the_goldenpath: made by <lj user="torakaka"> (Yu-Gi-Oh! - Puzzleshipping fics)
[personal profile] the_goldenpath
Title: Hold my prayers up to the sun
Fandom: Yu-Gi-Oh!
Characters: Yuugi x Yami no Yuugi (Atemu)
Prompt: #87, Life
Rating: PG for shounen-ai.
Summary: AU. Store clerk Yuugi falls in love with museum curator Atemu Khalfani… two worlds apart, is it possible for love to conquer everything?
Author’s note: Unrepentant fluff. Characters are older, around 23-25 years. Made-up surname for Atemu. No money is made off of this. Feedback is greatly appreciated. Written for entertainment purposes only.

Key: ----- = scene change




---------------------------------



“Ugh, I hate weddings!” Jounouchi Katsuya took off his black jacquard and threw it unceremoniously over the ratty couch in his apartment.

“Careful, Jounouchi-kun,” Mutou Yuugi said. “That’s a rental tux. If you get it dirty or damaged, you’ll have to pay the full price.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Jounouchi groaned. He really hated weddings, except for the buffet. His sister hadn’t disappointed in that department. She knew the infamous appetite of the Jounouchi family, even if she had grown up apart from her brother. Yeah, the food had been splendid, but that was all there was to it. Now that his little sister had married, Jounouchi felt… abandoned, somehow. He should’ve known that she wanted to marry, of course. Shizuka was very traditional and very romantic, dreaming of her knight in shining armor ever since she was young. He was already glad her choice hadn’t been playboy Otogi Ryuuji or eternal loser Honda Hiroto (even though he counted them as his friends, he didn’t want to see his sister end up with either one of them). No, instead she chose to wed an accountant, how boring could she get?

Yuugi looked tired. He’d been up and running all day and there was more work waiting for him at home. He appreciated Shizuka inviting him for her wedding, feeling privileged that she wanted him to be around on her special day. But he was getting a little bit worried about his grandfather who had been alone all day. Yuugi wanted to go home to see how the elderly man was doing. Jounouchi trotted to the kitchenette and opened the fridge.

“Beer?” He asked, meanwhile assuming that everyone wanted one and he took the cans from the fridge. Honda walked into the living room, stretching and yawning. Yuugi knew he had to be disappointed that Shizuka hadn’t chosen him, but he couldn’t read his friend’s face well. Honda took one of the beer cans and tossed it at Yuugi, who caught it. He wasn’t really fond of beer, but well, what the heck. Jounouchi opened his can and raised it, as if he wanted to make a toast. “To sisters getting married,” he said, a bit sourly. “To romantic relationships, eternal love and till death do us part, and more of that bullshit.”

“Jounouchi-kun…” Yuugi started. He went silent, as it dawned to him that Jounouchi was dealing with the fact that his sister had a husband now and that he didn’t need to protect her anymore. He had always been there for her, helping her wherever and whenever he could - and now she had taken a step away from him, not to spite him, but because this was the next step in her life. Jounouchi tried hard to feel happiness for Shizuka, but he had to face the truth: she had grown up, she didn’t need him anymore as a safe keeper, as a protector. “Sorry.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Jounouchi took a firm swig of his beer.

“I’m going to be a bachelor forever,” Honda complained. “Now that Shizuka-chan has married, who else can be my perfect wife? I’m tired of looking everywhere!”

“Maybe you can call Miho?” Jounouchi asked sarcastically, referring to Honda’s crush, back in their high school days. Honda almost choked on his beer.

“Seriously? That’s below the belt, even for you.”

“I didn’t mean to be cruel.” Jounouchi shrugged. His mood had turned foul after such a lovely day. Apart from dealing with the hard reality that his sister had all grown up, Jounouchi also disliked her husband. Well… dislike… Deep down, he knew Shizuka’s husband was a good guy who held a steady job, had his own home and a car; there was really nothing bad about him. Jounouchi had been afraid that Shizuka would make a wrong choice when it came to men, but instead she had found herself all but the perfect husband.

“Women,” Honda snorted. He sat down on the couch and drank his beer. “I wish I knew what they were thinking.”

“Maybe you just don’t want to know.” Jounouchi sat down next to him, tossing his empty can aside. “I’ve never been able to figure out what went on in Mai’s mind.”

“Mai-san was really fond of you,” Yuugi reminded him. “She wasn’t ready to commit herself to a relationship, though.” And she’d been fairly surprised that Jounouchi, of all people, had wanted to settle down, but Yuugi decided to not rub salt into the wound. Jounouchi nodded.

“Yeah, but it’s just so hard to read them, you know?” A watery smile. “No, you don’t know.”

That was also the harsh truth. Yuugi was slightly embarrassed to admit it, but it was true. Among his friends, he was the one with the least experience in relationships. More so, he hadn’t had a relationship in years. His high school crush, Anzu Mazaki, had moved on after she didn’t feel the same for him as he did for her. She had been very kind and sweet when he confessed his feelings to her, but she had to tell him that it wasn’t mutual. He was a wonderful guy and she wished him the best, but she wasn’t in love with him. No cruel words, no brusque rebuff, it simply wasn’t meant to be. Yuugi had taken the rejection as best as he could, but his lack of a relationship was a long running joke, albeit not a mean one, between his friends.

Jounouchi crushed Honda’s empty beer can and threw it aside, missing the waste basket. “Sorry, Yuugi,” he said. “That was mean of me. Sorry guys, I think it’s the emotions of the day that make me feel this way.” They knew Jounouchi wasn’t out to hurt them. Honda just nodded and Yuugi looked on his watch.

“I have to go, Jounouchi-kun,” he said.

“Oh yes, your grandfather. How has he been, lately?”

Yuugi shook his head. “Not very well. The doctor checks up on him regularly, but… his health is failing. We can help him to ease the pain and discomfort, but for the rest, there’s not much we can do.”

“That sucks,” Honda said. “Hey, if we can be of any help…”

“I know,” Yuugi answered. “I appreciate it, guys. I really should be going now. He’s been alone for the major part of the day and I’m tired.”


--------------------------



Yuugi opened the door and took off his shoes before putting on his home slippers. He went upstairs. The ground floor of the quaint building was the location of the Kame Game Shop, a store in electronic and board games, set up by his grandfather. Yuugi had taken over the store ever since Mutou Sugoroku’s health started failing him. Today, the store had been closed as Yuugi was the only employee and he had been at Shizuka’s wedding all day. Unfortunately, the store alone didn’t generate enough income, so Yuugi worked another part time job as a clerk at an accountant agency. The living quarters were situated on the first floor, along with the kitchen where his mother, Mutou Anake, waited for him.

“How was the wedding?” she asked curiously. They walked over to the cozy living room to prevent their voices from carrying over to grandfather’s room. He was sound asleep by now.

“I expected it to be more traditional, but Shizuka-chan chose for a Western-style wedding,” he said with a smile. “Large white dress with roses, bridesmaids in matching outfits, doves… she looked stunning.”

“I’m glad it was such a nice day.”

“How’s jii-chan?”

His mother heaved a sigh. Taking care of her elderly father was a heavy task for her, and she simply lacked the physical strength for a lot of chores. “The caretaker helped him bathe and changed the sheets on the bed,” she said. “She helped to cook dinner, too. There’s some left, if you want some?”

“No thank you,” Yuugi said. “The buffet was more than enough.”

“It’s getting late. I’m going to my room now.”

“Good night, kaa-san.”

“Good night, Yuugi-kun.”


----------------------------



The next morning, Yuugi looked outside enthusiastically. It was going to be a wonderful day, the same perfect weather as at Shizuka’s wedding. Nice! The Game Shop was going to be open all day and Yuugi expected a lot of school kids coming in, as new booster packs for the Duel Monsters game had been released. He’d been stocking up on the game as it was the latest craze; Yuugi liked to play the game himself, just like Jounouchi. The perks of owning a game store was having access to the latest games, obviously. He’d been playing a lot with Jounouchi and he was known in Domino City as a good duelist. Many people came to ask him for strategy and tactical tips, and he had been invited to tournaments all over the country, but he had to decline, so far - he just couldn’t leave the store, his other job, or his grandfather alone. Yuugi jumped out of bed, took a quick shower and raced downstairs to his grandfather’s room. Before breakfast, he wanted to have a talk with his grandfather.

“Good morning, jii-chan!” Mutou Suguroku was awake and sitting up straight in bed, supported by pillows. He looked pale and frail, but his eyes twinkled with mirth and wisdom according to his age.

“Good morning, Yuugi,” he said, his voice slightly raspy. “How was the wedding?”

“It was very nice,” he answered. “Shizuka-chan made a lovely bride.”

“Jounouchi probably doesn’t like it that his little sister has grown up, does he?”

“Exactly.” Yuugi wasn’t surprised by his grandfather’s insight. It was so easy and comfortable to ask him for advice. “He was feeling a bit down.”

“I understand. It means that he has to grow up, too. He has to think about his own approach to relationships. Perhaps he’ll understand now why Mai decided to break up with him.”

“Relationships are so complicated,” Yuugi said. “But I’m glad Shizuka-chan found the love of her life.”

“One day, you will too, Yuugi,” the elderly man said, confident.

“I’ll bring you breakfast,” Yuugi said. “Something in particular you’d like?”

“Sure, why don’t you change the subject?” Suguroku winked at Yuugi before coughing. “I’m in the mood for something easy digestible.”

“All right, I’ll be back shortly with some runny eggs.”

“Yuugi, no! I want them cooked properly, do you hear me? Properly!”


--------------------------



Just as Yuugi predicted, in the afternoon the Game Shop was bustling with many school children, coming over to buy the booster packs for the Duel Monsters game. To his joy, Jounouchi also visited the shop to make a purchase.

“We should really plan a game night soon,” he said, “men only.” His usual good humor had returned and he put the booster packs he picked out on the counter. “No discount, Yuugi. I’m very well capable of paying for the merchandise, thank you very much.”

“It’s all right, Jounouchi-kun.” Yuugi always felt a little burdened to charge full-price for his friends, especially friends he’d known for as long as Jounouchi and Honda. They knew, but never used it to their advantage; they didn’t want to profit from their friend. They also knew that the Game Shop itself provided a meager income. Jounouchi put the money on the counter and ignored the change Yuugi wanted to give him.

“Hey, when you finish up tonight, want to have dinner together? I know a place where they serve great burgers. Let’s go there, for old times’ sake!”

“You’re not going to get sentimental on me, are you?” Yuugi said, his wide eyes even wider.

“Oh yes I am, you can count on that! I’ll ask Honda to come over too, and we can drown our sorrows in cheap beer and burgers!”

“Count me in, Jounouchi-kun.” Yuugi couldn’t help himself, Jounouchi’s enthusiasm was contagious. Besides, he liked spending time with his friends, and his mother was at home this evening, so she could take care of grandfather.


-----------------------------



“Remember when Anzu used to work at Burger World?” Jounouchi grinned at the memory as he put extra ketchup on his burger.

“She was very good at it,” Yuugi said good-naturedly. He squinted his eyes at the bright lights of the fast food restaurant. Honda was sitting across from him, munching on his fries. “I still can’t believe she’s at the other side of the ocean. She’s so fortunate to make her dream come true: to become a dancer in New York.”

“She worked hard for it,” Jounouchi admitted. “But she knew from her youngest years what she wanted to do with her life. It makes me feel even more… how to say it… unbalanced, you know? Swaying back and forth, from left to right? At least you have your Game Shop, Yuugi. It might not be totally what you wanted to do, but it’s at least there, like a safety net factor.”
Yuugi nodded. “That’s true. It’s something like a back-up. When everything else fails, I still have the Game Shop, for better and for worse.”

Honda grabbed his milkshake. Like Jounouchi and Yuugi, he hadn’t pursued an academic career, not really sure which direction to take his life in. Yuugi had the Game Shop, but Jounouchi and Honda had gone from job to job, trying out different careers. They finally ended up both in the car retail business, after some horrible stints at call centers and fast food joints.

“Is this how you imagined life, when growing up?” he asked. “Struggling to pay the bills, failing in relationships, not knowing if you’re doing the right thing?”

“Everything in life is difficult,” Yuugi answered. “I see my grandfather slipping away further and further each day. I see how hard it is on my mother. I have to balance my checkbook very carefully. If only I had sales like this afternoon every day, I could easily live off of the Game Shop. And I’d love to have someone around to share my life with.”

“You have to go out and show yourself to find that special someone,” Jounouchi said. “They won’t appear at your door miraculously, Yuugi.”

“I know.” Now he was playing with his fries. “But I have to work, I have my mother and my grandfather to take care of, and sometimes I’m so tired that I can only sit on the couch and watch a silly game show on TV.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Jounouchi heaved a sigh. “Work takes up so much of our time.”

“Why don’t we go clubbing this weekend,” Honda suggested. “Have some drinks and meet women!”

“Sounds like a plan!” Jounouchi cheered up at the idea. Yuugi agreed, but his smile was less than genuine. There was a big secret that he carried with him, and he hadn’t dared to share it with his friends. He wasn’t really into girls. How was he ever going to tell Jounouchi and Honda? They still assumed that he was looking for a girlfriend, even if it had been so long since Anzu had rejected him. Yuugi had really loved her for her kind and strong character, and he had been truly sad and upset when she told him she didn’t return his feelings. But in the course of the years, his feelings towards a partner had changed. He enjoyed the company of women, but he didn’t see them as a potential life partner anymore. Yuugi didn’t recall exactly the moment when he realized he was attracted to the same sex. It was something he was still struggling with, these feelings, and he hadn’t even told his grandfather yet, in whom he could confide anything. Honda and Jounouchi took their cell phones out to set a date for the clubbing night. Yuugi followed their example, consoling himself with the thought that he did this for his friends. A couple of hours at a bar wouldn’t hurt, and it wasn’t like they forced him to take a girl home or anything like that.

“Next Friday,” Jounouchi decided on the date. “Is that okay with you, Yuugi?”

“Yes, that’s fine.” Friday was a Game Shop day; he’d be less than energetic after standing on his feet all day, but it didn’t matter much. He could sleep in on Saturday morning.


---------------------------------



The loud chime of the Game Shop’s doorbell reached far in the building. It was done on purpose, so Yuugi could hear the bell even if he was in the stock room. Sales had been slow this Friday, much to Yuugi’s disappointment. Hopefully it would pick up later this afternoon, when the schools went out for the weekend. When it was slow in the store, Yuugi wandered off to the stock room to take care of the administrative chores. He quickly put the papers he was working on away and hurried back to the store.

“Irrashai!” he welcomed the visitor.

“Irrashai,” the customer returned the greeting, with a heavy, foreign accent that Yuugi couldn’t identify. His jaw went slack when the customer approached the counter - this couldn’t be! This man was his spitting image! He couldn’t help himself from staring at the other: Yuugi immediately noticed the tan color of his skin, the large golden earrings he was wearing and his striking, crimson red eyes, narrow and framed with long, dark lashes. His hair was virtually the same as Yuugi’s, multi-colored and spiked, yet seemingly wilder. His eyes went slightly wider when he saw Yuugi, obviously noticing the similarity in their physical features as well.

“C-can I help you?” Yuugi winced at his high-pitched voice, unable to keep a professional demeanor.

“I am looking for a present, suitable for a child,” the man spoke.

“Boy or a girl?” Yuugi asked. “What’s the age range?” His curiosity was piqued. This man was very handsome, and his accent… Middle-Eastern? It was cute to hear. Yuugi blushed.

“A boy, five years old.”

“Does he like card games? He might be too young to play Duel Monsters, though. The game can be too complicated for his age.”

“I am not aware of your nation’s customs and traditions,” the man admitted. “He is the son of my host, and quite intelligent. However, I would rather not buy something that would be offensive or insulting to him.”

“I understand,” Yuugi said. He saw an opening to satisfy his curiosity. “May I ask where you’re from?”

“Egypt.”

“Egypt! Wow, that’s... far away. Well, the tradition of giving gifts is very special in Japan,” Yuugi said. “A well-thought gift is extremely appreciated and can form a bond between people for their lifetime’s worth.”

The man nodded. “I understand. I would appreciate it if you could help me. I am not tied to a specific budget.”

Yuugi tried to come up with a good suggestion, when the handsome customer turned his head to the left, towards a display case. “What about this?” he asked, pointing to a shogi set. Yuugi took a deep breath. “This looks wonderful.”

“Do you know how to play shogi? It’s a chess game,” Yuugi explained. He walked around the counter to stand next to his mysterious customer.

“I do know chess, but I have not played shogi ever before. This is one marvelous masterpiece.”

Yuugi couldn’t do anything but to give an approving answer. This particular shogi game had been bought by his grandfather at a games convention a long time ago. It had never been sold, simply because it was too expensive. The tiles were carved from a fragile marble stone, engraved with kanji in the most delicate way possible, and the board itself was of the finest cherry wood, with a gold leaf pattern on the sides. Not even Mutou Sugoroku could remember why he had bought it in the first place, and all these years, decades, it had been displayed in one of the glass cases at the Game Shop, patiently waiting for a buyer.

“Is this too difficult for a five year old?”

I’d say, it’s far too expensive for a five year old, Yuugi thought. Instead, he gave his customer a warm smile. “If the boy is as intelligent as you say, he’ll be thrilled to receive such a wonderful gift, so he can start to master the game at his young age.”

“Very well, I will take it.”

Yuugi’s hands trembled slightly when he opened the display case and he took out the game carefully. He wandered back to the counter where he wrapped it in protective bubble wrap and gift paper, taking his time to carefully fold the paper. He barely dared to say the price out loud, even though the customer had said earlier that he wasn’t tied to a specific budget. And indeed, without much ado, the customer took out a credit card and handed it over to Yuugi, not batting an eye about the amount. He took care of the purchase and returned the credit card after the transaction.

“Thank you very much for your help.” The man took something else out of his wallet and handed it to Yuugi. It was a business card.

“Th-thank you for shopping here,” Yuugi stuttered. When taking the business card, for the briefest of moments, his finger touched the other man’s hand and it felt like an electric current went through him. It overwhelmed him, and Yuugi was still holding the business card while watching the other’s retreating back, until the door of the Game Shop closed behind him. Yuugi stared at the small piece of paper. He didn’t recognize the logo, and he read out loud: “Atemu Khalfani, curator National History Museum, Cairo, Egypt.” He repeated the name a couple of times until he realized what he was doing. His cheeks reddened even more. He didn’t care about the sale he made, almost a week’s worth of income. Yuugi pulled out his cell phone and immediately dialed Jounouchi’s number. It didn’t take long for Jounouchi to answer; his voice was barely audible due to the noises in the background; he was at his job at the car repair shop.

“Yuugi,” he said, “what’s up?”

“Jounouchi-kun, you have to help me!”

“Of course man, of course! What’s the matter?”

“I just met the love of my life!” Yuugi all but yelled.

“Wow, that’s great!” Jounouchi yelled in return, to drown out the noises of the electronic tools and running engines. “What do you need my help for, then?”

“I don’t know what to do,” Yuugi said. “Please help me, Jounouchi-kun! You know how to deal with romance…” He could hear Jounouchi grin on the other side.

“All right, I’ll come over as soon as I’m done working for today,” he said. “Make me a mountain of takoyaki and we’ll talk, okay?”

“Duly noted,” Yuugi said and he heaved a dreamy sigh. “He’s so handsome, Jounouchi-kun!”

He?” Jounouchi repeated. Yuugi’s heart skipped a beat. Oh, no! He had just blurted out his biggest secret..! It had to happen, sooner or later, but Yuugi hadn’t wanted to bring it like this. He had wanted to tell his friends when the time felt right, in person, somewhere quiet… not over the phone, overwhelming the other. He fumbled for words, when Jounouchi started talking again. “Don’t worry Yuugi, we’ll come up with a plan of seduction and conquest,” he said. “The boss is looking, so I’ve got to go. See you tonight! Remember, lots of takoyaki!”

At least Jounouchi didn’t laugh at him, or mock him. Yuugi knew better than that; Jounouchi wasn’t the kind of person to do such things. But to spring this kind of surprise on your best friend… it was a little bit more dramatic than just telling that you preferred strawberries over raspberries, you know? Nervous, Yuugi closed the store for the day and went upstairs to get started on the requested takoyaki. His mother was in the kitchen, pouring some tea for herself.

“Yuugi-kun,” she said. “Your cheeks are red! Is everything all right?”

“I’m fine,” he quickly answered. “I’m going to make takoyaki, kaa-san. Jounouchi-kun’s coming over!” And by default, Honda, which Yuugi didn’t mind - to win the heart of the man he had just met, he was going to need all the help he could get.

“Oh! How wonderful! Do you want me to help with the takoyaki?”

“No kaa-san, I’m fine,” Yuugi repeated. She studied him for a minute while he grabbed the necessary ingredients and equipment for the dish. Her silence made him even more nervous. He feared she was seeing right through him, and when she finally left the kitchen, he heaved a sigh of relief. Yuugi occupied himself with the preparations. Cutting the ingredients and mixing the batter calmed him down. His thoughts drifted back to the man from the Game Shop. Atemu Khalfani. He didn’t even know how to pronounce his name correctly! What was a curator of the national museum of Cairo, Egypt doing in Domino City, Japan? Yuugi thought about it for another minute, then he walked to the living room and sifted through a stack of old newspapers and flyers. He picked out the newspaper from last week and quickly leafed through it. There it was: an article on Domino City National Museum’s latest acquisition: an Ancient Egypt exhibit, with an authentic mummy from one of the Great Dynasties. Yuugi gazed at the picture published next to the article, but he could only make out a bunch of elderly men in expensive suits and a slender woman in their midst: Ishizu Ishtar, in charge of the antiquities. So that might be the reason why this Atemu Khalfani was in Domino City: in his function as curator, he was probably supervising the exhibit. This was an opportunity to see him again... He could pay a visit to the museum and find out if Atemu worked there..?

“Yuugi-kun?”

His mother’s hesitant voice pulled him out of his thoughts, and he ran back to the kitchen.

“The takoyaki!” Fortunately, nothing was burnt and he saved the batch, immediately starting a new one. He also started the rice cooker and turned some leftovers from the fridge into tasty side dishes. Honda had an appetite as infamous as Jounouchi’s. He hoped that Jounouchi had told Honda about the ‘he’ Yuugi had spoken of. His cheeks reddened again. He shouldn’t be so afraid. Jounouchi hadn’t hung up the phone, he hadn’t responded with disgust. He was sure that Honda wouldn’t respond in a bad way either. They were his friends, for crying out loud! He should trust them! Nonetheless, a big part of this evening was going to be… awkward. They were going to talk about it and yes, he really had to tell them that he fancied men, not women. His secret was no longer a secret… time flew by, and the doorbell chimed through the building. Quickly, he went downstairs to open the door.

“Jounouchi-kun, Honda-kun,” he welcomed his friends with a big smile, despite his nerves being all frazzled. “Come in, come in!”

“Yum, I can smell the takoyaki from here,” Jounouchi said and patted Yuugi on the shoulder. Honda had brought something to drink: a few bottles of soda. In the kitchen, nothing was said yet about ‘helping Yuugi’; they enjoyed dinner in an amicable atmosphere, joking and laughing, but keeping most of the noise down, as not to disturb Yuugi’s grandfather. After the last of the takoyaki was gone, Yuugi put the dirty dishes in the sink. Both Jounouchi and Honda offered to take care of washing the dishes, but he ushered them into the living room.

“I really want to talk about something,” he said.

“Jounouchi didn’t tell me everything,” Honda complained as he sat down. “What’s going on?”

Yuugi cleared his throat. The moment he had dreaded, had come. “Someone visited the Game Shop today,” he said. “And I really, really liked… him. He was very handsome, very well-mannered, and he gave me his business card.” Just to keep his hands busy, he fiddled around with the business card before handing it to Jounouchi. Honda looked dumbfounded.

“Wait a minute, Yuugi… him?” Yuugi couldn’t make out the exact tone of his voice and he lowered his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Honda-kun,” he said, but Honda shook his head.

“Why didn’t you tell us sooner? Have you been dealing with this for so long, all by yourself?”

“I… yes, most of the time, yes. And I haven’t even told my family yet.”

Jounouchi read the business card. “Curator at a national museum? You certainly raise the bar, Yuugi. But I agree with Honda: you should’ve told us sooner. I’m not sure of how much help we could’ve been, but at least we could’ve been there for you.”

“I felt weird about it,” Yuugi said, honestly. “I mean… I had a crush on Anzu-chan for so long. I really loved her, and probably… no, surely, if she had returned my feelings, I would’ve started a relationship with her.”

“Anzu is a good person,” Jounouchi said. “She’d make a wonderful girlfriend. But sooner or later Yuugi, your true feelings would’ve surfaced. If you feel something for a man, it would’ve happened eventually, with or without Anzu.” He gave the card to Honda. “Now, tell me more about this Atemu. How does he look like?”

“Well, that’s the weird part.” Yuugi all but coughed. “He looks like me. I mean, he has darker skin, he wears golden earrings, but his hair and build are similar. Sort of.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Jounouchi said. “Of all people and all the men in the world, you fall for a look-alike?”

“I suggest we go to the museum and check him out for ourselves,” Honda said, handing the business card back to Yuugi. He cradled it to his chest. “After all, we want to know who we’re dealing with.”

“I don’t know what to say or to do when I see him again,” Yuugi said. A heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The relief of his friends not judging him was great; his body slumped, after holding on to that much tension for so long. “Please guys, help me!”

“I’d love to,” Honda said, “but what do you know about him? I mean, he was here to look for a toy for a kid, right? I really don’t want to burst your bubble Yuugi, but if he was looking for a toy for his own kid…”

“No, he wasn’t.” Yuugi told the entire story about how he had advised Atemu to find a suitable gift. “He said explicitly that it was for the son of his host.”

“All right, then. Did you see anything on his fingers? A wedding ring?”

Yuugi blushed. He had mostly looked at Atemu’s face… “I don’t think it was a wedding ring,” he said. “He was wearing rings though, but they looked… random. Gold, and fairly large.”

“Plus golden earrings…it’s dangerous for him to walk alone on the streets at night,” Jounouchi muttered. “The guy could get robbed! You’re right Honda, we have to go to the national museum and see him for ourselves.”

“What do you mean, you have to ‘see him for ourselves’?” Yuugi asked, suspicious.

“We want to know what kind of guy we’re dealing with,” Honda said.

“Yeah, if he’s good enough for you and all that.” Jounouchi grinned. “Don’t worry Yuugi, I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But you can’t blame us for being curious, can you?”

“I guess not…”

“Then we’ll go to the national museum soon,” Jounouchi decided. “Now, a beer to celebrate!”


----------------------------



Yuugi was nervous. He hopped from one foot to another and wished Jounouchi and Honda were already here. He had left his accountant job earlier just to be in time to meet up with the others. His mother had wondered why he was going to the museum, but when he told her about the Ancient Egypt exhibit, she only nodded in understanding. Grandfather had been an enthusiast amateur-archaeologist, and Egypt had always been his favorite field of interest. Yuugi hadn’t told his family about Atemu yet, though. Coming out to his friends had been tense enough already.

‘You can do this,’ he told himself. It was just an innocent visit to the museum. Perhaps Atemu wasn’t even there at the moment. Maybe it was all in vain, and he should go home and take care of his grandfather and help his mother out, as usual.

“Yuugi, there you are!” Jounouchi greeted his friend with a firm pat on the back, causing Yuugi to cough. “Wow, I haven’t been here in forever. Didn’t we visit this place back in High School?”

“Yeah, it was a fieldtrip,” Honda said, and shivered. “I think I had an F for that paper.”

“Let’s just go inside,” Yuugi said and his voice hitched. “I appreciate you being here, guys.”

They climbed the stairs and Jounouchi shivered violently.

“What’s the matter, Jounouchi-kun?” Yuugi asked, worried.

“Brrr, culture and education,” Jounouchi grimaced as they approached the tall doors. “I hated it when I was in High School, and I still hate it now!”

“I’ll cook the biggest mountain of takoyaki to make it up to you,” Yuugi promised.

“You owe me that,” his friend mumbled as he held the door open. Instead of a clubbing night with girls and beer, it was now a museum evening with exhibits and statues. Inside, the trio was overwhelmed with information. Huge screens showed presentations of the current exhibits, tall posters with announcements of upcoming exhibits and shows hung everywhere. Yuugi didn’t know where to go to, so he decided to ask at the reception. He coughed softly to get the clerk’s attention, and she bowed to him.

“Yes, can I help you?”

“W-Which way to the Ancient Egyptian exhibit?” Yuugi stammered.

“Up the stairs, and then to your left,” the clerk pointed out, “then you’ll see the entrance.”

He thanked her and the trio went up a floor, footsteps echoing on the tiles. Two busts of Tutankhamen flanked the entrance. It wasn’t busy at this time of hour, but quite a few burly guards walked around. Yuugi hesitantly stepped into the large room.

“This is just freaky,” Honda said as he stared at a mural painting.

“I slept through the history classes,” Jounouchi said and he didn’t sound like he regretted it. Yuugi wandered off and looked around, hoping to find Atemu. But still... what was he supposed to say when he did see him? ‘Hey, I was in the neighborhood and decided to visit your exhibit?’

Contrary to the others, he was impressed by the beauty and craftsmanship of the artifacts, murals and the several sarcophagi. He admired a statue and was so lost in thoughts, that he didn’t hear the woman approaching.

“Anubis,” she said, her voice gentle and calm. “Protector of the Dead. He ushered souls into the afterlife and weighed their hearts to determine whether they could pass on. Ah, I’m sorry,” she apologized when she saw Yuugi shivering. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No, no, I’m sorry,” Yuugi apologized in his turn. “I was mesmerized by the statue… are these all authentic or replicas?”

“We have brought authentic artifacts with us,” the woman said. “That’s why there’s so much security around. Our curator came along with us, too. He wanted to make sure that all the artifacts were well taken care of.”

It was an opening, but Yuugi was too nervous to ask about Atemu. Annoyed with himself, he pushed those thoughts away and showed the woman one of his bright smiles. “It must be quite a big responsibility.”

“Huge,” she admitted. “May I ask about your interest in our culture?”

Of course she was of Egyptian descent; her skin had the same color as Atemu’s, and her hair was dark, reaching past her shoulders, the strands held together with golden accessories. Her robe was definitely a traditional garb. He recognized her - she was the woman in the picture next to the news article on the exhibit.

“My grandfather has explored in Egypt when he was young,” Yuugi said truthfully. “I wish he could visit the exhibit himself. I can see why it fascinated him, it’s all so very interesting.”

“I also wish your grandfather could be here,” she said. “I’d love to tell him about our artifacts. My name is Ishizu Ishtar.”

“Mutou Yuugi,” he said. “It’s very nice to meet you, Ishtar-san.”

“I still need to get used to the tradition of honorifics,” Ishizu said.

“You speak Japanese very well,” Yuugi complimented her.

“Thank you. I had some time to learn it, as we’ve been planning to bring this exhibit to Japan for quite a while. There’s a lot of interest in Ancient Egypt.”

Yuugi’s smile grew wider. With a bit of luck, Atemu was going to stay in Domino City for as long as the exhibit would run. That meant he had some time to spare; Ishizu and Atemu wouldn’t have taken the effort to learn the language if they were going to stay for just a couple of weeks.
A noise to his left made him look up. A young man with tan skin and blond hair emerged from behind the large statue of a sphinx.

“Malik, there you are,” Ishizu said. “Have you finished your duties?”

“Yes, sister,” he said, speaking in Japanese though his accent was heavier than Ishizu’s. “You’re needed in the office.”

Ishizu bowed to Yuugi, and he returned the gesture. “Excuse me,” she said, “please feel free to stick around. My brother here knows a great deal about everything, so you can ask him all your questions.”

“Thank you, Ishtar-san,” Yuugi said. The woman left, and an awkward silence fell.

“First time visit?” Malik finally asked, slightly bored.

“Since a long time, yes.” Yuugi figured he had gotten a second chance; Malik seemed to be easier to talk to than Ishizu. “So, what kind of duties do you have here?”

“I’m the tour guide,” Malik answered. “Individual and group tours. You can book through the website.” He pulled a sour face. “And I have to answer any question about the artifacts and the exhibit itself, and help out school children when they’re here for a field trip.”

“Wow, you certainly have a lot to do!”

“Yeah, he makes me work like a slave,” Malik muttered.

“Who?”

“The curator.” Malik lowered his voice. “I’m not supposed to complain. Do you work at an office?”

“I actually have two jobs,” Yuugi answered. “One at an accountant office, and one at my Game Shop.”

“You have a Game Shop?” Malik was impressed. Yuugi decided to test his luck.

“Yes, and your curator visited the store the other day,” he said. “Looking for a gift for the son of his host?”

“Oh, so he bought that shogi set from your place?”

“You know how to play shogi?”

“No, unfortunately not, but I was there when the game was unwrapped. You sell some pretty neat stuff.”

“Thank you.” Yuugi was genuinely pleased with the compliment.

“We have our own apartment,” Malik said, “but our curator arrived later, and he hadn’t found a place to live yet. Ishizu wanted to offer him our guestroom, but fortunately, he declined. Now he lives at the place of some businessman, a benefactor to the museum.”

Yuugi could understand Malik, sort of - he wouldn’t want his boss to stay at his own home either! Thinking of Takana-sama, his uptight, sour boss from the accountant’s office, Yuugi shivered. No way did he want the man to be under the same roof as his! But if it was Khalfani-san… Atemu… such a beautiful name… Malik was about to say more, but someone appeared behind him: a dark tan, tall, muscular man who put a hand on his shoulder and said something in a low, whispering voice. Malik said something in return, before addressing Yuugi again.

“I’m sorry, but I have to go. This is my brother Rishid; he doesn’t speak Japanese as well as we do yet, so he prefers to speak in our native language. He says that I better start my preparations for the tour this evening.”

“This evening? Isn’t the museum about to close?” Yuugi asked.

“Tonight is a special showing, invitation-only,” Malik explained. “A very special artifact is going to be displayed for a select audience.”

A select audience that didn’t include him, that was for sure. Yuugi put on his biggest smile and thanked Malik for his attention. After saying goodbye, he returned to the exhibit to find Jounouchi and Honda - they were staring at a bust of Queen Nefertiti and commenting about her looks.

“Guys, let’s go,” Yuugi said.

“Yeah, I’m getting all educated here,” Jounouchi said with a gruesome expression on his face. Honda slapped his shoulder. “Okonomiyaki, anyone? My treat!”

--------------------------




Part 2 |

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