike the garden, this room's entrance was well known about the palace. Simply avoided.
Naked but for the fabric covering his rear and nethers, Atem stepped into the pool which rippled at the contact, sucking in one leg and then the other as he entered the water up to his neck, sighing at the refreshing coolness of the pool. He lazily swam around a bit before coming to the shallow end once more and resting against the wall, arms half floating under the surface as he laid back his head, neck craning a bit as he let it fall onto the side of the pool.
Atem needed to think, to relax. He had to get his mind of that boy. Yugi was gone now, released by his own hand, and would never return. Not in a million years should that boy find a reason to return to his murderous, lecherous, vicious side. Atem had to accept this...but he still found it hard to go around his palace without that boy's clinking chain following him...those amethyst eyes he rarely got to meet.
As he let himself lose all senses in the pool, darkness soon fell as night approached, blanketing the room in shadow and the water losing its glistening glow from the sun, replaced by a bit of magic Atem had instilled in the pool for relaxation purposes. Lights soon illuminated the water from underneath the surface, glowing many colors as if flames were burning. He closed his eyes and nearly drifted off to sleep.
But that would be his final act as another had found his way into the room, a figure draped in a black cloak hiding his face and eyes. Silently as an assassin could be, he strode over to the king resting in his pool and without warning, grabbed him by the head and shoved him under the water, much to the shock and struggle of the Pharaoh. His eyes widened and he took in water as his mouth opened in attempted protest before being pushed beneath the surface. The angle was far too awkward for him to get a grip on the man or have any kind of balance under water. He flailed and struggled, but it was to no avail. His vision grew dark as water filled his lungs. The glowing lights of the pool ironically turned a blood red color and seeped his shadow of a body under the water. The cloaked man smirked as he felt Atem's body go limp. The final bubbles escaped his lips and burst at the surface as the Pharaoh slipped into blissful darkness. Perhaps this was his punishment...he deserved to die? Yes...perhaps that. For what he did to the one he loved...there was no better way to go than suffering a horrific death. Atem's world became black as he stopped resisting and gave in, letting the course of slowly drowning take hold.
...there you go. Don't hate me. I'm sorry that took like two months...maybe three. I don't even know anymore. But there you go. Hope you like. I'll get to the next chapter soon. Leave reviews if you'd like! Love hearing your opinions~ *still sorry for taking so long*