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
Word count: approx. 25.000 in total
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




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


“We saw you talking to that blond guy,” Honda said as soon as they were served the delicious food. “Was he someone interesting?”

“Nah, I tried to pry some information out of him about Khalfani-san,” Yuugi said. He shoved his piece of okonomiyaki around on his plate. “I don’t know much more, though. He sounds extremely diligent and hard-working.”

“And no personality at all,” Jounouchi mumbled.

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry Yuugi, but I think this guy doesn’t fit you.” Jounouchi chewed and swallowed a big bite before continuing. “We managed to see your curator, he was talking to a woman.”

“Slender, black hair, gold jewelry and a robe?”

“Exactly.”

“Ishtar-san,” Yuugi said. “The young man I spoke to, was her brother.”

“Don’t change the subject, Yuugi. You know I’m always honest.”

“I know, Jounouchi-kun, and I appreciate it. Go on.”

“The physical similarities aside… this Atemu seemed to me like he had the personality of a cardboard box. I know, I know, you can’t judge someone in a few seconds… are you sure this is someone you like, as in ‘like-like’, Yuugi? It’s just that…”

“He’s so different from you,” Honda said. “No offense, of course. His cultural background is so different. He wears golden earrings that reach his shoulders, he travels around the world for this exhibit…”

“No match for a store clerk, huh?” Yuugi felt disheartened.

“Yuugi, like we said before, it’s no big deal for us whether you like a man or a woman. But you have to be realistic.”

“If Yuugi wants to be with this guy, we should let him be,” Honda said.

“Of course I want him to be with the one he likes, the one he loves!” Jounouchi forked some more okonomiyaki onto his plate. “But there’s something called ‘out of your league’, and why should you set yourself up for a world of hurt and pain, when it’s so obvious there’s such a big difference? I mean, look at my sister. She wed an accountant - no offense, Yuugi - because he’s financially stable, has a steady job and has everything she needs to settle down and start a family.”

“Shizuka-chan also loves her husband because he’s kind, he has humor and he looks nice,” Yuugi said, slightly miffed.

“Exactly. This Atemu… he’s handsome yes, in a weird way, but what do you know about him? Are you sure you’re attracted to him because of who he is, or because he looks like you and this is some kind of weird projection?”

“I…” Yuugi’s voice trailed off. Jounouchi had a point. What did he know about Atemu anyway? That he was thoughtful enough to search the city for a suitable gift? That he was well-mannered, but reserved? And that he had been just another customer, not a potential love-interest? Yuugi lost the rest of his appetite and pushed his plate away.

“I’m sorry Yuugi,” Jounouchi said. “If you’re mad at me, I understand. I don’t like to see you hurt. We’re best friends, and best friends look out for each other.”

“I understand, Jounouchi-kun, Honda-kun,” Yuugi said. His good mood was ruined. “I know it has nothing to do with the gender I prefer, you just think he’s not the right man for me.”

“We think your worlds are too much apart,” Jounouchi said. Honda agreed. “Just think about it, Yuugi. He’s from Egypt, and one day he’ll go back to his homeland. What about you? Your family? Your grandfather?”

Yuugi went silent. He wasn’t going anywhere, that was for sure. “You’re right,” he finally said, his voice so soft that the others had to lean into him to make out his words. “I can’t leave my grandfather, and my family comes first.” He felt awful. He hadn’t given this a good thought at all - of course Atemu would return to Egypt one day, and what would happen to him? It was perhaps better to quit while he was ahead and save himself the trouble. It broke his heart and if he wasn’t in a public place, he would rather have bawled his eyes out.


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



“Yuugi? Yuugi?”

“Jii-chan?” Yuugi figured that his grandfather was asleep at this hour and he had treaded extra carefully around his bedroom. “You shouldn’t be awake, jii-chan. You need your rest.”

“Come here,” the elderly man beckoned him. “I want to hear all about the museum.”

Yuugi cringed. The museum was the last thing he wanted to talk about. He put his bravest smile on again, walked into the bedroom and sat down on the bed. “How was today?”

“Everything went fine,” Sugoroku answered. “The caretaker was very kind and helped out with dinner again. You got something to eat with Jounouchi and Honda?”

“Yes, jii-chan.”

“So… the museum? It’s been ages since I’ve visited that place! Back in my days, it was nothing but a shoebox-sized building…”

“It’s pretty big now,” Yuugi said. “The entire first floor is dedicated to the Ancient Egypt exhibit.”

“Ancient Egypt… I wish I could see it!”

“Maybe we can arrange it,” Yuugi said, pensive. “If I can get my hands on a wheelchair… and Jounouchi wouldn’t mind driving us. He has a car.”

“That would be wonderful, Yuugi! I’d love it!” His enthusiasm faltered when he took a good look at his grandson. “What’s wrong? Is something bothering you?”

“Just a question, jii-chan,” Yuugi said. “When you met obaa-san… did you immediately know it was love? At first sight? Did you know that she was the one for you, right away?”

“Whoa Yuugi, what makes you ask…” Sugoroku tilted his head and a mischievous look appeared in his eyes. “Is there someone you’ve met? Someone you want to talk to me about?”

Yuugi nodded. He had to tell his grandfather someday, hadn’t he? He couldn’t think of any good moment, so why not right now?

“Jii-chan, remember that shogi set of yours that I recently sold?”

“Yes, yes, I remember. I’m still amazed that it sold after so many years..!”

“I like the customer,” Yuugi said. Sugoroku reached for him and patted him on the shoulder.

“I’m so happy for you, Yuugi! Now, tell me all about her..!”

“I never told you that the customer was male, jii-chan. His name is Khalfani Atemu and he’s the curator of the national museum in Cairo, Egypt.” There, it was all out! Yuugi averted his eyes. His friends didn’t have any trouble with his preference, but Mutou Sugoroku was decades older. The silence wasn’t uncomfortable, though. Yuugi stared at his hands. Any moment now, his grandfather would tell him to get lost…

“So, I’m gaining another son,” Sugoroku spoke softly. “And a curator with impeccable taste, no less. He noticed the artistic and cultural value of the shogi set, of course. Yuugi… why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I didn’t know how you would react,” Yuugi said. “I mean… it’s not easy to figure out, or to tell someone you love…”

“Do your friends know?”

“Yes.”

“How did they react?”

“Very understanding, and they didn’t mind that I’m… well, different in that way.”

“Then I’ll join the club.” Sugoroku dropped his hand to pick up Yuugi’s. “I hope to see you with someone you love, and I don’t care either what gender that person is. I have to get used to the idea though, because I assumed you’d come home with a girl, someone like Anzu.”

“I’m sorry, jii-chan.”

“Don’t ever be sorry, Yuugi. Not for your choice of life-partner, or for yourself, ever. It’s about who you love and who you are, and no one has the right to judge that.”

“But jii-chan, I… Khalfani-san is out of my league. He’s a well-traveled, highly educated curator and I’m just a game store clerk!”

“Shush, don’t sell yourself short, Yuugi. You…”

“And I don’t know if he’s the same as me,” Yuugi continued. “I mean, if he feels the same as me...”

“You have to find out, of course,” Sugoroku said. “Don’t give up even before you get started, Yuugi. That’s not how I raised my grandson.”

“Jounouchi-kun said that I’m only setting myself up for a world of pain and hurt.”

“He’s trying to protect you, Yuugi. Nobody likes to see you get hurt. But when it comes to love, there’s always someone getting hurt. Being in love and loving someone is wonderful, but a relationship is hard work, and pain and disappointment are a part of it… as is happiness, and joy. Give it a chance, Yuugi. Give Atemu a chance. You never know.”

“Thank you, jii-chan. But you never answered my questions.”

“About your obaa-san? Well, she was a girl from my neighborhood, and I had my eyes on her long before she returned any of my feelings. It sure can help to have a similar background, but two different worlds shouldn’t be an obstacle too great to overcome, Yuugi. You never know unless
you try. As long as you try, you know you did everything you could.”


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



Jounouchi and Honda offered their help to get Yuugi’s grandfather to visit the museum. Honda knew where to borrow a wheelchair for a day and Jounouchi didn’t mind driving back and forth from the Mutou residence to the museum. Yuugi was grateful for his friends’ help; he couldn’t have done this on his own. It would be extremely taxing on his frail grandfather to travel by public transport; now they had the luxury of a car, avoiding too much exertion for the elderly man. The National Museum was well equipped to receive visitors in wheelchairs and so they took the wide side entrance. Yuugi pushed his grandfather towards the elevators and pressed the button for the first floor. When they arrived at the exhibit, they were greeted by the two busts of Tutankahmen and Ishizu Ishtar, who was just saying goodbye to another visitor.

“Good evening, Mutou-sama,” she bowed to him. “Is this your grandfather you spoke to me about?”

“Good evening, Ishtar-san.” Yuugi blushed at her use of the ‘-sama’ honorific. “Yes, this is my grandfather. Jii-chan, this is Ishizu Ishtar. She brought the exhibit to our city.”

“Ishtar-san, I’m honored to meet you,” Sugoroku said.

“The pleasure is all mine,” she said. “I heard from your grandson that you have been to Egypt?”

“Ah yes, decades ago, when I was younger, I visited a dig site close to Karnak…”

Yuugi pushed the wheelchair while his grandfather and Ishizu continued talking, stopping at every artifact to look at it and discuss it. He didn’t mind that they were caught up in all things Egyptian; his grandfather was excited and livelier than ever before. At a certain point, Yuugi spotted Malik with a group of students, busy explaining something while he was pointing at a sarcophagus. Close by was his tall brother Rishid, like a silent bodyguard. Secretly, Yuugi looked around if he could see Atemu somewhere. He only listened with half an ear to what his grandfather and Ishizu were talking about, when he suddenly heard: “… yes, he looks quite a lot like your grandson. I was very surprised.”

“What?” Yuugi said.

“Ishtar-san was talking to me about the curator who traveled along with her family,” Sugoroku said innocently, “and how much he looks like you. I’m quite curious to meet him, but Ishtar-san tells me he’s receiving important guests tonight.”

“Jii-chan..!” The elderly man winked at him. It wasn’t his intention to embarrass his grandson, so he let the subject rest. Ishizu showed him a kind smile. However, Yuugi had already picked up on the ‘important guests’. If Ishizu said the guests were important, who was better to deal with them than Atemu, of course? Jounouchi was right. They lived in two completely different worlds indeed. A store clerk and a museum curator, how much more different could you get? Yuugi put on his bravest face and pushed the wheelchair forward. Ishizu accompanied them, answering Sugoroku’s questions and talking about her home in Egypt. Yuugi kept an eye on his grandfather, as to make sure that he wasn’t overexerting himself. Sugoroku seemed to have the time of his life and because he was happy, Yuugi was happy. After another display case filled with artifacts, Yuugi got bored. After all, he’d been here before very recently. With Sugoroku and Ishizu discussing Ancient Egyptian burial rituals, Yuugi wandered off, in the hope to catch a glimpse of Atemu. He was slightly nervous about what to say if he did run into the curator. The only thing he could talk about was the shogi set Atemu had bought from him, anything else sounded trite in his own mind. “Oh, I never thought meeting you here” or “You work here?” wasn’t the best way to start a conversation.

Yuugi ended up in a hallway that wasn’t a part of the exhibit. Judging from the small signs next to the doors, these were all offices, probably for the administration of the museum. He had just decided to go back to his grandfather and Ishizu, when he read Atemu’s name on one of the signs. This was his office! Yuugi’s heart skipped a beat. His hand went to the door handle. Would Atemu still be occupied with his important guests? What if he was in his office? What was he supposed to say? Yuugi’s breathing went a little erratic. Now or never. He wasn’t going to find out whether Atemu returned any of his feelings by just standing here, in front of his office. Yuugi opened the door and boldly stepped inside… only to be met by an empty room. Atemu wasn’t here. It was a pretty spacious office, with enough room for a seating arrangement, two huge filing cabinets and a fairly large desk. No personal items, no framed pictures… something on the desk caught his eye. A golden object, a box covered with intricate hieroglyphs, too beautiful to describe. Mesmerized, Yuugi stared at the artifact and he noticed that the lid of the box was a little ajar, revealing its content: golden pieces, shaped really weirdly, all crooked and angled. A few of the pieces had been put together, but Yuugi couldn’t make out the final form. As a lover of all games and puzzles, he was immediately drawn to it and before he knew it, he held two pieces in his hand, trying to fit them together. He lost all track of time while he busied himself with the golden pieces, puzzling them together. He didn’t hear anyone approaching, until it was too late.

“What are you doing here?” A voice behind Yuugi broke his concentration. “Guard!”

Yuugi turned around and he gasped. He was caught red-handed, holding valuable golden pieces in his hand, and to make matters worse, it was Atemu himself who had caught him. The curator’s eyes went wide for the briefest of moments when he recognized Yuugi. “You?” he said. “The games merchant?”

“I’m so sorry, Khalfani-sama,” Yuugi said nervously and dropped the golden pieces on the desk.

“I really didn’t mean to cause any trouble! I’m not stealing anything, please, you have to believe me! I’m here with my grandfather…” He swallowed. Rishid appeared behind Atemu, towering over the curator, his face stern. Yuugi was convinced that the tall man could simply chop him in two with his bare hands, and he shivered. “I’m so sorry,” he said. This wasn’t how he wanted to see Atemu again. How could he have been so stupid?

“Rishid will escort you to the exit,” Atemu spoke. “I think it is for the better that you will not return here.”

“I understand, Khalfani-sama,” Yuugi said, embarrassed. Rishid stepped forward and took him by the upper arm, his grip strong but not painful. Yuugi obediently walked next to him, out of the office.


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



Ishizu was still with Yuugi’s grandfather, standing in front of the last display: a replica of a barge, in which a Pharaoh would travel to different parts of Egypt, on the Nile. Sugoroku looked tired, but there was no limit to his enthusiasm. He turned his head towards Yuugi when he heard him, accompanied by Rishid.

“Yuugi! There you are! Where have you been? Ishizu-san has been so kind, guiding me around and telling me all these details about the exhibit.”

Yuugi bowed to her. “I’m sorry, Ishtar-san,” he said. “I didn’t mean to burden you.”

“It was no burden at all,” she said, her voice gentle. “It’s not that often that I receive such an interesting visitor, who has explored Egypt in his younger years himself. I loved explaining all the details to him. We figured you were at a different part of the exhibit. Rishid..?”
Rishid said something in his native language and Yuugi shivered once more. Now that Ishizu had been told of his embarrassing visit to Atemu’s office, and touching a priceless artifact to boot, she would be very cross with him. When Rishid stepped forward, Yuugi expected to be removed from the museum hard handedly, but instead the tall man pushed Sugoroku along in his wheelchair towards the exit. Ishizu bowed to Yuugi.

“Please forgive him,” she said, and it was obvious who she was talking about. “The pressure is great, and he’s all alone in a world he perceives as hostile. His mother died when he was very young, and he recently lost his father. You were kind to him, he won’t forget that.”

“Ishtar-san…” Yuugi said, not understanding why she shared this personal information with him.

“You’re welcome here anytime,” she said. “Don’t forget that.”

“I made a big mistake,” Yuugi said. “I shouldn’t have…”

“I don’t see a mistake,” Ishizu interrupted him. “You didn’t steal, you didn’t vandalize, you didn’t break anything. The golden box is a valuable artifact, that’s for sure, but I think ustaaz Khalfani is more upset with himself for not locking his office down than finding you there, Mutou-san. Perfection takes his toll. If there’s anyone able to break him out of his shell, it’s you.”

“Yuugi, where are you?” Sugoroku’s voice came from afar.

“Excuse me, Ishtar-san, I have to call my friend to come pick us up.” Yuugi returned the bow, blushing slightly. “Thank you,” he said softly as he left her.


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



“You’re oddly silent,” Sugoroku said. The elderly man was barely able to keep his eyes open, yet he looked worriedly at his grandson.

“Shhh, jii-chan,” Yuugi said as he tugged at the bed linen, tucking him in. “That’s enough excitement for the evening. You need your rest.”

“Humor an old man. Did you get to see your curator?”

“Yes,” Yuugi admitted and his cheeks reddened purely from the shame he felt. Sugoroku interpreted it differently, and grinned.

“I knew it! That was why you abandoned me at the exhibit. It’s a good thing Ishizu-san was so kind as to lead me around. My own grandson bailed on me!”

“Jii-chan!” Yuugi’s cheeks turned even redder.

“Come on, I’m just joking. We should think of a way to get your curator… Atemu, right..? over here. Maybe we could invite him for dinner? Maybe interest him for more games?”

“Maybe, jii-chan. Maybe.” Yuugi patted on the bed linens. “Now, you better get some sleep before you get a heart attack from the excitement.”

“All right, all right.” Sugoroku didn’t press the issue. He was about to say more, but decided against it at the last moment. “Good night, Yuugi. And thank you for a wonderful evening.”

“Good night, jii-chan. You’re very welcome.” On his way out, he switched off the lights. He knew what his grandfather was aiming at, but it was just all too painful. He couldn’t forget the look on Atemu’s face, astounded and angry, blazing fury, when he caught him in the office, meddling with a priceless artifact. What had gotten into him? Why had he touched those gold pieces? Ishizu was convinced of his innocence, but Atemu probably thought he was a criminal. Yuugi felt so bad that he retreated early for the night, not wanting to talk to his mother despite the worried look on her face.


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



“Irrashai!”

“Irrashai!”

Yuugi almost choked on his tea when he heard the greeting. That accent was more than familiar to him; despite it not being Atemu’s, he recognized that heavy Egyptian accent anywhere. “Malik-kun? Aren’t you supposed to be at the museum?”

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Malik grinned as he looked around. “I wanted to see the game store Khalfani keeps talking about for myself.”

“Keeps talking about?” Yuugi parroted, meanwhile surprised that Malik addressed his superior so nonchalantly by his last name. Perhaps it was something Egyptian..? Ishizu had referred to him as ustaaz, which meant that Atemu was a professor, or at least a well-educated man. That wasn’t really news to Yuugi, but he hadn’t heard it before. Malik didn’t seem to bother with titles or polite names.

“I told you that I saw that shogi set he bought here,” Malik reminded him, “and when I asked him about it, he gave me your address. Wow, you really got a lot of games! Is this your own shop?”

“My grandfather started it, and I took over when his health prevented him from working,” Yuugi said. “How’s everyone at the museum?”

“My sister and brother are doing fine,” Malik said. “We have a lot of tours booked, and I’m enjoying a free afternoon. We all need a break every now and then, except for our exalted curator, of course.”

“Why is that?”

“You saw what was on his desk.” Malik grinned, causing Yuugi to feel embarrassed once more.

“Does everyone know?” His voice squeaked.

“No, don’t worry. Only the three of us Ishtars, and Khalfani himself. He’s not pressing charges or anything like that. Ishizu told me that he might’ve said you weren’t welcome anymore, but that’s not his decision. He runs the exhibit, not the museum.”

“I overstepped a boundary,” Yuugi said. “I shouldn’t have been there.”

“True, the office was off limits.” Malik studied a few Duel Monsters cards, obviously not familiar with the game. “On the other hand, you managed to solve much more of the puzzle in just a few minutes than he had been able to in months.”

“Puzzle? Those golden pieces..? I just tried to match a few together.”

“I can see why,” Malik said. “You like puzzles and games, that’s for sure. What’s this game? Duel Monsters? Can you explain it to me?”

“Sure, I’d be happy to.” Yuugi left the counter and took a deck of Duel Monsters cards with him, a simple deck he’d composed to explain the basic rules of the game to enthusiastic customers. Malik was a quick learner and decided upon buying a starter deck.

“For yourself?” Yuugi asked, walking back to the cash register.

“No, for Khalfani,” Malik said as he pulled out his wallet. “It’s his birthday next week and Ishizu told me to buy something, just to show a little… well, you know, courtesy.”

“You don’t like him very much, do you?”

“Well, I don’t love him, that’s for sure, but I don’t hate him either. I just can’t get along with him that well.”

“But you buy him a gift for his birthday anyway.”

“Only because Ishizu insisted,” Malik said as he counted the money. “You’ve got an awesome store. I’ll come back and take Rishid along.”

Yuugi couldn’t imagine the tall bodyguard playing a card game, but he kept that comment to himself. “You’re welcome, Malik-kun,” he said.

“Come by at the museum whenever you want to.” Malik took the neatly wrapped starter deck from the counter. “In-between tours, it’s always fun to talk to someone who isn’t up to his neck in Ancient Egyptian artifacts.”


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



Yuugi felt so bad about his embarrassing episode at the museum, he hadn’t even dared to confess it to his friends. He couldn’t avoid the topic forever though, and he didn’t like to keep something from Jounouchi and Honda. He had to tell them about it… or he could simply ignore it, and tell them that they had been right all along, that his world was too different from Atemu’s, that it wasn’t going to work out… He could save his face that way, but it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the truth. With a sigh, Yuugi decided to give himself one more chance. Malik had given him an excellent reason to return to the museum: Atemu’s birthday. Yuugi remembered the starter deck Malik had bought and he selected a few booster packs; he knew they would make a great addition. A modest gift, nothing to embarrass Atemu or make him feel obligated to return the gesture. By giving him this gift, Yuugi could use the opportunity to apologize once more in person, and tell Atemu why he had acted the way he did. If Atemu still denied him access or send him away, then he had at least tried everything he could do. As he was wrapping the booster packs, his mother entered the Game Shop.

“Yuugi-kun?”

“Yes, kaa-san?” He was surprised to see his mother in the store, she never meddled with business. “Something the matter?”

“I just wanted to ask you… is everything all right?”

“Why do you ask, kaa-san?”

“You’ve been acting different as of late,” she said. “I was just worried… your grandfather isn’t telling me everything either.”

Yuugi heaved a sigh. It hadn’t been easy telling his friends and his grandfather, and for some reason he had postponed, or rather avoided, telling his mother. Somehow it felt like she was going to take his confession the hardest, but this was something the both of them had to go through. This was who he was, and he couldn’t change it.

“I’m sorry kaa-san, I should’ve told you,” he said and before she could comment, he rattled off:

“I met someone, a customer from the store, who was looking for a gift, and I really like him. He’s the curator of the national museum, the head of the Ancient Egyptian exhibit I visited
yesterday with grandfather. I know it’s his birthday soon, and I want to give him something.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you.” She smiled at first, but then her face fell. “Him?”

“Yes, kaa-san. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not sure what to say,” she said, voice faltering. “I didn’t think… but Yuugi-kun, what about Anzu-chan?”

“I loved Anzu,” Yuugi answered honestly. “She’s everything a man could be looking for, but she didn’t return my feelings, kaa-san. I loved her for who she was, a good friend. I never found someone like her, until I realized that my feelings were developing towards men, not women.”

“You’re really overwhelming me with this.”

“I know, kaa-san, and once again, I’m sorry.”

“No, please stop apologizing. I… just give me some time, Yuugi-kun.”

“Of course,” Yuugi said. She took a step forward and embraced her son. Her hug wasn’t less intense; she held him close for a while and he didn’t mind. The last thing he wanted to do was to hurt his mother. She had been very honest with him, by telling him that she needed some time, and he respected that. When she broke up the hug, she gave him a kiss on the forehead.

“I’ll get started on dinner tonight. It’s been a long day for you at the shop.”

“Thank you, kaa-san.” Yuugi smiled at her and when she was gone, he focused again on the booster packs. A modest gift indeed, but hopefully Atemu would like it.


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



On the day of Atemu’s birthday, Yuugi closed up the Game Shop earlier. He took the bus to the museum, not wanting to burden Jounouchi by asking yet another favor of driving him. He knew his friend would happily oblige, but Yuugi wanted to do this alone. If this wasn’t going to work out, if Atemu would reject him, nobody would witness his… demise. Why were relationships so difficult? Why was love so beautiful and so cruel at the same time? Shizuka had looked so much in love on her wedding, and her husband kissed the ground she walked on. Why couldn’t he find someone similar? Someone to hold and to love, to kiss and to caress? Taking care of his family, his accountant job and the Game Shop was a hard life, and he wanted someone for himself, someone to share everything with, someone to give him support and guidance. Yuugi stared at the booster packs he had wrapped in festive paper. Malik had said that Atemu hadn’t planned anything in particular and treated this day as a normal day, read: filled with huge amounts of work. The tour guide had also said that after working hours, the museum was holding a modest reception in favor of his birthday, having invited some guests and all the personnel. Yuugi felt his heart growing heavier with every moment passing by, with every mile passing, closing the distance. What was he doing? But before he knew it, he found himself on the stairs of the museum and he climbed them, albeit hesitantly. Feeling awkward, Yuugi went to the first floor and passed the Tutankhamen busts at the entrance of the exhibit. He could hear Malik’s voice; the guide walked in front of a group of people in their mid-forties, looking like business men and women. Malik waved at him briefly before moving on to the next display case. Yuugi felt his mouth run dry and his throat getting raspy. Maybe he should just get the hell out of here.

“I’m so glad you came back, Mutou-san.”

“Ishtar-san,” he said, already recognizing her voice before having to see who was behind him. He turned around and bowed to her.

“I was hoping you felt welcome enough to call me by my first name by now,” she said.

“Yes, Ishizu-san,” he said.

Ishizu smiled at him. “Much better. May I call you Yuugi, then?”

“But of course. Here,” he held up the booster packs in his hand. “Would you please give these to Khalfani-sama?”

“I think you can give it to him yourself,” Ishizu said, amused.

“Please, Ishizu-san.”

“I have to deny you your request, Yuugi, I’m sorry.” She didn’t sound too sorry about it, though. “Do you want me to take you to his office? He’s still at work of course, even if it’s his own birthday.”

“I feel silly, Ishizu-san. I still have to apologize…”

“If there’s anyone who should apologize, it’s him,” she said, but lowered her voice nonetheless.
“I can see how heavy it weighs on your soul, and on his. I think it’s for the best if you both talked to each other.”

“He told me to never come here again…”

“And you know that he’s the curator, not the owner of the museum. He has no right to deny you entrance, not even for this exhibit. Come, let’s go.”

Yuugi didn’t want to, but Ishizu all but took him by the hand and with a firm stride, she led him to the hallway with the offices. Before he could stop her, she had knocked on the door of Atemu’s office.

“Ishizu-san, no..!” He tugged at her hand.

There came an answer, but not in Japanese. Ishizu opened the door and shoved Yuugi inside. Stumbling, he took a few steps forward, his feet treading the carpet. Atemu was behind his desk, not looking up, and he said something.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Egyptian,” Yuugi said. Atemu looked up, his expression a mixture of annoyance and surprise.

“I expected Ishizu to enter,” he said. “How come you are here?” Yuugi was relieved that he didn’t call for Rishid or any other guard right away.

“I... heard it was your birthday,” Yuugi said. “Malik-kun was in my store, and told me about it…” His eyes darted over to the desk and to his delight, he saw the unwrapped starter deck on the table top. “I have something for you.” He closed the distance to the desk and held out the gift-wrapped booster packs.

“For me?” Atemu sounded confused. He got up from his chair and made an awkward bow. It wasn’t Yuugi’s intention to embarrass the other in any way, but he was secretly glad that Atemu accepted the gift. The curator’s long, slender fingers gently pried open a corner and peeled off the gift wrapper without tearing it. “Ah! These belong with this game, right?”

“Yes, it’s an addition to your starter deck,” Yuugi said. “It’s called Duel Monsters. It’s a board game, but there’s also a holographic edition available… I can tell you all about it and explain you the rules.”

“Thank you.” Atemu put the booster packs on top of the starter deck. “I... why did you take all this trouble?”

“I wanted to apologize. I had no right to enter your office and touch that artifact. I was here without your permission and I wanted to say that I’m sorry.” Yuugi looked at Atemu. After talking to Ishizu, he didn’t see the other any more as the intimidating curator of an Ancient Egyptian exhibit. He saw a hard-working man who isolated himself, dealing with stress and grief, and Yuugi wanted to help him. His feelings of discomfort were gone, strangely enough. Maybe this wasn’t going to work out, maybe there was nothing to begin with, but at least he had done his best. Atemu didn’t answer and so Yuugi bowed to him again.

“I will leave you to your work, Khalfani-sama.” His heart was breaking into a million pieces, but there was nothing more he could do. What was he expecting anyway? That Atemu professed his undying love for him? That everything would be all right and wonderful? You couldn’t break iron with your fists. Yuugi turned around to leave, but as soon as he took one step, Atemu spoke up.

“No, wait.” He spoke rather softly. Yuugi halted, turning back to Atemu again. The curator leaned a little to the left and opened the top drawer of his desk, retrieving the golden box Yuugi had seen before. Atemu put it on his desk.

“It is a personal belonging of a long-forgotten Pharaoh. We have not even been able to determine his name, or his date of reign, or to which dynasty he belonged to… it would be a major breakthrough if this mystery, this artifact, is reconstructed.” He took something else from the drawer; the strange construction, shaped by those golden blocks. “If Malik was at your Game Store, he probably told you that you managed to solve this puzzle further in just fifteen minutes than I in several months.”

“He mentioned something…”

“Please.” Atemu held up the construction. “Sit down.”

Yuugi obeyed and sat down in front of Atemu, who removed the rest of the golden objects from the box.

“I think it is supposed to be a triangle, a shape like a pyramid,” Atemu said.

“A symbol of power,” Yuugi said. “It’s the weirdest puzzle I’ve ever seen, because you have to twist the pieces even when they’re already positioned, like here…”

Atemu picked up a piece himself and followed Yuugi’s example. The objects clicked into place, but not all of them were easy to put in. They continued to work on the puzzle, losing all track of time. Another knock on the door broke their concentration.

Ustaaz Khalfani, the reception is about to start,” Ishizu said as she stuck her head around the door, looking pleased when she saw Yuugi, still sitting at the desk. “The guests are waiting for you.”

Atemu looked a little sheepishly, which was actually cute; for once his expression wasn’t stern or severe. “Ah, yes, Ishizu, thank you.” He didn’t drop the pieces he was holding. Yuugi opened his hand to take the pieces from him.

“You better go to your own birthday party,” Yuugi said, smiling at him.

“I guess so. I…”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back.” He had no idea how long the reception would take, but he hoped it wouldn’t last the entire evening. Atemu seemed reluctant to leave; he wanted to solve this puzzle, now that they made so much progress.

Ustaaz Khalfani,” Ishizu spoke, a little more urgent.

“Yes, yes, right away.” He hesitated. “Would you like to come along?”

It took Yuugi a moment before he realized Atemu addressed him. Blushing, he accepted the invitation.


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



At the reception, Yuugi stayed close to the Ishtars, as the guests immediately took up all of Atemu’s time and attention. Yuugi didn’t recognize anyone; Ishizu told him who was who, and his head started spinning from all the exclusive titles of doctor or professor he heard. Malik wasn’t impressed as usual, and mostly snuck some alcoholic drinks from the waiters until Ishizu told him to stop. Yuugi was amazed at how well Atemu mingled with these guests; all important people with titles and lots of cash to their name. It saddened him. He was just a ‘games merchant’ as Atemu once called him, how could he ever think he even stood but the tiniest chance?

“What are you thinking?” Ishizu asked him, breaking him out of his trance.

“Oh, nothing in particular,” Yuugi answered lamely.

“You should just get him drunk,” Malik suggested. “Our honorable curator keels over from one glass of Chardonnay.”

“Malik, you had enough wine yourself,” Ishizu admonished him. “Rishid, will you look after your brother while I talk to Yuugi?”

“Fine, fine,” Malik grumbled, but he winked at Yuugi. “Good luck!”

Yuugi mumbled something in return while his cheeks colored a fiery red. “I’m that obvious, am I not?”

Ishizu smiled. “Your eyes are that obvious, Yuugi. I’m sorry I can’t be of much help to you. These are matters of the heart, and no one can influence that but you.”

“You helped me more than enough,” Yuugi reassured her. “It’s really wonderful that you want to see him happy, Ishizu-san.”

The woman nodded. “I know what loneliness can do to a person. I saw it happen to our own family… until ustaaz Khalfani came along and helped us. Without him, we wouldn’t have been able to leave the desert behind us and build up a life of our own. I’m grateful, yes, and in return I’d like to see him happy. He deserves it, and so do you, Yuugi.”

“But I’m…”

“You’re doing great,” Ishizu said. “I have to mingle with the guests as well, Yuugi. It’s expected of me.” She sounded a bit listless about it, but she put on an elegant smile. “I’ll see you later.”

Fortunately, the reception didn’t take that long indeed. Slowly but surely, the guests left, but not after claiming some more of Atemu’s attention; he looked exhausted after the last guest was gone. Yuugi took a little pity on him; unlike the other he’d been able to move around freely, get some snacks from the buffet and talk to whoever he wanted, instead of being surrounded and claimed by people.

“Let’s go back to your office,” Yuugi suggested. The Ishtars were around somewhere but he didn’t see them at the moment, and the personnel took care of the empty glasses and the empty dishes. Atemu nodded in agreement and they wordlessly went back to the office and started working on the puzzle with the golden pieces again, in comfortable silence. Time once again forgotten, a knock on the door broke their concentration anew.

“We’re heading home,” Ishizu said, also looking tired. “Do you want Rishid to stay? He can work the nightshift, if you want him to.”

“No Ishizu, thank you. The regular guard will do. Go home and enjoy your evening.”

“You enjoy yours too,” she said and closed the door.

Yuugi looked at his watch. It was close to eleven, and tomorrow was another work day! But still… his fingers kept touching Atemu’s as they worked on the mysterious artifact, and despite the both of them being silent, it was comfortable and… somehow familiar.

“You must want to go home yourself,” Atemu said. “I am sorry, I am a terrible host. I have not even offered you something to eat.”

“I had a few snacks at the reception, but I didn’t see you eat at all. You don’t take very well care of yourself, do you?” Yuugi said, without a scolding tone in his voice. “We could go to my place and have something to eat.” Shocked by his forward attitude all of the sudden, he quickly added: “We can continue working on the puzzle.”

Atemu pondered his suggestion for a minute, before he agreed. “Very well. I call a taxi.”


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



Yuugi was thrilled to receive Atemu in his house. The curator was familiar with wearing house slippers due to his stay with his host, and after admiring the unique layout of the building, he followed Yuugi upstairs. Yuugi had told him about his grandfather, who was asleep at this hour, so they around moved silently. He hadn’t counted on his mother being still awake, though.

“Yuugi-kun!” She said, her voice as low as a whisper. “Where have you been? You didn’t come home for dinner! I was…” Her eyes went wide went she noticed Atemu. “Yuugi?”

“Kaa-san, this is Atemu-san,” Yuugi said, hoping that Atemu wouldn’t mind or comment on his promotion from ‘Khalfani-sama’ to ‘Atemu-san’. “The curator of the museum?”

“Oh yes, I remember.” She bowed to him. “I’m very pleased to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mutual,” Atemu returned the gesture. “I am responsible for this. I had no idea about the time…”

“I’m sure it’s all right,” she said, her cheeks slightly colored. “Would you still like something to eat?”

“If there’s any left…?” Yuugi could feel his stomach rumble, the few snacks at the reception had been delicious, but not very filling. Pleased, his mother went into the kitchen as Yuugi guided Atemu to the living room. It was against every protocol to take artifacts out of the museum, but as the curator, Atemu either had some leeway or ignored all the rules in favor of solving the mysterious puzzle. Before they could continue their work, Yuugi’s mother brought them miso soup and a bowl of oyakodon. Atemu didn’t hold his chopsticks the right way, and Yuugi corrected him by showing the proper manner; that he had to touch the other’s fingers again to demonstrate the right position, was a bonus.

After the very late dinner, Yuugi brought the dirty dishes to the kitchen and returned quickly to the living room with cups and a large pot of green tea. He wasn’t going to serve any Chardonnay as Malik suggested; not only did the Mutou residence not carry any wine, the tour guide had to be obviously joking… but as it concerned Malik, Yuugi wasn’t really sure if it had been a joke. He put the tea pot on the large table and poured the hot liquid into the cups. Atemu had already laid out the golden pieces.

“You’re right, it’s shaping up into a pyramid,” Yuugi said as they continued working on the puzzle. “But it looks like the pattern is... upside-down, don’t you think?”

“It looks upside-down indeed.” Atemu studied the few remaining pieces. “I guess we will find out soon enough.”

“Let’s finish this,” Yuugi said enthusiastically. Due to the strange shapes of the pieces and the complicated way it all clicked together, it took them far past midnight until the construction was finished: only the large front piece was left.

“Upside down!” Yuugi held the artifact in front of Atemu. He pointed at the last piece. “Would you like to do the honors?”

“No.” Atemu shook his head. “You did most of the work. If it were not for you, I would still be struggling to solve it. The honor is all yours.”

“No.” Yuugi mimicked Atemu’s gesture. “It’s your artifact, your roots, your work.” He picked up the large front piece and handed it to the other. “Here you go.” But as he held it up, Atemu put his fingers over his and pressed the piece into the slot. Yuugi couldn’t help it, he smiled. With a gentle ‘click’ sound, the upside-down pyramid was complete. It made him feel very happy, and even happier that they did it together.

“This is truly the most magnificent and amazing find of the last centuries,” Atemu said, holding up the artifact. “The personal property of a Pharaoh, and you managed to piece it all together, Yuugi. I should take this to the museum right away!”

“It looks pretty,” Yuugi agreed, while his heart was singing, now that Atemu had called him by his first name. “And, see? You can put some kind of cord or chain through this loop on the top, and wear it as a pendant.”

“Amazing,” Atemu said.

“It’s pretty, but heavy, isn’t it?”

“No, I was talking about you.”

“W-what?”

“How can you be so kind and caring? Why are you doing this for someone you barely know?”

“It’s just how I am,” Yuugi answered. “I don’t believe in walls.” He looked from under his bangs at Atemu. “Like those huge walls you’ve build around yourself. You’re not a cold, distant curator. You’re a hardworking, diligent man who doesn’t want to burden his employees. You care as well, Atemu-san, or else you would never have come to my Game Shop to buy a gift for the son of your host. Ishizu-san told me a little about you, and I like to get to know you better.”
Yuugi’s eyes went to the rings on Atemu’s fingers. He figured that the jewelry probably wasn’t a custom, but a tradition; Atemu might have received them from his parents and wear the rings in their honor. Yuugi carefully reached for Atemu’s right hand.

“You’re so beautiful and so distant,” he said. “You’re afraid of being hurt. Your mother died when you were very young, and you recently lost your father. I’m so sorry for your loss. Nobody should suffer alone, Atemu-san. Nobody should bury himself in work and retreat into himself.”

“You know nothing about me.” Atemu didn’t withdraw his hands, but his voice held a certain irritation to it. Yuugi pushed along, though.

“Am I wrong? Nobody told you this before, right? They all see you as ustaaz Khalfani, the well-educated, reclusive curator. You’re a world of your own, a lonely, harsh world. You’re isolating yourself because you’re afraid of more pain and hurt. Everybody wants to see you happy, Atemu-san, really. You deserve it.” Yuugi didn’t dare to look at Atemu’s face, instead he stared at the intricate jewelry. His mind went back to Jounouchi’s words, and what he had initially said about Atemu. Your worlds are too apart. Why set yourself up for pain? Two worlds, too much apart… and perhaps that was the truth. But even if their worlds were apart, Yuugi wanted Atemu to know how he felt, he just couldn’t help himself. His fingers touched Atemu’s fingers, holding his hand.

“You’re cold,” Yuugi said. “I mean, your body temperature. Do you want an afghan or something? Should I turn the heater on?”

“I am used to the temperatures in Cairo,” Atemu said. “It is always cold here.”

“You should wait until summertime,” Yuugi said. “Then it can get really hot.” He put his other hand over Atemu’s, rubbing slightly. “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

“It is better for me to leave now.”

“I understand.” Yuugi let go of Atemu’s hand reluctantly and watched how the other picked up the pyramid and the golden box. This was it, he thought. He had tried to talk to Atemu, and even though he hadn’t been able to express his feelings completely, he had a feeling it wouldn’t make any difference. They left the living room, heading for the stairs.

“I have to return this to the museum,” Atemu said. “The world must know about this unique artifact.”

“Atemu-san, you should really go home, not to the museum,” Yuugi tried to persuade him. “The pyramid is amazing, yes, but you need your rest. It’s far past midnight.”

“Yes, you are right.” Atemu descended the stairs. “I will mention your name. You deserve full recognition for your hard work. I cannot thank you enough.”

“Forget about the artifact for now,” Yuugi said, slightly annoyed. “Did you even hear what I said just before?”

The curator halted on the stairs and for a moment Yuugi thought the other was going to give him a piece of his mind, in full-blown anger.

“I heard you.” His voice was uncharacteristically soft. “You did not offend me. I understand what you mean. Especially after my father’s passing, it was easier for me to be around artifacts than around people. Artifacts do not talk. They do not remind you of what you have lost.” His grip on the golden box and the upside-down pyramid tightened. He brusquely turned around. “You are right, I should really go home.”

“Just…. wait!” Yuugi didn’t realize he raised his voice. “Watch out!” As Atemu turned around, he misjudged the distance between the steps and with an unceremonious twist, the curator fell down.
Shocked and aghast, Yuugi ran to his side. “Atemu-san!”

He didn’t respond at first, which almost send Yuugi into panic. Frantically, he touched Atemu’s head and face, and gasped out loud when a little bit of blood stuck to his fingers.

“What’s that noise? What happened?”

“Kaa-san!” Yuugi wanted to cry. His mother appeared at the top of the stairs. “Call an ambulance! He’s injured!” He didn’t care how it looked like from his mother’s point of view, he felt bad enough as it was. She disappeared from sight, and Yuugi could hear his grandfather calling out, obviously awakened by the ruckus. When he fell down, Atemu had hit his head against the wall, and his right ankle was in a really funny position.

“Say something, Atemu-san,” Yuugi whispered to him. He slipped an arm under his shoulder to hold him upright. “Anything, please.”

It seemed to work. The other opened his eyes, slowly, and parted his lips. Yuugi leaned into him, desperate to hear him speak.

“Pyramid,” Atemu said. It figured - but Yuugi didn’t give it a second thought. He saw the artifact, which Atemu had dropped in his fall, lying on the floor. Yuugi grabbed the artifact and put it in Atemu’s lap, arranging the other’s hands over it.

“Don’t worry, the ambulance will be here soon,” Yuugi said. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Mabsuut,” Atemu said, his voice nothing but a faint whisper.

“What?” Yuugi leaned into him once more. “I don’t speak Egyptian, Atemu-san.”

Ya inta mabsuut,” Atemu said and his right hand slipped from the precious golden artifact and fell to the floor, limply.



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




Part 1 |

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