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Plum Blossom (Blue/Green)

[Yugioh] RE:Play, Part III. RE:Set - Chapter Eight

Posted on 2013.12.25 at 08:51
Current Mood: cheerfulfestive
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Merry Christmas!!!

Beginning of this fanfiction is HERE. You will also find more fic intro notes there.

RE:Play by Shiraume

[Written: 5/29/2009 - 12/31/2010]

III. RE:Set

Chapter Eight

He did not, it turned out, have to wait long. Less than twenty minutes later, Atem came in, looking a bit worse for wear. Atem’s expression brightened a bit when he saw Yuugi, and Yuugi smiled at him in welcome.

“Hey. Kaiba-kun—”

“—Will be joining us as soon as he’s done with the new reports. I know. I ran into him. I’m going to have to take a look at what he has, but...”

“What’s wrong?”

Atem came to plop down in a chair next to him, looking more tired than could be attributed to his exertion earlier. “It seems like Bakura wasn’t the one leading the last raid. And...” Atem rubbed his neck, rotating his shoulder to relieve some of the tension. “I was hoping Shaada would be able to uncover something at Ineb Hedj. No such luck. Akhenaden is quite upset and has closeted himself in the Temple of the Stone Tablets. Which is the last place we want him right now.”

“Kaiba-kun said Priest Akhenaden lost a friend in that fire,” Yuugi commented, moving behind Atem to rub his neck. Atem let out a grateful sound as Yuugi kneaded his back.

“The archive had a lot of old texts and all of them burned down completely. And no one seems to know how the fire started. But what worries me more is that Shaada tells me that a part of the temple collapsed completely. From his description, almost as if,” Atem chose his words with care, “a violent earthquake selectively hit just that section of the temple.”

It only took Yuugi a moment to follow Atem’s line of thoughts. “Magic?”

“There are spell cards that can cause earthquakes,” Atem agreed grimly. “And there is Akhenaden’s old colleague to consider. A former guardian of the Millennium Items, no less. Roughly at the same time the bandits strike here, but not led by Bakura.”

“Wait, you don’t remember any of this?”

Atem paused only briefly, but Yuugi knew him well enough to pick out the hesitation when he spoke. “No. It could have slipped my mind.”

“Or something might have changed,” Yuugi finished. A chill spread through him at the thought. The peace of the last few days had lulled him into letting his guard down. “We still haven’t figured out a way out of here.”

“No.” Atem took Yuugi’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Isis and Mahaad have been looking into the Gate to the Underworld. So far, they haven’t had much luck, but there has to be something. If we assume Seth was the one who rebuilt the Temple of the Underworld, he must have known about it from somewhere.”

“Right.”

“By the way, did you know you had my deck?”

“Hm?”

“I found it in your pocket when I sent your uniform to be washed. It makes sense. I was in your body when I walked in there for the battle ceremony.” He must have had a flabbergasted look on his face, because Atem chuckled. “You forgot, huh?”

Yuugi shook his head. “Completely. I can’t believe I forgot.” Kaiba’s deck, on the other hand, was probably not here, given that only Kaiba’s soul seemed to have been transported. “Would your cards work here? I mean, cards like Black Magician and Black Magician Girl?”

“I don’t know. I’m not in a hurry to find out, but...” Atem tugged at his hand, and Yuugi came around the chair to sit next to him. “I have something else I wanted to give you.”

“What is it?”

Atem wordlessly held Yuugi’s hand palm up and opened his other hand over it, letting something small and heavy drop on Yuugi’s palm. At first, Yuugi didn’t recognize it. When he did, however, his mouth dropped open.

“Anzu’s cartouche.”

He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten. Without Anzu’s thoughtful gift, they would have lost the battle against Zorc Necrophades, unable to tell Atem the name they’d found hidden deep inside Atem’s tomb. With their thoughts, they – Yuugi, Anzu, Jounouchi, and Honda – had engraved on its silvery surface the true name of the Nameless Pharaoh. Of course, in the real world, the real cartouche pendant remained untouched, since the whole event had taken place in the Memory World. He’d worn it anyway on the day they went to complete the battle ceremony, as a reminder and a good luck charm. Yuugi turned over the cartouche, and started. There, on the reverse side, was his own name, the kanji characters for ‘Yuugi’ engraved in bold strokes. On the obverse was Atem’s name in hieroglyphics.

“Atem.” Yuugi breathed, not knowing quite what to say. Atem looked a little bit embarrassed but pleased by his reaction.

“My name was your gift to me,” Atem said softly. “Both of them.”

For some reason Yuugi’s throat felt dry, and it took him a few swallows before he found his voice. “Not just from me. From all of us.” Jounouchi, Honda, Anzu, even Kaiba. All of them had worked together for Atem’s name and the victory over Zorc Necrophades. Atem’s lips curved in a small smile accompanied by a short nod, and Yuugi turned his head to hide a blush.

Atem had already changed out of his combat outfit, but even without the ensemble that barely skirted edges of propriety, Atem didn’t look any less appealing. Yuugi remembered the way the short shendyt had clung to Atem’s hips, and bit his lip. Add Kaiba to the mix, and it was enough to make Yuugi want to groan. At least before, Atem and Kaiba’s chemistry had never been quite so explosive.

“You had me worried there, you know. When you were sparring with Kaiba-kun.” Alright, so that was a blatant attempt at changing the topic.

Atem briefly looked like he wanted to apologize. “Seth and I used to spar all the time when we were younger. We haven’t killed each other yet.”

“No, it was—” Smoking hot? Distracting as hell? “I just...didn’t expect it, is all,” Yuugi finished lamely, fighting down another blush. Atem studied him for a moment, then a devious smirk rose to his lips. Before Atem could ask him anything embarrassing, Yuugi continued with the first thing that came to his mind. “I think Kaiba-kun left a trail of broken hearts on our way to your room. All the women—”

“You found Kaiba hot?” Atem interrupted him, annoyance battling disbelief in his tone.

Yuugi looked at him with a wide-eyed surprise of his own. Was Atem really that oblivious to the chemistry between himself and Kaiba? “You don’t?”

Atem opened his mouth, but nothing escaped him. A heartbeat later, he closed his mouth and refused to answer.

Yuugi chuckled at him. “See?”

“I’m reasonably sure I didn’t used to think about Seth that way,” Atem muttered.

“And Kaiba-kun?”

Atem was silent.

“Well. I don’t know about Seth. But I definitely find both of you, um...” Yuugi trailed off in embarrassment.

After a long, assessing look, Atem turned his gaze to his feet instead. “Does he know?”

“Ahaha, no, I don’t think so. For one, Kaiba-kun would have punched me into the wall if he knew.”

Atem didn’t smile. “I don’t think he would. Not intentionally.”

“Atem?” The unsmiling expression was beginning to worry him.

“He’s not safe. Kaiba is—” Bitter amusement twisted his lips, and Yuugi frowned, troubled by the harsh smirk that made him look chillingly like his old self, the one Yuugi wasn’t supposed to know about. “Not that I have room to talk.”

“Before you and I...before Death-T.” Yuugi knew his words were jumbled. He also knew Atem would understand what he meant regardless. “Did you kill using my body?”

“Yes.” Atem’s reply was short and harsh.

The first and only time Yuugi had been a conscious witness to Atem’s willingness – attempt, even – to kill was back in Duelist Kingdom, with Kaiba. Yuugi knew that hadn’t been the first time, in fact had suspected a great deal more, but hadn’t let on because he’d felt Atem’s pain as he was forced to decide their grandfather’s life was more important than Kaiba’s. That decision hadn’t been easily made, nor had Atem spared himself the memory of that experience for a long time afterward. Besides, Atem had changed after that, enough to recognize the hatred that crippled Kaiba in their duel during the Battle City Tournament. So Yuugi had told himself it didn’t matter what Atem had been like before they were fully conscious of each other. That was in the past. He’d grown to love the person Atem had become, and the two of them had grown stronger – better – together.

But Atem of the past was a different matter. That had bothered him the most yesterday, when he listened to Mahaad and Mana’s story about Atem’s life here. It was hard to reconcile the Atem of the past – the little prince who pulled outrageous pranks and loved to make his companions smile – with the relentless spirit of the Puzzle. 3,000 years of wait locked inside the shattered Puzzle with no memories or even sense of self...Yuugi was no fool. He knew the strange, tacit understanding between Kaiba and the Other Yuugi had a lot to do with the darkness they both knew so well.

“Did Kaiba-kun ever...?” Yuugi forced his voice to a level above a whisper, but just barely.

Atem did not meet his eyes. “I don’t know. His heart was never open to me the way yours was. But I know he can – would have, if he needed to.”

Given how closely Death-T had skirted mortal danger, Yuugi couldn’t deny the validity of the claim. Yet, for all that, Atem had never hesitated to trust Kaiba. So why the sudden distrust?

“Even now?” Atem did not reply, his gaze pensive. “You would trust him with your life, but not your heart?” Yuugi asked as gently as possible. Atem stiffened, and looked up to meet his eyes for the first time since their conversation took a turn for the bizarre.

“It’s not my heart I’m worried about, aibou,” Atem said slowly, and Yuugi froze. Dear God, how could he have forgotten? If the three of them found a way out of here, then he and Kaiba would return to the future, and Atem would move on to his afterlife. If they remained trapped here until all the past events played out, Atem would be sealed in the Millennium Puzzle for the next three thousand years, and they... Either way, Atem wasn’t going to be around for long.

Then, something else occurred to him: Atem didn’t expect Kaiba to reject Yuugi. If Kaiba hurt him, it would be through Kaiba being Kaiba, not through a rejection. And Atem was worried because he wasn’t going to be with Yuugi much longer, while Kaiba was for the foreseeable future.

Yuugi clenched his teeth until his jaw ached, afraid he might say something that would make things worse. But it was impossible not to wonder, to ignore the whisper of temptation that entered his mind when he first came to the past. Why couldn’t they consider a third option? Since they were in the past already, why not simply change it for the better? Who knew, maybe that was the reason they were sent here in the first place.

The voice of Atem’s attendants announcing Priest Seth’s arrival startled Yuugi out of his thoughts. Yuugi turned to Atem, who gave him a fleeting, speaking look before wiping his face clean of expression, and reluctantly, Yuugi unclenched his hands, turning his attention back to the door.

~*~*~*~


The downside of having looks that stood out, Bakura decided glumly, was that – well, you stood out.

Especially when he was trying to be discreet. Like today, checking out what his band of men had been up to during his prolonged absence . Much to his embarrassment, it turned out the idiots had launched one and a half failed raids on the royal city without him. And judging from the way they were drunkenly waving weapons and closing in on him and Hondo, the pigheaded idiots had mutinied at some point and had a new leader.

Hondo cleared his throat, still looking annoyingly calm. “Not quite the reception you were looking for?” he asked mildly, earning a dark look from Bakura.

He really should have remembered his men were a band of murderous thieves who would like nothing better than to stab him in the back given half the chance. Bakura was beginning to regret not following his first instinct and slaughtering a choice few members to make a point when he first took over. It figured his one moment of leniency would come back to bite him in the ass. The way their new feckless leader was brandishing his club while screaming out orders to kill Bakura and his companion was beginning to annoy him.

...He definitely should have killed at least half of them when he first took over, starting with the particularly annoying idiot currently (and very temporarily) in charge.

“And you do realize that technically, my employment in your service is over now that we’ve reached the royal city?”

Damn the mercenaries and their money-grasping ancestors straight to Ammit’s jaws, today was not his day.

“And if I offered you twice the contract payment if you remain in my service one more day?”

Hondo shrugged. “You got yourself a deal.”

The next moment, the mercenary was already in the air, bowling over one of the charging thieves on his way to dispatch the next two. Bakura took another moment to appreciate the irony: if the only usable help was a paid one nowadays, being a thief was not what it used to be.

“We’re going to lure them away,” he said when the two of them met in the center of the tavern, fighting back to back.

A vicious kick-and-spin from Hondo sent a bendy-legged thief flying into the one behind him, leaving both in a tangled heap on the floor. “Where?”

“In case you still don’t get it,” Bakura huffed, turning even as blood splashed on his sleeve, leaving his assailant sinking to the floor, eyes wide and clutching at his slashed throat. “I lead, you follow. Now move it.”

It was only a short ride to the ruins of Kur-Elna, and Bakura felt grim satisfaction flood him when the band of thieves chasing them did not slow down even as they entered the town. No one had inhabited the place since its destruction fifteen years ago, and the eerie silence should have warned any discerning soul this was no place for the living. Luckily, the bandits seemed unmindful, and followed in hot pursuit while the two of them swiftly moved deeper into the ruins. Hondo glanced around them uneasily, but did not comment as they stopped to dismount.

Bakura felt his nerves falter when he saw the gaping opening to the underground temple. The door had been thrown open (he made a note to find out later what brave fool had ventured out this far), and the pitch-black passage was like a gaping mouth. Hondo was right behind him, holding fast the reins of their horses, both of which were thoroughly spooked.

“Tie them,” Bakura told him, and busied himself making a makeshift torch while Hondo secured the poor animals nearby.

Hondo’s expression told him what he thought about going in, but the mercenary only held up a hand. “Yeah, yeah, you lead, I follow. Lead on, boss.”

Bakura had thoroughly studied the Millennium Grimoire on their way back to the royal city, aided by the scrolls they’d taken from the temple of Ptah, which turned out to be a set of translation and meticulous notes on the riddling text. By the dim torchlight, he could make out the round stone, the blood-filled cradle of the Millennium Items. His hands trembled as he opened the Grimoire to the marked page, and started to read the dark spell written there.

“Bakura,” Hondo called quietly, his voice nervous. Cold air gathered around them, plunging the temperature to a freezing chill. The darkness was deepening also. The first of the wails made them both jump, and then Bakura saw, horror mingling with terror, streams of restless souls throng, circling around like ravenous wolves. The hate was a tangible, writhing thing around them, coupled with fear and fury. The vengeful spirits began to aggregate, and a gust of wind blew the dust off the floor, gathering around them. Then, with a violent explosion outward, the souls condensed to a shape, its terrible form matching their murderous hate.

The terror was only a pale shadow in his mind, all but eclipsed by the triumph. Bakura laughed, stretching both arms toward the twisted, monstrous product of grudge from ninety-nine souls. “The power of vengeance! Mine at last.” The monster was flickering in and out of existence, but was still visible enough to elicit cries of surprise and fear from the bandits, who had finally caught up with them. Bakura’s eyes gleamed as he looked at them.

“Feast on those fools, Diabound! Together, we will bring down the house of Akhnamkanen, and take our revenge!”

~*~*~*~


Hondo felt a wave of nausea as the monster streaked past them, devouring the hapless thieves, gorging itself on their blood and agony. The mad light in Bakura’s eyes as the thief watched and laughed sent a chill down his spine. He had no need to ask if Bakura had planned this all along, had lured out the band of his treacherous men to this gods-forsaken village expressly to feed them to his monster. No wonder the old mage had tried to kill them rather than let them take the Grimoire. If the book had given Bakura the knowledge to call out that monster, then the book contained more evil than the entire Underworld. And Bakura had known that, had deliberately sought it out for the sake of vengeance.

Hearing the terrified screams of the unfortunate thieves, Hondo shivered. He was in over his head if Bakura had been after revenge all along. He’d seen what a quest for revenge could do. Had witnessed an entire city burned for the sake of revenge. Men, women, and children – innocents – all fallen victim to a reckless hate.

...Among them had been a young priestess-in-training in a temple of Djehuty, with lovely doe eyes and beautiful brown hair falling down her back, her face radiant as the gleaming lotus from the sacred lake...

Another shrill scream tore him away from the memory, and Hondo closed his eyes in spite of his training, against his finely honed instincts as a warrior, wishing he could close his ears, too. When the last of the screams faded away, Hondo cautiously opened his eyes, and gasped. The monster, which had been faint and hazy when first called, now seemed completely solid, towering over them, its head nearly reaching the high ceiling. Every inch of the monster’s grotesque form was covered in blood and torn flesh, which made Hondo grimace against his will, but Bakura seemed oblivious, amber eyes locked with the monster’s glowing ones, sharing a strange, mutual understanding.

Hondo cleared his throat, keeping his eyes on Bakura to avoid looking at the monster. “If you have no further use of my service, Bakura, I would like to terminate our contract early.”

Bakura took off his eyes from the monster with visible reluctance. “I could use a man like you for my future plans, especially now that my men have outlived their usefulness.”

Hondo was very much aware how much danger he was in. Bakura hadn’t balked at consigning his former comrades to a brutal end; if Bakura decided to turn on his contracted employee as well, with the might of this horrific monster at his command... “I’ve told you before, I plan to head south after reaching the royal city.” Only the sheer force of will kept the fear out of his voice. “And I have helped you against your treacherous men, as you asked,” Hondo reminded him, a subtle appeal to the sense of honor that Bakura might or might not have retained.

Bakura’s amber eyes swept over him, and it took considerable effort on Hondo’s part to remain still. After a short pause, Bakura spoke. “Do you know what that is?” Mutely, Hondo shook his head. “Its name is Diabound. But do you know where it came from? What it originally was?”

“I can’t say I do,” Hondo replied, feeling a bit calmer, though no less wary. If Bakura was talking, he wasn’t ready to throw Hondo to the monster just yet.

“There were people living in this village fifteen years ago. Not the reputable sort, to be sure – this place was a den of thieves and grave robbers. But it was the only home I’ve known.” Something softened in the cool amber gaze, and for a moment, he looked like the old Bakura Hondo met in Ineb Hedj. “One night, soldiers came and killed everyone in the village. Then, here, where we stand, four mages performed a ritual of dark alchemy, using the flesh and blood of the ninety-nine villagers killed here, to create certain artifacts of immense power. Artifacts that...” A snarl twisted his face into something less human, and Hondo took an involuntary step backward. “Artifacts that bound the sacrificed souls to an eternal torment without rest, all to fuel that power.” Rage choked his words, and it took Bakura a moment to compose himself and continue. “And when the pharaoh won the war against the invaders using those artifacts, ignorant fools cheered and worshipped him as a god. A sanctified murderer, bathed with the blood of his own people.”

“How...” Hondo cleared his throat, and tried again. “How do you know if the pharaoh was really behind it?” He only knew the late King Akhnamkanen by reputation, but by all account he had been a wise and just ruler who cared for his people.

The feral gleam in his eyes made Bakura appear more like a beast than human, like a hungry wolf about to pounce on a kill. “Because the mage who performed the ritual, the very man who had translated and deciphered the text of the Millennium Grimoire, is none other than his closest advisor and confidant.” Bakura spat out the name like a curse. “Akhenaden.”

Put it like that... “And the king’s guards were the ones who accompanied Akhenaden that night, I presume.” Bakura’s jaws tightened, and he gave a short nod. Hondo was beginning to understand why revenge might be such a driving force for Bakura.

“They weren’t good people. Petty thieves, robbers... Many robbed graves, including the royal tombs. But they were my family. No matter what kind of low-life scum they might have been, they didn’t deserve to be slaughtered as blood sacrifice, or have their souls trapped for all eternity. This,” Bakura jerked a thumb toward the monster hulking over them, “is all that remains of them now. Their anger, their hate, their grief – Diabound is their only vessel in this world. For their revenge.”

Hondo looked at the Diabound, which was no less terrifying after learning its true nature, but the horror was now mingled with pity. The eerie, glowing eyes of the monster held no recognition, no reason. The vacant pools reflected only the abject madness borne of despair.

“I do understand, Bakura,” Hondo said finally. “But revenge is a personal business. And I’ve learned my lesson long ago about getting involved in personal businesses.”

Bakura studied him, then nodded. “You’ve fulfilled your end.” A flick of the wrist, and Hondo caught a sizable purse thrown his way. “I would get out of town fast, if I were you.”

“Duly noted.” Hondo debated wishing him luck, or saying something friendly as a farewell, but dropped the idea. Revenge had a funny way of messing with one’s head. Whatever humanity Bakura had left was quickly being burned out of him, consumed by the ever-growing fire of vengeance. Best not to press his luck. It wasn’t as if they were friends.

Scarce seconds later Hondo was outside the gloomy chamber and galloping away on his horse. As the steed gladly put more distance between him and the terrible secret hidden deep underground, Hondo urged the horse even faster, remembering Diabound’s soulless gaze on him. It wasn’t until he was halfway across the river that he dared to look back at the towering cliff, shuddering at the memory of the writhing horror Bakura had called out from the bowels of Ammit.

To hell with further employment plans in the royal city. As soon as the dawn came, he was catching the first ship out of here. Resolutely, Hondo turned his attention to the dark water, huddled in the cool breeze of the river.

~*~*~*~


“...and I doubt they’ll recover anything more,” Seto finished. After a few seconds ticked by, he narrowed his eyes. Atem’s eyes had a distant look to them, and he knew the pharaoh had not heard a word he said. For a brief moment, Seto considered yelling at him, but a better idea came to him given the likely source of Atem’s distraction.

“Yuugi’s planning to elope with Anenut,” Seto remarked casually.

“What?”

Seto gave him a bored look, ignoring Atem’s indignation with ease borne of practice. Over two lifetimes, no less. “If you’re going to waste my time after your little speech on working to get us out of here, don’t bother calling me.”

Atem had the grace to look a bit sheepish at that. “Sorry. I was...”

“Thinking about how much time Yuugi spends with the Jounouchi-lookalike lately ?” Atem was easier to deal with when his thoughts were so transparent, and Seto couldn’t help a smirk. “Jealous much?”

You noticed it, too,” Atem shot back, defensiveness a spinal reflex. Seto shrugged, deliberately dismissive because he knew it would exasperate Atem.

“It’s not my business who Yuugi wastes his time with.” Still, it wasn’t as if he didn’t know when they left, Atem and Yuugi would be separated for good. Not that he felt any need to take it easier on Atem because of that, but there was nothing to be gained by being more antagonistic than strictly necessary, especially since – as much as it galled him to admit – they probably needed Atem’s full cooperation to escape from this place successfully. “And he is wasting his time. It’s not Jounouchi.”

“After Anenut, I can hardly blame him,” Atem murmured, eyes surprisingly gentle. It was startling, what that expression did to Atem’s usually unyielding countenance. Even in Seth’s memories, Atem was rarely that open (at least while awake). Seto shook himself from the swirl of memories, of a younger Atem trustingly asleep with his head resting on Seto’s knee, exhausted after a sparring session. Another memory, this one more difficult to push away because of the unfulfilled longing behind it, made him clench his hands tightly. A thirteen-year-old Atem, not long after he finally started winning against Seth in their sparring matches, slender limbs sprawled against him with a heedless grace. So achingly beautiful, glowing in the afternoon sun. And the shock of the warmth as Atem curled his fingers around Seth’s knee...

“And right back at you, Kaiba. You were saying?”

It took him another moment to pull away from the memory of intense desire, and he scowled, annoyed to have been caught in a moment of distraction. Still, his pride wouldn’t allow him to use the memory-sorting as an excuse twice, so he shook his head minutely. “Like I was saying, there’s no trace left of Bakura’s men. While it’s possible they left for a greener pasture elsewhere, with easily four or five dozen men, it’s impossible to hide their tracks that well.”

“And there is no way to confirm if Bakura was ever with them.” Atem laid down the papyrus scroll containing the latest report on his desk, lips pressed in a flat line. “Mahaad and Isis report they haven’t found much regarding the Gate to the Underworld. If we are still here by the time Bakura shows up with Diabound...”

The worried frown made Atem’s face look older, more wearied in a way he’d never seen as Kaiba Seto. But Seth remembered seeing it since a year ago, when Atem first took over the state duties after his father, King Akhnamkanen, became too ill to stir from his bed. No, it wasn’t a year ago for him, was it? No matter what Seth’s hidden feelings for Atem might have been, it had nothing to do with him. Unlike Seth, Seto had a lifetime’s worth of practice putting aside needless emotions. Seto didn’t allow himself to be distracted by attraction, or worse, pity.

...But maybe Seth, stupid, weak, and sentimental as he was, might not have forgotten to feel for his own brother. Even more than saving their souls from Pegasus, Seto privately admitted that his greatest debt to Yuugi – no, Atem – was that he made Seto remember why he became strong in the first place: to protect Mokuba. Useless sentiments were one thing, but debts were quite another.

“Even if we are, you have the Three Gods, and you know your name. Unless you’re actually afraid of Bakura.”

Instead of getting annoyed or defiant, Atem’s expression became pained. “Not of Bakura, no. But I don’t want aibou here when that happens. The battle—” Here, Atem paused suddenly, as if just remembering who he was talking to, and something closed in his expression, like a door slamming shut. “It’s not fair for either of you if you remain trapped here in the past.”

Atem’s tone grated on his nerves for some reason, and Seto felt his mouth tighten in a thin line. While he’d always thought Atem’s excessive regard for his friends ridiculous at the best of times, the self-sacrificing martyr routine was infinitely worse. How stupid could he get? And to think he, Kaiba Seto, lost to this fool.

“As if I would be so incompetent. Why don’t you spare your worry for yourself instead? That way, you might get something done for a change.”

Anger flashed in Atem’s eyes, and he snarled. “And what have you done that’s so much more effective? Besides sniping at me—”

“I don’t spend all my time wallowing in self-pity, for one,” Seto cut in briskly. “It’s sickening to see you do it instead of focusing on something constructive.”

“I do not – what the hell do you mean, self-pity?” Surprise, this time, more than simple anger, and Seto felt his teeth grind in frustration.

“All you’ve been doing is worrying about Yuugi. Never mind he’d be just fine without you, he’s got more spine than you do. But we’ve all been through this bullshit before. Why the hell does it never occur to you to fight your way out of this mess?” Atem opened his mouth, but Seto wasn’t done, and cut him off. “Deny it if you can: you plan to go through with exact same thing and seal yourself with Zorc if it comes to that. Did you ever notice how stupid that plan is? Especially when you know that plan will fail in the future?”

For a long moment, Atem stared at him, mouth slightly open in surprise, expression incredulous. Finally, Atem shook his head, his face halfway between a frown and a disbelieving smile. “Did you just yell at me not to sacrifice myself for a lost cause?”

Seto snapped his mouth shut. The worst part was, he couldn’t deny it. Atem’s way of handling the whole Zorc situation frustrated him to hell, and he had a feeling Seth hadn’t thought much of it either; after all, Seth had anticipated Atem’s seal would fail one day, and had prepared for that eventuality. “The sheer stupidity of your plan astounds me, that’s all. Someone I acknowledge as a rival should know better than to give up without even trying.”

The smile (and it was a smile, not a smirk; Seth knew the difference very well) that graced Atem’s lips was the same one he used to wear whenever he managed to pull a laugh from Seth through some outrageous prank or another. Seto grimaced, feeling another surge of warmth wash through him as Seth’s memories resurfaced, conjuring up the images circling through his mind, of a child-prince who loved nothing more than getting a smile from Seth and Mahaad. As precocious and obnoxious as the child-Atem was, there had always been something of innocence left in him even when he grew older, that let him still believe in justice and good triumphing over evil. Seto was sure whatever innocence had once been there was surely burned out of Atem after the three thousand years he spent in the Puzzle. But during the whole time he’d known Atem simply as the Other Yuugi, how much of that stubborn belief in friendship could Seto attribute solely to Yuugi? Certainly, the brilliance of innocence and trust in Yuugi’s gaze had turned Seto’s head more than once, but during the duels, when Atem was in control, that didn’t seem to change his tune much. Yuugi – whether Atem or Yuugi – wasn’t safe, exactly, but he’d been the first person Seto had counted on in a long time, and not necessarily based on a solid logical ground.

“If it comes down to it,” Atem said quietly, traces of warmth still lingering in his voice, “I will do my best to defeat Bakura and Zorc. I don’t plan on going down that easily.” With a small sigh, Atem leaned back in his chair, fingers toying with the edge of the papyrus scroll. “We should get aibou up to date.”

“If you can pry him away from the Jounouchi double.” Not that it bothered him; if Yuugi wanted to keep clinging to someone who was clearly not his friend, nor had any desire to be, then that was Yuugi’s business. Alright, maybe it did bother him a little. But then again, Seto had never had much patience for someone who ignored what was literally right before him in favor of an illusion.

“And you said you weren’t jealous.”

Seto opened his mouth, then closed it. “You are deluded. Or have you been at the wine storage again?”

Atem actually colored, a little. “I see you remember that episode.” Seto allowed a hint of smirk curl his lips, letting his smug silence answer for him. “That was at least half your fault, you know,” Atem muttered, his cheeks still faintly pink. It was an expression that Seth had rarely seen on Atem, and one that Seto had never seen in person. Seto started, realizing his hand was a hairbreadth away from reaching out against his will. For almost three years, Seth had savagely repressed his attraction toward Atem, buried under pride and duty, guarded by loyalty. Seto had pushed his aside for nearly two years, deeming the feeling inconsequential and thus ignoring it. But right now, his mind laced with Seth’s memories – his thoughts and emotions alike – Seto wasn’t able to react like he or Seth usually would, awkwardly trapped between two mindsets, unable to adhere to either. Not being able to master one’s desires was a weakness, but did he need to repress this one?

Since when did Kaiba Seto hesitate taking what he wanted?

Few measured strides brought him to Atem’s chair. Seto leaned down, crowding him deliberately, daring him to pull away or to push back.

“Kaiba?” Atem didn’t sound alarmed or suspicious, just curious.

Seth might be content to watch you from afar, or something equally idiotic. But I’m not.”

Atem’s lips parted soundlessly, but there was no resistance when Seto tipped his head back far enough to kiss him. For the briefest moment Atem hesitated, lips still parted and his breath warm against Seto’s own lips, but before Seto could pull back, Atem closed the last of the distance to press their lips together. The contact shot an electric shock through him, and Seto nearly groaned, pulling Atem out of the chair to deepen the kiss. Strong hands clasped his arms, holding onto him and – Seto half-laughed, half-growled – pulling him closer, accompanied by an impatient nip on Seto’s lip, then another passionate kiss. Breathlessly, Seto covered that luscious mouth with his again, devouring him, being devoured, feeling the wiry body arch against him, so hot through the thin layers of linen between them.

Seto’s fingers tangled in Atem’s hair, surprisingly gentle, while his other hand slid down to press at the small of Atem’s back, making Atem purr. Teeth nibbled at his lower lip, and Seto shivered despite himself, feeling a confident hand press on his clothed chest in a slow caress, wanting the layers of clothing between them gone. Atem’s body was all sinew and strength under the soft skin, and the feeling of barely contained power in that compact frame was enough to make Seto groan. A low moan escaped Atem when Seto’s hand slid down lower to cup the back of one thigh. That put Atem at just right height to reach Seto’s throat unhindered, Seto realized belatedly, feeling sharp teeth and clever tongue stroke fire in his gut. Atem was all but straddling Seto’s lap standing up, and it was difficult to pump up enough blood to his brain to figure out where they could do this more comfortably.

“Pharaoh, Priest Mahaad requests an audience,” came a call through the door. To Seto’s amusement, it was Atem who growled, annoyed and determined to ignore the call. “Pharaoh?” called the attendant, clearly growing concerned, and Seto bit back a snarl of frustration as Atem let out an exasperated sigh, disengaging himself from Seto’s grasp.

“This better be good,” Atem muttered, running a hand through his hair, which was more mussed than usual. “Can you bring aibou here? We need to talk to him as well.”

Seto shrugged, tugging at his less-than-immaculate robe. His lips were still tingling and his body still on fire, but his arousal was thankfully fading. He had no desire to walk around the palace in his current state and be gawked at. “I’ll meet you here.”

“Thanks.”





Notes: Earthquakes are not common in Egypt, though they do occur. Hondo and Bakura likely wouldn’t have seen one during their lifetime, hence their shock at the spell that could cause an earthquake.

In the manga, Akhenaden took three others to help him with the ritual, which supposedly took one week to complete. Coincidentally, that was how long they had before their enemies, presumably after the Millennium Grimoire, would have taken to reach the royal city, hence the king giving his permission without even asking for details. In the anime, there were originally seven mages who went to create the items, but all died on the way back, except for Akhenaden. I went with the manga version of the events for my story.

The priestess at Djehuty’s temple...well, I leave her identity to the reader’s imagination. ^_^


Crossposted at http://shiraume-fic.dreamwidth.org/28567.html.

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