The Child Who Suffers

by WSJ

WSJ: Well, I heard this song for the first time today, and I sat rooted to the spot until it was over. It was screaming for me to write something for it, and- *pauses to listen to ranting readers from two fics over* Yes, I know I should be working on SoS, but gimme a break here, okay?!

^-^; I figured I'd post up one more story before New Years, and wow, what a whopper! Hope ya'll like it!

Disclaimer: *Malik climbs up on a soapbox and points the Rod at the readers* She does own YGO... She does own YGO... *ducks as people begin to throw things* Okay, okay, maybe not! And the song is Shania Twain's!

Summery/warnings/misc. info: This is AU. Way AU. Basicly, Yugi, Ryou, and Malik are sent to foster care, all because of the same reason; child abuse. They end up in the home of three rich brothers and... You'll see. Non-yaoi, as usual.

This is for Brood Mayran's "cry your eyes out" fic challenge. And since she dropped me a hint that angst doesn't make her cry, but she does shed tears of joy, then I've written it as such. ^_^ It starts out sad, but ends fluffily-ever-after, I promise you.

Oh yes, slight name changes.
Malik Ishtar - Malik Kenji
Yami no Malik - Ishtar Tamiya
Ryou Bakura - Ryou Mizuno
Yami no Bakura - Bakura Tamiya
Yugi Moto - Yugi Moto
Yami no Yugi - Yami Tamiya


Nine-year-old Yugi Moto doodled idly on his paper, completly bored out of his mind. It was only second period, for crying out loud!! He tried to smother a yawn as the teacher droned on. He hadn't gotten much sleep last night, because his father had unexpectedly come home and beat the stuffing out of him for some imagined fault. His father hadn't even bothered to tell Yugi what he'd "done" wrong.

Yugi supposed he couldn't blame him. After all, Yugi was nothing like the tall, strong son he'd wanted. And Yugi's mom and left him before he'd had any chance to get more kids.

Besides, Yugi had easily been able to smell the scent of alcohal on his father's breath, so it wasn't really his fault.

Yeah, right.

Yugi's eyes were just beginning to slide closed when the door to the classroom flew open, banging into the wall behind it and leaving a slight dent where the doorknob had hit. The eyes of Yugi, as well as every other person in the room, were drawn to it, where a white-haired boy, small for his age, but not as small as Yugi, stood panting. His eyes were wild, and Yugi thought he looked scared.

"What's wrong dear?" the sensei [teacher] asked, going over to kneel next to the boy. He took a deep breath and managed to control his shaking body as he handed the teacher a note. The boy seemed nervous, and kept looking over his shoulder, as if he expected someone to run up and drag him away. His chocolate eyes were wide, and he kept fidgiting with his uniform, pulling the sleeves down until they almost covered his hands.

The teacher read the note, and then smiled at the class. "Kids, this is the new student I've been telling you about. Could you please tell us your name and age, hon?"

The white-haired boy looked shyly down at his feet and muttered something that not even the kids sitting closest to him could hear.

"A little louder please," the sensei encouraged.

"'M Ryou Mizuno, an' 'm eight years old," the boy whispered, still looking down at his feet. Even Yugi, who sat in the third row, had to strain to hear it.

"Well Ryou Mizuno," the teacher said louder, to make sure everyone caught the new boy's name, "Where would you like to sit? Anywhere there's an empty seat will be fine."

Ryou nodded, his face still down-cast, and wandered over to a seat in the back corner of the room, next to the window. Mentally, Yugi, along with almost every other kid in the class, winced. That was usually the seat that the class bully, Malik Kenji, took. He was down at the principle's office right now, a result of throwing spit-wads at the teacher, but when he came back there'd be trouble.

Yugi, even in his limited nine-year-old comprehension, could never figure out why Malik kept coming back to school. He was always causing trouble. He almost never went out to recess, 'cause he was always being kept inside for something. He had a detention almost every day.

Yugi was snapped out of his trance when the door was again banged open, this time by the said bully. Malik stalked into the room, a supirior scowl on his face and a definate swagger to his step. The ten-year-old cast his eyes around the room, and they widened slightly when he saw Ryou sitting in his seat.

When the teacher's back was turned, Malik stomped over to the younger boy and glared at him. "That's my seat, runt! Get out!"

To the surprise of everyone near, Ryou's eyes became the size of saucers and threatened to overflow with tears. Most people were scared of Malik, but not even Haga, the nerdiest, dorkiest guy in the class would actually cry if confronted by him.

Malik's eyes widened somewhat as well, and he cast a furtive look over his shoulder at the teacher. "Look, don't cry, runt! You'll get me another detention, and then dad'll-" the Egyptian screeched to a halt and took a deep breath. "Fine, keep the sharding seat. But I'll see you after school!"

Ryou's eyes got bigger, if that was possible, but he nodded meekly, not knowing what else to do. Yugi cringed slightly in sympathy, and, using his left hand, quickly scralled out a note to the quiet boy in his chibi, third-grade handwriting.

'Ryou, Don't be affrade of Malik. He's just a bigg sho off. I'll be ther two, and I won't let him hert yoo. Yoor frend, Yugi Moto.' (Yes, the spelling errors are there on purpose. ^~)

When the white-haired boy read the note, he looked up at Yugi and gave him a small smile. Yugi smiled brightly back, and then turned back around to face the front before the sensei caught him.

That day at three o'clock Yugi and Ryou met up outside of the school building. They'd gotten a chance to talk during lunch, recess, and free period, and had almost instantly bonded. Now they were ready to face Malik, even if they did it with trembling lips and knocking knees.

Malik was leaning unconcerned under the shade of a tree, and quite a ring of students had gathered around him. News of a fight traveled fast.

"Do ya' think the new guy's gonna get into a fight on 'is first day?" one kid asked his best friend.

"Dunno," the other kid replyed, shrugging his shoulders. "I hope so,"

"Bet on it?"

"Fine! If I win, you have to bark like a dog all during lunch tomorrow!"

"And if I win, you have to shave off that rediculous spike of hair of yours!"


Malik just rolled his eyes. Conversations like that were going on all around him. An almost unearthly hush fell over the assembled as Ryou and Yugi came toward them. Ryou was half-hiding behind Yugi, obviously scared of the older blond.

As they came closer Malik was forced to raise an eyebrow. He hadn't really ever noticed in class, but Yugi barely came up to his collarbone, even with his spiked hair helping. And Ryou wasn't much bigger, coming to (maybe) Malik's chin. The Egyptian scowled. There wasn't any honor in beating up wimps and runts. Maybe he'd let the little white-haired brat off easy.

Ryou came slowly forward, his head bowed and clearly trembling. "G-gomen nasai..."

"I know," Malik said, pushing off the tree and coming to stand beside the younger boy, his hands on his hips. "You've only said it about six times today. Well, maybe if you scream I'll let you live,"

Malik grabbed Ryou's right wrist to prevent escape, and a sneer appeared on his face as he raised his left hand to slap the white-haired kid. To his surprise, Ryou was writhing as if already in pain, although Malik hadn't even touched him yet. "What's the matter with you, runt?"

Tears had appeared in the corners of Ryou's eyes as the eight-year-old tried to get away from Malik, whimpering. "Onegai, not again," Malik heard him whisper hoarsly.

"What're you talking abou-" Malik looked down at the wrist he held, and his eyes widened. Ryou's sleeve had fallen away, and the older boy could easily see scars and scratches that criss-crossed the white-haired boy's arm. Several cuts also presided there, and they looked deep... And fresh.

His mouth set in a firm line, Malik grabbed Ryou by the back of the collar and lifted him clean off of the ground, dragging him toward the gym, which would be abandonned but unlocked at this time of day. Ryou lost grip on whatever courage he had gained from Yugi's encouragment and friendship, and burst into tears.

Malik threw open the doors to the gym and pulled Ryou inside, tugging him toward the boys' locker room, which should also be empty. "Pipe down, runt!" he hissed at Ryou, lest his cries bring the janitor running. "I ain't gonna hurt you!"

Ryou sniffled and peered up at Malik through a film of white bangs. "Y-you're not?"

"No," Malik said, forced to look away from those eyes. "It looks like you've already been hurt far too much,"

Ryou's face grew fearful at this, and he again tried to get away from Malik. "You can't tell!" Ryou said urgently. "You can't! Mother said-"

"Sit down," Malik ordered calmly, pointing with his free hand to one of the benches that lined the locker room.


"SIT DOWN!" Malik roared, catching Ryou off guard. The white-haired boy trembled like a leaf, hurrying to grab a seat. Malik sighed, and then tugged gently on Ryou's sleeve. "Take your shirt off,"

Ryou's eyes grew fearful again and he whimpered. "Onegai, no,"

"Do it," Malik ordered sternly, not quite yelling at the eight-year-old. Ryou whimpered again, but complied, shucking his uniform jacket, and then the white shirt he wore underneith. Malik sucked in his breath as he caught sight of the boy's bare skin.

Ryou was deathly pale all over. Purple and blue veins could be seen in many places, and he was so thin that if Malik had wanted to, he'd have been able to count Ryou's ribs. What was worst of all were the scars, criss-crossing Ryou's arms, back and chest. Some of them looked as if they hadn't healed properly, some were still festering or oozing blood.

"There," Ryou spat, close to tears again. "Now you see! And you won't do anything, either! Please Malik, you can't tell! Mother said she'd only hurt me worse if I told!"

Malik's eyes widened. "It's your mother-" he was forced to sit down heavily on the bench beside Ryou. "What about your father? Doesn't he try to stop her?"

Ryou looked away. "My father's dead,"

Malik took a deep breath, and then let it out in a long, slow whoosh. His proud shoulders dropped in defeat, as did his head. "Yeah, I thought he may be..."

At that moment, the door burst open and Yugi ran in, his eyes darting around as he searched for his new friend. "Malik! You'd better not've-" he stopped dead, catching sight of Ryou, who turned his face away. "Oh kami-sama... What did he do to you?"

Malik surged to his feet, towering over the younger boy with fire in his eyes. "I didn't do anything, okay Moto?! I didn't!" With a feirce gaze that effectivly pinned both boys to their spots, Malik then pulled off his jacket and struggled to pull his shirt over his head.

As he did, Yugi noticed for the first time that Malik couldn't quite rotate his left shoulder all the way. It was almost like he could raise it a bit, but then it would get stuck on something.

Ryou and Yugi watched in shared horror as Malik finally managed to get his shirt over his head, reveiling the scars that ran up and down his torso and back, standing out starkingly clear against the tanned skin. They looked both much deeper and much longer then the ones Ryou sported. There were more of them too. With a cry of half-desperation and half-rage Malik undid the heavy gold bracelets he wore around his wrists, reveiling vivid white slash marks across his wrists.

(If you're wondering why there are no hiroglyphics on his back then you're forgetting sooner then I thought you would. This is AU. No Items, no need for the legend.)

"There, you see?!" Malik half-yelled at them, his shoulders shaking with surpressed tears. "I could never do anything like that to Ryou! Not after what my dad's done to me!"

Ryou and Yugi both had tears running down their faces, and Malik was barely able to hold in his. With a muffled sob, Ryou burried his face into his hands. Malik sat down heavily next to him and wrapped his right arm around Ryou's shoulders, careful of the seemingly fresh wounds that ran there.

Yugi was debating whether or not to show them his own scars. His dad had made the threat that if he ever dared to seek help... He shook his head feircly and tried to distract it. "Malik, what happened to your other shoulder?"

Not only was he not able to move it very well, but now that he had his shirt off Yugi could see that it was slightly disfigured, and held the highest consentration of scars. "Stairs," Malik mumbled. "He pushed me down 'em. My leg too. I have a limp, but usually I can hide it,"

Yugi's jaw dropped, and slowly he walked over to stand behind the two other boys, tracing a finger musingly along the scars on Malik's back. The Egyptian shuddered slightly at the contact, not used to actually being handled gently.

Something was bugging Ryou, but he couldn't quite... "Yugi!" he said suddenly, bursting out of Malik's half-hug. "You're right-handed, aren't you?"

Yugi's face took on a mild look of panic and he backed up a step. "N-no, I'm left-handed. What are you talking about Ryou-chan?"

Ryou stopped, blinking at the title that he had never heard applied to himself before, he then slowly smiled, and continued what he'd been saying. "You were writing with your left hand today in class, but all the pictures on the bulliten board and stuff have you writing with your right hand."

Yugi's face grew paler. Not even the teacher had noticed that he'd kept his right hand from view as often as possible that day! Malik stood up from the bench, moving toward the smaller boy. "Yugi, show me your right hand," Yugi started to protest, and Malik's eyes went cold. "Now, Yugi," With a gulp Yugi brought his right hand out from where it was hidden behind his back and placed it in Malik's much bigger one.

Yugi's hand was wrapped inadiquatly in what looked like scotch tape and kleenexes. His face taking on a breif look of sorrow, Malik undid the make-shift bandages as best he could without causing Yugi more pain. Ryou, who was watching over Malik's shoulder, couldn't surpress the small gasp of horror that escaped him.

Yugi's hand had been twisted, it looked like, and Malik could tell a couple of the bones had been broken. It was painful even to look at, and it was beyond Malik how Yugi had been able to stand it all day, and never once dropped his cheerful smile.

Malik raised his lavendar eyes to Yugi's face, and Yugi was a bit surprised to see tears of remourse in them. "You too, Yugi-chan?"

Yugi turned his face away, gently pulling his hand out of Malik's. He was silent. "Yugi-chan?" Ryou asked.

Still silence.

And then, "Hai, we are all alike,"

~Hallelujah, hallelujah,~
~God bless the child who suffers.~

Silence reigned for a moment in the Domino Elementary boys' locker room. Then they were startled as the door swung open, admitting two sixth graders just in from soccar practice, chatting and laughing with each other. Malik grabbed Yugi and Ryou, shoving them behind him. For the moment neither older boy noticed the three small third graders.

Then one of them, a tall, stocky blond, spotted them and nudged his blue-haired companion in the side. Both boys turned to them wide-eyed, and Malik backed up slightly, still keeping Yugi and Ryou behind them.

"Holy sh*t..." the blond boy murmered. "What happened to you?"

"None of your business," Malik spat. But he couldn't keep the slight hysterical edge out of his voice.

The two boys exchanged glances, and the blue-haired one said something quietly to his blond friend. Malik was barely able to catch it. "Keith, go find the principle or a teacher or something. Do it quick!"

The blond, Keith, nodded and hurried out of the room.

The blue haired boy took a step toward him, and Ryou and Yugi shrunk down farther behind Malik, whimpering slightly. The blue-haired boy stopped short. "I'm not going to hurt you," he insisted, holding out a hand. "My name is Mako."

Malik eyed the out-stretched hand scornfully. "Do you have any idea how many times I've heard those words?"

At the pure spite in that sentence, Mako's smile faded and he dropped his hand back to his side. "Who would do this to you?"

"The ones who are supposed to love us most,"

Before more could be said, the door was banged open and Keith rushed back in, the principle and school nurse right behind him. Both gasped when they saw the three third-graders, and the principle moved to lay a hand on Malik's shoulder, before pausing. "Don't worry, we'll get you boys help. You won't be hurt anymore."

With Yugi and Ryou still trembling behind him, Malik couldn't help it that his eyes narrowed. "I'll bet..."

The next several weeks were a blur for the three. They were rushed into different homes on foster care while they awaited their parents' court dates, which were set for two months away. Most of the time they were in seperate homes, but when their various foster parents got fed up with Yugi and Ryou making late-night calls to Malik after waking up from nightmares, the social security people began to look for a home where the three could go together.

"It's just no use," Ms. Takahashi, their care worker, told them. "We can't find a family willing to take in three boys. You'll have to be split up again,"

Ryou, who was still the most emotionally unstable, hid his face in Malik's sleeve, which he was clutching for dear life. "I dun' wanna be alone," he whimpered, and Malik and Yugi both nodded their agreement.

Ms. Takahashi sighed. "We'll do our best..."

At that moment the door opened and Ms. Takahashi's assistant, Mr. Ishida, ran in, waving a file-folder over his head. "Natsuko," he said breathlessly. "We may have found a home for them!"

Natsuko Takahashi's eyes brightened as she took the folder from him and riffled through it. "Oh, the Tamiya brothers! I'd forgotten all about them! I'll go call them right now. Great job Masaharu!" She gave each of the boys a quick hug and then headed for her office, leaving them with Masaharu in the waiting room.

"So we'll stay together?" Yugi asked, looking up hopefully at the imposing man.

Masaharu chuckled and crouched down so that he was eye-to-eye with the nine-year-old. "Yes, if they say that they'll take you in."

Malik let out a whoop of happiness and jumped off the chair to swing Ryou around in a circle. The white-haired boy yelled in surprise, but then began to laugh.

About twenty minutes later Natsuko re-immerged from her office, her face beaming. Masaharu immediatly stood up from where he'd been sitting reading a magazine and went over to her. "What did they-"

Natsuko grinned at him. "I got to talk to all three of the brothers, and they're very enthusiastic. They want the boys to move in tonight, if possible!"

Malik's, Yugi's, and Ryou's jaws dropped at thess words, and Malik let out another whoop, dancing around the room. Yugi and Ryou joined him, with Masaharu and Naksuko laughing at their antics.

"Look how happy you've made them 'Suko," Masaharu said, smiling. Before Natsuko could do anything, he leaned down to capture her mouth with a kiss.

The three boys stopped dead, staring at them in wonder. Then Malik began to sing. "Natsuko and Masaharu, sittin' in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" The two social workers broke apart, blushing somewhat, and Natsuko turned to Malik, Ryou and Yugi.

"Er, why don't you boys go get your things. We'll take you over to the Tamiya's right now,"

~Hallelujah, hallelujah,~
~God bless the young without mothers.~

Yugi stared up at the huge mansion with wide eyes. "This is where we're going to live?" he asked, pressing a little closer against Malik's side. Both he and Ryou were glued to the older boy.

Natsuko chuckled and nodded. "Yes, this is the Tamiya house. Come on," She led the way up the porch steps and rang the doorbell. The door was opened promptly by a young man of about twenty-five.

He had silver-white hair that reached to about his mid-back, both a little darker and a little longer then Ryou's. His eyes were reddish, and his mouth was turned slightly down, giving him a frightning look. He had on a black T-shirt with a white stripe across the front and tight jeans with black boots. As soon as he saw Natsuko and the boys, with Masaharu coming up behind them carrying the boys' bags, his annoyed look disappeared and he smiled.

"Come in," he said, stepping aside and gesturing for them to enter. "My brothers are waiting for us in the lounge. Just set those down there," he directed Masaharu. "We'll take them to their rooms in a few minutes." He led the way down the hall and to a huge pair of vaulted doors.

"Everything's too big here," Yugi whispered to no one in particular. "We won't fit,"

The man overheard this and smiled, but said nothing as he pushed open the doors. The room on the other side was actually quite large, but compared to the rest of the house it seemed small. It had a fireplace, in which a fire was going. The rest of that wall, as well as two others, were covered in floor-to-ceiling book shelves. The fourth wall was dominated by a huge picture window with red velvet curtains pulled back to show a spactacular view of the back yard, which, like everything else, was huge. The middle of the hardwood floor was covered by an expensive-looking rug. On the rug, arranged in a rough semi-circle facing the fire, were a couch and three overstuffed armchairs, as well as a good-sized coffee table.

Sitting on two of the chairs were the men whom the visitors assumed to be the other two Tamiya brothers. Strangly enough, none of the three looked anything alike. The first had multi-colored hair that spiked almost strait up in a style not unlike Yugi's own. He had reddish-violet eyes that always seemed to be laughing. He was wearing a dark blue, sleeveless, Chinese-style shirt with a high collar, loose martial-arts pants and black slippers.

The other had light blond hair, a bit lighter then Malik's, that also spiked up, but much more then his brothers'. His eyes were electric blue, and he was a lot tanner then either of his brothers. He was wearing martial-arts pants as well, only his were white. He had on a white tank-top and neck-scarf, along with gold-colored sandels, that almost made him look Arabian, or Egyptian.

They both stood up as their brother and the visitors entered the room. "Welcome," the white-haired one said, offering a seat to Natsuko. "I'm Bakura Tamiya,"

Natsuko took the seat gratefully. Bakura and his multi-colored-haired brother took the other two, while Malik, Yugi, and Ryou took seats on the couch. The Arabian-looking brother and Masaharu remained standing. "Natsuko Takahashi," Natsuko said, shaking each of their hands in turn. "And this is my partner, Masaharu Ishida. It's very kind of you to take these boys in. We really didn't want to have to seperate them again,"

"It's no problem at all," The Arabian-looking brother said. "My name's Ishtar Tamiya. When you called us about them, how could we say no?"

"Yami Tamiya," the multi-colored-haired brother introduced himself. "It's a pleasure to take care of such sweet kids," he smiled at the three, and they shyly smiled back. "How 'bout you guys introduce yourselves?"

"I'm Malik Kenji," Malik said. "'M ten,"

"Ryou," Ryou said softly, half-hiding behind Malik. "I'm eight,"

"My name's Yugi," said Yugi. "And I'm nine years old,"

The three brothers grinned. "Great, how about we get you settled in,"

Yami, who was the oldest of the three, stayed to discuss some things with Natsuko and Masaharu while Ishtar and Bakura took the boys to see their rooms.

"The boys have some... Special needs," Natsuko said hesitantly, glancing at Masaharu, who had now taken the third seat, for support.

"That's no problem at all," Yami assured her. "What sort of needs?"

"Well, not exactly needs, just things you should probably know about," Masaharu said. "'Suko couldn't really give you a full breifing over the phone, so we might as well go ahead and give you the boys' histories. And believe me, none of them are very pretty."

Yami chuckled wryly. "Oh, that's no problem at all. Our history isn't really that pretty itself. But I won't go into that, what is it we need to know?"

Natsuko and Masaharu exchanged glances, and Natsuko popped open her breifcase, pulling out the first set of folders, which happened to be Malik's. She set the case back on the floor and riffled through the folders, handing a couple of photos to Yami. They showed Malik how they had found him three weeks ago, with scars and welts covering his back, arms, and chest. Yami gaped at them, and Natsuko smiled bitterly.

"I warned you. Malik's left shoulder and right ankle are slightly deformed, due to, apparently, injuries sustained when his dad pushed him down the stairs that never quite healed. As a result, he can't raise his left arm much higher then strait out, and his right ankle is permanently turned slightly. When walking naturally, he walks with a limp, but at school he had a reputation as a bully and hid it. Now that he knows he doesn't have to play the tough-guy, he'll probably go ahead and limp, since it hurts him more not to,"

Yami nodded, his mouth slightly open in a dumb-founded expression as he looked through the pictures. "You said his dad pushed him down the stairs. What about his mom?"

"Dead," Masaharu supplied. "That's another thing. Malik's dad killed his mother and older sister, Isis, right in front of him. As far as Malik's said, that was years ago, and he's pretty much over it. However, we're not so sure, so you might want to keep an eye on him."

Yami nodded again. "Anything else?"

Natsuko sighed. "Not for Malik, but there's plenty more on the other two." She pulled out another sheif of pictures, these of Yugi, and handed them to the twenty-six-year-old man. Yami's mouth again dropped open as he looked through them. Not only had Yugi's hand been crushed, but he also had scars all over the place.

"Yugi's deaf in his right ear, from when his father hit him too hard once, so don't be surprised if he cocks his head while listening to you. He can lip-read, so when you're talking to him make sure you're either standing on his left or you're in his field of view. Yugi's had the most severe physical beatings out of the three, because his dad's an alcohalic and half the time he didn't know what he was doing. Yugi's right hand is slightly crippled, but he can still use it for most things. Yugi's mother left him and his father when Yugi was about three. He has a grandfather around somewhere, but we haven't been able to contact him."

"No siblings?" Yami asked. Natsuko and Masaharu both shook their heads.

Natsuko took out the final bundle of photos and passed them to Yami. This was the smallest stack. They were, of course, of Ryou.

"Ryou's the one we're most worried about," Masaharu said, sighing heavily. Yami looked up at them, puzzled.

"Why? From what these pictures show, he's had the easiest time out of the three,"

Masaharu and Natsuko exchanged another look. "Physically, yes. Ryou's father is dead. No siblings. It was his mother who beat him, and," Natsuko took a deep breath and looked down at her hands, which were clasped tightly together. "We think she may have abused him sexually as well,"

Yami stared at them in shock. "He's said so? That's not right! He's only eight!"

Masaharu shook his head. "No, he hasn't told us. But there are, of course, other signs. He told Malik and Yugi, and Malik's the one who actually told us about it. He said that Ryou was too afraid,"

"That poor kid..." Yami muttered, looking down again at the pictures. "Was there anything else?"

"All three boys are prone to nightmares, Ryou the most. So you might want to sleep with your doors open or something so you can hear them. That's actually the main reason we're looking for a home to place all three in together, they tend to comfort each other."

"Yeah," Yami said, nodding. "You said that on the phone. They'd call each other in the middle of the night, was it?"

Masaharu nodded. "The two younger ones, Ryou and Yugi, look to Malik for support and comfort, and he looks at them as evidence that innocence still exists. They've all been through a lot."

"Too much," Yami said grimmly. "What happens when the court date comes?"

"If the parents are found guilty, which they undoubtably will, then the boys will be put up for permanet adoption. If they were older, they'd just stay in foster care, but since they're so young... Also, they'll be asked in court if they want to be adopted or just stay in foster care, so it'll be partially their choice. All three of them will be in your care until the court date, and after it until someone adopts them or they move to another foster home."

Yami nodded. "Right then, arigato." He stood up. "If there's nothing else, I think I'll go see how the little ones are settling in. Here, I'll show you the rooms we picked out for them. They'll want to say good-bye to you if you're getting ready to leave."

~This child is homeless,~
~That child's on crack.~
~One plays with a gun,~
~While the other takes a bullet in his back.~

"But these rooms are so plain!" Yugi cried in indignation upon seeing the three rooms, side-by-side, that he and his friends would be staying in. Each was a different color sceme, but contained the same furniture. Each held a twin-sized bed with crisp white sheets, a small desk with a lamp on it, a small armchair and a dresser. Malik's was all done in gold and tan, Yugi's in crimson and silver, and Ryou's in blue and grey.

Bakura chuckled as he deposited their bags in their various rooms. "That they are Yugi. After all, they were only guest rooms. We'll take you shopping tomorrow morning to get some more personnal things for them."

"I want this room!" Malik called from down the hall. Bakura, Yugi, and Ishtar followed his voice to see him and Ryou standing in the middle of a very messy, very cluttered room. It was mostly black, and had posters of girls in bikinis and motercycles all over the walls. Ryou was sweatdropping, but Malik had stars in his eyes.

Ishtar burst out laughing. "Sorry Malik, but this is my room,"

Malik swung around to face the youngest of his new guardians, his lavendar eyes shining. "Can I stay with you?"

Ishtar laughed again, and Bakura joined him. "Gomen Malik-chan, but no. If you're good, maybe we'll get you some posters tomorrow to put up in your new room."


The sound of footsteps aproached, and Yami stuck his head around the doorframe, Natsuko and Masaharu behind him. "Surely you're not letting the little ones see this pig sty!" Yami said in mock-horror, looking fearfully back toward the two social workers. "They'll take them away on the spot!"

The grown-ups laughed, knowing that would never happen, but Yugi looked indignant. "I am not little!"

"Hai, you are," Ryou said. "You're even smaller then me!"

It was true, much to Yugi's shame. He barely came up to the younger boy's chin. It cheered Natsuko greatly to see Ryou join in with ribbing his friend as he and Malik continued to mock Yugi's height. The white-haired boy had been so quiet and withdrawn...

Masaharu put a hand on her shoulder. "It'll come," he said. "Just give it time."

Natsuko smiled and leaned her head back against her partner's chest. "I hope so 'Haru, I hope so," The two stayed like that for a minute, and it almost seemed as if the six had forgotten that the two were still there. Yami and Yugi were teasing each other about being the shortest, Bakura was trying to find all of Ryou's ticklish spots, and Ishtar was showing some complicated motorcycle diagram to Malik.

"Well," Natsuko said, standing up strait abruptly. "Masaharu and I had better get going. Will you boys be all right?"

"Hai," three tiny voices piped back at them.

Once they had taken their leave, Yami happened to glance at the clock, half-buried under a pile of Ishtar's dirty socks. "Ah, you boys had better get to bed if we're going shopping tomorrow! It's getting late,"

"Aw, Yami," Yugi whined. "Do we have to?"

"Yes," the three men responded, but their smiles lessened their words. "Come on," Bakura added, scooping Ryou into his arms. "We'll tuck you in. Let's go get your pajamas,"

"Bakura," Ryou asked two minutes later as the older man was tucking him into his bed. It seemed too big for the little boy, just like everything else in this house. The matress was down, and he sunk into it, almost getting lost in the pure fluffiness.

"Hai?" asked Bakura, pausing by the door where he was about to turn out the light.

Ryou ducked his face, almost as if in shame. "I-I'm scared, of the dark,"

Bakura raised an eyebrow, biting back a harsh remark as he remembered what the dark had once held for this particular little boy. "That's nothing to be ashamed of Ryou-chan," He thought for a moment, and then smiled. "I'll be right back Ryou." With that he turned and headed down the hall for his own room.

He entered the immaculatly clean room and pulled open the closet door, displaying neat rows of hanging clothes, as well as shelves of shoe boxes, each marked neatly with their contents. Most people wouldn't have guessed by looking at him, but Bakura Tamiya was a neat-freak. He easily found the box he was looking for, removed what he needed and crossed the short distance back to Ryou's room.

"Here," he said, holding up the nightlight that he had used in his youth. "Will this do?"

Ryou's eyes lit up in releif as Bakura plugged it in and set it on the table next to the bed. "Oh yes, thank you Bakura-san," The nightlight was shaped like a small angel, her hands folded together and her wings stretched out to protect whoever she was charged to watch over.

Bakura smiled as he paused by the door to flip out the big light. "You're welcome. G'night Ryou-chan."

"G'night Bakura-san,"

Two doors down, Ishtar was trying to get his rowdy charge to settle down and go to sleep. Malik was in his pajamas and in bed, but was wide-awake. "What happens if I get lost?" he was currently asking.

"Lost where?" Ishtar asked, already getting weary of the questions.

"In this house. It's gigantamus." Malik said, in complete seriousness.

Ishtar choked back a laugh and shook his head in amusment. "We'll give you a tour tomorrow before breakfast. You won't get lost. And even if you do, all you have to do is scream and yell until somebody comes to find you."

"And what if they get lost too?"

Ishtar rolled his eyes, but was having a very difficult time keeping the grin off his face. "They won't! Bakura and Yami and I have been living in this house for years! Our father built it!"

Malik considered this for a moment, and then came up with another inquiry. "How'd he get all the money for such a big house?"

Ishtar pursed his lips, wondering how to explain it to a ten-year-old. "Do you know about Kaiba Corp?"

"Uh huh, it's this big company that makes computers,"

"Well, not just computers, but you have the right idea. Well, we own a company that our father started called Tamiya Inc. It's a printing company. We do for books what Kaiba Corp does for computers." Ishtar blinked, and got a thoughtful look on his face. "Hey, that's pretty good. We'll have to use that for our next ad. Thanks for the idea Malik-chan," He got up to leave, but when he turned to glance back at the door, Malik was still sitting up in bed. "What now?" he sighed.

"Can you hand me Ika?"

"Ika?" Ishtar asked, rather confused. Malik pointed to the dresser, where a ratty, dirty, and rather de-fuzzed squid was sitting in a place of prominance. "A stuffed squid?"

Malik nodded happily as Ishtar walked over to get it. "Yup. I've had him ever since I was a baby!" A sad look passed across his face. Ishtar tossed the squid to him, and the blond hugged it to his chest. "Isis gave him to me,"

Ishtar made a mental note to ask Yami if Natsuko and Masaharu had said anything about this 'Isis' person as he turned out the light. "Want me to leave the door open a little?" Malik nodded as he settled back into the covers, and so Ishtar did so. The last glimpse he had of Malik before going down-stairs was of the little Egyptian snuggled against the volumous pillows, a silly-looking stuffed squid hugged proudly to his chest.


Yami looked over to where Yugi was nestled amongst pillows that almost hid him, smiling as the little boy yawned hugely. "Yes Yugi-chan?"

"Will you tell me a story?"

"A story about what?"

Yugi shrugged. "I dun' care. But it has to end happily-ever-after!"

Yami smiled again. "All right then, a happily-ever-after story..." He pretended to be thinking hard, staring out into the hallway. He watched with intrest as Bakura walked by holding his old praying-angel nightlight, and smiled at the memories it brought back. Hey, he might as well tell Yugi that story. "Have you ever heard the story of the Hikari Tenshi and the ogre?"

Yugi shook his head, his eyes wide in anticipation. "Iie, I haven't,"

"I'll tell it then. Once upon a time, there was an angel, a tenshi. She was the most beautiful tenshi ever. Everyone wanted to be like her. But not everyone loved her. There was an evil sorcerer named Oni, who told her a lie that she believed."

"What did he tell her?" Yugi asked, wiggling in his seat.

Yami chuckled and tucked the blankets back around him. "Shush and I'll tell you. He told her that she was so beautiful, that she could tame the ogre that lived in the mountain pass. This ogre was terrible, nasty, and mean. He would attack travellers who came through the pass, and eat them up! It was said that the most beautiful woman in the world would be able to tame him, and make him go away. Oni thought that if Hikari Tenshi tried and failed, then everyone would admire him, instead of her. So Hikari Tenshi flew down to the ogre's house, and asked him to come out. He did, and he was just about to eat her when she began to sing to him.

"Now, it was true that the Hikari Tenshi might be the most beautiful tenshi, but it was not because of her looks, but her voice. She had the most beautiful voice in the heavens, and as soon as the ogre heard it, he was tamed. She then sent him to eat up the sorcerer Oni, because she realized that she had been almost mis-lead.

"So you see Yugi-chan, real beauty comes from the inside, not the outside." Yami said, smiling when he saw that Yugi was already asleep. He smoothed the blond bangs away from the boy's face, and then stood up to leave. He stopped, as is customary, it seems, for anyone tucking a small child into bed, to look back one last time before turning the light off and leaving.

"Good night, chibi tenshi,"

The three brothers met back down in the livingroom, where Yami prodded the dying fire back into the lands of life. Bakura fetched coffee and some cake from the kitchen, while Ishtar let down the curtains across the window. Then the three sat down, where Yami filled them in on what the two social workers had told him, and showed them the pictures that Natsuko had left with him.

Their first reaction, Bakura's especially, was, of course, anger, and then immence sadness. "How awful..." Ishtar said.

"We have to make a pact," Bakura said, his mouth bound into a firm line. "We have to make sure that these chibis stay with us. We won't ever let anyone hurt them! Never again!"

"Agreed," Ishtar and Yami echoed furvently. "They are ours now, and we love them,"

Behind the doors, which had been left open a crack in case one of the boys needed them, Malik, Ryou, and Yugi crouched in the dark hallway. They stared at each other in wonder at what they had just heard, and Ryou began to tear up with happiness. Quietly they slipped back upstairs and to their beds before they got caught.

There were no nightmares that night.

~This boy's a beggar,~
~That girl sells her soul.~
~They both work the same street,~
~The same hell hole.~

"What smells so good?" Yugi asked as he wandered into the kitchen the next morning, rubbing his eyes. He was the last one awake.

Ishtar was at the stove, stirring something. Malik and Ryou were on either side of him, peeking into the pan. Yami was sitting at the kitchen table reading the morning newspaper, and Bakura was next to the counter, glaring at the coffee pot as if that would cause it to hurry up and perkilate.

"Breakfast," Yami said, glancing up Yugi. "But now that he mentions it, what are you making Ishtar?"

"Pancakes!" Malik piped up before Ishtar could. "Blueberry ones!"

"Yummy," Yugi said, climbing into a chair next to Yami and looking over at the paper. "Are there any comics?" he asked hopefully.

Yami chuckled and handed over the requested pages. Ishtar finished up the last of the pancakes and Bakura finally got the coffee maker going, sighing in releif as he sipped at the needed caffine.

The six of them took seats around the table and dug into their breakfast with vigor. For a few minutes all that could be heard was the incessant chewing and swallowing noises that can only be made by half a dozen hungry males.

"Did you sleep well last night?" Yami asked once their hunger was mostly sated. Each of the boys nodded 'yes' happily, and their guardians smiled. "Good! In that case, why don't you go get some clothes on and we'll go shopping."

Malik, Yugi, and Ryou scampered upstairs, and the men followed at a more leisurly pace. "We'll have to get you some more clothes too," Ishtar noted several minutes later as they were making their way outside. "Those tiny backpacks you came in with last night couldn't have held very much,"

Any further comment was cut off as Malik let out a startled squeak. They had just entered the four-car garage, and the little blond had caught sight of the huge motorcycle that squatted inside. Ishtar chuckled as he walked up and laid a proud hand on her side. "Why else would you think I have motorcycle posters all over my room Malik-chan?"

"Can I ride her? Pleeeease?" Malik asked. "Pretty please with cherry-creame pudding on top?"

Ishtar exchanged glances with his brothers and then shrugged, permitting a grin to cross his face. He picked up his own helmet, and tossed a smaller sized one to Malik from a box on the floor that contained helmets of various sizes. "Ah, what the hell,"

Yugi gave the twenty-three-year-old a sharp look. "Hey! No cussing Ishtar-san!"

Yami, who had been just about to say something along those same lines, stopped and began to laugh. "That's tellin' 'im Yugi-chan!"

Ryou, on the other hand, looked vaguly worried. He tugged lightly on the end of Bakura's sleeve, and the man kneeled down to look him in the eye. "What's wrong Ryou-chan?"

Ryou glanced both ways, as if afraid one of the others might hear, and then leaned in close to whisper in Bakura's ear. "I won't have to ride that thing, will I?"

Bakura threw his head back and let out a hearty laugh, standing up and scooping Ryou into his arms all in one motion. "Of course not! You and I, and Yami and Yugi, will go by car."

Yugi and Ryou both looked relieved as they watched Ishtar help Malik up onto the front of the motorcycle, held safely between Ishtar himself and the handle-bars.

"So where're we headed?" Ishtar asked as he strapped on his helmet, having already helped Malik on with his.

Yami and Bakura exchanged amused glances, and then looked back at Ishtar. Yami mouthed something, making sure none of the boys could hear. Ishtar grinned and nodded, reving up the bike. "All right Malik-chan, here we go!"

The ten-year-old squealed happily as the motorcycle peeled out, the other four following in the car. The trip was mostly uneventful, save for Malik almost falling off the bike. Luckily Ishtar managed to catch him and not crash while doing so. Around fifteen minutes later they arrived at their destination.

"All right!" Yugi yelled as he jumped out of the car and danced around. "Toys 'R Us! Awesome!"

Ryou smiled hesitantly as he too climbed down from the Mercedies. "Toys?"

"Of course!" Yami said, beaming down at the two boys. "You've never had toys before?"

Ryou and Yugi both shook their heads, and Yami exchanged a startled and angry glance with Bakura. "Well, you will now. Buy anything in the store. Buy everything in the store!" Ishtar encouraged as he and Malik jogged over.

The three boys looked at each other with wide eyes. "Anything?"

Bakura laughed. "Of course anything! You're forgetting that we three are not in want for money! We could probably buy out all of Domino and it wouldn't leave a dent in our account!"

"Should we split up?" Yami asked as they headed for the store, the three young ones skipping ahead. Even Ryou seemed to be in a happy mood.

"Sure," Ishtar said. "It'll make it easier." He put his fingers to his lips and whistled sharply. "Hey boys, we're going to split up into three groups, okay? That way we can go different ways and you can each get what you want,"

Ryou's eyes lit up, and he immediatly ran for Bakura. Yugi headed for Yami, and Malik paired up with Ishtar. After agreeing to meet in three hours for lunch, they headed into the bowels of the large toy store.

Yami and Yugi wandered around for awhile, a store attendant following them around like a love-starved puppy. Once the staff had learned that the Tamiya brothers, the rich Tamiya brothers, were in the store, they'd taken it upon themselves to cater to their every whim in hopes of a big, fat tip. Finally Yami had enough of it and gave the guy twenty bucks just to leave them alone!

After a while, they found themselves in the stuffed animal section. Yugi ran around happily, snuggling up against various over-stuffed figures. Yami momentarily lost track of him, until he came running and shouting that he'd found what he wanted.

Yami chuckled and allowed himself to be led by the enthusiastic nine-year-old. "Yugi, you're not limited to one thing. You can get as many and as much as you want."

"I know," Yugi said. "But I found what I really wanted!"

They turned the corner into another isle and Yami stopped short, staring at the six-foot stuffed thing in front of him. It wasn't the size or the price that bothered him, but the animal, if that's what it could be called, itself.

"Isn't it awesome?!" Yugi asked excitedly, misinterpreting Yami's stunned silence for wonder.

"Er... It's awe-something, Yugi..."

It was a unicorn. No, not quite. Glittery fairy-wings rather too small for the horse itself had been stitched onto its back. What was it you called a horse with wings? Well, whatever its name, the eyes seemed to follow Yami, and they made him very uncomfortable.

"It's, er, very nice Yugi, but, um," He tried to grasp a reason for Yugi not to get the stuffed horse, other them the rather wimpy one that it kept staring at him. "Ah! Ishtar's afraid of horses! We keep a couple in the stables out back, and he won't go near them!"

This was actually true, and Yami was releived that he didn't have to lie to his little friend. The Tamiya's kept a couple horses, and Ishtar would have nothing at all to do with them. Thankfully, this seemed to distract Yugi from the giant stuffed pegasus. "Wow, horses? Really? Could I ride them?"

Yami sighed and sent a silent thank you to kami-sama as he steered Yugi into another isle. "Sure thing Yugi-chan, maybe this afternoon. Now, why don't you come look at this giant stuffed dragon over here..."

Bakura was having a rather easier time on the other side of the store. Ryou was quiet, and Bakura was beginning to get attached to the kid, much to his own annoyance. Currently he was wandering around the isles, after having shooed away his own 'attendant', with Ryou on his shoulders. The boy had his hands wrapped up in Bakura's long silver hair, but he wasn't pulling or yanking. Just sitting there and looking around the store in slight awe.

"I've never seen so many stuffs!" he said quietly.

Bakura chuckled at his grammer, bad though it was. "Not even at our house?"

Ryou seemed to consider this. "Well... Maybe there. There's stuff all over the place!"

At the sheer exhasperation in the eight-year-old's voice, Bakura burst out laughing. "Okay, okay, I get the point! Ishtar needs to clean his room!" It really amazed the silver-haired man. Usually he was the quietest and most serious, if not the most sadistic, of the three Tamiyas. He delighted in making his employees sweat and squirm. And then, along comes this, this, kid, and turns his world upside-down! He'd never laughed so much in his entire life then he had these past twenty-four hours!

Without prior warning Ryou's laughter fell silent, and he tenced on Bakura's shoulders, sucking in his breath. "Oh..."

Bakura blinked. "Oh what?"

Ryou pointed to a nearby wall, and Bakura saw what he was so flabber-ghasted at. Hanging on the wall above a display of Duel Monsters cards were several huge portraits of the various more popular cards. Bakura shrugged and walked over, glancing at the names written under the paintings.

"Dark Magician, Celtic Guardian, Dark Magician Girl... Hey, she's pretty hot!" He chuckled at Ryou's disgusted snort. "So what were ya' looking at Ryou-chan? Want some cards?"

Ryou shook his head, his thick mane of white hair bouncing around his shoulders. "Uh-uh. Can I have that?" He pointed to the last painting in the row of four. It was of an angel, half dark and half light. One wing was an angel's, the other a dragon's. Her face was kind, but she looked sad. A heart, assumed to be hers, was craddled protectivly against her breast with both hands.

"You like angels, Ryou?"

The little boy nodded, slightly breathless in wonder at the painting. The name of it was Change of Heart. Bakura smiled and pulled Ryou off his shoulders, so that the small boy was held in his arms. "It's yours. Hey, let's do your whole room in angels. Paintings and statues and curtains," he grinned. "Oh my,"

As Ryou sat giggling in his arms, Bakura's mind drifted a little. Ryou was so small for his age! He was at least eight-and-a-half, but he only had the size of a child of six. And unlike Yugi, who was just small naturally, Ryou was skinny. Even when both of them were wearing a sweatshirt, Bakura could still feel Ryou's ribs. He wasn't heavy either. Poor kid, his mom probably didn't feed him...

Bakura forced his mind off that track. His mom no longer has charge over him, he reminded himself sternly. He is yours. He is yours and you are his. With a start, Bakura realized that this was true. Ryou had him at bec-and-call. One little yell, and Bakura would come running.


Bakura shook himself and looked down to see Ryou's serious brown eyes peering up at him through a haze of white bangs. "Hai Ryou-chan?"

"What're you thinking about?"

"Oh, just... Things."

Ryou seemed to ponder that, but accepted the answer with a nod and said no more about it as Bakura swung him back up to his shoulders. Together they headed off to find a sales-person and inquire about the Change of Heart painting.

They were distracted, however, when a loud shout drew their attention to an isle they were passing. Malik and Ishtar were crouched at the other end of the isle, gleefully examining model kits. Malik was exclaiming over a limited edition, one-of-a-kind Zoids StormSworder, while Ishtar was running his hands eagerly over a level five, made-to-scale Gundam Altron model.

Bakura rolled his eyes and kept walking.

~Hallelujah, hallelujah,~
~God bless the child who suffers.~
~Hallelujah, hallelujah,~
~Let every man help his brother.~

"So, back home for lunch?"

It was several hours later, and the group had met back up at the front of the store. Their many, many purchases were going to be delivered by truck that afternoon. Ryou had done as Bakura suggested, and anything and everything he'd chosen had been angel-related. Most of Yugi's stuff was fluffy, furry, and very, very big. Malik's was all typical 'guy' toys. Model cars and planes (and Gundams), toy soldiers, remote-controlled everything, and about fifty-thousand Hot Wheels.

"What about clothes?" Ishtar asked.

"Nah, that can wait!" Yugi spoke up eagerly. "I wanna ride the horses!"

Malik's and Ryou's eyes lit up. "You have horses?" they asked in almost complete tandem.

Ishtar paled noticably. "H-Hai, we do, b-but-"

"You're scared? Of a horse?" Malik's face showed pure disgust for his mentor. "That's weak! Isis and I used to ride horses all the time!" There was a breif flash of pain on his face as he mentioned his sister, and Ishtar swallowed hard.

"O-of course not!"

Yami and Bakura exchanged glances. Of course he was! How was Ishtar going to get out of this one? "Open mouth, insert foot," Yami muttered, just high enough for his younger brother to hear. Bakura snickered.

Malik's eyes lit up. "Can you teach me to ride better? Isis was going to, just before..." He stopped and swallowed, obviously trying to hide his sadness from the younger two.

Poor Ishtar panicked. He didn't know how to ride and there was no way you could get him close to a horse, but now he was caught in a lie and Malik was counting on him. He snuck a peek at the boy's face, and saw Malik looking up at him with the biggest eyes he'd ever seen, except perhaps on Ryou the night before. Kuso! Kuso those shimatte lavendar eyes of his!!! "Sure Malik," he managed to choke out.

Bakura snorted, and Yami elbowed him in the side. The two older brothers exchanged glances, and both broke into grins. "This should be veeeery intresting..."

The group headed for home, and Bakura proved his ineptness in the kitchen by serving burnt grilled cheese for lunch. Yugi wrinkled his nose at the mass of melted cheese and singed toast on his plate. "You guys eat this stuff?"

Yami chuckled and shook his head. "Usually, when it's Bakura's turn to cook we order take-out. I'm an okay cook, but Ishtar's really the best,"

Bakura pretended to scowl at his brother as he placed the burnt offering in front of Ryou and Malik. "Well, without me, this place would be a pig-sty!"

"Sad but true," Ishtar said around a mouthful of sandwich. "I cook, Bakura cleans, and Yami handles most of the business transactions. We each have our own role."

"I refuse to get near that black-hole Ishtar dares to call a room," Bakura said, untying his apron and plopping into a chair between Malik and Yami. "I'd get lost and never find my way out again! Then I'd die from poisenous fumes from those socks of his..."

Ishtar sniffed aristocraticly as the three boys giggled. "Well, we're not all clean-freaks like you, Bakura. And at least I keep better company then a vacuum cleaner,"

"Ah, yes, my mistake," Bakura sneered. "I forgot that you're going steady with the stainless-steel spatula. Didn't you go on a double-date last week with the refridgerator and stove?"

By now Yugi, Malik, and Ryou were helplessly giggling, Yugi about two inches from sliding out of his chair and landing on Ryou's lap.

Yami chuckled at his brothers' antics and stood up, picking up his and Yugi's plates to be deposited in the sink. "Ready to go riding? We keep four horses, so we'll have to take turns."

"That's okay," Ryou reassured him shyly. "I don't know if I want to ride one. They're awful big..."

"How about you ride with me, on my horse?" Bakura offered. "That way, you'll get the hang of it, and I'll be able to catch you if you start to fall off. But you won't," he added as quick reassurance. "Cassy's really even-tempered. She won't throw you," Ryou looked releived, and nodded happily.

They all trooped out to the barn that sat on the edge of a huge span of green lawn. About half of it was enclosed in fence, and the rest was garden and trees and a medium-sized gazebo. Two horses were grazing in the pasture, and both of them nickered happily and trotted over as they got close.

The first was a dapple-grey mare, with two black socks, and a black mane and tail. The other was a stallion, tan with white splotches and a white star on his forehead. The mare headed for Bakura and nuzzled his cheek happily, while the stallion playfully butted his head against Yami.

Grinning at this simple show of horsey affection, Yami and Bakura easily climbed over the fence, and then turned back to face Ishtar and the three boys. "We'll take Cassy and Kemo on ahead to the stable and get them and Anubis and Ryuji ready to ride. Can you bring the chibis around the long way, Ishtar?" Bakura asked, fighting hard to keep the snicker he was feeling off his face.

Ishtar was standing about three feet back from the fence, visibly nervous. "S-sure," he stuttered, eyeing the two horses warily.

Yugi, Malik, and Ryou were staring wide-eyed at the horses, and, if possible, their eyes got wider when Yami and Bakura both grabbed handfuls of mane and jumped astride their respective horses. Bakura clicked his tongue gently, and Yami kicked at Kemo's underbelly, and both horses galloped away across the feild, their riders yelling in delight.

All four of the others stood frozen where they were for a moment, the boys in wonder, and Ishtar in fear and panic. 'Oh kami-sama,' he thought desperatly, Yami and Bakura are saddling Anubis for me! I'm dead! He swallowed, forcing himself to calm down, and started off stiffly for the stable, the boys running eagerly ahead.

When Ishtar reached the large building and peeked cautiously inside, he wasn't disappointed. Four horses stood saddled, briddled and ready to be ridden. Anubis, the huge Egyptian racehourse that Bakura had purchased several years ago as a gift for Yami when he'd completed his masters degree in business, stood proudly, his reddish-brown head held high. The stallion caught sight of Ishtar and snorted, as if recognising his fear.

The fourth horse, Ryuji, was coal black from head to toe, with a single white streak through his forelock. He was the mildest-mannered of the three stallions, with an even temper and meek nature.

"I thought you said you only had four horses!" Yugi's voice rang out. He was standing on his tip-toes, peeking over the half-door into a stall, where a spindly-legged filly was spralled.

Bakura chuckled as he tightened the girth on Ryuji's saddle. "Technically, we do. That's Masaki. She's the one-year-old filly of my Cassy and Yami's Anubis. She's pretty, isn't she? She's not quite old enough to be ridden yet, so we didn't mention her."

By this time Malik and Ryou had crowded in on either side of Yugi to look at the yearling. Masaki was staring back at them with a politly curious look on her face. Then she yawned, and, as if dismissing them, turned around so that her rump faced the three boys and flicked her tail irritably.

The boys looked mildly surprised, and both Bakura and Yami laughed. "She's inherritated all of Anubis's temper and none of poor Cassy's," Yami chuckled, reaching over the wall to pat the filly fondly on the head. "She'll make a fine racehorse though, just like her father."

Malik whirled around, his eyes huge. "Anubis's a racer?" he regarded the big stallion with a renewed sence of awe.

Bakura nodded proudly. "Yup, three time winner of the National Racehorse Trials." The white-haired man's chest had puffed, dispite the fact that the horse being discussed wasn't even technically his.

Yami groaned slightly and shook his head. "To each his own, I suppose... Bakura here's the one who takes care of the horses and their races and such. We didn't get rich purely from Tamiya Inc. I garden (a couple of my roses have been prize-winners!) and Ishtar's won several cooking contests!"

"Once, he got beaten by a lady named Kasumi Tendo, and I thought he was going to cry," Bakura chuckled. "Poor guy, cooking's his life..."

"Yeah, and then he traded recepies with Kasumi, and dated her for awhile!" Yami snickered. "Then she dumped him and got engaged to a doctor,"

"She did not dump me!" Ishtar protested, forgetting the horses momentarily and storming into the stable. "That Dr Tofu guy was all she could talk about, so I told her we were through, so that she could be with him, not the other way around!"

"Ah, yes, that was it," Yami mused. "Oh, hey Ishtar, horse."

"Where?" Ishtar whipped his head around and came nose-to-nose with Kemo. The blond paled, and then let out a peircing shreik, jumping away from the stallion, who just regarded him cooly out of the corner of his eye and snorted. "Ahhhhhh!!!!!!!"

"Hey," Malik poked Ishtar in the side and gave him a reproachful glare. "I thought you weren't afraid of horses!"

"Well, I," Ishtar stopped and took a deep breath. "I can stand to be around 'em, but I can't ride 'em."

"Why not?"

Ishtar blinked. "You know, I'm not sure... All I know is that I'm scared to death to ride horses..."

"It's because when you were six you got thrown off of one and ended up in the hospital for two weeks," Yami spoke up. "And you probably wouldn't remember it, because for a couple months afterwards you had total amniesia."

Bakura scowled, crossing his arms and leaning back against Ryuji. "I remember that year. You were insane! You couldn't even remember who Yami and I were. You couldn't remember mom!"

Ishtar dropped his eyes. "I remember mom..."

"Sure, you do now," Yami said, scowling also. "But you should have seen the look on her face Ishtar. She sat by your side the whole time you were in the hospital. The whole bloody time! And then finally, finally you woke up! Mom burst into tears, Bakura and I started laughing and jumping all over the place, dad actually smiled, adn you know how often he did that, and the first words out of your mouth were 'Who are you?'! You hurt mom so much, Ishtar! She just crumbled and started blabbering about 'my baby'! And Bakura and I had to leave the room, so we wouldn't cry too!"

Ishtar's mouth had dropped open, and he was staring at his two older brothers in shock. "Mom cried? You guys cried? But- but I've never seen you cry! Not when you," he pointed a finger at Bakura. "Fell off the ski lift in Switzerland when I was thirteen and you were fifteen and broke your collarbone, three ribs, and your arm! Not when you," he swung around to point to Yami now, "Put your hand down on the oven burner when you were eleven and nearly had to have two fingers amputated! Not when mom," he stopped, and dropped his hand to his side, continuing in a much-subdued voicce. "Not when mom first found out she had cancer. Never. Why would you cry for me?"

"Because," Bakura said, his voice harsh and mocking. "Because you're an idiotic little half-wit! Because you actually lived through the accident! God Ishtar, are you always this stupid?!" The white-haired man took a shaky breath as Yami put a restraining hand on his shoulder.

"Because," Yami said quietly. "Because we thought we'd really lost you,"

The Tamiyas looked at each other for a long moment, until a yell of panic and a sharp whinny broke through their reverie. They whirled to see Ryou and Yugi pressed back against the wall of the stable, their eyes wide in fear and panic. Ryuji and Kemo had bolted out into the pastures, and Cassy was hovering in the doorway, her eyes wide as she stared at her mate. Anubis was bucking wildly in the center of the stable, Malik clinging for dear life onto his back. "Someone help! Help me!" he yelled, lavendar eyes wide.


Neither Bakura nor Yami were close enough to even attempt anything. They watched in fasinated horror as Ishtar ran toward the bucking stallion, just as Malik lost his grip and flew off. Ishtar caught him, but the ten-year-old's weight threw him off balance. Both of them tumbled to the ground, Ishtar instincivly rolling so that Malik was under him. Anubis backpeddled wildly, bringing his front hooves down just a couple inches from Ishtar's head. The wild horse continued to prance and buck, Ishtar furvently praying that if he got stepped on, at least Malik should be spared.

After several moments that seemed like hours of frenzied desperation, Yami managed to get his skittish horse calmed down and led him out to the pasture with the other horses. Once the racer was secured, Yami ran back inside to see Ishtar and Malik laying perfectly still on the stone floor of the stable. "No," he breathed, his eyes widening. "Oh kami-sama, no!"

A few steps away from the still pair, Bakura was trying to hold onto both Ryou and Yugi, who were sobbing into his shirt and hair. Yami ran up behind them and dropped to his knees beside his brother and little friend. "Ishtar, Malik! Speak to me! For the love of Gozenboru, speak to me!"

There was a gentle cough, and then a small voice, apparently not even addressing Yami. "Are we alive?"

There was a short pause. "I think so, because your elbow is digging into my stomach."


"What did you do anyway Malik-chan?"

"I, er, I think I kicked him in the nuts trying to climb onto him." Malik sounded close to tears. "I just wanted to prove to you that horse-riding was easy!"

"It's okay Malik-chan, I'm fine. Though I think you could have made a better choice then a high-strung Egyptian racehorse."

A sniffle. "I know Ishtar-san. Arigato for saving me."

"Yoroshii Malik-kun."


"Hai, Malik-kun,"

"Arigato Ishtar-sa-, er, -kun."

That rather private dialogue finished, Ishtar rolled over onto his back, reveiling to Yami his pale, sweaty, dirt-streaked face. Malik wasn't much better, but suddenly looked rather giggly, the full impact of being alive breaking over top of them both. "I think," Ishtar said to the group in general, staring past Yami's head at the ceiling. "That that was enough horse-riding for today,"

~Some are born addicted and some are just thrown away,~
~Some have daddies who make them play games they don't want to play.~

As each day passed and the court dates grew nearer, the six occupants of the Tamiya household grew more and more restless. Ryou was almost permanetly glued to Bakura's side, Yugi would scarcely let Yami out of his sight, and Malik and Ishtar were practically inseperable. Natsuko and Masaharu visited often, helping to prepare the boys for what they were required to do in court. One day, however, they came at the Tamiyas' request, and for a completly different purpose...

"Where are the boys?" Natsuko asked as she and Masaharu slunk into the kitchen, where Yami, Bakura, and Ishtar were waiting for them.

"Outside," Bakura said. "Playing in the leaves."

It was November 27, Thanksgiving Day. It was also three weeks before the court dates, which were set for December the 16th, 17th, and 19th. And it was also, the Tamiyas' had found, Yugi Moto's birthday. Of course, Yugi didn't think that his guardians knew this. So they had desided to surprise Yugi with a birthday party, and then a huge Thanksgiving feast.

"It was nice of you to invite us," Masaharu said, setting the bags of groceries they had brought on the table.

Yami chuckled. "They wouldn't have it any other way. They heard that we were going to have a Thanksgiving dinner and asked if we could invite you."

Natsuko smiled. "They really are sweeties."

The three brothers exchanged glances. "Hai," Ishtar said slowly, "We know,"

"And we have a request to make," Bakura cut in. "If the courts deside to put the boys up for adoption and sever all legal ties to thier parents, well,"

"We'd like to adopt them," Yami finished.

Natsuko and Masaharu looked at each other in surprise, then back at the three men. "Are you sure? Three boys are a lot to take care of, especially when there aren't any women around or anything to help out. You have your company to run, and-"

Yami held up a hand to forstall her. "We know, we've thought of all that, and more. But this is what we want to do. The boys love us, and we love them. We don't want them to go to any other home. And this way, all three would stay together too. They've really become like brothers themselves, and it would be horrible to split them up again."

Masaharu frowned slightly. "Hai, it would. But have you thought of the possibility that only one or two of them may be put up for adoption? Ryou especially is in danger of staying in his mother's custody."

An outraged expression flickered across Bakura's face. "How? By what authority?!"

"Well, ultimatly of course it's up to the judge. But Ryou doesn't bare as many physical scars as the other two, and most of the ones he does have can be attributed to 'accidents'. The only way to ensure that he gets out of his mother's custody would be if he admitted sexual abuse in front of the court. But apparently, the only ones he's told are Yugi and Malik, because he trusts them."

Bakura exhaled slowly, in a heavy sigh. "He hasn't even admitted it to me... Isn't there anything we can do?"

"Try talking to him," Masaharu suggested. "But be sympathetic."

The three Tamiyas exchanged glances, and Bakura laughed harshly. "Oh believe you me, we can be a lot more sympathetic with them then we'd like!"

The two social workers looked started. "You mean, you were-"

But the three gave them looks that told plainly not to ask, and they set about getting ready for Yugi's party. Within about twenty minutes all the decorations were up, the cake was in the finishing stages of being decorated by Ishtar and Natsuko, and the turkey was in the oven.

"Just in time!" Yami exclaimed as he peeked out the window. "They're getting ready to come in."

Quickly Ishtar brought the cake to the table, where it would be in plain sight as the boys came inside, and the adults arranged themselves in a half-circle behind it. "Do Ryou and Malik know about the party?" Masaharu asked.

Ishtar nodded, his eyes on the door. "Hai, they have presents for Yugi up in their rooms."

The door opened to admit the three chibis, their necks bound up in scarves against the chilly wind and their cheeks and noses berry pink. But their eyes were shining, and all three had smiles on their faces. When they caught sight of the cake, decorations, and the ring of adults, Ryou and Malik laughed and yelled "Happy Birthday Yugi!"

Yugi's jaw had dropped open, and his eyes were even wider then normal. "Th-this is all for me?"

Ryou laughed again as he hung up his coat on the pegs next to the door, and hopped around on one foot to pull off his boots. "Of course it is Yugi-chan!" He ran over to hug his friend, his now stockinged feet sliding a little on the tile floor. "Now you and Malik are both two years older then me!"

"Not for long," Malik chuckled, ruffling the boy's white hair. "You'll be nine in a few months, never fear."

Ryou pouted again. "Yeah, but you'll be eleven just after that!"

"When are your birthdays Malik, Ryou?" Natsuko asked as she began to cut the cake.

"April 17, yours is sometime in March, right Ryou?" Malik asked.

Ryou nodded as he climbed onto the seat to Yugi's left. "Yup. March 23."

Yami, Bakura, and Ishtar made sure to file this information away in the back of their minds, each of them hoping that these three boys would still be with them when Malik's and Ryou's birthdays came.

"Oh!" Ryou said suddenly a few minutes later, as everyone was mostly finishing up with their cake. "Malik, our presents!"

Yugi's head snapped up. "Presents? You didn't have to get me anything,"

"Yes we did!" Malik insisted. "You're our friend. Come on Ryou," The two boys ran out of the room, and the group still in the kitchen could hear them pounding their way upstairs. A few seconds later they came back down, each of them holding something behind their backs. "You first Ry-chan," Malik insisted, nudging the younger boy with his elbow.

Ryou stepped forward shyly and offered a small package to Yugi. It was wrapped messily in yellow paper, which was quickly shed. Yugi stared in facination at the gold-gilded box in his hands. "Wow,"

"It's not just the box!" Ryou giggled. "It's what's in the box! Open it!"

Yugi did, and whooped in delight at the stack of cards inside. "Duel Monsters! Domo arigato Ryou!" He threw his arms around the younger boy.

Ever since that first fateful trip to Toys 'R' Us, when Malik had perchased some Duel Monsters cards, the whole house had been hooked. All six of them each had their own deck now, and dueling had become a favorite evening passtime before going to bed, since the Tamiyas didn't own a TV. Yugi and Yami were the best at it, although Ryou was a very close third, winning all of his duels except those played against those two.

However, when Malik and Ishtar played tag-team, they were unstoppable!

Bakura saw the puzzled looks on Natsuko and Masaharu's faces and laughed. "If you two are going to be visiting this house often, you'd best learn how to play,"

Ishtar too chuckled. "That's right. Malik and I kick a-" he stopped as Natsuko, Masaharu, Ryou, Yugi, and Yami gave him disapproving looks. "-butt." he finished, grinning falsly.

"Here Yugi, open mine," Malik said, holding out his gift. It was slightly larger and more oddly shaped then Ryou's, and wrapped a little more neatly in green and silver paper. Yugi removed the wrapping, and grinned happily, giving Malik a hug like he had Ryou.

"Domo arigato, Malik-kun! I love it!" Malik's present was a chibi Dark Magician plushie, Yugi's favorite monster.

Yami gagged slightly and leaned over to whisper to Ishtar, "Doesn't that look a bit too much like a Toon Dark Magician?"

Ishtar snickered. "You're just jealous because my Toon Deck is unbeatable."

Bakura shook his head as he overheard his brothers. "Do they even make a Toon Dark Magician?"

"Hey," Ryou said, nudging Bakura in the arm. "What about your present?"

Yami's face lit up. "Ah yes, let me go get it," he rose from the table and left the room smoothly. They could hear him climbing the stairs, although a little less enthusiasticly then Malik and Ryou had.

"The three of us got together and got you an extra-special present Yugi," Bakura said, grining.

"Yeah," Malik piped up. "Me an' Ryou helped pick it out."

"You'll love it," was Ryou's comment.

Less then a minute later the sounds of Yami's desending steps could be heard, Yugi wriggled in his seat excitedly. Yami stepped into the room with Yugi's present in his arms, and Yugi froze. His eyes grew the size of saucers, and then he broke into a grin. "Yami-san! Is that just for me?!"

"Well, not quite," Ishtar said as Yami set the wiggling puppy down in Yugi's lap. "It's an early Christmas present to all three of you. But you get to name her, Yugi."

The puppy was a tan color, with one black spot that sat cock-eyed at the end of her snout. Her ears were long and floppy, and her eyes were bright blue. She wiggled around in Yugi's lap and began to lick his face.

Yugi laughed and wrapped his arms around her neck, digging his fingers into her soft fur. "I'll call her Dorothy! Domo arigato Bakura-san, Ishtar-san, Yami-san!"

Natsuko smiled and cleared her throat quietly. "Haru-kun and I brought you something too Yugi,"

"You didn't have to," Yugi insisted.

Masaharu chuckled. "We wanted to. Happy Birthday Yugi." He handed the young boy a package, and the two social workers smiled as he tore it open. Inside was a framed picture that had been taken only a couple weeks ago. It had been taken by Masaharu, in the backyard. Malik and Ishtar were posed on Ishtar's motorcycle, Yami stood behind them with Yugi on his shoulders, and Bakura was a little off to one side with Ryou in his arms.

Yugi's eyes lit up and he hugged the picture to his chest. "Oh thank you Natsuko-san, Masaharu-san! I'll treasure it always! Even if..." His face dropped, and he looked sad.

"What's wrong Yugi-chan?" Yami asked, kneeling down next to the boy's chair.

"I don't want to leave," Yugi whispered. He looked up at Masaharu, who was closer then Natsuko, his eyes pleading. "Please don't make me go!"

Ryou and Malik both looked downwards, Yugi voicing their feelings as well. Ryou snuggled up closer to Bakura, having crawled up on his lap sometime in the last ten minutes. Malik was crouched on the floor, hugging Dorothy so tight that the puppy began to whimper, sencing her new masters' distress.

The five adults looked at each other. What do we do now? their expressions plainly said. Yami drew Yugi into a hug. "Yugi-chan, you know there's very little chance of that happening. We've been over this. If you tell the judge the truth, then your daddy will go to jail, and you'll never have to go back to him again."

"I know that!" Yugi said, fighting tears as he burried his face in Yami's shoulder. "But I've known kids in foster care! They move around, all the time! I want to stay with you! With you and Malik and Ryou, and Ishtar-san and Bakura-san, and Dorothy and the horses!"

"Sh, sh, it's going to be okay," Yami said, rubbing Yugi's back gently. "It'll all be all right." He raised his eyes to meet Natsuko's, and she smiled. The earlier conversation echoed in the grown-ups' minds, and they knew what they were doing was right.

~But with hope and faith~
~We must understand,~
~All God's children need is love~
~And us to hold their little hands.~

November passed on and December began, dispite everyone's hopes that the month of Thanksgiving would just go on and on, and the court dates would never come nearer. Everyone in the Tamiya house became gloomy, even Dorothy, who slunk around with her tail between her legs. Even Anubis felt it, stamping his hooves in agitation and neighing his displeasure.

But of course, there was nothing any of them could do to stop it, and finally December 16th came. Malik awoke more nervous then he'd ever been. Only he and Ishtar were attending the trial, the others would stay at home and wait for news, be it good or ill. Masaharu was acting as representative for all three boys, since he was (surprisingly) licenced in law. He greeted Ishtar and Malik when they arrived on Ishtar's bike, and took them to the bench where they'd sit. While they waited for the trial to begin, he gave Malik one more little pep talk.

"It's going to be all right Malik, just don't worry so much, by kami! All you have to do is tell the truth! If they ask for proof, don't be afraid to give it to them! Show them your scars, your shoulder. Don't hold anything back. Okay?"

Malik nodded, his eyes owlish as he stared over Masaharu's shoulder. The social worker turned to see what he was looking at, and mentally cringed. Mr Kenji was being led in by two policeman, his hands handcuffed behind him. Malik's father scanned the room, and scowled when he spotted his son. Ishtar stepped in front of the trembling ten-year-old and sent Mr Kenji a look that would have boiled metal. Mr Kenji glared back, until the policemen on either side forced him to sit down. Ishtar reluctantly sat down as well, placing himself between Malik and Mr Kenji.

The trial went as routine, and most everyone cheered when the jury announced Mr Kenji guilty of two accounts of murder and one account of child abuse. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison, and Malik was no longer his responcibility, all legal ties cut. Yugi's trial the next day went much the same way.

But when the nineteenth dawned cold and rainy, Bakura had a gut feeling that something was going to go terribly wrong.

"I call Ryou Mizuno to the stand."

Ryou gulped as he slid off the chair, Bakura giving his hand a reassuring squeeze before letting go. Ryou's knees knocked together as he scrambled to the tall chair in front of the court. Masaharu helped boost him up onto it, giving the boy a candid wink before swearing him in.

"Now, Ryou, is it true that your mother beat you?"


Ryou looked over at Bakura for reassurance, his eyes big and frightened. The silver-haired man nodded and smiled reassuringly. Ryou looked back at Masaharu, who was also smiling. He swallowed again.


There was a shreik of outrage from the other side of the room, and Mrs Mizuno was suddenly on her feet. "That's a lie! I swear Ryou, you'd just better tell the truth-" she was silenced as the judge called for order. He looked kindly over at Ryou, who was shaking where he sat. "Is there anything else that you'd need to tell us Ryou?"

There was a long pause, during which Masaharu and Bakura both held their breath. Bakura's shoulders dropped when he heard Ryou's soft "Iie,"

"That's it," Masaharu said softly, his eyes sad. "We've lost him."

Judge Hibiki smiled at Ryou again. "You can go back to your seat now Ryou. Thank you."

Ryou nodded, and Masaharu guided him back to his seat. Ryou longed to climb up on Bakura's lap, but knew he couldn't. It might make the judge think, Masaharu had explained to him, that Bakura had bribed Ryou somehow to make him say things that weren't true. Ryou didn't really understand how this was possible, but Masaharu and Bakura both insisted that he wasn't to sit on Bakura's lap, so he didn't.

But he wondered why Bakura looked so sad. Surely everything would be all right! Right?

After a couple more witnesses, Bakura included, the jury ajoirned to their room. They returned less then ten minutes later with their verdict. "We find Mrs Rachel Mizuno not-guilty. Her son Ryou will stay in her care."

Bakura's soft curse was drowned out a hundred-fold as Ryou caught sight of his mother's triumphant face and screamed "Nooooooooo!" with that, the poor little boy burst into tears. The entire court froze dead for a moment, and then, almost as if it was only on temporary hiatus, sprung back with an almost audible snap.

Masaharu, Judge Hibiki, and Bakura reached the sobbing boy at almost the same time. Mrs Mizuno reached them a second later and back-handed Bakura, catching him off-guard and throwing him onto his back. "You stay away from my son!" She lept at him, and Bakura rolled out of the way of her high-heels, jumping to his feet. Ryou's mother jumped after him again, and he grabbed her arms.

"I'm not going to hurt you!" he hissed. "I refuse to! Unlike you..." he added softer, so only she could hear.

Her eyes narrowed in rage. "Why you little-"


Judge Hibiki was back on his stand, Ryou in his arms. The white-haired boy had his face burried in the judge's long gown, and every now and then a muffled cry could be heard. Mrs Mizuno and Bakura instantly forgot about each other, and lept toward the stand. "Ryou!"

At the sound of his name Ryou squeaked and tried to burro farther into the judge's volumous robes. Judge Hibiki looked sternly at them, and both Mrs Mizunoa nd Bakura came to a halt in front of him.

"Now, Ryou," the judge turned his attention tot he little boy. "It really is your choice. Who would you rather go to live with?"

Ryou lifted his face from the judge's shoulder and sniffled, but his answer was clear. "'Tou-san,"

The judge blinked, as did the rest of the court, obviously caught off-guard. Not Ryou's mother. She walked up to the stand and made to lean against it until Judge Hibiki gave her a stern look. "Why Ryou-honey, your father's dead. Surely you meant your mother," she said, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

There was no way that the judge could fail to notice the way Ryou recoiled as his mother got closer. "N-no, Bakura-otou-san," he said, pointing to the surprised millionaire.

"Mr Tamiya?" the judge asked. "Why don't you want to go with your mother, Ryou?"

Ryou's eyes were fearful,a nd he didn't take them off his mother as he spoke. His voice was quiet, little more then a whisper, but everyone in the room heard it. "She made me do... bad things."

"What bad things?" Judge Hibiki asked gently, smoothing the boy's hair away from his face.

Ryou was trembling again, and his eyes were big. "B-bad things. She made me take off all my clothes, and then she'd take pic-" he hiccuped, "-pict'res. An-and-" he broke down into tears again, and the judge looked shocked.

"And she beat you?" Mutely Ryou nodded. The judge lowered his voice to whisper an inquiry into Ryou's ear. The boy shreiked and then nodded vahemently. The judge turned to Mrs Mizuno, his eyes cold. "You have abused this young one both physically and sexually?"

Mrs Mizuno looked like a caged tiger. Or a caged rat. "H-how can you trust what he's saying? Obviously this man" she gestured at Bakura, who was glaring at her with his arms crossed. "Has influanced my poor Ryou's thinking!"

"You are under oath," Judge Hibiki reminded her sternly. "Answer the question."

Mrs Mizuno's eyes widened in panic, and she tried to back up, only to bump into the baliff. "I-I-"

The judge sighed and shifted Ryou to one arm so he could pick up his gravel. "I see. Mrs Mizuno, you are charged with sexual and physical abuse of a minor. How do you pleade?"

All the air seeme to go out of Ryou's mother. She looked at the judge, and at Ryou, who was peeking at her out of the corner of one chocolate-colored, tear-stained eye. At Bakura and Masaharu, both of whom were glaring at her. Bakura's upper lip had curled slightly, reveiling fangs that promised pain if she didn't tell the truth. The woman sighed heavily and looked down at her shoes. "Guilty, Your Honor."

"Very well." the gravel came down with a bang. "Ryou Mizuno is released into the custody of Bakura Tamiya. All ties with Mrs Rachel Mizuno are hereby severed." The judge stood as Mrs Mizuno was led away, and handed Ryou over to Bakura. The judge was about to leave, since he had his own wife and kids to get to at home, when a quiet voice interrupted him.

"T'ank you,"

He turned around to face Bakura, Ryou in his arms, and Masaharu, who was standing a little behind them. "You're welcome Ryou. It's my job, after all."

Ryou smiled shyly at him, and Bakura grinned. "Yes Judge, thank you so much."

And then they were gone.

~This boy is hungry, he ain't got enought to eat.~
~That girl's cold and she ain't got no shoes on her feet.~

~When a child's spirit's broken,~
~And feels all hope is gone...~
~God help them find the strength to carry on.~

Masaharu had driven seperatly from Bakura and Ryou, so even though they were all meeting back at the Tamiya's, Bakura and Ryou had the car ride home to themselves. Most of it was sat in silence, until finally Bakura blerted the question that had been bothering him.

"Father? Otou-san? Me?"

Ryou giggled at him, releasing all the stress that had been building up in his slim frame. "Iie,"

Bakura felt his spirits plumet to his toes. "No?"

"No," Ryou said, resting his head back against the seat as he began to drift off to sleep. "Not Bakura-otou-san. Bakura-otou-sama..."

Bakura choked and slammed on the breaks, pulling over to the side of the country road they were driving. It didn't faze Ryou, however, who continued to slumber away. Bakura stared at his little charge for a moment, wanting to remember every detail of this little tenshi just as he was right now.

Ryou's head had tipped over, resting half against the back of he\is seat and half against his seatbelt, cocked to the right. His mouth was slightly open and was making little 'whoosha' sounds as he breathed. His hair had fallen into his face, framing its paleness with pure white.

Bakura reached a hand to smooth the bangs away from Ryou's face, and saw with a start that his hands were shaking. Was he really that scared that he was going to lose Ryou? What if he had lost Ryou?

And with that the entire day caught up with him, and Bakura leaned his head against the stearing wheel and cried. He wasn't aware of how long he sat there, even after his tears had stopped, but he suddenly became concious of a small pair of arms encircling his neck.

Bakura raised his head and came nose-to-nose with Ryou, who was also crying. "Don't cry Bakura-sama," the little one said. "I'll leave! I'll go somewheres else! Just don't cry!"

Bakura stared at him dumbly. "You think that I'm crying because..." Suddenly he laughed and caught Ryou around the waist, pulling the eight-year-old onto his lap. Ryou stiffened, but then relaxed as Bakura hugged him. "Silly Ryou! Silly, silly Ryou! I'm crying because I'm happy! So there!"

Ryou laughed too, and hugged him back. "So we're together forever Bakura-sama?"

"You bet Ryou-chan. Forever!"

~But with hope and faith~
~Yeah, we can understand,~
~All God's children need is love~
~And us to hold their little hands.~

"HONEY, WE'RE HOME!" Bakura bellowed as he burst in the door, Ryou perched on his shoulders. Yami, Yugi, Malik, Ishtar, Natsuko, and Masaharu immerged from the kitchen, staring at them strangly. That set Bakura off laughing, which set off Ryou. With a happy whoop, Bakura swung Ryou to the ground. "Ours! All ours!"

"Forever!" Ryou added.

"AMEN!" were the enthusiastic replys of Yami, Yugi, Ishtar, and Malik.

Natsuko smiled wateringly, as Masaharu put an arm around her shoulders. "This is the reason I love being what I am," she said, leaning her head back against his chest. "Happily-ever-after."

"Yes," Masaharu said, rubbing her shoulder. "Happily-ever-after. For everyone."

~Hallelujah, hallelujah~
~Let us all love one another.~
~Hallelujah, hallelujah~
~Make all our hearts bilnd to color.~
~Hallelujah, hallelujah~
~God bless the child who suffers...~

Six months later...

Natsuko shreiked as the door was flung out of her hands. Quickly she and Masaharu jumped to the side as Ryou and Yugi flew out the door, chasing after Dorothy and Hilde, the white Austrailian sheep-dog that Malik had gotten for his birthday.

"Hi 'Suko-chan! Hi 'Haru-chan! Bye Suko-chan! Bye 'Haru-chan!" the boys chorused before rounding the corner of the house.

There was a chuckle from the doorway and the two turned to see Ishtar beconing them inside. "Don't mind them. There're just excited."

"About what?" Masaharu asked as he and Natsuko followed Ishtar intot he kitchen, where Yami was waiting. "Where's Bakura?"

Yami chuckled. "That's what they're so excited about. Malik's getting ready to start breaking Masaki. Not only that, but Cassy's due to have her foal any time."

"She's in foal again?" Natsuko asked, startled. "Didn't she just have one?"

Ishtar chuckled and nodded. "Yes, but apparently Bakura's of the notion that the more the better. Yami and I are taking bets on the sex of this foal. Wanna have a go?"

Masaharu shrugged. "Sure, why not. Ten dollars says it's another filly."

"She's already had two fillies," Natsuko objected. "Fifteen says it's a colt."

"Right-o," Ishtar said. "So what have you two been up to in the last few weeks? It's been... What? About a month since we last saw you?"

Masaharu nodded. "Something like that. We actually came to extend an invitation to you six."

"Oh?" Yami asked, raising an eyebrow. Ryou's black cat, Horus, jumped up on his lap, and he stroked her absently.

"Hai," Natsuko said. "Masaharu and I are getting married this Augest."

"Congradulations!" Ishtar and Yami chorused. "Come on," Yami added, standing up and despelling Horus from his perch. "Let's go out to the barn and let the others know."

The four walked leisurly toward the meadow and stable, chatting about various things. A loud yell brought their attention to the pasture, and Ishtar laughed at the sight. Malik was on Masaki's back, trying his best to hang on as the feisty little horse tried to buck him off. Bakura was off o one side, shouting instructions, while Yugi, Ryou, Dorothy, and Hilde chased each other around the edges of the feild. "Well I dare say he's learned how to hang on since last October," Masaharu noted.

"You're letting him do that?" Natsuko asked, slightly alarmed.

Ishtar waved him off. "Oh yeah. Bakura's really experienced with horses, so I know he won't get hurt. Besides, Ryou has my passion for cooking, so I can't really complain."

"So what's it like being fathers?" Masaharu asked. "I may need to know."

Natsuko blushed at this comment, and Yami and Ishtar laughed. "Nothing to it!" Yami said. "As long as you love children."

Natsuko and Masaharu smiled at each other. "No problem there!"

"No," Yami murmered, but his eyes were out in the feild, watching Yugi. Ishtar too had forgotten the two family fiends and was staring at his son, adopted though he was, on the back of Masaki. Bakura too, seemed to have forgotten the filly for the moment, and had caught Ryou as he ran by, swinging him up onto his shoulders, as was his habit.

"No problem there."


WSJ: Hey! I should get all this documented!!! The opening bits were written well over three months ago, in a fit of writers' block for Sacrifice of Shadows. By the time the Tamiyas were introduced, it was well over a week later and I'd desided to enter this in Brood's contest. The breakfast and Toys R' Us 'chapter' arrived in my brain at about 11 PM one night, but wasn't written until the next morning. The part with Malik, Ishtar, and the Mad Egyptian Racehorse was written at about 8 PM on Christmas day, while I was snowed in, on a sugar-high, and cut off from the internet. Everything from Yugi's birthday party to the end was written the night before New Years Eve.

Can you find all the cameos, hidden references, cross-anime and cross-fic plugs I stuck in? There's a bunch! Characters that show up with or without their names mentioned, names stolen and used on complely different characters (like the horses and dogs), and just plain shameful hints. ^_^ There's at least ten refernces for both the dubbed and Japanese versions of YGO, as well as several from other anime. ^_^ Have fun trying to find them all!!!

WSJ: Shewwie! That's the longest one-shot I've ever written! *whistles* My hands are all cramped!!! Reviews pleases! This is my baby, and I'm hoping you all will love it as much as I do!

God bless minna-san!