Disclaimer: Don't own. Don't sue.
Author's Note: This is very AU, and rather mild, truth be told. This is a late birthday present for Daimeryan Rei. HAPPY BIRTHDAY SWEETIE! As always, read and review.
The Pharaoh’s heart nearly seized as he watched from the safety of his balcony while his most trusted Priest mounted a horse and set out to seek his death. Permitting him to go, as a ruler, had been exceedingly difficult from a practical standpoint. They were looming on the brink of war, darkness clouding their vision, all threads stemming from one thief: a thief brazen enough to violate the previous Pharaoh’s tomb and drag the remnants to fling in their faces.
A thief powerful enough to face them down even without an Item. Mahaado, the wielder of the Sennen Ring, was putting the dangerous piece nearly in the thief’s waiting hand. If he defeated the magician, took the Item, increased his already potent powers…
It was all moot if Mahaado destroyed the thief, wiping his plague from the face of the earth, but the chances of such were slim to none. One needed only look at Aishizu’s cracked composure as she bid him her final farewell. She knew better than anyone the darkness shrouding every move they made. Her visions, while not always clear, were rarely inaccurate.
Still, she, too, had fought for Mahaado’s permission to set his trap.
Giving him that permission, as a friend, had torn his heart asunder.
A gentle hand pressed on his shoulder, and for a moment, the great Pharaoh of Egypt, son of the Gods and chosen to rule his people, dared to allow a swell of hope to expand in his chest. But that hand did not belong to his friend and advisor, though in a lesser sense, the bearer could claim both.
“You did the right thing.” For once, Shimon sounded his age.
“I condemned a man to death.”
Those were the first words the Pharaoh had spoken since that morning. After clasping Mahaado’s forearm and offering him the blessing of the Gods, the Pharaoh had retreated to his quarters.
Which, apparently, meant nothing to the elderly Priest.
“It was necessary.”
The Pharaoh was sick of that word.
“To the underworld with her visions!” the unflappable Pharaoh spat, slamming his hand down on the railing for emphasis. “You speak of necessary sacrifices when soon enough, we all will shed blood for our country! You speak of visions while Mahaado rides to his death! My heart tells me this is not the way to achieve victory!”
He flung out his hand, eyes never straying from Mahaado’s retreating form. “Leave me.” He had slipped up, but there were worse Priests to lose one’s tongue around.
Shimon would keep silent.
Bowing low, the Priest let himself out.
The Pharaoh, most holy of Egyptians, stayed at his balcony until the horizon had swalloed every trace of his friend. Then, and only then, did he allow himself to weep.
The next day brought no news, nor the next. On the third, Mahaado returned. All was not well with the magician. Normally a quiet, solemn creature, he was downright withdrawn, face drawn and haggard. He’d managed to retain his Item – and his life – but he’d lost the thief.
He’d been marked as well, a jagged cut running alongside his face and not ending at the jawline. It would most certainly scar, though he refused any aid from the Pharaoh’s personal healers as if the wound were his penance for failure. He turned even Mana away, but he could not deny his Pharaoh.
Their meeting was in private, away from Set’s too perceptive eyes and Aishizu’s relieved tears. They stood together on the balcony, in the same spot the Pharaoh’s sorrow had fallen, and neither seemed willing to be the first to break the silence. Mahaado stared out towards the setting sun, while the Pharaoh stared at him.
Finally, he could stand it no longer.
The silence that followed was eerie. The Pharaoh narrowed his eyes.
“Mahaado. What happened.”
“Bakura got away.” There was more than a trace of bitterness in that tone, usually so confident, so quietly firm.
“But you are alive.” It was, to the Pharaoh, a more than agreeable exchange. Better they both remain alive than the thief survive while Mahaado fell. Better Mahaado retained the powerful Item than allow it to fall into the hands of evil.
Better Mahaado was alive at all.
The Priest finally looked down, locking gazes with his friend. “I failed you.” He made it sound as if he were repeating himself, as if losing the thief and failing is Pharaoh were one in the same. True, it had been his task, but not one set upon him by the Pharaoh. There was no failure there, but the Pharaoh did not know how to make him see.
His lips pursed. “You did no such thing.”
“But I have. I broke the chain of destiny, and now our entire nation will fall.”
Those visions again. “It is never clear to Aishizu…”
“It’s clear enough to me,” the magician all but growled. “I was supposed to…I was meant to…” But he knew the Pharaoh would not understand, so he spoke no further. Besides, some things were not meant to be revealed just yet.
Realizing that words would heal nothing, the Pharaoh placed his hand on Mahaado’s arm. The silence stretched, turning more tense as the hour drew long, and finally Mahaado broke.
“Atemu,” he murmured, eyes shimmering with unshed tears. “How can you bear to even look at me?” His hand rose, touching the angry red gash marring his features. Only a slight flinch gave away the lingering pain.
Atemu’s hand rose as well, covering Mahaado’s. “You’re alive,” he repeated simply. “No greater gift could have been presented to me.”
“I should have stood before the court with the thief’s head.”
“You stood before the court.”
No more needed to be said.
Only a few moments, a few tender heartbeats, passed until Atemu leaned in closer, taking in Mahaado’s scent. The magician had bathed not long ago; Atemu could still smell the herbal soap he was so fond of. Mahaado pressed closer as well, sensing the invitation and falling into the arms he never thought would hold him again.
“I wasn’t afraid of death at the thief’s hands, my Pharaoh.”
“But I feared never seeing you again.”
This time, Atemu silences the Priest with a kiss, as words were clearly inadequate as they had been earlier. The kiss turned fiercer, a little darker, and Mahaado found himself pinning his Pharaoh against the railing hard enough to bruise. The violence startled the both of them, but Mahaado the most.
He stepped back, realizing he’d nearly lost control of himself, allowing the darkness present not only in himself, but in his Item to almost consume him. Damn the thief for being right! He bowed, fell back on civility and propriety, grasping them to himself like tattered cloth. “Forgive me, my Pharaoh. I didn’t mean…”
Atemu felt a little stunned, having never experienced any sort of violence at Mahaado’s hand. “Don’t call me that. Not in private.” Something was wrong.
The Priest looked miserably unyielding. “If I may withdraw?”
“You may not.”
But Mahaado had already left.
Atemu, left alone and confused, sank to his knees to wonder what had happened to his friend. His confidante. His lover.
One Month Later
“You must choose, my Pharaoh.”
Atemu’s eyes scanned over the offered collection without seeing. “None are adequate.”
Silence met his decree, followed by Set’s emotional voice. “You cannot continue rejecting…”
Akunadin spoke over the younger Priest. “These are the most beautiful girls from every nation in your empire, each hand picked and tested. You cannot keep shaming their families!”
“With no fertile relatives, you must choose a wife.” That was Shaada, quiet and respectful.
“You need to produce an heir,” Set continued implacably.
Atemu did not wish to hear any of it. His mind was on the solitary figure missing from their midst. It wasn’t like Mahaado to avoid such meetings, but he’d been receding more and more as of late. Becoming a recluse.
Worrying his Pharaoh.
He knew that providing his empire with an heir was direly important, especially considering the thief’s growing power. And it wasn’t that he found the offered girls unattractive, or that he didn’t indulge himself with the occasional harem or serving girl.
His heart simply wasn’t in it. But he was Pharaoh, and he had to do his duty. Always his duty.
A raised hand silenced his Priests and drew the attention of the girls just far enough away to avoid overhearing discussions of state.
The air buzzed with anticipation.
Atemu stood, conscious of every eye on him. It did not make him uncomfortable; instead, it stiffened his back, reminded him of his station and what he was born to do. He had been shirking his duties for too long, indulging in emotions he wasn’t allowed to have, worrying over a man who shouldn’t have held his heart. It had to, at least in part, end here.
He had a responsibility to his people. He could not let them down.
“I will make my decision this evening after I have seen each of you perform at the feast.” The girls practically swelled up. “Until then and through the date of your departure, as, I regret, I can choose only one, you will enjoy every privilege as my welcome guests.”
He had simply sent the others away. There would be reparations to make.
“I shall send servants to tend to your needs and help you prepare for the feast.” Another pause as he chose his words carefully. “Those of you not chosen to stand by my side have the option, if you talents are suitable, to join the palace harem. It is an honorable position and will reflect well upon your family.”
Both pleased and displeased murmurings reached his ears. Luckily, he could feel the approval of his Priests, and it filled him with the confidence he’d lost.
“By tonight, one of you shall be slated to be my wife.”
Then he caught a glimpse of a familiar face – sad eyes, regretful frown – and all of his composure was lost.
His Priests, well trained, saved face and ended the audience, but Atemu only had eyes for the man who’d turned his back and left.
His lips parted. “Mahaado…”
The feast was yet hours away, and the Pharaoh spent his time pacing, glancing at his door and awaiting Mahaado’s arrival. He’d sent for the Priest earlier, and was worried he would fail to show up. He was more worried that soon, the Priest’s actions would warrant punishment, something he’d be unable to flinch from. Even more worried was he for his friend who seemed to be succumbing to the darkness in his heart.
Finally, a knock sounded on the door. “Come.”
No servants heralded Mahaado’s entrance; they were long accustomed to the informality between boyhood companions. Still, as if imagining countless unseen eyes, the Pharaoh drew himself up, forced his expression to sternness as if preparing to discipline the magician.
The façade melted as the door closed.
Despite their privacy, Mahaado bowed low. “My Pharaoh. I know you are displeased with my recent actions…”
Mahaado stirred but obeyed.
Slowly, Atemu approached him, circled him like a man surveying a new horse. Then, unrelenting, “I am to marry.”
The magician shifted again, but said nothing, though the stiffening of his shoulders spoke volumes.
Atemu relaxed; he hadn’t lose Mahaado entirely. “This changes nothing between us.”
Startled eyes raised to meet determined amethyst.
“Nothing,” Atemu reiterated firmly, before grasping Mahaado and kissing him with all of the pent up emotions that had built up since the Priest had retreated from him. He knew that the Priest was suffering and refused to allow him to carry the burden alone. His grip was unyielding and Mahaado relaxed entirely, finally finding release in his Pharaoh’s arms.
Atemu’s veins went numb as he listened to the petrified messenger and the tale of the lone survivor. Briefly, his vision turned red, but he gripped the arms of his throne hard enough to hurt, chasing away all other emotions.Mahaado, who had made a swift recovery, had been escorting a delegation to present the father of his Pharaoh’s new Empress with Atemu’s richly offered thanks, which included a high ranking position at court. He had been healthy, smiling, chiding Mana about her studies, almost his old self again.
He’d been alive.
They had been ambushed not far from the capitol, set upon by the blasted thief and the so-called soldiers he’d gathered around him. Even with the Ring in Mahaado’s possession, it had been a near total slaughter, and the thief now had the Item. Fate was not to be so easily brushed aside, it seemed.
The sole survivor – no doubt a spy planted by the thief – regaled the court with the tale of Mahaado’s heroics between standing proud as a rooster and quaking before the Pharaoh. He would have to be ousted as what he was and dealt with accordingly, but that was for later.
Aishizu was wringing her hands, holding onto herself by a mere thread. She’d said her visions would taste their completion, and she’d been right.
To the shock of everyone present, tears began silently trickling down the Pharaoh’s cheeks. To see the son of the God’s cry…
No body had been retrieved, nothing to send to the afterlife with the proper offerings as the Priest’s station should have ensured. Nothing to mourn over, say goodbye to…
The sound of Mana’s wailing cut through Atemu’s shock.
Leaving the details to his Priests, Atemu retreated, much as Mahaado had so very recently. He found no solace in solitude, nor in the arms of his new wife. Instead, he threw himself into the destruction of the thief, focusing his energy against the greatest villain to ever threaten Egypt.
Not for the first time, Atemu wished his father were still alive. He needed the man’s strength, his wisdom, his understand…
Somehow, he felt that had his father lived, Mahaado would have, too.
It wasn’t until the thief finally lay dying, his army in ruins, the thread finally nullified, that Atemu finally understood the need for Mahaado’s inevitable sacrifice. The war would not have been won without his aid. As he stared up into the face of his ka, the Black Magician – Mahaado’s face – he not only understood, but realized what he had to do.
Reassured by the thought of the life growing inside his wife’s belly and the trust he held in his remaining Priests, Atemu raised up his hand, grasping that of his eternal servant, bidding him what he prayed would be a temporary farewell.
“I promised I’d always be with you,” Mahaado said silently.
Feeling at peace, Atemu sealed his soul and the remaining darkness into the Puzzle, and let it shatter.