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Happy New Year('s Eve)!!!

Today (12/31/2013) is also the third year anniversary of completing RE:Play. I wrote bulk of chapter twelve that day, and was so happy because I knew I'd gotten it right. One more part -- three chapters -- left to go, and then it will be the epilogue. I hope to finish another fic today as well, so I'll be rushing through this post. Hopefully I won't have missed major mistakes...whoops. XD

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 Nine

“Not that I care, but doesn’t the pharaoh mind that you keep coming down here?”

Yuugi regarded him with a neutral look. “Am I in the way?”

“No, no.” Djehuty’s reed brush never stopped moving on the papyrus scroll. “It’s just that...well, this is hardly a fitting place for an envoy of the gods. And even if you tell me I look just like your friend—”

Yuugi already knew what Djehuty would say next, and held back a sigh.

“—I’m not actually him. And nobles are pretty uppity about mingling with the wrong class, so maybe you should...I dunno, stop hanging around me?”

“Is it a bother? That I want to be your friend?”

“I just don’t get you is all.” Djehuty finally looked up, dark brown eyes honest and inquisitive, but no longer suspicious. “If the rumors hadn’t been all over the palace, I’d never have pegged you as the pharaoh’s favorite companion. Even if you look just like him.”

“You don’t like him.” It wasn’t a question. For some reason, Djehuty harbored a resentment bordering on hatred towards all of the nobles of the court. And at the moment, he reminded Yuugi even more of Jounouchi, especially with that same closed-off expression that Jounouchi had worn when his old gang mate, Hirutani, showed up to threaten him.

“Nothing personal. I just don’t have much faith in him or the nobles around him. It’s not like kings actually have time for us commoners.”

“Djehuty—”

“Look. It’s just. Bad things happen. Mostly to us commoners. Maybe the pharaoh does care, like you say, but it doesn’t change the fact he can’t do anything to stop them from happening. So it’s better not to expect miracles.”

There was that bitterness again. Yuugi bit his lip, troubled. Jounouchi hadn’t been very forthcoming about his personal life at first either, and maybe it was a bad idea to ask. But...if he wanted to befriend Djehuty, not as a replacement for Jounouchi but for Djehuty himself, perhaps he should stop assuming his new friend would think and act exactly like Jounouchi. That way, he wouldn’t repeat the mistake he made with Anenut, expecting her to act like Anzu and ending up disappointed when she didn’t. Yuugi acknowledged to himself he’d lost his chance to become her friend because he hadn’t seen Anenut for herself, but only as a reflection of Anzu.

“Would you tell me, if I asked?” Yuugi asked gently. The reed brush stopped in its track. Djehuty’s eyes slid up to hold Yuugi’s for a long moment, then he dropped his gaze and cursed softly, putting away the brush before the ink stain became worse. After looking over the scroll one more time, Djehuty set it down next to him, laying it out to dry.

“When I was young,” Djehuty started, not quite meeting Yuugi’s eyes, “I used to live in Taminhor, in a temple dedicated to Djehuty. With my sister.” Yuugi nodded, wordlessly encouraging him to continue. “There were...problems with a local noble lord and a rival lord. Back then, because of the wars, most of the nomes were pretty much cut off from the royal city. In the provinces, the pharaoh was the king in name only. I don’t think that’s changed much now.”

Atem had explained to him as much: the incessant wars during the time of King Akhnamkanen, Atem’s father, had splintered the kingdom to pieces. Even after the invaders were driven out with the power of Millennium Items, the kingdom remained largely disjointed. In practice, especially in Lower Egypt, far from the royal capital, each nome was governed by their respective noble lords. While the provincial lords never actively sought to take over the whole kingdom, faction fights for control of the provinces were fierce.

“The temple we were at was caught in the middle of that, and... Well. One of the factions burned it down after slaughtering the priests for supporting their rival. King Akhnamkanen didn’t do anything to stop the fights, or -- or the aftermath. And he was supposed to have the power of the gods. I stopped expecting things from the king and the nobles ever since.”

Yuugi nibbled his lower lip absently. A sister. Just like Jounouchi. Likely Djehuty wouldn’t have left Egypt and wandered abroad for six years if the aforementioned sister had survived. The glimpse at the raw pain in that fraction of second when Djehuty mentioned her was enough to convince him that. Failure to save his sister, no matter whose fault it had been, was one Djehuty would never forgive.

“Atem is...” Yuugi hesitated. “Atem is not his father. He will change things if...if you believed in him.”

Djehuty was silent for a long moment, simply looking at Yuugi. “You have a lot of faith in him, don’t you, Yuugi?” he asked finally, more thoughtful than skeptical. Another pause, this one shorter, then: “It has been six years. I guess I could stick around a while and see.”

Yuugi beamed, feeling like he’d just won a major duel. He knew today was Djehuty’s last day on his temporary job as a record keeper for the royal storage, and that Djehuty had originally planned to travel further south. If Djehuty stayed, he would have a chance to really get to know him, and maybe even help Djehuty and Atem become friends as well. Djehuty wasn’t Jounouchi, but he was the first friend Yuugi made on his own here, and maybe, unlike with Anenut, he could even do something for Djehuty.

“If you’re done mingling with mediocrity for the day, the pharaoh would like you back,” drawled a familiar voice disdainfully. Yuugi winced; in the past of in the future, there was no love lost between Djehuty and Seto, and during the last few days Yuugi spent with Djehuty, Seto had occasionally run across them and taken great pleasure at irritating Djehuty. “And I’m sure the store master is waiting for that sorry excuse for a report.”

“If you’re so sure you can do better, YOU do it,” Djehuty snapped, bristling like a wet cat.

“If you’re trying to pass that for hieratic, I’ve seen ten-year-old apprentice priests write better. With their toes. I’m sure they’ll be happy to give you lessons.”

Although Djehuty was too busy snarling at Seto to notice, Yuugi was beginning to discern when Seto really was on the offensive, and when he was just being his usual antagonizing self. And unless he was completely off his mark, the cool gleam in Seto’s eyes was actually amusement, not malice. Not that Djehuty would have appreciated the difference. Before Djehuty could tell Seto to shove his priestly excellence somewhere unpleasant, Yuugi stepped between them, sending a pleading look to Djehuty.

“I’m ready. Will I see you later, Djehuty?”

Djehuty scowled at Seto one last time, but turned his eyes away to answer him. “Probably. I’m going to go check out the town, but I’ll be back after.”

“I’ll see you later then!” Yuugi exclaimed brightly, grabbing Seto by the wrist and tugging him away before the pair could exchange another round. Relieved by his success at averting yet another argument, it didn’t occur to Yuugi until they were halfway across the palace that something was odd. Two things, actually. One, he was still holding onto Seto, and two, Seto wasn’t shrugging him off.

A sideways glance at Seto didn’t tell him much, but it was enough to make him recall his conversation with Atem a few days ago, when Atem basically told him Seto wouldn’t reject him if Yuugi confessed his attraction. For as long as Yuugi had known him, Seto had always had an air of command about him, magnetic yet aloof. Even when he was sitting quietly in the classroom, Seto’s presence couldn’t be ignored, like that of a magnificent lion among sheep. But much like a lion among sheep, Seto’s presence was a forbidding one, inviting awed glances but never physical closeness. That he allowed Yuugi to touch him was probably significant, but.... There was at least one person in Seto’s world who could always be sure of his welcome.

“...Do I ever remind you of Mokuba-kun?” Yuugi hazarded, careful to keep his tone light and nonthreatening. Seto, however, looked confused.

“Mokuba?” Seto’s usually wary expression softened to a thoughtful look only Mokuba ever seemed to provoke. “I suppose you two share some traits. Height, for one.” Seto’s tone sounded almost like teasing, and for some reason Yuugi found his ears warm. “But no, you don’t.”

Yuugi nodded. Seto’s admissions only confirmed Atem’s oddly firm belief that Seto regarded Yuugi very differently than he did the rest of the world. But apparently it didn’t have anything to do with Seto’s legendary devotion to his younger brother. And he knew Seto wasn’t seeing him merely as Atem’s shadow, either. Here, Atem was very much present right before Seto’s eyes, but the way Seto related to him, with fierce rivalry bordering on hunger, was vastly different from the way he treated Yuugi – which, on anyone else, might have been called gentle. Was Seto even aware of it himself?

“What did Atem want to talk about?” he asked instead, dropping the topic for now. Yuugi did not remove his hand from Seto’s wrist, falling in step next to him.

“Bakura’s men disappeared. We managed to tail them to a tavern on the western bank of the river, but when our men raided the tavern this morning, all they found was signs of a violent brawl. But aside from half a dozen bodies found at the scene, there is no trace left of the rest.”

And Bakura was not among the bodies found, no doubt. “Maybe they had warning?”

“Maybe. They certainly left in a hurry. We recovered a good portion of their loot there.”

“What about Kur-Elna?” Even if the village seemed completely deserted when he and Atem visited the last time, there was always a chance Bakura went back to use it as a hideout after.

Seto shook his head. “Atem doesn’t want our men there. Said if Bakura’s men were stupid enough to go there, we won’t need to chase them.”

Remembering the chilling, malignant presence that permeated the abandoned village, Yuugi shivered. The sleepless evil that lingered in the village was not one that would recognize a friend from a foe. If the thieves really did head over to Kur-Elna, Yuugi doubted anything would ever be recovered. “That place will eat them,” Yuugi murmured, suddenly feeling cold even in the heat of the afternoon.

Seto studied him. “Atem mentioned vengeful souls.”

“It’s the whole place.” Yuugi had to remind himself to relax his hand around Seto’s wrist. His free arm was wrapped around himself, fingers tight on his bicep. Seto’s leisurely pace slowed to a halt, and Yuugi looked up at him, puzzled.

Seto’s eyes were intent, the hauntingly familiar blue gaze Yuugi remembered from the duels. “Even if the Gate to the Underworld doesn’t exist yet, the Stone of King’s Memory may be a key.”

“Bakura might be there,” Yuugi protested, beginning to realize what Seto was trying to say. “And the Stone is also the key to releasing Zorc. If all seven Items are there...”

“All seven don’t need to be there. But it’s through that Stone you and Atem invoked the Battle Ceremony. If we want to go back, we will have to take that chance.”

Right. They were trying to go back. It was like having cold water run down his back. Between befriending Djehuty and everything else, he kept forgetting their stay in the past was supposed to be a temporary one. Or maybe he just didn’t want to remember. “What about... What does Atem say?”

“He doesn’t want to go there, obviously. But waiting around until Bakura shows up at the palace is a stupid idea. Especially if Atem can’t think of anything better than going through the past events a second time.”

Yuugi’s mouth dropped open. “He what?” Actually, if nothing else works, it made sense Atem might consider simply repeating history. But still! “What if he just defeated Zorc here?”

“If he could manage that, then history would change.” Seto’s eyes, direct and implacable, nonetheless held no hint of challenge or cruelty. “Which means you and he will never meet in the future.”

The same thought had haunted Yuugi since finding himself in the past. If he never completed the Puzzle, if he never met Atem, then he would never have befriended Jounouchi, Honda, or Bakura. Or Seto, for that matter; he would never have gone through the Death-T, the Duelist Kingdom, or Battle City Tournament, and everything in his life that he came to love would be lost. And the idea terrified him. As much as he feared having to say goodbye to Atem once more, to have a future where he would never have known Atem at all was even worse. But...knowingly putting Atem through 3,000 years of imprisonment in the shattered Puzzle?

“...I don’t like the thought of Atem being locked in the Puzzle for 3,000 years,” Yuugi whispered, voice tight. The understanding in the blue eyes was even more startling than the warm hand that came to a rest on his shoulder, and Yuugi stared at Seto, transfixed.

“I know that.” Seto’s voice, always firm and relentless even when being kind, was almost gentle now, the way it only became when Seto was talking to Mokuba. There was, of course, the possibility they would never return to their own time regardless of how the past events unfolded. Yuugi averted his gaze from Seto’s penetrating eyes, troubled. That wasn’t a possibility Seto would ever accept, not with his heart so firmly anchored in the future with Mokuba.

“Come,” Seto said resolutely, but not unkindly, steering him toward Atem’s chamber. The warmth of Seto’s hand on his shoulder was comforting, and Yuugi did not object to the firmness of the grip. When they entered the pharaoh’s chamber, Atem was alone, a thoughtful frown creasing his brow.

“Mahaad just left,” he said without preamble as soon as Seto and Yuugi closed the door behind them. Judging from the tense expression, Yuugi guessed whatever the priest-mage had to report was not good. Settling down on a chair next to Atem, Yuugi gave him an expectant look, pushing away the stirring of disappointment that Seto chose a seat across from them. “He tells me the Millennium Grimoire, from which the Millennium Items were made, is missing.”

“What?” Seto and Yuugi chorused. Atem did not seem amused even by that.

“According to Siamun, there was a book of powerful magic passed down in the royal family for generations, called the Millennium Grimoire. Its text is full of riddles and no one was able to decipher the meaning. But fifteen years ago, Priest Akhenaden managed it. There was an invading force a scarce week’s march from the royal city, so the king – my father – gave him permission to perform the ritual prescribed in the Grimoire to create the seven Items. That was how the Millennium Items were created. Mahaad thought the book might have something useful and tried to locate the book, but he was unsuccessful.”

Definitely not good. If the book contained instructions on how to create the Items, it might also have given them other valuable clues. Such as how the Items could be used to open the Gate to the Underworld.

“Does Lord Akhenaden have anything to say?” Seto and Atem’s eyes met, their gaze as powerful as spoken words: if Akhenaden had been the last one to use the book, he might very well have concealed it afterward.

“Mahaad asked him, of course. Apparently, Akhenaden had the book secretly moved to the temple of Ptah in Ineb Hedj, for safekeeping. It was, unfortunately, hidden in the archive that burned down.”

Well, shit. “I’m guessing that was the only copy?” Yuugi was unsurprised to receive a grim nod. “And Priest Akhenaden doesn’t remember any details,” he added, a touch of irony in his resigned tone.

Atem shot him a wry look. “Naturally.”

“Well?” Seto, always ready to take action, was all business. “Is it worthwhile to search the Temple of the Stone Tablets?”

“I doubt it.” At Seto’s skeptical look, Atem added, with a hint of exasperation, “He wouldn’t want anyone to see the book after keeping it a secret this long. If he has it in his possession, I don’t think we’d find it without his cooperation.”

Seto gave him a curt nod. “No report of trouble near the royal tombs. Any word on Bakura?”

“Also none,” Atem replied.

“I’ll make another round at the royal tombs tomorrow, then.”

Atem nodded. “I’ll take another look at the archives. There are some records my father left behind that might help.” Yuugi had another moment of déjà vu, noting how quickly and easily the two read each other’s intent, like they’d worked together all their life. “How is it going with Djehuty, aibou?”

Yuugi started. Compared to what Seto and Atem had been doing, his progress with Djehuty seemed hardly worth mentioning. Despite his brave talk he hadn’t been doing anything, had he? Both Seto and Atem had been working so hard to find a way, and here he was, too busy spending time with his new friend to even think about contributing.

“Okay,” Yuugi said noncommittally, swallowing the surge of guilt. “Anything I can help you with?”

“You can’t read hieroglyphs or hieratic,” Seto pointed out, reasonable. Although he knew Seto’s words held no insult or censure, Yuugi couldn’t help feeling stung.

“I can still accompany you to the tomb,” Yuugi protested. “I can fight if Thief King Bakura shows up.”

“No,” Seto said shortly, then visibly reconsidered. “I thought you would want to spend more time together. Or with that pathetic excuse for a scribe.”

Together with Atem, Yuugi realized after a heartbeat. Yuugi looked back and forth at the two, suddenly struck by a noticeable reduction of tension between them. Well, the antagonistic kind; when Seto and Atem traded glances now, it was more charged than ever, but not with hostility. “Shouldn’t I be asking you the same?” slipped out before he could stop himself, and for a brief moment, there was a silence.

“Why would I want to spend time with that idiotic—”

Atem choked back a sound, and Yuugi was rather charmed to see a rare blush staining his cheeks. A second later, Seto also caught on, and he turned an incredulous glare on Yuugi, one that would have worked so much better if there weren’t embarrassment lurking under his defensive posture.

“Don’t put me on the same level as you,” Seto shot back after a short pause. Yuugi just grinned at him, recognizing it as an evasion, but not an outright denial.

“Aibou,” Atem admonished, but could not quite manage to meet Yuugi’s gaze, which dared him to contradict Yuugi’s point.

“Or, we could all hit the archives right now, and then tomorrow, go to the tombs together,” Yuugi suggested, nothing but guileless sweet innocence in his bright tone. Atem and Seto’s eyes met briefly, and the two looked away at the same time, the former with wry resignation, and the latter with carefully schooled indifference.

Atem cleared his throat. “I’ve been taking notes in Japanese. If you want to look over them, aibou.”

From his expression of grudging approval, Yuugi guessed Seto must have been doing the same. It was a good way to keep their research a secret from others, he supposed. Yuugi flashed him a warm smile, and Seto relented. “I have a compilation you might as well see.”

Researching ancient texts all night was hardly the paradigm of a romantic date. However, neither Atem nor Seto had objected, so that was a victory in itself. And this time, when Yuugi subtly hemmed in Seto between himself and Atem, Seto didn’t attempt to move away. Atem’s obvious distraction in the face of their physical closeness was almost as gratifying as Seto’s acquiescence when Yuugi leaned on him with the pretext of reaching for a scroll. And despite the mountain of documents to go over, Yuugi couldn’t help feeling ridiculously happy.

I win, Yuugi thought smugly to himself.

~*~*~*~


“You know, I never thought I’d see you here,” Hondo said, not even slurring, much to Djehuty’s annoyance. Honestly, for a guy who just downed an entire jug of beer, Hondo was far too coherent. “Weren’t you planning to head south?”

“I needed the money. The palace was hiring a temporary scribe for the royal storages.” Djehuty paused to take another long swig of his beer. “I was going to move on, but...”

“There’s trouble coming.” Hondo stared at his goblet, strangely serious. “You shouldn’t stay here.”

“Are you talking about the thieves raiding the city? I know about them, but—”

A harsh laugh interrupted him. “Trust me, they are not a problem anymore. We’ve got a much bigger problem headed this way, and a fiery pit in Duat will be safer than here when it arrives.”

“I promised the little guy I’d stick around,” Djehuty said quietly. It didn’t feel right, to just take off and leave Yuugi behind to face this trouble, especially if it was going to be as bad as Hondo said.

Hondo raised an eyebrow at him. “And you’ve known him for how long?”

“A few days,” Djehuty admitted with a little wince. The boy was the pharaoh’s favorite, and likely would remain safer than a cobra’s egg in its nest. Besides, he could hardly call someone he’d known for less than a week a friend, could he? An envoy of the gods and the pharaoh’s beloved companion, at that.

“It’s your choice. But I’m catching the first ship out of here in the morning.” Hondo’s sideway glance was meaningful, but also laced with hints of true concern. “I wouldn’t mind some company on the way,” he said, and Djehuty knew it was as much of an offer as he would get from Hondo.

What was here for him, anyway? Sure, he’d said to Yuugi he might stay longer, but it wasn’t as if he was set for a permanent settlement in the royal city. His job had been finished earlier today, and the payment he received was enough to pay his way to the south, but not enough to last him more than a few weeks if he stayed. Nothing here but memories he couldn’t keep away, the royal city leagues away from his old hometown but not nearly far enough to let him forget. Yuugi would be disappointed, no doubt, Djehuty thought with chagrin. Still, despite Yuugi’s offer of friendship, he’d never been comfortable that someone of such high social standing should take a vested interest in him. Even if Yuugi was sincere in his desire to be friends, hell, even if he liked Yuugi and wanted the same, how long could it possibly last?

“I guess the little guy won’t miss me that much.” Djehuty tossed down the rest of his beer. In the end, he had packed and brought all his belonging with him when he dropped by the tavern tonight. He hadn’t anticipated he would run into Hondo here, but perhaps he’d already been ready to leave, and just needed a reason to go ahead. Meeting Hondo was like a sign.

Hondo smiled amiably, downing the rest of his goblet and setting it down. The two of them drank the night away, and eventually fell asleep in one of the rooms upstairs Hondo rented for the night. The next morning, just after dawn, the two boarded a ship bound for the southern city of Abu, which set sail just as the first rays of the sun turned the royal city red-golden. As the ship glided past the port, the sails swollen with the ever-present southward wind, Djehuty stood on the side of the ship, feeling unexpectedly guilty.

“I wonder if I should at least have said goodbye,” he said, forgetting for a moment Hondo was next to him.

“You liked him that much?” Hondo didn’t sound surprised, just mildly curious. “I thought you didn’t care much for nobles. He must have been really something.”

Djehuty shook his head, eyes still fixed on the royal city, steadily growing smaller as the ship picked up speed. “It’s just...you ever have the feeling you left behind something that could have been so much more?”

Hondo’s mouth quirked wryly. “Oh yeah.” The mercenary’s eyes were fixed at a distant point in the sky, where the last of the rose and lavender of dawn was fading away. Something about his expression told Djehuty whatever Hondo was remembering, it wasn’t anything trivial. That Hondo really did know what he meant. “Once or twice.”

Djehuty didn’t smile back. “Because I think I just did.”

There was nothing to say to that. Slowly, Hondo put a tentative hand on Djehuty’s shoulder, at once brotherly and comforting. Djehuty did not acknowledge the touch, but did not shrug it off either. The two of them remained rooted to their spot, watching, until the royal city disappeared from the view.

END OF PART III




Notes: Not that place names are that important, but...

Taminhor was the capital of the Nome III Ament (imnty, “Occident”) in Lower Egypt until 4th century BC, and had a cult center dedicated to Djehuty.

Abu, or Yebu, was the capital of Nome I Ta-Seti (tA-sty, “Bow”), now called Elephantine Island. I chose this because it used to be located at the border between Egypt and Nubia.
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