Chapter Thirty Two:

When It's All Over...

"It's nighttime," Joey remarked plainly as he emerged from the dank hellhole below. He turned to help Ausar topside, leading the stunned duelist over to a nearby bit of wreckage to sit.

Yami, supported by a begrudging Seto and mortified Bakura appeared next, the trio sullen about the set back and about having to be in close contact with each other for any reason.

And last, Kavala, Ryou, and Malik practically stumbled away from the trap door, opting to just appear to be dead as they lay on the cool sands.

"Put me down already!" Yami growled. "Or at least you can let go, Kaiba. I don't need your help."

Seto complied with the cranky Pharaoh's orders all too happily, going over with Ausar and Joey. This is scary. They look almost identical. "Hey, how are you holding up?" he asked with a sort of kindness he'd never displayed outside of the mansion.

"He's pretty much in shock," Joey replied sadly, hugging Ausar tightly. "And really sad, but that's to be expected." His tired coffee eyes searched his lover's endless azure. "Are you okay?"

Seto smiled slightly, nudging his way between the almost twin duelists. Being Seth's reincarnation, maybe me just being here will help Ausar. "I'm just fine."

Ausar gave a little whimper in the back of his throat and latched himself around Seto's waist, silent tears streaming down his dirty face.

Kavala shook his head, having been watching the scene upside down. "I told him not to get attached. One of our raids on the palace lasted for a few cycles and I got to know Ausar. I warned him not to get close to Seth but noooo." His mood had gone from sorrowful to scornful quickly, his own defense to the massive shock of losing Antaios.

Ryou looked over at the small Egyptian with a raised eyebrow. He could feel the bitterness radiating off of Kavala like dark waves and sighed.

Though, before the Brit could comment on that, there was a resounding smack, followed by, "I'm just fine you idiot! Quit hovering!"

Malik looked over to see Bakura's hand half-covering a bright red mark where Yami had slapped him, his dark eyes wide in shock. Snickering, he called over, "If the Pharaoh can throw a bitchfit, he'll live!"

Bakura just nodded, blinking. "That... really hurt you bastard!" he growled, leaning over Yami threateningly. "You know what else?"

Yami's eyebrows raised. "What?"

"I loved it!" Bakura leaned down to kiss the Pharaoh soundly.

Ryou smiled. "And if Bakura can molest the Pharaoh, then I suppose he'll be okay as well."

Seto looked down when Ausar gave a choked little laugh, petting his displaced hair soothingly. "What's wrong?" He even smells like Joey.

"I-I'm glad that Khasekhemwy k-kept his heart with him," Ausar replied brokenly, sniffling. "Me an' Kavala..."

Joey's face lit up and he leaned forward to catch the Egyptian's gaze. "You know, I was thinking. My Seto and your Seth are the same guy, so it'll be okay if I share him with you!"

Ausar brightened, nodding. He was desperate now. "I-If you don't mind."

Joey's grin just got brighter. "You can have that half, okay?"

Seto rolled his eyes. "And why don't I have a say in this?"

"Because you don't."

"Hey, hey, hey! Break it up!" Ryou threw a rock at Yami and Bakura, hitting the latter in the back of the head. "You morons have to breathe now!"

Bakura looked back at his hikari, panting slightly. "I'm... alive though! I bleed, I hurt, I ache, I breathe... I'm hungry, and hor-"

Yami smacked a quick hand over the thief's mouth. "He's really happy to be alive again."

Kavala huffed. "Speaking of which, I would really love to know where you all came from."

Ryou jumped in. "You're not going to believe it, but you're actually in what we would consider our time. For you, you're five thousand years in the future."

"That's impossible," Kavala deadpanned, glaring up at the stars.

"Actually, when Malik's back was re-carved, his blood seemed to be the key to reopening the Shadow Games," Ryou continued. "You know that he's Antaios' reincarnation. Ausar and Joey are the same person, as are you and I."

"I figured you had some tie to me. Your aura's almost identical."

Ryou shrugged. "And Kaiba over there is Seth's reincarnation." The Brit sighed. "The man with the spiked hair is Mahaado. No reincarnation, no nothing."

"He's the essence of Mahaado's evil," Malik corrected. "I could sense the tear in Marik's character when he was forced through the time barrier."

"But all of us went through with out any sort of shielding," Ryou pointed out.

"Nope. Bakura had all of you shielded to prevent any attacks from Marik." Malik collected his thoughts. "His Aura Barrier is what kept you all shielded. I was forced through and that's why I assumed the appearance of my past self."

"Would you quit talking about Antaios like he's..." Kavala growled, slamming his fist down in the sand. He glared wordlessly at the blackened heavens, tears making silent tracks down his tanned cheeks.

Malik turned over on his side so he was facing the Egyptian, resting his head on his palm. "Wanna talk about it?" he offered.

Kavala shook his head. "There's nothing to talk about." His small frame shook under the power of repressed sobs, emerald eyes falling shut to try and dam up his tears.

Malik reached over to pet the thief's mop of messy hair. A moment later, he found Kavala latched firmly to his chest, crying his heart out. The seventeen-year-old glanced at a nearly green Ryou. -He just lost Antaios,- he reminded the Brit telepathically. -Besides, how can I cheat on you with yourself?-

Ryou blinked, thinking the question over.

Malik smiled, still playing with Kavala's hair. "C'mon, calm down and talk to me."

Kavala sniffled, pulling away from the other Egyptian some. "H-He promised never... to leave me," he stated shakily. "We've been th-though everything t-together." The little thief gave a bitter bark of a laugh. "Hell, we've died together."

"And you think he betrayed you?" Malik asked, getting this feeling of deja vu for reasons he wasn't about to admit.

Kavala just nodded. "H...He promised not to leave me."

Ryou snorted. "Looks like you've got a bad history, Maly."

"'Maly'?!"

"What did Malik do?" Kavala asked, still clinging to Malik like a lifeline.

A faint blush creept up on Ryou and he cleared his throat. "He walked out on me to assist Marik in reopening the Shadow Games."

Ausar looked up from the sand. "By 'walked out', you mean-"

Bakura rolled his eyes. "Why can't someone beside me just come out with it? Malik laid Ryou then was forced to walk out on him! It's that fucking simple!"

Ryou was now a cute shade of crimson.

Kavala snickered. "You do have a horrible history, Malik." The teenaged thief looked introspective. "I was drunk and I have no idea what was up with Antaios, but I know the morning after, he was nowhere in sight. When I did find him again, I think I broke his arm and his nose before he could explain that Mahaado needed him to run an errand at an inconvenient time."

Malik blinked. "Thank Ra you mellowed out in your next life."

Ryou glared over at the Egyptian. "Who says I didn't want to break your nose and your arm?" He brushed his hair out of his face, glaring at it cross-eyed when it just fell back into place. "But there's a few things I just can't seem to figure out still. How in the Hell could you not know Marik was still lurking around in the short time after Battle City?"

Malik shrugged. "The same way you didn't know Bakura was back until your duel with the Pharaoh in the semi-finals."

"But-"

"Before we reanimated you." Malik looked down at the ground. "That wasn't easy, you know? If you wanted me to suffer, I did. Before, I had no idea what I was going to do to my own family. But the second time around, I saw it all with a different pair of eyes and I was -and still am- ashamed."

Ryou looked sheepish now. "That answers the 'Why couldn't you face your siblings?' question."

Malik sighed. "Yeah, that's why. I practically murdered Rishid and put Ishizu in just as much danger. I just couldn't go to them for anything after I saw what I did."

"Why'd you call me a brainless idiot?"

"What? ...Oh that," Malik deadpanned. "You told me to go to Hell."

"You said I was in the way!"

"You were!"

"So what?"

"You wanted me dead!"

Ryou didn't have a retort for that one and he swallowed hard. "Look, you were making it sound like you were on your world domination binge again! What was I supposed to think?!"

"I told you things would turn out right in the end," Malik murmured, still glaring a hole in the sand.

Ryou's brow knit together. "You did? When?"

Malik shook his head. "You're as one-track minded as Bakura," he sighed sadly.

He never told me things would be okay! He blew me off a lot... Ryou studied Malik hard, something clicking in his mind as he caught the Egyptian's eyes. "You were the one who told us to come here, weren't you?" he murmured, remember the strange visitor in his soul room a few days back.

Malik scrambled for lost ground. "Nah. I just wanted you dead, s'all."

((Will you admit that you fucked up now?)) Bakura asked.

Ryou sighed. (I was too hasty, wasn't I?)

((Yes. Now how does that go? Kiss and makeup?))

Malik hadn't heard a reply from Ryou and slowly sat up, giving Kavala's hair a last pat before hugging his legs to his chest. I knew he wouldn't understand. Ra be damned, Marik warned me Ryou would turn out- The Egyptian was rudely tugged out of his thoughts when he felt something tackle him to the ground.

"I should have known," Ryou murmured, hugging Malik tightly. "I should have known you were better then that."

Malik smirked. "Oh shut up and kiss me."

Ausar laughed when he noticed Kavala looked like puppy kicked to the curb. "Think of it this way," he called over to the Egyptian. "If you interrupt, it's perfectly fine!"

"How do you figure?" Yami asked.

"If I'm following this whole thing correctly, Malik would be kissing Ryou and Kavala would be kissing Antaios." Ausar yelped and ducked a brick that Kavala threw at him. "What?!" He hardly had time to register the second shard of masonry before it connected with his head. "OW! I was only kidding."

Malik smirked. "That is why you do not screw with Ryou's temper, past or present."

Kavala picked up another brick, ready to throw it at his lover's reincarnation. "I was here first!"

"You're talking about yourself in the past tense."

"So?"

"So in my time you're a mummy and-OW!" Malik rubbed his head, looking down at Ryou. "What was that for, creampuff?"

"Quit fighting with me," the Brit grumbled, refusing to let go of the Egyptian. He was still trying to remind himself that he hadn't permanently screwed up and it really was Malik he was clinging to. "I'm sorry."

"We both screwed up okay? You jumped to conclusions and Marik was making me sound like a complete psycho nutcase again." Malik tilted Ryou's chin so he could look the younger teen in the eyes. "After all this is over, we'll start from the beginning."

Ryou gulped, a supremely nasty thought crossing his mind. "So you're willing to do everything over again?"

Malik smirked wolfishly. "Yes, my little creampuff, everything."

Ryou blushed brightly but before he could say anything more, he found himself staring at Kavala's back. Blinking, the Brit glared hard at his past self before realizing that his lips were firmly attached to his Malik. He latched himself onto the little thief's waist and tried to tug him away. "He's mine!"

Kavala clung to Malik tightly, refusing to let go. "He's mine too!"

"I got him first!" Ryou argued, digging his heels into the sand for some sort of leverage. He leered at Joey when he started cracking up. "Shut up, Wheeler. I don't share well."

"You're jealous of yourself!" Bakura cackled.

Ryou growled and pulled harder, at least preventing Kavala was kissing Malik again. "I got him in his next life before you did! Let go you stupid thief!"

"Okay."

Ryou yelped when he was thrown back into the sand, a hand darting out to reach for Kavala's robe seconds too late. His fists clenched. "STOP KISSING HIM!"

Kavala refused to listen and Malik didn't look too object to the liplock.

"He's ditched you for yourself," Joey snickered.

"Cork it." Ryou glared a proverbial hole in Kavala's back, finally sick of the spectacle he was making and pulled at the Egyptian's worn robe. All he did was tug it off instead of pulling the thief back as well. "Ugh! I was pushy and muscular in my past life."

Malik finally got away from Kavala, propping his head on the teen's shoulder with a dazed sort of look on his face. "If it helps, you kiss better in this life."

"HEY!" Kavala growled.

Malik looked apologetic. "He's not as... built as you are."

"Malik!"

"You're cuter with longer hair," Malik soothed.

Kavala's expression darkened.

"But you look better with the green cat eyes."

Ryou crossed his arms.

"Then again, brown is much cuter."

Kavala smirked and allowed his facade to drop, his expression morphing into a pleased grin when he saw Malik's jaw hit the ground. "You were saying?"

"Um... The catty orange-brown is good too... Ryou, you're dying your hair black and cutting it," Malik muttered.

"Like Hell!" Ryou tugged at Kavala's shoulders, still not moving him. "Stubborn jackass." He huffed. "And I am just as 'built' as he is!"

Kavala latched his fingers to the edge of his sash, threatening to take it off. "Dare to back that challenge up, Ryou?" he hissed.

Ryou grabbed onto the edge of his partially ruined shirt before stripping it off. "I'll even race you."

Malik blink, not quite believing what he was seeing and wishing there was cold water in the area. "Guys, stop this! Kavala, I know you're upset but stripping will get you nowhere."

Ryou looked up from undoing his belt. "Your point it?"

"While he'd love to see you both strip down, now isn't the appropriate time," Yami replied. "Besides, Kavala, technically Malik is five thousand years older then you, give or take a year."

Kavala actually thought about that for a second and shrugged. "He looks just fine to me."

Malik noticed and had the grace to blush, drawing his legs up to his chest.

"Quit eyeing my boyfriend!" Ryou hissed.

"I actually got him in your past life so I can look if I want to."

Malik sighed, shaking his head. If I had died, I would feel pity for Antaios... somehow. "Look Ryou, I have to ask you this: How on earth can I cheat on you with yourself."

Ryou opened his mouth to reply.

"Then answer this: How can you cheat on yourself?"

For that, the Brit had no response but was still fuming. "But I got to you in this life first!"

"Actually, I saw Kavala attached to Malik first," Bakura replied smartly.

"Go molest the Pharaoh."

"Ryou-MMPH!"

Joey and Ausar cracked up, the other's antics doing wonders for their formally dreary moods. Seto looked ready to run back to Japan, on the other hand.

Kavala crossed his arms. "I'm grieving, okay?"

"By molesting my far too willing koibito?" Ryou scowled, looking reminiscent of Bakura. "You grieve funny." The Brit was shocked to find a familiar pair of lips crushed up against his own, letting out a muffled squeak of surprise.

"HEY!" Kavala whined.

Seto shook his head, looking down at Joey. "Thank you for being able to share so nicely with yourself." He winced when Ausar hugged his waist tightly. I feel like a stuffed animal, he grumbled mentally with a completely deadpan expression on his face.

Ryou smiled as Malik pulled back, sticking his tongue out at Kavala. It then occurred to him that there might be a way to help Kavala without jeopardizing his Egyptian. "I think, with Bakura and Yami's help, we can bring Antaios back."

Kavala shook his head, still managing to look indignant and sad at the same time. He knew something but obviously wasn't going to share. "I'll see him again soon enough."

Malik looked ready to cry when Ryou and Kavala pulled their clothes back on. "But... all that crap is so hampering! Take it off! ...Sooo you won't get hung up on anything."

Bakura smirked at Yami. "He's got a good idea there."

The Pharaoh smacked his over excitable thief again. "If you're this horny, I'm killing you again."

"I'll just be a horny ghost." Bakura grinned. "And horny ghosts haunt happy places."

Yami sighed, his cheeks reddening slightly. "You're incorrigible."

"Isn't he?" Kavala grinned, now staring at Malik just to piss Ryou off.

Ryou ground his teeth together. "If you don't stop it I'm going to gouge your eyes out with my own fingers," he threatened at length.

Bakura cleared his throat to get the spotlight. "Hikari, think about the advantages of this, seriously. If you start a threesome relationship, you actually wouldn't be sharing and you'd know how good you are-"

Ryou threw a very well aimed brick at Bakura. "Shut up right now because I do not like that train of thought."

Joey bit his lip. "Is it incest if you sleep with yourself?"

Seto leered down at his lover. "And I wonder where Mokuba gets his maturity from?"

"LET HIM GO!" Kavala shouted when Ryou latched himself onto Malik just for spite.

Malik, while enjoying the attention, didn't want Ryou to kill Kavala or vice versa. "How about no one touches me until we settle this problem with Marik and Mahaado, okay?"

"But-" Kavala and Ryou glared at each other. "Stop that!" They both crossed their arms. "Shut up!"

"This is scary," Ausar noted.

"Isn't it?" Joey agreed. "They were strange in their past lives."

"Malik doesn't look to upset about it though," Seto pointed out. Still keeping a deadpan tone, he added, "If you two start fighting, a contest to see who has the better body isn't out of the question."

Joey grinned and Ausar just flushed.

"He's mine," Kavala growled.

"I met him first."

"I got him in bed eons before you!"

"His name isn't Antaios!"

"He looks like Antaios!"

"Mine!"

"Mine!"

Kavala and Ryou took deep breaths, screaming, "MINE!" at the top of their lungs before pouncing on each other.

Malik and Bakura were all over the warring teenagers before any real damage could be done, the former clutching Kavala around the waist while the latter simply plucked Ryou up by the collar.

"Lemmeathim!" Ryou hissed, practically dangling from his shirt as he tried to swing at Kavala.

"I'll kill 'im!" the thief growled, trying to slip away from Malik.

Yami sighed wearily, forcing himself onto unsure legs. "This is a lot on all of us, but it'll do no good to start these types of conflicts." The Pharaoh stepped between Ryou and Kavala as another preventive measure in case they tried to get at each other again. "If you need a stress relief, wait until we face Marik and Mahaado again."

Ausar let out a surprised, "Oh!" before jumping to his feet. "Speaking of which, something just occurred to me." He bit his lip, looking nervous when everyone turned to look at him. "Ra, I hate being the center of attention," he murmured shyly. "I-It would help if you all knew how to summon your Ka."

Malik motioned to Ryou. "I saw him do it with my own two eyes."

Ausar shook his head. "That was uncontrolled and I can tell it took up a lot of his energy." The duelist looked down at the sand. "Before I go anywhere though, Malik, you cannot summon your Ka at anytime during the next battle."

"Why's that?" the Egyptian demanded. "I've got a Blue-Eyes White Dragon!"

"Yes, you do, but you Ka and Ba are fused. Not only is summoning incredibly painful, but your physical body will be left completely helpless and it will be as if it is actually you fighting."

"From what I've seen," Ryou spoke up. "That happens anyway."

"Not really," Yami corrected. "The injuries inflicted on your Ka only mirror on the creature's master and heal very quickly. If Malik were to use his Ka to fight, the damage would be massive and I can hardly believe his body would withstand summoning his Blue-Eyes, let alone employ it in battle."

"But I healed him just fine!" Kavala protested.

Ryou looked sour at that.

"I know but... I still don't want to place him under any more stress," Yami replied quickly.

\\What are you hiding, Pharaoh?\\ Bakura demanded.

\Right now, Malik is sustaining the barrier between past and present and it's putting a horrible strain on him without his knowledge.\ Yami looked extremely troubled. \All this rampant use of Shadow magic is hurting him even worse as well.\

\\'Rampant'? How do you figure?\\

\Well, there's two copies of the Ring, Rod, and Puzzle and only Ra knows what has become of the other Items. Aside from that, the Ka are being summoned by drawing off of crossed sources and it's throwing things out of alignment beautifully.\

\\So if this keeps up, it could kill Malik?\\

Yami nodded. \With Antaios alive, they shared the strain and this wouldn't be a problem. Malik's carrying the weight of the Shadow Games alone now.\

\\I thought Ryou and Kavala were the Guardians? Doesn't that mean anything?\\ Bakura sounded impatient and worried, not quite for Malik, but more for his hikari.

\I established the Shadow Guard only to keep ownership of the Items in alignment and to close the games if it came down to it. I suppose some of the strain is shared because Malik and Ryou have their bond, but not enough to remove Malik from danger.\ Yami crossed his arms, drawing his tattered cape around his lean frame as a cold wind gusted past.

Bakura scowled. \\Well, judging by the way everything else has turned out, I suppose either Kavala or Ryou is going to have to die to close the games again?\\

"Hello? Earth to Pharaoh!"

Yami shook his head, focusing on Joey's face in front of his. "May I help you?"

"Kavala needs you to teach Malik how to summon a Duel Monster without dragging his Blue-Eyes into it," the blond replied.

Yami nodded. \We may all die before this is over,\ he warned Bakura. A stray thought brushed his mind but he swept it away. "It's actually quite simple."

Malik rolled his eyes, having let go of Kavala a while ago so he could work with the equally hard-headed Seto. "Act like I've never summoned a physical Duel Monster in my life."

Yami smiled. "Of course. It's a simple incantation to draw the monster you want out of the Shadow Realm and a series of hand movements to actually draw it out."

"You know," Ryou stated conversationally. "Kaiba still has his deck and it'll be much easier for Malik to draw from the Ring's power to summon a monster from its card as opposed to the Shadow Realm." /He doesn't need anymore stress on him./

Yami froze. //You heard that?//

Ryou's nod was barely perceptible. /Yes I did. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I kind of heard Malik's name and wanted to see what the problem was./ The Brit shuffled over to Seto, interrupting the CEO's crash course long enough to get his main deck.

Malik watched Ryou with interest. "You said this way is easier?"

Ryou nodded. "You can draw off of the Ring's power without a problem, right?"

"Yeah."

"Good." Ryou shuffled through the deck to look for an easy to handle monster. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head at the cards he was seeing. "Crap, Kaiba. It's a wonder you always win!" The sixteen-year-old shook his head, grabbing La Jinn and handing it to Malik. "This is the way Bakura taught me how to summon Duel Monsters."

"This should be interesting," Malik muttered.

"Seriously, aijin," Ryou admonished. "The Ring has three 'strings', if you want to call them that. Blue is for magic, red is trap, and violet is monsters. To summon La Jinn, imagine tying a violet string around the card and focus on drawing out the energy you feel there."

Malik shrugged. "Sounds like a Mind Crush in reverse."

Yami looked over at the Egyptian with a raised eyebrow. "And how would you know?"

"How do you think I got the Silent Doll to obey me so well?" Malik shot back.

Yami shuttered and went back to helping Joey.

Ryou rolled his eyes. "Okay, hotshot, try summoning La Jinn."

Malik closed his eyes, reaching out for the Ring's energy. He found it easily enough but was perplexed on how to find these "strings" Ryou was talking about.

The Brit figured the seventeen-year-old's problem out quickly and smiled. He latched onto Malik's aura and followed it into the flow of the Ring's power, helping the Egyptian sort out the energies into three distinct strings in his mind. -It's easy to pick them out, aijin. My aura summons magic, Bakura's summons traps, and our combined aura summons monsters.-

Malik nodded and followed Ryou's previous instructions. He nearly had La Jinn materialized in the living world when a loud roar cracked his concentration in half. He looked up immediately and found himself staring at a Blue-Eyes with a startled Ryou perched on his head.

The teen grinned sheepishly. "I'm sorry! I was trying to remember how I summoned my Ka before and he just sort of appeared."

The Blue-Eyes seemed to smirk as he let Ryou back onto solid ground, shrinking down to a less formidable size. The dragon nudged his master almost playfully and trained bright azure eyes on Malik.

"I think he wants to see you work your magic," Bakura chuckled. \\Kavala's Blue-Eyes is so bitchy. Ryou's is a puppy with wings.\\

Yami snickered. \I noticed. Ryou's Ka seems to be more attached to Malik as well.\

Malik leered at the aforementioned god before trying to summon La Jinn again, a surprised squeak from Joey interrupting him once more. He didn't have to look to know the American had finally figured out how to summon Red-Eyes. The Egyptian felt a pang of jealousy and practically "ran" through the steps to summon La Jinn.

Ryou jumped back when the emerald genie appeared with a small flash from his card, grinning brightly and hugging Malik tightly. "Excellent, aijin! You did better then I did on my first try!"

A second Blue-Eyes appeared, this one hovering over Seto with the same infamous iciness the CEO displayed. Aforementioned teenager looked supremely pleased with himself, though it didn't last long when Red-Eyes gave his ego a pop by tripping him.

Bakura nodded, impressed with the other's quick wit as he looked at Yami. "Now, maybe we should try to formulate a plan of action?"

Malik glanced over at the thief. "I have a strategy."

Ryou snickered. "Last time I checked, you're master strategy took six years to formulate and ended in a bitter loss." His eyes held a sympathetic light despite his teasing tone.

"You're such a brat," he grumbled. "Seriously, everyone hear me out. The way our past selves fought was too sloppy and their defenses failed far too quickly."

"No shit, Sherlock," Bakura muttered.

Malik glared daggers at him, but continued without commenting. "Not including myself, four of you possess god-level monsters. While this works to our advantage-"

"Hold on," Seto broke in. "There's three main gods and Seth was obviously the one who controlled Obelisk. Wouldn't I be able to summon him as well?"

Ausar looked unsure. "The White Dragon is a god, yes, but Obelisk, Osiris, and Ra are pretty much the god of the gods. I remember it took Seth many years to gain battle-worthy control over Obelisk and he never really mastered him. It may be better to just play the game with your White Dragon."

Seto glared coldly at the Pharaoh's duelist. "Try me," he challenged.

"No," Yami stepped, leaning on Bakura far too heavily now. "This may hurt your ego horribly, Kaiba, but this duel must be fought decisively and just plucking random powers from the Shadow Realm will only get someone killed."

"Please, ryuu?" Joey begged, giving Seto his puppy dog eyes. "You have that big Blue-Eyes! Hell, I've only got a little Red-Eyes to protect me. I'm going to need some help."

Seto glared at the sand, knowing if he met his lover's gaze, his will would turn to ashes. "We need power in this battle, koinu."

Malik snorted. "Kaiba, take it from me. Marik will be expecting us to use brute force. If we attack him as stealthily and as coordinated as possible, it will throw him off."

"Yet Mahaado will expect stealth," Bakura pointed out. "Especially since he now knows I'm working for the Pharaoh. You know, being the King of Thieves and all."

Malik smirked. "Well, mighty King of Thieves, you've never worked with the Rare Hunters before have you?"

"No."

"Then you've never seen my definition of stealth." Malik crossed his arms, wincing as stiff, sore muscles protested. "Our only way in is through that trapdoor. They'll expect us to come quietly, in a large group, with the most powerful Ka up front."

Ryou decided to throw his own two cents in. "If a pair goes, say Joey and Malik-"

"HELL NO!" said blonds trilled.

"It's for the team," Ryou replied.

"Screw the team!" Malik growled.

Bakura shook his head. "Deja vu, 'eh Ryou?"

The Brit nodded with a sighed. "Marik will know that we can summon our Ka through the Shadow magic we used. He doesn't know Malik can summon cards because his energy is contained and Joey has the weakest Ka, no offense."

"How will this help us? They'll be slaughtered," Kavala pointed out.

"No. We'll be right behind them." Ryou motioned to Bakura. "He's excellent at masking auras and the like, so Marik and Mahaado will never know what hit them. We'll attack in one rush and then cycle out combatants two on two."

Joey looked completely lost. "Come again?"

"All of our Ka will attack Marik and Mahaado at the same time at the start of the next fight," Ryou elaborated. "After that, we'll fight in sets of two."

"We'll have to counterbalance each other," Ausar noted.

Bakura glanced at Yami, watching at the Pharaoh zoned in and out of reality. His eyes darkened and he wrapped an arm around his waist. "Before we make any more plans, we're getting Yami out of here."

"Like Hell!" the other guardian growled.

Bakura pointedly ignored him. "Marik and myself have dealt too much damage to him and fighting again could mean his death."

Ausar turned to Joey then, staring him in the eyes for the first time since they'd met. "I want you to go with Khasekhemwy."

"Me? I'm staying here with Seto!" Joey protested.

"Look, I'm not being conceited or anything, but I know I can trust you to keep the Pharaoh safe," Ausar murmured. "In exchange for protecting my dear friend, I swear to you that no harm will come to Seto in our duel." His eyes gained a steely edge to them. "Even if it means my own life, I will protect your love from danger."

Joey bit his lip, eyes darting between Seto and Yami. Man, he's done so much for me! I can't just leave him in the dust now. The blond nodded solemnly. "Ausar, if you screw up man, I'll track you back down and beat your brains in."

Yami shook his head. "We're all staying."

"Yami?" Joey started.

"What?"

"Shut the Hell up and let's go." Joey didn't mean to be harsh, but he didn't want to have to linger long enough to have second thoughts about leaving Seto behind. He went over to Yami and gathered him up piggy-back style. "Once I get him to the hospital," he started, swallowing hard as he shuffled his hands to a more comfortable position. "I'll come right back."

"Don't," Seto ordered. "Stay in the city with Yami." His eyes were almost black with a thousand different emotions, none of them positive. "I doubt all the people you see before you will be returning."

Joey nodded, brushing his lips against Seto's with a whispered, "Good bye" before making his way out of the ruins.

Seto set his shoulders and turned back to the group. "So, game plan now that we're two guys short?"

Bakura spoke up. "Ausar and Malik are the most susceptible targets in battle. Ryou will be Malik's guard and Seto will be Ausar's. Kavala, you'll work with me." The thief turned to Malik. "While you're not battling, I trust that you'll be utilizing your trap and magic cards."

Malik nodded, a hand darting up to deftly catch the second deck Seto threw at him. "I also suggest we set ourselves up at different positions once we know our fighting grounds."

"It's also a good idea if we change positions and switch pairs," Ryou threw in. "That way, Marik and Mahaado won't know who's working with who. Oh, and stagger our change-out times so it's not blatantly obvious that we actually bothered to plan something out for once."

"And how do we know when to switch?" Ausar asked.

"Hmm... Good question." Bakura worried his lip, fingers tugging furiously at the hem of his robe as he thought the query over. Ryou and Malik have their link with me and I know Kavala is blatantly psychic. I can have Ryou work with... No, I don't need Kavala and Ryou bickering because one's with Malik and the other isn't. I can have Kavala work with Seto, Ryou with Ausar, and Malik will pair up with me.

"I am not working with you. You'll cramp my style," Malik stated haughtily, having been shamelessly listening to the thief's thought process.

Bakura rolled his eyes. "You'll get over it," he shot back. "Here's how we're going to work it. Malik, you're stuck with me. Ryou will go with Ausar and Kavala with Seto."

Malik looked hesitant. "Aren't you relying on our bonds a little too heavily?"

"It's a chance we're going to have to take," Bakura replied.

"It's a rather foolish idea, but it could work," Seto grumbled. At least Joey is out of the way. Now, if I don't get myself charred... again, everything should turn out fine.

Ryou's Blue-Eyes suddenly gave a hissing growl, flipping his unsuspecting master onto his head as massive wings fanned out in a warning.

"Eh... what is it?" the Brit asked, clinging to his Ka's head for dear life.

Seto's own dragon god clawed at the ground restlessly while his eyes searched the ruins keenly.

Bakura's Ring gave a sharp tug as it's pointers flew in errant directions, forcing the thief to remove it before it took his head off. "It has to be Marik."

"Very good, King of Thieves."

Everyone turn to Ryou with dark expressions, knowing that Marik had taken control of the Brit.

"Don't look so sour, the fun's only begun," Ryou's double-lined voice purred. "Our first battle was very invigorating, but so sloppy and without the promise of death. So I bid you all to join me in a Shadow Game."

Bakura bristled. "You and Mahaado would loose against the six of us!" he spat venomously.

Ryou chuckled, wagging a finger at the thief king patronizingly. "I already have your hikari under my control and if you look closely, Kaiba isn't his usual self at all." The controlled teen smiled as he petted his Blue-Eyes head. "Now come back underground to play with me."

Bakura, Kavala, Malik, and Ausar didn't have much choice as Seto and Ryou brought their Ka to bear, forcing them back underground to the main chamber of the structure. On the other side, Marik and Mahaado stood in patient wait for their puppets to join them. "The rules are simple," the former started. "A one-on-one Shadow battle to the death."

"You can't make us!" Malik snarled.

"Then you'll be destroyed," Mahaado shot back. "You have two minutes to complete your battle. If both combatants cannot reach a conclusion, Game Punishment will be inflicted on you both. No-holds-barred, any sort of magic you wish to work is fine."

"If we win?" Kavala demanded.

"You don't get it, do you?" Marik chuckled. "Only one of us will walk out alive. We play until one man is left standing."

"You monster," Ausar growled.

The duelist went unheard, though Mahaado's smirk grew wider at the insult. "The combatants will be chosen at random, through the will of the three gods." His cinnamon eyes danced with sadistic glee. "Beware of what lies in your heart because the gods do love to pit torn hearts against each other."

Malik stiffened, knowing most of what the ex-Priest has said was pertaining to him. No. We apologized to each other for what happened. They will not force me to duel Ryou.

Bakura sighed heavily. "We accept your terms."

"It's not that simple. I want you all to assure us that you'll fight to the death... No matter who your opponent is," Mahaado replied with a sadistic twist of his lips.

Malik glared hard at the sand before raising the smoldering gaze to his other half. "I swear to you that I will defeat you no matter what the circumstances."

Ausar held his head up proudly. "Brother, you have my solemn word that I will fight who ever the gods want me to with all my heart and soul." His eyes danced almost sadly. "I'll make you proud."

"I will avenge Antaios' death with your own," Kavala snarled. "And so I swear to duel you with all that I am."

Bakura took a deep breath, resting a hand on Malik's shoulder, feeling the Egyptian shaking. "For all that you have done to us, I will fight and destroy you with all my heart." His eyes darkened as he regained his King of Thieves facade.

Marik smirked. "May the gods have mercy on you."

"Don't expect us to," Ausar sneered.

Mahaado inclined his head, meeting Bakura's gaze head on as they both shouted, "Duel!"

The area filled with clinging amethyst and black fog, the air growing oppressed and the damned spirits suddenly appearing, ghosting through everything with mouths twisted open forever with mute screams. The miasma consumed Ausar and Seto, creating a violent storm in the center of the chamber that no living thing could penetrate.

Kavala barely caught Ausar as his soulless body hit the floor, shaking his head. "All we can do now is pray," he murmured.

* * * * *

The Shadow Realm, in it's realistic form, was a frightening place that Ausar could never get used to. The disorientation of having his soul ripped from his body and the feeling of floating served to distract him well and didn't understand what was happening until fire raked down his back.

"Pay attention."

Ausar gazed at his opponent, his eyes widening and his heart clenching. No... Dear gods, why did it have to be Seto?

Seto smirked. "You swore to fight me, Ausar, that you'd make me proud. Where's your fighting spirit now, huh?" he taunted as Blue-Eyes tore his teeth through Red-Eyes' hide.

Ausar grasped his neck as it started bleeding profusely, a fire sparking to life in his mind. He knew he was battling Mahaado through Seto and his desire to destroy his brother flared brightly in his heart. "No holding back," he murmured.

Ebony and azure dragons met in the middle of the dark realm, a furious mass of writhing limbs and flashing fangs and claws. Despite Blue-Eyes' godly status, he could barely hold off Red-Eyes' quick strikes, strongly backed by his master's own blazing determination. Neither Ka faltered as amazing amounts of power were fed to them, battling on a level so personal, each blow seemed to travel right to the heart and fan the flames burning there.

Ausar and Seto never broke their battling gazes, reading each other perfectly to create a battle flow that transcended all others. As their Ka clashed again and again, so did their wills. Blood ran like water and the atmosphere was tense. Yet as time went on, common sense and Ausar's other promise filtered through the haze clawing at his mind.

"Even if it means my own life, I will protect your love from danger."

Red-Eyes drew his claws down Blue-Eyes stomach in a particularly vicious strike, as if he were trying to keep Ausar focused on the brutal duel. He continued to strike the dragon god, reopening old wounds and creating new ones in a merciless combination. Though some trick of Mahaado's, none of the wounds appeared on Seto.

Ausar shook his head, smiling. "I promised to make you proud, Mahaado," he murmured, wiping the blood from his eyes. "Red-Eyes, stand down."

Blue-Eyes instantly went for the kill, digging his teeth into the smaller dragon's throat and bit down.

"You're suicidal," Seto hissed. "And now I win."

Ausar nodded. "Return to Joey safely, Seto." His met Mahaado's gaze, feeling Blue-Eyes teeth tearing at him through Red-Eyes. "I die to keep a promise, brother. Remember that," he choked out before Red-Eyes' neck was snapped cleanly in half.

* * * * *

Bakura felt Ausar's spirit flee from the Shadow Realm onto the afterlife, his head bowing. "He lost," he intoned quietly.

Kavala set Ausar on the ground gently, placing his robe over the courageous duelist. "Please judge him fairly, Ma'at, and help him back to Seth," he murmured. "Rest peacefully, Ausar."

Malik saw Bakura's frame start to slacken. "Shit." He caught the thief deftly. "Don't loose, jackass."

Bakura smirked. "I'd never dream of it," he whispered before he slipped into the Shadow Realm to face his own challenge.

* * * * *

Diabound's deranged crimson eyes stared Ra's own bloody orbs down with an insane grin on his twisted face, his snake tail hissing in anxious anticipation.

Marik just chuckled when he imagined Bakura hissing at him like his own Ka, the thief trying to melt him with his amethyst gaze. "What are you trying to prove by fighting me as you are, Bakura?"

The King of Thieves shrugged. "Just trying to get you over the delusion that I actually love you," he shot back darkly.

Ra gave a screeching cry as Diabound launched a sneak attack on him, hitting the fiend with a quick energy attack to throw him off before rushing forward carelessly.

Diabound flickered out of existence, his energy leaving disorienting trails all over the dueling area as he slid through the shadows.

Ra turned to follow the phantom traces angrily, attacking when he was sure Diabound was close only to be shocked by the Shadow Realm.

Marik growled, dusty lilac eyes tracing Diabound as well. "How can you do that?" he demanded.

Bakura looked like Christmas had come early. "Diabound is the shadows that make up the physical Shadow Realm, Marik dearest." He smirked. "I told you once before, I am the darkness."

Ra gave a hissing shriek and launched at the misty walls in a frustrated lunge, his only reward a massive shock that drove Marik to his knees. The golden god shook his head and wisely reconsidered his strategy.

"Time's a wasting," Bakura sing-songed.

Marik glowered at the thief angrily, not liking the way things were turning out. If I do not tamp my impatience down, that idiotic bird will kill the both of us.

Ra turned around again, his back now facing a promising aura trail from Diabound. If at all possible, the Shadow god smiled and unleashed his holy fire on the opposing wall.

Bakura screamed, joining Marik on the ground with a burning hole appearing on his chest. "Fuck," he growled, spitting out a mouthful of blood angrily. He figured Diabound's pattern out. No matter, we can switch.

But, Ra knew what to look for now and dogged Diabound as he tried to run from the winged Ka.

Bakura growled as his injuries amassed, his reserves giving out under the strain of fighting off the tendrils of controlling energy Marik was inflicting on him. "Stop cheating!" he spat.

"Mahaado said we can use any magic we want," Marik reminded the thief as he nearly toppled the thief's control over his Ka.

"Ugh, damn you both." Shit, I'm losing him. Bakura scrambled to keep Diabound in the shadows, knowing the Ka wanted to tackle Ra down in a suicidal attack completely of his own volition. He felt heavy as he tapped into his last bits of strength.

Marik cackled and attacked the snow haired Egyptian with a last rush of power.

At that moment, Diabound was forced out of the shadows to flounder in mid-air. He leered at Bakura angrily and tried to build up an attack.

But Bakura was spent, the taxation of battle finally catching up to him. As Diabound faded, he felt the Shadow Realm inflicting it wrath on him and he erected a hasty Aura Barrier from the village spirits before consciousness slipped through his fingers.

* * * * *

"It's over," Malik growled, having been able to follow the whole battle through Bakura. He heard Kavala's gasp and shook his head. "He's okay. The moron managed to cheat the Shadow Realm out of another victim."

"Good." Kavala swallowed hard. "You or me?"

Malik already felt the Shadow Realm pulling him in. With a jolt of panic, he felt Ryou being summoned to the duel as well. The Egyptian closed his eyes and sank into the beckoning darkness, preparing himself for the battle to come.

* * * * *

Malik clutched Seto's cards tightly, feeling defenseless anyway as he faced down Ryou and his divine Ka with a bravery burning in his eyes that didn't reach his heart in the slightest. "You're a twisted bastard, Marik."

"Ryou still held a lingering anger towards you," the fiend replied. "I told you the gods love a show such as this one."

Malik rifled through his cards with lightning speed as Blue-Eyes flew at him to end the duel in one fell swoop. As he grabbed a Mirror Wall from the deck, he snatched a red string from the Ring's power to bring the trap to life.

Blue-Eyes slammed hard into the glazed wall with an angered screech, clawing at it experimentally to see that it wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Not even a White Lightning would bring it down.

"So the thief's still alive," Ryou mused. "I should have expected him to cheat death yet again."

Malik smirked, shuffling through the cards as if his life was still unprotected in case something happened. He found a Labyrinth Wall and snagged a violet string so the maze-like structure could rise up to further his defenses.

"Come on and attack me," Ryou whined, his voice losing the double-edge for just a second. "I want to play fairly with you."

Malik kept building his defenses, trying to keep his all-too-rambunctious Ka contained. Damn it, you stupid dragon, stay the Hell where you belong. The Egyptian cringed when his Blue-Eyes gave a roar within his head. I'm not dying because you want to play with your friend!

A sharp shatter brought Malik out of his inner dialogue to see his Mirror Wall falling around him like knife-edged rain, the card burning up to prevent its reuse. "That's a bad thing," he muttered, giving his Ka a "smack" as it bucked against his restraints. Stay!

"Having a hard time?" Ryou taunted.

The Brit's Blue-Eyes roared and attacked the wall protecting him. The White Lightning easily overpowered the simple maze and left Malik wide open again.

"This was depressingly quick," Ryou sighed. "No matter. This is the end."

Malik shuffled quicker, knowing nothing he put up would help him. His Ka was now struggling violently to be let out, his instincts to protect his master growing more pressing as the seconds ticked by. I don't know how!

"Good bye, Malik," Ryou said simply. He raised his hand. "Blow him to the Hell he belongs in," he ordered before dropping his hand.

Ryou's Blue-Eyes roared victoriously and built up another energy attack in his jaw.

Malik fell to the ground, his control over his Ka finally shattering like his Mirror Wall had. He screamed as the god took form from his own body, eating up massive amounts of energy until there was very little left to fight with. In a rush, he felt the whole weight of the Shadow Realm bearing down on him, his back throbbing unceasingly, the hieroglyphics burning.

The suffering blond's Ka met Ryou's head on, slamming the other god into the Shadow Realm's walls and holding him there.

Malik knew he couldn't control his Ka with his energy almost completely depleted.

"Attack him directly!" Ryou shouted, not liking the other dragon god's sudden appearance in the slightest. "Attack him now!"

-Malik!-

The Egyptian started, feeling Bakura's spirit practically invading his mind. -Tomb robber, what the fuck are you doing here?-

-Just repeat after me, blondie,- Bakura snipped. -And yes, I'm drawing off your energy. Get over it.-

Malik could barely keep his eyes open, the strain and tug of a million different influences taking an unholy toll on his already injured body. "I call to bear the Saint of Aid. Devour the darkness in my opponent's heart to make him see the light. Feed from his evil and cleanse him with your healing touch."

A hybrid angel and demon materialized before the Egyptian, mismatched wings flaring out in an angry gesture.

Ryou faltered, the sight of his favorite card, the Change of Heart, helping him overthrow the power he had been trying to escape from since before the duels had started.

"Go. Free him," Malik whispered.

"ATTACK!" Ryou shouted.

The Change of Heart rushed at the pale haired duelist in a flurry of misplaced robes and flapping wings, merging with the teen.

Ryou's Ka still prepared to directly destroy Malik, casting the Egyptian's now tired Ka to the side effortlessly. He continuously faltered from the conflict in his master, but the attack still built.

Ryou collapsed to his knees, grasping his hair as his teeth ground together. "No..." he whispered. "I won't... Don't make me kill him."

"Fight it, Ryou!" Malik gasped.

"I can't..." Ryou's eyes slammed shut and his frame shook spasmodically. "I won't kill him… Please don't make me."

Malik steeled himself for a painfully quick death, locking gazes with Ryou.

"No, no, no, no..." The teen rocked back and forth, unable to peel his eyes away from Malik's dead lilac orbs. "NO!"

* * * * *

Kavala watched as Malik's lilac eyes fluttered open, leaning over him worriedly. "Who'd you have to fight? Was he hard...? Oh no.. Who'd you have to kill? Please don't say it was Ryou because he'd never forgive me-"

"He's fine," Malik muttered. "Y-You're next, Kavala." He gave the thief a tired grin. "Don't lose on me, okay?"

Kavala nodded. "I won't."

As the thief fell into the Shadow Realm's clutches, Malik crawled over to Bakura, a plan formulating in his mind as he tried to awaken the equally drained Egyptian.

* * * * *

The clash between the two dragonic gods was on before they had fully materialized in the Shadow Realm, forgoing all logical thoughts of attack to rush blindly at each other with their master's full power backing them. Back and forth their battle raged, with neither Kavala nor Mahaado backing down in the slightest. Both were drained past exhaustion and were fighting on sheer desperation and adrenaline.

The two Blue-Eyes separated for a short respite before going at each other blindly again, firing energy bursts at each other point blank while bloody claws and teeth ripped through flesh and bones with no thought to what they were doing to their masters. All that existed was the other god and the final deathblow that secured a victory to celebrate with continued life.

Blood flew everywhere like rain driven in a gale wind and pained, angry roars echoed off the walls in painful decibels as the battle only intensified, Kavala and Mahaado knowing their now non-existent reserves would completely fail them very soon. But they refused to back down and their gazes met in a sparking clash of amber on cinnamon, saying all that needed to be said.

The two gods were nothing but a blur of torn azure scales, driven to the point of insanity by the fire burning in their master's hearts. There was another break in the carnage, the dragons gasping and bleeding in amazing torrents. Flesh was missing in large chunks on each Blue-Eyes, showing off pearly bones slathered with shreds of muscles and thick lifeblood.

Kavala and Mahaado were perfect mirrors of their Ka, now looking more like freshly devoured skeletons then humans. Insane gazes met and locked, identical sneers of reserved agony twisted each ruined face.

Both Blue-Eyes gave one, last, choked roar before going at each other for the last time in a dazzling clash that lasted mere seconds.

In that final rush, the Shadow Guardian Kavala fell, fleeing from the sub-realm quickly to take shelter in a familiar body to escape Game Punishment.

* * * * *

The presence of the Shadow Realm flickered and faded, Mahaado's spirit returning to his body with a tired sigh. The Priest found himself hauled to his feet by Marik a second later. "He's dead."

"I know." Marik smiled venomously. "They suffered horribly in that round. We'll take a short respite and take out the remaining two."

Mahaado panicked then, knowing no one had the energy to go anywhere near the Shadow Realm anymore. "We'll do it ourselves," he stated.

Marik nodded. "You're completely drained as well then?"

"Unfortunately. Though, Kavala put up an admirable fight." Mahaado's head bowed, long strands of ebony falling over his shoulders. "You would have been amazed by the way he dueled."

"He was an excellent duelist, wasn't he?"

"Too bad you kill such talent."

Marik and Mahaado spun in opposite directions to find themselves faced with Malik and Bakura respectively. "What are you doing standing?" the former spat angrily.

Bakura smirked. "He's holding a dagger and I'm three seconds away from unleashing my fallen friends on you. I'd start praying right now."

Mahaado reached out for Bakura, something changing in his eyes as he brushed Bakura's scarred eye gently. "You'd kill us either way, Kasirika."

Bakura couldn't bring himself to pull back, feeling a previously undetected presence flee from Mahaado's body. No... Marik was controlling him!

Marik glared furiously at Malik. "Don't you dare do this."

"It has to be done," the mortal hissed, leering at Bakura. He felt the thief's sudden indecision and didn't like it. "Tricks or not."

"I will not die!" Marik roared as he jumped at Malik. He felt something cold lodge into his throat and his hands flew up to feel the dagger lodged there. The guardian fell to his knees, a garbled scream tearing from his ruined throat as the inscription was sliced from his back.

"For my father," Malik spat contemptuously as he took his second dagger. Anger made his gaze dance with insane glee as he dropped to one knee, wedging the weapon into Marik's head fastly in a surely permanent deathblow. He turned to Bakura, eyes still flashing wildly. "Do it!"

"He-He was controlled," Bakura murmured.

"Yes Kasirika, I'm sorry," Mahaado replied. "Trust me, I'd never hurt you ever." He slowly slid the Rod out of it's sheath as he drew Bakura into a one-armed embrace. "I love you, Kasirika."

Bakura closed his eyes, already knowing what Malik was about to warn him of. "I love you too Mahaado," he whispered, kissing the former Priest soundly and passionately even as he felt the cold dagger coming in alignment with his back. The thief pulled away, amethyst eyes fading back to chocolate. "I will never forget you, my love."

At that, the spirits of Kuru Eruna protecting Bakura flew away from the thief as he ducked out of Mahaado's embrace, converging on the Rod guardian to devour him whole. As the mighty King of Thieves watched, a solitary tear rolled down his face for the first time in five thousand years and a piece of his heart died with his first lover as the last wisps of his spirit faded into nothingness.

All around, everything started to crumble behind ripples signifying the imbalance in the Shadow Realm. Malik felt every crumbling piece like it was falling down on him, trying to fight the dragging darkness eating at his vision as roused Ryou.

By some miracle, the Brit came back to consciousness quickly, realizing there was danger to be had the second he met Malik's now subdued gaze. "Where is everyone?"

"Me, you, Kaiba, and Bakura are the only ones left," Malik replied shortly through clenched teeth. "The Shadow Realm's tearing everything, including me, to pieces so if you can get up and go, I'd love you all the more."

Ryou saw the bloodied set of inscriptions in the Egyptian's hand and he grabbed it with muted disgust. "I have a duty to perform," he stated seriously, his eyes flashing emerald.

"No you don't!" Malik hissed. "Get Bakura moving!"

Ryou nodded, tearing down the thief's weak barriers with some difficulty. (YAMI! GET MOVING!) he screamed, not wanting to screw around.

Bakura was already aware of what was happening and turned to gather up Seto with a grim sort of determination on his face. "Malik, Kavala died."

"I know," the Egyptian growled harshly, picking himself up off the ground.

"You've studied the scriptures, Ishtar," Bakura growled. "You know what has to be done."

Malik shook his head. "We'll be fine." He nearly fell unconscious as a particularly violent tremor shook the Shadow Realm to its core. The seventeen-year-old came to his senses in time to realize Ryou was shoving him back up the stairwell leading topside. "What are you doing?!"

Ryou's eyes were now completely green and his hair was shot through with black to accommodate the presence of Kavala's soul controlling his body. "Khasekhewmy told me to close the Shadow Games if this ever happened. Malik, I have to do this."

"No you don't!" Malik growled, gasping Ryou's shoulders tightly. "Not now, not after all of this." He searched the mesmerizing eyes before him pleadingly. "Don't leave me again."

Kavala smiled. "You'll live." The Egyptian shoved Malik up the stairwell after Bakura before slamming the doors shut and closing the lock to prevent him from getting back in. (Take care of him for us, Bakura,) he ordered the thief.

((I will.)) Bakura's voice was harsh with unshed tears and anger.

Kavala knelt down and placed the key to closing the Shadow Games before him, moving his fingers over the hieroglyphics as if it were mere papyrus. His voice, laden with Ryou's, chanted the words softly, feeling all the powers of the dark realm converging on him. Halfway through the incantation, he felt hands fall over his own and he looked up.

Antaios knelt before his lover, nearly transparent. "Don't bring Ryou with you."

"I have to in order to do this right," Kavala growled, continuing the spell in his head. "Malik'll live."

Antaios shook his head, his hands grasping Ryou's tighter before ghosting through the flesh. The fallen thief carefully pulled Kavala from his future self, hugging him tightly for a moment. "No he won't," he replied simply, managing to get Ryou to the top of the stairs and unlock the trapdoor before his strength gave out. The spirit went back to his lover, kneeling before him again with a comforting smile. "We'll go together."

Kavala kept chanting, though he smiled through silvery tears. "Thank you for coming back, Antaios," he whispered as his fingers moved over the Key.

Antaios nodded as he wove his remaining powers in with his lover's, caressing his ghostly cheek lovingly. "In the next life," he whispered.

"And every one thereafter," Kavala finished the same time the spell was completed and the Shadow Realm came crashing down overtop of them in a final testament to their bravery and eternal love for one other.

* * * * *

[Three days later]

"Ra be damned, I want to go the Hell home!" Yami bitched, pacing the floor of his room impatiently. "Screw that, I want to find Bakura and murder the slimy son of a bitch myself!"

Joey watched the cranky Pharaoh, his eye twitching. "Calm down, man. I'm sure they're okay."

Yami turned on the blond with flaring crimson eyes and a deadly scowl. "You baka! The Games are closed now! I felt the time rip seal itself three days ago and whoever survived isn't back yet!" He growled. "They probably got themselves killed in which case they deserve whatever punishment Ma'at dishes out for them!"

Joey gulped. "She's the freaky feather goddess, ain't she?"

Yami didn't pay attention. "I pray that Anubis mummifies them alive and curses them with Set's evil magics for all eternity! Then they can all rot in Ammut's stomach for being brainless-MMPPHH!"

Bakura smirked as he pulled away from Yami, looking like shit but still breathing all the same. "Hello to you too, bitchy."

Yami blinked owlishly, touching his lips incredulously. "Bakura... You're alive..." He thought about that thought for a moment. "Wait, you're alive!" The Pharaoh leapt into his thief's arms, hugging and kissing him wildly. "Don't you-ever... do that-again!" he growled.

Joey watched the whole exchange. "Bakura, while you're being molested-SETO!" The American leapt out of the bed he'd taken residence on and flew at his lover, melting into a waiting embrace with shameless tears tracking down his face. "Thank God you're alive, ryuu. I thought..." He couldn't say it.

Seto smiled, running his hand through the smaller teen's messy blond locks more as a reminder that he really was alive and had Joey in his arms again. "I'd never die without telling you first."

Joey gave a choked laugh and clung to the CEO tighter despite the broken wrist he'd earned himself.

Yami finally stopped attacking Bakura. "So? How'd you do it? Who sealed the games again? Did you kill both Marik and Mahaado? Who died in the duel? Why in the fuck did it take so long for you to show up? ...Why are you looking at me like that... Malik! Ryou!"

Said teenagers snickered at the Pharaoh's relieved ramblings, smiling widely as they crossed the room to steal the bed Joey had just vacated. Neither looked to be in too bad a shape, with their injuries being more internal then external.

Bakura shifted Yami a bit, tugging at the monarch's bangs playfully. "Kavala sealed the games for us after we nicely murdered Mahaado and Marik. Unfortunately, Ausar and Kavala fell during the duel, which was quite interesting by the way. I suppose the little brat lingered within Ryou long enough to do his duties."

Yami glanced at Ryou. "Then what's he doing here? He should be dead." Three edgy days had all but shot the Puzzle guardian's already questionable sense of tact.

Ryou glanced at the sheets. "I-I felt Antaios come back before I completely passed out. He threatened to kick my ass if he found me kicking around the afterlife, so I suppose it was an incentive to get out of harm's way."

Yami shook his head, smiling. "Typical little brat," he murmured. "You got lucky when you found Malik again."

Ryou shrugged. "I could have gotten worse, I suppose."

Malik's jaw dropped. "I've never been so insulted!" he trilled.

Ryou grinned. "You'll live, aijin."

Joey, still clinging to Seto, at least turned to look at the others. "So, what's the damage report? Why did it take you all so long to make an appearance."

"We just kind of camped out in Kuru Eruna for the rest of the night. We were completely drained from the fighting and managed to drag our asses back here the next day. From there, this is the first time any of us have really been up and about," Ryou explained. "Malik and me are actually being discharged some time today. Aside from exhaustion, the doctors don't see anything wrong with us."

Bakura snorted. "There's plenty that's been fucked up in your heads, but I don't suppose those idiot doctors can do much for that, now can they?"

"Not really," Joey muttered, looking up at Seto. "What about you?"

Seto shrugged. "Honestly koinu, I don't remember much of anything that happened. I get the sneaking suspicion that Marik or Mahaado controlled me."

Joey shuttered. "Not a nice feeling, is it?"

"Nothing I'd ever want to go through again," Seto admitted. He kissed Joey's head. "I again apologize for underestimating your strength."

"Eh, don't worry about it. I'm just glad to have you back."

Bakura glanced at Yami. "I got the spiritual shit kicked out of me and earned some scrapes and cuts. Otherwise, I'm fine. How are you?" The question was riddled with guilt.

"I'll live," Yami replied easily. "The cut on my neck is seriously no big deal and the gash in my ribs will heal with time. It hurts like a bitch sometimes, but that's why I have magic to abuse."

"That's my Pharaoh," Bakura chuckled.

A warm silence passed over the room as everyone got comfortable, mulling over what they'd lost and still had with them. It was Malik that broke the silence with a snicker. "You think?"

Ryou shrugged. "I suppose."

"What?" Yami asked, realizing the couple had been talking through their link. "What are you planning now?"

"World domination!" Malik joked.

"Seriously, we've been talking about it and the two of us have decided to stay here for a while," Ryou replied honestly. "There's just too many bad things that have happened back home and we'll never get anything fixed if we're constantly chasing shadows."

Bakura nodded, looking a little let down. "Where will you guys go?"

"My Dad's bound to be around here somewhere," Ryou answered. "If not, it's a big country to explore." He smiled, catching the depression from his yami easily. "Don't worry, we won't be gone forever."

"I know," Bakura murmured. "You two are old enough, so you do what you want to do."

Yami nodded, looking over when the doctor appeared at the door with a small rap against it. "Hey, what tidings do you bring us?" he asked lightly.

"Discharge papers," the doctor replied. "There are instructions I want you each to follow, especially you Mr. Mutou, along with a prescription incase the pain gets too bad."

Yami nodded. "Thanks."

The doctor nodded and waited for the discharge papers to be signed and handed back to him before taking his leave, not missing the cry of, "Freedom!" that brought a small smile to his face.

* * * * *

[Next day]

"So... I guess this is good bye for now," Yami muttered, more to the ground then anything.

Malik nodded, an arm wrapped around Ryou's waist almost protectively. "You guys be careful and say hi to everyone when you get home."

"We will," Joey replied, hanging off Seto unabashedly. "And you guys remember if you ever need a place to go to, our doors are always open."

Ryou smiled brightly and moved away from his lover to give Bakura a quick hug. "Thank you for being there for me for all those years, yami." He tousled the thief's mop of hair affectionately. "You pretty much raised me well, so don't worry, got it?"

Bakura nodded. "Don't let Malik corrupt you too badly. I still want to see you turn tomato red when I ask who screwed who."

On cue, Ryou's cheeks stained themselves an embarrassed red. "Will do, Bakura. Yami, take care of him and don't molest him to much."

Yami moved to give the Brit a warm embrace. "That should be the other way around, but whatever." He grabbed Malik, snickering when the Egyptian protested the contact with the Pharaoh. "May the gods smile on you both in your travels."

The jet's engines fired up then and Joey sighed. "I'm gonna miss ya, Ryou." He mock glared at Malik. "And I'm elated to be rid of you, you mind-controlling psycho."

Malik, ever the figure of supreme maturity, stuck his tongue out. "Like I'd ever miss a pathetic, sniveling dog anyway."

Seto rolled his eyes. "Careful what you say, Ishtar. Saying things like that will swell his ego for days on end."

"Okay, now we're stalling," Bakura pointed out, hugging Ryou and Malik good bye. "Keep in touch and be safe. Don't do anything I would do."

The couple nodded, backing away from the jet as the others ascended into the massive plane with a final wave over their shoulders. They started back towards the inner city, hand in hand and ready to face whatever sort of curves life could throw at them next.

* * * * *

Cicatrix eyes the color of jaded oceans watched from the shadows as a small knot of friends bid each other a final farewell, two of the youths staying behind to escape their pain in the very originator of it. Nearly transparent hands clutched around the golden object of twisted desire as the spectator drank in the sight of a long-fated departure.

And only he knew that someday they would all have to return to this place of misery, bloodshed, and sorrow to face the punishment of the gods. True, they had vanquished the darkness threatening to devour the world over, but they had not done it with pure hearts and had thusly corrupted the gods' fragile balance of the light devouring the darkness' shadows.

Darkness could never destroy darkness, he knew all too well, and his heart wept for the trials the gods would put the guardians through for their thoughtless intervention.

Four of the six champions departed from those two staying behind with a final wave, disappearing down a corridor toward an uncertain future. Hands met in a childishly loving gesture as the two remaining took their own leave to destinations unknown in this sun-bleached world.

But, they would all meet again at this place. He knew neither the time nor the day their vindication would commence, but he knew that the gods could not let them exist with hands as soiled as theirs. Darkness would once again try to devour darkness in an eternal, furious cycle of vindictive powerlust.

They would return and never leave with a gleam in their eye or beating heart in their chest. The next meeting will be the last.

For it is the Pharaoh's will...

Fins.

…Wow… I'm sitting here in a sort of daze right now. It's over. I finished 'Kokoro no Naka' after a year of toil. My mind can't register that I actually finished a book I never thought would come to an end. I pray to God that the end is appropriate, in keeping with my typically suspenseful style. I also beg that I wrote the final battle out as clearly as possible and with feeling.

This is really overwhelming. These are the last notes I'll write for this book. (Wow, aren't I making this sound like a Last Will & Testament? XD) I want to thank every single one of my reviewers and all of you who kinda lurked. You guys were the ones to inspire me when I wanted to send this damned thing straight into digital oblivion and I wouldn't be able to say I finally finished something without you backing me.

So, a very heartfelt thank you to:

Andi-chan

Kilam

YamiCaitlin

Evaru

happy yaoi lover

blu chocobo

Akuro

Elle-FaTe2x1

Ayod Botla

Impish Pixie

Reena

Biowolf

Acid Reign

MB

Sailor Comet

Dragona 2007

Shade Azuna

OxBeachFlirtxO1

KeMu

Jantra

Roen

Kelly-chan

Dani

Arichan

Celia

ExBobble06

ShadowGirl

Monoshiri the Mystic Tomato

DracOnyx

Animegirl

Soul Dreamer

Borath

CharcoalCat

And another round of thanks to all you lovely stalkers and lurkers out there! Yesh, I know you're there, paying attention from the shadows! XD …I'm seriously depressed now! [cries] I need something to distract me! Oh yeah! Can't forget end of chapter [sobs] replies.

Andi-chan: Heh, it appears that I'm writing an extremely long author's note, so a long review can't hurt. XD I've come to the conclusion that I can't write battle sequences to save my life. Then again, I thought I couldn't write worth shit a few years ago and look there I am today. [grins] Practice makes perfect and all you readers are the guinea pigs! And yes, I kill Antaios for a third time. Hell, you can count him helping Kavala seal the games again as a fourth death. [Mariku cackle] I couldn't kill Malik or Ryou, so I had to settle for their past selves. …Yep, I'm evil.

YamiCaitlin: LOL! Yeah, my poor grades, insomnia, shitty computer luck, ect can all be blamed on FF.N! Oh, and they're responsible for global warming and bad politicians! ^________^ And I'm sure you were just humoring me. *coughyeahrightcough* XD There's not that much fluff, but I didn't want to weight everything down. [looks around innocently] I may have one more trick up my sleeve. Something possibly yellow that doesn't belong on FF.N's databases… [snickersnort] Stupid things are addicting, I swear. [giggles] Lemon Writer's Anonymous!

Kilam: Don't worry, shoujo! We're just blaming everything on FF.N now, whether or not it's really their fault! Hopefully I worked out Marik and Mahaado's deaths okay. [hides under desk] I had to make Malik psycho for a few seconds… [sheepish grin] I mean c'mon, wouldn't you love to kill the same guy that tried to kill your significant other several times over and molested you on the side? …Yeah, welcome to Kii's realm of weak logic. XD So, Malik went psycho and Bakura was sad. [looks around nervously] Hopefully he was too OOC. But, sequel…? Maaaaayyyybbeee I have one planned. Maybe I don't. [grins] You'll just have to see, won't you? [glomps Kilam] And thank you for the plug! It's awesome to know that word of my tactless plot is spreading! (…I have a germ!plot! YAY!)

Trei: The only reason you want me to go about creating a plot even more complicated then this one is so that you can spend countless hours laughing your ass off while I bitch about the raging migraine I caused myself. [glowers] That'll probably happen anyway but it's to be expected, ne? XD And, um… [grabs Kavala and Antaios] I'm not letting them anywhere near you! [hisses] I'll sic the Ecchi-Vanilla-Scented-Vampire-Candle-From-Hell on you if you even think of touching them.

Akuro: Well, I had to placate my own raging guilt for not murdering Malik, so I took it all out on Antaios. [leers at said bishie hiding in a corner] He'll be okay after some severe counseling and reassurance that no psycho authors will rip him to shreds again. [hangs head] If I didn't get a comprehensible battle flow this time, I'm going to eat my foot, boot and all. That's seriously irking me now! [wails] Must… Be… PERFECT! [shrugs] The last paragraph of chapter 31 was meant to be forbidding. The last paragraph of this chapter was meant to make you all feel like there's the Sword of Damocles hanging over the cast's collective head. XD [grabs Pixie Stix] SUGAR! [giggles insanely] If the masses still like me, I may considering doing a sequel. My fear? It's a general rule that all sequels suck. T___T I don't wanna ruin KnN's perfection! …The conflict! [groans] I now know what I put Bakura through!

happy yaoi lover: I tried. I seriously tried to kill off Ryou and Malik and I just couldn't do it! But then I figured Kavala and Antaios would do just fine! ^__________^ Heh… I lurve compensation! XD

ElleFaTe2x1: The future selves didn't die when their past selves were murdered because there was no connection between the two. It was more like having a twin in the same area as you. [shrugs] It works… Nothing too complicated. XD Don't worry. I have other stories to write, so it's not like I'm going to disappear. Hell, I'd die if I wasn't able to write everyday and my mind's always working, so I'll definitely be back!

And that's all I can write. I'm stalling now and making myself look even lamer then before. Major love to all you guys and I hope to see you all haunting any new stories I decide to post! Ja ne minna-san!

Much love and rock out!

-Kiirar