Disclaimer: That I do not own Yugioh is proof that my parents do not love me. BTW I am totally kidding.

Side Note: When I say Bakura, I do not mean eeevvvil Bakura, just regular old, fluffy, omgsocute Bakura. Yami Bakura will NOT be in this unless in passing…like Yuugi's missing something because the klepto was there. He's still recovering from dying in the shadow realm. Again. (Sarcasm, but seriously he dies almost as much as Joey.)

A/N: This takes place immediately post-Doma, with one itsy bitsy tiny detail I'm sure you'll figure out by the end of the first sentence.

Buffy: Does it get any easier?
Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy? [...]
Giles: Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Lie To Me, Season Two Episode Seven

Yugi was half-way through the month to eighteen until he was forced to completely realize that life was not a never-ending line. It wasn't one of those easy, linear equations punched into a graphing calculator. It was more of a parabola, a negative parabola, joyfully reaching a maximum height before plummeting where you'll never find it again.

It couldn't be changed with Monster Reborn, or magic, or winning the final turn, or restoring life points - and it was a pitiful, mind-numbing epiphany. He'd always thought so little about his own existence that it was shocking for him to realize that anyone close to him could really be a gone for good. Souls could be won back, villains kept them contained like stolen, precious stones that weren't away from him forever.

Solomon didn't die on a battlefield, or fighting the latest force of Darkness. No instead, Solomon died in about ten minutes of a heart attack, in the end he was just as mortal and fragile as anyone else.

It was ironic that despite having a king in his head, death as an idea had come slowly to Yugi; an everyday event of threat that had separate from him until now, against the evidence a randomly failing body in a normal old man. But Yugi had always been stubborn and he doesn't give in right away; he fought till the very last. He fought and fought still in the car with his mother behind the hearse, with the same passionate denial he used to deny he was in pain against Malik's attack on the blimp. Using that now was the only crumbling, stubborn resistance of reality's sniffling, distant family members he's never seen before slamming against his senses. The rites carried on Solomon's body passed in a blur before, now he couldn't escape them. He only stopped once in his thoughts to acknowledge that there was really nothing he could have done. And yet still, even if Solomon had to one day die like all humans, Yugi had always imagined it to be befitting his grandfather's life: a death with honor, a death with adventure, a death with dignity. Something in grand gesture, a satisfied smile on his old face.

Not like the truth.

Not without a goodbye...not when he was all alone and no one even knew for days.

Yugi placed his hand onto the casket, touching the last piece of the man who raised him, for the last time. Confusion, loss, hurt... came sweeping upon him even heavier a torrent than against Pegasus, with his soul being torn to bits. Stepping back was harder than keeping himself upright in the shadow realm, accepting this was real was harder than seeing his Soul Room the first time. Harder than processing Professor Hawkins pulling him aside after they thought everything was over.

Because it was an adventure then, and the good guy (the Spirit) always won. He watched in silence as his grandfather's mahogany casket was decorated with a large wreath of yellow flowers. His suit felt stiff and foreign, much like his mother's hand on his shoulder while she wiped her eyes with a tissue clenched in her free one. He couldn't run to the Pharaoh, because the Pharaoh couldn't save Grandpa from this. There was no "Monster Reborn" that could make it all better, no matter how strong his initial denial had been.

He should have saved his wish on the Puzzle. Should have waited for this. Should have known, should have tried using Isis' Item to check on his grandpa's future if he hadn't been so selfishly caught up in his own life. Should have thought of it on the plane to America, should have entertained the idea during the down time against Doma, should've…

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

So far Yugi had not broken, tried hard to be a man for his mother and not to cry as he'd done for his friends against Malik. He'd been in a stasis of shock, or maybe just hadn't been living this past week long enough for any of this to stick, no matter how many times his friends' faces and the world drifted in and out in front of him. Accept the reality. But Yugi was always more sensitive, and a few tears managed to escape his attention. Taking a shaky breath, he glanced down at his chest instead, unnaturally bare of gold and steel. The millennium pyramid would have drawn attention, and the Pharaoh had been unresponsive that morning to Yugi's hesitant questions anyway. It felt strange, this sudden lightness. Like a holding hand gone, the reminder gone.

He wasn't a Chosen One right now. He just very much wanted the casket to open and his grandfather to blink around scowling that he wasn't dead yet, money diggers! And did you give up on my old, ever-faithful ticker so easily Yugi!

He can't be dead. I saved his soul from Pegasus. I went to the end of my life in the Shadows for him, I died for him. I saved the world three times so we could be happy.

/against Malik with his body parts being snatched as life points; a sacrifice to an altar because…/

It took Yugi a second to realize how strange that sounded. He was flooded by memories and his emotions again, seeing strong and unbending Solomon in his naiive mind, and it all nearly made him sick. It was a betrayal to accept Solomon still and decaying under the heavy polished wood. Just like the store. Empty and closed and something he hasn't stepped foot in. Something someone else had cleaned up the broken and fallen stock.

From when Solomon must have tried to grab something, anything, in panic for a reason no one really knows unless they've experienced that kind of situation.

It was too much for him and he realized with shame, Oh God, I'm going to crack. And he did, Yugi cracked with a small, repressed sound, awkward and tight and trying to be strong where he'd completely fallen apart when he'd nearly lost Joey, but stopping something already crumbling results as it only can: horrible.

Tight, frustrated, quiet crying is horrible on teens, splotchy from being unsure how to throw their control away. Hollow, embarrassing half-sounds cut back by grit teeth and barely held together by threads of Japanese dignity.

He wanted to fast forward. He wanted to rewind. He wanted to freeze.

He'd lost the only thing that he protected from the Darkness — unlike his friends who he couldn't keep away if he had a nine foot pole, his grandfather the one person Yugi thought he could separate from things like death and evil, keep him untouched in a normal world of taxes, and games, and family, and scolding for looking at Téa's skirt while blushing himself. What had he done wrong? He'd followed the rules; he did what every hero in every video game, movie, or comic book did. He followed his own heart. He tried. He thought he'd tried hard enough. What had he, where had he…

Again, neither Tristan nor Téa talk, but the taller boy's hand tightened and gave Yugi's shoulder a squeeze: he did it feebly because his strength pretty much abandoned him trying to support Téa and his own grief. Sometimes, he opened his mouth to say something, but the effort was too much and he remained quiet. When Yugi looked at him, Tristan understood, and, distracting Tea, removed his hand from Yugi to hug her. They both watched her for a moment as she buried her head in Tristan's chest, until Tristan nodded to Yugi to go ahead.

The young man backed away from the crowd as the rector read the prayers to the departed soul, and spoke of unleashing a dove for symbolism. As he turned, he caught someone's eye, full of concerned questions wanting answers. Yugi looked away; he didn't want to answer anything.

Not today, his lowered eyes said. Someone else wear the super suit. Not now.

When he had the courage to raise his head again, Bakura gave a gentle smile, showing his understanding… and Yugi remembered Amane. He pasted a difficult smile of gratitude, knowing Bakura would make sure no one would look for him. With this in mind, Yugi crept away, needing to think.

As he watched his friend of sorts go, Bakura's frown returned. He watched the funeral go on without anyone else noticing the disappearance of the most important member, and he recalled the look of hopelessness on his friend's face. The expression of anger, frustration, and hurt that filled that face was so unlike his congenial, if distant, companion, Bakura had at first thought it was the Pharaoh. But no, these past two weeks since arriving back from America, Yugi no longer wore the Item, "parading it" Yugi muttered, unless sure no one was around. It seemed after the whole Doma episode, the trusting, optimistic person that Yugi used to be was something a bit more… normal. Cynical as the rest of them.

He looked around, but saw no tell-tale blond hair connected to a tell-tale slouch. Apparently Joey was still hiding from Yugi, and Bakura didn't know whether to be angered or sympathetic. It wasn't his fault, it was no one's fault, but this would certainly put a strain on their passionate friendship…

'Why did Yugi have to get the bad deck anyway?' Bakura's dark coffee eyes flashed angrily as the mourners started to give more flowers before heading to their cars. 'I could have taken it! I could move on!' However, life was unfair, and it didn't give a damn on whether someone could take it or not.

"Should we go after him?" Tristan muttered low. Téa sucked in sharply, clearly giving her opinion on the matter, but Tristan was still holding her wrist to prevent her from bolting. "Swarming him like we did when we first found out Solomon died didn't work. He just clammed up and zoned out in his head. You know Yugi is, Téa, he doesn't like—"

"That's not an excuse for him to isolate himself!"

While they bickered, Bakura touched the place on his chest absently where the Ring was whether he wanted it or not, beneath layers of dark fabric and cotton. The Voice hadn't been bothering him since the last duel ages ago; most likely still recovering from his recent vacation to the Shadow lands.

'I wonder what he'll do now.' Bakura wondered, as Yugi's mother began to turn around and tapping people shoulders. When she raised an arm level to her shoulder and he caught "this tall" he figured it out and moved forward. 'I know enough from Tristan that his mother isn't sticking around…' And then there was still the whole Dark-Yugi business, with only more questions than ever any real answers…

He could still hope, though. He always had that.

He approached her with the winning smile all older females cooed him over. Yugi was lucky and cursed by the Puzzle, that he was never alone…but soon would be. Bakura always was, and that hurt, because he had to cross himself off on the list of people who could help the savior of the world. The savior of the world who's heart just might have been stretched too thin this time. 'I wonder what Yugi will do and if he at least still has the common sense intact not to try to do it alone, because from first hand experience I know that hurts so much more.'

He closed his eyes. His thoughts began to drift to his own heart ache, his own cage. The funeral that, unlike Yugi, he could never seem to walk away from.

There's always that foolish hope, that instead of making you sad, you're comforted somewhere thinking of how much I still love you, Amane.

Yes, he knew first hand love could be the most beautiful or the most destructive thing in existence.

It was finally just too cold.

Yugi had sat down against a random tree in the back of the park a few hours ago, needing some place quiet that wasn't of the literal, 'in-your-head' variety. Everything was too up in his face—he needed to regroup and think.

All anything did these days made him depressed. He sat up a bit from the tree bark against his back, rubbed an eye absently. He played with a stray blade of grass while his mind caught up with him.

What time was it? Was it a school day? Should he go to school or should he just stay home and would anyone even notice…he should care about that sort of thing.

What time had he left? Yugi gave up rebelling his compulsive need and pulled back his sleeve only to remember he'd dropped his watch sprinting away from the self-destructing island after the battle with Noah. The band had been too abused against shielding his face from the fire and suspiciously, physically impaling "holograms"…

Time… what time… He looked up. His brain jumped from something as inane as time to other matters.

Time. Future. His future.

He was almost eighteen, but the law wouldn't allow him to live by himself if he kept this up. Yugi started to smile faintly at that. He regularly ditched school to fight for the sake of the world on a regular basis, fighting people too selfish to realize their souls were being eaten by darkness to unleash monsters… and he was scared of humans with paper work? That was the Chosen One?

He clutched his fists. Even now, he longed for the security o the Puzzle. Not only for the Pharaoh, his friend, but it was all he had of his "Jii-chan", besides memories. Grandpa's most important treasure…

I miss you.

He was the patient one, the optimistic one, but it wasn't a virtue in Yugi's opinion so much as a survival technique. He did the saving the world thing, because it was the only right thing he could conceive to do. But instead of fulfillment he did all that he was supposed to like a…like a puppet because that was the hidden, size point two fine print under 'consequences if you solve the Millennium Puzzle.' You saved the world with a lost soul next to yours and you did it with a smile, right?

People were always telling him it didn't matter what he did. People like Kaiba snorted down on him that if you saved something it would only die later.

And while Yugi was strong enough to be the Pharaoh's partner, he was also a human being, and it was getting harder and harder to fight people like Kaiba when more and more proof kept falling in their favor: He fought for Joey at the pier and still a bit of Joey's innocence didn't come back. He fought for Grandpa and he died.

He fought for the Pharaoh and… he was going to leave, going to die, Yugi knew it. It was his job, a duty he took to heart and meant it, but like the fairy tales Téa always begged for Grandpa to tell when they were young and sleeping in the den, it was like walking on knives with every step. Yugi wanted to…wanted to sit there and disappear into the whispers of the wind and never be found again.

It wasn't that he didn't want this responsibility anymore, he just didn't think he was strong enough to say goodbye. Goodbye was horrible. He wanted to be angry, but how could he? It wasn't like Grandpa or the Pharaoh were happy to say it. Unwillingly, his mind recalled the funeral in blurred movie-like images: the service, the processional music, the burial.

The casket. The casket and Catholic funeral Solomon would have been furious with but his mother stubbornly decided. It seemed as soon as life gave him a break with that quiet moment on the beach with the Pharaoh, everything plummeted when they returned to their friends, crashing downhill even further and rougher than before. It wasn't right for all this to keep piling up and up, never stopping, he wasn't a physics whiz but he saw the teacher demonstrating balloons, water bottles, equations, he knew what happened eventually.

Yugi knew he was cracking again. The last time he had a break down like this, he had been trying to save his grandfather. He closed his eyes and thought of his friends to steady his breath, just like before. His heart hurt painfully.

Grandpa… The one who took care of him, looked after him: gave him money when bullies demanded it because Yugi never ran away and had to face the consequences, giving him games to let him hide and forget his loneliness, telling him stories about adventure to give him hope after middle school and freshmen higher school and… He struggled to get up; using the tree he'd been leaning against for support. His legs had fallen asleep. He fell after a couple of steps. He had to stand up. Had to support himself. Grandpa would want to know he could support himself.

His mother would probably take off again… maybe with his father. Maybe. He didn't think his father would be coming home from business now, ever. After all, there wouldn't be anymore worry about Grandpa needing a nursing home. And Yugi was almost eighteen—clearly at the age of a man, he should be able to take care of himself, he should be able to handle it, their son was so mature, so responsible and accepting, he should be able to—to just—

He inhaled sharply, clutching his fists in his jacket. Don't blame anyone. It's no one's fault.

Well, even if he didn't know where he was philosophically, at least he knew where he was physically; that was a start. He wasn't too far from home, he passed here all the time going back and forth to Téa's house.

He glanced up at the night sky. The clear heavens, so dark in their midnight tone and the stars millions of miles away glittering like Téa's smile, made everything all the more beautiful.

Suddenly, Yugi groaned inwardly and clutched his head. All this stress, crying-he felt like a freight-train ran him over, twice even.

Someone else might look at Yugi's path, his journey back that night (morning) to the place he had grown up and always was returning to. Maybe wonder why bother continuing to do that; going obediently back to a life where all that it welcomed and called was darkness? Weevil, Rex, Malik's horde, Kaiba, Pegasus, Doma (don't think about it) why, why did go back only to be hit again?

There was a part of Yugi that did want to turn away, to run like hell to a time when the labels of right and wrong were simple, just sloppily highlighted words in his crams review book. He was human.

But it was always, always overridden by the fierce pull of his heart.

Though it hurts, and he feels like doubling over and going 'it's a lie, it's a lie, it's a lie' just like before finding Joey's soulless body, Yugi knows life is not always like this. It hadn't always been this empty, this hopeless, and it wouldn't always be. There are good memories too, and that was what made the difference. And without those he'd lose the identity, albeit the one that only existed with his friends there to hold it up, had caused it to begin with.

Even if he really didn't stand on his own at all.

Don't talk like that, it's no one's fault. There are good memories and there will continue to be.

He looked up high into the quiet sky scape.

But he didn't know what the hell he was doing, still, and it was so painfully, embarrassingly obvious that he was ashamed of it.

He walked across the empty car lot; moonlight reflecting off the black tar. Shoving trembling, cold hands into suit pockets he'd throw away to deny lingering memories of that horrid oak casket, Yugi continued the trek home.


Quotes:

God, he thought in weariness. In what way is this fair? Why am I up here alone like this, being tormented by something I can't even see?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick