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Beyond Reason and Certainty

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“You know just because you can’t duel him tomorrow doesn’t mean you can’t go and talk to him tonight,” Mokuba says, finishing the last of his tea.

Kaiba glares at his brother but otherwise doesn’t speak.

“You’ve been rivals since you met, haven’t you? And you helped him save the world as well. You can’t tell me you’re not going to miss him.”

“Who told you that?”

“Yugi and the others out on deck before.”

Kaiba growls. “And what exactly would I say? Surely he wants to spend tonight with Yugi and his other friends.”

“Nope. They’ve said most of their goodbyes already. Yugi and the Pharaoh are preparing their decks for the duel tomorrow. There’s no harm in asking to speak with him. You know he won’t turn you away.”

Kaiba scoffs and scowls down at his empty coffee mug.

“Seto, you’re the best brother anyone could ask for and I know you pretty well. Don’t you think he’ll miss you too?”

“How are you so sure Yugi will win?”

“Because if he doesn’t then Atem will be trapped in the puzzle for another five thousand years and that’s awful. So, of course, Yugi will win.”

“You have a good heart, Mokuba.”

“Thank you, Seto. So do you, deep down.” Mokuba hesitates then puts his hand on Kaiba’s arm. “But seriously, won’t you regret not saying good bye to Atem?” Mokuba adds softly.

Kaiba grits his teeth and steels his expression. “What would I even say?”

His younger brother shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe ask him if he’ll duel you one last time. I know it won’t be as grand as you want it to be but we used to play like that all the time.”

He looks outside the window at the moonlight bouncing on the waves. Surely, surely they’ve finished building their decks by now?

***

The knock at the door is firm, an insistent five heavy wraps of someone’s knuckles. Whoever it is it must be important. And it doesn’t feel like he should push them away. He’s already built his deck for tomorrow’s duel and though Atem is certain it’s formidable; he also hopes Yugi can defeat him.

He stands and walks over to the door, not bothering to check the peep-hole.

“Kaiba?” He’s thrown by the man standing there, fists bunched at his side and an uncomfortable expression on his face.

The man nods and does a once-over of Atem.

“Pharaoh?”

He smiles. “Yes. Would you like to come in?”

Kaiba nods curtly and comes in, standing out of the way of the door as Atem closes, then locks it behind him. He’s silently glad of that. He doesn’t want the option of a quick exit.

“You can sit down if you like. Can I get you anything to drink?”

“No.” He says automatically, then flinches at his tone and looks up at Atem. “I don’t need anything to drink. I came here to talk.”

Atem can see there’s more to it than that but Kaiba seems to have made several large strides in his acceptance of events around him over the past few days and he doesn’t want to push him further.

*

“Take a seat.” Atem gestures to the chair across from the now-familiar card box on the table. Atem takes his on the other side.

Kaiba sits down awkwardly, his body seemingly unused to this kind of nervousness and pressure. All of which he’s putting on himself.

“Have you finished?” he asks.

“My deck? Yes.” Atem gives him an odd smile. “Do you want to see it?”

Kaiba blinks rapidly. “Really?”

“Why not? You were kind enough to offer us any cards we wanted and it’s not as though you’ll know what Yugi has in his deck.”

He considers it, he does, but isn’t sure if that would make things better or worse.

“Thank you, but not right now.”

“Of course, you came here to talk. What’s on your mind?” Atem asks, sounding as though he’s talking to an old friend and not a man who’s maintained his place as his rival over the last few years.

“I’m not him. I’m not Set, Seth or whatever his name is.”

Atem nods, giving him another strange look. “I know that. Just as I am not Yugi. But we are connected. You and Yugi are descended from the same family lines as myself and Seth. Those lines are so diluted that there’s no longer any biological relation. And I had no children, so the line has continued on, probably from my mother's side of the family.”

“Did you know her?” Kaiba asks.

Atem looks saddened. “No. She died shortly after I was born. My father raised me until he too passed.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” That in and of its self strikes far too close to home for Kaiba.

“As am I. I have spent so long not knowing who they are that I’m happy I remember them but saddened by the knowledge of their loss.”

“This has all been very strange,” Kaiba admits.

“It is, Yes. And yet you came here and helped me. I can’t thank you enough for that, Kaiba.”

No reply he thinks of sounds right so he just shrugs and sits back in his chair.

Atem lets him be for a while and looks out of the window. Kaiba wonders what it is he’s thinking about if he’s saddened by leaving or happy that he’ll soon be reunited with those he left behind so long ago. Even if that was also only yesterday.

“I may well be a pharaoh but I cannot read your mind,” Atem says, his attention on Kaiba once more. “If you only wish to sit with me for a while you’re welcome to do so, but if there is something you’d like to say I’ll hear it.”

“Do you really have to leave? I know what the alternative is but isn’t there another option?”

Atem’s eyes snap to his.

“It doesn’t appear so, no. I have done what I was tasked to do and now I get the chance to pass over in peace.”

“I don’t like it.”

“What part?” Atem asks him, not unkindly.

“Any of it. The fact that apparently we really can summon Egyptian gods, that you’re really a pharaoh, that people have died because of this and others have been hospitalised. That you and Yugi are actually two people; though the height difference and the hair should have given it away, not to mention your voice. That we haven’t had a rematch... that duelling you or duelling beside you is... is...” His voice is failing him and his hands are shaking. He folds his arms and jams his hands inside his jacket. Kaiba realises he’s perilously close to crying and he doesn’t cry. Ever. Not since he realised he was all that stood between him and his brother being left to misery and poverty.

He hears fabric rustling but doesn’t lookup.

Atem has come round the table and sits on it, directly in front of him. He places a hand on Kaiba’s shoulder.

“Kaiba, I will tell you what I can’t tell the others,” Atem’s voice is soft but resigned. “I want to stay. But I don’t want to be trapped within this puzzle without those I love for another five thousand years. To watch you all live and die and be left alone; I can’t do that. And I’ve already had my time, short though it was both last time and now.

“The others have to believe this is what I want. It would break their hearts if they knew.”

“Then...” his voice cracks. “Then why tell me?” He chances a look into those ruby-violet eyes and sees endless regret and sorrow inside them.

“Because I trust you, Kaiba. And I feel as though I owe it to you to tell you this.”

He’s struck by the sudden desire to do something, anything. But doing so means acknowledging a truth within himself that’s going to break his heart in a way he’s not prepared for.

“But you’re going to die. Again. That’s what this means and I... I...”

Atem nods and tries to smile. “It means so much to me that you came to see me tonight. I hoped, but I didn’t dare think that you would.”

Kaiba closes his eyes and tries to breathe without sobbing. He can feel sorrow and hopelessness choking him.

“What good does this do?” he asks, knowing now that Atem knows why he came to him. “You’ll be gone soon and won’t it hurt more? Afterwards?” He’d asked himself these same questions over and over again... yet here he is, asking the pharaoh the same things.

Atem regards him carefully. “It depends on whether you’d also regret what you want to say. Or regret not saying it.”

Kaiba meets his eyes like a challenge.

“I came here to say that I love you. Far more than just a friend and an ally. And I don’t want you to go because I want you to stay with me.” He watches as Atem’s tears spill over and feels the grip on his shoulder tighten.

“Seto,” he says his name so softly. “I love you too.” Atem’s breath hitches as another wave of tears fall and Kaiba can’t stand to see him so sad any longer.

He kisses him, arms flying out faster than either of them register until Atem’s lips are pressed against Kaiba’s and he has one hand buried in impossible hair.

The Pharaoh wastes no time in parting Kaiba’s lips and kissing him deeply, tilting his head just so to get as close as he can.

Kaiba moans around the tongue in his mouth and kisses back just as hard, just as insistently.

‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ He thinks. Knowing with a terrible, aching pain that their time is almost up and feeling like he’s wasted it.

Atem tries to crawl into his lap but the puzzle stops them, stabbing them both in the chest with an insistent reminder of why this is their first and last chance.

“I can’t take it off,” Atem explains, his breath coming in pants against Kaiba’s ear. “But if you hold it behind me it will make this easier.”

Kaiba nods, carefully taking hold of the puzzle and wrapping the chain around his hand once, to help with grip and stop him from choking the Pharaoh.

Then Atem’s in his lap, chest-to-chest and kissing him as his arms slide up and under his coat to grip his shoulder blades.

Kaiba can feel their hearts pounding together in their chests; a fast syncopated rhythm that’s music to his whole being.

They kiss like the duel, as they fight and protect; and Kaiba, though he already knows, understands fully that he won’t ever love another the way he does Atem.

“We can have tonight,” Atem tells him, his voice rough from their kisses. He glances at the clock. Eight hours is better than nothing.

“What about Yugi?” Kaiba asks, worried that somehow their actions will violate him and his trust.

Atem kisses his cheek. “ He won’t know or feel a thing now or afterwards. Our marks and our scars don’t move between us when one of us is fully in control.

“I may not look exactly like my old self but I am me, completely. Until I tell Yugi I’m ready.”

Kaiba nods but looks down. “Still, will he mind?”

Atem shakes his head. “If he knew the depth of my feelings for you I think he’d have arranged for us to talk by now.”

“You haven’t told him?” Kaiba’s surprised but Atem misjudges it for disappointment.

“I didn’t think you’d want anyone to know if indeed you even returned my feelings at all. He knows I care about you and he might even suspect but he’s never asked.”
Kaiba’s eyes go wide and he squeezes Atem tighter for a moment.

“I’d shout to the whole world how much I love you. We’d have had to be creative if you were to have shared the same body, but I wouldn’t ever be ashamed of loving you, of us.” He locks those thoughts away as soon as he’s spoken them, a life they couldn’t live anyway, and one that would have resulted in even more pain in the long run.

“Yugi would only be sorry we didn’t have more time. But, Kaiba, we don’t have to do anything at all.”

“But we could.”

Atem smiles and wiggles an arm free to wipe away their tears.

“Yes.”

“So if I wanted to spend the night with you, in your bed, we could?”

Atem’s smile is so heartbreakingly beautiful.

“I would love nothing more, Seto Kaiba.”

“Neither would I, Atem.” He stands, one arm around his neck and the other on his arse. Then proceeds to walk them to the bed and kneel until the pharaoh is sat upon it and they’re of a height once again.

He kisses him hard, licks into his mouth with intent and shoves his hand up Atem’s shirt to palm at his skin.

Atem shakes and ruts up against him as one hand tries to pull Kaiba’s shirt out of his trousers.

“Kaiba, as much as I’m enjoying this, we should probably get undressed.”

“Hmm,” he agrees against his mouth. “Excellent idea.” But they don’t stop kissing until Kaiba’s lungs are burning and his arm is sore from holding up the puzzle.

Atem makes quick work of his shirt and the belt around his neck, Kaiba takes off his jacket and throws it over the nearby chair, flicks all of his belts open and drags his shirt up and over his head.

Atem’s eyes are fixed on him when he’s cast that way too.

“Do you like what you see?” Kaiba asks, feigning confidence he’s lacking at that moment.

“Immensely,” Atem agrees, reaching for him once more with greedy hands that first slide over his chest then down to his belt. His fingers undo it with ease, followed but his button and zipper, then he’s pulling down his trousers. “Take them off,” he instructs, standing to do the same with his. Discarding his shoes, socks and trousers and throwing them wherever they land.

Kaiba’s dumbstruck, once he’s done the same, at the sight of Atem flushed and panting, his cock straining the black briefs he’s wearing. He feels no shame at his own state of undress, only a heightened desire to take the pharaoh in his arms once more.

Atem flashes him a wicked grin, takes Kaiba’s hand and pulls him down after him onto the bed. He slides the millennium puzzle along the chain until it rests comfortably on the pillow next to him.

The moment it’s out of the way Kaiba drops down and brings their mouths back together, using his hands to hold Atem as close as they can get, only two layers of thin fabric between them.

Atem plants his feet on the bed, using the leverage to grind their cocks together. Kaiba groans so loudly he’s glad of the pharaohs shoulder absorbing the sound.

Heat pools rapidly in his stomach and groin and he has to lift himself away from Atem before he comes.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “I’m happy to go for as many rounds as you are, but I’d rather we were skin to skin.”

Atem’s grin is wicked. “And I’d rather you were inside me.” He slips his fingers under Kaiba’s waistband and stars to shimmy them down. He doesn’t get them very far but Kaiba thinks that might be the point.

“Alright. Just....” He stands and pulls them off, careful to keep contact with his cock to a minimum or else he’s sure one look at Atem and it’ll be over.

The Pharaoh has thrown his own on the floor amongst the rest of their clothes but is leaning over the side of the bed to retrieve something from the overnight bag next to it.

“Do I want to know?” Kaiba enquires, trying to calm down.

Atem chuckles. “Yugi doesn’t know about this either. We have separate zip compartments of our bags that we each keep to ourselves.”

Atem closes it and walks on his knees back to Kaiba, kissing his shoulder, along his collarbone and his neck. He laves at his skin and sucks a mark that has Kaiba arching and moaning Atem’s name; a hand on the back of his neck.

“Hmmm,” Atem murmurs once he’s finished. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And I know you almost always wear those turtle necked shirts so....”

Kaiba’s smile turns soft then sad.

“Leave as many as you want,” he tells him quietly as he strokes Atem’s impossible hair.

“Oh, Seto,” Atem says, realising what he’s said and then kissing him to try and make it better.

Kaiba doesn’t think it can be fixed so easily but it doesn’t mean he won’t put everything he has into this first and last night together.

“Do you want me to prepare myself?” Atem asks, offering Kaiba the bottle of lubricant when they part again, though he stays kneeling at his side on the mattress.

“I... I can, if you talk me through it.”

“Alright,” Atem agrees, lying back down and smiling as Kaiba moves the puzzle from his chest to the pillow.

He guides his hand down, behind his balls and along the skin behind it, carefully taking Kaiba through the steps one at a time.

The concentration helps him to keep his erection in check, though every time Atem tells him it feels good he feels a little closer to the edge again.

“Okay, whenever you’re ready,” the Pharaoh says between one harsh breath and the next.

Kaiba removes his hand and wipes it clean -once he’s quickly and clinically coated his cock- with the wipes Atem throws at him.

“You should know I’ve not done this before either,” he says.

Atem reaches up and cups his cheek.

“Neither have I.”

“Then how?” He glances over at the lubricant.

Atem blushes so hard it spreads to his chest.

“Oh,” Kaiba says, eyes wide.

“Modern Japan has.... expanded my horizons significantly,” Atem explains and Kaiba can’t help but laugh at how that sounds. Nevertheless, he is reaping the benefits of it.

“Please tell me if I hurt you, okay?”

Atem looks up at him and strokes his thumb along Kaiba’s cheek bone.

“Of course.”

Kaiba nods and uses a hand to guide him inside. He hisses sharply at the feeling of heat and pressure enveloping his tip and notices Atem smirking up at him. He glares at the pharaoh and receives a warm chuckle for his challenge.

Kaiba drops down onto his elbows either side of Atem and keeps pressing in until he can’t anymore, though his hips do try.

Atem’s breathing is shallow but he looks at Kaiba with reverence and love in his eyes.

Kaiba swallows and kisses him.

“You can move, I’m okay,” Atem says.

He nods. “I... just need a minute or this is going to be over very quickly.”

“Whatever you need,” Atem tells him, then turns his head to whisper in Kaiba’s ear. “But you won’t need to pull out.”

Kaiba’s breath stutters and he thrusts involuntarily. Atem’s dick twitches where it’s trapped between them and Kaiba’s strains inside him.

“You’re serious.”

“Of course I am. I want to experience it, with you, and I know we’re both clean.” It came up when Kaiba was preparing him. “And there’s an excellent shower for afterwards.”

Kaiba nods and lets his head drop to Atem’s shoulder, closing his eyes and breathing in the scent of him; wanting to burn this upon his memories forever.

Atem winds fingers in his hair and kisses his temple.

“I love you, Seto. I love you so much,” he whispers and Kaiba shakes with them, the truth filling and breaking his heart all at once.

But he wants to have this with Atem, wants to make him feel good and loved and cherished.

So he moves, building a rhythm as he gets a better sense of how to make Atem sigh and groan.

Their eye contact is intense and almost constant - an intimacy he hadn’t quite thought himself brave enough for. But watching Atem come apart below and around him and the love he sees in his eyes is worth letting the Pharaoh see inside him.

“K-Kaiba...” Atem grits his teeth and squeezes around his cock.

Kaiba groans. “What?”

“I’m close,” he pants.

Kaiba kisses him but doesn’t let his pace falter.

“Me too, Atem. So close.” ‘To you, to something I have always wanted and never thought I could have... and to losing it.’ He pushes the last part out of his mind and keeps moving as his balls tighten and he knows he’s almost there.

Atem’s hands are gripping his shoulder blades, his legs are around his waist and he cries out Kaiba’s name as he comes.

His hips move on his own and then he’s coming hard, as deep inside Atem as he can get, finally letting all his weight press onto the Pharaoh.

“I love you too,” Kaiba tells him as he presses countless kisses to Atem’s skin between gasps for air.

***

Kaiba only moves away from him to fetch a towel and damp washcloth for clean up, then he’s back in his arms. He holds Atem to tightly, stroking his cheek and kissing his mouth.

Atem soaks up all his affection, wrapping it around his heart in the hopes of preserving these moments within his memory forever.

He’s somewhat surprised by how generous Kaiba is his love, how much of it he’s been hiding behind his usual facade.
This is the man Atem has only glimpsed before. The other side of the person he’s been slowly falling in love with. Who he’s wanted at his side more and more over the past few months.

And within hours they’ll be separated for the rest of Kaiba’s lifetime. Which, despite his current sadness, Atem hopes is a good one.

“What are you thinking about?” Kaiba asks him, bringing the sheets up around them now that their skin has cooled.

“You,” he tells him, running his fingers through Kaiba’s thick hair. He smiles at the surprise that lights his sapphire eyes. “I have loved and admired you for quite some time, Seto. Are you really so surprised to hear it?”

“I don’t think you’ve ever stopped catching me off guard.” But he’s smiling. “You must know how much I love you in return? You’re truly the only person I’ve ever seen as a worthy opponent. I’m not sure if it’s beating you in a duel I want or just be in battle with you or at your side.”

“We both have our decks, we could, if you wanted to?” he offers, knowing neither of them are planning on sleeping tonight.

“It’s tempting, it is, but I seem to have learned a new way to take you apart.” Their next kiss is heated and Atem’s cock stirs once more.

He reaches for Kaiba’s and finds it in the same state, hot and heavy between his legs.

“How long have you been waiting?” He asks, now he knows Kaiba has been aroused far longer than him.

“Doesn’t matter.” He buries his face in Atem’s neck and groans as the pharaohs hand works him over. “I don’t usually allow myself this much attention.”

“Then allow me,” Atem murmurs into his ear, rolling onto his side and getting a better grip on Kaiba’s cock.

Kaiba lifts his head, his hand mirroring Atem’s.

“Let’s see who lasts the longest,” he challenges, hooking one leg over the pharaohs and griping his cock firmly between his fingers.

“You’re on,” Atem agrees.

*

Kaiba wins but only just and neither of them really care.

They do make enough mess of themselves to finally get up for a shower; stopping once on the way because Atem wants to know what it feels like to be pressed to a wall and kissed.

Kaiba obliges eagerly, even getting down on his knees and sucking the Pharaoh off. He comes as quietly as possible but still half shouts when Kaiba swallows around him as he does.

He returns the favour in the shower and makes sure to smirk up at Kaiba even with his cock in his mouth. They’re loud but the running water covers most of the noises they make.

They wash each other with reverence, memorising each other as they do, though Kaiba has to kneel for Atem to wash his hair.

There are tears and kisses shared and I love yous given freely.

Atem lets Kaiba wrap him in towels and dry his hair. And Kaiba, Kaiba talks.

*

He tells Atem things he’s never told another soul. He tells him about his childhood; the happier years before his mother died in childbirth and then his father in an accident.

How much it hurt to be passed from family member to family member as they screwed he and his brother out of their inheritance.

When he talks about his stepfather, he chokes on the words and is grateful for Atem bringing him into his arms and holding him there.

“It’s alright, my love.” It isn’t; the Pharaoh will be gone from this world soon, but he accepts his love and his words for what they’re meant to be.

***

“I wish I had something to give you,” Atem admits.

Kaiba strokes his cheek and presses kisses against his temple.

“I have a camera, a photo is all I need,” he offers. “But we don’t have to.”

“No, that would be lovely. I only wish I could keep a copy,” he admits. He lifts his head so Kaiba can get up.

They’re in their underwear again, for comfort. And when Kaiba bends over to grab his coat Atem is treated to a view of his impressive physique.

“You’re beautiful,” Atem tells him.

“Pharaoh...” He sounds uncertain and doesn’t turn around.

“Would you prefer handsome? Because that is equally true.”

When Kaiba turns back around he’s holding onto the slim device he sometimes has with him, that seems part computer, part phone and KC control centre. Apparently, it’s a camera as well.

“I’m not used to it.”

Atem frowns; he’s seen Kaiba on the covers of various magazines declaring him handsome and eligible. But he supposes they’re empty words from sycophants.

“That’s fair. But I want you to know that I think you’re remarkable. And though your physical beauty is not why I love you, it doesn’t hurt.”

Kaiba crawls back to him and pulls him into a soft kiss.

“You have the most unique and ridiculous hair of anyone I’ve encountered, aside from Yugi, but you’re majestic and I love you too,” Kaiba says, his mouth curling up into a smile. “Now, let's take some photos.”

Atem lets him take as many as he wants. In some they smile for the camera; in one Atem kisses Kaiba’s cheek. It’s clear in all of them that they’re of two people very much in love.

Kaiba frowns at the screen for a few moments afterwards but puts it down on the bedside table once he’s done. Atem realises he must have been making sure they stay safe.

“I zoomed in on your cartouche,” Kaiba says as he pulls the sheets up and around them once again; they’re sat against the wall so that they are less likely to fall asleep. “And enhanced it. I was hoping you’d let me make a copy so that I can keep your name with me.”

“Seto, that’s... that's... yes, of course.” He blinks back tears and squeezes him close.

Kaiba is breathing slowly, trying to keep back another wave of tears, when Atem glances over.

He gets a sad smile for his trouble. “Yeah. I know.”

***

The sun breaks as Atem takes Kaiba, kissing him between shallow breaths as they move together. The puzzle slides a little along the chain connecting it to Atem’s neck but this isn’t the fast, erratic sex they’ve engaged in during the night; this is slow and intimate, intense with their feelings for each other in the little time there is left.

When Kaiba comes he sobs with it, Atem pushing deep as he joins him.

“My love,” Atem whispers over and over again. Kissing him and loving him with everything that he has.

***

They wash and dress, then sit with the window open, arms around each other as they watch the shore approach.

“I should let you get ready,” Kaiba says.

Atem makes a non-committal sound.

“Will you watch the duel?” he asks as the silence stretches on.

“Yes. Of course.” Though it will break him from the inside out it would be disrespectful not to, and more than that it would hurt. If their places were reversed he’d want Atem to be there for him. He’ll stay until Atem leaves this world for good then he’ll take his brother, Yugi and the others home, and leave for an extended vacation somewhere he can mourn in peace.

They stand and walk towards the door.

Atem takes both of Kaiba’s hands in his.

“I love you, Seto Kaiba, as I have and will love no other. Please, live well and know that I will see you again one day. Hopefully far from now.”

Kaiba swallows loudly and coughs to clear his throat. He’s sure Atem can see all the things he wants to tell him. How he can’t promise how long his life will be but he will try to live and help keep Atem’s memory alive.

“I...” But he’s crying before any more words will come and Atem brings them both down to the floor and holds him as he sobs into his shoulder.
It doesn’t take long to realise the pharaoh is crying too.

Chapter Text

He eventually makes it out of the door and into his own room. Mokuba is already there and squeezes his brother’s hand between his own.

“Are you ready or do you need a minute?”

Kaiba shakes his head and pulls down the mask he needs to face this.

He squeezes Mokuba’s fingers then heads out the door.

***

“Atem?” Yugi asks, probably sensing the sadness that hadn’t been quite the same the evening before. “Did something else happen last night? Aside from building your deck?”

Atem doesn’t know quite how much if anything, he should say but he needs to say something.

“Someone came to say goodbye last night and it... it hurt more than I think either of us expected.” He takes a deep, deep breath and looks at his partner. “But we have something important to do now.”

Yugi’s face turns serious. “Yes, we do.”

***

Kaiba is unusually silent throughout most of the duel. He watches intently but rarely speaks or makes a comment. If his arms aren’t folded they’re clenched in fists at his side.

Joey only notices because he was expecting a stream of vitriol from him but instead there’s nothing. It’s the most... cordial he’s ever seen him.

He still looks angry, furious in fact so Joey doesn’t look over at him too often; in case it breaks the spell, and because he’s already too focussed on the duel in front of them.

He’s all for Atem passing over if that’s what he wants - and for Yugi to prove how good a duelist he’s become - but he’s going to miss the pharaoh; he’s one of his best friends too.

***

Yugi wins and Atem congratulates him, talks him up from the floor and hugs him; tells him things will be alright.

Kaiba doesn’t believe him. Doesn’t understand how Ishizu and the other two gatekeepers - or whatever it is they call themselves - can be so cool and calm about his when Yugi and the rest of the geek squad are in tears as their friend bravely smiles and accepts his fate.

“No,” he hears himself say. Mokuba is the only other person who hears him.

“Seto?”

“It’s not right. None of this is right.”

“Seto, it’s his time,” Mokuba says quietly.

“Why?”

Mokuba doesn’t answer and Kaiba, furious and upset, takes a step forwards.

***

Atem speaks his name and the door starts to open. Tears run down his cheeks but he daren’t look back. Not at Yugi and not at Kaiba.

This is what he’s supposed to do.

Then there’s a hand on his wrist and a very loud cry of, “NO!”

It’s Kaiba. “Gods of Egypt; wherever you are. Is this how you repay your chosen Pharaoh?”

There are mutters behind them and footsteps on the stairs.

Silence echoes throughout the chamber.

“Answer me!” Kaiba shouts.

The doorway of light hasn’t diminished or grown; it seems to have paused.

Atem is speechless, unable to move because of how much he’s shaking. He hadn’t expected Kaiba to do this but he loves him so much more for trying.

“You’ve dragged me against my will into this mess and though you say this is Atem’s reward it’s a punishment. He lost in either outcome of this battle. So face me and answer for your cruelty.

“He may not challenge you but I do.”

The light expands again but Kaiba clenches Atem’s arm even tighter. Then a figure appears, the same female goddess they saw after their last battle against the darkness.

“Seto Kaiba, why is it you’re interfering?”

“Because you’ve taken too much from him, from me... and from Yugi. And what, if he’d somehow failed this he’s banished to the puzzle again? Why?”

“What would you have us grant him instead?”

“Whatever he wants most.”

Atem’s heart clenches because he knows that can’t be possible.

“Seto,” he whispers but it’s so soft in the silence that everyone in the chamber hears it.

Joey and Tristan gasp but Teá and Yugi don’t sound as surprised; they have enough to work it out.

“No. If I thought for a moment that this was what you wanted then I wouldn’t have gotten involved. But I know it isn’t.”

Atem puts his free hand on the one Kaiba has wrapped around his other wrist. He slides it down his to his other hand so that they can lace their fingers together and stand as a united front (he didn't want Kaiba to think he was trying to shrug him off). Atem may not think he’s allowed to speak those words and ask for what he wants but his connection to Kaiba gives him strength.

“You love him,” the goddess says.

Kaiba rolls his eyes. “Of course I do.”

“Yet you do not want his happiness purely for selfish reasons.”

“No. As I said, if it was what he wanted then I wouldn’t stand in his way.”

“Even though it would break your heart?”

“This isn’t about me,” Kaiba chokes out, though his voice is still fierce.

“But it is. The Pharaoh’s has pledged his heart to you.” She looks behind them at Yugi and the others. “And to his friends. His greatest wish is to stay amongst you for the rest of your lifetime.”

“Atem?” It’s Yugi’s voice.

“It’s true, Yugi. But I knew it wasn’t possible.” He smiles at Kaiba. “At least I thought I did. Now I’m not so sure.”

The goddess turns to him once more.

“It is an unusual request. Would you surrender your puzzle?” She asks.

“Yes, of course.”

“It must reside within the spirit realm to wait for you. It cannot stay upon the earth. Nor can the other millennium items. Do you surrender those as well?”

Atem nods. The earth will be safer without them anyway.

“And you, Seto Kaiba, what will you give?”

“What do you want?” Kaiba asks in reply.

The goddess smiles. “It appears nothing you won’t already do willingly.” She closes her eyes. “Alright. I grant you your wish, Atem.” Her head turns to Kaiba. “You will need to let go of his hand for this to work.”

Kaiba looks pained but Atem squeezes his hand and reaches up on tip-toes to kiss him on the cheek.

“Trust me,” he says and Kaiba releases him, only standing back a little bit.

Atem feels his body enveloped in light. A bright burning light that builds from the inside out.

He thinks he might be screaming but there isn’t much room for anything else in his mind or his heart.

***

When the light fades, Atem falls to the floor, naked and unconscious.

Kaiba catches him and cradles him against his chest, not taking his eyes off the goddess.

“You know what you need to do, Seto Kaiba.” She smiles. “I leave him in your care. Until we meet again in the realm after.” Then she fades away and they’re left in the now silent ruins once more.

Atem blinks open his eyes and reaches his hand to Kaiba’s cheek. He’s warm and solid and real; his skin now the warm honey brown of his original self.

“Seto.” He’s smiling. “Thank you.”

“It’s alright. I would have done anything. Anything.”

“Hmmm.”

Then they’re interrupted by Yugi - which Kaiba thinks is fair enough - who hugs Atem close to him.

Kaiba uses the chance to take off his coat and give it to Atem. It’s a little long but they make it work; folding up the bottom and tying it around his waist.

“Mokuba?” Kaiba calls as Atem is passed between his friends for hugs. The geek squad sharing their tears and affection openly.

“Yes, Seto?”

“I need the medical standby team to meet us here ASAP. Tell them we need full blood works and all standard immunisations. I also need -“

“Already on it, bro.”

Kaiba kneels and hugs his brother close to him, before letting him run off to do what he needs to do.

Atem comes back over to Kaiba and pulls him into his arms and a kiss.

“I already love you more than I know how to say. But this... Kaiba, I don’t know how to thank you.”

Kaiba smiles. “I wanted it too. And I’m not selfless, not unless I love someone like this.” He rocks Atem in his arms and lets him cry silently into his shoulder.

Yugi approaches them looking a little wary but Kaiba smiles and nods to let him know it’s fine.

“You’re the person who came to see him last night, aren’t you.”

“I am.”

“I don’t know how to thank you.”

“That’s easy. Let me look after him. I already have a full team of medics on the way and Mokuba is working on arranging passports as we speak. We’ll need to work on details as soon as they arrive.”

Yugi too is crying and Atem offers him a hand to hold.

“And,” Kaiba adds. “I’m going to need your... assistance with a cover story. The rest of your geek squad too.”

“Alright,” Yugi agrees.

“Good.”

***

Kaiba doesn’t let go of Atem, doesn’t let anyone else help him up the long flight of stairs - he carries him - and glares at any and all medical personnel who try to get between them.

Yugi stays at their side and the rest of the group stay just behind them.

On the plane they stay next door; Kaiba and Yugi being the only ones allowed into Atem’s medical bay.

Atem feels fine, aside from being completely overwhelmed by the most recent emotional rollercoaster.

He submits to whatever tests they want him to and lets them inject him with whatever they ask. These are Kaiba’s most trusted medical personnel so he knows he’s in good hands.

“Now, all the usual blood tests have come back fine.” He’s told a couple of hours later. “And you’re almost completely up to date with your shots; the rest we will do tomorrow. But you’re going to have to take it easy, Mr Atem.”

“I will,” he promises, looking between Kaiba and Yugi.

Another couple of people come in then, one with a camera and the other with a series of documents for him to fill in. The photo is fine - he wears a plain white shirt that’s handed to him - but the paperwork proves trickier.

“Date of birth?”

“How old are you?” Yugi asks.

“I think I was 22 when everything happened. But I don’t know how my birthday would translate to your calendars.”

“How about the day I completed the puzzle?”

Atem smiles warmly at him. “Alright.”

For ‘name’ he enters Atem Muto, which matches with the cover story that he’s actually Yugi’s cousin; plausible because of how much time his grandfather had spent in Egypt, even if it insinuates possible infidelity. Everyone has agreed to it regardless: it doesn’t matter.

The rest is easier, especially since the passport and birth certificate work has been dealt with.

The three of them concoct a back story for him and have appropriate educational qualifications made and ordered.

By the end of it, he’s Yugi’s cousin who reached out to him trying to find his family. He’d met Ishizu on his search and she’d put him in contact with the others, who then came to see him.

His Japanese grandfather and heritage merit him the right to citizenship there as well - though Kaiba was quite creative with that justification; Atem has no other living family and those he had left him destitute.

So he’s moving to Japan. His education lists a strong aptitude for languages; ancient and modern Egyptian - which for whatever reason he can speak - Japanese and English. Which again, he’s taught himself over the years as a lot of the research he’s done has been in that language. He can also read and speak several other ancient languages, which is the official reason he’s been hired and sponsored by Kaiba Corp.

He hesitates again over the address because he knows Yugi’s house is already full with his mother and grandfather taking up the only other rooms.

“You can put mine,” Kaiba offers. “Or if that’s too-“

“Yours is fine, Kaiba. But I only know the address of your headquarters.”

So Kaiba leans in closer and skirts a hand around his back, saying his address slow enough for Atem to write out.

It doesn’t take them long all-in-all; an account and necessary funds in Atem’s name has already been completed as well. Kaiba moves quickly when it’s important to him.

“So what now?” He asks.

“We wait for your passports to be delivered then take you home. Unless you wanted to stay here a little longer?” Kaiba asks.

Yugi shuffles in his seat.

“What is it?” Atem regards him carefully, missing their previous connection though pleased beyond words to have his own body.

“Well, my flight back is the day after tomorrow and my things are all with me - Teá, Tristan and Joey’s too. So it’s really up to you, Atem.”

Atem squeezes Kaiba’s hand.

“How long will the paperwork take?”

“The Japanese embassy here has rushed your application so it’ll be sorted by the end of the day, your Egyptian one around the same time. Then it’s up to you. Obviously, I can fly us all home as soon as that’s sorted. And given we don’t know the results of your other tests yet it might be a good idea for us to stay at the family estate until we know you’ll be alright.” Kaiba turns stiffly to Yugi. “By now the rest of the geek squad have been checked and cleared, so have you.” Atem must have missed that between one jab of the needle and the next. “And you’re fine. Unless there’s anyone else you want to invite?”

“I... I can’t tell if you’re serious,” Yugi says carefully.

Kaiba breathes in harshly through his nose and clenches his jaw.

Atem looks to Yugi and shakes his head just enough to let him know to give Kaiba a minute. People do not, after all, change overnight.

“I am if there is anyone that Atem wants to be there.”

“Mai.” the pharaoh says to Yugi.

“Yeah. She’s been calling to check on us since Joey told her what happened.” He addresses Kaiba. “Don’t worry, she won’t tell anyone what she knows.” He looks back to Atem who nods. Joey and Mai started talking and seeing each other after Joey caught sight of her at the Kaiba Land tournament. Love has been blossoming between them openly since. (Despite appearances Mai is only a couple of years older than them but she finished school early and masked her age to make her own way in the world.)

“If it’s possible I would like Mai to meet us there.”

“Ugh. If she and Wheeler -“ Kaiba starts, cutting himself off at the looks on both the others faces. “Fine. Will they be sharing a room?”

“Probably but I can check,” Yugi offers and digs out his phone.

“Tell Mokuba everyone’s sleeping arrangements; let him work it out.”

“How did you know?” Yugi asks. “About Joey and Mai?”

Kaiba grunts. “I have eyes. He tried to sacrifice himself to save her in my tournament. I thought it was pretty clear then.”

Atem turns and kisses his cheek. He whispers very softly, “It isn’t always obvious to those involved.”

He sits back and notices how red Kaiba now is.

Yugi is staring down at his phone, biting his lip.

***

He sits studying his new passports in the jet’s private bedroom.

“You’re incredible.”

“No, I’m just exploiting a system that insists on only giving power to the rich,” Kaiba responds, throwing a small pile of clothes at the Pharaoh.

Atem can hear Yugi and Teá talking quietly in the corridor and suspects Joey is still on the phone with Mai.

“Still, at least you use it for good.”

“Well, yes. But I have a reputation to uphold so I don’t make it known too often.”

Atem raises his eyebrows but knows it’s true. He does give regular large donations to several orphanages as well as free entry for orphans and underprivileged children. There are provisions made for their education and large funds to support them. But he’s arrogant and often callous whenever possible so it does stay largely un-talked about.

Kaiba is also well aware of his own brilliance and won’t hesitate to show it to the world, yet despite his lack of modesty he’s never lacked compassion - only hidden it.

Mokuba knocks and puts his head around the open door.

“Flight is a go. We’ll be taking off soon and home mid-afternoon Japan time,” he tells them. “Also, Mai has been cleared and will meet us there. The house preparations are all underway.

“Anything else you need, Seto?”

“No, that’s everything. Make sure you get some sleep, alright.”

Mokuba comes in and accepts a hug from his brother, he walks over to Atem and hugs him too.

Atem smiles at the younger boy. “Thank you.”

“Hey, it’s no problem. Seriously. You’re part of the family now, right?”

That takes a moment to sink in. “Yes, I suppose I am,” he says, giving Kaiba a soft smile.

***

They all reconvene in the lounge for take-off, followed by a round of hugs that Kaiba stands back from - his arms firmly crossed and an expression that says ‘try me’.

He knows there’s a chance Atem will choose to spend the night with Yugi, Joey and whoever else wants to cram themselves into one room.

He wants to demand Atem stay with him but he won’t; he’s already said he’ll live with him and Yugi has been the other voice in his head for the last couple of years. But Atem comes and stands in front of him, just inside his personal space.

“Goodnight, Kaiba!” Yugi calls as he heads down the corridor with Joey in tow.

He nods then looks back down at Atem.

“Shall we go to bed? I’m exhausted.” He reaches his arms forwards and loosely rests his hands on Kaiba’s hips.

“Of course.” He drops his arms and puts one around Atem’s shoulder as The Pharaoh leans into his side.

He makes it until they’re both done with the bathroom and getting into bed before he lets the words slip.

“I thought you’d stay with Yugi.”

Atem looks surprised. “Why?”

Kaiba can’t think of what to say; only that he’d expected it, that he’s so shaken by the last few days of time travel and magic and gods and almost losing Atem that he’s not sure which way is up anymore.

That he’s terrified of losing him still, that there will be something that comes between them - maybe even his own irrational jealousy.

“Seto,” Atem says firmly but not unkind. “I will always be close to Yugi. He is my best friend, my twin-soul and one of the people I love above all others. But he’s not you.” He takes Kaiba’s hand inside his - their skin tones now a stark but beautiful contrast. “I love you as I have loved no other. You heard the goddess; my heart belongs with yours. And I have no wish for us to ever be parted.

“In fact, my wish was quite the opposite.”

“Good.” He coughs to disguise the lump in his throat. “Forever then.”

Atem laughs; a much freer and happier sound than he has heard before. “I hope so.”

Kaiba looks at their joined hands, the passports on the bedside table and the documents he knows are already being assembled in his office and home.

He should be more daunted by this, he thinks, but after everything perhaps he’s taking time to accept all he now has.

“I never thought you’d speak for me like that.” Atem’s words sound like a confession, one just sad enough to pierce the mood.

“No one else was going to; you weren’t going to. And I meant everything I said. You deserved better and you can’t tell me you weren’t miserable up there.”

“I was. But what if it had backfired and they’d have killed you?”

Kaiba frowns. “I wasn’t thinking about that. And besides, you said we’d meet in the afterlife.”

“That’s... Kaiba... I.”

“Wanted me to live a long and fulfilling life. Yeah, well, turns out I wanted the same thing; with you.” He holds Atem closely, kissing his temple and cheek before he continues. “And I know myself well enough to know what I’d have done without you; knowing how you really feel about me and your life here.”

“You’ll do anything for those you love.”

“Exactly. Even put up with your friends for the next few days while you settle in and recover.” His blood work has all come back fine and any antibodies and immunity he was lacking are already building up.

It will take him a couple of weeks, the doctors say, to feel normal, but who knows what that is to Atem anyway.

“They’re good people.”

“Yugi is fine.”

“Kaiba,” he warns without bite.

“I can’t just decide to like the others. But they’re welcome whenever you want them over or when you want to stay with them. My house is yours now. There will be keys once we’re back and I’ll give you all the security codes.”

“Still... perhaps try and get to know them?”

He grumbles. “I have no problem with Mai; she’s an excellent dualist and a smart woman.” Atem’s smirking at him. “And Teá’s nice enough; probably the only reason most of the others are still alive.”

“Alright. I suppose that’ll do for now.” He snuggles into Kaiba’s warmth. “Still, and I know you don’t like me asking, but, Seto, if there is anything you need or want from me you can have it.”

“You do owe me a duel. Probably several by now. We can start with that.”

“That sounds fair.”

“And you’ll need to enter the next tournament I run, now it can really be a card game tournament without risking an apocalypse.”

This makes Atem laugh so hard he turns to muffle it in Kaiba’s chest.

“That is true. I’d be happy to.”

“Good.” He takes a deep breath. “And one day I’m going to ask you to marry me.”

“I take that to mean that I’m not allowed to ask you first?” Atem replies, a wonderful smile on his face that helps to leave Kaiba speechless. “I know it’s much too soon to be thinking about it. We have to learn to live together and I need to find my place in the world. And I certainly don’t want to have to redo all that paperwork you’ve spent so much on already.”

“You’re right,” Kaiba agrees. This is something and someone he doesn’t want to damage by rushing into marriage. And he wants to enjoy the journey; their relationship along the way. “I suppose we can let that part happen on its own.”

***