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True Believer

Chapter Text

There was a gathering of dignified and modest women on the pathway to the town's church. The morning service had finished just moments ago, and they were using the time to catch up on the latest gossip before they had to go back to their homes and daily duties. This was the moment they had all been waiting for during the sermon, not that any would admit it.


"Have you all heard the latest?" The youngest of the group spoke while playing with one of her gloved fingers. She had lived in that town her whole life, marrying her high school sweetheart and producing two children in the span of three years.

 

Another woman, Lydia, nodded with a small frown on her face "Everyone's talking about it. I saw a moving truck outside the house yesterday"

 

There were huffs and scoffs of indignation among the group, one of them even dared roll her eyes. The talk of the town were the supposed new people moving in. Not only were they occupying a house that had remained untouched for years, almost like a testament to the town's best years, but they were supposed to be foreigners.


"This is a quiet town" The oldest spoke in a hurry, as if waiting to be cut off "I don't understand why we have to bring more people in. I've heard they are from Africa"


The young woman covered her mouth with a hand, but her eyes were shining with curiosity and excitement, as if the foreigners were some new trinket to gawk at.


"Africa?" Lydia seemed about to pass out, holding the arm of the oldest of the group "But they are all... uneducated"

 

There was a groan of agreement, uneasiness setting in the group. What if this startled the sleeping town? Change was something they disliked, it only brought bad news.

The oldest of the group was the less preoccupied, her life had been as steady as it could be for the last twenty years, and she doubted a couple newcomers would disturb her peace. Still, the gossip was good.

"They might be good people" The young woman tried, looking back at the church's entrance and trying not to stare too much at the young priest. The rest of the women followed her gaze, and there was a collective sigh. Their priest was an attractive young man, a true believer in the word of the Lord. They were good women as well, even if they fantasized during the services about that young man. "Our priest was an immigrant"

The older of the group shook her head in disapproval "It's different. He was raised here, he has our values. These new people... we don't know them. Let's hope they'll leave quickly"

They all nodded, hearing the last bells and grieving the moment they had to say goodbye. At home, there were stoves to be lit, children to be soothed and husbands to serve. If anyone bothered to ask them, they might have said they were happy. They might have said they were miserable. No one bothered.

 

Back at the entrance of the church, the young man listened intently to what one of the men was saying to him. He was repenting, something he had done, a thought he had had. After being in that town all his life, he knew everyone by the sins they committed.

 

He bit his tongue, maintaining a pensive look on his face, and nodding when he had to. There were some people in that godforsaken town he cared about, but they were few and the empathy was momentary. There were reasons why he did what he did, why he endured what he endured.


"He knows you repent" The priest answered when the man gave him an opening to do so "Go in peace, we'll talk more if the thoughts come back"

 

The man nodded, squeezing his hat on his hands and thanking him again. It was difficult, but he was the one man capable of handling it.

 

He turned to close the Church's doors and go home. Other priests might live inside them, or next to them, but he liked having his space. There hadn't been any complaints or dirty looks from the people in town. With a lot of care, he had managed to gain their trust and respect. It hadn't been easy, but it had been the one way to survive.

 

"Wait!" He stopped, turning to see a young woman with a yellow dress and blonde almost white hair. He knew who she was, they were close in age but they hadn't talked all that much. "I really liked this morning's service, sir"

"No need to call me sir, Kisara" He forced a smile, there were no doubts she had tried to flirt with him. His particular part of the church allowed such marriages, if only he were interested... "Is everything alright at home?"


There was a disappointed nod, a pause, and then he was walking away. How long could he avoid this?

 

**

 

"Careful, Marik" He laughed, trying to carry one of the sofas inside the house with his cousin. If they weren't more careful, they were going to open more than one dent on the door frame.  


"You need to keep it steady!" The other man groaned, holding one of the extremes as they moved towards the living room. The moving had started the night before, but they had decided to move the big furniture in the morning.

 

Thankfully, the sofa was the last piece that might break their backs on the way in.


"I'm not helping with your furniture when you move out" Atem said with a smile on his face.


"Excuse me? Why do I have to move out?"

 

"Because I'm the older one, and your sister will side with me on this one"

 

There was some mumbling, something like 'she always sides with you' that made him chuckle.

 

"I think I might go to town today"

 

"Fine, I'll unpack my room then" Marik shrugged, walking towards the stairs, a pair of gold pendants on his ears. He had tried to warn him those would only bring trouble, but it was hard to get Marik to do anything for anyone.

 

Atem grabbed his jacket and scarf, already sick of the cold in that place. He wouldn't be caught dead living in a country as cold as that one if his job didn't involve a disgusting amount of travel. Him and his cousins were expert Egyptologists, who sometimes got invited to conferences and talks around the globe.

 

The true genius of the family was Ishizu, with Marik being a close second. He, instead, felt like dead weight. He hadn't found anything he truly loved. Yes, he loved Egypt and he loved unearthing pieces of his history but he felt there should be more to life. Given that he felt lost, and hated being alone, he had decided to tag along with his cousins, trying to help wherever he could and provide his input when understanding a new piece.  

 

This time Ishizu was staying back home, planning a big exhibition of their new findings while they were tasked with the writings of some papers. Nothing that couldn't be done in a secluded town in northern England.

 

Ishizu had offered him the chance to stay back with her, but Atem had realized she was doing it out of a motherly instinct. As if he were too fragile to go out on his own -well, with Marik- to a new place. It was ridiculous, of course, and he was too prideful to stay after that.

 

The one to choose England had been Marik, he insisted they would have easier access to other scientific papers and the cold 'wouldn't be so bad'. As he walked towards the town center, Atem wanted to go back and strangle him. He wasn't built for such cold weather, and the rain. He was sure it had rained four different times just in one night.

 

How could the people handle it?

 

Atem tightened the scarf around his neck while looking around the place. The stores were as quaint as in the pictures, but people didn't seem friendly. When he entered the small coffee shop -probably the only one in town- and asked for a coffee, the woman behind the counter asked him 'Sorry, what?' twice. Atem had given conferences in English before, he knew the language and he was sure she had understood him the first time.

 

With a sour coffee and a small frown, he left the shop and hoped that had been only a misunderstanding. Perhaps he had spoken too closely to his scarf, or she had been distracted.

 

Not everything was bad, ever since getting off their plane, he had seen the most incredible shades of green. The trees surrounding the town were beautiful, breathtaking.

 

Perhaps they could start a life there. He didn't want to think about it too much, it was easier to believe he would only be doing some work, and then going back home.

 

Home.

 

He gritted his teeth when two men passing by gave him dirty looks. Great.

 

There was no need to remind him he didn't fit in. It's not like he looked the same as them, or professed the same religion or spoke the same language. But c'mon! He tried not to get frustrated, his cousins always told him he could be too harsh on people, passing judgment as if he had the moral high ground.

 

Perhaps this was a new opportunity to improve. As a human being.

 

Yeah, right.

 

He sipped his coffee. It didn't taste like the one back home. Ugh. Tea. Next time he'd get tea.

 

There was movement a few blocks away, people pouring back to the streets and clearly finding their way home. When he looked towards the beginning of the congregation, he found the church. It was lovely, big for a town that small, reaching towards the sky. Perhaps he might be able to bond with them over faith. He didn't hold that much hope, though.

 

His coffee was starting to warm one of his hands, and it was a welcomed feeling as the wind tried to freeze him.

 

People were mostly going up north, so he decided to walk towards them, maybe appreciate the church's style a bit closer. Atem wouldn't be opposed to meeting someone new, finding a friendly face in the midst of the unknown.

 

There was someone walking towards him, although he didn't notice him until he was a few feet away. The man was tall, brown hair, blue eyes - piercing, cold like London weather- and handsome. Atem's eyes went down to the white collar around his neck, under his black robes. It told him who he was, and what he did, but it didn't tell him his name and he really wanted to know that.

 

"Good morning" The man spoke, but didn't smile and his eyes were not showing much interest. "Welcome to our town"

 

"Thank you" He stared at him, unsure if he was being good mannered simply because he had to. "My name's Atem, nice to meet you...?"


"Seto" He offered a hand, white, long fingers. He shook it briefly "Seto Kaiba, nice to meet you too. I hope we see you on the next service"

 

Ah. Was he a foreigner? With that name... Not that it mattered, but it would be nice to bond over it.

 

"I don't think so, but... thank you for the invitation"

 

Seto nodded politely "Well, I-"

 

"Yes, I have to be going... Lovely to meet you" He moved to the side, letting the tall man walk past him. It wasn't befitting to turn around and stare, and he didn't mean to do it, but he did.

 

The young priest didn't look back, he didn't seem interested at all which wasn't surprising but it was disappointing. Atem stared at the remnants of his coffee, walking again towards the rest of town. He shouldn't try and get into trouble, and lusting after the town's priest was the definition of trouble.

 

It would be better to not cross paths with him again.

 

   

Chapter Text

It was dark outside, the light from their kitchen pouring out like a beacon. Dinner was ready, so he placed the two plates on the table, making sure the glasses and cutlery was there as well.


"Mokuba, dinner's ready" He frowned at the silent house. "Mokuba!" The third time he called, footsteps were heard from the staircase and the hallway. His brother appeared, frowning at him as if he had been disturbed.  

 

"I'm here, no need to shout" He took a seat at the table, smiling at the food in front of them. "Looks great, Seto"

 

He didn't know if Mokuba was being polite or truly meant it. The first months after their adoptive father died it had been chaotic. Seto didn't know how to cook, or how to light up a stove. Unbelievably enough, the community brought them food almost every day. There was kindness in there, but pity as well. Oh, if only they knew.

 

Seto had heard their whispering 'poor children, all alone', it made him angry to be thought as weak. As someone incapable of taking care of his brother. So he learnt, as well as he could, picking up books from the old shelves and borrowing recipes from old ladies at church. There had been terrible failures -Mokuba kept bugging him about a particular incident when he burnt down the kitchen curtains- but some progress as well. Now he was good, not great but good enough.

 

"Were you working on your next sermon?" Mokuba eyed the closed Bible on the table.

"Yes" He quickly moved it away, knowing how much his brother disliked seeing it around the house. He knew Mokuba didn't approve of him following in his adoptive father's footsteps, but what else could he do? There was too much on the line.

"What's about?"

"You don't enjoy talking about these things"

There was a small groan and the young boy shrugged "You are my brother, so stop whining"

 

Seto chuckled, giving him a fond look, the type he didn't use outside of his home. He kept his informal clothes plain, it wasn't what he would've preferred, but maybe in another life he'd get to choose.

 

"So, what's it about?"


"About welcoming strangers" He mumbled while taking a bite out of the chicken he had roasted on the oven. It was good, perhaps not enough salt.

 

There was a pause, as Mokuba drank from his cup, giving him a look. It wasn't a surprise his next sermon would be about the newcomers. Kaiba had thought long and hard about it, he could avoid it, preach about something else but... he had noticed the unrest among the community. And if those poor people were to have an opportunity to even be liked he had to put his grain of salt.

 

"I see" Mokuba moved his fork over the rice, playing a little bit with his food. He tried not to be too annoyed by it, his little brother had gone through enough already "I think that's really good. I met one of them today, they are really nice"

 

"What? You did?" He frowned, wondering when that had happened. Mokuba wasn't a little child anymore but he wasn't an adult either.

 

"Seto" Mokuba sounded as if he were talking to a child, and not the other way around "they live next door"

 

Ah, yes. Kaiba had tried very hard not to think about that. Not that it bothered him, but they had lived neighbor-less since they moved there.

 

"So you met Atem, then" He cleared his throat, trying to keep a conversation with him. Mokuba often complained about him being too quiet now, or serious. If only he found the strength to smile.

 

"Who? No, I met Marik" Mokuba arched an eyebrow "He's nice, has these gold- actual gold! earrings"

Seto raised his eyebrows, stopping his fork against the plate. There were several things he wanted to say, to explain to Mokuba, but finding the correct words could prove difficult. If he was too calm, he might think it  wasn't a big deal, if he was too harsh he might scar his little brother. He stared at the boy -almost a teenager now- and sighed.


"You realize that's never going to last in here?" Mokuba rolled his eyes at him but didn't answer. "Men don't wear earrings"

 

Spewing shit he didn't believe was the one thing he hated. And to his little brother.

 

"Why not?" He frowned, defiant. Seto didn't want this to turn into a fight about who was right and who wasn't. As far as he knew, the community were the ones that were in the right and they should abide by it. At least for now. Once Mokuba grew older and found his way through life, he might be able to defy some of those invisible laws.

 

"That's a women's thing" He could feel Mokuba's disappointment in him. One day he would understand this was for his protection "Come one, hurry up, dinner's getting cold"

 

There was the shadow of a protest on his brother's face, but nothing came of his lips. Mokuba started eating again, barely making any conversation. It was difficult to understand what was going on in his head, and sometimes he wished he could be more forward with him.


His own stomach felt as if it were stitched shut, forcing himself to eat by inertia. There were a lot of things he had learnt how to do without thinking, without feeling, after being adopted by Gozaburo. Shielding Mokuba from that hadn't been easy, as it wasn't easy to shield him from the town.

 

"I'm going to bed"

 

"Good night"

 

Mokuba stopped at the door, and stared back at him. There was something he was meaning to say, but didn't, turning around with a frustrated sigh.

 

***

"Next time you are doing the dishes" Atem frowned at the soapy water and his own hands, which were now cold again. The inside of the house was comfortable enough with the central heating, but he wasn't used to it yet.

 

If Marik heard him, he didn't say a single word. Atem tried not to roll his eyes too much, wondering if he was on the telephone with Bakura again. As far as he knew, they had met during a conference in Japan and hit it off immediately. When his cousin came back from the trip, he couldn't stop boasting about his new 'friend' and the things he had shown him. He enjoyed teasing him about it. Why Marik wanted to move to London, of all places, he had no idea.

 

A little voice, hope perhaps, warned him not to think like that. He wasn't moving there, he was staying for a while and then they would all go back home. To the lovely heat and the sight of the pyramids in contrast with the city.

 

The house needed almost no renovations, which was a relief but it left him with little to do. A town that small has no museums, or art galleries, or anything. He considered going to the bar -there's always a bar- but it might give the wrong impression on his first night. He gritted his teeth, scrubbing a plate with a bit of violence, why did he care what those people thought? He wasn't a criminal!

 

"Ah, fuck!" The plate slipped from his fingers and broke on the sink. His day wasn't going well at all. He breathed in, deeply, slowly and stared out the window. The house next door was smaller than the one they had, and it was inhabited by the lights on the porch and in two rooms. He wondered who lived there. He hadn't been paying much attention, although his cousin said he had met a nice kid earlier that afternoon.

Knowing there were other people living so close didn't make him feel any better, only lonelier.

 

Gods, he thought while closing his eyes, lend me some of your patience and wisdom.

 

There was a scratching noise on the kitchen door, the one that led to the backyard. His heart stopped, and he turned very slowly. He wanted to call out for Marik, just in case, but that wasn't the smartest thing to do if an intruder was on the other side. Instead, and preparing for the worst, he picked up a knife from the sink, holding it steady next to his chest.

 

It took him three steps to make it just close enough that if he reached out with his hand he would touch the doorknob. With a deep breath, he pulled open the door. Outside there was only darkness.

 

Atem frowned, staring into his own backyard that needed some tending and the vast nothingness from that side of town. They were on the edges of it so what else could there be but darkness?

 

You are going insane, he thought, until something pressed against his legs. When he looked down, a wave of relief washed over his body.

 

Right there rubbing against his legs was a cat. Feral? It didn't matter, the little guy had found its way to them and was clearly in search of a home.

 

He kneeled, dropping the knife on the floor and scrubbed the little guy behind one of its ears. "You are welcome here" He mumbled with a smile, finding that little bit of hope that had felt so far away just moments ago.

 

***

The church was filled with people, as it usually was on a Sunday morning. The amount of people had never been an issue for him, it was easy to show his face there. The face they knew, but not the real one.

Truth be told, nervousness wasn't something he allowed himself. It led to stammering, to mistakes, to punishment. And he couldn't have that.

 

He stood behind the podium, in front of all of them, and placed his notes next to his Bible. His mouth felt dry, his heartbeat was hurrying and he kept focusing on different faces. The same women he had known all his life, old and wrinkly, smiling while fanning themselves. The men that patted him on the back and invited him over for drinks -he politely declined, always. The young women, staring at him up and down. Kisara amongst them, with an offer he should take, an offer of normalcy.

 

They sat the little kids up front, to make sure they would listen. Seto never gave them more than one glance. He used to doze off when Gozaburo was preaching, until he learnt the consequences of doing so.

 

This sermon was important because people there hated foreigners. And there was a reason for all that hate. Seto tried not to be nervous, and cleared his throat, starting to talk. There would take a moment to get to the points he needed to make, so he could start getting comfortable. He knew how to do this, he had been trained to do so. And people liked him.

 

"These are times of change" His brother was seating amongst them. He allowed Mokuba to avoid this events, except on Sundays. "Let us not fall into fear and forget the values we aspire as a community. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." He couldn't look at them in their faces as he said it, so instead he kept with the lecture he had prepared and lost sleep over.

 

Kaiba wasn't a man that got nervous. The problem was, people in town hated foreigners.

 

"I leave you all with this, so you can think it through before you act. I promise I'll do the same... Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."

 

People there hated foreigners because four years ago a group of traveling merchants had come into town and a man had been found murdered. They hated foreigners because the previous preacher had died.

 

They hated foreigners because Kaiba killed a man and threw the blame onto someone else.

Chapter Text

Marik had started separating days into the good and the bad ones. The good were the ones when his head didn't feel clouded in darkness and his medication was easy to swallow. Days spent thinking of the future without being dragged down by his past.

He'd rather not think too much about the bad days.

The sun wasn't shining that morning, which seemed the usual weather there. He didn't bother with an umbrella, it would be nice to feel the rain on his skin. Marik knew this was a big change from what they were used to, he needed it. A fresh start. Atem wouldn't adapt so soon, the man loved the sand and the pyramids and the whole of Egypt. It was kind of funny sometimes, the bond he felt with their homeland.

Marik knew he could've stayed back, but family and friends do come first. Besides, they all needed a fresh start, in a safe environment. Or as safe as this could be.  

The decision hadn't come easy, and he had consulted with Ryou several times. He wanted a bustling city with lights and noise and people, but Ryou wanted something more laid back, intimate. And who was he to deny him? It hurt being apart, but it wouldn't be for long -they both had promised.

This was a good day, it had started with a long phone call with his boyfriend -which was more than appreciated-, a hot cup of coffee and a weird looking cat that for some reason lived in his house. He knew it was impossible for Atem not to adopt every single stray, but he would have to stop him before it got too ridiculous.

Marik had decided to do his work in the evening, that way he would have time to finally explore the little town, he would be living there after all. They didn't talk much about it with Atem, living there had been Marik's decision and something told him his cousin wasn't exactly pleased with the idea of staying there forever.

He smiled at the stone paved roads connecting the town together, they weren't big enough for a bus or a truck, and he hadn't seen any cars since arriving. It gave the town a sort of timeless feeling.

Ryou will love this, he thought while turning around a corner. He would go to the grocery store to get some food, the refrigerator was mostly empty. Besides, it gave him something to do to avoid looking like a newcomer.

"Hello" He smiled at the woman behind the counter and she gave him a weird look, almost startled.

She cleared her throat "Hello, how can I help you?"

Marik proceeded to tell her part of his shopping list, eggs, milk, flour, that sort of thing. Nothing too crazy. She kept stealing glances at him while she placed the things on the counter, and Marik noticed how she made sure not to leave the cash register open for too long.

He swallowed, trying not to be too offended by that but... it was difficult. "Thank you" He managed, somehow, grabbing at the paper bags and leaving the shop.

Marik hadn't seen them, and he hadn't noticed when the group of three men gathered outside the shop waiting for him, but he felt immediately in danger the moment he stepped outside. It wasn't the cold air, or the grey sky above, but the way he was being stared at.

Clutching at the bags and trying very hard to remember his therapist words, he walked back the way he came. He had never been afraid of being outside, in fact exploring the world had been the one dream that kept him from going completely mental. Usually, others were the ones that should be scared of him, but that was during the bad days and he didn't think about those anymore.

His breathing became faster, starting to hurt as he felt like a coward. Surely he was misinterpreting everything. Wait, was he being followed?

Instead of looking down to his bags, he kept his head held high. If he went back home like a scared little boy, what would that say to them? He took a deep breath, stopping and turning to face them.

"Do you need anything?"

The three men seemed as surprised as the lady had been. Did they not expect him to speak a single word of English? Ugh.

"We don't want the likes of you around here"

Marik frowned, that could mean many things but none of them good.

"Excuse me? I've done nothing to you" And that should've been enough, but it wasn't. It never was.

"Listen, fag" Ah, there it was "we're a nice town, we don't need your kind here. So get the fuck out"

Marik stared down at the young man, a bit older than he was perhaps, but young enough for them to have gone to the same school had they lived in the same place at the same time. It was a shame, truly, how someone could be so rotten so young. The world had improved since Stonewall, hadn't it? Maybe the town's timeless sensation was more than that.

The other two stayed behind, but they would prove dangerous given the chance, Marik knew the type. Hell, he had been the type. Not that he ever picked on people based on something as banal as sexuality or race but he had hurt people.

He clutched the bags. He didn't think about the bad days, he didn't.

"I'll let that slide" He offered, speaking in a tone he maybe shouldn't have used in a possible three versus one fight "this time"

"Oh, really?" The man scoffed, and pushed at his shoulder, making Marik give a step back as to not drop anything "Or what are you gonna do, hm? Cry like a little girl?" He then proceeded to flick one of his earrings and Marik saw red.

He didn't want to see red, or harm anyone, he really didn't.  But... He breathed in, his therapist's words inside his head. He just had to calm down. They were dangerous, and he was alone and he should calm down. Then why couldn't he?

"I'm only doing my shopping" He blinked at him, the paper bags rumpling around his hands.

The other two men had started to come closer, and he could almost feel his personal space invaded. This was bad. He didn't want to drop the fresh milk he had just got, the glass bottle would surely break. Tsk, it would be a waste.

"What's happening here?" There were hurried steps towards them, and Marik barely turned his head to see two men coming towards them. The man that spoke, had his right hand on his belt, showing off his police badge as a shield.

"Nothing happened" Marik muttered.

Next to the police officer was a tall man, brown hair, blue eyes. Ugh, a priest. This was like a bad bar joke.

"This guy was harassing us, officer" The young man said, shrugging "The lady at the store was having a rough time with him, so we came to help and he started cussing at us"

What.

"I did no such thing!" Marik frowned "I was walking home "

"We all need to calm down" The police man said, staring at Marik as if he was the one in hysterics over nothing. He wanted to scream. Or worse. Worse. Worse.

He didn't think of the bad days.

"Young man, come with me to the off-"

"I'm sure there's no need" The priest finally spoke, with an icy voice that made Marik even more uncomfortable. "I'll talk to him"

"Thank you, Seto" The police man patted his shoulder, although the man was taller "I'm sure you'll sort this out better than me." He walked closer, as to whisper to him but Marik could hear everything "Heathens, am I right?"

There was a small smile from Seto, and a nod. The police man then dispersed the other three men, patting one of them on the back and probably asking about his wife or kids or inviting him over for a drink. Assholes.

Marik felt his hands cramp around the bags.

"You are going to drop it" The priest was now blocking his view from the men, standing right in front of him. He was tall, thin, and somehow Marik didn't feel the same level of threat he felt from the others. Although, he knew this man was dangerous. Takes one to know one.

"What?"

"The bag" Seto pressed a hand to the side of one of the paper bags, steadying it in his arms "I'll make this short"

Great. Marik wanted to go back home and tell Atem everything and scream and complain and then go up to his room and punch his pillow until his knuckles hurt. Maybe this was why his family didn't let him go on his own.

"You can't use those here"

"What?" He knew he was repeating himself like an idiot, but it caught him off guard. What did he mean? 

"Your earrings, and..." He casually glanced downwards to his clothes. What was wrong with it? He was wearing jeans and a coat, for fucks sake. "Just make sure to lay low"

"What the fuck's that supposed to mean?"

The priest frowned, crossing his arms like an unwavering statue of righteousness. Marik wanted to kick him.

"Have a nice day"

"Marik, my name's Marik, not that you give a fuck!" He groaned, turning and walking back to his house. This was... like a caricature, a bad joke.

On the way back he didn't noticed the paved road or the sky or the shades of green on the trees, he could only think of their words and the anger it stirred inside his chest.

Ishizu had made a joke once, about how he could keep so much anger inside his small body. Marik couldn't remember it now, it had been funny once.

"Can you believe these assholes?" He spoke loudly, assuming Atem was somewhere within earshot. The bags were dropped over the kitchen table, and he started putting everything in its place with more force than necessary. It was a miracle the milk bottle didn't break as he placed it on the refrigerator.

"Hm? What's wrong?" Atem walked in with a stack of papers in one hand and the cat in the other. Ha. It surely got into the office again.

"Those people, they...! And the police did nothing! They treated me like the criminal! I was buying groceries!"

Atem frowned "What happened? Marik, calm down"

Suddenly, exhaustion crashed over him like a wave. Something like defeat. He sat down on one of the chairs, and stared at the other man "They... called me names"

"Oh" It wasn't the first time that had happened, but back home no one had dared do something like that. Besides, his golden earrings weren't so strange there.

"It's stupid, it doesn't bother me... It's just... they did nothing! And that fucking priest" He rubbed his hands over his face, trying to calm down. He had already given up on the eyeliner for the day and he started to miss it.

"Oh, you met Seto"

"You know him? Fucking asshole, told me to lay low. No, he ordered it. As if he had any authority over me!"

Atem made a face, tapping a few fingers on the table and sitting in front of him.

"I reckon you two didn't get along"

"No, no we did not!"

"Ah"

Marik felt fear "Atem, what did you do?"

There was a nonchalant shrug "I invited them over for dinner. You told me you met Mokuba and well, they are our neighbors... I saw him this morning, leaving the house, you see. And I invited him"

"You invited the priest?!"

"Well, no" Atem seemed thoughtful for a moment "I asked Mokuba, and he told me they would both be over tonight"

"Fucking hells" Marik closed his eyes. This was starting to test his patience.

**

Kaiba stood under the doorframe, trying his best not to frown. His brother didn't seem concerned at all, impatiently waiting for someone to get the door. Why he had accepted the invitation he had no idea. It was no news in town how little he liked to socialize. Most people thought it was simply his love of silence and prayer. Typical, not to think someone might just dislike you.

The door opened without a creek, and a smiling man stared at them. His eyes were very strange, the color of sunsets as you try to take a peek. Back in town, he hadn't realized the coloring of his hair, either. He had seen the grayish blonde bangs, and the dark brown -almost black contrast, but now he realized it seemed to lighten at the tips, as if someone had bleached it once and then regretted it. Thankfully it wasn't as long as Marik's.

Kaiba had tried to think positive -as if it ever helped anyone-, it was clear enough these two came from lives way too different than the ones they led. It stirred something inside his chest, something that had been dormant for too long.

"Welcome, come in, please" He stepped aside, closing the door behind them and pointing at some hangers for their coats, the ones they had grabbed out of habit before crossing to the house next door.

"Thank you for inviting us"

Mokuba didn't stay behind for the small talk and pleasantries, instead he walked further into the living room, dropping himself on a couch. Only then Kaiba realized there was someone sitting -no, sprawled- on the sofa

"Hey, Marik... You cool?" Mokuba said, and he could almost imagine his little smile.

"Yeah, kid" He didn't sound good.

There was a small cough and he focused his attention on Atem again. The man was staring at him, did he know what had happened? He must know, he lived with Marik. Kaiba's stomach turned, were they truly cousins? It wouldn't be the first time that was used as an excuse for same sex lovers to live under the same roof, you don't even have to share the same last name! But, then again, the world had changed a bit. Perhaps he was over thinking.

"Do you want anything to drink?" Atem asked as he made a gesture for him to follow. The hallway connected the living room to the kitchen, and there was a closed door he imagined was a bathroom. That house had been deserted since he could remember. He hadn't had time to explore as a child, so its insides were all new.

"Water's fine"

"You don't drink?" Atem asked, doing a double take "Oh, right, the..." He pointed at his own neck. Kaiba knew what he meant, even now when he wasn't using the robes he was still The Priest, wasn't he?

"It's not that. I prefer not to"

There were a couple nods, and then a glass of water was shoved in his hand. They were standing in the kitchen, staring at each other, at a loss. Did he never had any visitors? Perhaps they didn't, perhaps they carried out a life of secrecy.

He drank a bit, forcing his mind to step away from those thoughts. They were just cousins, nothing to worry about.

"The house looks nice" He tried, not quite adept at pleasantries.

"Marik told me what happened"

Ah. Of course it would come up. Kaiba nodded, clenching his teeth. His next words should be picked with extreme caution, there was no room for mistakes. A wrong choice could change the meaning of his words. He wanted Atem to understand he didn't like what happened, he didn't condone it, he didn't want to look away. There weren't many words that could excuse his behavior, but he wanted to try.

"Yes" He swallowed, staring at the water on the glass, transparent, tasteless. He felt that way, sometimes. "It was-..."

"Unfortunate?" When he looked up, Atem had his arms crossed over his chest. The black shirt tightening around his arms. Did he do heavy work? "Marik doesn't want to dine with you"

Who could blame him?

"It could have escalated" what was he waiting? A 'thank you'?

"Do you think I don't know that?" He gave an exasperated sigh, sitting on the kitchen table. Kaiba waited for a couple moments before pulling one of the chairs and sitting next to him. Kaiba rarely misjudged people, but maybe he had, this once.

"I can leave, this is his home"

"No, you are a guest" He stared at him, drumming two fingers against the table "Marik... I can't force him to change, it's not right"

Right or wrong. That line had been blurred so long ago...

"It would be better to be cautious"

Atem pressed his lips so tightly together they formed a straight line. It would have been comical, really, in another setting.

"Can't your people get used to it?" He meant the earrings, or something else.

"I wouldn't hope too much"

Atem gave a dry laugh "Rich coming from a priest"

He was amusing, and slightly infuriating. Seto didn't smile.

The silence stretched between them, and Kaiba never wavered when those dark eyes -purple? No, impossible- stared back at him. It wasn't uncomfortable, Kaiba didn't know what uncomfortable was anymore. He experienced minor inconveniences, and got irritated, yes. But uncomfortable? He remembered kneeling on corn until his knees bled and then some more, when he misbehaved. That had been uncomfortable, one of his lighter punishments.

"They seem to be getting along" There was laughter coming from the living room. Was Atem annoyed? Was that a covert way of saying 'we aren't, so please leave'.

"Mokuba is very good at small talk" I am not.

"How old is he?"

"Fifteen" Pride filled his chest, he had managed to get him to his fifteen birthday with most -if not all- of his innocence intact. "I'm twenty"

"That's quite an age difference"

"Yes, but I take care of him." I'm the only one that's ever taken care of him, he wanted to add.

Atem tapped his fingers on the table again, thoughtful. They were assessing each other, Kaiba had no doubt. What would he think of him when the night was over? Would he fall into the category of a simple neighbor, or would he be deemed intriguing? Worth knowing?

Kaiba tried not to feel a rush of excitement at the novelty, the unspoken challenge. It had been so long since he felt alive. Four years, to be exact. He looked away, somehow it felt wrong to think about it while staring at this man.

"I didn't know if you ate meat, so I settled on pasta" He pointed at the oven, relaxing on the chair by spreading his legs and draping an arm over the backrest. Kaiba swallowed. "Macaroni bechamel, it's kind of like mac and cheese. Anyways, do you have any other siblings?"

He shook his head "No, it's only Mokuba and me"

Atem gave a small 'ah' and Seto felt quite irritated. Was this an interrogation? He wasn't going to play his game.

"I have a half brother" He said, getting up and walking to get four white plates. The kitchen was immaculate, and well organized. It was pleasant to stare at. "He lives in Japan with our father and his mother, it's a long story. I'm staying with Marik for now, my other cousin, Marik's sister, is coming over once she's done with work" He pulled a hot tray from the oven, the smells were delicious and Kaiba felt the hole he had for a stomach. He ate well enough, although he mostly did it for Mokuba. If his brother wasn't around or didn't need to be fed then he... Usually forgot.

"Is she older?"

"Yes, and she can be quite terrifying" He smirked, staring at him "You might like her. Sorry, can you, uh, date?"

Dangerous territory.

"I can" He got up and walked towards him, picking up the plates, just to get something to do. Atem seemed satisfied enough with his actions and pointed at the table and a table cloth.

Setting up the table was easier than talking.

Once everything was set, a furry shadow jumped out of seemingly nowhere to the top of the table. Kaiba frowned at the thing.

"You have a..." A pest, he thought, but didn't say as he realized it may not be the most tactful approach. His instinct proved right, Atem picked up the animal kissing behind its ears and carefully dropping it on the floor.

"I'll get your dinner, don't worry"

Ah. So they had pets.

Maybe his younger self would have liked a pet, but that Seto was dead and buried. This Seto thought of the time and effort it'd take to care for a thing that only breaks things and pees over furniture.

He must have had a disapproving look in his eyes because Atem raised an eyebrow at him.

"He found its way to me, well, us. I take it as a sign of good fortune"

Strange.

He tried not to laugh, fortune, luck, destiny. It was all bullshit. There's only wining, and death. Nothing less, nothing more.

"Marik, Mokuba" He called, and Kaiba saw how he was trying not to look irritated. Had he had an argument with Marik before they arrived? Probably.

There was movement and voices coming from the hall, suddenly he wondered if it wasn't better if Marik wasn't there dining with them. His brother hadn't seen the scene, and even though he clearly knew the details, he didn't want to look bad in front of him.

He ruffled his brother's hair as he sat on the table, and sat next to him. There was no point in not looking up at Marik, so he did. The first thing that struck him was the dramatic eyeliner. There was something on the way he stared back at him, defiance. To Marik, he was the enemy. And perhaps he was.

"Good evening"

"Hm" He sat in front of Mokuba and next to Atem. Without a pause, everyone started passing around the tray of food. It seemed like a lasagna, but the layers were... Pasta? Kaiba found he was incredibly hungry and would eat anything that night.

For a few moments, the only sounds coming from the kitchen were forks against dishes and some quiet "please" and "thank you"s.

The eyeliner didn't look bad on him, it somehow worked with his face and brown skin. Atem seemed like someone who could pull that off as well. His eyelashes were thick, highlighting his eyes. Kaiba tried not to imagine him with eyeliner on.

"So" Mokuba said, staring at them with indecisiveness "you're from Egypt, right?"

Egypt. Why hadn't he asked? It somehow made sense. He didn't know if that was a racist thought to have, but something about Marik's gold earrings and black eyeliner made sense.

"Yes" Marik nodded, separating the noodles with his fork instead of eating them.

"That's so cool, have you seen the pyramids?"

Atem chuckled, it was almost as deep as his voice. "We've been inside a few. Ishizu, Marik's sister is a renowned Egyptologist. We learned from her"

"You both work with her?"

"It's hard work" Marik spoke, not without some irritation in his voice "We offer different points of view and interpretation, she usually scolds us"

"I see"

Marik opened his mouth to say something else, but he was clearly kicked under the table. He clenched his teeth, and then shoved a bunch of noodles into his mouth.

There were many reasons why someone, anyone, would be tense or nervous during a diner like that. He wasn't. There was no one in the world that could make him feel the way Gozaburo had made him feel during so many meals. It was a good thing. Heh, at least he had been good for something.

Kaiba drank some more water, swallowing down a mix of feelings he was too numb to unpack.

"Why England? There's not much, uh, stuff here. Related to your work, I mean"

They both shared a look. Curious. So they weren't here for work, were they? Kaiba made a mental note to keep that information somewhere.

"We wanted a change of scenery" Atem spoke this time, calm, as if he weren't nervous either. Good. When their gazes met, Kaiba knew he was well aware he had noticed their little exchange. It gave him some twisted satisfaction, to have the upper hand for a moment. So he smirked at him."I'm working on some papers, Marik's helping Ishizu with the planning of an exposition here, so..."

"Sounds like a difficult job to have"

"It is" And then Atem was smiling, like the sun. "Sometimes you spend months trying to understand a simple piece of parchment and when you think you got it right you find something that makes you go all the way back. But when you finally get it... Ah, it's fantastic"

Mokuba twisted his fork, slowly. Oh, no. That look. He knew that look.

"My brother could help you with it sometime, maybe..."

What

Kaiba felt as if someone had kicked his chest. There was stunned silence, until Marik started laughing.

"Oh, Mokuba, no offense to you but... Him? Yeah, if we need help with the Bible or something I'll call him"

"My brother is smart, like, way too smart. Brilliant!"

Atem was giving his brother a thoughtful look. Most people would give Mokuba one of two looks, the first one being the 'oh poor child with no parents', and the other one was the classic 'children, they are so funny!'. Atem gave him neither of those, instead he stared at the boy as if he was saying something interesting. Truth be told, Mokuba was as smart as he was -if not more- and was more interesting than most adults in this town. Still, he was baffled he had just... Said that. About him, to them.

"Mokuba" He started, barely turning to him "This is not my area of expertise"

"Yeah, well..."

It wasn't the first time he had tried to convince him to 'change' professions. If only it were so easy. If only.

Marik had a wicked expression now, arms crossed over his chest as he assessed him. "Well, well, well. I mean, an outsiders' perspective can't hurt. How about that private project you got?" He said to Atem, who tensed at that.

"Marik-... You are not being serious"

"I'm dead serious" Mokuba was smiling wider now. "Just show him the things, maybe he is a prodigy"

I am, Kaiba thought. No, he didn't think it, he screamed it inside his head. It had been so long since he used his brain for something truly challenging... He hated how excited the whole talk had made him. True, he didn't know much about Egypt and he wasn't interested whatsoever in ancient times but... Just being able to show off to someone, to work until his brain hurt... He needed it.

There were no challenges in his life, no emotion, no thrill.

Atem sighed "Fine, I'll show you after diner. You don't have to agree to anything until then. Marik and your brother are crazy"

"Tell me about it" He muttered, and felt Mokuba elbow him on the side.

"Hey!"

Kaiba smiled fondly at him, before ruffling his hair again.

Mokuba had lots of good qualities, and the ability to change the mood in a room from tense to relaxed -and almost enjoyable- was one of them.

**

Kaiba crossed his arms, leaning against a counter as he watched the other man doing the dishes. He had offered to help, but hadn't insisted when they told him not to worry about it. Mokuba was eating dessert with Marik in the living room. He had to admit that, even if they didn't like each other, Marik had been incredible with his brother. Seto appreciated that.

"What's the project?"

Atem raised an eyebrow, drying his hands and staring back at him.

"A paper I've been working on. I've been analyzing a tomb... It's..." he seemed to search for the right words. "There's one interpretation of the findings. I disagree with it, so..."

"Hm, I don't see how I can help"

"You really don't have to. Most of it it's difficult to understand"

"Mokuba wasn't lying" Kaiba noticed the intrigued look on the man's face "When he said I'm smart, he wasn't exaggerating. I am."

There was a smile. Condescending? Oh, he'd show him.

"It's not about being smart, this takes years of study but... let me show you the things" He dried his hands, walking out of the kitchen, he followed down the hallway. Mokuba and Marik were still talking, so they would have some time alone.

It shouldn't have excited him as much as it did. He was shown into an organized office, with two desks. He wanted to know which one was Atem's, it was hard to tell. Kaiba moved closer, taking a peek at one of them, and finding a picture of Marik with a white haired boy. So this desk was Marik's, and that seemed to be his boyfriend.

"I'll warn you this is Marik's way of messing with you for whatever role you had in what happened and with me for inviting you over"

Kaiba turned to him "Why?"

Atem sighed and pointed at a couple sofa chairs for them to sit on, a coffee table filled with papers in the middle. This seemed like a lovely office, and he could imagine them reading and researching and proposing new theories. This was a room for people with a purpose.

"This is what I have on the tomb of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, do you know who they were?"

Kaiba shook his head, he was also certain he would never pronounce that correctly.

"They were overseers, royal servants during the fifth dynasty. Alright? This are the pictures of their joint tomb" He placed a couple enlarged images on the table, they were as neat as they could be. Kaiba was sure the images could have been better, he could make them better if only... He swallowed, taking them and trying to see whatever it was he was trying to show him. "There are lots of things to go over but there's one thing I'm focusing on"

He showed him then another picture of drawings on a stone wall. Two men, their profiles of course, facing each others, noses touching. There were other images around it but he couldn't understand them.

"That image, the way they are portrayed, it's supposed to symbolize a kiss"

Ah. Yes, he could see why Marik was so smug about letting him help.

"They were lovers, then"

Atem shrugged, crossing his legs in a nonchalant manner. It shouldn't have been as attractive and arrogant as it was "There are other theories, most of them about them being close brothers, conjoined even. I won't presume to know the truth about some men that lived many, many years ago, but I don't like how certain... points of view are silenced"

"You want to propose, with enough evidence to be compelling, that this men were lovers"

"Yes. Thinking about all of this it's not like in the present day, Seto. It's not the same. We see everything through our own lenses... I want to propose that maybe we shouldn't. Maybe they didn't even have a word for homosexuality, maybe it was just... love. Attraction"

This was dangerous territory again, and Kaiba shrugged trying to look disinterested "I'm afraid I don't know much on the topic, but if you let me I'll help you" He placed the pictures back on the table "You'd be surprised as to how much free time I have"

Atem chuckled, staring at him "This town seems like a place where time abounds" He looked around the room "It's early, do you want to...?" He got up, and grabbed a couple cardboard boxes "You might think it's childish, but I really like games"

Games.

Kaiba tried not to feel his chest hurt. He simply nodded, not even caring as to what those games where.

It had been so long.

"Uhm, scrabble?" Atem smiled showing him a box, holding a couple more on his other hand. He took the seat opposite him again, moving the papers away from the coffee table.

"How many languages do you speak?"

The man stared up at him with something in his eyes. So he enjoyed a challenge as much as he did. Good.

"English, Japanese and Egyptian Arabic. You?"

Kaiba helped him set up the board calmly "Japanese, English, French and some Spanish"

Atem smirked at him, touching the little square letters "Impressive"

"I'm a fast learner"

They proceeded to play three games of scrabble -with as many languages as they knew-, a whole two chess games, a round of Battleship and Atem had pulled out a deck of cards to try and settle the score. So far Kaiba had won the two chess sets, while Atem had won absolutely everything else. Not by a wide margin, but close enough.

There was banter, and Kaiba didn't remember being so arrogant and utterly provocative towards anyone in a long time. It made his heart beat faster.

"Poker?" Atem shrugged, shuffling the cards with a lot of care. Kaiba realized the board game boxes were in a perfect state, but the games themselves had been used several times. The most logical conclusion was he cared for them, he valued them.

"Two out of-?" He couldn't finish his sentence, the door opening and Mokuba looking around the room. Kaiba could only imagine what he thought, they were sitting on the floor, and the boxes were half open around them, cards in the middle of their legs.

"Seto, we should go. It's late"

Was it late? He had forgotten to check the time. A glance to the clock on the wall told him it was quite late, almost midnight.

"It's past your bedtime" He stared at his brother and Mokuba rolled his eyes, a little bit embarrassed.

"I think it's past yours. Bye, Atem!"

Mokuba left the door wide open, and somehow the magic of the moment was lost.

"I really should go" He got up, letting the cards on the floor again "Thank you for the... invitation"

Atem walked him to the front door, his brother had clearly crossed over to their house already and Marik was nowhere to be seen. Sleeping, perhaps. Seto felt a strange feeling, as if he wanted to say he was sorry. But for what?

"See you later?" Atem stared at him.

Kaiba couldn't answer with words, so he simply nodded before turning away and walking down the little steps.

It was when he opened the door to his house he realized he had forgotten his coat, but there was no point in going over again, and he wasn't sure he had the strength to do so.

Chapter Text

Marik hurried downstairs the moment he heard the door close, coming face to face with Atem. The dinner had been fine, or better than he thought it would be, but that man was not someone they wanted to get to know. Did Atem not realize that?

"You are unbelievable."

Atem didn't seem to care about what he was saying, walking away from him towards the kitchen. He should've offered to help clean up, but he hadn't invited anyone home so it wasn't his responsibility. If Atem wanted to make friends, then he would have to deal with the mess.

"Atem! I'm talking to you?"

Their relationship wasn't the best, even if they were cousins. Marik had always blamed Atem for the downfall of his family, it was a weird thing to hold a grudge on and it wasn't true at all. It had been better to blame someone else than to blame himself. But all of that was in the past, and they had moved on. Without Atem, he wasn't sure if he would be as sane as he is.

"What do you want, Marik?" His voice was a bit monotone, as he folded the tablecloth.

"Why are you acting like this? Do you want it to happen again?"

Atem tensed, looking up at him with a frown. He shouldn't have brought it up, but he couldn't just stand and watch as he walked straight into the wolves' mouth, again.

"Seto's okay, Marik. There's no need to worry."

Alright, alright, alright. He could deal with this, there had to be a way or a couple to make him see the light. Figuratively.

"You do realize he's a priest, right? And he did nothing when those guys were about to pick a fight with me?"

Atem crossed his arms across his chest, unmoving. He had a way about his body and mannerisms, that they used to jokingly call him 'Pharaoh'. Atem rolled his eyes at them every time, going on a long rant about how there was nothing wrong about loving his inheritance or his homeland. The real reason they called him that was his arrogance, him not realizing it only proved the point further.

This change -it was more a necessity than a choice, really- was being too much for Atem if he truly thought befriending a small town's Priest was a good idea. Marik couldn't care less about pyramids or ancient gods, but Atem was different. He even had shrines, for fucks' sake!

"As far as I know, he did do something."

"Sorry, what?"

"You didn't end up in the police station, and he deflected the situation. That's more than what other people would do."

"Oh so that makes it enough?"

Atem shook his head 'no' and uncrossed his arms "No, it's not but it's something and tonight he didn't seem like a bigoted asshole."

"Yeah, because he was in our home. Did you see how he looked at me? You are not even wearing your eyeliner!"

While he loved makeup because it was fun and the black lines made his eyes pop, Atem loved it for different reasons. It was a way to stay connected to their family's ancestry, to everything he held dear. To see him not wear it, not even in their home, was a bad sign.

"We need to be smart about this, Marik," he walked away from him, placing the tablecloth in a drawer "You got shit for wearing the earrings, do you think makeup is going to help? Just give it... time"

Marik sighed, knowing he was being a bit hypocritical.

He was angry.

He needed to call Ryou. It would be morning in Japan already, so he might catch him waking up. The thought of hearing that voice almost made him smile.

"I'm not going to change who I am. You're scared."

Atem stared at him as if he could murder him right then and there. He didn't like to be called out on his bullshit, but someone had to do it. Ever since the incident, he had changed.

"Good night, Marik."

He rolled his eyes, aware that his cousin liked to be the one who had the last word. It could be incredibly annoying, if you weren't used to it. He watched as Atem walked away from the kitchen, not even bothering to turn off the lights.

Fine. He was going to call his boyfriend anyway, so it was better if Atem wasn't around.

Marik found the telephone on the living room and dialed Ryou's number. It was expensive, such a long distance call, but hearing his voice kept him sane.

"Hey" He sounded sleepy, and far away as if speaking through a radio with interference, but it had to be enough. For now. "You're still awake?"

It was never enough.

"It's only midnight," Marik closed his eyes "and Atem invited people over."

"Atem? He invited people over? Are we talking about the same guy?"

Marik snorted "I guess he finally decided to be sociable. But it's just so... agh"

"You love him, don't be stupid."

His boyfriend was right, but he didn't have to be so cheesy about it. Marik smiled, wanting to run his fingers through his white hairs "I miss you."

"I miss you too... but I'll be there soon. My papers are almost done"

"How soon?"

"Soon" Marik could hear the smile on his face even from kilometers away.

*

 By the time the door opened, Atem started doubting himself. It had only been hours since they saw each other and they lived next door, there was no real reason to bring his coat back so early. Marik could have dropped it off later in the day, or Seto himself could've gone by to pick it up when he realized he had left it behind.

The sun was barely up in the sky, the golden glow lighting up the stone pebbles like little fires. There was some beauty in this new, foreign place, Atem would have to learn how to find it.

"Hello," the man's voice brought him back and he tried to smile. He failed. It had been impossible to get any sleep last night, Marik's words running through his head over and over. He wasn't afraid, he wasn't a coward... The small changes he had done to his appearance were only temporary, while they got used to their new home -and the people got used to them-, it had nothing to do with what had happened back home. Nothing. "is something wrong?"

Even though it was incredibly early, Seto managed to look impeccable. Every strand of hair was in its place, his clothes without a single wrinkle on them. All black, just like the night before. Were all priests the same or was this a personal choice of his? Atem liked black clothes, and he had to admit it looked way too good on the other man. Although there was not an inch of skin visible other than his hands, face, and a bit of his neck. Definitely not enough skin.

"Oh, no. You forgot this," Atem showed the coat hanging from one of his arms, clearly too big for someone his height "I wanted to bring it back"

"Thank you," His tone was courteous, but he couldn't read anything else from it "please, come inside."

There were barely no doubts in Atem's mind: Seto was only being polite and he didn't want anyone inside his home but he couldn't say no to the offer. With a nod, he walked into the house, finding a dimly lit living room in almost complete silence. The only reason Atem had gone by so early, was seeing a light in one of the rooms that told him someone was awake. He had hoped -even though he would deny it- it was Seto.

"The kitchen, here," Seto spoke as he walked towards the next room, the only one that seemed to have all the lights on "Mokuba's asleep"

"I understand," Atem didn't mind if they were in the living room, or the kitchen or outside, he just needed someone he felt some sort of connection to. Even if the man irritated him at times, even if they were too different to ever be friends. "sorry I came by this early"

He wanted to offer an excuse, something along the lines of I'm always up this early or I wanted to start working early but it felt too dishonest. There must have been something on his face, because Seto nodded without asking any questions, and went back towards the coffee machine on the counter. He poured two cups, without asking if he wanted one -Atem didn't mind, he kind of needed the caffeine-.

"Thanks," He placed his hands around the cup, the warmth almost burning "do you have work today?" How did that work? Atem had no clue, but it seemed Seto wasn't in a hurry.

"Technically, yes," His lips touched the rim of the mug, and Atem's eyes followed "I'm always working, but I don't have a fixed schedule, no. There's the service at five, of course"

"Every single day?"

Seto nodded, his lips pursing very slightly, it was almost imperceptible but Atem knew how to read people.

Atem had gone there without a clear idea of what to expect, yet for some reason he was surprised at the state of the house. It was immaculate -which wasn't surprising- but it was cozy and it felt more like a home than his own house. Since the moment they met, Seto had struck him as someone that put up walls, cold, distant, but he couldn't tell that from where he stood.

The kitchen walls were painted with a light yellow, every single counter well kept and clean, lightly faded paintings made by a child -a younger Mokuba, surely- hanging on the fridge. A decent amount of house plants gave the room a dash of color. All of these little things, little details... part of Seto's personality. It only made him more curious about him, the desire to know him growing in intensity.

Atem knew how he could be with people, a bit too intense, too involved. He had been told over and over again to guard his feelings a bit better, the good and the bad ones. Atem trusted his instinct way too much to just stay away.

"Must be exhausting"

The priest shrugged, his blue eyes focused on him. They were beautiful, and dangerous. Atem somehow knew they were more alike than they would have liked.

"Are you working today?"

"I should," Atem shrugged, not quite sure if he had the strength to sit through piles of articles and pictures "but I don't have a deadline so..."

"Ah" Seto gave him a look that he could only describe as judgmental. Maybe this was a mistake, they had nothing in common and exposing himself to someone that could make his life a living hell in this new town wasn't smart. Atem was supposed to be a smart man, then why was he throwing caution to the wind - again?

With his hands cupped around the coffee cup, he looked down at the dark liquid. It wasn't sweet, but somehow it didn't bother him. Atem liked his coffee with a shot or two of milk, and some sugar, but this was fine. It was the same feeling the community had given him since he arrived. A bitter reminder of how reality was.

He had never felt this way growing up or being a teenager, even if he picked fights and stood up for what he believed in. No one had managed to make him doubt himself. But that was then, and this was now and there were events he wished he could erase from his memory.

"I should go, thank you for the coffee" Atem left the cup on the counter and smiled at the man, just a polite gesture. "And you don't have to help me with my research, Marik was only being difficult with you. I'm sure it goes against-"

"I'll help" The man shrugged, taking a couple sips from his coffee right after, almost as if he didn't want to say more on the subject. Fine, then. "I have the time"

Another polite nod, before slightly turning to go back the way he came. Atem hadn't taken two steps when he heard his voice. "There's a quiet spot on the way up the mountain, if you... like the quiet while you work"

Was it an invitation? Should he turn it into an invitation?

"Would you show me where it is? New to town and all" He smiled, flirting? Was he flirting? Somehow his smile faltered, editing himself was something new, something he didn't do before. Before. Before. Before.

Seto stared at him, quiet. Was he going to answer at all? The porcelain mug he held on his hand touched the counter and Atem knew what the answer would be. Suddenly, his heartbeat accelerated, hitting his ribs in a way it hadn't happened in a while. Or ever.

"I'll give you the tour" His tone was flat, but there was something behind it. Almost as if he was containing himself as well. Could it be there was interest...? No. No. Atem had promised -to himself and Ishizu- he wouldn't get involved with anyone yet. Not until he had everything sorted and some time had passed. Besides, wasn't he telling Marik to lay low for a bit while they made some friends?

Flirting with him -with anyone- wasn't laying low. He would have to be careful. Especially around straight men.

"Let's go, I don't want to take much of your time"  He could fake disinterest, and if that's what he had to do to survive then he would.

Or that's what he told himself. What he had been telling himself since... since it happened. Since his world went upside down.

For a moment he worried it might happen again, suddenly just like before, a turn so drastic he wouldn't be able to come back from it.

Yet, somehow, he felt Seto knew exactly what that was like. Or maybe he was as stupid as Marik said and he was drawn to danger, to his own self destruction.

As they walked out of the house and the cold breeze hit his face, Atem didn't care.